Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga
by Susan McCaslin

Print: 978-177133-188-3
ePUB: 978-177133-189-0
PDF: 978-177133-191-3

224 Pages
November 14, 2014
New Non-Fiction All Titles Inanna Memoir Series

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Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga by Susan McCaslin

Into the Mystic is a spiritual memoir that focuses on the author’s spiritual mentor, Olga Park (1891-1985). The book consists of a series of vignettes and poems written by the author and by Park as well as some illustrations of Olga’s own spiritually-inspired artistic creations. It explores the relation of the female spiritual seeker to her wisdom teacher, guru, and spiritual mentor, and addresses timeless questions about the relation of time to eternity, the nature and emergence of consciousness, direct mystical experience etc. in a contemporary Canadian context. The book synthesizes memoir, spiritual autobiography, biography, personal narrative, and poetry in an innovative way. 

Olga self-published a number of books exploring a lifetime of direct mystical experiences grounded in and moving out from the Christian tradition with which she was most familiar. Her books attracted a number of seekers who came to learn from her. Although the author privileges her mentor’s teachings, she does so by relating them to her own spiritual development and to non-Christian spiritual traditions. Thus she provides the reader with much of Olga’s life story as well as some of her own. By integrating her knowledge of global spiritual practices, she broadens the audience as well as the appeal of her teacher’s spiritual journey.

“You won't be the same after reading this book. Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga flows with a subtle, near-miraculous spiritual sweetness. Susan McCaslin was genuinely transformed by her association with her unique spiritual mentor, an elderly woman who gave and still gives McCaslin invisible gifts of immeasurable import.  McCaslin offers gifts to us in turn: in her yearning for the ineffable consciousness we call God, she weaves this memoir of her deepest inner life and of her experience of the "I am" such that we are at once greatly moved and made more fully aware of how we are each a "chapter / of an older story, a piece of a cloth..." It’s fascinating to see how for McCaslin the divine is never separate from the bodily fact of her existence, from the story of her individuality, from her writing of poetry, from her love for her family, or, in recent years, from her passionate activism in the name of the natural environment. This is a vibrant, light-filled portrait, a document of transformation, an eloquent guidebook. It's a treasure.”

—Russell Thornton, author of Birds, Metal, Stones & Rain (nominated for the Governor General’s Award, 2014)

“Not all of us who aspire to a mystical life are fortunate enough to have such a teacher as Olga Park, whom BC writer and poet Susan McCaslin studied with for decades.  In this spiritual memoir, McCaslin shares her experience of the Canadian mystic who so inspired and encouraged her. McCaslin acts as guide to Olga Park’s writings as well as her own, drawing on a broad reading into mystical tradition.

McCaslin offers the reader a place to stand, a sense of deep interconnectivity which Olga Park describes as “between time and eternity.” McCaslin has the ability to articulate ineffable experience with the well-thought-out clarity of a philosopher and the felt acuity of a poet. We are drawn into the mystic’s “depth of field,” the wider ecology that bridges an inclusive continuum of matter and spirit. Let Into the Mystic lead you to explore hitherto untranslated dimensions. Let this book lead you home.”

—Penn Kemp, poet and playwright, editor of Jack Layton: Art in Action

Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga reveals Susan McCaslin's transformational and endearingly human journey with English-born Canadian Olga Park, integrative creative and mystic. McCaslin interweaves her poems, prose, photos, art, visions and struggles with those of Olga Park. Their polyphonic insights assure this reader that raised consciousness is accessible and joyful, not a hallucinogenic state. McCaslin, a gifted poet and visionary herself, illuminates Park’s interior knowing, synthesizing myriad systems or spiritual stepping stones, drawing on her own deep knowledge of many wisdom traditions. McCaslin's book is wise, humble, and courageous. Her lyrical, receptivity entices this reader into a more loving, honest dasein or being in the world. May this treasure, organized in numinous vignettes, touch many souls.”

—Katerina Fretwell, poet and author of Class Acts

“Suppose someone like the mystical William Blake lived nearby, so you could drive up to his house. Would you?  Susan McCaslin answers in the affirmative in her meetings with a Christ-centred Blakean mystic named Olga, weighing 100 pounds and dressed in grey, “the colour of service.” Into the Mystic – yes, a borrowing from Van Morrison – is an enchanting mix of prose and poetry, literature and spirituality, biography and autobiography. The autobiography is as essential as the biography; growth and deepening are central to both stories.  Poet McCaslin and mystic Olga both come off as fascinating human beings open to all the folds of Being, including the non-material. McCaslin takes you places you may not have been before, but because her voice has the ring of authenticity to it, you trust her wisdom and experience.”

—J.S. Porter, author of Spirit Book Word: An Inquiry into Literature and Spirituality and Lightness and Soul: Musings on Eight Jewish Writers

Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga

Susan McCaslin is an award-winning Canadian poet and Faculty Emerita of Douglas College in Westminster, BC, where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years. She is the author of eleven volumes of poetry, including her most recent, The Disarmed Heart (May 2014). Her previous volume of poetry, Demeter Goes Skydiving (2012) was short-listed for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award) and the first-place winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award (Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award) in 2012. Susan has published a volume of essays, Arousing the Spirit: Provocative Writings (2011) and edited two anthologies on poetry and spiritual practice. Freed to be a full-time writer since retiring from teaching, she lives in Fort Langley, British Columbia with her husband.

On Susan McCaslin’s, Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga
by John Roberto Colombo - October 2016
http://colombo.ca/

“I had heard of the Canadian mystic Olga Park and always meant to learn more about her, initially through Wikipedia; now there is no need not do so, as Susan McCaslin’s mixed-genre memoir supplies more than enough information and evidence of the woman’s remarkable presence and abilities.

The author is lucky to have had an Olga in her life, though I should amend the verb in this sentence to state, “She is lucky to have an Olga in her life,” as the book suggests McCaslin’s mystic mentor will never leave her, nor she Olga. At the same time Olga is lucky in her biographer.

Olga seems at one level a religious psychic. Excerpts from Olga’s own writings, integrated into McCaslin’s telling, reveal Olga benefited from her education in England, as she writes very well and easily.

McCaslin’s own poems, incorporated smoothly into the text, add a subjective dimension to her experiences in Olga’s presence. This book deals well with the problem of writing a contemporary account of a contemporary mystic by being non-evaluative and stressing the depth and authenticity of the author’s own responses.

I cherish this quotation from Olga herself, a remarkable insight: “God/Even God goes forward.”

Well-wrought Book Explores Relationship of Poet to Mystic
Into The Mystic - My Years with Olga, by Susan McCaslin
reviewed by Patrick Jamieson, Island Catholic News
Volume 29, Issue 10, 11 & 12 - December 14, 2015
http://www.islandcatholicnews.ca/news/2015/12/well-wrought-book-explores-relationship-poet-mystic

   Celebrated Christian poet Susan McCaslin explores her personal relationship with a mystical recluse who was a seminal influence in her life in her new book Into the Mystic – My Years With Olga.
     An American by birth, McCaslin was studying at Simon Fraser University in 1969 when a friend invited her to meet Olga Park, an English emigre formed in the British psychical research school of mysticism. Someone familiar with the experience of Second Sight, table turning, ‘the other side’ and the gentle Christian occult ritual practices.
     It was an era when western culture was revisiting mysticism in many forms and for Susan, Olga was one vital pathway to that door which to this day infuses the prizewinning poetry of Ms. McCaslin.
     This is a memoir of self-examination by a sensitive writer as well as an introduction to Olga, a woman who represented an individuated path unique to her era. Her life breached the gap between 19th century mysticism and the metaphysical spiritualities that emerged during the 1960s which have shaped the sensibilities of younger generations since.
      This is actually a book by a mystic about a mystic. The very term mystic shifts in its interpretation with every generation. Today’s mystics are of the cosmological seeker variety (see related stories "The Cosmic Priest Who Couldn't Quit" and "Teilhard de Chardin: Adoration of Suicide"). When Susan met Olga in the 1960s, a similar transformation had taken place as the Age of Aquarius met the 19th century seance variety of mystic. Those who had acquaintance with the other side, second sight and other paranormal psychological phenomenon.
     In the Christian tradition there is a spectrum of major kinds of mystics, the dark soul of unknowing of Saint John of the Cross to the positivist Julian of Norwich sort. William James documented the varieties of religious experience in his famous study of that title. The sick souls met the twice born between his covers. Susan McCaslin is well aware of this range.
I like the way this book is put together, very cleverly in small digestible portions. On that point, and maybe it is my journalistic bias but I was hoping for a few juicy tidbits in the opening chapter that would entice you with telling or at least revealing anecdotes that would be fleshed out more fully later in the book.
     But as I say it is sensational journalism speaking perhaps. It is all there as you go through. I can remember that era in the late 1960s when everything seemed broken wide open and just waiting for our new generation to seize and explore. Older mystical figures like Olga had a great appeal because we badly needed that, alienated as we were from the materialist values and ways of our parents’ generation. 
     This book satisfies that looking back in its comprehensive perspective of mysticism. Susan McCaslin, in characteristic scholarly fashion, presents her experience of Olga in the context of her lifelong familiarity of the mystical tradition including her own Christian perspective.
     Susan McCaslin is both a disciplined and a gifted writer, a poet who has been awarded and has rewarded the reader with this fine work. Her book Demeter goes Skydiving won the Alberta Book Publisher Award in 2012 and was also shortlisted for the BC Book Prize in the same year. Anyone interested in the mystical experience today, rendered by the sensibility of a fine poet would do well to make the acquaintance of this book.

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Review: Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga by Susan McCaslin
Reviewed by Karen Close - March 28, 2015

My first glance at Tracey Tarling’s cover design for this book, a mixed media on plaster painting, titled Calm in the Waters, Unfolding Flight, called to an inner knowing. I was filled with anticipation and readiness for the mysteries and practices of a world I wanted to feel unfold. Author Susan McCaslin’s submission of a short vignette from the book to be published in our online Journal of the Arts and Aging, Sage-ing With Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude www.sageing.ca had whetted my sense that this was a read I was looking for. Like the author, I am on the front cusp of a huge generation seeking to weave meaning from over six decades of abrupt philosophical and cultural shifts. Much has been questioned, but answers and direction remain illusive. McCaslin’s descriptions of Olga Park’s common sense understanding and approach to “mystical communion”, a ritual intended to create an energy field conducive to heightened states of awareness, led me into an easing release. I want to find faith and this book gave me practical logic, non dogmatic, loving and creative guides to help evolve my own beliefs.

As I digested the book I felt privileged to imagine that I too could be one of the many to have been taught by Olga who McCaslin gently reveals to be “a modern-day manifestation of the goddess of Wisdom, Sophia”. I rejoiced to hear a thoughtful poetic reinforcement of a deeper knowing I share with these two visionary women. Creativity is essential to wisdom and human unfolding because it seeds empathy, compassion and the joy of self expression, our true links to the spiritual. Thank you Susan.

Meeting a mystic isn’t a spectator sport. Lights go on. Things start to happen inside the seeker who comes out of some indefinable longing. The mystic acts as a transformer and catalyst to growth.

As a seeker, I felt an insatiable need for purpose, a true vocation rather than just a job. Unable to overcome “writer’s block” while working on my Master’s thesis, I returned in September of 1971 to my parents’ home in Seattle. Deep down, this move felt like a classic case of regression. Yet there in my old room one night I had the first of a series of vision-dreams, dreams qualitatively too intense to be ranked with ordinary ones, but not visions arriving in full waking consciousness like Olga’s. In my dream journal I wrote:

I find myself in the dungeon of a grey stone prison, hands and feet chained with a group of others. I remember being told to wait for a voice—the voice of an angel. At midnight a voice trumpets: “Open wide, open wide, Ye Gates.” (I’m surprised at the archaic English.)

At the sound, the chains fall away. We proceed to one of four gates. I walk to the western gate wait there for a short time, rubbing my hands where the chains had left an imprint, while others mill about with me in the dark. Then the gate swings slowly on its hinge, releasing us into the night.…

Pushing through the grove of trees, I see a dazzling, gold-white luminescence. My whole being leaps ahead in longing, but I am not sure for what. Then I see one I know instantly as the cosmic Christ, his appearance like that described by John of Patmos in the books of Daniel and Revelation with an aura of rainbow light and eyes like the sun. Yet he is clearly human, more human than anyone I have ever known. This being’s immeasurable compassion permeates my whole being; yet he gazes beyond to the entire group of those his power has freed.

My only impulse is to throw myself at his feet, as if I have known him through many lives and just awakened from a long sleep. I stretch out my hand to touch the rim of his aura, like the woman in the gospel who was healed by merely touching the hem of his garment, and immediately power surges through me like a thousand bolts of electricity. The impact catapults me out of the vision. I awake whispering over and over, “He’s real!”

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