Picture of book cover

Musings of a Second-Generation Mystic – Emily Koshin Oliver

I use that word without fully understanding what it means. A seeker? Spiritual quester? Searcher of Truth – and finder of it too?

My mum has just published a book called Diaries of a Young Mystic, which reveals her to be all of the above. She recently rediscovered her diaries from the 70s, having landed in Oxford from Australia as a young woman in her early twenties. What follows are poetic, poignant and often turbulent impressions of her new surroundings, of building a life, of friendships, of travels, of love, of heartbreak. Of “a crack which nearly swallowed me. The person who emerged from it was new, and wiser.” And hence the overarching theme – a search for answers; an inner battle, grappling to get a hold on the forces that govern oneself and the world around; a slow, self-disciplined waking up, paving the way for a life’s work.

She intersperses these youthful contemplations with reflections from her “now” Self, 50 years on. What results is a strange merging and separation, different lives, the same life, a before and after, a connecting thread. Between crone and maiden, mother and daughter.

I have dim childhood memories of looking over her shoulder onto a black screen with green type, as she crafted her first book “The Meditator’s Guidebook”. Of regularly walking in on one or the other parent sitting eerily still and hastily retreating, sure that I had got away with it as clearly they were off in some faraway place anyway, right?! Of “meetings” being held in our living room, my brother and I tiptoeing round the house so as not to disturb – but what on earth were they doing anyway? What was this meditation thing? We didn’t really question, and they volunteered little information.
So there we go, a glimpse into my less-than-usual family makeup. But has it influenced who I am? Hard to tell. In one sense undoubtedly, as we are all at least part-products of those who raised us. But in another not directly, as they consciously chose not to involve us, to let us go our own way. An ache takes hold of you regardless, I suppose. (Though she did carefully suggest I check out StoneWater when I first moved to Liverpool in my mid-twenties – thanks Mum!) But I wonder in what indirect ways her inner life and insights came out just in her raising of us, in her motherly advice over the years. Don’t get me wrong, the “wisdom” drove me mad at times too in a classic mother-daughter dynamic… but what about my everyday trials and tribulations! I’m not too emotional! How can we allow such suffering in the world!

But my 40-year-old Self starts to understand it, that there is a balance to the world, good and bad must go together, that there is more than my own small self. I recognised many of the thoughts, yearnings and questionings in the writing, whether through memories of my own youth or more recent ones. But I have no idea whether I know a fraction of what she has discovered.
Perhaps it is a fundamentally human search which happens in its own time and way for each. To every thing there is a season. I still don’t really know what a mystic is, perhaps I am one, perhaps I’m not, perhaps I’ll never know. But I do love the symbolism of a young woman searching for meaning, and an older woman who found it, somewhere along the way.

(If anyone is sufficiently intrigued, you can buy the book here. Genetic biases aside (whichever way they tip!), it is a good read. And perhaps a relatable, confronting or reassuring one to anyone consciously, or unconsciously, on the path.)