All physical activities that accompany the mystical experience play no other role than acting upon the mind. Catholic theologians conceive physical activities on four different levels:
1. The level of spoken prayer. This level, even if prayers are uttered monotonous, prepares a more profound meditation;
2. The level of methodical meditation upon dogmas. In Christianity, this level helps hermits to go beyond selfness towards everything that is given to them. In order to do that, one must pertain to a certain number of repetitive texts that act as a “path” which must be walked upon time after time;
3. The level of affective prayer, which is where love wins sensible ground over rational thinking;
4. Finally, the level of “simplicity prayers”, during which meditation is transformed in pure contemplation.
This last stage of physical ascetic seclusion is rendered possible only through a “domestication” of senses. One must be careful not to mistake it with making senses more accurate in view of mere survival (as it is the case with animals). Senses are “silenced” during meditation in order to overcome the dual perception of one’s soul and body. The absence of senses allows thinking to stop focusing on different objects and become absolute thinking (âtman).
The body is quite important in asceticism, especially in Christianity. Whilst for a Buddhist, a Hindu or a Muslim, corporal pain is a means of subjugating the body, in Christianity it wells from love, as even God suffers when He is crucified. It is for that reason why we encounter a more severe asceticism at Christians, where it is very unlikely that the mystical experience require a total depersonalization, as in other beliefs.
Senses and passions are vanquished not because the body must be destroyed, but rather because happiness and redemption are born from pain. Suffering is the sole human faculty that has no boundaries. Mystics that discover the infinity of pain are often tempted to make use of this faculty in order to overcome their own selves by means of the only thing that is unlimited but still within their reach, tending towards their own death.
Because of the fact that hermits themselves argue that pain is a means for attaining happiness, asceticism appears to be first of all meditation without any supernatural intervention, however not excluding the possibility that this divine intervention should interfere at some point or another. Mystics reiterate the attitude that man had when he first started to investigate burning fire and stopped fearing it. From an anthropological point of view, that is the historical moment in which man separated from animal by means of a superior attitude. It is by means of a superior attitude towards pain that mystics try to separate now from man.
Another explication for pain is that God Himself suffered death, despair, fear, poverty and weakness, things that are nonexistent in Vedānta, for example, where they are only “illusions”. Yet, in Christianity God still incarnated and did not run from pain, knowing that all this would come as a consequence. Conclusively, this is only one of the many standpoints on Christianity which emphasize its uniqueness in human life. Hopefully, more study will be carried out in the near future on this and other subjects and reveal the essence of religious practices.