Consecutive Days Riding: 36 Consecutive Days Blogging: 37
Today’s Mileage: 5 Total Trip Mileage: 316
As I ride my bike and we approach our next Pilgrimage Site, I want to speak about mysticism. Several viewers have asked me to define it and to describe types of mystical experiences. To answer these questions in the depth they deserve it would take more time and space than one Blog posting can offer. As such today I will be presenting only a cursory review.
Mysticism can be defined as: the pursuit of an understanding or relationship with the ultimate reality we call the divine, through direct experience, intuition and insight. This relationship may include a desire to enter into a communion with, identification with, or achieve a conscious awareness of this ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God. A mystical experience may be minor and uplifting, like a walk through a beautiful garden, or it may be profound, intense and a life changing event, such as a near death experience!
Mysticism usually focuses on practices that are intended to nurture this direct experience or awareness. All of the major wisdom traditions either place mystical experiences at the core of their practices, primarily within the eastern traditions, or have mystical branches within their traditions, such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Christian mystics within Christianity. The mystical branches of these Monotheist traditions are often treated skeptically by the more orthodox branches of the faith due to the emphasis the mystic person places on their direct experience and living realization over doctrine. In contrast to orthodox branches which often look only to the sacred scriptures for revelation and direction.
Mystics believe these experiences of divine consciousness, enlightenment and union with God that are made possible via the mystical paths, are available to everyone who is willing to follow the practice. No one is denied or excluded from the practices or the experiences that result. While some mystic traditions may exclude the validity of other traditions, most tend to be more accepting than the non-mystical versions of their faiths. In general, mystics are more inclusionary and pluralistic.
How are these mystical experiences classified? In general they can first be divided into dualistic, which maintains a distinction between the individual and the divine, often called Theist Mysticism, and non-dualistic, where the distinction is blurred or no distinction exists.
These non-dualistic experiences can be further divided into those where there is a mystical consciousness of the unity of all reality superimposed upon a person’s perceptions of the world (i.e. when I, as a young boy, stood transfixed in the face of a gigantic thunderstorm as it and all of reality “passed through me” and became one). This can be called Nature Mysticism and may be experienced in any moment of intense passion, creativity, or connectedness with other people and natural objects. If the experience involves a “going inward” and the “falling away” of one’s identity to the point of “divine nothingness”, or bliss, this can be called Monist Mysticism.
You might ask: is a person limited to just one form of mystical experience? The answer is No! I myself have experienced both Nature and Monist mystical experiences. I have never experienced the divine as a deity or a spiritual presence. My partner has experienced all three.
Depending upon the religious tradition you are trying to conform to, these experiences may be embraced or looked upon with suspicion. I believe no single type or combination is the true or desirable experience. You cannot command mystical experiences to occur. However, you can maintain practices which increase their likelihood of occurrence. You can pray, chant, dance, meditate, do yoga, or take nature walks to name only a few. A deep level of despair may visit a mystic who has lost this connection with the divine i.e. the Theist to whom God fails to speak, the Nature mystic who feels nothing at the feet of natural beauty, or the Monist who cannot penetrate layers of ego and desire that block the way to the sacred core. It has been said that “Behind every addiction lies a search for the divine.” False paths to the divine do exist but that’s a topic for another posting.
Most people I know who have mystical experiences view them as profound gifts. As with any special gift, one shouldn’t hoard it, but share it with others. It may be shared when it inspires caring, loving behavior towards others, as inspiration for a poem or piece of artwork or the topic of a discussion. There are many paths, many experiences that will take the seeking pilgrim to the mountain top, to a knowledge of and relationship with the divine. Which path is “your path?” There is no more important question in life!
For more information the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at www.plato.stanford.edu contains a good academic discussion of the topic under mysticism. In addition, a wonderful movie is available called A Still Small Voice, narrated by Bill Kurtis (of recent “I found the internet” fame) which includes presentations by people who have experienced all three forms of mysticism.