Posts Tagged ‘Mysticism’

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

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.


Blazing Sky!

     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!

daodejing1     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.



Alchemist's Star

   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.

  julian-holycard1   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.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 21                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 22

Today’s Mileage: 11                                            Total Trip Mileage: 208 


    I climbed on the bike today with a heavy heart. My oldest son is making choices that are sending his life down a destructive path.  As I work to grow, discover more about myself, and connect with the divine through my Pilgrimage Journey, he is “going over to the dark side!”  Whether it’s a family member, friend or student struggling with life’s demands, it is hard to watch. It is even harder to accept that there is little you can do for them. Sharing the struggle with others and carrying the individual in your thoughts and prayers can help. 

southwest florida by foto's van overal

Coast Prairie Trail west of Flamingo


In yesterday’s posting I noted that Jennifer Westwood described one of the components of the Longing to undertake a Pilgrimage journey as “the Prayer.” This prayer, which is carried by the pilgrim to the site, often takes the form of a request for assistance from the divine for themselves, for another person or some cause.

birds at flamingo by craig gaebel

Bird at Flamingo Florida


    Tomorrow I will post a Prayer page as part of this Blog It will be a place where we can identify those family and friends who are in need of our prayers.  I will carry these pilgrim prayers with me as I ride between pilgrimage sites.


high tide at flamango by danhester

At high tide near Flamingo

    As I spun the wheel and the miles slipped past I think of nature’s beauty as we travel through the Everglades National Park.  Some see the handiwork of the divine in this beauty and give praise for the many gifts that flow our way.  Other people stand in awe of the beauty and experience a mystical sense of oneness with the divine.

flamingo area by nationalparklover

Flamingo area with kite.

    I have included a number of pictures to highlight this natural beauty.  Seeing the shoreline, waterways and wildlife remind me of a walk I took along a local river and the blue heron that crossed my path. I wrote about our chance encounter.

The Heron

Like some exotic oriental kite

It hovers in the morning sky

I hold my breath

Holding onto the moment



Standing majestically erect

Scanning the surroundings

It watches me

Not its prey

Like I was some enemy


Like These

It is moments like these

Standing shivering

   in the morning chill

The first rays of the morning sun

   Not yet clearing the horizon

Wafts of mist rising from

   roaring churning waters

That I feel

   most alive


Just the dance of life

One moment

    It stands frozen

        Like some garden ornament

The next

    It plunges its long neck       

        Into the swirling waters

Standing proud and erect

    It shifts its prey

        Lifts its head

            and the fish disappears



Lifting off

He turns skyward

As the morning sun

Creeps steadily across

The green river canopy

sunset north of flamingo by Dr. Rusty

Simple sunset north of Flamingo Florida

     I hope you enjoyed the photos and poems.  Have a wonderful and safe day!

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 12                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 13

Today’s Mileage:  6                                             Total Trip Mileage: 123


     I hope everyone got a chance to visit our first Pilgrimage site (click on tab at the top of the page if you did not).  As I mount the stationary bike for today’s ride I have decided to ride further up the coast before we leave the Keys and head inland.  I believe there is nothing wrong with lingering over a meaningful experience.  We will of course get the opportunity to visit other coast lines in the future and other pilgrimage sites.  But the first is important as it often sets the expectations for future visits.

     I have dried out from the underwater leg of yesterday’s journey!  My progress was slowed by the beautiful coral formations, and by the CAUTION FISH SCHOOL CROSSING signs! One of the benefits of a virtual trip is you don’t need expensive lessons and equipment to make it to the hard to get too places.  I won’t be surprised to see us “take to the air” on future site visits!

     I left my fellow travelers with three questions yesterday.  I want to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on each.  But first a disclaimer: In no way do I assume that my views hold more authority or truth than any other visitor’s to this site.  These are my views and are shared with joy, as a gift, feel free to disagree with these views.  Feel free to share your own!

Beauty at your feet.   

With respect to the question about the significance of nature, any of you who have followed this Blog will know I find a great deal of meaning in my relationship with nature. It offers me beautiful and powerful images and experiences, which I in turn cherish and honor with poems, musings and artistic images.  I will at times speak of nature the way others may speak of a deity. Nature also presents me with mysteries, dangerous situations, and challenges, much like a deity may for some people!  Nature’s most precious gifts for me has been the Nature Mystical Experiences.  I know some people experience the gifts of nature as blessings from a higher power.  I experience nature as a higher power!

     The second question asked about the significance of the Christ figure as a shrine. The use of Christ versus some other religious figure (Buddha, or Krishna) is easily understood as Christianity represents the predominate form of religious thought in Italy, where the statue originated, and in the US.  I believe many people like to be reminded of and remind others of our relationship with the divine, this accounts for the popularity of road side crosses across much of the southeastern US. So this placement represents a public display of worship and faith.  I also equate Christ’s posture, open arms and head turned skyward, as offers of comfort to anyone who might be in danger of “slipping below the surface,” anyone who might be in need of rescue.  This posture, especially on land, could be seen as a plea to the “Heavenly Father” for mercy or help for those unfortunate individuals in need.

Stain Glass Window - Amaryliss    

   The third question concerned the possible significance of the placement of the shrine, miles off shore and under many feet of water.  I believe this highlights an important aspect of many pilgrimages: they are in not easily accessible places.  Of course in the modern world with air conditioned buses, planes, 4 wheel drive vehicles and GPS devices, the challenging and often daunting travel aspects of a pilgrimage have in many cases been turned into a detour or a tourist ride. 

     Given that the work of the pilgrimage journey was the struggle with roadblocks to be overcome, both external ones like deserts, mountains and raging rivers, and internal ones like doubts, misgivings and a loss of faith in the journey,  one can argue roadside pilgrimages have robbed these journeys of real meaning. The irony of this statement is not lost on me, as I have taken on the task of leading myself and others on virtual pilgrimages where you don’t have to leave the safety of your home, office or even your bed. 

     This is where my pragmatic nature rises to the surface as I would argue that many of us have demands that can not be set aside to roam the world.  As such I believe we should journey in whatever way we can, accepting the physical challenges have been removed, or replaced by a stationary bike ride. We should confront any and all internal/mental roadblocks we encounter.  As a therapist I can tell you the most frightening and daunting hurtles most people face in their journey towards happiness, adjustment and maturity are in fact mental.  Whether that be overcoming past trauma, facing one’s fears, letting go of negative feelings, or risking to care and love others.

     So I believe that the Christ in the Deep site represents in some ways a return to the pilgrimages of old where they are more out of the way and presented the determined pilgrim with a physical challenge.  Of course the cynical among us might argue that its placement was more of a business decision to promote the glass boat and scuba diving tourist industry. 

 Todays artwork included two of my own works.  Entitled: “Beauty at your feet” and “Stain Glass Window – Amaryliss.”

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