For most of my life -- age 18 to 55, or thereabouts -- I've been an avid embracer of mysticism.
During my psychedelic period, I wasn't only aiming at getting high via LSD, mescaline, and such. Along with many other flower children, I also was trying to experience a higher form of consciousness.
We'd ponder the Tibetan Book of the Dead, then see if we could experience some of the bardos via a pill rather than meditation.
After a few years I stopped using drugs and devoted myself to meditating several hours a day with the same intent: learning whether our everyday way of viewing reality was truly "normal," or whether consciousness could be enlightened and perceive the cosmos from a more elevated perspective.
Looking back at those many years of mystic practice, I've come to realize how confining a mystical belief system can be -- even one that called itself a "science of the soul," supposedly far different from dogma-ridden religions.
"Belief" and "mystical" are notions that don't get along very well. At least, not the way I've come to look upon mysticism.
Words, concepts, ideas, beliefs, and other thought-based forms of cognition are a big part of being human. But we Homo sapiens also are able to intuit, grok, commune, directly experience, and otherwise relate to reality suddenly, immediately, at one fell swoop, rather than bit by bit, step by step, understanding by understanding.
Mystics are out to find something hidden.
But if you presuppose what that "something" is, if you believe you know what the mystery is that a mystic practice supposedly will reveal, how mystical is that? Sure sounds a lot more like a religion than mysticism to me.
As the Grand Exalted Wikipedia proclaims, mysticism has many different meanings. I'm not saying that I have a better one. In fact, I'm mainly saying that I don't have any one.
And that's why I feel that I'm much more of a mystic now that I'm churchless. I've stopped believing. I still meditate, but I have no (or little) idea why I'm doing it or what I'm going to gain from it, if anything.
I just meditate because I like meditation, in pretty much the same way I eat strawberries because I like strawberries. Intellectually I understand that both things -- meditation and stawberries -- are good for me in certain ways.
However, the taste of each is what I enjoy, not the thinking about them.
When I believed in a supposedly mystical set of spiritual teachings, I never genuinely felt like a mystic. There always was a big bunch of expectations, suppositions, do's and don'ts, injunctions, rules, and rituals standing between me and the Great Unknown.
Dropping that stuff brought me closer to whatever it is I am, but don't know; to whatever it is the cosmos may be, but I'm clueless about.
I no longer believe that I have to look within myself, closed-eye inwardness, for mystic inspiration. The outside world is just as mysterious to me as my unknowing consciousness.
Much of the time while I'm bustling around doing my daily stuff, I have a feeling that seems deeply mystical to me -- much more so than the pseudo-mysticism I used to embrace, which actually was highly conceptual since it required an acceptance of teachings far divorced from immediate experience.
Mysticism doesn't have to be mystical.
By which I mean, mysticism doesn't have to be viewed as a voyage to some far-off hidden level of reality that lies way beyond the horizon of everyday life.
Yes, some people look upon mysticism that way. Which is fine. As the Wikipedia article says, some forms of mysticism are dualistic, while others aren't. There's a lot of choices:
- Nullification and absorption within God's Infinite Light (Hassidic schools of Judaism)
- Complete non-identification with the world (Kaivalya in some schools of Hinduism, including Sankhya and Yoga; Jhana in Buddhism)
- Liberation from the cycles of Karma (Moksha in Jainism and Hinduism, Nirvana in Buddhism)
- Deep intrinsic connection to the world (Satori in Mahayana Buddhism, Te in Taoism)
- Union with God (Henosis in Neoplatonism and Brahma-Prapti or Brahma-Nirvana in Hinduism, fana in Sufism)
- Theosis or Divinization, union with God and a participation of the divine nature (in Catholic Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy)
- Innate Knowledge (Irfan and Sufism in Islam)
- Experience of one's true blissful nature (Samadhi Svarupa-Avirbhava in Hinduism and Buddhism)
- Seeing the Light, or "that of God", in everyone (Quakerism)
My personal mystic experience has been along the lines of Taoism: "deep intrinsic connection to the world," though those words naturally don't reflect whatever the heck it is I feel whenever I feel whatever I'm feeling.
The best way I can express it is... gratitude... awe... wonder... bemusement... at the marvelous fact that for the moment I'm existing as part of an existence that every other existent person and thing shares.
Here I am. Here we are. Here it is.
For me, that's mysticism. And it isn't at all mystical. I simply have come to see the same world with different eyes. Unknowing eyes. Unbelieving eyes. Unreligious eyes.
If you're attracted to another form of mysticism, like the "complete non-identification with the world" mentioned above, that's great. Let's just agree that mystics come in all varieties -- including those who don't feel that mysticism is mystical.
If mysticism is about "... gratitude... awe... wonder... bemusement..." then that leaves out being free to be angry, annoyed, disappointed, frustrated and sad.
Being real and accepting what is sounds more enjoyable than holding to such a standard of mysticism.
Posted by: Steven | March 03, 2010 at 03:56 PM
Steven, I wasn't trying to make those qualities into a "standard," though perhaps this is how I sounded. What I was getting at is my personal experience that I tried to encompass with those inadequate words.
The older I get, and the more churchless I get (with little if any belief in an afterlife), the more precious, amazing, and bewildering my life, and life in general, seems.
Yes, this includes anger, frustration, sadness, and such, as you pointed out. But for me the "mystical" quality that underlies (or overlies?) every experience in life is the Wow! fact that anything at all is being experienced.
That I'm alive. That I won't always be. That right now, at this moment, this breath, this heart beat, I'm experiencing something. Hardly matters what it is -- it's something!
Posted by: Blogger Brian | March 03, 2010 at 10:39 PM
Brian, you said:
"The older I get [...] the more precious, amazing, and bewildering my life, and life in general, seems."
"the "mystical" quality that underlies [...] every experience in life is the Wow! fact that anything at all is being experienced."
"That I'm alive. That I won't always be. That right now, at this moment, this breath, this heart beat, I'm experiencing something. Hardly matters what it is -- it's something!"
-- Yes, I too feel very much the same way.
Posted by: tAo | March 04, 2010 at 01:49 AM
During my days as a manager, I read lots of books on how to be a good manager. Then I came across Scott Adams' The Dilbert Principle. I never read another management book.
I'm not as well-read as you on the things you write about here but I've read a fair amount. And one of the "best" I've found is God's Debris by... Scott Adams.
I very much enjoy this blog. Thanks.
Posted by: Steve Mays | March 04, 2010 at 02:28 PM
Interesting post. My tradition
Shambhala Buddhist Meditation suggests the downside to being an island to yourself, a mystic without a lineage of practitioners who have walked the path before you and realized some level of achievement is that you don't have a reference point for when you think drugs or your own cult might be the "right" answer. You have described your path as venturing in to drugs and then veering away but and that is a valid path, probably with no regrets but, if it was possible to relive that period and hypothetical fork in the road was either 2 years of drugs or 2 years in a meditation practice environment I know what kind if encouragement I would prefer.
Keep up the good posts!
Posted by: Bruce | March 05, 2010 at 01:04 PM
This article resonates with me on a number of levels, tho i come at it from a different background, one of rationality as opposed to mystery.
I guess the question is whether there is in fact a hidden or transcedental reality to be discovered or whether its just false.
I also am not sure intuition should be removed from cognition, since both seem ultimately tied and confined to our sensory and psychological limits.
Was it leary or alpert or both that wrote a guide on using lcd to try experience the bardos? I think these psychotropic experiences are massively interesting, and it sounds like you have indeed had some 'holy shit' moments, i guess the question is looking back on them in the cold light of day is whether you feel any of them were real in any sense or helped you gain a deeper insight into reality.
Posted by: George | March 06, 2010 at 03:46 AM