Mysticism for the 21st century
What is mysticism and how can we return to a world that places value on it? Authentic mysticism is beyond definition. Efforts to define mysticism can only end in frustration because definitions are the quest of the left brain which seeks to separate and analyze. While many have made efforts to fully and accurately describe the core of mystical meaning, it is essentially impossible as mysticism is a right brain experience. Mysticism is beyond the control of even the most renowned mystic. However, it is still possible to explore and meditate upon the many dimensions of mystical experience. By doing so we may very well discover ancient wisdom and lost technologies.
Mysticism is deeply rooted in connection making. Non-dualism is a major facet of mysticism that describes the unitive experience during a deep state of mystical exploration. The nature of non-separation with everything is such that the ‘experience’ is not an experience at all as it is impossible to have an experience when you alone are everything. If there is nothing else outside of you including space and time, then there can be nothing to experience. As the great mystic Julian of Norwich puts it, “Between god and the soul there is no in-between.” Some call it returning to the godhead or returning to source. Whatever name is placed on it, this mystical experience exists as a human potential only due to the innate desire for radical amazement. “Awe is the beginning of wisdom, awe precedes faith” as Abraham Heschel put it. Mystical seekers take on a task that demands overcoming the temptation to fall into the complacency of taking our existence for granted. Only then can one follow the mystical path to non-duality.
Compassion could be considered another word for the unitive experience and so therefor another name for mysticism. True compassion is the “keen awareness of the interdependence of all living things which are all a part of one another and involved in one another,” as Thomas Merton observed only two hours before his untimely death. However, our dualistic nature finds true, deep compassion difficultly. Because we live within an illusion of separateness, we tend to forget or are entirely ignorant of the fact, that our connection to others as well as the entirety of the universe is a fundamental reality. The mystic attempts to live this deeper reality day to day. She recognizes the panentheistic quality to existence and so responds to life with compassion.
“Mysticism is always self-critical. Mystics learn to let go of projection onto others and are able to see the dualism in themselves as well as others.” observes Matthew fox. As one grows up in a specific culture, they tend to identify with the same ideas and beliefs as those within their community. These beliefs involve not only worldly and religious ideals but also basic foundational concepts relating to who we are as a species, how we relate to our reality and who each one of us is individually. Culture teaches us it’s narrow concepts of reality, including what strengths and weaknesses each one of us carries with us. The mystic attempts to let go of all of these concepts including personal internalized oppression while instead viewing themselves and everyone else as a co-creator with divinity. Fox continues, “Self-love is a rare and radical kind of love because it requires a trust of our right to be here and of the universe’s love for us.”
Silence is an important part of mystical experience. Silence is too often defined as ‘the absence of something’ when it is often the sound of searching for something, a search for the depths, the source. Silence is essential for the connection to deeper truths which is why it is common during types of meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices. It is important for the mystic to embrace silence in order to reach the depths of being. The deepest type of silence can be experienced not only as a lack of audible stimuli but more a lack of all stimuli, while at the same time retaining awareness. Mystics will at times find themselves in the deepest darkness, or as it’s called, “dark night of the soul”. The dark nothingness that exists all around each of us is a truer reality. Most of us keep a steadfast focus on the light of the world in front of eyes in order to keep the experience of this realm at bay. Terrifyingly timeless and infinite, we tend to flee from the invitation to be with the ultimate darkness. When sought out however, these enlightening experiences are lessons in wisdom, preludes to compassion. They put us in touch with the depths of others who also undergo the truth of the nothingness of being.
The heart of mysticism requires an unbiased search for eternal truths. In order to properly seek these truths we must learn to see through the cultural paradigms that have plagued us and persevere beyond our preconceived notions into the expanse of nothingness. From there we will discover a connection to our planet and all of it’s inhabitants. Once we truly understand our deep kinship with each other and the source of all things empathy will rein, and the world will change.