mysticism Jan 25, 2024

Definitions of mysticism are varied and contradictory. I will present my personal understanding. The truth which mysticism is reaching toward cannot be named, because names are subject to all the problems of conceptualization. Properly, this writeup would have no title and contain no words, but only a transmission of the experience of every lifetime which has been or will be experienced. Concessions must be made.

A mystic is someone who is concerned with reality and wholeness. Such people often find themselves opposed by the prevailing modes of thought. It seems that humans tend to think that the world can be understood, that its truths can be captured by the mind. But the mystic begins to appreciate the notion that the world is beyond all mental "truths"---that reality cannot be completely captured by the mind. But this is not an assertion that there is "something beyond" which is more true than this world. It is simply that we must combine our reason and our intuition, the physical and the spiritual, in order to have any hope of understanding reality. And even then, we must realize that the truth is always larger than we can hold.

Mysticism is something which must be experienced first-hand to be understood. You cannot read about it, or think about it; You must do it. The practice of mysticism is as varied as the life forms of the world, yet all of these variations have the same core. Some common threads are:

- focusing on the present moment
- direct investigation of the nature of the mind (or self), particularly with regard to body, emotion, thought, and perspective
- discovering the connectedness of all things
- seeking to understand the patterns and non-patterns of the world
- acting in the world in light of this new understanding, particularly in emulation of the divine and in service of others

Emulation of the divine touches on one of the central paradoxes of mysticism. If the universe is divine, then why do we need to do anything differently at all? If all of this is ordained by god, we don't need to do anything in order to emulate the divine; We already are it. This problem comes from an incorrect perspective. Choice arises within the universe, and cannot be compared to the operation of the universe itself. The idea of emulating the divine is a practical one, rather than an ontological one. The divine does not have problems, and we have problems. So we can look to the divine for clues as to how not to have problems. It is not a question of becoming divine, for we already are; It is a question of solving the problems on our level using the strategies of another level.

Service toward others takes many different forms. In order to serve each other, we must learn each other's languages. How many languages are there in the world? Not just spoken languages, but cultures, hobbies, dance, music, art, and perspectives (just to name a few) are all kinds of languages. We must learn not just the surface, but really understand where the "words" came from, and what perspective generated these "idioms". To know each other is to become better connected, and connection is required in order for the exchange which benefits all parties. The essence of service is to uplift the entire world through the forging of a single connection in the smallest corner of it.

Chaos theory teaches us that everything matters, but in a way that is hard for us to understand. The smallest detail changed, results in a completely changed overall outcome. But the changes don't make sense in a human way; It is difficult for us to trace out the causes and effects. Very often the world is like this. We can't see the story, only this unending tumble of events. Our human desire to make sense of things, to put things in boxes and explain them, gets in the way of our ability to see reality simply for what it is, for how it moves.

In mathematics there is a theorem called "incompleteness". It was proven by kurt godel, and in short it says that there are true statements which are not provable. Logic doesn't cover truth. We don't need very advanced mathematics in order to prove this---simple arithmetic is enough. Yet it seems that we haven't really internalized this truth. We still believe that logic can be enough, even when logic tells us that it isn't.

Science is quite mystical. It is a rational process for doing mystical work. We want to understand reality, outside of our own ideas of what is real. Science helps us to get outside of those ideas through curiosity, experiment, analysis, and communication. These same steps can also be stated with more spiritual words: wonder, exploration, reflection, and community.

Examples of mystics i have enjoyed:

- howard thurman (christian)
- thich nhat hanh (buddhist)
- brother lawrence (christian)
- zalman schachter-shalomi (jewish)
- hayao miyazaki (animation)
- ramana maharshi (hindu)
- jiddu krishnamurti (independent)

I have labelled them with their primary traditions, but as mystics, they all to a certain degree transcend the tradition within which they largely worked. The mystic sees boundaries as permeable, and ultimately unreal. All labels come off in the steamy bath of unity. And at the same time, this world is awash in diversity, in so many different expressions of the truth. Many of them seem incompatible. It is the mystic's job to discover the impossible compatibility (evidenced by their simultaneous reality), and to convey it.

You might be surprised to find an animator in this list of religious figures. But his quest, by his own admission, is to convey what is real. Often he utilizes the fantastic, but it is in service of the human, of the natural. He is dismayed by those who use animation to create worlds of cheap wish-fulfillment. He is seeking to convey reality as it is, with all of its magic and mundanity, terror and wonder.

Mystics can be found at the beginning and the core of every major religion. These are people who looked deeply into themselves, into their people, into the world, and found a spirit which called out truth to the masses. Over time, this spirit is boxed up, misinterpreted, misrepresented, and abused. But there are always those people who see through these problems, who can see through to the core of it, to the spirit of reality which cannot be dimmed by anyone. Some of these people are famous, and some of them are forgotten or unknown. What is important is the reality, which includes it all.

You don't need to be a mystic to feel the power of reality. Every day we encounter its blinding and crushing truth when we walk our dogs, or go to the gym, or check the mailbox. In every moment we are actually real, regardless of our awareness of this fact. You may not think of yourself as a mystic, but if you are close to reality, then you are a mystic.

Mysticism is about living within the paradox. Reason and intuition constrain our understanding in many subtle ways. But there is a way to escape from these confines, and to see things from many different perspectives. As finite beings, we are limited by perspective, by where we are and what we know. But we can learn to move around, to not seek a single standing point from which to see. And this helps us to increase our understanding beyond what is otherwise possible.

What would a world of mystics look like? How about just a country? A house? What does it look like just for you? What is the true religion, the true god, the true reality, within you? Without words, apart from society, but connected to everything.

What is wholeness? What is real?


links to:
- a meditation toward the union of science and religion
- the mountain of truth

linked from: when the sky breaks, and the raw power of the universe roars in every direction

all writing, chronological
next: when the sky breaks, and the raw power of the universe roars in every direction
previous: a big blue rock and the rain and the cold