By Celia Coates
I’ve been having a difficult time writing this week’s post. It’s about a large topic – mysticism – that’s hard to say much about in just a few words. Mysticism also ties in to the core idea in WINN (What Is Needed Now). Our society has a limited and destructive system of values based on an incomplete understanding of the nature of reality. Most people who agree with the dominant world view do not consider the concepts of mystic wisdom as relevant to their lives. That is a belief system that needs to be changed for our world to thrive.
Perhaps it’s best to approach this indirectly so I’ll begin with a special issue of the National Geographic. The striking title on the front cover – SCIENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL: Dare to Discover the Truth – caught my attention. It sounded like something I would like to read! It turned out to be a disappointing example of the all too common lack of understanding of the difference between awe and the awful. What causes awe (great beauty or spiritual experiences) is mixed up with what makes us feel fear or dread (such as vampires, werewolves, and the undead).
It began well. This is from the first page of that special issue:
“Who is God? What is good? Why do we fear the unseen and the flickers in the shadows? For that matter, what do we really know?”
That’s the great question – What do we really know?
And, how do we explore what is to be known?
Most of what we know we’ve been taught by others. We accept what we’ve been told. We live in an age when science and the scientific method have been expanding knowledge since the end of the 17th Century. Thank goodness! But we can also make our own discoveries as we experience life and explore what is around us.
The National Geographic special issue went on:
“In ancient times, anything unexpected was attributed to deities, to specters and spirits. While we have long seen ourselves as masters of the earth, we feel small and confused in the face of the supernatural.”
Feeling small and confused we can become fearful and superstitious.
Most of this special issue features topics that are straight from that long human history of being fear-driven. In addition to the information (along with impressive images and photographs) about vampires, werewolves, and the undead, there are pages about many other dark elements such as ghosts, witches, magic potions, curses, satanism, and cults.
Although the editors include this quote –
“Faith is a certitude about the fathomless. St. Paul let it be known that it was ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Through faith, people make sense of the unknown and embrace the miraculous.”
– they write only a little about positive and life-changing experiences of “things not seen.”
For thousands of years mystics have explored the dimensions of the transcendent unseen. They have been brave and enduring people from many places and belief traditions discovering the same meaningful truths for thousands of years.
Pastor Rob Bell (https://winnpost.org/2021/07/02/when-everything-is-spiritual/) told a story about talking with a woman who said to him, “You’re a mystic….”
“I kind of knew what she was saying,
I knew exactly what she was saying.
The mystic has had the direct experience. The mystic knows personally. The mystic doesn’t need an institution or a system or a dogma to tell them what they have already experienced. The mystic doesn’t need an authority figure to validate what they know is true.”
We can all “know personally.” Although we cannot compel a mystical experience, we can refuse to dismiss our unusual experiences as not real. Decades ago, before Raymond Moody showed that Near Death Experiences were genuine, people who experienced them were most likely to fear that they were crazy or would be seen as crazy if they told others what they had experienced. It’s important to explore what might be true with an open mind and heart and we are a little more free these days to do that.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who has a column in SPIRITUALITY AND HEALTH MAGAZINE, has written:
“As for ‘truth,’ my rule of thumb is this: if your spiritual experiences make you more kind and less judgmental, they are true; if they make you more cruel and less forgiving, they are false. …
While no one can promise you a mystical experience, there are many fine teachers who offer practices that prepare you to receive the gift of such an experience if it comes.”
Science has its own dogma. It often denies or scoffs at any “knowing” that is not derived from technology, measurements, controls, and data. Believing that the non-material realm does not exist or is the domain of the weird and wacky has led to great distortions. The dominant “educated” view of what constitutes reality can leave us filled with fear and focused on horror rather than awe.
I agree with Rob Bell: “Thinking in a new way can change everything.”
For five years WINN has been publishing short articles about what I (and others) believe is needed in our society now – a new way of thinking, knowing that the material world and the non-material world are together part of a greater whole. Our own unusual experiences of that non-dual reality can teach us that Love directs all and everything. When we know that, Justice, Peace, Generosity, Fairness, and Wisdom become natural, expected, chosen. Then we can all thrive.
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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, SCIENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL: Dare To Discover The Truth, Daniel S. Levy, 2019.
Rob Bell, EVERYTHING IS SPIRITUAL: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2020.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler, SPIRITUALITY AND HEALTH MAGAZINE, June/July 2021.