Tag Archives: Mysticism

The Theist-to-Mystic Sidestep

Let’s start by defining terms. As you know, I don’t believe in fixed definitions, so obviously these are my definitions, made to help us communicate on this post:

A Theist: a person who believes is a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, intervening in the world and who responds to prayer.

A Mystic: a person who believes the possibility of union or communion with some god, or absolute or higher level of truth or some such thing. Mystic who believe in a god, don’t necessarily believe in the Theist’s god. (see my post “Monkey God vs. Cat God“)

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When I left Christianity, I tried Reformed Judaism for a year — a stripped down Christianity. Then I started reading Christian mystics: Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and especially Thomas Merton. But I could tell that all these mystics were trying desperately to hang on to their Jesus. So I started reading Buddhism and Taoism — as filtered through the Western forms of these. (see my post on “The Making of Buddhist Modernism“)

Both of these (my Christianity and my mysticism) were largely fed by my weird experiences in life. (see my posts on “My Supernatural/Mystical Experiences“)

But slowly I began to realize that I was trying to add an extra layer of wonder, an extra layer of meaning, an extra layer of hope to both my ordinary and my extra-ordinary experiences. I was valorizing my experience — I was creating a fantasy of deep meaning and hope. Finally, I came to rest with not taking this extra step. And with such a move, my habits of mind became more clear and both the ordinary and not-so-ordinary became more brilliant.

Theism is hard to escape and mysticism offers a much more benign ground to live in. But mysticism comes with its pitfalls of idealism and romanticism all built to support our fears. But heck, all positions come with pitfalls, don’t they.

Mystic Pitfalls:

  • feel that real meaning, real knowledge comes from union with the absolute (be that a god, the universe, Buddha-mind, The One or any such thing).
  • homogenizing, idealizing, romanticizing the world of a myriad of things
  • negating or minimizing the body, normal mind, or normal experiences
  • judging others as not having your amazing connections, perspective and insight
  • valorizing your experiences and your temperament

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Please feel free to criticize or try to correct or add to my thoughts above.

 

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Delusional Myths about Poetry

I am tired of the many weird, false ideas about poetry.  Mind you, I am a poetry ignoramus, but my stupidity has never stop me from pontificating before — so here I go.

First, just like my posts on homeopathy, I hope my posts on poetry will illustrate habits of human emotion and reasoning that are also seen in religious thinking.  But that should not be surprising, because they all come from the same human mind.  My point is that though some people may feel superior because they are free of the normal human religious superstitions, the posts points out that confusion is pervasive and that religions have absolutely no monopoly on delusions — a theme of this blog.

Poetry is often attributed all sorts of magical, mystical properties.  I will use this post to list examples I find.  Poetry, like dance, sculpturing, painting, music, novel writing and much more, is just another form of human creative expression — it is not the voice of God, the Divine, the Cosmos, Nature, the Real Self or anything else.  Arghhhh!

David Orr, a poet critique in the New York Times, has a fun book called:  “Beautiful & pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry”.  On page two he laments that a common belief about poetry is: “[it] is the pure expression of our inner lives.  It is the prism through which the soul is glimpsed.”  On pg xiv he says “We seem trapped between a tediously mechanical view of poems and an unjustifiably shamanistic view of poetry itself”.   The people who read poetry in hopes of reading their own personal shaman abound .

For example, today I noticed that James McGrath has moved his Liberal Christian blog to Patheos.  One one of the many blogs there I read this nauseating piece:

Can Poetry Heal the Planet: “As texts for spoken word, Stephen Levine’s poems kindle higher consciousness. Aloud, they awaken awareness — words become stepping stones.”
— from a blog review of Levine’s book: “Breaking the Drought.”

Seriously!?  Could you imagine titles like “Can Novels Heal the Planet?”,  “Can Sculptures Heal the Planet?”  — not to mention the notion of kindling “higher consciousness”?.

I have intermittently read poetry over the years hoping it would click with me and I’d become a better person. 🙂  Yet for decades nothing clicked, I thought I must be soulless.  But in the last 5 years I have started to enjoy some poetry and even write occasionally.  I now I feel freer to say that part of my blind spot to poetry was all the false myths that clouded it as an art form.  Now without the myths, I can enjoy some poetry.  Funny, as I write this, I hear some emerging and liberal Christians saying the same thing about their Christianity.

Whether a poem, a dance, a sculpture, a song, a sight, a smell, a touch or a mathematical formula captures, inspires, lightens or frees your mind, it is not the form, not the vehicle but you and yuan.

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My Mystical Personality

Though I am not a theist, I nonetheless appear to have mystical experiences. They are not always positive, illuminating, wonderful or envious experiences, they are just very different experiences than what my usual, day-by-day mind usually experiences.  And perhaps they are different from yours.

My guess is that most “natural atheists” (people who have never really embraced a religion as an adult) do not share many of my mystical inclinations.  And perhaps even only a small percent of religious people actually have many significant mystical experiences either.

Below are my posts illustrating these mystical perceptions of mine;

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A Child’s Toilet Epiphany

My first memorable “mystical experience” was on the toilet. I was very young and it was an ordinary day.  I don’t remember being in anything but a normal mood.  I was in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet doing the normal bathroom thing.  The door to the bathroom was just a little ajar to the hallway.  Occasionally someone in my family walked by the door and I thought to myself ,

“Gee, I didn’t close the door — this is a little embarrassing.  But wait, no one seems to know I am in here.  That is good.”

But as I thought about no one knowing I was in the bathroom, I started thinking more generally:

“Wow, this is what it would look like if I weren’t here.  Gee, but what if they don’t know I am in here because I don’t really exist?  What if I never existed?  What would this family be like now if I never existed?  What if all memories of me disappeared?  Who would I be if all these memories were gone, even my own?”

Then, bang!  Suddenly nothing was normal.  I had an abrupt flood of feelings and insights.  I suddenly felt like “I” disappeared and yet it was a rich, peaceful, buzzing feeling — my whole body felt it.  It was a little scary, but still exciting and happy.  And I felt secure in a deep understanding that was settling in.

Then the feeling faded.  That all lasted about 3 minutes and I would never forget it.  In fact, over then next two months, when sitting on the toilet I would try to think the same thoughts and ask the same questions in order to trigger the experience but it would not return.   About a half a year later, in the same setting but without trying, the epiphany came upon me again but with much less intensity.  And after that day, that experience would never return.

The hum of change from this rather simple and naive experience of a young boy has lasted as fuel for his understanding of reality since then.  Have any of you had similar experiences?  Or have you had positive inner experiences that hum for years and inform your life?  What is an atheist suppose to call these?  I could probably explain them neurologically but how do I convey them?  So, can you see why I call myself a “sympathetic Atheist“?

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My Mystical Explosion

The word “mystical” is used in many ways.  One meaning is to describe subjective unusual experiences.  I have had several highly unusual mental and emotional experiences that I have great difficulty classifying with other experiences.  These experiences leave a hum of change in me — some that last for decades.   I call these “mystical experiences” for lack of a better word.

Below is one of several such experiences I have had.  In the future, I hope to post a few more.

But I am curious:  How would you define, “mystical”?  Have you had any experiences you’d qualify as “mystical”?
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Shortly after leaving Christianity, a friend tried to explain meditation to me.  But I had enough “spirituality” and just needed a vacation from religion.  He was patient and waited several months before bringing it up again.  And when he did bring it up, I rudely laughed at the silly practice of sitting on your butt trying to think about nothing.  But he gently demystified it for me and made it sound easy.  Then he slyly challenged me saying, “I’ll bet you couldn’t meditate for just 20 minutes even if you wanted to.”  Well, that was clever, he was using my pride against me.

So I decided to take the challenge to show him I could easily meditate.  But he was right.  At my first meditation,  I jumped up after only 5 minutes.  I was simply counting my breaths and I jumped up, irritated and bored out of my mind.  But I would not let silly old meditation defeat me.  So with diligence, six months later, I was finally able to comfortably meditate for 20 minutes.  And even with that level of a meditation came welcomed benefits:   I lost my difficulties falling asleep and it became much easier to control my temper.  I thanked my friend for the introduction.

Two years later, I was now meditating about 45 minutes a day or so.  It was Autumn and I was upstairs “sitting” (the common word for meditation is Zen circles).  My meditations had changed;  I would count my breath for 5-10 minutes, and then relax my body part-by-part and finally in the last part of the sitting I would tame my thoughts by not letting them wander too far.  But that day, for some reason, after going through the relaxation phase at about 20 minutes into the sitting, I felt a sensation of a ball of multi-colored light rotating in my upward turned palms.  The hum of the slowly spinning, warm light was deeply relaxing while it grew in intensity.

Just then, downstairs, my roommate let out a huge sneeze!  The sneeze caused the ball of light in my hands to explode outward engulfing my whole body into a deep thoughtless space where I felt my body blur into all the space around me.  I later learned to call this energy Qi and that the space around me was called my ethereal body.

When I came out of the sitting, in what felt like just 5 minutes, one and a half hours had actually elapsed.  Time had collapsed.  My mind was bright, and alert but very relaxed.  It took me twenty minutes to go downstairs, I did not want to move or talk to anyone.   When I finally did go downstairs, my roommates noticed a difference in me — a solemn calmness.  I thanked my roommate for the sneeze.  We all laughed.

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