Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mystic Margins

I’m one of those people, one of those for which the mystic comes easy. The mystic experience is easy for me, always has been. I don’t know if this is because at the age of five I landed on the top of my forehead, on a concrete driveway, after being pushed from a ten foot retaining wall. I don’t know if it’s due to unique brain chemistry or extraordinary temporal lobe activity. Perhaps my mystic quotient is high for any or all of these reasons. Possibly it is that I was simply born this way. Regardless, my having real tangible mystic experience is a part of what and who I am, every bit as much as my 14 EEEE sized feet. Like my feet, I have no choice in the matter. I can pretend my feet are size 11 and squeeze my feet into size 11 shoes, but it will hurt. I can pretend that I’m not mystic, but it hurts.

In our culture, being a mystic is like being a 14EEEE sized foot in a store where the salesperson only wants to sell size 11 shoes. It’s not that there aren’t 14EEEE shoes being made, the store may not choose to sell big, OK, huge shoes. It could be the store has huge shoes, but they’re in the back of the storeroom, on the top shelf and the salesperson just doesn’t feel like making the effort to grab the ladder and make the climb to retrieve the goods. Our culture wants to squeeze us into whatever it is it’s selling or willing to look for.

Our culture has very little use or even tolerance for mystics. Perhaps mystics are part of the collateral damage of Enlightenment or the Industrial and Technological revolutions. It could be that mystics represent the elemental aspect of being a free spirit, the ultimate expression of a psyche, mind and person who can’t be reigned in and placed within the confines of culture. Religions (spiritual, scientific and political) don’t deal very well with free spirits. At some level all religions depend upon conformity among their constituents. Mystics may represent the ultimate threat to authority, because mystics are the polar opposite of an authority of culture rooted in the current controlling temporal, quantitative and materialistic philosophies of life.

I think there are more people who experience the mystic than we realize. I see the mystic experience as a primary aspect of being human; indeed a capacity for the mystic is one of the things which separate us from other life forms on earth. I believe the mystic experience comes in all shapes, sizes and degrees. Some are experienced as feelings and intuitions while others can be full-blown anomalous phenomenon.

What is a mystic experience and how is it different from other anomalous phenomenon? The primary difference in my experience is that mystic experience is centered in my spiritual life and my pursuing relationship and understanding of God, Spirit. Yet, I don’t believe in the supernatural. I believe in ordinary phenomena and anomalous phenomena.

Part of the understanding of the fullness of human experience is in moving past the misconception that there is natural or supernatural experience, which is to be believed or disbelieved. Everything which has occurrence in the cosmos occurs within the natural order and is therefore natural. We typically perceive and experience ordinary phenomena (OP) as everyday life, which is predictable or occurs within dictated established parameters of probability.

Then there are those things which fall outside the predictable probabilities around which our ordinary lives are structured, these are anomalous phenomena (AP). These AP have been labeled as “paranormal” and “supernatural” or “bunk” and “BS”. These labels represent misunderstanding or a mental conditioning and nothing more. I think the bias against AP is primarily a case of misunderstanding. In many cases, I think that our ability to prove or disprove AP has simply been in the technological limitations to observe and record AP. It’s not my intention to delve too deeply into OP and AP, I simply address AP as a reality, which many scientist take seriously, if quietly.

Albert Einstein referred to quantum physics as “spooky science”, as its core of understanding the world, is entirely up-side-down from our daily “common sense” experience of living. Go back to me, the five year old whose head hit concrete: my solid head hit solid concrete resulting in major concussion, lots and lots of blood and lots and lots of stitches. Yet, the quantum reality is that my head isn’t so solid and mostly made-up of empty space, all of which comes as no surprise to my dad. But, the same is true of the concrete which left me concussed and bloody but failed to split my skull. It too is mostly empty space. It is true there are no solids in the strictest sense.

Our bodies, large, small, attractive and less so, are small cosmic models, in that like the universe we are mostly empty space. We are subatomic, are molecules and elements loosely held together in electromagnetic forms we recognize as birds, trees, skulls and driveways, all vibrating at different rates which then when touching, cause the sensation of contact. They also cause the sense of the collision of flesh on driveways. Did you know that we never actually “touch” anything, ever? There is always a very tiny electromagnetic field around everything. It was the concrete’s field which collided with my field; its field tore my field which released energy which then tore the matter of my skin.

Consider the bizarre nature of the quantum realities in the Observer Principle. This phenomenon was noticed in the early stages of particle accelerator experiments, where subatomic particles were first observed. Scientist were initially unable to repeat experimental results, their data would not collaborate each other’s findings. These particles kept demonstrating different behavior in the experiments conducted by different scientists. It wasn’t until enough data had been collected that the particles were revealed to be behaving exactly the same, in different ways. The particles always did exactly what the individuals expected them to do. As different people expected particles to behave differently from other people’s expectations, the particles did what was expected of them by the person in control of the specific experiment. This was the consistent result of the individual experiments.

Ponder also new research in the quantum realm which has found that atoms communicate with each other, and at a rate of communication faster than the speed of light. They call this communication, teleporting. Researchers expect that in twenty years atomic teleporting communication will replace silicon as the media of data exchange in computers. This subatomic communication between particles and atoms may explain the Observer Principle, and may explain phenomena such as ESP and remote viewing.

Duke University spent decades in ESP research and proved beyond the realm of chance probability that ESP is real, with some individuals having had success rates at nearly 80%. Stanford University conducted remote viewing research which was so successful that the military took over the research as part of their intelligence program, literally “spooky stuff”. Researchers are now using full-light-spectrum cameras when researching hauntings, and are revealing shapes and forms behaving in direct correlation to haunting AP, which were never visible before to human eyes or traditional cameras. Perhaps technology is catching up, to correct and reform the orthodoxy of science.

All of this is fascinating and is intended only to open the mind to what lies beyond the common-sense or conventional thinking of our culture. It also may explain the spiritual, mystical wonder which forever remained in the heart and mind of Einstein. I’m sorry Mr. Dawkins, but despite your need to strip Einstein of his spirituality by trying to prove he didn’t really mean it, what Einstein said and wrote regarding his spirituality, he really, really meant. Otherwise, he would not have expressed them. To Mr. Dawkins’ great atheist disappointed dismay, there are millions of scientists who have spiritual and even religious beliefs. I break bread with quite a few of them weekly.

Which brings me back to the beginning; there are a great many ways to experience the mystic, whether as a large AP experience such as Saul experienced, or a small “ah-ha” in the experience of a beautiful sunset, or the embrace of a loved one. One may even develop one’s mystic quotient. Think of the mystic experience as going to the beach, the place where land and ocean meet and meld. Look around. Look out and see those people so adept in the ocean that they can swim the English Channel, very advanced stuff. These are the waters of Buddha, Isaiah, Jesus and Rumi, perhaps. Maybe we see Francis of Assisi, Gandhi or MLK out there chest deep and body surfing back into us. Most of us are content to get our feet wet; maybe we wade out knee or waist deep. Some of us will never even wet our toes in the water. If we want, we can all learn and gain confidence to swim a bit.

There is an ocean of experience available to us which in all its ways is radically different from that which we landed mammals experience. It is richly full and abundant in life and from which we draw the elements of our lives. The ocean is our origin, scientifically and spiritually, as God first breathed Spirit over and into the waters to bring forth life. The ocean feeds us. Through the cycle of evaporation, the salty ocean is even the source of fresh water for all land life. Yet it can also be perceived as a place of great danger, and if one is unwise and unprepared, it can be. Still the ocean is a constancy of beauty and bounty. So it is too with the mystic experience.

I do believe in the mystic quality innate to all humans. I believe that when anyone thinks outside of themselves to consider anyone, anything or problem beyond the immediate existential moment, then they are walking the mystic beach. Anthropologists now suspect that it was mystic experience which gave early humans the drive to move out of the darkness of caves and create communities, culture and simple technologies. Whether it was by accidental consumption of alkaloid rich fungi, or through the production of high levels of dopamine from the stress of prolonged dancing or from the natural fasting of low food levels, people arrived to a vision of life outside the mere confines of survival. Some anthropologists even suggest that these early mystic experiences triggered changes in neural DNA which led to the outrageous acceleration of culture and science of the past 10,000 years, in geologic time a mere blink of an eye, taking humanity from loose wandering proto-communities, to where we are today, like the ocean, beautiful, bountiful and at times dangerous.

It could be we begin to experience the margins of the mystic at birth, the moment where we first move from the solitude of floating in the salty waters of the womb, to contact with someone outside our insular world of prenatal solitude, and into the first hands which hold us and touch us, connecting us to someone outside of ourselves. It could begin the first time we are held to our mother’s breast and we feel good in her warmth and her feeding us, the moment we have our first sense of primal happiness given to us from someone other than ourselves.

I think it is a mistake to view our mystic/spiritual selves and realities as irrational, illogical, delusion, superstition or fantasy. Though certain cultural powers would have us disregard our spiritual mystic selves, I believe the mystic may be the most significant aspect of our humanity and to dismiss it does great harm to our human experience. The mystic is the key to long term vision of responsibility for ourselves, humanity and the earth. There is a difference between superstition and spirituality. There is in mystic the great rationality which has given birth to ethics, compassion, justice, liberty and the responsibilities of individuals to communities and communities to individuals.

I believe that whenever our thoughts and feelings move beyond the mean of survival and into the concerns and cares of others, we engage the margins of the mystic; we walk down the slope of beach to the water’s edge and wet our toes in the mystic ocean. To be mystic is to give careful thought to where we are and how we can best get to where we are going while doing as little damage as possible and while easing as much suffering as possible: are there any more rational considerations than these? As people give more thought to compassion they wade deeper into the mystic, as they begin to act more deeply in compassion, they begin to swim in the mystic waters. These waters belong to everyone who perceive and practice compassion.

My understanding of the God of Jesus is as a Spirit of love and compassion, expressed in Jesus’ directions to his followers to love God as loving each other and creation. I also believe that God is love and is manifest in our loving, in that when we love or experience love we experience God and are present with God in our loving. Then any consideration of love and compassion is to enable the mystic, and acts of love and compassion are to engage the mystic relationship between Spirit, self and creation. Here we then begin to move around within the mystic margins.

Regardless of the AP I’ve experienced as large things and small, they lead me to act on deep considerations I make regarding Jesus and his teachings, as central to my understanding, the center of my life with God and each other. Like Mary, I would “treasure all these words and ponder them in (my) heart,” so that as Paul wrote, “Christ may dwell in (our) hearts”.

Celtic Christianity holds a tradition of spirituality where we see God shining through the “thin places”, where we perceive God as not one removed from us, but here with us, around us and within us, “the one in whom we live and move and have our being”. Our ordinary daily lives are wrapped up in God. We live simultaneously in two worlds, physical and spiritual and like wet sand on the beach, the thin places are where the worlds touch and interact. At that point we may also realize that though we may not live in the ocean, we don’t actually live on the dry land we thought we did. We actually live in a gaseous sea of water vapor, the thin place that is our atmosphere. We are connected.

The mystic is a place at least of margins and the merging of me to all and all to me, a place of initiating relationships and the ever present pursuit of sustaining and deepening relationships. The mystic is the stubborn and dogged pursuit of love in all its presence and applications. Above all the mystic is being open. Be an open heart, an open mind, an open life. Be open, aware and vulnerable to the wonder and Mystery that is God and love. The Mystery is a means of grace, always present and waiting for us, to willingly engage it in our life and being, our love and relationships.

Come on down to the margin of sea and shore. Just get your feet wet, think about God, as love and think about what love really means to you, what it requires of you in your relationships with friends, family, strangers and even those who wish ill of you. Be open to the water’s invitation. See what happens in the beauty and abundance of these mysterious waters.


  1. John, this is beautiful! You write well. I like your image of the thin place --the water vapor in which we live. Beautiful, man!