I’ve never thought I was a mystic. Well, not counting that time when I was about seven when a friend told me she thought she was developing the stigmata — marks of nails on one’s hands and feet in identification with the crucified Jesus. But when no similar marks appeared in my own hands, I decided not to take matters into my own hands (excuse the pun), and decided it was not going to be my path to sainthood.
Many years later as a psychologist, I wondered in passing if many manifestations of “mysticism” weren’t really a form of neurosis or even psychosis.
But more recently I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences almost of euphoria in response to music and also of some studies of nature like quantum physics or animal consciousness. My responses aren’t irrational, but they are somehow beyond reason, accompanied by this sheer sense of awe and joy in the presence of such almost-infinite beauty.
Then a couple of days ago I stumbled on a website discussing how quantum mechanics, mysticism, and vendata-yoga are influencing western thought today, and I began to ask myself what actually a mystic is. How do they know something that us ordinary folk do not comprehend? And how does one tell the difference between a mystic and someone who simply claims to know the Truth by some path which the rest of us have not attained?
So I went to the font of all knowledge in this second millennium and Googled “What is a mystic?”
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is of the opinion that “mysticism is popularly known as becoming one with God or the Absolute, but may refer to any kind of ecstasy or altered state of consciousness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning.” Maybe one needs simply to get a hold of the right drugs then, and interpret it as a spiritual experience.
Another website offered to help clarify my inquiry, with a set of ten telltale sign of a mystic.
Here are the signs and my thoughts about whether I qualify:
You value experiences above all else. That means you trust your own experience above doctrine and laws and abstract principles. Personally, I don’t trust anything, doctrine, laws, abstract principles, or my personal experience absolutely. I think about them, I listen. Some things make more sense than others and I use them as guidelines. But I can’t say I value my experience above all else.
You question existence. You constantly ask why we are all here, and have a natural curiosity about the physical and spiritual world. I used to think the answer to this question was “God,” until I realized the concept of “God” is unfathomable to the human mind. Although I have a driving, almost endless curiosity about the physical world, including curiosity about consciousness which seems evident in all living things, I prefer to accept that I live in mystery to which I do not have the answers and do not believe I ever will.
You are comfortable with uncertainty. Yes! In fact, I am hugely uncomfortable with certainty – about almost everything. I don’t trust absolute answers about anything from anybody no matter who they are. Hmm, does that make me mystical?
You value intuition. I value intuition, but I don’t trust it without testing it out. My intuition is sometimes a leap into the light. It is also sometimes dead wrong.
You are uncomfortable with spiritual hierarchies. Mystics do not believe there is only one correct way. No, neither do I. We are each unique. At least in this universe.
You have your own set of rules, looking beyond what may be socially accepted or mandated by leaders or society. I’m not by nature a rebel and I don’t particularly enjoy the experience of being socially awkward or insensitive. But from a very young age I’ve always wanted to do things for myself and make my own decisions.
You value internal growth. If this means, do I value it more than money or fame or public success, yes. This strikes me more as a sign of maturity than mysticism, though.
You believe you are a conduit for power, not the source. The answer for myself depends on what one means by “source.” I’m inclined to think there is an intrinsic evolution in the universe, but I’m not inclined to believe it was created by some external power many people would call “God.
You believe love is the source of life. Again, I might quibble with the use of the word “source.” But love does seem to me to be the essence of the creative force in the universe.
You don’t know everything. Agree. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t discovered this because I’m a mystic. I discovered it because I still have so many unanswered questions.
Well, I don’t seem to be a truly qualified mystic. I’m also not convinced mysticism is intrinsically some higher way of knowing. But I do think it might be a legitimate way of knowing. The psychologist Carl Jung believed that we humans tend to favor reason or intuition during the first part of our lives, and somewhere around middle age begin to switch to whichever mode has been less dominant in our youth. I suspect that mysticism is an intuitive approach applied to questions that are beyond the scope of science. It is not always right, but it isn’t necessarily neurotic either. It’s a legitimate way of trying to explore the question of existence and its meaning.