I don’t fully understand why I stopped having mystical experiences. I had a dream last night where I was trying to explain to someone about how and when the mystical experiences stopped, and I remember mentioning to them that Mother Teresa had revealed in her journal that she felt like God didn’t speak to her during most of her adult life. Prior to this dream, I had a dream about being in this spooky old house that was supposedly a house previously owned by someone like Aleister Crowley, though not as famous as Crowley was. There were all these secret nooks, crannies and passages throughout the house, in which you could open or enter them and reveal letters and artifacts from the previous owner that had been buried there. With each revealing, I secretly hoped that some great spiritual experience would take place. I was even ready to see a demon or two come out in this dream. I was continually disappointed that all of the man’s old letters and artifacts ended up being nothing more or less than the same letters and artifacts you would expect from the house of any old man who had accumulated things and then died.
There were no wizards behind the curtain, no breathtaking moments of magic or mystical revealings. This makes me think of some of the study I’ve done this past semester around the difference between Jesus’ teachings and Gnosticism. The Gnostics didn’t believe you could find your way back to heaven (or what amounted to heaven for them–a higher spiritual plane) unless you were partaking in some secret knowledge as part of an elite member of an order or sect or cult or cabal or whatever. Jesus, on the other hand, did mention something about secret knowledge at the end of his ministry, but such knowledge was not a prerequisite for salvation and entrance in the Kingdom of Heaven. The intent and purpose of Christianity in its purest form is, I think, a WYSIWYG sort of thing. Your true self is a follower of Christ who seeks to be like Jesus was in the Gospels. Anyone can be like you. It isn’t easy if you really want to follow Christ, but there is no secret about it.
My experiences with mystical things began when I was entering adolescence. Prior to these experiences, I was safely in the camp of either having a dream or being awake. During the summer after the seventh grade, I repeatedly found myself falling into trances where I felt something akin to a nauseating dose of de ja vu. What I can recall of these visions was the witnessing of some fellow featured among a group of others who were all participating in a tribal ritual. I was terrified of these experiences and they eventually went away. These were replaced by extremely vivid experiences of hypnogogic/hypnopompic visions where someone was in the room during sleep paralysis, either while I was falling asleep or waking up. During college, I began to read more about astral travel and lucid dreaming, and gained some control over these experiences. My culminating act of mysticism, which I have never been able to replicate, was when I stayed up late into the night writing “I love…” and then placing who or whatever popped into my head after it–including people I had refused to forgive from my adolescence. I fell into a kind of trance before falling asleep, and experienced what can only be described as a pure state of Love energy. Some hands were holding me up as I felt as if I were falling through some kind of lovestuff with angels or similar beings all around me. The deity holding me up may have been God, I don’t know.
After this, I continued to have some interesting lucid dreams and astral travel experiences, but nothing quite like that experience. After my little brother died, I don’t think I ever had a true mystical experience again. All that was weird and outside of normal reality could be chalked up to mere dreams. I think a kind of fear took hold of me after my little brother died–a fear of what this unknown was that I had been messing with, and a fear of actually seeing my little brother’s spirit. In spite of this fear, I continued to buy and check out books that were mystical, and have never quite given up on the possibility that I will one day have another mystical experience of some sort.
What I would call a mystical experience may differ from someone’s technical definition, but I would roughly say that it is an apprehension of a reality greater than this physical one during a waking state of mind. Most experiences with drugs and alcohol don’t really count because you can’t say for certain if you are experiencing a reality greater than this one or if you are simply feeling the effects of chemicals on your brain. Many skeptics would argue that all of my so-called mystical experiences are nothing more than heightened emotions or excessive flooding of natural chemicals into the brain, but I have enough of a memory formed of it being a distinct and knowable reality that I can’t bring myself to make the same conclusion. I think that most so-called religious and spiritual experiences people have at churches that emphasize the workings of the Spirit are simply heightened emotional experiences and a flooding of self-produced chemicals into the brain, but not all of them are such.
For a brief moment in time, when I read this guy Monroe and his descriptions of his astral travels, some of his description of a reality that is beyond this one made perfect sense to me. I don’t know that Monroe had all of the answers–indeed, there were times where it seemed like a person in his position who had been given access to such a limitless realm of time and space would have been capable of producing many more volumes of interesting literature about what Reality is. However, the notion of the higher order of the Universe consisting of a characteristic of Mind that flips our usual emphasis of what is real on its head (Mind is everything, matter is mostly inconsequential or an inferior expression of a greater Mind) can be appealing. It does, however, start to smack of Gnosticism, in that I could easily find myself dismissing the body and the physical realm as being of little or no importance at all.
For most materialist people today who have been ingrained with the idea that a scientifically-verifiable, empirical reality is everything, the idea of Mind being the most important thing and Matter being largely insignificant in the long run of existence is almost impossible to swallow. I have largely given myself over to this world of matter as well. Of course the world of Matter matters! If Mind mattered the most, then we would all have these boundless memories of all of our past lives and our true Selves that exist in a Universe higher than this one, and none of us would think of a minute that material existence carried much weight at all. However, most of us rarely if ever encounter the spiritual world in our lifetimes, though most people still see themselves as being primarily spiritual at the end of the day. A poll of humanity would likely net you well over 90% of the respondents stating that they will persist in some fashion as conscious entities after they die.
To sum it up, if being mystical was so important, why do I not have more mystical experiences than I do? The answer, which I mentioned above, could be one simply of fear. I have too much repressed fear to enable me to have a mystical experience. The fundamentalist Christian’s answer would be that almost any given mystical experience is likely to be of the devil–you must test the spirits and spend much time in prayer and discernment before you can safely assert that your mystical experience is from the Lord. What’s more, any mystical experiences that involve communication with the dead, seeing Jesus appear in material form before the second coming, or otherwise conducting something that smacks of witchcraft–these experiences are almost guaranteed to be of the devil. Of course, it is strange that there are so many fundamentalist Christians who are also quick to declare that they’ve become spirit filled the minute that they are possessed of any sort of mania at an exciting church service and that their incoherent yammering (which doesn’t appear to be helping anyone find their way to the Lord) is of the Holy Spirit. In other words, fundamentalists can be adamant about testing the spirits when they see people outside of their particular church group having mystical experiences, but quite slow and reluctant to test the spirits when mystical experiences are taking place in their own churches.
As I get older and progress through seminary (learning more deeply about God and the history of God’s interaction with people on this earth), I find myself wanting very much to get back to reading more of the Eastern religions I was so into when I was in college, though I also think that I will always love Jesus and want to follow Jesus before anything else. I long for more mystical experiences not because I want to “get high” or am bored, but because I feel very strongly that some part of me has been cut off–like I am living without a limb or even a vital organ. My intellectual self, physical self, emotional self, social self and spiritual self all need nourishment in their own particular ways. They are not separate from each other, but there is something markedly different about the spiritual nourishment I might get from just going to church and reading theology and the Bible. I long to have an experience like the one I did in college where I had imbibed some chemicals and sat in a tree, feeling the actual life force of that tree. But, I’ve had a similar experience when I stand in a grove of redwoods, where the only chemical in me was caffeine. Those redwoods possessed an intelligence that was in many ways far superior to my own.
Animals and trees are much more deeply connected to the Universal mind, whatever you might want to call it. I think that in some regards, our fall in the Garden of Eden wasn’t so much about obtaining knowledge as it was about becoming cut off from the very Life Source of that knowledge. It enabled us to think dualistically, and view just about anything from a subject/object perspective, but it also completely removed our direct connection to the Life Force running through the Universe. We went to war with nature. In an ideal state, we would cease our war with the natural world, and it would cease its war with us. It could be argued that the reason there is so much violence in the world in even its natural, primitive state is due to the thread of violence coursing through human minds that seeps out into the world. If every human being embraced a non-violent state of mind, and stopped consuming things that inevitably caused violence to be enacted upon nature, then nature itself would calm down and cease to harm itself–this being the proverbial lion lying down with the lamb.
This could all be wishful thinking, and I can’t say as I am ever going to attain such a state of mind in my lifetime, or at least sustain it if I do attain it. I will always be part of the social fabric of humanity that is at least in part responsible for the violence in the world, because I am a man with a family, and these responsibilities mean I must at least in a small way participate in my society and economy. My footprint might be reduced to a great degree if I can convince myself and family to live in community on a farm somewhere, where we all eat vegan and grow our own food and consume as little fossil fuel as possible. But, we will still have to do violence to the earth to obtain our food, and inevitably some kind of violence will be done to the earth in order for us to not be simply naked savages clawing at the ground for dirt to eat.
I think that the coming Kingdom of the lion lying down with the lamb can be ushered in, though, with a willingness to embrace a new kind of mentality when I am awake and trying to be intentional in what I say and do. I can at least stop overconsuming, and start seeking to make slow progress toward becoming a better citizen of that Kingdom. I can spend more time in prayer and contemplation, and less time trying to consume as many books as possible in hopes that my increased knowledge will somehow make me a better person. Obviously, when I am still in that state of mind, my priorities around what it means to be a better person are still utterly skewed and not aligned with God. I am still measuring what it means to be a better person against those around me, and hoping that I will walk away a “winner” of some social yardstick of what this means.
As for mystical experiences, I should be completely grounded in wanting to follow Jesus, but what that means can be reduced to what I know of it from the gospels and the rest is up to God to show me what that means for me in this life. If mystical experiences arrive after this solid grounding, then I should embrace them instead of become terrified of them.