Posts Tagged ‘mystical experience’

man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsThere is a danger in holding on too tightly to the rational senses that we close ourselves off to more subtle life experiences, experiences that cannot be measured or explained by reference to the material sciences. But equally there is a danger in letting go, of assigning mystical, magical properties to things that have more mundane explanations, we risk simply making fools of ourselves.

So, which is it to be? Holding on or letting go? There is a middle way of course, but it’s difficult to discern unaided. Training in the esoteric disciplines can help, as can self-styled teachers and writers of books, but it’s difficult to know who to trust, who among the gurus is truly wise, or simply on an ego-trip. Fortunately for the layman there are also spontaneous experiences of the mind – mystical experiences – which reveal the subtle, psychological, spiritual dimensions of reality, experiences that blur the boundary between what we think of as our selves and the reality we inhabit.

It’s also apparent from the observation of human behaviour, most of us are born preprogrammed to overlook this subtle aspect of our nature even though, paradoxically, the journey of our lives is richly seeded with opportunities for recognising it. What also hampers us is we cannot think our way to the mystical experience, even if we want to. The mind is so fogged up with thinking it misses the point. Mystical experiences are most commonly triggered in meditative states when thinking is subdued, or they can happen unexpectedly, for no apparent reason at all, but we cannot “think” our way into them. However we manage it, the Mystical experience is a sudden and inexplicable falling through into a state of mind that is impossible to imagine beforehand, or adequately describe afterwards, but one that is nevertheless impossible to ignore.

But having been presented with the subtle nature of reality, it raises more questions, chief among them being the nature of our place in that reality. The mystical experience is a visionary and expansive state and, once experienced, the rational mind must allow it, though it may at first try to explain it away as a mental aberration. Only when dissatisfied with the more mundane explanations will it finally come round to an acceptance of something missing in our understanding of nature. But here again the problem is we fall back on rational thinking for explanations of what that missing understanding might be.

The mystical state suggests the underlying nature of things is one of infinite possibility, that thinking along certain lines collapses our potential experience of reality to within the limits of what our thoughts allow. We grant a pattern of our own imagining to the universe, and our reality takes that form, but this is not to explain the totality of our potential experience,  it is only to limit it to within bounds that are psychologically acceptable or permissible, given our inherent limitations.

At the ground level the mystical experience is therefore best reflected upon, and lived in spirit rather than too deeply probed, or pursued, or we risk simply losing ourselves in an infinite and ultimately unknowable void, or we restrict its potential to either a collective or a personal myth by weaving a descriptive story around it. The experience however, does grant us the sense of an intimate connection with all there is, even if we can no longer explain it or feel it with the clarity of the initial experience. And to live in the spirit of that experience raises our perspective of life, sets us on a journey that deflects the ego from its more destructive habits – chiefly the imposition of our own will over that of others.

When we see the universe as infinitely interconnected, we see the intimate relations between things, people, events, dreams. By contrast, living the purely rational life, the connections are severed and we see nothing. To live life blind to the connections is to risk being insensitive to those situations where our actions cut across the fate of others, whether we mean to or not – insensitive also to the idea that to act in certain ways, deliberately, at the expense of others, is to diminish both them and ourselves. Therefore the only wise course open to us in any situation is that which enriches the universe as a whole, or at the very least gains nothing for ourselves that comes at the expense of any thing or any one else.

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marshsideFriday 22nd November 2013

Cool this morning, about 2 degrees, light frost. Dropped T off at the bus stop for college, then drove to the Marshside nature reserve and walked out along the old dumper truck trail to the estuary – at least as far as the mud would allow. The skies were a little hazy first thing, streaked with brown and blue grey, but clearing now to a deep blue, a low sun rising behind me and casting long shadows as I look out over the route I’ve just walked. There are a few other cars about, mostly people taking their dogs for a dump, one bearded twitcher standing alone in the reeds, heron-like, with an impressive telescope on a tripod. Across the estuary Blackpool is crystal clear, also Black Coombe, and I can just make out the Lakes beyond, through binoculars, the fells having a light dusting of snow this morning.

I’m probably going to sit here until about 10:00, then go in search of coffee and a new jumper – I noticed yesterday my old lambswool is coming in holes, a bit like me.  I also seem to be scratching about for socks and underpants – so may restock at Matalan.

I’m also trying to think.

I did eventually download that book “Brain Wars” by Beauregard. Hate the title though. Consumed it on my Kindle in one long sitting yesterday. There was nothing new in it for me – a repeat of studies I’m familiar with from other sources – not that this detracts from the importance of the work. Worth the read, but I think I preferred his “Spiritual Brain”. That the mind is separate from the brain seems now all but proven, at least to my satisfaction – only die-hard materialists continuing to deny the evidence that’s been mounting since Myers and the founding of the SPR in 1882. The argument that the mind is reduced by the brain for the purpose of enabling a physical existence in form is also convincing, and further arguments that the mind is freed upon death, back into a greater, non-physical awareness are also compellingly well supported now by an accumulation of evidence from veridical NDE’s. As Jung said, back in ’61, we have to reckon with the possibility,…

Where this leads us I don’t know, what the purpose of the greater mind’s hamstrung foray into physical form might be, again, I don’t know and am probably incapable of imagining. I did get it once, I think, grasped it intuitively, wordlessly, but that was on the other side of an ME, a long time ago. And I’ve slept a lot since then.

The windscreen is misting now, and I’m beginning to wonder what I’m doing here. It’s like this muddy trail in front of me, heading out to the sea. I’ve been passing it for years, decades even, seeing people wandering down it and wondering to myself what was so special at the end of it that might draw them on. Well, I’ve been down it now and it’s just a twenty minute tramp to a muddy foreshore, a couple of stumps and a seemingly infinite plane of yet more mud beyond – nothing that seems very special, in other words,  and always another frontier stretching before you.

The skies are alive with birds this morning, all manner of waders and the plaintive call of curlews and oyster catchers. Great squadrons of geese are moving up the estuary.

Nature is so wonderfully diverse and complex; we look at it and wonder at the purpose of it. But it has no purpose, no meaning, other than what we grant it. The meaning is perhaps what we aspire to, or something we grant it without even knowing we’re doing it. It’s an idea dimly grasped through the fog of an inadequate intellect, and perhaps the full awareness of that purpose will dawn only when there’s been a global shift in consciousness, maybe centuries from now, something that restores us to the perspective of our  immortal selves, temporarily camped out and shivering down here in the mud.

And then what?

But having advanced so far along the trail, I find myself withdrawing from such thoughts now, withdrawing from the mysterious frontier. Life is where it’s at, down here in the mud. Life is where it’s happening, it’s where consciousness lights up if only briefly in form, so with my life more than half over should I not be waking up to the fact of it by now and living it a little more? Should I not be more focussed on simply being instead of sitting here at 9:00 am on a Friday morning with my head up my own ass, ruminating on matters that greater minds than mine have foundered upon?

Okay, time to move on. I need coffee, and underpants and socks.

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hartsop doddIt’s summer, 2000. I’m walking in the English Lake District. It’s been a good day, and I’m feeling a delicious body-weary tingle as I come down the last mile to the car. And then,…. I’m no longer fully there. I’m experiencing something I will later come to understand was a mystical experience. It seems you can fall into them by accident, like I did, or you can train yourself in one of the contemplative traditions, and bring them on whenever you feel the need.

I’ve tried to put this into words before but I always fail, so I’m not going to try very hard here. For now there’s a sense of expanding into whatever I’m looking at  – the hills, the trees, the road. Wherever my vision falls, I’m  both “in” it and “around” it, no longer separate. Strange? No. It feels familiar, like I’ve woken up from the dream of life and realised who I really am. I also feel unconditionally loved, wrapped in a presence, familiar as my own blood, and which both exudes and engenders an infinite compassion for all things.

Remarkable, yes, and I feel fortunate in in having had the experience, but actually, they’re not terribly rare. Countless others have reported them, and it doesn’t automatically mean we’re all going to end up as future novices in a monk’s cell either. I have no difficulty accepting tales of mystical states are exactly what they appear to be, nor that the universe we experience is only a fraction of the universe that actually exists beyond our normal powers of perception; but if one is not to become a monk or a shaman, or a guru, then what? How does one apply that counter-intuitive knowledge in the day to dayness of our ordinary lives?

Well, move forward with me now to the present. It’s a Saturday afternoon, in town. I’m a week into treatment for Anosmia (no sense of smell). I’ve not had a sense of smell for many years now, but the treatment is working and suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the scent of a world I’d largely forgotten. Right now I’m sitting in a cafe, a cafetière of ground Sumatran beans on the table. I’ve poured a cup and my eyes are closed as the aroma rises from the bowl, filling my mind with a symphony of soundless sounds.

Then lunch arrives: Black Pudding and Bacon Panini, with a salad garnish. There’s the heavy, slightly oily scent of the fried Black Pudding and the bacon, then the subtleness of the salad with its vinaigrette dressing – something sweet, and sharp. And I can smell a tomato, fresh cut, like a revelation, singing clear on the side of my plate. You cannot taste when you cannot smell, and right now I am lost in the appreciation of these unfamiliar and infinitely delightful olfactory forms. Beautiful, yes, beyond words really, but I’m also afraid – afraid of losing this dimension to life, of going back into the darkness of a world that does not smell, or taste of anything. Life delights us, but each delight casts also the shadow of its own destruction, and we fear its loss – for then how shall we ever be as happy again without it as we are at this moment?

Well, like the adepts, we can let these forms go, shun enjoyment of the sensual world, retreat into mindful contemplation of the formless, or we can remain in the sensual life but in so doing we must also be accepting of its ephemeral nature, appreciating beauty as it arises, while knowing it for what it is – a reflection of the formless realm, and not exactly the real thing. Still, to be reminded of its presence  is important, not least for the love and compassion it can also engender in the breasts of those who are sensitive to it.

Heaven in a Black Pudding? Well, maybe not,… but it was close, and for a time afterwards I was in love with the whole world, and everyone in it.

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scope endIt was the summer of 2002, I think.  I was walking in the English Lakes, in a beautiful area called the Newlands Valley. I’d recently extricated myself from a peculiar episode of neurotic anxiety that had lasted for a year. It had left me inwardly changed in some way I couldn’t define, but for now all I knew is that whatever shadow had been stalking me was gone and I could go about my business like an ordinary human being again, instead of a potential basket-case.

I’d completed a longish walk called the Dale Head round and was on the homeward leg, barely a mile from the car and a hot cup of tea. My feet were burning, my legs were aching but otherwise I felt okay. It had been a good walk, a good day. Then I happened to look up at the view, and what had begun as a successful hike was transformed suddenly into one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

I was looking at the shapely cone of a hill called Scope End, except I wasn’t exactly looking at it. What seemed to have happened was that although I was still aware of myself on the road, still aware of this bag of bones looking at Scope end, my perception had widened to the extent that my consciousness now included both my self and what I was looking at.

Scope End and me, or for that matter the whole of that beautiful scene, that beautiful day, were one and the same thing. There was also the sense of a bigger mind behind my mind, a mind that was really my authentic self, a self that had known all along there was no difference between me and what I was looking at. It was only my smaller, every day self that had forgotten this or, perhaps more accurately, was incapable of remembering it.

It was like waking from a deep sleep to the realisation of who you really are. What I felt at this moment was the most profound and all pervading sense of love. I was wrapped in it, carried aloft in it. It was a love I’d spent my whole life searching for and knowing was out there somewhere, yet had never quite succeeded in experiencing.

The whole thing lasted for no more than a few seconds. It was just a glimpse of something, but in the end I was afraid of it and at the first rippling of that fear, like a pebble tossed into the calm waters of an infinite lake, the clarity, the vision was lost and  I was delivered back into my old self and my old sense of separateness restored.

Now, there are many rational explanations for what might have happened. Part of me dismissed it as nothing more than a bit of a “funny do”. More technical explanations might include the possibility I had experienced a sudden overdose of adrenaline, a kind of runner’s high. I’ve never indulged in recreational drugs so I cannot say it was like being “stoned” but there were certain elements of euphoria and a sense of the limitlessness of my own consciousness that others, more familiar with these substances have described.

What do you do after an experience like that?

Well, strange as it might sound, you do your best to  convince yourself you imagined it, that it was not real. To some extent this is easy: you go home, you clean the mud off your boots, you wash the dishes, take out the dustbin, and you mow the lawn. Our daily lives require a certain pragmatism if we’re not to go completely off the rails, and amid the grind it’s possible to dismiss the most remarkable of things as being of little account.


It may be a coincidence, but around the time of that experience my attitudes began to shift decidedly to the left. Up to that point I’d measure my life in strictly rational terms, searching for meaning in the mathematics of Newton, which was a fairly forlorn hope, but as an engineer with a mechanical background, Newton was considered perfectly capable of solving any of the problems I was likely to encounter. Things were changing though – maybe it was my last near crack up, pre-millennium, a seismic shift in my unconscious manifesting itself now as a tsunami, washing though my mind, and laying waste to a lot of the ideas I’d formerly held in such high regard.

I began to read Jung. I began to study the I Ching, and was gradually seduced by various eastern philosophies. None of these were rational things, and I had to keep quiet about them because I was still, on the surface at least, a rational kind of guy. In my reading of eastern ideas, I came upon descriptions that fitted perfectly my experience with Scope End that day. It was what certain sects of Buddhism might have called “one taste” and all of this began to confirm to my own satisfaction that what had occurred was indeed what it had felt like at the time: a direct experience of something greater than my own self. Moreover, I learned that these states are common and accessible to all human beings. They can be reached systematically by long years of dedicated practice in the meditative arts, or, every now and then, they can be blundered into by chance, by anybody. And that’s what had happened to me.

It did not make the experience any easier to understand or even to accept. How anyone can be both what they are and what they are looking at requires a transcendent leap quite beyond the everyday.

So, what do you do with it? Well, not very much because it turns out that no matter how much you manage to convince yourself it was real, there’s always at least a grain of doubt that keeps you grounded. Was it “one taste” or was it just the natural “adrenaline high” of a guy who’d walked too far that day? At the most, what it does is loosen up your grip a little. It makes you begin to doubt most of what you’ve ever trusted to be real. You still need to get up at 7:00 am to go to work, the dinner things still need washing up, and the lawn still needs mowing, but between these things you sit down and you begin to wonder just what it is that’s holding it all together.

Eventually the works of Carl Jung lead to the works of those who followed him, to the Humanist Psychologists, to present day Transpersonal Psychology, which leads to people like Ken Wilber, who, like Jung, I understand perhaps about one word in every ten, but the tone of him resonates with a singular sweetness. Trans-personal Psychology tempts you into sampling all manner of weird stuff, like channelling for example, and so you discover the work of supposed discarnate entities like Seth who tell you that you tend to attract those things that reinforce your own preconceptions of the world.

So maybe I’m only attracted to Wilber because he seems to talk sense in terms of my own distorted vision of things. And then some genius invented this thing called the Internet where another thing called Google lives and Google can find you information on absolutely anything that anyone on the planet has ever thought about and you quickly realise there are more ideas about the nature of reality than you can possibly take in, and where your only filter for authority is in the quality of the spelling and the grammar.

So you turn back on yourself, on your own experience of life, which is all anyone really has to go on, and you remind yourself that your dreams have revealed a strangeness to the meaning of space time. Although you do your best to overlook this fact, you know you have dreamed of events that have subsequently happened – suggesting you must have known all along these things were going to happen but had somehow forgotten, in the same way you forgot that you’re the same as whatever it is you’re looking at.

There is, you tell yourself, a strangeness to the world that was not mentioned in your days at Wigan Tech, when they were telling you about Newton – because it’s such a fickle thing you can’t pin it down and, though it might be true, it’s about as useful in practical terms as the delusion that the skeptics take it for. So does it matter that it’s there when really all you should be thinking of is that  the bills need paying, and the recycling needs sorting, and you still haven’t  got a washer for that leaky tap?

But once you’ve pulled the stopper out of the bottle,  released the genie – it takes a special kind of charm to coax him back in, and I’ve not managed it – don’t want to – because even though this genie is a fickle and oftentimes mischievous character and as substantial as smoke, he tells some interesting tales . So, in between the chores, or maybe even while you’re sitting in the car in a traffic jam, in the half light of dawn on your way to work,  you wonder that if you’d dreamed of yourself having an accident, could you alter the course of things by taking a different route into work next day? You ponder the old “free will” thing and console yourself with the fact that the dream was merely pointing out the probabilities. Some things come true, while others don’t. Your life, you tell yourself, might be spread across an infinite number of possible scenarios. In one scenario you might be married to a Hollywood actress, while in another you might even be that Hollywood actress. You consider how the universe might split itself into any number of possible scenarios every time you have to make a choice, and agree that it would answer a lot of the paradoxes, but boy does it complicate  things!

And then Google tells you about the works of people, like Ron Pearson, who says: hang on: it’s really much simpler than all of that. We really do live in a three dimensional universe that exists in linear time, and you think: Thank God for that because, for a moment there, I thought I was about to go insane, lost in this sea of infinite possibility, of infinite universes, a place where there is no such thing as time where you can be what you think you are and whatever you are looking at, at the same time. But then you come to Dean Radin, and Google links you over to his lectures on You Tube, and you are reminded of the calm, authoritative voice who talked you through Newton’s laws of motion at Wigan Tech, except this same voice is now showing you the experimental data you weren’t shown in Mechanics level 5, that proves things like ESP and precognition are actually true, and not just the figments of a fevered imagination.

Jung said in 1961 that we can sometimes see round corners, that it was perfectly well known, and it was only ignorance that denied these things. Fifty years later we still can’t get a handle on how we do it, or what it means, and the ignorance Jung spoke of seems more organised in its debunking of these facts.

Now the kids are whining because you’ve forgotten to give them their pocket money, and you remember you’ve scratched the glass screen on your iPod and you’re frustrated because it’s still fairly new and you didn’t want the shininess to have rubbed off it yet. And you get the feeling  the people who remain skeptical of the strangeness of life are the ones who are barking mad, and its the calm, quiet, probing, and eminently sensible voices of the Dean Radin’s of this world who are the sane ones. And you wonder for the hundredth time what it means to you, to this, your life that’s ticking slowly towards its only certain conclusion.

And it makes you wonder why that big mind you felt, way back in the summer of 2002, should have wanted to create this particular illusion of separateness for itself – I mean, this simple life, which it seems content simply to watch? What can it possibly learn from me?

When I drove past my local filling station this morning I felt a rising sense of disillusionment, when even though the price of oil on the world market has fallen to an all time low, the fuel companies seem to want to push the price at the pumps back up to the pound a litre mark. Compared with the feeling of big-love that big-mind exudes, the price of petrol is trivial, stupid, banal. What does big-mind learn from that through me? And if, as I was once led to believe, there is no difference between me and the shapely cone of Scope End, there is, by inference, no difference between me and the greasy petrol pump selling its extortionate fuel. Big-mind created both the extortionate scenario and the personal outrage. But to what purpose?

And then you remember it’s Sunday night, you’ve just swigged down the last of the wine, you’re possibly a little tipsy and you’ve got another week of nine to five ahead of you. As you turn out the light and shuffle off to bed you know you’ll never figure it out, and when you settle back onto the pillow and breathe out, you wish you could have your old life back, the one in which there’s no such thing as Big-Mind and where Newton was the only guru you were ever likely to need.

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