Martin LeFevre : I dislike the term ‘mystical experience.’ What happens during true meditation is neither mystical, nor an experience. It’s an event, a phenomenon that is new each time.
The brain has the capacity of gathering, through passive observation, awareness that is quicker than thought. When awareness is faster than thought, the observer ends, because the observer is the basic psychological separation of thought.
Without effort or will, attention then gathers unseen, acting on thought in the process of observing its movement without the division of the observer, quieting the mind. That opens the door to deeper experiencing of life and to the sacredness that lies inseparably within and beyond nature and the universe.
All thoughts and emotions are reactions, and effortlessly watching mental and emotional reactions as they arise allows them to flower and fall away. Watching without judging, controlling or interpreting the memories, feelings and physical states that arise in the moment is the only action that is needed.
Psychologically, there are two levels of reaction. There are spontaneous reactions, such as when part of a conversation one had yesterday replays in the mind. Then there are secondary reactions, such as when we judge or evaluate what we said or did. Meditation occurs when one observes the first type of reaction without the second.
We experience both types of reactions as arising from the ‘me,’ a seemingly independent entity that forms the center of our existence. But this homunculus in our heads has no more reality than the fully formed human being that was once thought to preexist inside an egg or spermatozoa.
In one form or another, ego and survival are linked at the emotional level in the brain. That’s why it’s so hard for the ego to let go. However, if awareness is quick and intense enough to see through the illusion and habit of the mind continually dividing itself from itself, the observer/ego dissolves in observation.
Once the senses have become acute and attuned in nature, ask whether the observer is operating. That helps draw attention to the mechanism and habit, and may provide the insight to transcend it.
Observing without the observer, the mind naturally and effortlessly grows deeply quiet. The stream of individual and collective content that makes up consciousness as we know it slows, and stops. At that moment brain steps out of the stream of the thought-mind, and a higher order of consciousness emerges.
This consciousness is no longer mediated by words, images and memories. Sensory impressions are heightened, and there is a deepening state of insight. In ending the movement of memory (which is synonymous with the movement of thought) a meditative state awakens, and the brain is renewed.
In the completely unforced stillness of attention, the brain is aware of energies and actualities that cannot be named. These are the states that have been called, devotionally or derisively, ‘mystical experiences.’
Of course those words can point to something actual, or refer to nothing but an idea or memory, or to irrelevant knowledge of mystics.
Meditative states are not embedded in religion or tradition however, whether of the East or the West. Nor is mystical experiencing personal–the idiosyncratic product of an individual’s mind and brain. Mystical experiencing is our birthright, open to anyone who understands and applies the principles of psychological division and undivided observation.
A meditative state ignites with undivided observation; the dark shadow of the past ceases, at least temporarily, in the intensity of awareness of the all-inclusive present.
Altered states of consciousness and ‘mystical experiences’ are never the goal however; there is simply the intent to watch what is, and non-accumulatively learn. That intent, plus a quickness and intensity of self-awareness in the shifting currents of consciousness, effortlessly bring about awakened consciousness.
Direct experiencing of the nameless is impossible to convey of course, since by definition words and knowledge impede the mind’s capacity to contact it. One can only give intimations, and point those who are willing and able to listen toward exploring and awakening their own capacity for awareness of the numinous.
Again, mystical experiencing cannot be contextualized within a given religion, tradition or culture. Indeed, the essence of experiencing is the ending of the domination of conditioning, culture, tradition and belief systems, and the opening of the mind and heart to intimations of sacredness beyond any and all cognitive constructions of the mind.
Therefore knowledge of what has been called mystical experience, when it’s put first, prevents people from actually experiencing states of insight. At the same time it’s very unintelligent to deride and dismiss Eastern forms of mystical experiencing, since an emphasis on inwardness was for many centuries much stronger in India. On the other hand, one certainly doesn’t have to go to India to awaken deeper states of being.
One of the themes in this column is that anyone can do so anywhere, though a relationship with nature is essential. Having lived in a large city, I’ve found it’s even possible to have a relationship with nature and awaken meditative states in densely populated urban settings, though it is more difficult.
Standing as we are at the spiritual nadir of western civilization, it’s crucial that ordinary people living and working normal lives (if there is such a thing anymore) awaken a true inner life.
The outward orientation of the western mind, which has produced tremendous advances in science and material life, is rooted in an external view of nature and the numinous. The spiritual and intellectual enervation of the West cannot be divorced from the Judeo-Christian theology that formerly underpinned western civilization, and has brought us to this pitiful pass.
The knowledge of mystical experience, when put first, prevents it from occurring. Therefore mystical experiencing is the antithesis of orthodoxy, which, by its insistence on tradition, ritual and the observance of established religious customs, precludes it.
The term ‘mystical experience’ loaded with all kinds of religious baggage and secular derision on one hand, and implies something supernatural and special on the other. But it simply means direct experiencing of the wholeness of life, the sublimity of being, and the sacredness beyond thought, knowledge and the known.
A kite falcon hovers over the field. Miles away, the dark wall of the canyon beyond town stands out in breathtaking relief in the late afternoon sun. The falcon masterfully employs the wind to remain stationary while scanning the ground, and a golden light reflects off its white under-wings.
For nearly a minute the falcon holds its position. Then, it stops fluttering its wings for a few seconds, and doesn’t move at all. With a grace beyond words, it tucks it wings into ‘V’ position and drops to the ground. The kite ascends without prey, and repeats its search and flight pattern.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.