divine spirituality

What is a Mystical Experience?

What is a mystical experience? It’s utterly mysterious and difficult to articulate, but it’s common enough that we have reports of mystical experiences across time and cultures. It’s a state of consciousness, a phenomenon that simply happens to us and we don’t know why. It’s impossible to achieve through your own efforts alone, because it’s given to you—by grace. 

When this happens to you, there’s no doubt because it’s not a rationalization. A mystical experience is not a theory that someone has convinced you of to make life seem more tolerable. This state is real and deep and undeniable.

In this episode of Holy Rebels, we explore the 3 telltale signs of mystical consciousness. Have you ever had a mystical experience? Not sure? Listen now to find out!


Transcript

What is a mystical experience? It’s utterly mysterious and difficult to articulate, but it’s common enough that we have reports of mystical experiences across time and cultures. It’s a state of consciousness, a phenomenon that simply happens to us and we don’t know why. We can’t predict it. We can’t control it or provoke it. And though there are innumerable techniques (like meditation, yoga, breathing practices, prayers, etc) all claiming to be successful in cultivating mystical states, there’s still something unattainable about the whole thing. It’s as if the universe has to grant this experience as a gift. It’s impossible to achieve through your own efforts alone, because it’s given to you—by grace. You can’t attain mystical states. You can only nurture within you a state of openness to receiving them.

Don’t think for a second that mystical experiences are for spiritual masters only. That you need to be born with special intuition, or that you need to be part of some historic lineage, or that you need a wise guru to show you the way, or that you need to quit your job and become a monk. 

Anyone can have a rich inner life. YOU can have closeness with God… 

There’s a brother. His name is brother Wayne Teasdale. He was a lay monk who combined the traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. And he says,

“Every one of us is a mystic. We may or may not realize it, we may not even like it. But whether we know it or not, whether we accept it or not, mystical experiences are always there, inviting us on a journey of ultimate discovery. We have been given the gift of life in this perplexing world to become who we ultimately are: creatures of boundless love, caring compassion, and wisdom. Existence is a summons to the eternal journey of the sage – the sage we all are, if only we could see.”

Wayne Teasdale


Hmm I love that. Mystical experiences have been recorded as far back in time as we have any recordings at all. In fact, the oldest story in the world features a character who has a visionary state that drives the plot. I’m referring to The Epic of Gilgamesh. Something happens to the hero, Gilgamesh that sets him on a quest for the answer to his question: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life?

There are 3 telltale signs of mystical consciousness:

  1. the sensation of transcending your individuality and feeling that everything is part of you.
  2. a complete reassurance that all is as it’s supposed to be.
  3. a desire to share this experience with others.

Let’s look at the details of each of these signs.

One: the sensation of transcending yourself.

When a mystical state strikes you, something game-changing happens: a peculiarly convincing sensation that your ordinary state of mind is somehow an illusion: that it’s only a small part of reality. Your sense of individuality is transcended. Personal identity dissolves into something bigger. It’s not that you lose yourself or disappear. Quite the opposite. It’s that you find your real self—and it feels like you expand into more of who you are. Suddenly it feels like instead of confronting a world that is foreign to you, that is “other”—you find yourself in a state of Oneness with the world. Integration of your “you-ness” with nature, people, all the stuff in your environment is suddenly as familiar to you as your own body. Imagine that. As if the external world is no longer “other”, but it’s part of who you are. It is your body. 

Let’s really imagine this. Look around you right now, look at something in the room: a computer, mug, or book. Or, if you’re outside, look at a tree, cloud or car…. What would it be like if this object suddenly and irrevocably felt like it is your body. Can you imagine that? Look at something else: a pet, another person, or a plant. What if you suddenly had an experience, like a wave that washes through you, a wave that is utterly convincing, that this object or being in front of you, IS part of you, in the same way that your hand is a part of who you are. How would that feel?  Weird, right? Awe-inspiring. Transcending yourself and feeling entirely connected to all things, is only one aspect of a mystical experience. Hildegard of Bingen, the 11th century German nature mystic says, “Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.”

The second aspect of a mystical experience is an overwhelming sense that everything you’ve ever done has led you to this moment right now.

Your choices, successes, disappointments, everything you’ve done, and all the things that have happened to you is part of a harmonious design. There are no mistakes. This moment is meant to be… You realize that this sensation of destiny is not not an intellectual exercise. It’s not a philosophy. It’s called a mystical EXPERIENCE because it’s an EXPERIENCE…. It is as real and convincing to you as this moment we’re living right now. It’s a feeling that all is right with the world. Imagine the relief! How would you feel if you knew with every fibre of your being that all is as it’s supposed to be. You didn’t fail. You didn’t make a mistake. You’re meant to be here. It feels like an all-encompassing wave of unconditional acceptance rolls over you and saturates your soul. You don’t even know what hit you! You didn’t know this kind of ecstasy was possible. Complete harmony. Breathe that in!

When this happens to you, there’s no doubt because it’s not a rationalization. A mystical experience is not a theory that someone has convinced you of to make life seem more tolerable. This state is as real and deep and undeniable as the love you have for the people closest to you. 

Religions might tell you that you need to have faith or discipline in order to attain this experience, but I personally don’t think that’s effective because people don’t believe what they’re told if it’s entirely outside the realm of their own lived experience. They really don’t! We’re too curious as a species to take things at face value. We need to feel, touch, experiment, and DISCOVER THE TRUTH for ourselves…. Children believe what they’re told about the world, but it’s only a matter of time before they start testing those theories for themselves, right?

If someone tells you that you have to believe FIRST, and then through believing you will come to feel that ‘all is one’, it’s never going to work. That’s like trying to make the tail wag the dog. To make the effect produce the cause. You can’t ‘have faith’ unless something deep inside you, an intuitive stirring in your gut tells you: YES, this is real. 

The gnosis, (or ‘knowing’) that “All is One” has never been brought about by insisting to yourself that it’s the case. When you do that, when you say to yourself, “All things are God. All is One. All is Love”— like a mantra, you’re actually implying that these things are NOT true—because you wouldn’t say such things to yourself if you already felt them. So what you’re doing is counter-productive. You’re denying your lived experience, and you’re trying to convince your intellect the exact opposite is true… So, you’re only alienating yourself from feeling connected to what’s true for you in the moment.

Sensation of universal harmony can’t come through a mantra—that’s just over-compensating for the way we actually feel…. A mystical experience comes out of the blue, my friend. It’s not something that can be created. And when it comes, it is overwhelmingly convincing. And I know that to be true because mysticism stands as the foundation for humankind’s most profound philosophical, metaphysical and religious ideas. Mysticism underpins meaning. 

The third sign of a mystical experience is the desire to share it.

The wonderful thing about this phenomena when it happens to someone is that they can’t restrain themselves from trying to tell everyone! You can’t explain it, but you are compelled to keep trying. You can spot a person like this because they’re genuinely happy. Not all the time, of course. They’re still human with moods and quirkiness, but deep down, they have an inner peace that can not be disturbed because it’s rooted in a certainty about who they are and about who or what God is. You discover joy and meaning. You gain conviction and a sense of unshakable security. You’re sure of yourself the same way that a flower doesn’t hesitate to bloom. It just does it because that’s what it was born to do… 

Which brings us to a basic question…. What do you think that people are born to do? What is the purpose of being a human being? ….. We are called to love one another. To empower and help one another. So the same thing happens when a person has a mystical experience. They’re bursting to express it because they’ve discovered the source of harmony, and they can’t help but share. They see themselves and everyone around them in a new way. Being alive has a new meaning. The purpose is simply to live. It’s so obvious, and yet everyone is rushing around as if there’s something else for them to achieve. Enjoy your life, my friend! What else is there? The funny thing is we don’t even know what we’re chasing. And to the person in a state of mystical consciousness, chasing seems absurd. 

So, we have 3 telltale signs of mystical consciousness.

  1. the sensation of transcending your individuality and feeling that everything is part of you.
  2. a complete reassurance that all is as it’s supposed to be.
  3. a fervent desire to share this experience with others.

I am so excited to be having this conversation with you. In this first season of Holy Rebels Podcast, we’re going to explore the three traditional stages of mysticism: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way. We’ll discover the types of mystical connection that draws you in: be it “nature mysticism”, like St Francis, or “contemplative prayer”, like the Cloud of Unknowing. With guidance from the spiritual masters, we are going to map the inner landscape.

My friend, spiritual companionship is a rare treasure, and so, I’m glad we’ve found each other. In the next episode, we’ll talk about the Metaphysics of Prayer. What is actually happening when you pray? How should we respond to unanswered prayers? Do prayers have any consequences in the real world? Is there a right way to pray? 

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a review. This is a brand new podcast so I would love your feedback. Leave a review below.


Mentioned in the show

Teresa of Avila on The Prayer of Quiet
St Hildegard of Bingen, Selected writings

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