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What is Mysticism? - Thinking Out Loud Podcast Transcript - 10/03/2007

Steve Donaldson, Moderator

Participants: Mike Grosso, John Tytus , Billie Lagerwerff, UJ Fields and Steve Stokes

Moderator:
Question; What is mysticism? Hi, I´m Steve Donaldson and this is Thinking Out Loud. An ongoing series of philosophical dialogues with everyday people. The question before us today is, What is mysticism? Let´s begin.

We´ll start as we usually do with introductions and first reactions.

Mike:
Mysticism. Very interesting subject. I think is a timely one too, Steve. Because it is in the news that one of the greatest mystics and poets of all time, Rumi, who was born in Afghanistan 800 years ago is being celebrated, not only in Turkey, but in various universities around the country. And they are celebrating him because he represents ah… vision of unity of religion and tolerance and so its a wonderful… and as you say he´s a… as a Sufi he is part of the Islamic religion so this is important that they are stressing this particular figure that is such a great mystic that represents the ideal of unity of religions and tolerance. I´ll just start off with that comment and say nothing further.

Moderator:
O.K. Mike, ah great, thank... Go ahead.

John:
I´m John, and I think mysticism is quite important these days because secular non-mystical approaches don´t seem to be working as well as we expected them to. Mysticism seems like the natural next step.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie:
Interesting.

Moderator:
(Chuckles)

Billie:
I´m Billie, and today I went to a lecture on with a Middle Eastern expert, Pat Lange, who told the assembled group that the Sunnis are largely Sufis. They do not have the same external rules that other kinds of Islam does because being Sufi led, its all inside. Would this be the reason women were able to do so many things in Iraq that they haven´t been able to do in other places?

Moderator:
O.K.

UJ:
I am UJ Fields. And there are two terms that come to mind when I think of mysticism. And that is consciousness and I would like to add high consciousness even thought it may not be a stream that constantly goes up along that continuum moving towards the high consciousness, and transcendence and so I see it mysticism is something that we can not teach that is something we catch. And it is highly spiritual and while it is not against science, science tends to get in the way of mysticism.

Moderator:
O.K.

UJ (continuing):
Because mysticism reaches a higher level than science. Science always deals with some known and try to deduce from that. But ah here we have more than deduction. Now, you mention Sufis a little while ago, and one of the ways that they teach is by, you know, parables.

Moderator:
Great. We also have from Atlanta, cyber guest, go ahead.

Steve:
Hi, I´m Steve Stokes. And I guess I´m the odd man out, ‘cause I´m really a skeptic here and I question, ah I question mysticism and mystics. So it will be an interesting discussion tonight, because, you know, I have a big, like just what are we talking about?

Moderator:
Good, o.k., good, let´s let Billie had her hand up.

Billie:
I just wanted to ask UJ, what, how did the Sufis teach? I didn´t understand the word you used.

UJ:
Well basically they teach with almost like a parable, like Jesus taught by parables.

Billie:
Oh parable.

(unknown voice):
Parable.

UJ:
Parables:

Billie:
Oh, excuse me, I didn´t understand the word.

UJ:
And the idea is that the message is not like I tell you tells the book, the message is what I tell you discover about the book.

Moderator:
Ah huh, o.k. Let´s, um, so try to maybe, and I think this may be what you were responding to, Mike, but only, let me sort of preface it. We kind of, maybe we´re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Maybe we move back a little to as Steve is sort of suggesting that we kind of come to grips with what are we (05:00) talking about before we start getting too far into the different kinds of mysticism. So Mike, why don´t you…

Mike:
Well, I appreciate that suggestion Steve, but I think in a way its kind of hard to just start right off. Maybe you might be to lead up to, useful to lead up to it by reacting to some of the points that we make. For example, I would I certainly appreciate what UJ said, but I´m not quite sure that I fully agree. Ah that said, mysticism is clearly about an experience, consciously an unusual or extraordinary type of consciousness. Ah, and certainly something that utterly transcends the rational and the sensuous. By I don´t quite agree with UJ when he says it cannot be taught because in fact there are great traditions that devote themselves to the, ah not so much the preparation the inner preparation that allows for the experience in this extraordinary state. But perhaps I will throw out a quick abstract definition and we can perhaps move from there and we might be..  the ultimate truth, but this is my take on the essential characteristic of mysticism. I´d say the mystical experience is an experience of a type of oneness, a unity of being that on the one hand is pure, that involves an experience of pure consciousness, and on the other hand and closely related to the first hand, is utterly transcendent of, of all other states of consciousness. This is clearly a different kind of consciousness, this is relatively rarely experienced. It´s experienced in all cultures at all times and ah there is something profoundly transformative about it. Those are just a couple of…

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike (continuing):
Ways of talking about.

Moderator:
O.K. But in any case it is focusing on a particular kind of experience with an one or several combinations of the qualities that you mentioned and I´ve heard similar ones which maybe we can refine as we go along. But, Billie, go ahead.

Billie:
Well, I´m noticing how many times I´ve heard trans…

Moderator:
Trans?

Billie:
Others, recently in this room. And trans of course means across.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie:
And it started with UJ with transcendent. Ah and this little book which I brought, The God Gene, by Dean Hamer, is an investigation of mysticism and his definition is “self transcendent’. That´s a definition that he gives, he says, “that it is not all encompassing’ but that´s what he is looking for. And then he took personality tests.

(unknown voice):
Mmm hum.

Billie (continuing);
And then he found.. ah well let me ask you, are you forgetful?

UJ:
At times:

Billie:
O.K. Are you forgetful Steve?

Moderator:
I can´t remember.

(laughing)

Billie:
Are you forgetful, Mike?

Mike:
Absolutely never. I have everything locked inside of me.

Billie:
Ahhh,

Mike:
Of course I am.

Billie:
O.K. Are you forgetful, John?

John (very softly):
You know very well.

Billie:
Yes. He is. (laughs). People who are forgetful are much more likely to have self-transcendence. How about that? That is what his study found out.

Moderator:
Yeah, Well, I´m going to challenge here a little bit and ask, would.. are you saying that every situation in which one… um disassociates with oneself this is a mystical experience?

Billie:
No, I´m not using disassociation just forgetful.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie:
But I meant that.

Moderator:
But my point is how can one distinguish between dissociation and transcendence?

Billie:
Well that´s a good distinction to make. Ah, dissociation maybe a form of lostness and the transcendence implies a kind of unity. It´s not lost, you are found. It´s the difference between being lost and found.

Moderator:
O.K. Good. John.

John:
What do you mean by dissociation?

Moderator:
Well there are, I mean in the psychiatric and psychology literature there are numerous cases well studied about how under certain conditions trauma often, rape is a good example where people can disconnect from what is going on. And um, some people say it is a defensive mechanism it´s a way of…  um trying to escape, um but a you can have varying degrees of that you can have  schizophrenia  or multiple personalities or variations of where the real self (10:00) or the single self is not, you know is split or is is… So you have various pathological situations it seems. I´m not saying this as a statement, I am asking this as a question that we might want to distinguish  between pathological not being yourself and transcending not being yourself.

Billie:
Well can I…

Moderator:
Go ahead.

Billie:
Can I give an example of the forgetfulness that Hamer is talking about?

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie:
Tonight, or yesterday, last night, John and I decided we were going to bring our beautiful illustrated book of Rumi, tonight.

Moderator:
Ummm.

Billie:
And guess what? We forgot  it. (Laughing)

Moderator:
I need to let Steve in here, he´s waiting patiently. And go ahead, Steve.

Steve:
Well, I am still um thinking you guys are talking about Leprechauns and fairies. I mean, has anybody here had, could say they had a mystic experience? And um, describe it, and um I mean when I experience déjà vu, um is this a mystic experience or would I be wrong to call that a mystical experience? I am definitely transcendent, feeling a sense of transcendence in experiencing a memory of something that is happening right now in front of me.

Moderator:
O.K. Who wants to respond? Mike want to go ahead and respond?

Mike:
Well I you know,  I don´t think that, not all forms of transcendence are ah mystical, its just…

Steve:
Well the how would we define which would ones of

Mike:
Well

Steve (continuing):
… transcendence are mystical? What constitutes mystical?

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike:
I think actually Billie's definition is a good place to begin. And one of the dif… ah… I´ll come back to it in a second, but one of the points I´ll try to answer of Steve, one of the differences between pathological and creative dissociation is that the latter is more voluntary and is more constructive in its outcome and clearly the mystic in a way is somebody who is aiming to dissociate himself with his normal self and that includes all sensory impressions, all notions, and all concepts. So you see the point about understanding mysticism, and the only way you can understand it is either by having an experience or studying those individuals who have records of their experiences. Ah it´s not something that you will understand, Steve, immediately unless you´ve done a little homework on it, that´s the point. But you´re entitled to ask. I mean and what some of us have found out about the subject. Ah but a…

Moderator:
How about Steve´s question about have you yourself had any experience?

Mike:
I have had a lot of unusual experiences, but I´m not prepared to commit myself to saying I had a full fletched mystical experience. But I have had experiences in which they´re on the way to a mystical experience in so far as my sense of self, my ordinary sense of self, has dissolved and I opened up to a larger being, a larger contact with reality, a fuller and more vibrant sense of reality, but I´m not so sure I´m willing to commit myself to saying that I´ve had a classic mystical experience. It hasn´t been quite that defined.

Moderator:
Let me at this point throw out the possibility that we should consider in our discussion, that is the possibility of gradations. Ah, and not necessarily all or nothing,

John:
How about…

Moderator (continues):
It may be, some people call them glimpses. But we may also have just, steps in between, the ultimate and the ordinary.

Mike:
Absolutely.

Moderator (continues):
John, you had your hand up.

John:
Yeah there does seem to be varieties in mystical experiences.

Moderator:
Um, O.K.

John (continues):
And we do seem to have trouble distinguishing mystical experience from other things like drug intoxication and some mystical experiences like the ones in the peyote Indian religion. Or induced by drugs, others are not.

Moderator:
O.K.

John (continues):
So, ah.

Moderator:
Do you have any thoughts about…

John:
If it were me a mystical experience characterized by a change in ones state of consciousness or awareness.

Moderator:
O.K. Would that be…

John:
A change in nature of one´s consciousness…

Moderator:
Would that be both necessary and sufficient, or only necessary and not sufficient?

John:
I think necessary. It´s hard to say we are having trouble distinguishing mysticism from other things.

Moderator:
Right, and that is why I, because you can have change in consciousness, I mean like

Mike:
Dreaming is a change in consciousness

Moderator (continues):
Dreaming. Yeah that´s a, that´s a, and that´s a non-ordinary state of consciousness, not waking consciousness. Go a head.

John:
Yeah I´d like to describe one mystical experience I had, or at least I think I had. I was meditating, (15:00) I suddenly lost my sense of self. I was aware of things around me in the usual way, but I couldn´t locate myself in any particular place in my room. It was like the whole world had turned inside out so to speak.

Moderator:
Um o.k.

John (continues):
And it was quite a shock as if my chair was yanked from under me.

Moderator:
O.K.

John (continues):
And that shock knocked me out of my experience back into my normal kind of awareness.

Moderator:
O.K. This was when while you were… you meditated quite regularly, you were meditating for a long time,

John:
Yeah

Moderator (continues):
And out of the blue this one time.

John:
Well it happened twice.

Moderator:
Oh, twice, o.k.

John:
Yeah. But it hasn´t happened now for ten years or so.

Moderator:
Oh, really. Um, Billie.

Billie:
What I´d like to elaborate on your experience, again with this book in mind, The God Gene. Where the brains of meditators were examined and they found that the part of the brain that is associated with, ah, time and colors, space, all this, dampens down with people who meditate over a long period of time.

Moderator:
Mmm hmmm, O.K.

Billie:
O.K. they also found out, this is Richard Davidson's research, that meditators are happier people than other people and the parts of the brain that are associated with emotional well being are more lit up. And I would also like to present just as a picture of mysticism, Bernini´s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy.  You all know that sculpture.

Moderator:
The one with the arrows going through her?

Billie:
Yes. I mean that to me is a wonderful visual image of what mysticism is.

Moderator:
Well um, let me play the devil´s advocate here, though and say, its also been described as a picture of ecstasy.

Billie:
Well that´s what I said, ecstasy. Which means out of the body.

Moderator:
Um, but one can imagine ecstasy in a way that´s not at all um..

John:
Sexual or sensual?

Moderator (continuing):
… divine. Rather the, rather the former.

Billie:
Well may I quote Georg Buchner's "Danton's Death", where in the middle of the play, and all the mayhem and the many, many massacres that are going on, and the latter part of the French Revolution, a prostitute come in on stage and she talks about her experiences, and she says, “In the end the one that loves the most, prays the most.’

Moderator:
Mmm huum.

Billie (continuing):
So she, she and Buchner, Anton [correction: Georg] Buchner, do not see, maybe it is a difference of degree, but they don´t see a difference between, ah, ecstasy which is brought on by a sexual experience and the divine. Because to her both of them involve love, which gives to her intimately connected with mysticism.

Moderator:
Not so much, not so much that it was necessarily sexual cause because I can imagine somebody who ah you know, some others, but sensual.

Billie:
O.k. Yeah.

Moderator (continuing):
Could be from ah delicious food or music or something, but that there is a, I wanted to distinguish or at least throw out, again as devil´s advocate, the notion that it might be the opposite of selfless it might be very extreme hedonism that brings you to ecstasy.

Billie:
Extreme. But when you have… ecstasy means out of one´s self.

Moderator:
Mmm hmm, Mmm hmm.

Billie:
So that´s their extreme hedonism, I´ve got to quote vet Blake there [veteran William Blake], “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom’.

UJ:
I want to go back to the original point I made dealing with the fact that mysticism can´t be taught. I did not say it could not be learned.

Moderator:
Ah, o.k.

UJ:
There is a difference. Much of what I have learned I have not been taught. And so I wanted to make that, ah, point, because that is very significant. Now, the other thing here, ah, we have peak experiences. And real peak experiences is a part of this mysticism.

Mod;
Mmm Hmm

UJ (continues):
Which may last a short duration and course it may have a prolonged long time affect on an individual. And I see mysticism dealing with rules outside of cause and effect. Now ordinarily we say this cause, you know when do this, this is the cause and this is the effect of that. But mysticism, ah, transcends all that. It´s like having help that is transcendent of one´s environment.  When you´ve got an environment around you, an say everybody around you is getting a certain disease, everybody, you understand me, should be taking a certain vaccine because everybody is going to get this. Well the person who, it may be in this sense, living beyond cause and effect, (20:00) he doesn´t, he doesn´t get it. And you understand me, and people might wonder why he didn´t. Or a plane may go down, everyone dies, but that one person. Then they would... So, all of this fits in to this, it´s a spiritual thing. Now ah, I have a statement here by ah Samuel Coleridge that really gives me a true picture. I've been working on setting it to music this week. Ah Jung [Carl Jung] was influenced greatly by Coleridge, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. And ah he said he looked at his own soul with a telescope. What seemed all irregular he saw and showed to be beautiful constellations. And he added to the consciousness hidden worlds within worlds. Now just those...what if we could just relate to those statements, first of all he looked at his own soul. Now this, not just with the physical eyes, but a third eye a spiritual eye and then ah he saw what was irregular, by irregular simply meaning what we take so ordinary and yet that ordinary which many people omit, he saw beautiful constellations, like stars and moons and suns and the wonder, and then he goes on to say it added to the consciousness. This is what I am taking about higher consciousness, extending one´s consciousness. For the more your consciousness is expanded the more you´re likely to move towards mysticism.

Moderator:
Mmm K. I want to…

UJ (continues):
I want to give one, I want to give one experience that I had after this…

Moderator:
Alright hold up, hold on to that. Um Steve´s waiting to get in here. I want to let Steve in. I do want to mention that there are two things that you said that um  I think we can take off on, but I´m gonna ask you to hold any thoughts because I am sure it will stimulate. One is the idea that in a mystical state the usual rules of cause and effect don´t apply any more, we seem to be implying something along those lines, um that the ordinary science the laws of physics or whatever. One aspect we want to explore, the other is the implication that really what you have… you know aside from that, you have a different way of seeing. And so I want to move to maybe hold on to that as something we can get to, what is, what is this different way, being in a mystical state is a different way of seeing, we might want to explore that. Ah, I have to let, get Steve in here because he´s been waiting patiently. Steve, go ahead.

Steve:
Well, I'm still trying to figure out what constitutes mysticism. Um, I don't have an answer to that yet. Um, I mean, I looked at the statue of Theresa, um, it's a statue that could, you know, doesn't say mysticism to me, it doesn't help me understand mysticism. We're talking about states of consciousness, and um, have you ever rubbed your eyes with your eyelids closed and you see all those bright colors and everything that flash and everything?

I mean, what you guys seem to be doing, is taking, um, the functions of the human brain and getting all excited about it, like there is something significant going on. I mean, altered states of consciousness, well throughout the day we have all sorts of altered states of consciousness; from being drowsy in the morning when we're trying to wake up and get going, to being, um, super excited when we see a beautiful person, to being, um, you know, daydreaming when we're confronted with a boring repetitive task. These are all, you know, altered states of consciousness, but it's all quite normal. And I don't see why we would call it mystical.

Moderator:
O.K., Steve.

Mike:
Let me, let me.

Steve (continuing):
I don't understand it.

Moderator:
O.K. Let me try an angle here, again, just as, not my particular view, but as devil's advocate, to, to pull you out a little bit. Your thinking and so forth. The um,… would you consider the possibility of um someone else having an experience that you haven't had? I mean, that's pretty basic we could all… certainly when we were younger growing up we might not have know what people were talking about when people were talking about you know sex and other things we hadn't experienced yet or whatever. So um, you have to acknowledge the possibility of experiences that um, you may not have experienced yet. Are you with me with that?

Steve:
O.K. (25:00)

Moderator:
O.K.

Mike:
Or ever might experience.

Moderator:
Or might ever experience, o.k., now then we have…

Steve (breaking in):
I hope to experience sex someday.

Moderator:
(laughs) What we have to contend with are reports of people who say and describe experiences that go beyond what you describe just a moment ago as certainly variant… different states of consciousness that are very common, ah, Mike earlier referred to just dreaming when you're asleep, that's certainly a different state of consciousness, it's not our ordinary waking state but that's a very common, not only is it very common, but more importantly for what we are talking about it doesn't have the effect that, that people report as far as changing, you know, their whole… the whole way of seeing things.

Steve:
Well wait…

Moderator (continue):
So the question is…

Steve:
People, people can report all sorts of ways… I mean people can report all sorts of things.

Moderator:
Right.

Steve (continue):
We can't, we can't go by what people report. I mean,

Mike (background):
How else can we…

Steve (continue):
I've been through many life-changing things; I don't think any of them count as mystical.

Moderator:
O.K. and that's a fair question. Ah, but people will often say during some, a let's say during war time or during some catastrophe there might be some really um… intense situation and people are effected by it. Now, I´m going to um… sort a paraphrase a little bit what I think your position is because it´s a… one that´s a actually very well represented, in ah you know at large. I mean mysticism is not at all a given thing. Ah but there are, you know, there is… a lot of  people who  would agree with you and I´m not saying which way I´m going down myself that people can have life transforming experiences and the question is this something… basically we´re asking what kind.. what is this? Is this… um is this something that is a higher… state of being or is this a psychological event? And I think that´s a fair question. Um and… but…

UJ:
I´d like to ask Steve.

Moderator:
O.K. Let´s, let´s…

UJ (continues):
… I´d like to ask him this, this about enlightenment.

Moderator:
O.K.

UJ:
I´d like to ask Steve, Steve can you define love for me?

Steve:
Yeah, It´s a cost benefit analysis. A rational person will love that which benefits them more than it costs them, and they´ll not love that which costs them more than it benefits them.

UJ:
Well that´s a description. What is the definition?

Steve:
Well that´s how I,.. I mean, why isn´t that a definition?

Moderator:
Well we're not g… UJ, I´m going to ask you to back off a little, cause we´re getting into a cross examination style which…which really doesn't fit our, our sort of dialogue style. Let me… we'll go around… Billie.

Billie:
Well I want to bring up Teresa, to Steve again.

Moderator:
Yeah.

Billie (continue):
She recorded many of her experiences that we most of us have not had similar experiences. She felt love, intensely loved by God.

Steve:
But…

Billie (continue):
Other people who were with her saw her rise from the floor. They saw all sorts of things that we haven't experienced. Um, and when you become a saint in the Catholic Church, um Michael can tell you, there's quite a lot of investigation that goes on to be sure that this is for real and that somebody is not just spinning a nice tale.

Steve:
O.K., there we have it. If the Catholic Church says something, then it is for real.

Moderator:
OK. Steve, let me get you out..

Billie:
No, that's not what I said.

Moderator:
Hold on, hold on, we're going to… I want to get back to.. o.k… John go ahead.

John:
Um, I've heard of conversion experiences that for example caused, after which for example alcoholics lose their desire to drink. I wonder if you would consider that a mystical experience. And also I've been watching that series, The War, …[PBS Ken Burns documentary]

Moderator:
An huh, yeah, O.K.

John (continues)
And one of the commentators, Paul Fussell, said that in combat people learn attitudes about life and death that they can't learn any other way…

Moderator:
O.K.

John (continue)
So in that way combat and war has the transforming effect, (30:00) life transforming effect of a mystical experience. It transforms the way you see things and thereby the way you live your life. And also I'd like to remind you of the, Joseph of Copertino, the flying monk.

Moderator:
I don't know that story, go ahead.

John:
O.K. He was the monk that could actually levitate.

Moderator:
O.K. Um, and how do we distinguish, um legend from ah, from ah, sort of accepted historical fact?

John:
That's a good question, but he had, it seems to be quite well attested. And there's even a website.

Moderator:
Ah huh.

John:
All sorts of materials about Joseph of Copertino.

Moderator:
O.K. And so I can just imagine what Steve would say "If its on the web it has to be true." I think we're treading a little bit on dangerous ground when we're using stories for which we don't have an exact chain of custody. In other words if we were to take this to a court of law…

John:
True

Mod (continues)
… would it be accepted as evidence?

Steve:
Hearsay.

Moderator:
Yeah. Billie, go ahead.

Billie:
Well, Mike has just left. But if you look at what it takes to become a saint in the Catholic Church, it is a court of law. It's not just hearsay.

Moderator:
Well, um.

Billie:
If you look at the amount of questioning. They start with a very skeptical attitude. I wanted to ask John more about the guy who had a conversion experience and didn't feel like drinking any more. Can you be any more specific?

John:
No. I've heard of such cases but I don't remember any of the names.

Billie:
Oh.

Moderator:
Oh

Billie:
O.K. Well may I present a case then?

Moderator:
O.K. then Billie.

Billie:
O.K. This was a great grandfather, who had a, I would call it a mystical experience. And he had had a problem with drinking before that. And afterwards… I don't know if he ever never wanted to drink again, but he never did, and he actually ran a clinic for addicts and for addicts in Charlottesville.

UJ:
I think the question could be asked, what are the benefits, if any from mysticism.

Moderator:
That's a good question.

UJ (continuing)
If there are no benefits, then there's no need to even talk about it. I mean its not doing anything. So the question ought to be, what are the benefits. Now taking that statement I read by Coleridge a little while ago, sort of gives a real clue to what the benefits are. It says that when he had this experience that he had, that he was able to add to the consciousness. Hidden worlds within worlds. In other words he was able to move the human race in terms of conscious awareness towards a higher level. And to me, that is the validity. So what ever contributes to that, and contributes to it, you might almost say, almost in a phenomenal way, outside of the box way. See many things contribute to man, sort of expand a bit, but its not a, it's not in a way that really cause him to make a leap. It's not a cosmic kind of effect. When you get into what we are talking about here, now mysticism it is like it really propels man. It's almost like a leap of faith that Kierkegaard would talk about.

Moderator:
O.K. I'm going to pick up on that a little bit, because, because of… in fact I had mentioned earlier the two, two, two concepts that you had alluded to. One is causing enormous problems with, um, not just Steve who's here, discussing, but with a whole segment of the population. That… I would include myself in this. Are… have difficulty with the idea of … what do you call them… miracles or…

John:
Supernatural?

Mod (continue)
…supernatural…ah, ah, ah…

Billie:
Parapsychology?

Mod (continue)
Parapsychology.. Breaking the laws of physics basically. Levitation or other, you know, things that, ah, according to science can't happen. Now that's one whole problem area. But I want to maybe put that aside for a second because there's another area that might be more fruitful, as far as finding common ground. And that's this idea of a different way of seeing. A, ah, in Buddhism they talk about the veil, that once it is lifted you can see things more clearly than when you're under the influence so to speak of ordinary consciousness. So Steve, as a n exercise what I am suggesting is if all you had known up until (35:00) a certain point in life was a dream existence, in other words you had not yet woken up but you were living a sleep dream that was.. and that was your reality. And while you're in that reality it is impossible to know that there is a higher reality and so if you can imagine that analogy, how would it be possible in our ordinary conscious existence without having experienced another level, how could we know another level doesn't exist? So that's the possibility I want to raise as what, as an explanation. Not necessarily for all the reports, but that some people may, ah be… have experience a way of seeing and they come back and say well I don't know how to describe this to somebody, but I um, you know, but I saw things from another whole other level. So anyway, what do you think about that possibility, Steve?

Steve:
Well, what did they see? I mean they saw from a whole… but what did they see?

Moderator:
Ah…

Steve (continue)
Did they see the solution to the carbon, carbon gasses, and, and, and… I mean, UJ was talking about mysticism you know propelling man forward. Well, shoot, give me a timeline, UJ, where these moments where mysticism is what propelled man forward. I mean where the… Orville and Wilbur Wright, were they, did they go into a peyote induced trance and then come out with the airfoil design? No, they... trial and … you know, they tried and they failed and they tried and they failed and they banged away at it and that's how man progressed, there wasn't a mystic kind of revelation. I mean, gosh, man's been at war for tens of thousands of years with each other, when's the mystic going to come and say "hey all this killing of each other is not necessary. I mean, when are we going to get propelled into that heightened consciousness?

Moderator:
Well you're asking the same question that UJ was asking in a way. In a backward… in a opposite... coming from the opposite side. Basically what it boils down to is what good is it? You know, and it seems to me there's a legitimate question that even if …. Come to the conclusion that it´s a real phenomenon, um whether it has practical value in the ordinary, is an interesting question. Um, and I have some ideas, but I am going to postpone all that to get Billie in here. Billie go ahead.

Billie:
Um, well I just wanted to talk about a book that Michael gave to me called Ecstatic Knowing [Ecstasy: A Way of Knowing] by Andrew Greely,  a sociologist.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie (continue):
And first he did personality tests on everybody that he was going to use in this study. And he found the healthiest people, in terms of mental health, and then he found that the healthiest people 1 in 5 had a mystical experience. But because our culture has no words for this, they often had never told anyone about this.
Ah, my next door neighbor is now doing life stories of people - mostly at the end of their lives. And these are people who are executives of corporations, and things, and John's mother-in-law among others. And they are telling her mystical experiences that they've never told anyone else because the language doesn't exist in our scientific culture.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie (continue):
That before they leave the Earth they want to get that down there, because it was something that was important to them.

Moderator:
O.K. Well then let me again, play devil's advocate here and say how can… well let me put it this way, if a mystical experience is a more profound way or a clearer way of seeing things, then the individuals who report mystical experiences, how have they been able to take advantage of seeing things more clearly? Um, they ought to be wiser somehow. They ought to have learned something, and so can you say something about how they are now, you know, living a better life?

Billie:
Yeah. Let me say…

Moderator (continue):
You know getting out of debt. Or getting… getting the (40:00) whatever it is they want out of life. Being more successful, whatever their definition of success is.

Billie:
Well first I should say that Andrew Greely, who did this study, never had that kind of experience himself.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie:
And again he is respecting the people that do, but he has not had it himself. The feeling of… that I get from his book is, yes, these are people that can resolve disputes, these are people that are more peaceful, these are people that feel a unity with others, and the ego and the sort of self-propulsion is sort of dampened down. And I think we oft... we, I think we often see this in older people.

Moderator:
Mmm O.K. Alright, John.

John:
What about those studies that have been done on meditators? I think actual brain studies…

Billie:
Right.

John (continue)
MRI studies. Showed them to be happier and more peaceful than those that don't meditate.

Billie (in background)
Yes, yes, that's right.

UJ:
And I think that she said, Billie, that these are older people. You better give some credit to the fact that you've become an old person.

Moderator:
Mmm hum.

UJ (continue)
A lot of people don't make it.

Billie:
Good point.

UJ (continue)
You understand me? Ah, many people who have… talents of various kinds never see beyond 50 or 60, even in the Western society. And so I think one of the things is, is to learn how to live.

Moderator:
Mmm hum

UJ (continue):
And to learn how… and so why, though a person doesn't necessarily have to cut his life off, maybe it´s a reason. I know it's a reason in one sense at 40 or 50 rather go at 60 or 70 or 80 and some are going to 100. So I want to say

Billie:
Or 97.

UJ (continue)
I want to say, give some credit to the fact, and in some societies give more credit to that, than in America or Western society to people, you know livin' to be 80, and certainly when they are aged and function and aged within sight because they have learned something. And sometimes what they have learned is not necessarily to tell others. In other words it sort of like "he who knows, don't tell, and he that tells don't know"

Billie:
There you go.

UJ (continue)
…and it is like of course "just let the person, the person has to experience something, because what you tell sometimes only relates to the vicarious kind of thing". And vicarious experience, that's why many people when they are young they can never understand certain things. Like children until the age of… so clear you going into adult you make it, but they've got to have a certain amount of experience before they can come and make that leap, you might say for instance. Now getting to science, it´s a fact quantum physics is in a whole different range, you might say level, from what we commonly call just science.

Moderator:
Um, hum.

UJ (continue):
And in quantum physics, there's a real understanding, a growing understanding I'll put it, of what we're talking about and of the spiritual. And I think that the more that we come into the quantum physics, we're going to understand much more about life. And we may actually leave behind some of the things we call science, because we might find it to be, like you about miracles, so ordinary that it's not something.

Moderator:
I want to, I want to… back off a little on the science, because I think… you're really on to something with the… what all three of you have said about a kind of knowledge that's personal, not necessarily transferable, therefore you can't necessarily translate that into making money on the stock market, or, or, you know being successful in sports, or whatever it is. But it has something to do, I think you, UJ you said, how to live your life. And what… it seems my understanding of … my, my feeling is… it's kind of a maturity, if you will. It's all the spectrum of growing up, we think that we stop, and there is no place else for us to grow. I think, I've always thought, you know, a little narcissistic. But ah, given that there might be a level of maturity where I am, and if I'm, you know, sort of here as a grown-up then it is interesting to ask the question, again going back to what it was like to be a child, as UJ says, and not knowing what it is like being a grown-up, well there may be something beyond, um, that is a kind of wisdom, a kind of seeing, that puts things in order, that makes life both easier and more meaningful but not necessarily in terms of society more successful. So I want to throw that out as a possibility, and I want to let Steve back in here because it looks like Steve has his hand up.

Steve:
Well, I mean (45:00) is that what we are calling mystic?

Moderator:
Um, I would think it´s a legitimate question. There is this thing called an experience that tends to be reported often as a sudden, you know, leap, sort of being catapulted into this way of seeing. I wonder if there's also an alternative route which is gradual, and that for some people they're jolted into a way… a sort of higher level of… what do you want to call it development. I think of, again, enlightenment not as a destination but a process. And that, you know, what I like to tell people, I'm not as enlightened… I'm more enlightened than I was yesterday, but not as enlightened as I will be tomorrow. Um, that's basically understanding better who I am, what I am, where I am and all this business. Um, I also want to throw out, picking up what UJ was getting at earlier, when, um, I believe this is what he was getting at when he was asking, "What is love?" There… we can from our own personal experience, and this is not out of the ordinary, because it is very ordinary, and I would, I would submit that what we call ordinary I think there is a lot of mystical in the ordinary. I'm going to quote someone we quoted last time, Thich Nhat Hanh, who said, "To be alive is a miracle, but to be alive and know it that is the greatest miracle." And so you think about the difficulty of explaining that simple everyday experience of knowing that you're alive. Ah, that, if you meditate on that, if you think about that deeply, that is very mysterious, and mysterious and mystical have basically the same root. We're sort of… so, I would say that… the focus has to be on the sudden revelations. I'm not sure if it's not the same thing that also happens gradually as we become better at… in a sense there, philosophy... better at  conscious living. Anyway, I've gone on for a while, Billie has been raising her hand. Let me get Billie in and then we'll get back to Steve.

Billie:
Well, right now, because I had to respond to a couple of things. One that UJ said, I've always loved Buckie Fuller's [Buckminster Fuller] quote, "Everything in the universe is on time and subject to change."

Moderator:
Ah ha, right.

Billie (continue):
Some people remember a speech that he gave here at the University of Virginia, where he really got into it, you know it just didn't end because he began to think of this, and he began to think of that, which reminds me of a book by Arthur Koestler that I am quite fond of called,The Act of Creation.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie (continue):
And he takes there the artist, he's not really dealing there with the mystic, but the artist and the scientist and you find in many cases there is a kind of revelation that comes to one in a dream, or just comes to one. And then you go from there in terms of cause and effect and put it together but for a moment one is inspired.

Moderator:
O.K., O.K. Let's get Steve back in here, go ahead Steve.

Steve:
Well um I am sadly disappointed, because I'm not getting a firm grasp at all as to what… what we are going to call mystic. Um early on, somebody mentioned how mystic experiences were recorded. And I was excited, um but, you know, I can't find any, you know I'm scanning the internet and what was recorded was what people said about their mystic experiences. There, there isn't really a way to record a mystic experience itself. Um, you can't… it's like a dream, you know, I can tell you what I dreamed about last night, or what I remember, I dreamed about. So I can't even tell you what I dreamed about, I can only tell you what memories I have of my dream and I could write that down, but that's not like recording the experience.

Billie:
I, I think Bernini's Saint Teresa records the experience. It is very visual,

Moderator:
Well…

Billie (continue):
… it´s a recording to me… of love.. of being overwhelmed by love.

Moderator:
O.K. What I think I want to point out here as a conundrum, if you will, the difficulty is the very… a part of the definition of mystic experience is that it is unlike experiences in the ordinary consciousness and because of that it's indescribable or inadequate or quickly describable in words in our ordinary language. (50:00) Now Billie you point out here in a way there is one way around that limitation of our language is to say it not in our ordinary language but to say it in art, which is a metaphoric language as opposed to a literal language. That is it's, like UJ was referring to a parable as opposed to a text book where the message is one that you get from experiencing either the story or experiencing the art. And the artist tries to create a situation where in experiencing the art you are experiencing, in a little way, what the experience was. I want to get back to mention Steve, it seems to me that all experiences can only be recorded as a witness, I mean that's true of scientific experiment also that, that you record your observations and so um that's something that um you know there's no way around.

Steve:
Well, Steve, Steve, if we had that monk that could levitate, and we had him in a room, we set him in front of a video camera, we turn the camera on, and he levitated, and the video camera taped him levitating, wouldn't you say we've captured the experience of him levitating?

Moderator:
Well, I'm going to put that aside, there are problems because you could say everyone could be hypnotized into believing a movie too.
Ah, but I want to focus on the first hand description as opposed to a physical, you know, breaking the laws of physics or whatever. I'm talking about, um, somebody describing, as one might describe their dream. Now, if somebody describes their dream and you've never dreamt, if you've never had a dream in your life, you wouldn't know what in the world this person was talking about. You would have to have a dream of your own in order to say, well you know, I didn't have that dream, but I know what you mean when you say you were dreaming. And so there is a bit of a difficulty of recognizing something that you've never experienced. I've never, I don't think I've ever experienced a mystical experience, but I have read, and Steve as a, I'm going to mention a book because one of the people that I am very influenced by is a fellow by the name of Ken Wilber, he's one of several philosophers, well let me put it this way, he's a philosopher, he's one of several people interviewed in a book called Rational Mysticism, the author is John Horgan, H – O – R – G – A – N . And this person is a science writer and a journalist. And in my opinion has done a nice job of giving the background and current state of the debate and evidence and also interviewing first hand the people who, who are some of the big names in either claiming or disclaiming mysticism. But Ken Wilber is a person who does claim to know the mystical state. And if you're interested in pursuing that, to get as close to, and you know he's still alive, he's a contemporary. That would be my recommendation trying to get as close as possible first hand accounts. Anyway there are a couple of hands up. John.

John:
Yeah, I was thinking of blind people. Suppose, suppose one of them regains his…, suppose we had several people that had been blind since birth, and who had never experienced color, and one of them regains his sight somehow, and he experiences color for the first time. And he of course had never experienced it before, so he doesn't know what he is seeing, he doesn't know the words for it. All he knows is it's very, it's extraordinary, it's not like anything he's ever experienced before. And because he doesn't have words for it, and because his friends have never experienced, he has no way of communicating it his blind friends. In some ways, this particular experience as I understand it is very much like that.

Moderator:
And I want to add here I guess, see if this might, sort of… I don't know if it helps or not, because I, I really, I sympathize with your skepticism. And there is, I think for me, let me put it this way, for me, speaking for myself, there is an element of who are you going to trust. Um, and you have some people who tell stories, and you have other people who tell stories, and you have other people who tell stories, and there are a lot of stories about this that I don't trust. And I don't… especially the ones, now for me this is my bias, should have said the ones that are breaking the laws of physics, cause, ah, I like them, I'm a believer in physics. But, um, there are others, and Ken Wilbur is (55:00) one, and partly because of things he has said about other things. In other words his judgment, his discernment, his analysis of things that I also have analyzed and come to the same conclusion, where we are sort of… seem to be on the same track and then he said, "oh by the way I traveled a little further and this is what I saw." I tend to give more credit to him as maybe having actually been someplace that I haven't been yet. Ah, than I would for somebody who, who is, you know, making gold rings out of air. Ah, then we have there are people, you know, who plan to do that. So actually who's… let get Billie, and, you know, we'll work our way around.

Billie:
O.K. Ah, what UJ was saying, I wanted to comment on what you said, Steve, and what UJ said. And I wanted to quote ah Paul, "When I was a child", UJ can usually quote better than I can.

Moderator:
O.K.

Billie (continue):
"I", something, "with childish things, but now that I am an adult, I put away the childish things". Can you quote it better?

UJ:
Yes…

Billie:
I though…

UJ:
Usually its said, "When I was a child, spoke as a child, I understood as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away childish things."
[Actual quote, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child."]

But I always add when I said that, he never said he put away the child. Ah huh!?

Moderator:
Ah!

Group:
Laughter

Moderator:
Great…

UJ (continue):
And so, which is very insightful, because many people think you put the child away. The child is where spontaneity, and all that comes from.

Moderator:
We're getting very close, and so did you have something you wanted to say?

UJ:
Yeah one… let me say to Steve on the skepticism is to commendable. And I would say hold onto you honest skepticism, until you find a need to give it up. Honest skepticism is really many times a step to something that is much more noble.

Moderator:
Alright, good, good. Um, we're really getting out of time here. I'm going to, um, somebody volunteer for the last words? Billie, you wanna?

Billie:
O.K. This is Simone Weil who had a PhD and taught classics, and was a wonderful classicist, and began to have mystical experiences later in her life. Ah, but she also said… and I think she was using the word religion, but I think we could substitute mysticism here, "Mysticism is just like the study of diamonds, only the expert can know the difference between the zircon and the real diamond."

Moderator:
Ah, John?

John:
I think Steve's skepticism has been quite helpful, because it showed the four or five of us here, don't really quite yet have a good, really good grasp on mysticism.

Moderator:
O.K. On that note, we'll wrap it up. That's all the time we have for today. I thank you very much participants for sharing your thoughts. And thank you, listeners, for tuning in. For more information about this show and how you the listener can participate on the show, visit our website at www.citizenphilosopher.com. Until next time, this is Steve Donaldson wishing you all the joys of philosophical reflection. And remember, thinking is a good thing, everyone has a right to enjoy it.


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