Having had so-called mystical experiences since I was 18, and also being of a philosophical bent (though that word has a double meaning in English!), I've come to understand mystical experience as a universal language that transcends words.
For example, consider the following koan-like poem by the 17th century mystic Silesius. Initially an early follower of the Luther, the founder of Protestantism, Silesius became a Catholic when he found there was no home for his mystical experiencing in the breakaway religion of Lutheranism.
His poem, which deeply speaks to me as mystic, and even in a paradoxical way as philosopher, goes like this:
God, whose love and joy
are present everywhere,
can't come to visit you
unless you aren't there.
To someone who experiences the truth of this little poem, it brings a wry smile, with no need for translation or interpretation. To most Western philosophers however, Silesius' koan is not a paradox to be pondered, but a contradiction to be dismissed.
Philosophy for me has largely been the attempt to rationally explain phenomena that are not rationally derived.
I was raised in a highly traditional, ritualized Catholic Church, in a parish where the Mass, which we had to attend every day before school, was in Latin. As a boy, and altar boy, I accepted the manufactured mysteries of the Mass, and was, until the 8th grade, conventionally religious.
Then one day I served Mass before school with a boy who, unbeknownst to me, was flirting with the girls as the lined up for communion on the other side of the priest, as I held the golden palate under the chins of the boys in case a consecrated wafer fell.
Later that morning, as I walked down the hall with a friend who looked like the friend I served Mass with that morning, the terror of middle school, Sister Clemencia, came barreling towards us. Before I knew it she was slapping and beating the face and head of my friend, screaming something unintelligible about Mass that morning.
By the time I understood that she thought this was the boy I served with, and that he had committed the unpardonable sin of flirting with the girls during the holiest moment of the Mass, she had reduced my friend to a teary, red-faced mess.
Her violence was bad enough, but what she did next started me questioning the Catholicism I had heretofore accepted as true and good. When my entreaties, "Sister, this is not the boy I served Mass with this morning" finally got through to her, she simply turned on her heels and walked away, without so much as an apology.
It took a few years of questioning, observing and researching, but by my senior year I could no longer, in good conscience, go to church. So I came down one Sunday, when it was still a mortal sin to miss Mass, and announced to my conservative parents: I'm not going to Mass today or ever again. I'm done with organized religion.
About six months later, there was an explosive 'mystical experience' that changed the course of my life.
I had taken to sitting alone in my parents' backyard, attentively watching nature, and myself in the mirror of nature. I had begun to notice that there was always an observer that felt separate from what he was observing, and I began to ask: What is this observer, which seems so separate from its observations?
For some weeks I persisted with this question, without pressing to find an answer. Since I had never read anything about meditation, the feeling of nature, passive watchfulness, and the question arose completely from within.
Then one day, as I was intently watching a robin bounce around on the grass, there was an explosion of insight.
Beyond words I saw that the observer is a trick of thought, an ancient habit of psychological separation that keeps repeating itself generation after generation! It was like holding a mirror up to a mirror, and the mirrors suddenly shattering.
Colors were instantly very intense, and the robin intensely alive. There was a tremendous insight into the roots of human alienation from nature, an insight that has remained with me to this day, 50 years later.
The insight into the observer became the foundation of one's meditation, which is the cornerstone of my day. There are often meditations now when one is so overwhelmed with beauty, silence and bliss that the body becomes frozen - what the ancient Greeks called 'aesthetic stasis.'
In the timeless state of silence and emptiness, something comes beyond words, something that can only be called God. I don't know if it has anything to do with this dreadful world, but I know that I could not live in this society without regularly experiencing it.
I'm sure it's there for everyone, when one ends the infinite regression of the observer and there is spontaneous silence of the mind as thought.
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.
© Fair Use. No Copyright intended by Fountain of Light
Top of Page