Over the years, I’ve had many close encounters of a mystical kind. Some were very powerful and took me years to integrate. Some were pleasant, some beatific, some were terrifying. I have been transported out of time. I’ve stepped out of my body as from a pile of dirty clothes and drifted in light. Once, in meditation, I went to the center of the Earth and heard her breathe. I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks by an overwhelming feeling of love, my eyes misting over, heart crumbling, wanting to touch every single person, every living creature, with gratitude and tenderness. I’ve seen the light that is the life of all things, which comes from someplace…I don’t know where. I have glided as in a sailplane over landscapes from other worlds. I have sat on God’s front porch in my own backyard and felt the tremors of new creation. I’ve been demolished by a silence and peace, by an expansiveness, for which I have not a single word. These experiences expanded my contact with the dimensions and facets of reality and affected my perception of reality.
I used to lead a weekly class in Mill Valley. People would come by and we’d meditate for a while, and then I’d usually give a talk, followed by some lively dialogues with whoever showed up. There was a core group of people who came nearly every week, including one young woman who drove up from San Jose, a three hour round-trip. One of the regulars would follow along for a while, sinking into her own silence and breathing, happy to let go of herself and her ideas. But then something in her would snap, and she would bark out, “What does this have to do with reality?” She understood me up to a point, and I understood her up to a point. To me, what we were and are speaking about, a mystery of incomparable depths and dimensions, is reality. My friend’s reality was limited to what she could see and feel and control and affect. She was always most interested in finding new strategies to get her way, to realize her ambitions, to get and to have. She talked of mastering her life; I talked of serving life. This is why I said earlier that we are reality challenged. Our society has built a single lane road, one of materialism, which we use to travel on through reality. No wonder there is so much traffic and so many accidents!
The world that is perceptible to our senses and the world of our concepts and beliefs is certainly a part of reality, but it is so tiny as to barely be a blip on the screen. Unless what convention calls the real world is put in the proper context and perspective, it is no more than a dream. A dream. A mystic knows this. Spiritual experiences help us to loosen our grip on the materialistic view of reality as the dominant one. They help us to soften and expand the boundaries of who we think we are.
We must each find the connection with reality through our own investigation of self, mind, and reality. The mystical experience is a wild sea in which wave upon wave of depth and significance crash over us; layers, facets, and dimensions of the great mystery open and befriend us. It is, as John Lee Hooker said, “Yes! Yes! So sweet!”
The mysticism I know is simple: it is the silence that falls upon us in a moment of beauty, of creation, of love, of communion, of deep reflection. The word mysticism has come, colloquially, to represent the arcane, the abstract, the remote, the mysterious; however, the exact opposite is true. It means, literally, to experience an immediate connection with life itself. As simple as it is, a lot can get in the way of our experience of life. We have to be reminded, or awakened, or jolted into a recollection of the obvious and self-evident simplicity mysticism implies.
Within each person is a depth of being that is silent, and that silence embraces the entire universe: rock, salamander, iris, and sun. The experience of silence is exquisite and so different from our conventional mode of experience that it can scarcely be spoken of, let alone taught as most things are taught. There are many paths of and to silence. My path took me to the East, to India, where I studied with a meditation master. I learned that silence is, itself, the great teacher, the great explainer, the great illuminator. Silence is chronic and compulsive intuition and spontaneity. It is a light spring rain from a cloudless sky beyond the reach of the mind. That rain is spiritual nourishment to all living things, and all things are living.
Mysticism refers to the self-transcendent clarity that is found in silence, in love, in beauty, in the explosive aftermath of poetry and music, in the awesome fact of forests and mountains, in the revelry of lovemaking and carnivals of eroticism, in the rhythms of dance and the cadence of song, chant, and prayer. The mystic is in love with that which will not brook any formulation. It cannot be turned into principles and paradigms. It is too free, endlessly creative, and joyful for any of that.
The mystic language is not meant to inform, convince, or persuade; the words are as missiles meant to stop the mind with a judder, to collapse reason, time, and self. In the collapsed rubble, spontaneity lurks, and the silence-infested clarity of reality purrs loudly.
The best I can do, by way of teaching what can’t be taught, is to invoke silence. This silence is of utmost importance, much more so than anything I or anyone else can say. The mysticism I know, I can only point to: an exquisite silence within the deep core of each human being which can be directly experienced. This inner silence is itself the true seat of power and teacher of wisdom. I learn from this silence. I see from this silence. Silence opens the heart and clears the mind. I trust this silence to provide clarity, courage, and truth. This is what I trust, and this is what I know inheres in each person: a clear mind and an open heart. It is not enough to agree or disagree; in order to be authentic, the indwelling silent beauty must be realized by each one of us. Otherwise, we will be merely the stooges of gossip and rumor and reality by agreement.