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The Meaningless Mystic

by on February 25, 2013

The Meaningless Mystic
by Marco M. Pardi
How many light bulbs does it take to screw in a mystic?

Or should we ask: Is enlightenment incremental? Mysticism is primarily experiential, not intellectual. Many people try to think their way into a transcendental experience, only to find that, if it occurs, it comes in those moments of “doing nothing”. Thinking that meditation is the portal to such experiences many people approach that activity in a way which stems from their intellectual presumptions that one can define the proper state of mind and can achieve it by a rigorous purging of whatever mental phenomena they deem inappropriate and a prevention of further such intrusions. Thus, they often find themselves sitting and wondering, “Am I there yet? Am I there yet?”

Reality is simple: It is. Reality includes the fact that ongoing bio-electrical processes in the brain will affect mind state no matter how much the meditator tries to limit or eliminate stimulation. Results from any number of Stimulus Deprivation experiments continually make that point clear. Much has been written on the presumed “innate need” for structure in the human mind. Indeed, writers have experimented with this need, as in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stream of consciousness, they called it. It is this stream which is the bane of beginning meditators, those who presume that meditative success is the complete elimination of all thought. With basic guidance, they come to learn of the “monkey mind” and to let it flit from treetop to treetop without following it. Nir vana (commonly run together as “nirvana”) simply means beyond wind; we are no longer pushed and pulled by our surroundings, including those thoughts flitting through our heads.

Recent nationwide surveys are disclosing interesting information. Self described adherence to “mainstream religions” is in serious decline while more people self describe as “spiritual, not religious”. Although, as the voices of the non-denominational mega churches should tell us, this new found spirituality should not imply complete individual autonomy, there does appear to be an awakening of the consciousness to a fresh realization of individual validity. But many of us are not yet at the level of sophistication found among First Nation tribes who, in some cases, still engage their young people in the “Vision Quest”. A youth returning from a few solitary days in the wilderness, and relating his Vision, is not told, “That’s heresy! That’s the work of the devil!” and sent back out to “get right with God”. The youth is simply congratulated on finding his place in the Cosmos, in finding his place in the obvious.

It can be hard, writing about the obvious. After all, it’s here. But as any aspiring writer knows, an exercise in writing about what one is perceiving can quickly morph into an exposition on what one is making of those perceptions; the perceived and the perceiver are suddenly not so distinct. The “obviously real” takes on shades of the possible, and possible is only a state of probability, not of reality. To restate that apocryphal saying: “Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man, or am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly dreaming I am a man?” Does it matter?

The rapidly growing field of Neuroscience, the old wine of materialistic monism in the new bottle of modern techno-science, suggests that the human brain is genetically hard wired for the phenomenon of language (though not any particular language). Indeed, recent work has identified the FOXP2 gene as the genitor of vocalization, and the degree to which it expresses as a protein as determining the amount of vocalization. Brain autopsies of human children aged 2 to 4 show a consistent 30% increased presence of this protein in female children over male children. It’s true. Women talk a lot.

Language, by its nature, is a process of encapsulating perceptions into bounded meaning domains (conceptions) and obeying the rules (grammar) for organization and transmission of those meaning domains as words. To exist, language must attempt to circumscribe perception. Fundamentally, it must say “This”, which is therefore automatically in contrast to and exclusive of “That”. The same would hold true for fixating upon any particular thought. Which brings us to the thought/word, Mysticism.

Although they should, few thought/words, when conceived, summon up their opposites in the minds of their conceivers. The act of conceiving the word mysticism is the act of attempting to establish a perceptual domain; establishing an “It is this” as opposed to “It is not that”. But mysticism is not to be confined within a domain. The -ism suffix contributes to this paradox because it implies an organized system, an orthodoxy outside of which we should expect to find non-mysticism. Yet, the mystic experience, if it can be delineated and spoken of at all, is unique; no two mystics being identical, no two mystics have the same experience. Even if they did, the impossibilities of one mystic entirely negating himself in order to experience as the other mystic (who is in no way the first mystic) obviate the validation of the assumption. And so, there is no objectively “right” mysticism; “are we there yet?” does not apply.

Another unfortunate confounder is the continuing use of a preceding modifier, such as Jewish mystic, Catholic mystic, and etc. Undoubtedly, some Jews, some Catholics, some Rastafaris, some pot heads, and some (fill in the blank) found their way to mysticism. For them, however, the break through was a break out; a break out from the organized and often dictatorial orthodoxy of the system through which they had hitherto been defined. The history of these systems, particularly the powerful religious ones, is an unbroken chain of mind control and persecution to varying degrees, including gruesome and horrendous death. The mystics cited, often grudgingly, by various religions as their own hyphenated wonders, were people who were wise enough to color their reported experiences with strong tints favorable to the established dictatorships of their society’s dominant religion. For a listing of those not so wise, and those who were simply naive, see the list of Heretics.

In some cases, and for various uncertain reasons, some mystics survived. An exemplar for the general public would be Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Another would be the apocryphal author of the Tao Te Ching; “Lao Tzu” simply meaning “old man” in Chinese. And, we could stir enthusiasm among the “New Agers”, moving inexorably into Old Agers, and the disaffected who feel they have never been understood or appreciated by saying that there have been unknown numbers of mystics throughout human history who lived their lives and died their deaths in unrecognized anonymity most likely because, A: society was too ignorant to appreciate them, and B: they forswore those ill fitting mystic uniforms. It is said that when Siddhartha attained Enlightenment he “went back to washing his bowl”. He did not run to the local New Age shop for a change of costume, a supply of incense, or a yoga mat.

But opening the membership rolls of mysticism to only a few is the same arbitrary and confining trap as devising a linguistic utterance (commonly called “word”) to circumscribe a perception. It creates an Us and Them distinction. Instead, consider this Buddhist aphorism: “One does not convert to Buddhism; one discovers he or she is Buddhist.”

The implication here, of course, is that one already is a mystic; one just has to realize it. Or, to be properly expansive, we are all mystics, realize it or not. After all, we don’t want to set up a self-realized group versus a non-self realized group. Divisiveness, the love child of the self anointed religious types, is anathema to mysticism. So, next time you are walking down the street and someone yells out, “Hey, mystic!” be sure to turn around. Unless, of course, you don’t want to be defined within someone’s meaning domain.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake

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5 Comments
  1. Lory Nakamura permalink

    I like this.
    it made me think of something i had been thinking about from time to time 🙂
    from my own little point of view, i daresay that as for enlightenment, the moment you ask yourself the questiom `Am i there yet?`, …. well , you are certainly not there.
    not being myself an enlightened being, i cant say for sure, but once you are there, i guess this question would just drop as insignificant.

    i remember that a friend once asked me about OBEs. he was trying hard to have one and for some reason couldnt.
    he asked me `How do you know if you are really there?`
    at that time i found it an extremely extravagant thing to ask. i remember answering him `believe me, once it happens, you would know! no way you could ever question it or have doubts about it.`

    so it is only a guess, but i daresay that enlightened people dont go about asking themselves this question either.
    of course, it is just a thought ! 🙂

    as for the mystic part, i do agree. we are all mystic `eggs`, i mean, we all certainly have it in us….. it is all about how we go about the digging !

    • Thank you, Lory. Perception is a tricky thing. You have identified the problem. Looking for something is a way of separating it from you and then struggling to “have” it. Realizing something is a simple discovery of what is.
      Next time you are Out of the Body, I hope you will come for a visit. Marco

  2. Lory Nakamura permalink

    wow, Marco ! you described it perfectly ! just what i was trying to say !!
    with the difference that you have such profound and precise way with words !

    as for the OBEs, they are always still incontrollable for me !never know when they want to show up 🙂 but if i ever get a chance, I`ll try and pay you a visit ! 😉

  3. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Thank you, Marco! I really enjoyed this! I do not believe that mysticism/spirituality can be put in a box nor labeled. It is personal and unique to each individual. No one can say when another has “arrived”. I have always felt that once you believe you have “arrived” it is then that you have failed. It is a continuous and never ending process. We do not have the right to tell another whether or not they have it correct. While incarnated we are individuals with our own unique reality and our spiritual process is our own unique journey. I wish we could do away with all types of labels and what is the right or wrong way to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment is dependent upon the person!

    • Thank you, MJ. Siddhartha Gautama agrees: “When you are sure you are enlightened, you can be sure you are not.”

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