By The Spiritual Explorer
I have often wondered how to answer the question of what is a mystic. I have asked myself whether I could be included in that category along with some like-minded friends. I also have to differentiate that sharing some mystical qualities is not the same as being a fully acknowledged mystic. It however denotes that you have some distinguishing features that might get you inclusion into the venerable sect of mysticism. Nevertheless, the question of what is a mystic invites further discourse.
Being aware that being called a mystic is sometimes not a compliment, but an attempt of dismissal or denigration, meaning a deviation from rationality. I have to say that once when I asked if I was a mystic, I was assured that the person asking actually envied my ability to live a life based on faith and intuition.
Beginning inquiry into what is a mystic
I actually never considered myself as being what one would consider a person of faith since I have had many doubts in my life as to whether some of my actions could be considered “spiritually” based. I did know that I wanted and aspired to be a good person, while many times failing at the aspiration. Nevertheless, the one thing I could say about myself was that my aspiration has never flagged as witness my continued residence in an ashram for the last 38 years. If I could honestly admit my failing in the moment, I would say that my reactivity has sometimes caused me to express things that I regretted. My consolation is and was that I am quicker to apologize as I matured on my path. I also felt that was due to either a decrease in hormones or just general fatigue as one gets older. Nevertheless, I have been assured that many even of more advanced years might still persist with their feelings of righteousness and anger.
William James describes what is a mystic
My first experience of what was a mystic was when I read William James the Varieties of Spiritual Experience in my early 20’s, a pivotal and extraordinary book. I felt that he was able to capsulize and describe in great detail many mystical experiences of some famous theologians and philosophers. For James, theology and organizational experiences of religion were of secondary interest. He believed that religious experiences were simply solitary human experiences and could not be “thought” away through rational processes. They were not intended to be put upon a slab of rational thought to be dissected, analyzed and bent. This is what some so-called rationalists like to do in an attempt to explain away what cannot be explained.
Question of what is a mystic resolved
When I read what James considered be the hallmarks of saintly characters,” I realized that I together with many of my friends on a spiritual path might be included in this set of what he considered to possess saintly character. Notwithstanding a flare up of my ego, here is what James considered to be saintly:
For James, a saintly character is one where “spiritual emotions are the habitual centre of the personal energy” and include
- A feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world’s selfish little interests; and a conviction of the existence of an Ideal Power.
- A sense of the friendly continuity of the ideal power with our own life, and a willing self-surrender to its control.
- An immense elation and freedom, as the outlines of confining selfhood melt down (otherwise known as surrender)
- A shifting of the emotional center towards loving and harmonious affections, towards “yes, yes” and away from “no,” where the claims of the non-ego are concerned.
While grateful to be within that set of “saintliness,” I have discovered some other signs of what it means to be included in the larger set of mystics:
What is a mystic?
- Mystics tend to be highly intuitive in general not just when they are in the middle of a mystical experience. They value and honor their deeply personal experiences. They are not deeply wedded to rational thought, although they can sometimes use rational thought when performing certain activities in their lives.
- They are always asking the questions of existence: Why am I here? What is my self-worth? How can I love myself; How can I love others? They have a natural curiosity about the evolution of their beliefs as opposed to belief in a stationary model of religion.
- Mystics must obviously be comfortable with a world that has few answers. They are quick to change their minds as new evidence unfolds and try not to uphold rigid and old standards out of convenience. They don’t feel that they must have a strenuous worldview that is unchangeable and unremarkable in order to feel secure. They do not feel insecure when asked what is a mystic.
- Mystics value intuition. They are comfortable with following their own advice even if others might strongly disagree. They talk about following their hearts rather than their rational minds, although they certainly do not aspire to be dingbats and make irrational actions. But they like to rely upon their wisdom to make choices. They value their perceptions as deeper form of insight and sometimes rely upon it. They also have an innate trust in their own morality, which arises naturally with intuition and is not forced upon them by conventional religion.
- Mystics are more apt to follow spiritual discipline. They realize that sometimes it takes a discipline to adhere to keep them tethered to something rather than allowing whatever thoughts come up to be followed. They wish to place their thoughts in a crucible, which can be examined and perused.
- Mystics tend to see power as spiritual power rather than earthly power and in many instances shy away from an earthly expression of power, acknowledging that spiritual power is the true power they wish to cultivate. They see spiritual power as the ability to make clear choices and rely upon a morality they have freely subscribed to and integrity that they rule their lives with.
- Mystics value internal growth. This is the internal growth that sometimes clashes with hierarchical religion beliefs. They have acute perceptions and are not susceptible to being ordered around, either physically or mentally. For that reason many of them take jobs that they feel enhances their spiritual beliefs rather than a job with a steady paycheck. In that instance, they feel strongly that they would not be happy if they were to just follow a material lifestyle. I might add that this view is something that many of these mystics have later regretted as they find themselves in unfortunate life circumstances because of lack of money. However, mystics also believe that in regard to following the heart and the spirit, one truly has no choice.
- Finally, mystics believe that love is the true source of life rather than power, money or sex. They wish to be influenced by what their higher chakra selves call for, intrinsically believing that love is the prime mover and influence that surrounds and creates all actions.
Yep, I’m a mystic.
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