Why I Chose Mysticism over Religion
I’m sure you’ve had mystical experiences, whether it was through yoga, meditation, and fasting; or perhaps even through sex, drugs, or amazing music. You’ve at least accepted that these mystical experiences are valid – yet, perhaps, incredibly wondrous and maybe confusing part of the human experience. Maybe you’ve gained clarity about the experience, or maybe you’ve chalked it up to “just one of those things” and have moved on down the dusty road.
If you’ve never had a mystical experience, then this post won’t make much sense…this blog is mostly for people who are awakening spiritually or already self-identify as spiritually awakened, so there’s no worries here. By the way, I hate the term “spiritual”. It has such a hegemonic feel to it – like those who identify as spiritual are somehow better than those who do not. For the record: I believe everyone is spiritual because everyone and everything is of spirit. All religions point back to an origin or source from whence we emanated. Sure, the details are filtered through varying respective cultural lenses, but this origin is something most religions agree upon.
I chose mysticism over religion for a couple reasons. #1 is it fits my personality: I tend to thrive on my own, thinking for myself, as the sovereign ruler of my space. I love people! Don’t get me wrong. I just love the benefit of my own space more than sharing it unendingly. I’ve had to get to the point where i either plan something for 1-2 hours after a guest arrives, or flat out tell them (in the nicest way possible) that it’s time to go. #2 is that i had a life-altering experience with religion in my early childhood, a story that merits some discourse:
My Religious Backstory
Growing up in an Orthodox Christian church and school (I was there 1-3 times per week from age 1-4, then 5-7 days a week for the next 6 years), I was inundated with certain beliefs about the world around me, passed down to me from the priests, parents, and teachers. This transfer of information was usually a one way street that lent little room for philosophical discourse or questioning. At age 7, when questioning whether or not my Catholic and Protestant friends could get into heaven, I was told that Orthodox Christianity was the “One True Religion”. I interpreted this to mean that Orthodox Christianity would not allow them into heaven. This sparked massive cognitive dissonance. I am very grateful that my questioning mind and the sovereignty of my mental space, accompanied by a quiet stubbornness, allowed me to formulate my own opinion based on both my emotional and logical beliefs. The main belief here was that any loving sovereign being could not possibly damn an innocent child to hell who had no choice in their religious affiliation.
When I left my parents stewardship at the age of 17, I began to explore different religions. Hinduism was interesting to me because I had recently found yoga, but I couldn’t get past the difference in cultural upbringing. I knew Christianity as I knew it wasn’t for me, and after some soul searching, neither was Hinduism. I was at U.T. Knoxville studying music, and I understood that is was not unusual for a musician – especially a jazz musician – to adopt another culture’s spiritual practices. Still, it felt strange adopting the religious aspects of Hinduism without it being culturally ingrained. I just knew that Orthodox Christianity was about as appealing to me as being force fed carrots and being told it was cookies.
I began practicing yoga for 1-3 hours per day, and got into a very interesting energetic space: I had mystical experiences where I was precient of events, and others where I could bless people with intense divine energy by directing my attention. It was not sustainable, however, because I was still a college student who played in bands, and I was partying too much and not getting enough sleep.
My mystical practices superseded my studies in a way that felt unbalanced. Also I was faced with an unexpected consequence of my yoga practice, this: the body stores energy and emotion, and when that energy and emotion is released through physical practice (yoga, in my case), it can bring this energy and emotion to the surface, sometimes violently. Unless dealt with carefully and gently, these emotions and energies can cause major disruptions in your day-to-day activities. Emotions and energies of unexpressed boundaries and unprecedented rage came to the surface unexpectedly in a way I was underprepared for. In Reiki this is often referred to as a “healing crisis”. About 10-15% of my Reiki clients experience this, so it’s to be expected. Rest, relaxation, water, and being gentle with oneself is the usual routine to navigate a healing crisis. I’m sure you can imagine how a college student would find this difficult!
The Pendulum Swings.
I believe that any extreme discipline is unsustainable unless tempered with a time of un-discipline. Over the last year I’ve learned the value of exercising the discipline to discipline discipline. (I can’t remember whose quote/term this is, but I love it! Google search came up blank, so If you know who first said this, let me know!).
Unless you have chosen the path of the saint, religious or spiritual discipline does you no good if you do not apply the lessons therein to everyday life. The practical. The Taoists call this grounding the “celestial” in the “mundane”. If you self-identify as a being of higher consciousness, your mission is to find out (or create) a way to ground this higher consciousness into the mundane plane of existence. Get over your spiritual bypassing as quickly as possible. I get it – I exercised spiritual bypassing for years because I could not deal with or handle the repercussions of my father’s immaturity or my mother’s covert emotional incest. Sometimes spiritual bypassing is necessary. Just notice if your spiritual practices are getting in the way of basic human kindness and compassion. Just notice, and balance it, please?
The Yogic Perspective.
In the traditional 7 Chakra system there are “Upper” chakras (Throat, Third Eye, Crown) and “Lower” Chakras (Solar Plexus, Sacral, Root). The Heart Chakra is the center. The trap is to value “Upper” Chakras over “Lower” Chakras. Initially, when experiencing the first spiritual awakening through yoga, temperance of the “Lower” chakras is beneficial to rise above and experience the unity and love of the upper chakras, yet do not lose focus of the idea that you are a whole being, worthy of loving all your chakras. In fact, some teachers would say that to truly balance the chakras is to make them disappear entirely.
The Christian Perspective.
If you were raised Christian, you may run into this trap of thinking: The challenge here is that many (not all) Christian sects – and the social constructs thereof – use fear, guilt, and shame to keep people docile and obedient. A.K.A. unquestioning. This has nothing to do with the message of Christ; it has more to do with the conquering rulers such as Emperor Constantine who used Christianity as a social control mechanism.
It’s one thing to have faith in a higher power. It’s one thing to surrender your will to someone whom you love and trust unconditionally. It’s another – very dangerous – thing to surrender your will to a political or dubious religious leader. I’ve always found this difficult due to the mind-numbing environment of that Orthodox Church in Allston, MA. I learned six years after my family relocated to Memphis, TN that the Metropolitan (patriarch) of the Orthodox Church that I grew up in was exposed as a pedophile. I was angry at my parents for blindly following a religion in which I found so many red flags (even in my young age), and expecting me to blindly follow them in kind. Sometimes in life one’s own will to make choices and decisions that go against the grain can be the one thing that keeps you from blindly following someone off of a cliff. I’ve never been a lemming, and the toxic culture of that church and my childhood home is why I learned to think for myself.
True Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, not of any one religious leader. If you’re Christian and questioning things #1 Great, I’ve done my job #2 I kindly invite you to ask yourself this: does your pastor teach the gospel of fear, or the gospel of love? Answer this question. Let them show you. If they spread fear, they are manipulating the congregation and undeserving of your faith and trust. Move on.
Delving Into Mysticism
Planned Mystical Experiences
Yes, one can plan their mystical experiences. By giving a mystical experience the proper time, we can honor it and maintain a degree of sacredness often reserved for such experiences. Don’t rush. If you can maintain a level of calmness then you can really divulge yourself into the non-ordinary reality of such an experience. The minute you rush what can happen is the adrenal glands will be activated, flooding the body with the energy of self-preservation. Mystical experiences often require the temporary suspension of self-preservation mechanisms in order to “rise above” the experience of separateness. Also, remember to give yourself time to “towel off” and integrate whatever experience you are blessed with. This is all with regards to a planned or self-generated mystical experience.
Unplanned Mystical Experiences
What if it’s unplanned? Then you are on your own my friend! Life has interesting ways of giving us what we need, even if it’s what we think we don’t want. Having a vision in the middle of the grocery store? Cool 🙂 The worst thing that can happen is that some people might think you look crazy.
If looking crazy is the worst thing that can happen, then all-in-all I’d say you have nothing to fear.
Just as no religion has a monopoly on spirit, so too does no spiritual path has a competitive advantage over the other. Mahatma Ghandi is often quoted to say that there are as many religions are there are people on this planet, which holds true if we honor everyone’s right to practice their own way of being. We are blessed in the United States of America to be given the right to practice whatever religion we choose, freely. In this capacity I exercise my sovereign right to practice experiential mysticism for no other reason than it is what i prefer, what I feel is right for me, and what I choose.