I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have a hard time with this word ‘mystic’, so I decided to clarify my own use of the term. Some people consider ‘mystic’ derogatory, equating it with delusion, and don’t like that I use that label for teachers they respect. Others reserve it only for those with dramatic abilities and experiences, such as prophetic visions, out-of-body encounters, and the like.
My own spiritual life is pretty dull in comparison to a lot of people’s. I generally don’t astral travel, lucid dream, channel, communicate with spirit guides, conduct magick rituals, or see dead people. Mostly I meditate, read, and try to be kind and mindful in my daily life. I have had beautiful and powerful experiences, but they are not the mainstay of my path. Despite this general lack of excitement, I consider myself a mystic for many reasons, and I decided to put these down, in a format that will help you decide if you are a mystic too. And, just to be clear, I respect all the practices that I just mentioned – they just are not the foundation for my own path.
So, in my mind, you are a mystic if:
- Personal experience is more important to you than doctrine. Mystics want to experience divinity/peace/the universe/God/Goddess/Allah/nirvana/the Tao/enlightenment (or any other word you like) themselves. We might like reading about other’s experiences as a guide, but we generally aren’t satisfied solely with spiritual explanations put down by others.
- You ask a lot of questions. Mystics are curious. We want to know how the universe works, and why, and are usually very interested in the structures underneath the visible world. We are the researchers of the spiritual world.
- You won’t take ’cause I said so’ for an answer. Mystics don’t like to be told ‘this is the way it is’, or even ‘this is what the holy book/God/some prior saint’ said. That might serve as a starting point for our explorations, but we want more backup before we will adopt a spiritual tenet as our own belief.
- You value your intuition, and the intuition of others. Mystics rely on many forms of insight and knowledge besides language, rationality, and our physical senses. Intuitive perceptions are a powerful part of the mix during our spiritual seeking.
- You are uncomfortable with religious and spiritual hierarchies. Mystics tend to have a ‘flat’ view of the world. We believe anyone can experience divinity to some extent – that it’s not limited to those who take a vow, join a religious order, or spend years studying scripture.
- You tend to be a rule-breaker. Mystics are often spiritual rebels. Even those that are now revered historical figures – such as St. Theresa of Avila in Catholicism, Padmasambhava in Tibetan Buddhism, or Mirabai in Hinduism – were criticized or even persecuted during their lifetimes, for questioning the religious status quo.
- You believe in internal, rather than external, measures of spiritual growth. Mystics believe it’s all about awareness. External rituals and spiritual practices are meant to trigger internal insights and transformation – we don’t perform them to ‘please’ a higher power, or to accrue spiritual brownie points.
- You believe power comes through you, not from you. Mystics see themselves as one wave in the ocean of existence. We recognize ourselves as a conduit for power, but not its ultimate source, and acknowledge the connectivity of everyone and everything.
- You believe love comes through you, not from you. Love is the ultimate source of life, for every mystic I have ever studied, regardless of their religious tradition. And mystics know that our individual loves – the people and experiences we value in our own lives – are just a small reflection of the larger love we are all capable of manifesting.
- Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you believe “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Mystics acknowledge that the universe is infinite and mysterious, and that there will always be more that we don’t know about it than that we do know. This keeps us humble, and open, to other’s experiences and explanations.
I don’t mean to imply that being a mystic means you are purer or a higher being than anyone else. From what I’ve seen, mystics are just as prone to ego-aggrandizement as any other religious ‘type’. I’m not trying to glorify mysticism here – it can cause a lot of problems (as in when cult leaders use ‘visions’ to get all their followers to drink red kool-aid laced with poison.) I think mysticism is just a certain approach to spirituality and religion, and if you have that proclivity, you really can’t go any other route. I also think mystics have existed and do exist within every world religion, and some also exist outside of any tradition.
So, what do you think? Are you a mystic?