Archive | September, 2012

MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES

24 Sep

The concept of “mystical experience” is widely misunderstood in western culture.  It seems to be more easily accepted and understood by those who have been subjected to eastern religions such as buddhism or Taoism in their upbringing. Up until 1970 modern psychiatry did not distinguish even between mystical experiences and mental illness in the form of psychosis. In fact, Arthur Deikman, one of the first researchers to recognize the distinction in some way, even termed a spiritual experience of the divine “mystical psychosis”.  Later on Carl Jung went on the give mysticism a stronger more viable place in the multifaceted treatment of patients, proving in fact that the spiritual condition of a person is relevant to their perception of the world and hence their mental states.   Even though Jung completed his research many decades ago, we in the Western world are much slower to adapt to change in the practices which reflect our deepest beliefs, and it is clear that Western culture lacks the ability to believe in something which cannot be proven by the 5 physical sense.  Jung was inferring that medicine in general needed to look beyond the physical and into the world of energetic intuition, a concept well ahead of its time.

It is possible in fact that our evolution as species have caused our gradual intuitive dumbing down until this point where we are entering a period where we will not even be able to sustain ourselves, such is the damage we have caused the environment which we live off of now. It almost seems like the smarter we got technically and intellectually, the more we forgot of the fundamental principles of life.  Many in the West are experiencing a complete disconnect with the natural world, oblivious to the impact their choices have on the world.  It is very uncommon if not impossible for someone living in a third world culture to experience such a disconnect as they rely more heartily on what the earth can op0rovide them as sustenance.  When we entered the “Age of Reason”, in the 14th century, the world became a “show me” place. Great physical discoveries, coupled with rapid advancements in mathematics caused man to begin to leave behind the superstitions brought along with them from the Greeks, romans and middle ages middle ages and begin to seek quantifiable proof if something was to be believed.

Indigenous and ancient cultures have no problem working with and interacting through the energetic influences of nature, but as we became more technologically and materially oriented and dependant, the western world has become a cluster of cultures with a stark inability to survive in a cooperative fashion with the environments that sustain us. Our current generation has been raised by 8 cumulative generations of people who taught and supported only the 5 sensory approach to life.  It was a kill or be killed mentality in all of our modern developments.  Any type of interaction with the energetic dimension was dismissed as superstition and imaginary.  Separation from our initial source has been viewed as heroic and progressive. But times are changing now, and people are becoming more and more attuned to the importance of staying conscious of that feeling of connectivity some people experience through a mystical or a spiritual experience.

Throughout the ages, these experiences have been reserved for prophets and poets, usually men. The occasional woman made  landmark impression on the theological world such as the ecstatic revelations of St. Theresa of Avila, personally my favourite saint, because of her ground breaking work in meditation and connection with the soul, which is best experienced through the book “Entering the Castle” by Caroline Myss.  In it, Myss describes common states of conscious ness in mystical experiences and goes on to say how these experiences arte no longer reserved for monks in monasteries, that in fact we were becoming a world of “mystics without monasteries”.

According to Delphine Ciafardone Rossi’s theological dissertation for her PHD, “Mystical experiences, defined in the literature as a wholly transformative event, can elicit positive and lasting changes in one’s perception of reality, forever changing one’s life meaning and purpose.” 1  The symptoms of this experience have  common traits: a sense of connectedness to all, a feeling of understanding God beyond words and langauge, feeling of presence and of stillness.  Mystical experiences have the longe term effect of eliciting a compassionate mindset and a desire to be of service to others.   Those who have experienced a mystical shift in consciousness find they can relate to other common symptoms at first; a substantial change in sleep patterns, a feeling of unrelenting joy, contentedness, a sense of connection to all living things, abundant energy, desire to help others and loss of fear & phobias are amongst some of the most common shift experiences identified.  Some people find that their ability to learn and understand complex connections has been greatly sped up and that the creative voice within becomes much stronger and more insistent than in the past. Physically some people report experiencing tingling sensations in the crown of the head and base of the spine. Some become physically more energetic, even seeming to regress in physical age and feel and look younger.  The immediate effects are almost like euphoria, and over time of course, the immediate and obvious effects quiet down, but the lasting effects never fully disappear, lending themselves instead to an ability to change the overall worldview of the affected individual over time.

Modern psychologists and doctors use a standardized test to assess the degree to which you have a) experienced a mystical shift and 2) how it has affected your life and choices, determining whether or not you have a “resilient world view”.  To asses the degree to which you have had a divine experience, the INSPIRIT test  developed by Dr. Jared D. Kass, asks you to answer four questions and relate them to a scale of “did not have this experience” to “convinced me of the existence of God”

SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES (have you had one of the following?)

1- an experience of profound inner peace

2- A feeling of unity with the earth and all living beings.

3- An experience of God’s energy and presence

4- An experience of a great spiritual figure (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Mary, Elijah etc…)

And for each of these decided a rating  of 1-5 :  1 being that you have never had such an experience and 5 being such an experience convinced you of the existence of God.

The most important aspect of these experiences, says Kass, is our ability to develop a healthy and versatile worldview, whereby we are able to experience life’s trials and tribulations peacefully, “if your world view is resilient, you can respond to a crisis constructively”.

And this is the whole point isn’t it?  Everyone I speak to says they want to be “happy”, that this is the ultimate goal of their lives, but in fact this really isn’t what they are seeking. What we are all seeking is the ability to handle the trials and tribulations that are a natural part of life’s journey, with equanimity and peace. We want strength of heart and the ability to make something good from all of the difficulties that we will manage each day. Kass says a resilient worldview is empowering because it can help you each day to 1- mobilize your energies when you need to act 2- relax your body and mind when you need to rest 3- think for yourself when others don’t know what is best for you 4- trust in others and in life itself when you have done all that you can.

Spirituality is not the only way to develop a resilient world view, but it is one that has worked for countless generations.  When we speak of it here or elsewhere, it is not in relations to any religious affiliation, but rather to the recognition that there is “a spiritual core that creates and sustain the fabric of life”.2  In twelve step programs they call it finding a higher power so that you can meet life on life’s terms. Spiritual awareness in life can create mystical shifts. The more one is open to the possibility that there is a cohesive intelligence which is the generating energy behind all human experience, it is not such a far stretch to begin to want to access that energy consciously and use it to experience physical life.

Religious institutions have risen up over the centuries accumulating their power based by claiming to be the “go between” for God and man. More commonly experienced mystical shift have eliminated the middle man and people are able to now take up their personal divine power.  If you were in need of guidance, you were not encouraged to listen to your heart, you were told to follow what the church told you. Each one of the Masters had a distinct method and approach to teaching, but the one thing they all had in common was the belief and understanding that God lives within each individual. Jesus was very clear in his teachings that we should make no other laws other than the ones he set down, which were divinely given to him, and yet not only did we add a plethora of rules, we even created rules about how we could communicate with the energy of the thing that gave us life in the first place! It is your inalienable right to be on a first name basis with our creator, but for a long time we didn’t understand this or how to use it. Religious institutions made God separate and unattainable to us in a bid for power and control over the cultural development of our moral behaviour. Communication with God in most religions was reserved for a specialized few, chosen not by God but by men.  Woman were quickly ruled out of religious power hierarchies, probably because the powers-that-be felt threatened by the power women held as healers and child bearers. Woman may have been perceived as having too much power over “life and death” of a culture and so, often very violent steps were taken to control them. In western history people who claim to have direct contact with the divine have been rejected out of hand as lunatics and psychotics. It is very interesting to note then that Abraham Maslow, one of the founding fathers of modern psychology discovered that the symptoms of a mystical experience and psychosis were essentially the same, except that a mystical shift resulted in a heightened state of consciousness that allowed the person experiences it to be aware of the experience. conversely, crazy people don’t know that they are crazy – but awakened people know they are awake.

This is perhaps why one of the precipitating factors in a mystical shift can be an emotional “disorder” such as clinical depression or bi-polar disorder. The emotional state of the individual is already so stressed, that at certain moments they are more open to a “peak experience” – an experience of divinity within themselves. We have become so conditioned to believe that divinity exists apart and separately from us, that we have stopped believing the most basic interactions which the universe not only can but MUST have with us in order to continue moving forward in creation. The perception of separation form the source which created us is in large part responsible for emotional disorders such as depression, bi-polar and anxiety.  Mystical shifts can have the effect of curing patients of these disorders are they cannot exist in the shifted and more healthy worldview that one adopts following the unity that is experienced during the shift.

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