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On the relevance of mysticism

 Posted: 2:00 AM March 08, 2014

In broadest terms, a mystic is one who yearns for that which gives sense and meaning to life as we live it. From this perspective it might be argued that we're all mystics. More specifically, from the ages-old tradition of mysticism, as found for example in the Jewish Kabbalah, Jesus, Lao Tzu, the ecstatic poets of Sufism (e.g., Hafiz and Rumi), St. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, and today in Ken Wilber and the Franciscan, Richard Rohr, the mystic is one seeking to unite or realize oneness with the Divine, the One, the Tao, or the Ground of Being — names that are, at best, pointers to that which cannot be named.

Many of us have already, to some extent, experienced this sense of oneness with the beyond, with someone or something outside of ourselves, even if only briefly. For me, it was a summer afternoon years ago in Pennsylvania while flying solo in a small Piper Cub J-3. I was one with the aircraft, sky, clouds, hills, a wide array of colors, the Susquehanna River, with everything that was. All sense of a separate existence ceased and I was one with the whole. Indeed, I had become the whole. Many of my friends have shared similar accounts from their experiences in nature; with a newborn baby; a new and blossoming love relationship or just sitting in the sun of a summer afternoon.

These momentary experiences leave many of us with a deep yearning to experience that sense of oneness again. For some it may take the form of a spiritual quest — searching for a guru, meditation, a faith community. Others may seek it in their relationships, creative expressions, work, substances, food, belongings and exercising political and economic power. The yearning feels intensified in our times given the tremendous upheavals happening relative to climate change, economic disparities, power games and the ever-increasing rate of change.

So what, if anything, does revisiting the mystical tradition offer us in the face of life's growing perplexities? First, it reminds us that everything is connected, that we really are one. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk, once held up a piece of paper pointing out that the piece of paper was connected with the ocean that gave rise to rain clouds, with the rain that nurtured the trees from which it was made, with the workers in the woods harvesting the trees, the saw mills and factories manufacturing paper, the transportation system, etc. In a word, there's nothing in the world, or indeed the cosmos, with which that piece of paper isn't connected. It's the same with us. Indeed, the next time we notice a piece of paper or plastic bag along the street, they can serve as reminders of the whole of which we're a part. Revisiting the mystical tradition is a way of exploring our sense of oneness, our interconnectedness or inter-being with all that is.

Taken to still another level, visiting the mystical tradition reminds us of our interdependence with other human beings. And here it takes something of a leap out of our private self-sense to realize that I am also the other. This isn't always easy when I notice my antipathy toward those whose chief purpose in life is to amass unimaginable fortunes. Still, when I take that leap beyond myself I recognize my own greed in those I criticize, my own desire to control and exercise power. And when I'm able to go still deeper, I notice a profound need for love, acknowledgement and a desire to be understood.

In short, revisiting the mystical tradition reminds me of my oneness and also that the essence of that oneness itself is love, not the greeting card kind, but the kind that learns from adversity, that forgives and acknowledges the depth of our yearning for the ground of being from which we emerged and to which we're in the process of returning.

The Ashland Daily Tidings hosts the Community Inner Peace blog on its website. Go to when you need an inner peace lift.

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