Mystical Does Not Mean Mysterious By William Bezanson
Very often one sees the usage “mystical” in a sense suggesting that the author means “mysterious”, as in strange, weird, or spooky.
In this article, I want to argue against that usage, and to explain my own interpretation of the proper usage.
Mystical is the adjective corresponding to the noun Mysticism. I first learned the proper meaning of Mysticism from my Rosicrucian studies, in which it was contrasted with Religion. Both mysticism and religion seek answers to similar questions, such as What is God? Why are we here? What happens next?
Religion involves answering those questions in an indirect manner. We look to the clergy and to scriptures to answer them for us, and to pass on the answers to us. But mysticism involves answering the questions in a direct manner. We learn the answers ourselves, directly from within, through spiritual practices such as meditation, dreamwork, and other such exercises. Both methods are valid, depending on whether one is satisfied with an indirect or a direct method of exploring the big questions.
However, mysticism is often interpreted as meaning mysterious. There is nothing mysterious about it, except perhaps that it deals with spiritual, unusual, and other-worldly matters. But, when you think of it, so also does religion. Perhaps because for many centuries religion, in the sense of organized religion, has been widely accepted in society as acceptable, it has been given the honour of promoting the standard, orthodox, and acceptable road to exploring spiritual topics. Mysticism, on the other hand, has been relegated to a second-order pathway for similar exploration, but using less socially-acceptable methods. Being second-order, it is often lumped in with other non-orthodox methods, such as spiritualism, ghost seeking, primitive magic, and other such techniques. But it is important to realize that mystical does not mean mysterious or weird; if anything, it should be considered a more valid approach to the big questions simply because it follows a direct, personal, immediate method of individual exploration, providing experiences and explanations that can be satisfying and encouraging to one’s inner self, moreso than the indirect techniques of organized religion.
Religion is typically practiced on a corporate level; one speaks of the body of the church. Mysticism is typically practiced on an individual level, through private meditation, yoga, or other spiritual practices. I recall a sermon in our church some years ago. The priest spoke of a parishioner who did not want to come to church services. The priest leaned over toward his fireplace, grabbed a burning ember, and moved it out to the side, away from the roaring flames. The ember soon cooled down and stopped burning. In a wordless way, the priest was able to impress upon the parishioner the value of corporate worship, and the parishioner squirmed a bit and sheepishly smiled, “See you on Sunday!”
In my own case, over the years I found private mysticim much more satisfying and comfortable than organized corporate religious services. I am now what I would call a Christian spiritual mystic.
So, is any of this weird, or spooky, or mysterious? To my mind, no, it is very natural. It may be unknown to most people, and therefore seem strange; or it may be not spoken of widely, and therefore seemingly secret; or it may be associated with secret societies, and therefore seem closed and mysterious. But I find mystical practices very natural. After all, we humans are part physical and part spirtual. Indeed, we are spiritual beings living temporarily with physical bodies. Society is quite happy with our exercising and taking care of our bodies, through jogging, weight training, or other forms of physical exercises. So why not take care of our spirits and souls? Why, indeed? Well … over the centuries those considerations have been relegated to the organized religions and the spiritual exercises have been confined to a corporate gathering once per week (with admonitions to practice them on a daily basis). That’s the social structure that has evolved, and stepping outside that structure has always been viewed with suspicion and impressions of darker spiritual practices.
But there is nothing mysterious about exercising that half of us (or more than half) that constitutes our spirit and soul. It is a very natural practice. The main thing that is unnatural is society’s views of those practices.
Take just one simple example of a mystical practice that may seem mysterious: seeing auras. I believe that we are all born with the ability to see auras around people and elsewhere. But if a toddler mentions the pretty colours around Mommy, she will likely reply with a negative message about not being silly. Picture books, television shows, and virtually all representations of people do not show the pretty colours, and so our toddlers soon stop seeing auras through lack of positive reinforcement. And most churches add to that negative message by showing auras or halos around the image of Jesus only, for example, and perhaps a few of the holy ones, but not on the stained glass window depiction of other people. What a shame! Society squelches our natural abilities. The mysterious phenomenon here is that society can be so weird, so closed-minded, and so sheep-like in following and teaching such a narrow path of acceptable behaviours.
In my own case, I have to work hard at relearning my ability to see auras. The ability was lost to me in my babyhood. How many other things were lost to me?
So, to my mind, mystical does not mean mysterious. It means direct union with the Divine, and practicing mystical techniques is a noble endeavour that helps us become more fully human than otherwise.
William Bezanson is a regular contributor to OMTimes. His most recent book is I Believe: A Rosicrucian Looks at Christianity and Spirituality. He is currently working on a novel with a spiritual message. He lives with his wife in Ottawa, Canada. His website is http://www3.sympatico.ca/bezanson1