Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mysticism and Neurochemistry

Your inquiry about the word "within" is important. This, and its etymological relative, "interior," find many uses in mystical tradition. In the historical records, mystics use this word, or related ones, over and over.

It is literally "spatial" only very secondarily. It implies that the "Creator," the Dreamer of the world, exists within your mind in the same way as your conscious thoughts do. Only She is much deeper, in the most profound levels of the cdeepest Unconscious.

It is when she opens an inner "door," allowing formerly unconscious material to become conscious (aware) that a mystical experience occurs.

I am quite accustomed to turning people away from drugs; thus, the caveat re the "pseudomystical" experience. A true mystical experience can be supported and aided by the judicious use of some psychotropics. And the brain itself manufactures about thirty-five members of a family of natural drugs. These range from powerful euphorics and sedatives to hallucinogenics. But mystics do not believe that a viable, true mystical experience can be mechanically caused by neurochemistry alone. Their effects explain much about our nightdreams. But almost all mystics recommend, as I do, that the experience be approached with a clear and clean mind. Most of the time, this is good and sound advice.

With drugs, there is always a multiple danger, which includes tolerance, addiction, and personal devolution in clarity.

But some experiences are at least supported by neurochemistry-- as was noted in the previous email. the Sufis, for example, were the first to create and use coffee, as it helped them remain awake and clear during long meditation-periods. Historically, wine, and various mushrooms (such as those containing psilocybin), and such as the famous Amanita muscaria, have found mind-altering uses. But these were usually among shamans seeking "power," not mystics seeking Unity. It is possible that some of these shamans were mystics, but shamanism is a very different phenomenon from mysticism, although both are "psychonautic" in nature. Mircea Eliade's great classical study of shamanism is worth reading in this respect.

Fasting is a form of renunciation of the material world and its indulgences in the senses. Mystics do not think that the senses, or the sensory world, is "evil." that is left to another group, the ascetics, to use as their guiding principle. Here, as with shamanism, there is some historical and philosophic overlap, but not all mystics are ascetics, nor all ascetics mystics.

But as with coffee and wine, as well as other drugs, fasting can create neurochemistries that support the mystical experience. Still, it is our faith that Love-- God or goddess-- causes the experience; and if She does not, it is an invalid event, or "pseudomystical." In history, many ascetics and shamans have had experiences with a wide spectrum of altered states. But unless Love were the Core and Essence of the experience, it was not truly mystical. this is probably the single, and most useful, definition of the true mystical experience. Certainly, many forms of intoxication do not count in this category.

As with no other altered state, attitude is everything. You can explore a wide spectrum of altered states, but, unless Love is the Core, no experience can be truly "mystical." This is one thing meant by the ancient mystics when they wrote the immortal words, "God is Love."

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