What is mysticism? What is it good for, if anything? And, speaking from a therapist’s perspective, why should I – or my clients – even be interested in it?
Mysticism is a word used to describe spiritual states of consciousness. And because we work with altered states of consciousness in hypnotherapy it makes sense to me that we should explore mysticism.
I believe that hypnotherapy and psychotherapy should offer far more than just fixing emotional and behavioural problems. When therapy incorporates the spiritual wisdom passed down through the ages, we not only transcend our individual problems but are able to experience a much greater reality.
And if what the mystics say is correct, an experience of mystical consciousness gives us immortality.
Is it really possible? Let’s find out…
- What is mysticism? A hypnotherapist’s perspective…
- Beyond the Ego and Existential levels of consciousness
- Mysticism defined
- Mysticism at the heart of all religions
- Mysticism as the ultimate conversion experience
- The failure of organised religion
- Mysticism in psychotherapy
- Some of the best books on mysticism
What is mysticism? A hypnotherapist’s perspective…
Let me start at the beginning of my forays into occultism and mysticism…
Studying the Tarot from the age of 17 led to an interest in symbolism and then, naturally, dream analysis.
During my mid twenties, the works of Carl Jung really resonated with me during my psychology studies. I’d decided that Freudian psychoanalysis could only take me so far and that Jung’s ideas had something extra, something numinous, beyond the ordinary.
Several sessions of Jungian dream analysis proved enormously insightful as I came to understand my unconscious mind’s symbolism. However, it seemed to point to something beyond the personal unconscious, to something ‘Other’.
It was around this time that I experimented with psychedelics (mainly LSD and psilocybin mushrooms), regularly practised yoga, self-hypnosis, meditation and breathing techniques, and attended White Eagle healing sessions. All of these methods became ‘gateways’ to altered states of consciousness.
So, when we ask the question, “What is mysticism?” we first need to acknowledge that there are other states of awareness that are different to the normal, everyday state. This is what we tap into during hypnosis, accessing the waking REM state.
As Ken Wilber pointed out in his 1970s ground-breaking book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, our consciousness (at least in the West) is mostly grounded in ego conditioning, with the occasional awareness of our existence – our sense of being.
Beyond the Ego and Existential levels of consciousness
But there is more, just as William James pointed out over a century ago (echoing the wisdom of mystics throughout the ages)…
Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different…
Having experienced these ‘potential forms of consciousness’ via meditation, hypnosis, and psychedelics, I was keen to find out more.
Wilber says that beyond the Ego and Existential levels, there is a third level of consciousness: the level of Mind. But he’s not talking here about personal psychology – your thoughts, feelings, memories etc.
What the level of Mind refers to is mystical consciousness – where one transcends everyday awareness and merges with All That Is.
It is where subject and object become one. All duality ceases.
So, to define mysticism succinctly, we could say that it refers to the experience of Oneness and Unity with what religion calls God.
It is a state of ‘pure consciousness’ where you no longer see and experience the world through your own mental filters but instead become consciousness witnessing itself.
Everything is experienced as one thing. No subject, no object. Just One.
The Oxford English dictionary defines mysticism as…
- A belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.
- A vague or ill-defined religious or spiritual belief, especially as associated with a belief in the occult.
We can see in these two definitions that the word ‘belief’ seems to be an important aspect. But I want to take things further than that.
Of course, words are only symbols which means that trying to accurately define mysticism via language is fraught with impossibilities. Indeed, it has long been known that describing an actual mystical experience is ineffable. Words are not God. The map is not the territory.
As the wisdom in the Tao Te Ching reported six centuries before Christ…
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name…
So, it’s not belief I’m interested in. Mysticism for me is about an actual, direct, personal merger into Oneness with God.
Mysticism at the heart of all religions
So, rather than relying on belief, or even worse, seeing mysticism as some sort of escape from reality, I feel it is – or should be – at the very heart of religion and what it means to be human.
Behind all the propaganda, ceremonies, ritual, and liturgy of organised religion, there is something deeper, something unknown that, in this secular world has been buried and consigned to the realms of ‘nothing more than myth’.
We speak of God or ‘Our Father’ without really having a clue as to what the words mean.
Try to make real sense of the Lord’s Prayer, for example. We come away none the wiser and certainly no closer to God.
So we must ask ourselves…
- Is God a bearded man sitting in the clouds, as depicted in so many religious books, especially children’s books?
- Is God some type of organising intelligence that governs nature, the changing seasons, and the whole cosmos?
- Does the word God really refer to a ‘bigger reality’, beyond the everyday reality we know only too well?
- Is God a person, a thing, or an experience of Ultimate Reality? In other words, Is God a noun or a verb?
Mysticism as the ultimate conversion experience
To my way of thinking – based on the wisdom shared by the mystics throughout millennia (and my own experiences) – God is the word we use to refer to what Ken Wilber calls the ‘level of Mind’ or ‘mystical consciousness’.
Mysticism is the word used when we refer to an experience of union with God. (It’s not just about the belief that this is possible, but a direct experience – a ‘Sacred Marriage’ where your soul merges with that of God).
In this light, God is an experience of the ultimate state of consciousness that we, as humans, can ever have.
And once you’ve had the experience, there is no going back to who you were before. It becomes your own Damascene conversion, the ultimate ‘born again’ experience.
But governed as we have been over the last 300 years by the hypotheses and stories of reductionist science and existential philosophy (where God was deemed to be dead) we’ve lost touch with the language of our souls.
Our interior world has been usurped by the demands of the ego. Only that which we can see and measure is taken as real.
Reason says, “I will beguile him with the tongue;” Love says, “Be silent. I will beguile him with the soul.”Rumi
The failure of organised religion
I suppose, on a personal level, this is one of the main reasons I’ve always steered clear of organised religion, at least the way it is practiced today. A deep exploration of what is meant by God is never provided, never mind a personal encounter!
To even ask questions is discouraged.
Had I been around in the 14th century and attended a sermon by Meister Eckhart, I might have been persuaded to come back again next week.
Eckhart’s teachings were full of mystical language, which eventually landed him in big trouble with the church and he was trialled for heresy.
But Eckhart’s teachings were not heretical! He was touching upon an eternal truth! Like other teachers of mysticism from all the main religions throughout the ages, Eckhart points to a Greater Reality that we ourselves are able to achieve.
So, why is organised religion not teaching us how to refine our perception of reality- away from ego conditioning – so that we can experience God consciousness?
Rather than being told ‘you need only believe’, why are we not shown and given the practical and mental skills to touch the hand of God?
This is perhaps the main reason so many people become disciples or followers of ‘spiritual gurus’ – those that have actually had a genuine encounter with God. If the need for God is not met in church, I’ll go to an ashram and sit at the feet of a guru, thank you very much.
This is where transpersonal psychotherapy comes in too…
Mysticism in psychotherapy
Mysticism is referred to as the ‘perennial psychology’ by Ken Wilber. It is in the Buddha’s teachings and the Hindu scriptures, and in the mystical writings of Plato and neo Platonists, such as Plotinus. Look deep enough and it forms the foundation of all religions.
But if religion no longer provides us with a genuine connection with God, we’ll turn to other means to find it.
And this might be the main reason people experiment with psychedelics like LSD, ayahuasca, psilocybin, and mescaline. We are all looking for answers and a deeper meaning to our lives.
Indeed, a deep exploration of our lives – who and what we are as individuals and our part in the great tapestry of life – should form part of any psychotherapeutic journey. And that exploration, to my way of thinking, should involve not just fixing ego-conditioning and habitual problems but should involve awakening our souls to this Greater Reality.
In one of my all-time favourite books, Godhead – The Brain’s Big Bang, authors Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin speak about the experience of ‘I am consciousness’.
They’ve developed a theory that might just explain why and how we are able to experience expanded consciousness. It seems our brains have the capacity – or are, indeed, wired – to reach out and experience what they call the ‘ultimate pattern-match’: God consciousness.
Griffin and Tyrrell talk of ‘angelic realms’ and that a single experience of God consciousness gives us immortality. (And this is coming from two renowned psychologists and therapists, both with atheistic backgrounds!)
This is why I believe mysticism ought to have a place in contemporary psychotherapy – or even be at the heart of it.
Expanded consciousness means that you are no longer at the mercy of old, infantile desires, wishes, and fears. Once your ‘point of reference’ is enlarged, you can no longer be sucked in by emotional dramas like you were in the past.
That’s why mysticism is still relevant today; It truly is the ‘perennial psychology’ and is at the heart of what it means to be human but with the capacity to experience the ‘more than human’.
If this spiritual approach resonates with you…
If you like what you’ve read and are interested in a more spiritual approach to hypnotherapy please get in touch. And if you’ve had a mystical experience I’d love to hear about it.
Some of the best books on mysticism
Here are 4 more books on mysticism I recommend, starting off with Mysticism – A Study and An Anthology, that summarises the main beliefs of mystics through the ages from both East and West. If you’re new to mysticism, this makes for a great starter book…
Awakening Mystical Consciousness brings together the spiritual ideas of Joel S. Goldsmith, compiled from the many recorded lectures he made back in the 1950s. Described as a spiritual teacher and modern mystic, his words draw upon the rich vein of age-old Christian mysticism. There is a worldwide body of students that continues to practice his work to this day.
Return to the One is ‘a modern exposition of an ancient classic’ where author, Brian Hines, shares the spiritual ideas of 3rd century philosopher, Plotinus. Described as a ‘rational mystic’, Plotinus synthesized a thousand years of Greek wisdom into a matchless blend of rationality and mysticism, creating a guide to God realisation. It’s one of my favourite books of all time!
And finally, as a hypnotherapist, I couldn’t not include this…
Self Hypnosis for Cosmic Consciousness suggests hypnosis and the REM state play an important part in mystical experiences. It contains many scripts that you can use for yourself or others to achieve altered states of consciousness.
Remember to check out my recommended reading list of ‘Books to Change Your Life‘ for more books on mysticism, psychology, psychotherapy, spiritual awakening, and personal development.
And please remember to sign up to my monthly newsletter – From Ego to Enlightenment – where I pool together all the latest news and developments in the world of hypno-psychotherapy, personal evolution, and spiritual awakening. You’ll also get a free copy of my ebook about how hypnosis cured my 10-year problem.