I’m Not a Very Good Mystic

I’m not a very good mystic.

I spend most of my time absorbed by the tasks and routines of the day. I would call this my ordinary state of consciousness, where I am focused on my perspective as an individual, moving through the world as a separate being. Periodically, something shifts my state. It could be a passage I read, even a single word, like “grace” or “love.” It could be a comment I overhear about someone’s troubles, or a patch of color that catches my eye from a flower bed or a shaft of light.

In these small moments, I shift into an expanded consciousness. My senses widen and I drop into a more vibrant world. I feel the current of life pass through me as everything becomes unreasonably simple and clear, and I remember I am part of something larger. The shift sometimes feels abrupt, leaving me amazed at how I could have been satisfied with the shallow perception that filled my attention just a moment ago. I wonder, “How could I ever leave this more expanded, peaceful, connected space?”

But leave it I do. I am usually pulled back into ordinary reality fairly quickly.

I oscillate between these two states of ordinary and expanded consciousness, but my default is the ordinary perception of my smaller, separate self. This frustrates me. I want to spend more of my life remembering who I am, living from my larger, truer self.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to compare myself to the mystics I read about, ancient and modern, who seem able to live continuously in a state of expanded perception. Perhaps I am not built like them, or have not yet grown into that potential. But that’s the model I have in my mind:  I want to increase my time in direct experience with this sacred space and integrate its beauty into my daily life.

One way I try to encourage more frequent shifts to expanded consciousness is to maintain a regular contemplative practice. The world is constantly pressing on me with demands that need my action and attention (or at least, that is how I react when I am cemented to my ordinary consciousness). Meditation helps remind me that there is another way to be.

Meditation can be a kind of deep listening. Sometimes the listening is shallow and frenetic, like listening to a rainstorm as thoughts and emotions bombard me. Sometimes, the listening deepens and quiets, and the thoughts slow to a drizzle. And occasionally, I am able to break the surface into a quality of awareness that is different, where the volume of my mind expands and space has viscosity, the precision of time loosens, the world stops spinning, and I realize that complete silence is a real option.

I try to open to whatever arises during meditation, whether it’s stormy, quiet, or fleetingly transcendent. It is the openness to all experience that builds the quality of my listening. By devoting time to consistent practice, I slowly tune my attention to the possibility of a greater awareness. As contemplative moments accumulate, there is more chance their texture will seep into my day-to-day, that my ordinary and expanded states can come closer together as shared qualities of my mind, twin capacities I can draw upon more readily.

They can only come together if I do the work of sitting. There is no hacker’s shortcut. I have to spend the time, experiencing both states, the narrow and the open, ordinary and expanded, and listening as I oscillate between.

Maybe I’m not a lousy mystic after all. Maybe I am following the natural process – each moment useful, every action needed, no experience less worthy, all steps on the long, long path of growth, nothing wasted, nothing spared.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

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