Part 2 of 2: the fork to the path of Mysticism
(Please note: this introduction is very similar to the one in my post of two weeks ago on the Shamanic path)
Imagine yourself standing at a fork in the road of life. Ahead are the beginnings of two spiritual pathways that lead up a mountain, to a top not visible from where you stand. One path goes to the right, the other to the left. You feel a powerful pull to climb the mountain; but which path to take?
The one to the right is an earth-oriented path. Its domain includes plant spirits and medicines, the consciousness in rock and water, working with spirits beyond the physical, and using nonphysical energies in service to all that exists. This is the path of shamanism.
The left path leads the seeker away from the physical realm. Its aspiration is to leave behind human desires and attachments, to transcend the mind and body. This path yearns for what is beyond this life. This is the path of mysticism.
Both pathways divide and divide again as they ascend the metaphorical mountain.
From this beginning point, the two paths appear very different. Perhaps one of them calls to you more powerfully than the other, and the decision of which to follow feels easy. But the question remains, why two pathways? Is there truth to be found in both? Do they come together at the top of the mountain?
Indeed, are there not other pathways as well? – Yes, there are many, but for now we discuss these two.
In this post, I will discuss my experience and understanding of the mystical path and offer ideas about how these two paths, which seem at first so different, converge at the top of the mountain.
The mystical path is an internal journey of contemplation and surrender. It moves toward a level of consciousness where physical experience is subsumed in a much larger reality.
Mysticism seeks to disengage from the burdens of physical existence and the limitations of emotion, hunger, mental striving, and the ego in order to move toward the beauty and love of God, the Divine, Source, or Universal Awareness. In Buddhism the goal is to be free from samsara, the wheel of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth, to reach a state of nirvana; in Christian mysticism it is to attain union with the Divine.
In my explorations of mysticism I practiced no-thought meditation as well as more intentional experiences such as mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation. I resonated strongly with the yearning for the Divine in the stories and poetry of both male and female mystics in both Christian and Eastern traditions.
Mystical poetry, Christian and Eastern, contains a theme of yearning for what is known (language is so very limited!) as The Beloved. This term is wonderfully evocative, and remarkable because it is almost completely absent from Christian dogma.
On the other pathway, the term “shamanic poetry” is pretty much unknown. This illustrates well the different character and orientations of the two paths.
In “my” experience of mysticism, consciousness progressed through experience of larger and more absorbing energies and perceptions to a level where all that exists was seamlessly unified consciousness, and individual identity felt like a tiny spark that existed within that vastness only for the purpose of allowing the experience to be perceived. The feeling was of being surrounded by a universal and impersonal Love of everything for everything, including oneself. Then that too passed into the ultimate experience of being that Everything, including the Source.
The sensation of being the Source included loving all of creation as an effortless aspect of essence. Then, because a part of consciousness was aware that there was a human entity with whom that part could identify, living in physical form on a planet known to its inhabitants as Earth, I was drawn to identify with that entity as a means of expressing my love. Its existence offered an opportunity to manifest my love.
In that state, this idea exists merely as a passing thought, but when I return to my physical self as a human being, that passing thought contains great power and motivation. I have touched the Divine, and I cannot be the same again.
In my human soul, heart, and body, I know that Love is a basic quality of the Universe. As I sit with this knowing, my mind seeks to grasp the truth of it. From a place in my body that I know as my Center, I sense a joy about this understanding that comes from elsewhere, from unseen beings whose consciousness reaches to me, to all of us, from other dimensions. From them and from my own journeys I know myself to be an infinitesimal and important part of What Is.
The image of one path going to the right and the other to the left is a striking way to represent the differences between shamanism and mysticism. It might be easy to conclude that the differences are irreconcilable, that one must choose one or the other, or even that one path is true and the other false.
Both paths are true. Each path has its own its own challenges and its own beauty and power. Both subdivide into more specialized paths, each of them with a different approach and gifts. Initially, the two paths diverge to explore different aspects of consciousness. Then they converge again at the mountaintop, where the primary quality of both paths is Love.
At the highest reaches of the shamanic path, beyond which there is seen to be only Mystery, the body becomes unimportant as the shaman’s spirit leaves the body behind, time is merely a convenience, and space ceases to be a limitation. In this consciousness the individual identity sees itself as a tiny piece of a vast cosmos of consciousness whose essential quality feels like beauty or love. Finally (at the limits of my personal experience) even the spark of individual identity is subsumed in the truth of being All That Is.
This was the same experience in which the mystic perceived the seamlessly unified consciousness of Oneness.
Thus, mysticism and shamanism meet at the top of the mountain. The essential difference is that for the mystic this detached place is initially the goal, whereas for the shaman it is a place to receive wisdom and guidance to bring back to the people. Jesus was both a shaman and a mystic, performing healing even as he taught a mystical path.
The poem below came through at an early time on the path of mysticism, when I was reading authors such as David R. Hawkins, Eckart Tolle, and Michael Newton, and working to integrate their teachings with my experience of the shamanic and mystical paths. It expresses my own yearning toward something that at that time seemed unknowable from this existence. I see differently now.
There are good maps out there,
maps of magical and holy places.
If you find those maps
and make the journeys shown
Truth and Light are to be found.
The makers of them know
that beyond these maps is Love
and only that
farther than we can see.
They also understand that beyond that Love
 I was inspired by Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics for beautiful, compelling, and sometimes tragic stories.