What is the "inner light" you speak of?
February 10, 2010 11:23 PM   Subscribe

So, MeFi, tell me what you know about mystics...

Over the years, of all of the religious traditions i have been exposed to, I have always felt the most kinship to the mystics: my favorite poems are composed by Sufis, my favorite way to worship is with Quakers, and the logic of the Kabbalists is ever fascinating. Interestingly, I consider myself entirely secular. I believe that mysticism, in its emphasis on direct communion with the devine, best approaches the true intensity of the connections people have have with each other and with themselves.

That said, hive mind, guide me! Point me towards your best mystical books, periodicals, sites, podcasts, etc. How do you find personal enlightenment?

on preview: this is clearly relevant, but not broad enough for my taste.
posted by Truthiness to Religion & Philosophy (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Check out the Rosacrucians - they have their own take on all of this and their material draws on a wide variety of mystic traditions.
posted by metahawk at 11:26 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

This reading list might be a good place for you to start.
posted by strixus at 11:33 PM on February 10, 2010

As I recall, Jakob Böhme was one of the direct antecedents of the Quakers* - certainly his works spread to England and were influential in amongst the various sectaries in the radical milieu on the early 17th century from which the Quakers emerged.

* E.g. "Boehme's bold speculations about development within the Godhead, as well as his rejection of narrow dogmatism and bibliolatry, were to exercise a profound influence on contemporary Protestantism, both in Germany and elsewhere. The English Behmenists (followers of Boehme) merged with the Quakers, who then carried his ideas into the New World."
posted by Abiezer at 11:55 PM on February 10, 2010

I think it is said that there are many ways towards "enlightenment." But that you really need to pick one and commit to it more seriously, instead of dabbling in this or that.

Trying to throw pieces of each school together may cancel out their effects.
posted by thisperon at 12:00 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

You'd probably enjoy reading Gabriel Marcel's Mystery of Being and Georges Bataille's Inner Experience.
posted by aquafortis at 12:24 AM on February 11, 2010

To me enlightenment means - it seems- a deep realisation that its not at all about us ( ie the ego dissolves) . It is part of human psychological development to develop and ego and some of us go on to develop a giant sized one- the task is how to cut it down in size.The enlightened one realises that everything around is just an illusion ( we are after all 99.9% empty space). One loses aggression and desires and becomes a compassionate person.
There are many paths to this realisation and becoming deeply religious ( in any on the religions) is one of them. Even chanting is said to be one route. There is nothing divine about it as it is just a state of mind.
posted by noirnoir at 12:32 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps listen to Jill Bolte Taylor's experience and her book. Basically, she is a brain researcher that had a stroke, and her experience of losing her left hemisphere's function is very interesting.

"How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I've gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career."

I think there is much to be said for examine mystical experience through the scientific lens that we are just working out how to do well.
posted by bigmusic at 12:36 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I TOTALLY disagree with thisperson!

The more you get into this stuff, the more you realize everyone is saying the same damn thing using different metaphors. Really.

I plan to Memail you directly. I already wrote a too long answer about the state of news media last night - I only have mental space for one of these BIG ANSWERS per week:)

Also, I came across some interesting cross-pollenization-type info today when I found out one of my local restauranteurs was a devotee of Rudolf Steiner. He's best known as the founder of Waldorf Education, but he developed a movement called Anthroposphy, closely related to Theosophy, Rosicrucianism (looks like he was a Rosicrucian, although not directly stated on the Wikipedia) and other esoteric organizations identifying as "Hermetic Orders" from the late 1800's to the early 1900's - which is when most of these groups formed, reformed, or expanded.

(The Greek god Hermes=The Egyptian god Thoth=god of magic, more or less.)

Speaking of which, I find this podcast AWESOME. Subscribe in Itunes. Their explanations are scholarly and dispassionate. Plus, they make funny jokes linking old esoteric ideas to certain modern mass culture that are both subtle and clever. High production value. Love them.

I just read today an excerpt from some essay Aleister Crowley wrote putting forth the idea that each new genuine Mystic blew apart the previous religion/paradigm. Examples he cited were Buddha overshadowing Hinduism, and Muhammed/Islam/Allah surpassing polytheism. His premise makes me wonder how he would explain the influence of Patanjali, who's work it seems you will be familiar with.

This is sort of an East meets West/Ancient meets Present Day type question. Well asked!

OK. I've already written more than I meant to at this hour.

I'll be in touch or vice versa (?).

Thank you.
posted by jbenben at 12:44 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Check out Joseph Campbell, whose work helped inspire George Lucas in shaping Star Wars. You might be interested in some of Campbell's influences throughout his life, as well as his own writings.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:21 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I TOTALLY disagree with thisperson!
The more you get into this stuff, the more you realize everyone is saying the same damn thing using different metaphors. Really.

I don't think you are disagreeing with thisperon, though. Yes, they are all saying the same damn thing, and yet taking too much of a "window-shopping" approach to them (though it's of course fine in terms of pursuing an intellectual interest in mystics) can have the effect of holding you back from getting a real felt understanding of what they're pointing towards. This is because you have to go through the phase of being bored with a particular approach, or finding that it doesn't meet your needs, or doesn't give you what you were expecting, before you get to the phase of realizing that maybe your expectations, or your preconceived notion of "your needs", are part of what you are engaged in changing your perspective on. If that makes sense.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:06 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Foucault's Pendulum might give you a different --- though valid --- take on modern mysticism.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:03 AM on February 11, 2010

Thomas Merton--The Seven Storey Mountain, The Inner Experience, and The Ascent to Truth
posted by AuntieRuth at 5:29 AM on February 11, 2010

Carl Jung's Red Book was finally released to the public. I haven't got my hands on it yet, but other writings by Jung give a great perspective on it.
posted by mearls at 6:24 AM on February 11, 2010

Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy is a good survey of all the mystical traditions.

Mysticism is basically seeking felt experience of a transcendant reality. Enlightenment is realizing that you don't need to seek it, you just need to open your eyes.

Beware of any mystical tradition that focuses entirely on self and otherworldly ecstatic experience that "escapes" the mundane world. Any mysticism worth its salt sends you back to the mundane world and mundane life with clearer vision. And when you can see clearly you can be effective in your actions and less blinded by your own ego.

There's a reason mystical teachers refer to meditation (or contemplation) as "practice."
posted by cross_impact at 7:00 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Along with Merton - I might also suggest his New Seeds of Contemplation - you might look at the writings of St. John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul and Ascent of Mount Carmel. And as long as your reading the Carmelites, St. Theresa of Avila as well.
posted by jquinby at 7:27 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy is a good survey of all the mystical traditions.

This. I like you have also clicked quite a bit with mystic teachings, especially sufism!

If you haven't already, check out what this guy has to say:
Hazrat Inayat Khan

And here is a mailing list I've been a part of for probably two years. Pretty much everyday there is a different meditation by Khan sent out and really, these things are precious. Here is the mailing list link.

There are certainly some other "duties" that this mailing list would have you do but I just reading the meditations and uh, meditating on them seems pretty solid to me. Here is an example of one of the emails, just so you can get a feel:

GAYAN 109 - BOULA -068 - - The longing for vengeance is like a craving for poison.

Man unites with others in the family tie, which is the first step in his evolution, and yet families in the past have fought with each other, and have taken vengeance upon one another for generations, each considering his cause to be the only true and righteous one. Today man shows his evolution in uniting with his neighbors and fellow-citizens, and even developing within himself the spirit of patriotism for his nation. He is greater in this respect than those in the past; and yet men so united nationally have caused the catastrophe of the modern wars, which will be regarded by the coming generations in the same light in which we now regard the family feuds of the past.

posted by deacon_blues at 7:31 AM on February 11, 2010

In our kabalah shiur at yeshiva (interestingly - taught by the same person who taught the Maimonides shiur) we used the book Shaarei Orah. It's a primary source but much much friendlier than the Zohar.

On the one hand, I agree with jbenben that it's remarkable and kind of fascinating how much the various mystical traditions have, at their core, in common.

On the other hand, I see thisperson's point very well - Shaarei Orah teaches and argues and metaphorizes with reference to the Jewish texts and practice. I'm honestly not sure how much someone reading it (on their own) without at least some and preferably a lot of familiarity with Jewish tradition would get, and how much they would miss.

Not only with the philosophy/metaphors, but also that kabalistic practice, to the extent it exists, has always tended to be a variation/enrichment/orientation within Jewish practice, but if you're not familiar with the details of Jewish practice, it might be hard to conceive of how the texts would actually affect practice (traditionally, or for an individual like you making their own practicing decisions).

The problem with 'dabbling' in mystical traditions is that a lot of them share that quality, meaning that if you don't have the background, your access to primary sources is pretty limited and you're dependent not just on translators (the link above is to a translation of Shaarei Orah and not the original) but also on summarizers/interpreters, at best, and, at worst, spinners, without really having the background knowledge to be critical.

It could still be worth it to take a shot at sources like the one I linked to though, or at least, to read them in addition to whatever secondary sources you're looking at.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:40 AM on February 11, 2010

Carolyn Myss has studied mystics across religions extensively and frequently references them in her teachings. She's a bit out there - her most recent book is called 'Defying Gravity'- but that might be just what you're looking for...
posted by widdershins at 8:59 AM on February 11, 2010

Douglas Harding is my standard answer to this question. The "answer" suggested at his website is sober and direct. Many people have a set of beliefs around this experience - perhaps that few ever experience it, or that it is difficult to attain, or that "achieving" it entails moral perfection, or that it brings resolution to any and all psychological issues. But this might not actually be the case. The term 'enlightenment' is itself misleading, it suggests that there is some sort of peak experience which bestows meaning upon humanity, an orgasm of sorts. One of Douglas Harding's points is that it may be more profitable to think of it as a 'valley' experience, underlying all of consciousness, always available, rather than a peak one. He created a number of innovative experiments (freely available) to point to this experience, which depending on your expectations, may or may not answer your questions. His site also contains two excellent anthologies of selections from mystics of various traditions; go to 'Tradition' and take a look at both, 'Voice of Tradition' and 'Harding's Anthology'.

Some of the best books on the Self, meditation and awareness (in order): I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, anything by Toni Packer, and Nothing Special and Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. Cheri Huber does not have the same direct focus as the preceding three, but her books are helpful as well, especially The Key and There Is Nothing Wrong With You. All of the above writers are or were meditation group leaders and their writing is explicitly about awareness. Here are some authors of wider scope that I have also found rewarding: the Stoics, Simone Weil, Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver.

I'm pretty reluctant to add authority figures to my life, especially if they have a vested interest in maintaining their position of teacher. While I can see the value in meditating in a group I've never thought that any type of instruction in meditation is necessary, after all it all comes down to awareness of one's attention. But still, I've found a specific guided meditation, Open Focus, valuable. Open Focus came to my attention from reading about neurofeedback. The creator of this meditation, Les Fehmi, was an early researcher in EEG studies and he discovered that asking his experimental subjects certain kinds of questions tended to increase their brain synchrony. I do it because it seems to deliver greater cognitive benefits than any other practice. Les Fehmi has been following a Zen tradition for a number of years, so it hasn't been a surprise that I've found that it aligning nicely with the rest of my approach.

Arthur Deikman's site has a number of interesting articles which are more relevant to the layman than most academics.
posted by BigSky at 9:28 AM on February 11, 2010

Scam artists and/or drug addicts.
posted by xmutex at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2010

I think it is said that there are many ways towards "enlightenment." But that you really need to pick one and commit to it more seriously, instead of dabbling in this or that.

It's more often said that there are many paths up the mountain.
posted by cmoj at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2010

I have enjoyed the writings of Idris Shah, he has collected many Sufi teaching stories. I particularly enjoyed http://www.ishk.net/books/CADR1.html. For something more challenging, look at the works of Gurdjieff, both writings and music. I would start with Meetings with Remarkable Men.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2010

In case you're not familiar with it, the generally excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy contains a number of entries pertinent to mysticism, among them:All entries conclude with substantial bibliographies and usually also a few links to relevant websites.
posted by Eadweard at 10:06 PM on February 11, 2010

Response by poster: I am very happy with the results of this thread (i hope it doesn't end here)!

I am reluctant to mark any particular answer as "best," for more or less obvious reasons ;)

Also, all of these threads deserve much more attention than I can give them at the moment. That said, agatha_martha, I picked up Views From the Real World and have now come across what i feel to be the first truly insightful passage:

Imagine that in studying the laws of movement of celestial bodies... you have constructed a special mechanism for the representation and recording of these laws... You set the mechanism in motion, and all the spheres begin to turn and move in definite paths, reproducing in a lifelike way the laws which govern their movements. This mechanism reminds you of your knowledge.

In the same way, in the rhythm of certain dances, in the precise movements and combinations of the dancers, certain laws are vividly recalled. Such dances are called sacred

jbenben: please do! I'll MeMail you after this post.
posted by Truthiness at 11:53 PM on February 12, 2010

« Older easy ways to archive e-mails from yahoo?   |   How hot is too hot? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.