The word mysticism is a lot like the word “metaphysics”; it doesn’t mean what most people think it means. The word mysticism carries with it a lot of baggage that must be left behind before one can begin to grasp it’s true meaning and significance.
Mysticism is not meditation; it is not channeling; it is not ESP, it is not strictly an Asian concept. It is, as Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it: “The belief in direct or intuitive attainment of communion with God or of spiritual truths.” There is no dogma here, no rites of initiation, no lunatic fringe stuff at all. If you agree that it is possible to directly commune with the Universe, or God, then you believe that mysticism is a viable belief. Mysticism believes in direct communion with the basic principle of the universe – you can call it God, Allah, the Tao, Buddha Nature, or whatever. The words you pick are not important.
This direct communion means that spiritual truths are grasped without an intermediary: without logic, without science, without a guru or minister, without a spirit guide, without doctrine – in fact, without words. A mystical insight puts a spiritual truth on the level of a slap in the face – once you experience it, there is no question about it’s reality – at least to the one who has felt it.
Being able to pass this directly experienced spiritual truth on to others is a problem, however, since it is perceived without the intermediary of words, and words are how we communicate. Thus some of the most profound insights sound nonsensical, and many mystics are forced to agree with the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who wrote:
Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent.
Such is the level of frustration that these folks may walk into the desert or the mountains and abandon the company of other humans forever.
I contend that there is no doubt that some knowledge exists which can not be communicated. Trying to communicate it anyway leads to the paradoxical sayings that are often attributed to mystics. Perhaps they should heed the advice of Tom Leher, who said:
I feel that if someone can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up.
Which I will do, for the moment; more soon.