Today, the word “mystic” has become borderline meaningless.
I don’t mean to sound snarky (or at least not too snarky), but it’s true. The word is ubiquitous in the new-age world, and applied to anything spiritual, metaphysical, magical, or jut holographic and sparkly. It’s somewhat decorative, adding a whimsical, mysterious flair to a tarot deck or an Instagram handle or the name of a crystal shop. But what’s really interesting is why the word “mystic” is so alluring to us, why it entrances us and gives us low-key ASMR tingles whenever we spot it.
I believe it’s because the “mystical” points to an ancient depth, a true mysteriousness that is colored with magic and luminosity. It points to a wild wonder inside of us that can never be defined or fully grasped.
And this is also why mysticism in general is so hard to define. Mysticism is an ancient art, a universal experience across time and culture, that has never had a singular meaning, and has always described an experience rather than a discipline. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines mysticism as, “The practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them.” And Merriam-Webster defines it as, “The experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality.” Obviously, mysticism is vague, and hard to define, because the mystical experience itself is vague and hard to define. But the cornerstone of mysticism, and the mystical, is ecstatic communion with divinity. Or more simply, the vibrant communication and connection to the Divine.
I believe mysticism is so attractive today because in some ways it’s oppositional to orthodoxy, transforming strict religious dogma into a more fluid, embodied experience. It is a call to explore mystery and depth, while allowing us to experiment with our faith, our spirituality. We want to touch the pulse of that majestic mystery, like the sufi mystic Rumi whose entire canon of poetry is a love song to God. Or we want to witness the glory with our own eyes, like Hildegard von Bingen, who recorded decades of illuminations of God’s profound love.
So how can we be modern mystics? Is there a way we bring that ancient reverence and mysterious wonder into our lives? I believe that we can, and more than that, we must. The more we explore our mystical urges, the more we manifest the divine, and the more whole beings we become. So here are the 3 cornerstones of living a more mystical life.
1. Explore your understanding of the Divine.
Begin with considering your beliefs, your understanding of the concept of cosmic oneness, your relationship to impersonal and personal divinity. Be curious as hell about what Divine presence is, and how it’s expressed in your life. Don’t quit when the confusion sets in, or when things start to get irksomely deep. Remember that mystics don’t engage with spirituality casually. They feel the pull to go deeper, to investigate, to explore.
So my advice is to read, read, read! Few people nowadays are part of a religious institution that will give structure to a mystical path, so we need to explore on our own. Get into Jung, read poetry, read the classics that make you think about your humanness. Investigate and try out new spiritual practices like magic, or a Course in Miracles, or Kabbalah. Be inquisitive, and in touch. Be willing to become a seeker, but don’t get bogged down with the desire for answers. Curiosity is key, and an open-mind. Mystics don’t try to figure out what God is or isn’t, they try to touch it with their awed, inquisitive hearts.
2. Channel mystery into creativity.
If you’re an occultist, or any kind of magic-worker, you’re probably already pretty open to mystery, such as how spirit and matter interact. Mystics are explorers of these sorts hermetic mysteries, meaning the secret truths of life, the esoteric principles that in ancient times you had to be initiated into, like the Eleusinian Mysteries or Kabbalah.
But today, you can read literally a thousand books and get the knowledge that was wholly forbidden back then. Be constantly curious, but don’t demand answers. Instead, touch the the wonder of the mysteries by transforming them into creative craft or ritual. Khalil Gibran composed poetic parables on love. William Blake painted God creating the universe. Jung channelled his visions of the collective unconscious in his Red Book. The work of mystics is so breathtaking and important because they turn their curiosity and awe into creation, into inspired interpretation that is vibrantly captivating and meaningful.
It is through these mystical interpretations that we ourselves meet the divine. I feel like I’m looking straight into God’s eyes every time I read Rilke’s Book of Hours. Take the time to investigate how you can channel your mysticism into creative activity, and be intentional about it. Draw, sing, write, contemplate, make youtube videos, whatever you feel called to explore. Whatever you do, don’t try to capture the mystery, just be inspired by it.
3. Open to ecstatic revelation.
Okay, this one gets a little weird. The word “ecstatic” is more contemporarily understand as extremely happy, but in the mystical context it means blissfully transcendent. It’s the experience of perfect joy and awe and terror that is totally independent from your personal feelings, that comes from contemplation or interaction with God. This is essential to being a mystic, because it’s through these ecstasies that mystics intuitively know God. They become bound to the divine through personal relationship rather than intellectual experience.
Ecstasies can look like anything. They can be visions, dreams, sensations, or the momentary enlightenment of pure love. And though there is no way to make an ecstatic revelation happen, there are ways you can open to them.
Engage in spiritual practices. Meditate, or create a sacred ritual, or speak directly to God, or interact with nature. Put yourself in situations where you can encounter the Divine. Don’t shy away from the strangeness of it, the vulnerability of it. Try out ecstatic dance, join a shamanic ritual, hide away in the mountains with nothing but your heart and mind. The more you prioritize presence and receptivity, the more you’ll be available to mystical revelations.
And if and when you experience the ecstatic bliss of encountering the divine, don’t undermine or negate the experience. Let it be wholly true for you, so keep it secret if you need to protect that. Allow the experience to form the bridge between you and the divine, and you will feel the mystical wonder you crave in your life.