Spirituality and Mysticism

By: Casey Blood, PhD

Most of us have a dual outlook on life.? On one level, we simply do all the things we must do every day-work, eat, play. . . .? But on another level, we hope there is more to life-something that feels deeply real, a goal worthy of any effort, a grand overarching scheme.? This hope is usually pushed into the background because it is so strongly discouraged by the materialistic values that prevail in our culture.

?But suppose we do not wish to settle for a materialism that dulls our vitality. We might look for wisdom in conventional religion, or for self-knowledge in psychology and the workings of the brain, but these do not aim high enough.? We might look to science with its hope of unraveling the secrets of the universe and providing for the material well-being of all, but these, too, are ultimately not satisfying.? Where, then, are we to find what we long for?? Nasrudin, the mythical Middle Eastern jokester-sage, asks the same question:?

?It's 4:00 A.M.? Nasrudin leaves the tavern and walks the town aimlessly.? A policeman stops him.? AWhy are you out wandering the streets in the middle of the night?@? "Sir," replied Nasrudin, "if I knew the answer to that question, I would have been home hours ago!"

?To find what we desire, we must dig deeper.? We must discern the essence of spirituality; we must see what is beyond psychology and the workings of the brain; we must see what physics can tell us about the nature of existence.?

And we must fly higher, until we have such an encompassing view that we can see the connections between spirit, brain, and physics, and ultimately discern the structure of all existence.? When we can see this, and when we can begin to see why existence was brought into being, then we will find a goal worthy of any effort.

?PHYSICAL & NONPHYSICAL

The pivotal issue, at least in the beginning of our search, is the nature of existence, particularly human existence.? In this scientific age, we are led to think that existence is strictly physical.? If that is so, then it seems to me that life is indeed full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.? However, as we will see, science does not imply that existence is strictly physical.? In fact, one of the basic themes of this book is that our existence here on earth has both physical and nonphysical aspects.? The division is sharp, but the two aspects are closely intertwined in our lives.? Strange as it seems at first, we will find it is this division that leads to a unified view of existence, a view that will allow us to make deep, satisfying sense of our lives.

?These two aspects of existence have been explored by very different methods and disciplines.? The experimental probing and mathematical description of the physical aspects are the province of physics, while the study and experience of the nonphysical aspects of existence are the provinces of mysticism.? Spirituality, or mysticism, in its various guises provides the core of all religions.? The aspiring mystic is one who fervently hopes there is a nonphysical aspect to existence where worthy goals for our lives can be found.? One purpose of this book is to nurture that hope by showing that science does not preclude mysticism, and by delineating the basics of mysticism in a clear and useful form.

?Note: The terms "spirituality" and "mysticism" are used pretty much interchangeably in this book.? But spirituality usually implies an orientation closer to the major religions, while mysticism is meant to imply the study and experience of nonphysical existence in all its forms, including phenomena like mind reading.? For lack of a better term, the word "mystic" is used here both for those on a more spiritual path and for those on a more "mystical" path.

?QUANTUM MECHANICS AS THE BRIDGE TO MYSTICISM

?If the nonphysical aspect of existence is to be of interest or use to us, then there must be some connection between our familiar physical world and the nonphysical world.? The all-important bridge between the two is found in quantum mechanics, the theory that physicists use to mathematically describe the physical universe.? (Rest assured that you will not need to understand anything about mathematics to read this book, nor do you need any prior knowledge of physics.)? Physicists have a high degree of confidence in quantum mechanics because it gives a highly accurate, wide-ranging, and unified description of nature.

?Quantum mechanics, however, has one astonishing "flaw."? Although it is an accurate description of physical reality, its mathematics implies there are many versions of reality that exist simultaneously, rather than there being only the single reality that we actually perceive.? For example we will see in chapter 8 that the mathematics of quantum mechanics appears to allow Schrodinger's cat to be both dead and alive at the same time.? To get around this "flaw," most physicists assume that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory of the physical universe and that it needs to be supplemented by the presumed existence of particles-electrons, atoms and so on-to become complete.? We show, however, that there is no evidence for the existence of particles and convincing evidence that there cannot be particles.? In that case, quantum mechanics strongly implies there must be a nonphysical aspect to existence!

?Further, quantum mechanics tells us something about the nonphysical aspects of existence.? It implies that each of us, in addition to having a physical brain and body, also has a nonphysical Mind (or soul in traditional language, or consciousness principle in Buddhist language). Your nonphysical Mind, through its connection with your physical brain, can freely and intelligently choose your thoughts and actions.? This is the bridge between the physical and nonphysical aspects of our existence.

?The split within us that I stress-a physical brain-body and a nonphysical Mind-gives a dualistic existence.? This may seem jarring in a book on spirituality, where one might expect the unity and connectedness of all things to be stressed.? But although it is true that in the end the duality disappears, the journey to the full experience of that unity is long.? And on the journey, particularly in the beginning, the structure of existence is made clearer-both conceptually and experientially-if one stresses the dual nature of existence.? This dual view is also consistent with that great duality none of us can escape-the difference between the physical existence we experience while alive, and the nonphysical existence we experience after death.

?WHAT FORM OF SPIRITUALITY OR MYSTICISM?

?There are many grades and types of mystics, from healers to psychics to whirling dervishes to the Dalai Lama to rishis living in caves in the Himalayas.? And there are different systems of spirituality that have been developed over hundreds and even thousands of years in religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, certain branches of Christianity and Judaism, and so on (although most of these systems contain historical accretions as well as vital spirituality).

?The system I will use is based on a modern form of Sufi mysticism that incorporates the wisdom of other systems, but it is modified to be consistent with the insights we will glean from physics and neuroscience.? Sufism is an ancient way of knowing that does not correspond exactly to any of the better-known religions.? It might be described as the religion of experience.? The Sufis, ideally, are those who accurately understand and experience all levels of existence, particularly those associated with the deepest emotions.? A more traditional definition of Sufism would be that it is the mystical, esoteric branch of Islam, a branch that started with Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali, flowered in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and continues today.

?It is my hope that making spirituality-mysticism consistent with science will clarify it so it is both accessible and appealing to many more people than it has been in the past.? In fact, despite the materialistic bent of our society, I believe it is an advantage for the aspiring mystic to be living in the age of science, for as we will see, physics can help to clarify the metaphysical structure of existence, and neuroscience can help in distinguishing between physical brain-body effects and nonphysical insights, and in understanding spiritual practices.

BELIEF VERSUS EXPERIENCE

If you are not familiar with the mystical point of view, it may appear simply as a belief system.? But if you have the feeling it could be correct, if you think these ideas might serve as a useful guide for some period of your life, and if you do the mystical practices with your full attention on them, then I think you will begin to see that the mystic=s view of existence may be experienced, rather than being just a belief system.? You may begin to appreciate the possibility that awareness doesn't end with death.?? And you may begin to see that the potential exists for a radically different, much richer life here.

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