“Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.” ~Kahlil Gibran
I had to learn the hard way that you don’t have to walk across hot coals or move to the desert and eat locusts and honey in order to have a mystical, life-changing experience.
As a young man I was anxious and driven, always looking ahead to another goal, always hoping to find some ultimate experience. I believed that life was a challenge that needed to be constantly tackled. Often, this meant feeling overworked and pulled-apart, and I failed to enjoy the journey of life.
I joined the Peace Corps with the naïve goal of saving the world and finding some kind of grand purpose. Instead, the complexity of our world’s problems befuddled me.
I went abroad to help people and they ended up helping me.
Growing up surrounded by wealth, I didn’t understand true kindness until my poor neighbors shared their simple meals with me. Raised in a culture where we are encouraged to hoard our wealth, I did not understand generosity until strangers welcomed me into their crumbling homes and offered me gifts right off their shelves.
As I’ve gotten older, had kids, and experienced successes and failures, I’m still learning that the true measure of our lives is the way we enjoy the simplest experiences.
Perhaps the gap between rich and poor does not matter as much as the gap between those who can enjoy the moment and those who can’t. And this is what the great mystics have always said.
After trying to climb mountains, I learned that sometimes the simplest, most down-to-earth things, like how you eat an orange or enjoy the smile of a child, are the moments that make life amazing.
A mystical experience is any experience where you pause and touch the perfect, wonderful present moment in a tangible and fresh way. Life is full of great opportunities. Be an instant mystic. Here are ten simple ways (nudity and drums optional).
1. Play with a child. Play like a child.
Children are the ultimate Zen masters. They come out of the womb fully enlightened, completely living in the moment, taking every experience in without all the extra layers of thought and worry we pile on. Then, sadly, they become adults.
But you can get some of this back by dropping the rake, the bills, and the dishes in order to push toy cars, throw leaves, and make snow angels. Lose yourself in the moment. Act silly. Make a fool of yourself.
Mystics often are mistaken for idiots. No kids available? I can loan you three, or I’m sure you have a friend or neighbor who would oblige as well.
2. Laugh hard.
Humor is a great way to shake off painful emotions and transcend the everyday.
After a tough day, my wife and I will hit the internet and watch a few Saturday Night Live skits or some of the Colbert Report just to loosen us up and remind our heads that life should not be taken too seriously. A family tickle fest never hurts either.
3. Attend a new spiritual service.
Historically, church functioned as a weekly stopping point for people to reflect and connect. That’s great. But church can become a rut, especially if you go every week to hear the same book read by the same person who usually says the same stuff.
Try a new service. Unitarian. Wiccan. Buddhist. Catholic. I recently tried out a Quaker service. We sat in complete silence for an hour. At first, I was petrified. I wanted to run out screaming. But then I settled into this beautiful state of relaxed peace.
4. Read a mystical book by an enlightened person.
There are so many great spiritual books out there that can help you step out of your frantic, everyday life and get you to look into to the soul. Eckhart Tolle is a current best-selling author with lots of good stuff. Fr. Anthony DeMello’s Awareness is wonderful and challenging. I love reading Allan Watts as a way to stretch my spiritual imagination.
Pick up a Zen book, like Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, and puzzle over some of the classic riddles (called Koans). Or grab a classic in mystical living by the likes of Brother Lawrence, Meister Eckhart, Rumi, or Lao Tzu.
5. Walk alone in the woods or by a river.
No headphones. No talking. Walk slowly. You’re not working out your body; you’re working out your soul. Use a simple mantra or mindful phrase, like “In-Out, Deep-Slow, Calm-Ease, Smile-Release,” to stop your incessant thinking.
Spiritual master Krishnamurti once summarized the essence of all mystical practices in two words: “don’t think.” When you’re alone in nature, your ego falls away, leaving you with yourself.
Head to the country at night and lay out under the sky. Stargazing is a great way to remember the vastness of the universe. Inside us is that same vastness. We are made from atoms that were once part of the cosmos.
Being mystical is not about floating away on a cloud of euphoria. It’s about fully being in the perfect moment. The stars are there every night. Are we?
7. Listen to a great symphony or opera.
A mystical experience can be any experience that forces you to slow down and activate new parts of your brain, triggering insight and expansive thinking. I love indie-rock, but after a long day of work, music without words gives space for my spinning brain to slow down.
Fasting has been used as a mystical practice for centuries by nearly every tradition out there, and that was back when food was hard to come by! It’s a great way to test your self-control, learn to deal with difficult feelings, let go of ingrained habits, and commune with those less fortunate in the world. And it’s free. (Of course, with eating disorders on the rise, please make sure this practice is right for you by consulting with your doctor.)
Get outside of your life, literally, and wrap yourselves up in someone else’s. I recommend spending time with the elderly, people who were alive before iPhones and Google (hard to believe). Consider not telling anybody what you’re doing; otherwise, volunteering just becomes another way to strengthen the ego.
Meditation is the mystical practice used for millennia by countless great spiritual thinkers. It’s been proven by scientists to extend life and increase happiness. Isn’t it worth giving a try?
Stop your mind for a few moments. Look for the one inside you who knows you know. Count your breathing. Use one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple mindful meditations: “Breathing in, I smile; breathing out, I relax.”
By meditating, you change yourself and the world. You transform your soul with silence and transform the planet by creating a small, but powerful, pocket of peace.
If you really struggle with sitting still and calming your mind, use some light yoga. There are many great instructors out there who combine meditation techniques with yoga. Try ten or twenty minutes for a few days in a row. Notice the changes. You’ll be surprised.
A mystical moment is simply any moment when you are fully alive, in the present, embracing what is happening. Doing dishes can be a mystical experience! But if all else fails, there’s always sitting naked in a cave beating a drum.
Photo by Cornelia Kopp