A review of Cara Hebert’s article “Am I a Mystic?”, published on GAIA.com
This review précises an article that first appeared in GAIA.com where it can be read in full.
Our review comments appear in bold type. Otherwise everything Cara Hebert writes is supported by my own yearly mystical experiences of Reality from the age of about 15 to my late thirties.
First of all it has to be said, the understanding and clarity of this article is profound, though some hints of individual worldliness may be unhelpful.
However, in all that I have seen, heard and read on the subject, whether religious, laic, secular, or scientific, I haven’t come across such an easily read and understood interpretation of the effects of the mystic phenomenon on mystics.
The author starts off by saying, “Mysticism holds a very loose definition, which can often be complicated, confusing, and nearly impossible to express with mere words.”
She says “direct knowledge of spiritual truth or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience and that Ultimate reality is something that is supreme, final, and the fundamental power in all reality.”
“Unlike Christianity, Islam or Judaism, Mysticism is not rooted in faith, principle, dogma, or even belief. This is because you do not “believe” in Mysticism. Instead, Mystics are born.”
The next claim in the article, that to Mystics the world is “expansive” and “magical”, yet also “intricately and undoubtedly connected”, conforms to my experiences, except nothing seemed “magical”, they were all so natural.
The article says, “Free will does not exist. Instead, there is a greater fundamental power that moves every action and decision toward the accomplishment of a greater plan.”
Very true, except for the free will bit …
Mystics do see divine intervention behind their impulses, as the article suggests, and there is a greater power that moves every action and decision towards a greater plan. But the claim free will does not exist is not true in my experience.
Within their human limits, humans have extraordinary powers of free will. So do beetles within their limits, so do all creatures … I assume a plentiful free will abounds within the individual bounds of all created beings.
The article says, “Because of this natural understanding of the Universe in everything, Mystics feel a need to serve others in order to help guide them through obstacles and critical life decisions.”
No. Not all mystics “feel a need to serve others”. Buddhists, for instance, understand those particular mystics, like me, who feel humanity is a distraction from their path to “Nirvana”. They call these enlightened ones, pratyekabuddhas, or paccekabuddhas, the so-called “silent buddhas” who do not try to share their realization with the world.
Pratyekabuddhas are said to achieve enlightenment on their own, without the use of teachers or guides, by “dependent origination”, (spontaneous rebirth?). For instance, all my experiences were spontaneous.
Traditionally, Paccekabuddhas give moral teachings but not enlightenment. (See unedited descriptions in Wikipedia).
In my experience of the mystical experience of Reality there is nothing to be learned from the study of human beings. Deus sufficit. Or, in mystic parlance, Ultimate Reality is enough.
Another assertion by Hebert is that not everyone can be a mystic, “it is not something that can be learned or taught, therefore those who realize their innate abilities have the responsibility to help those without.”
I agree with everything in this observation except the apparent assertion that Mystics have a responsibility to help non Mystics, thus suggesting Mystics can substitute themselves for Reality! History is filled with martyred mystics who made this mistake.
Finally, Hebert gives 10 ways of telling if you’re a mystic. We précis them here:
1. YOU VALUE EXPERIENCES ABOVE ALL ELSE
Mystics tend to steer clear of strict doctrines and principles. Because of their innate intuition, they have a high level of trust in their own morality and inner self.
Basically, she says Mystics welcome others’ experiences but only rely on their own experiences of Reality to guide their existence, whether this agrees with humanity or not.
True. Reality is enough.
2. YOU QUESTION EXISTENCE
Mystics see and understand more but are not able to fully comprehend how the universe works and why.
Mystics are passengers; not drivers or mechanics, (or physicists!).
Mystics have a curiosity about the world.
Not at all! For Mystics, the world is a spiritual distraction to be avoided.
3. YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY
Mystics understand that there is a plan behind every action In The Universe, and therefore trust that every action has purpose, even if they don’t know what the next moment will bring. Mystics also trust in themselves and their connection to the universe that they will be able to interpret any signs and act accordingly.
4. YOU VALUE INTUITION
Mystics rely on knowledge, language and physical senses the same as others do. However, their intuitive perceptions offer a deeper form of insight.
5. YOU ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES
Tenuous rituals or traditions have no place in the world of spirituality for Mystics.
6. YOU HAVE YOUR OWN SET OF RULES
Mystics feel a connection to every living thing and therefore are able to look beyond what may be socially accepted. Mystics have an innate trust in their own morality and intuition and are guided by their experience, rather than by leaders or society.
7. YOU VALUE INTERNAL GROWTH
To Mystics, rituals and traditions are meant to trigger internal insight and transformation, not to appease a higher power. This is another reason why Mystics often feel uncomfortable with structured religions. Mystics feel that personal growth toward the universe’s ultimate plan must come from within. It cannot be dictated or ordered. Mystics feel a responsibility to help others to find their way, however, they cannot tell them what is right and wrong.
Not all Mystics “feel a responsibility to help others find their way”. Many have been martyred for making this mistake. See above.
8. YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE A CONDUIT FOR POWER, NOT THE SOURCE
Because of their connection with everyone and everything, Mystics are often humble and more concerned with understanding and emotion than with power. They see their insights into the universe as a borrowed gift – bestowed upon them by something greater, but ultimately temporary.
I see mystic experiences as permanent. They are developing experiences of Ultimate Reality, not something “temporary” or “borrowed”. This is the first time I’ve heard this suggestion of impermanence.
9. YOU BELIEVE LOVE IS THE SOURCE OF LIFE
Similar to No. 8, Mystics believe that love powers everything. Love is not something that originates in you, rather it is something that flows through every being.
10. YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING
And you don’t think you know everything. Mystics acknowledge that the universe is infinite and mysterious and is far too complex for the human mind to fully comprehend. They trust in the universe’s plan and see their journey as one of understanding, not preaching.
Cara Hebert is a writer who received her BFA from Boston University. An avid traveller and citizen of nowhere and everywhere, Cara has lived all over the world including North Carolina, London, Massachusetts, Maine, Georgia, Illinois, and Connecticut.
By David Robertson
I was an atheist for most of my life until about five or six years ago. And I was very anxiety ridden, filled with constant concerns for what I wanted to do in the future. I worked endlessly to try and fulfill these goals that I thought I wanted, and was terrified of the prospect of not being able to achieve them. This stopped me from realising the beauty of just simply living life in a more present way. It didn’t make me happy, it didn’t make me a better person, I was just too busy working towards some non-existent future. This is a story for another time, but I slowly became more interested in spirituality and gradually developed a strong belief in a loving God and that the universe was divine (including myself). As a result, a concern for death and the future became less of a factor.
I started to trust in the divine more and more, and countless opportunities started appearing for me. I also realised my early goals weren’t what I wanted in life. A trust in God gave me the courage to simply jump into the unknown, and I just knew in my heart that things would work out for the best. And in the end, it has. I traveled around India and Nepal without planning much; ended up doing jobs that I quite loved; discovered and pursued a passion for writing that was always hidden a little bit below the surface; found myself teaching English in China; and of course, I found the love of my life. For me, the results of trusting in God and the universe speaks for itself.
I wrote this piece today because my partner is going through quite a stressful time, most of it to do with our future plans over the next year and whether she can achieve them. She asked me at one point, “how can you not be so worried about all of this?” So I guess this post is in part an answer to her question, and I hope she finds something of value in it that can ease her suffering, even if it’s just a little bit.
Read David Robertson’s Trust: Surrendering Yourself to God and the Universe in full.
All human beings have the capacity to listen and know what they are. Those who do, who persist as if drawn; paying attention, accepting, unable to resist; sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, but ever surely, will know what they are. After that nothing is the same again. Humans are not the who they think they are.
“Any effort dedicated to making humans better humans is not spiritual. Being human IS the problem. Being better at it is a spiritual oxymoron, a dead end.
“Transcendence: Beyond or above the range of normal or physical human experience …”
Oxford University Dictionary
Q: What is the difference between contemplation and meditation?
A: Contemplation and meditation are about the inner work towards personal realisation of Reality.
I can’t answer from experience because my realisation of Reality was different. It didn’t come from special focus/concentration, contemplation or meditation. It was spontaneous.
I remember knowing at about five years of age that my destiny was to find my soul and return it to what I then called “God”.
Ten years later I was called by what I call MER (the Mystical Experience of Reality) to experience Reality for the first of many times, every year, until I was in my late thirties.
So focus, contemplation and meditation were not my path to Reality. Contemplation was a tool subsequently used to inspect Reality and human life.
Meditation, surrendering, never worked if I invoked it. It came as a fruit of my constant rededication to the joyousness of Reality’s love, guidance, defence, encouragement and unending presence.
It’s been an effortless process, though not without its frustrations and futile attempts to take my destiny into my own hands now and again …
Being involved in humanity is not easy for a mystic.
(However, I’m much encouraged that leading scientists are more and more aware of the fundamental centrality of the mystic experience in humanity’s evolution).
Today, constant promptings continue to play a big part in the perennial inner work against lust, anger, greed, attachments and ego, the veils between humans and Reality.
As for you, it seems you’re called, you’re a Seeker.
That which you seek seeks you, so you might as well give in, because Reality doesn’t.
My recommendation would be for you to consider practising complete surrender, one bit at a time. That’ll mean a lot of sitting quietly, waiting, listening, resisting thoughts as they arise, staying blank, avoiding distractions. This is the inner work. It’s constant. It’s what you’re all about. Ultimately, nothing can separate you from your destiny, your joy and acceptance in Reality. You’ll never want to be just human ever again.
Follow this way and you’ll be taken through all the focus, contemplation and meditation you need …
I hope this is helpful.
“The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” — Walker Percy
Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Goodread.com
By Peter Steiner BSc., DDS., in an interview with journalist and author Barbara Shaw BA., MS., MA.
- Who am I? What is reality?
- What is the universe for?
- More than one universe?
- Why am I alive?
For 20 years I have pursued the answers to Who am I? What is reality? What are the reasons for the existence of the universe? Is there more than one universe? Why am I alive?
I am still investigating the works of the great scientists of our day on this question of Consciousness. These are some of the conclusions I have arrived at so far.
First, who am I?
Can I actually evaluate myself? Can I get far enough outside of myself to be objective about me and see who I am? If I can, where does my self end — at the boundary of my body, of my mind, of my spirit?
The fact is, that each of us has a different boundary system. Of course, some of our sense of boundaries is cultural, some familial and some is individual.
My conclusion is that I believe I can be somewhat objective about myself, that I can step outside and even see my dark side without justification or guilt. I believe I can examine it to see if I should change it. I believe this is the essence of self awareness.
How do I know I am a separate entity? Psychologists use the mirror test on animals and children. Do they recognize what the animals and children see as a reflection of the self? Chimps and dolphins do, and possibly elephants. Small children do after a certain stage of development close to the age of two years..
But systems theory says that if you are part of a system you cannot understand the system completely, therefore we can never be totally objective about what we are. I can never see myself completely.
Another idea we get from physics is that the observer changes the system being observed. Any interaction with the world outside the self makes a small change in the self, so by the time I make the observation I have changed somewhat.
What is reality?
Reality is all we perceive and more. Our individual perceptions are each unique, so all our realities are valid. I am guided by my own system, which works for me most of the time. And I get very annoyed when it does not.
Knowing what reality is, is obviously very complex, made up of sensory information plus probably another form of perception science can’t seem to agree on.
For example, sexual attraction may be related to the vomero-nasal organ on the underside of the brain. It’s tied to detecting pheromones floating in the air.
Intuition or what we call a sixth sense may be related to that along with the parasympathetic nervous system. Of course, it’s modified by our experience.
I operate on a combination of gut feeling and analysis, which can overrule my gut. This is not the case with all of us, some operate on gut feelings, some operate on cerebral logic.
Obviously I don’t know if my ideas of who I am and what reality is, is just in my brain or if there’s an immaterial something that is the bottom line of consciousness.
My own gut feeling is that it’s not just the brain, but that there is something else.
Whether the chimps and dolphins have that, or not, is a very interesting question. If they do have self-awareness, do they have a soul?
Soul is what I call that immaterial something, for lack of a better name. But I still have to ask: If my brain were destroyed would there be anything left of me, of my essence?
What are the reasons for the existence of the universe?
I believe it all started with a system in perfect symmetry, that of the primordial Void. Then, in 10 to the minus 18 or so seconds it exploded into complexity, asymmetry and has been getting more complex for the past 13.7 billion years.
The human brain happens to be the pinnacle, as far as we know, of complexity. We have not yet seen anything more complex that that (the space shuttle and the CERN supercollider is dwarfed in complexity by the trillions of neural interactions in our brain.
I believe the essence of the universe is to create complexity. But why? Because it’s more entertaining! Maybe the creator got tired of perfection and wanted to have some fun, so created this mess. I also believe that the mess will swing back towards its perfection at some point.
God only knows how hard we try to create perfection. Perhaps our striving for perfection is the cause of most of our dysfunction. We are simply not meant to be perfect and when we try too hard we end up insane.
I ask myself if it might be possible for me to ride along on the edge between sanity and insanity. It’s like a high wire act to be at that place, and to notice if I am becoming insane and should put the brakes on.
Is there more than one universe?
Most physicists now believe there are an infinite number; we live in a Multiverse.. At each choice point, or at each bifurcation that we or any other entity might make, the reality of the universe may split.
That would mean each decision we make could lead to an entirely different outcome for the whole of the universe. And that both would occur and lead to two entirely different universes.
This idea may be related to our dilemma when we wonder if we are infinitely insignificant, or infinitely significant. It’s the latter if each of our decisions determines the outcome of the universe. That’s a huge responsibility.
Someone said, “He who saves a life saves a universe entire.” We truly have no idea of the impact that we have. Remember the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” ?
So perhaps something I said to someone thirty years ago could have led to that person either winning a Nobel Prize or rotting in prison. Another quote I like is, “The saint and the sinner are the same person exchanging notes in passing.”
It may not be within our power to choose the result. The outcomes of my life are a co-production of me and the universe. The universe can crush me in an instant, yet all that I do has an impact on so much. For all we know, a single feeling can change the universe.
Why am I alive?
In Greek drama there’s a peripateia, a point in the play when the hero recognizes that everything in his/her life to this point means nothing. It’s the crisis point when the light comes on. For me it came when I was 43 and my father died at 86.
I asked myself if I wanted to live the second half of my life as I’d lived the first half. My answer was, NO. And that feeling changed everything for me.
That brings us to the question.
In a physical sense, I exist because my mother lost a daughter of 12 and decided she should have another child. If not for my sister’s death I’d not be alive, which leads to the question of how good can come form evil.
We teach that good intentions have a good outcome, but we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’ve done so much, meaning well, that led to chaos and suffering.
So, what can I say? I guess I am alive because the universe thought it was a good idea. We say God does not make mistakes but notice that Evolution can get rid of the mistakes.
If I believe in either God or Evolution or both – I am meant to be alive, and I am not a mistake, my life has meaning, even if I do not know the meaning of my Life.
I suppose I’m here because somehow I can contribute to the unfolding of the universe. I believe all of us do contribute something because we truly are great, we just have to find our greatness.
When I say “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” I mean we know that our ancestors gave us so much, all they could.
We need to appreciate that, and then move on into our own new and challenging territory where they cannot show us the way.
Excerpts from the book OVOID THE VOID by Dr. Peter Steiner
‘The Void is the mysterious source of all there is, and I am part of the Source.’
Everything comes from the Nothing and I am part of the Everything, along with the Nothing. In the dichotomy of extremes the very definition of being Human is to keep challenging the edge of the envelope, be it the mysteriously small and the mysteriously large.
In the world of extremes the human mind cannot help but be an essential component of the Universe. By virtue of being a part of the whole, the human mind is forever blessed and condemned to the realm of extremes. The brilliant are likely to be manic depressive, the dull are likely to be spiritually even keeled.
The Mozart and the Salieri in us are selected by forces greater than ourselves, and have no choice but to emerge from the depth of our soul. They will battle for survival in our hearts, minds and souls, but the winner is never in doubt.
Salieri can curse God till the cows come home, he will never be Mozart. And similarly, Mozart could never live the life of the disciplined, systematic and ordered monotone existence of Salieri, even if he tried. The Oak and the Willow are what they are. Mozart and Salieri cannot trade places, bodies or souls.
“The strong will always break; the weak will bend and survive on the decay of the broken.”
There is a reason for the existence of all, the brilliant and the ordinary, the strong and the weak. The Universe is the way it is because it is the kind of Universe as IS. It will keep on unfolding the way it always had, whether we like it or not, whether we strive and fight the jihad, or surrender in monastic meditation.
Einstein, Gandhi, a miscarried foetus and I will never understand one another, for we were born and have died or will die for different purposes. Our uniqueness is the purpose, and the Universe made sure of that by mixing up slightly different combinations of base pairs on our DNA strands.
The less than 0.1 per cent difference in the DNA of Einstein, Gandhi, the miscarried foetus and I made us all different with differing paths, goals, and purposes in life. The 99.9 per cent of DNA that is the same in the four of us makes us human.
“The 1.0 per cent of DNA that is uniquely human differentiates us from our evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees.”
Yes, 99 per cent of our DNA is common between humans and other primates.
Our essential purpose is both the same and unique. This is the dilemma and dichotomy that drives humans to madness and visions of clarity. Our individual purpose is different. The Theories of Relativity (both) could not have been written by Gandhi or I. Einstein or I would have made a very inferior Mahatma.
And a miscarried foetus may have been the change in the life of Einstein’s, Gandhi’s or Peter’s mothers’ lives that allowed for the three of us to be born and grow old. Part of the legacy of the unborn is to allow the rest of us to leave more visible signs of Inuksuk on the planet.
Inuksuk. I was here. Along with Einstein, Gandhi, and millions of the unborn. We have all participated in weaving a tapestry of humanity. Without any one of us the tapestry will survive, but it will not be the same. The way my essence permeated the Universe in an albeit temporary manner caused the Universe to never again be the same.
“I have come from the Void, the Source and found both of them inside me. I no longer feel the need to satisfy the existential hunger to find meaning in Life.
“The meaning is Life itself. The Life I live is the meaning. No one else has to prove it or approve of me. The meaning of life simply IS. Those of us who recognize the significance of the insignificant will never self destruct. Life seems to like the extreme along with the average, the multitudes. Those of us who hover on the edges between feelings of insignificance and folie de grandeur will always be at risk of self destruction.”
As denizens of the edge of insanity, the catatonic and Bonaparte of the asylum are two sides of the same coin. The sinner and the saint are the mirror images of each other, just exchanging cards in passing in the course of their lives. The mindless toil of the jihad, however always has the echoes of Zen in the background.
Chop wood, carry water – I reach enlightenment – so now I chop wood and carry water. And if I spout enlightenment, I have probably lost it. Observation affects the outcome – if I know that I am enlightened, I am probably not. If I know for sure that something is right, I am probably wrong.
“I will never see the whole picture. I can never see the world with your eyes or walk in your shoes. I am me and you are you.”
Do we have the power to change? We can tweak our existence by a small amount, but we cannot change our DNA (yet). I will not be Einstein, Gandhi or the unborn foetus. What I do with my mind is up to me – to a degree. So Steinbeck I shall not be. Neither do I want to be. This work was about what it means to be human, what it means to be a man. Not Mice and Men. Just Man. And Hemmingway can write To Have and not Have. I know that I have.
“I accept the Void as the Source of the Everything, and I also accept the Void in me as a natural consequence of being a part of the Universe.”
I do, however keep on being its partner in the ongoing process to create my personal reality. I wont try to eliminate the Void from inside me by trying to fill it with stuff – but I will not ignore it either. My awareness of the Void inside me allows the creative spark to burn inside me without endangering my sanity in the process.
I will continue to tweak this relationship with my inner Void and allow it to provide the space so that creativity can arise in me. This is an act of will that neither ignores the circle of emptiness inside me, nor tries to fill it with addictive stuff and processes.
I gently tweak the empty circle of Void in me in an ongoing manner, and thus keep on changing the circular Void into an ever shifting Ovoid shape. This Ovoid Void in me will keep on changing, without losing its predetermined locus and curvature. I Ovoid the Void. I will neither Avoid it, Denying it nor Fight it.
“This becomes a cooperative venture between the Source (God or the Universe) and the Vehicle of change (Me).”
The Void and I form the Bow and Arrow of Khalil Gibran, working together in creating a process that keeps altering Reality in an ongoing and unfolding mystery. The Universe is the mystery, and I am an active part of it. The mystery is both outside and inside of me. Outer Reality and my Inner Life are inseparable and interactive. I will never understand the Universe completely and neither will I understand my mind and my soul.
And this is all right with me, I am content with understanding 99 per cent of the Universe and 99 per cent of myself, and I am grateful for the ability to have reached so far. The symbolic one per cent of my mind and soul remains a mystery forever for me. When I understand the last 1 per cent, a part of the known will shift and offer a new and different 1 per cent to discover.
“I will never ever understand it all. Neither can you, nor anyone else.”
Excerpted from the ebook, OVOID THE VOID by Dr.Peter Steiner BSc., DDS.