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Mystical Experiences

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Listening to a podcast today (Interfaith Voices) the subject of mystical experiences was introduced. A couple of interviewees cited experiences they had had which to them had 'connected' them to the divine, albeit temporarily. One spoke of being in a church service that was quite intimate but enjoyable, when he was just suddenly overcoming with incredible love & feelings of connectedness with everything.


Marcus Borg reports his mystical experience in an aircraft cabin once when he 'saw' light permeating 'through' the airplane an everyone in it.


The producer of the show quoted William James as below:


America's great psychologist, William James provided a description of the mystical experience in his famous collection of lectures published in 1902 as The Varieties of Religious Experience. In Lectures 16 and 17 he stated:

"...propose to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical...:

1. Ineffability - The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.

2. Noetic Quality - Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for aftertime.

3. Transiency - Mystical states cannot be sustained for long.

4. Passivity - Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power.


So of course I got to wondering what mystical experiences some here may have had? Would you care to share if you have, or even if you have not, about mystical experiences?




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Paul, this is an interesting topic. I've posted this here before, but will repost it as it directly addresses your request.


A few years back, I got brutally honest with God and myself and told God I didn’t think God existed anymore. I won’t go into all my reasons for it, but I just doubted whether or not God was real. But contrary to what I expected, I didn’t feel a sense of rejection or abandonment at that point. Instead, I felt a huge sense of relief. And then I felt (notice how my subjectivity is coming into play here) an over-whelming sense of acceptance, like I was okay. I had committed blasphemy, but I was feeling this (words are failing me now) buoyancy around me, like I was a tiny leaf floating on a huge ocean. I suspected this might be, may be, God, but had no way to know for sure. But, true to form, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I let God have it. I informed him of all my problems with the Bible, all my problems with Christianity and Christians, all my problems with doctrine. I figured he already knew all of the problems with me (and there are quite a few). And I waited for the ocean to dissipate and for fire to set in. It didn’t. Instead, I continued to have this feeling that I was accepted “just as I am”. But I wasn’t even pleading that Jesus died for me. I was just there, my soul naked before what I call Reality, and this GOD was okay with me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t just "believe" that God was love, I felt it. It wasn’t a doctrine, it was an experience. It was “beyond reason”, but it was not contrary to it.

I am not at all saying that others will have this experience. This was between me and the Reality that I call God. My experience is descriptive, not proscriptive. I don’t feel this Presence all the time now or even every day. I think things may go in cycles, maybe like a spiral staircase. And while I cannot in any way prove my experience to anyone else, neither can I deny the reality of it. My reason still enjoys and appreciates study. But, in my journey, Bible study did not cure my doubts. In fact, I still have many doubts about things that sometimes bugger up my head and heart. But I also know, experientially, that God is bigger than my head and heart. Thankfully, the God of Love embraced me in spite of my beliefs (or lack thereof) and though I lost much of my religion, I was never lost to Love.

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I will share one of a number of experiences that wasl quite different. Bill's subjective feelings above were quite similar to many of my own experiences but i will share a different one here.


I was listening to a Jewish man who i was introduced to and who was complaining about his wife to me and while i heard his words a strange feeling came over me and the space between us two disappeared and i suddenly and instantly knew him intimately as if i were him but without the entanglement of his emotions. I then proceeded to explain that the problem was not his wife's as he was saying but his own and explained why and he stood in awe as i spoke and he acknowledged and stopped complaining. Hiss demeanor changed and he thanked me. I saw him a few times after and his personality was transnformed into one of great peace with his wife. Whether he stayed that way or not was in his hands but the experience had at least a temporary profound effect for both of us. To me there is indeed no separation between us when realizing God's presence more fully. It is a oneness that i have experienced of connectedness and not forgotten..



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I have had what people would call horrible situations percipitate an experience for me that made the experience good and joyful situations do the same, but I would say the consistancy is in my meditation. They don't come all the time, but the times they do make it worth while. In the beginning my meditation is concentration and withdrawl, sometimes that is all there is, but sometimes call it grace or whatever, I am being breathed as always and can do nothing but witness. I can't describe the state and mentally. I don't know if my mind is involved maybe that is why I call it spiritual, but when I come back or it is over I feel refreshed, peaceful and ready to do what is right.

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My personal view of mystical experiences is that they arise as a result of a constellation of internal beliefs and spiritual practices in which one engages Believers may assert these are the experiences of God, or at least a result of grace, uncreated energies, and so forth. Non-believers may refer to them as “Peak Experiences”, a term coined by Abraham Maslow. No matter what the specific underlying belief, they seem to be somewhat common, but my evidence for this is merely anecdotal.


I have experienced these mystical encounters for myself. In time, these experiences seemed to be replaced by a sense of “presence”, which was almost palpable, but also rather ethereal. Over the past year or so I have engaged in a combination of analytical and Samatha meditation on a daily basis. During this time I have experienced certain insights which sometimes occur during waking hours, but often seem to take place in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. They are non-visual and non-conceptual, but they leave me with a very calm and peaceful mind, as if something that once was a problem is no longer.


I don’t assert a supernatural explanation for any of this. I think these experiences are within everyone’s power, given sufficient study, reflection and understanding.




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  • 1 month later...

I agree with everyone's explanations of mystical experiences. My first experience of this was when I was in college. As part of a sociology class, we went to a maximum security prison to meet guards and inmates and learn about the realities of prison life. At one point, I was looking at a large group of inmates and I "saw" them as the cute little 5 year old kids they once were. Now, this was more like a powerful thought, not a literal vision. And it was accompanied by a powerful emotion of devastation that so much human potential is not being realized. It was like I woke up to a part of reality that I had not been aware of before, even though I had been raised in an abusive family so wasn't wearing any rose colored glasses. I guess I was struck by the fact that while I was making it, so many aren't. I didn't know what to do with the experience at first except to just be with it. It never let me go and not long after I graduated, I went into criminal justice as a profession and am still doing that today. So I experienced this as signaling my "calling" so to speak. Since then, I have experienced other similar, but less intense, "awakenings" in my life. I see it as the way that the spirit within me guides me. Not in the sense that a personal god is speaking to me and telling me what to do but moreso in the sense that I'm able to be in tune with situations and what I have to offer to them, if that makes any sense at all.

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I have posted this elsewhere:


Last Sunday I was driving home from the hardware store.

It was a beautiful day, the road up the Montrose cutoff was empty.
A nice piece of guitar music came on the radio.

Then one of those moments occurred.

The piece of music was playing me as much if not more
than I was playing the music on the radio.

Of course it was not just the music that was playing me.
My new second hand Ford Focus, the greenery, the sun, the road


were all playing me.

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  • 6 months later...

The aforementioned Modern-Day Mystic podcasts are archived here:

Interfaith Voices



Hi Paul.


I listened to that series of podcasts earlier today, and can share the following life-experience inspired by your post, and the podcasts:


Some two decades ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a Whilrling Dervish dance with a group of about 30 individuals.


The easy and fun part was the outward appearance of the dance -- twirling around each other as everyone travels in a circular path inside the room. That was physically exhilarating and undoubtedly resulted in a pleasantly physical rush of adrenaline.


The internal part of the dance was mystical, because along with the outward physical movements of our limbs we had to do one additional movement that sounded easy enough but proved to be incredibly difficult for many.


We had to make direct eye-to-eye contact with each person we danced around.


When we were told it was difficult to do, many of us giggled. After all, we look at others in the eyes all the time and we confirmed our resolve by looking at each other in the eye and then laughing even more.


In hindsight, I can say that before the dance, I never really looked another person in the eyes, even when I thought I was doing so – I was looking at them.


The first couple people that I looked at in the eyes resulted both of us laughing in a “this is really weird and really fun” kind of way, but after we had danced with the same partner two or three times, a change became present.


The change became present in not one, but each of us as we danced around someone we already knew.


Sometimes the other person had a look that said “you are the most beautiful person I have ever shared my soul with,” and other times their eyes darted away to focus on the ceiling, accompanied by a wince of private pain through their facial muscles.


Sometimes I felt the most incredible sense of unconditional love when looking in the eyes of another, and other times I could see only my inner pain and wanted nothing more than to get away from that person as soon as possible.


After the dance I felt good, and a bit confused and even ashamed… The good feelings were from obvious reasons – the dance was simply fun, full of lots of laughing. I didn’t know why I was confused at the time, or why I felt ashamed – but two decades later, I have a much better perspective from hindsight.


I was confused because it was the first time I had ever seen myself through the eyes of others. It was at that time that I began to realize that whenever I had look in a person’s eyes in the past, I had only looked at them and not in them. This was the first time I had a glimpse into the souls of others, and through their souls, a reflection of my own.


I was ashamed not because of seeing them. Seeing the others only brought me joy, but it was their reaction to the glimpses of my soul that brought forth my shame – and not because any of them reacted with disgust. My shame was that I did not see the beauty within me.



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I had one good spiritual experience about 4 years ago. It was summer and I had decided to make a wandering trip through the countryside to a place (an old big railroad bridge) that I have always loved. On my way there I thought again about the theology of universalism, that in the end God saves everyone of us and that we are all very much loved by God, no matter really what we did or did not do in life, and that God would make a difference also in this world and, like spring following winter, good times would always follow the bad times again should they have befallen us.


At this point I was going around a street bow and an area of trees came into sight, and the light was falling into them. It was still morning so the light was sweeter and not as brooding as around noon or as fragile as in the evening. Everything seemed fresh and I had a distinct impression of everything being flooded with wine! I had to think of Jesus much and I saw a face in my mind, that of an aged man of ancient times who was laughing at me, and when I got into my habitual doubt of non-fundamentalistic experiences, this Jesus said, no, I don't want to die again today! (I was still very caught up in fundamentalistic christianity at that point, which was giving me many issues.)


The rest of the journey was very peaceful and joyous. I wandered the whole distance to the bridge, and then another distance to another town and then back with the bus from there. It was a lovely day and my sick dad greeted me at home with a big smile on his lips, happy that I had had a good day outside in the outdoors. (He was an atheist and died later that year so this partially felt like a preparation for my father's departure for me, previously I had had many worries that my dad wouldn't be allowed in Heaven because of his atheism.)

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That sounds like a truly beautiful and touching experience, and such a great one to have before your father passed away so as to perhaps give you peace that he will be okay!


Thanks for sharing.



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I recall as a child desiring with all of my heart that I would experience some sort of mystical, supernatural ... thing. Anything. I kept wondering why everyone around me could "feel" God's presence, but I could not. Why was I being left out?


So, when I was a teenager, I would lie about experiencing "God." I even faked speaking in tongues so others would SEE that I was in tune with God.


Later, I gave up. Tuned in, turned on and dropped out.


Then, one year, I made a trip out west to visit my cousin in Arizona. He took me to a Shaman encampment and we drank Peyote tea. I finally had my first "mystical" experience. I thought I was seeing things that The Great Being (I had no name for this thing, and I couldn't understand what the Navaho guides were trying to explain) was showing me. They were very personal things, but they were very distorted and troubling.


Since that time, I experimented a lot with LSD and began to have the ability to control these experiences (I no longer consider them mystical, because I understand how the drugs influence the optical nerve and the brain).


I think if we wish to believe these "mystical" encounters are God or The Great Being, or G-d or Allah, or The Buddha, or good drugs strumming our optic nerves - if it brings any kind of peace in this chaotic universe, it's cool.



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