Mystic Mondays September 12, 2016
I had a small window last week hiking up Mt. McLoughlin (elev. 9495 ft.) in Southern Oregon where I felt very in sync with the mountain. We were two separate entities, yet we were engaged in a delightful and playful rhythm, not unlike making love. The totality of the hike lasted nearly eight hours, but for a stretch of about thirty minutes neither I nor the mountain had the upper hand.
In that brief window my breathing was rapid, but not labored, my pulse was up, but not racing. My mind had gone blank and all that was before me were the boulders I was negotiating my way over, the steep drop offs a few feet away and the sound of my raspy breathing and pounding heart. It was just me and the mountain and not a single other thought.
I highlight this because, in contrast, the rest of the hike was a completely different experience. The first three hours were more like exercise as if I was on a God-sized treadmill. My body was stronger than the mountain required and I kept a rapid pace. I was enjoying the mountain, but I was not partnered with the mountain as I had felt in that brief glorious window further up. Then the tables turned. If I had been the stronger one on the way up, the mountain was clearly winning the battle on the way down. The steep descent required a different set of muscles that hadn’t been taxed in years. It wasn’t long before I was aware of every painful step, the twinges that were turning into cramps and the signs of dehydration. The mountain had suddenly become very cruel.
But this blog is not about conquering that mountain that day or being conquered by it. It’s not about biting off more than I could chew and paying for it for the next three days where I looked like a 90-year old man getting out of a chair. This blog is about that unique window just before the top where my legs, my lungs, my body and the terrain all seemed to be in a sacred rhythm.
I am writing about this because in recent weeks I have become concerned that I am writing about experiences that others may have not have had and thus risking the perception of a sort of spiritual superiority for those who have had these mystical moments. I had one reader write that he had often felt a deep and rich sense of awe and wonder, often while singing, but didn’t think they had ever qualified as being mystical.
In remember in seminary that we were cautioned that one of the heresies was the promotion of a sort of secret spiritual knowledge where you either were in on it or you weren’t. Those who had been blessed with this knowledge (or experience) were part of an exclusive club. I don’t ever want to share my experiences in a way that separates me from others; I want to share them in a way that invites people into a deeper, fuller, more intimate love affair with life.
I know that I run the risk of painting the picture of some exclusive club of mystics the more that I talk about this. Yet I also know that I cannot deny my actual experience. This past week on Mt. McLoughlin is a case in point. I know that something happened in that small window when the mountain had pushed me to my limit, but before it had broken me. For thirty minutes I was perfectly in rhythm with the mountain. We were two lovers exploring each other, testing each other, and taking turns giving each other pleasure. I was taught that rocks are inanimate objects, but I truly believed that day that the rocks were enjoying me as much as I was enjoying them.
I think what is happening is that I am finding my own way into meditation. I have never been successful at the sitting-cross-legged-while humming-ohm-type of meditation that is supposed to produce a trance-like state at some point. My mind wanders too easily. I get fidgety. And my body rebels against the posture. The only time I entered this deep state while sitting was an occasion where I was singing a repeated Taize chorus. We sang it over and over again for nearly a half hour and when it was time to end the singing I couldn’t. The song had become part of my body and it took me four or five more verses until I could ease my way back out as if I was a diver slowly surfacing from the deeps.
I just read an article that the practice of the Whirling Dervishes of Sufi Islam is catching on among Jews as well as people of the West. Two years ago I sat and watched (marveled, actually) as Whirling Dervishes performed in Istanbul. Honestly, I am quite sure that I would get dizzy and vomit if I did what they did twirling in the same direction for nearly an hour at a time. But it is said that the practice puts them into a deep trance-like mystical state that results in a transformed heart and a deeper love for humanity.
I know that all sounds weird to our Western rationalistic minds, but I think there is something to this. I had my first experience of this mystical awareness about twenty years ago and have had it repeated a number of times since then (in fact, it is happening more often as if it is something one can practice). But I am noticing a pattern with myself. These mystical experiences have always occurred in relationship to rhythm–either a body rhythm or a musical rhythm. Maybe I’ll just call it the “rhythm method” for kicks.
Please forgive me if I start sounding like I am promoting an exclusive club and an exclusive experience. I certainly don’t mean to. It’s just that I know something is happening and there is something to this experience. I have tasted something that I can’t help but to share with others.
This summer at Ghost Ranch Conference Center in New Mexico I had the privilege of listening to two Sufi musicians perform for a small gathering of us. As they prepared to sing one of their hypnotic songs the man explained, “Mysticism is a little like tasting honey. You can try to describe it. You can say that it is sweet and sticky. But until you actually taste it you don’t really know honey.”
I am quite sure that life has allowed me dip my finger in the mystical honey. I can’t but help to share it with you as well!