The author of Care of the Soul in Medicine and A Religion of One’s Own explains how to identify — and increase — the presence of the profoundly spiritual in your life.
By Thomas Moore
Many people use the word “mystic” pejoratively, to indicate someone who is seriously and deliriously out of touch with reality. As a student of religion, I say the opposite: Mystics are the ones who have actually gotten in touch with what is real. They have powers of receptivity and sympathy that are particularly acute. They are porous and have the ability to be so open as to stretch beyond the usual small and protective ego, and they are often unusually courageous. Out of that wide, and sometimes painful, stretching of an ego they find ethical opportunities special to them.
Anyone can be an ordinary mystic. You may not experience a regular loss of ego and absorption in the divine, but now and then you may feel lifted out of your body and become lost in a beautiful piece of art or scene in nature. As a parent, you may have a moment of bliss as you step back and look at your children. As a creative person, you may finish a project and suddenly feel light-headed with the joy of having created something worthy. You may enjoy occasional bursts of wonder and know what it means to extend the boundaries of a self.
The mystical moments multiply, and over time you extend the borders of your self, you are less prone to protecting yourself and you have more empathy with the people and the world around you. If you define religion as a strong sense of the divine, your daily mysticism contributes to that sense by drawing you out of yourself and into nature and then beyond.
It helps if you take these experiences seriously and make something of them. Just having one sublime experience after another isn’t enough. You have to weave them into your thinking, feeling and relating. They become part of your life and identity. The mystic is empty and lost in a positive way, and yet she is alert, ready for the next revelation and opportunity.
Religion begins in the sensation that your life makes sense within a larger one, that you and the animals have a bond, that the trees and rocks and rivers are to the body of the world as your bones and hair and bloodstream are to your body. You understand, at least in some primal way, that your happiness depends on the happiness of the beings around you. You may even realize, ultimately, that your soul participates in the world’s soul.
If you go deep enough into yourself, you will come up against mysterious creative forces. You can’t know yourself completely, and you may realize, again, as mystics…