Hallmarks of a Mystical Experience

William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, delineated four major hallmarks of what might be described as a mystical experience.

  1. Ineffability: the individual just can’t put words to the experience, verbal description does not – cannot – do it justice or even begin to portray the authority, significance or nature of the event.
  2. Noetic Quality: the experience appears extremely significant and important for to the individual and it carries a kind of deep authority, inner knowing and personal truth.
  3. Transiency: the mystical state is not sustained as in it’s peak, but fragments, traces, parts, a felt sense and innate knowing – these do persist and are subject to ongoing development, meaning that the insights/wisdom/truths can deepen in richness and significance over time.
  4. Passivity: it is not by the individual’s active will or direction that the mystical experience occurs. Rather, the individual will is suspended for a time and it is as if the individual is ‘moved’ by something larger than him or herself (such as a higher power).

Clearly, this describes an experience that is quite enormous, powerful and outside of ordinary life experience. This is something that is remembered, owned, held tightly and nurtured. Something that becomes precious, guiding and indeed transformative in one’s life. A deep truth, knowing, reality or beauty may be revealed that is intrinsic to something ordinary, everyday and obvious. The experience of such states can be immensely powerful and transformative in one’s personal journey as well as for collective wellbeing. Does such a state have to have anything to do with religion?

It is possible but uncommon to enter such an altered state of consciousness without intention in everyday life, perhaps but not necessarily while listening to music or being in a sacred or natural space. However, there are various ways to prime for such an experience. For example, one way is through a meditation practice, another through Guided Imagery and Music, and another is through facilitated breathwork. Another increasingly acceptable and accessible way is through the use of sacred plant medicine, such as magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and ayahuasca which through their psychedelic (that is ‘mind-manifesting’) properties may occasion such mystical experiences. While mystical states and religion can seem confusingly intermingled, they are not the same thing. There are many religious people who have never had a mystical experience of this nature, while there are stalwart atheists who have. It is a human experience, not owned by any denomination, school of thought, medical practice or form of therapy. It is true that such experiences may absorb a kind of religious quality, depending on many factors such as the individual’s life experience, the place the experience occurs and even the music playing during the event.

Have you ever experienced an altered state, a mystical state or a spiritual state that relates to James’ conception?

For more information about altered states of consciousness, psychedelic integration, guided imagery and music, mind expansion, transformation and mystical states, please contact me to find out more.

References:

Griffiths, Roland & Richards, William & Mccann, Una & Jesse, Robert. (2006). Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance. Psychopharmacology. 187. 268-283. 10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5.

James, W. (1902), The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to change your mind: What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. New York: Penguin Press.

Travel Safely: Psychedelic Guidance

Psychedelic Guidance Cape Town

After a long period of enforced dormancy, some psychedelics (such as LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ketamine) are emerging as breakthrough treatments for a variety of serious mental health conditions. During the long relegation to ‘illegal’ and ‘dangerous’ status (which many of these substances still hold in most countries, including South Africa), individuals seeking alternative treatments or psychedelic-induced mystical experiences have had to make it on their own, without profession guidance on their mind-altering journey.

Why guidance?

“Institutionalized use of psychedelics in religions of pre-modern societies worldwide reveal the central roles of these substances in the evolution of spiritual experiences, cultures, and religions” (Winkelman, 2017). The ancient wisdom traditions that use/d various psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), for their medicinal and transcendent properties knew that a certain factors were not just important, but necessary for safely and meaningfully entering into the induced mystical or spiritual state.

In pre-modern cultures, ritual and ceremony cannot be divorced from the use of mind-altering substances. Various culturally relevant preparations and enactments are essential for the containment and enhanced meaningfulness of the journey. Nor would one expect to make one’s own way through a psychedelic experience without the use of an experienced guide, usually a shaman or similar, who themselves has mastered the ‘two worlds’ and is capable of holding and guiding the intense and vivid journeys of others. Further traditions are often forgotten by the modern, solo traveller, such as those leading up to the experience: fasting, if necessary, other medical implications (such as medicines that may need to be discontinued before use), the environment in which the experience will occur and the individual’s mindset (known as set and setting: both of which research has found to be markedly important for the outcome of the experience), and even the time of day that the ceremony is performed. Mindset is incredibly important when entering an altered state of consciousness; fears, anxieties and doubts should be addressed long before the experience is underway. There may be certain longer term preparations than need to be made, such as developing a mindfulness practice, meditation or yoga.

A psychedelic revolution has been gaining momentum for some time now, and until certain measures are in place, modern day, city-dwelling individuals are frankly forced into unsafe, hardly optimal conditions if they seek these experiences. Because of the increasingly complex yet somewhat spiritually flattened society we live in, there is more that a ‘modern-day’ guide needs to take into consideration than a traditional, pre-modern ‘small village’ guide. This versatility and adaptiveness on the part of a modern guide is essential in order to safely and meaningfully guide different individuals with different intentions, backgrounds and world views who are seeking psychedelic-induced mystical experiences.

In truth, not everyone can, should or needs to embark on a psychonautic journey. For those who do, the services of a trusted, sober, experienced guide makes a qualitative difference. Unfortunately, there are now individuals who pose as guides with little understanding of the psychological, environmental, spiritual and biological factors at play and because psychedelic experiences are in no way regulated, an individual seeking a guide may be none-the-wiser.

Language associated with psychedelic-induced and naturally-induced mystical experiences (‘total awareness’, ‘complete ego dissolution’) is becoming commonplace, as more individuals engage in contemplative practices and exploratory psychedelic experiences. This is both encouraging, as it is indicative of people seeking more awareness and deeper, more meaningful engagement with their realities. However, one must also note the fact that a forced, complete and sudden break from one’s familiar reality holds the potential to be at minimum unpleasant or worse, outright dangerous. No person should use a psychedelic, mind-altering substance without seriously considering the implications and the possible outcomes. This is a process which can be undertaken with a guide, in order to determine if the experience is optimal for you and how it can be most meaningful, beneficial and safe.

For more information, Cape Town, click here.