I find mysticism at the heart of most faiths – although often practiced in a way by only a small proportion of adherents and believers. I perceive mysticism to be the direct and personal inward experience of a transcendent, numinous God [- or Cosmos, Universe, Creator, Mystery]. This is in contrast to the rote-adherence and ritual practice of most faith traditions where adherence to the familiar creed or ritual has become more important than the direct personal and unmediated experience and connection with the Divine.

Most of the mystics that I have read about tend to describe this encounter as a single or rare experience that transforms the whole of the rest of their lives. This moment of ‘inner knowing’ of God gives them a certainty of faith that sustains them even though it may never be repeated. This seems to be the experience described by Paul, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Thomas Merton and many others. Many – like the Sufi dancers or the Yoga masters– seek to repeat patterns of behaviour which may create the conditions for re-experiencing this mystic moment of connection. I believe we also see these moments of mystic connection leading to ‘inner knowing’ in the Buddha’s enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree or Jesus’ solitary moments in the wilderness or on the hillside or garden. In the Christian tradition, we sometimes refer to this as the ‘indwelling spirit’ within each of us. Certainly all such mystic moments seem to be characterised by solitude, revelation, and an altered consciousness.

When I feel that I have come close to such a moment, it is always an experience that embodies presence, wholeness, communion, stillness, unqualified acceptance, and peace. In some writings, this seems to be called ‘Now/Here’. It is certainly associated with the ‘biggest picture’ view of everything. Rohr calls this a state where “everything belongs” – a certain knowing that everything that is happening in and around us in this world is right and perfect and intended, no matter what the consequences, nor the judgement or dislike or discomfort that we may experience towards it in that moment.

I wonder whether all other living creatures exist in a natural state of connection with such unitive consciousness; whilst humans (seemingly alone of all life forms) have a disconnect from such awareness because of our thinking consciousness that leads us to differentiate and separate all things from each other.

In my own practice, I have found contemplative mysticism to be the most helpful path, often found in the three-fold approach of silence, stillness and solitude. This of course is not that far removed from contemporary Quaker practice. It does though tend to reinforce the notion that mystics are men and women who have set themselves apart from others – as hermits, or the desert abbas and ammas, or monastics. Mysticism is thus perceived as an individual searching for inner knowing, rather than a collective or communal approach to living. In this respect, I’m struck by Rohr’s notion that Contemplation and Action are the two necessary opposites of the same coin: the true response to any action is a time of contemplation (and not an intemperate reaction); and right action can only arise from inner contemplation. Again, I feel this is close to our sense of discernment as a way of seeking right action and response.