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Is Mysticism Healthier than Rationalism?

It was at this time that I began consciously to have mystical experiences, and have gone on having them ever since, though sometimes, when I have been particularly caught up in egotistic or sensual pursuits, only at very long intervals. The first intimation is, quite simply, that time stops, or rather one escapes from time. Then all creation is seen in its oneness; with each part of it, from the tiniest insect or blade of grass, to the vastness of space, with the stars and comets riding through it, visibly related to every other part. One sublime harmony, with no place for the discordancies of hatred and the ego’s shrill demands; the death of death, since each note in the harmony exists harmoniously for ever. Peace that is no one else’s strife, sufficiency that is no one else’s famine, well-being that is no one else’s sickness. Flesh still, mind still, leaving the soul free to experience the inconceivable joy of seeing beyond the Iron Gates, to where the Creator watches over his creation.

Malcolm Muggeridge

I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends, reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at midnight and I had a long drive to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly and afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any element of chance all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I may say that consciousness, have never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost.

R. M. Bucke

As you can see, mystical experiences are as direct perceptions of fact for those who have them as any sensations ever are for any of us. Even when the five senses are apparently in abeyance these experiences are absolutely sensational in the sense of reality they confer, presenting the subject face to face with what seems immediately and incontrovertibly to exist. Nevertheless, we must repeat that non-mystics are under no obligation to acknowledge in mystical states an authority superior to the ordinary data of sense experience. As a rule mystical states do not contradict this data but merely add to it a supersensuous meaning, for there can never be a state of facts to which new meaning cannot be legitimately attached.

William James

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

G. K. Chesterton

Thoughts about Mystery & Mysticism

All things are strange. One can always sense the strangeness of a thing... when we do not try to find something resembling it and we concentrate on its basic stuff, its intrinsicality.

Paul Valery

As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.

Albert Schweitzer

I do not agree with the view that the universe is a mystery, something that one can have intuition about but never fully analyze or comprehend...It is surely better to strive for a complete understanding than to despair of the human mind.

Stephen Hawking

What we want is not impenetrable mystery, but mystery that we can penetrate forever without exhausting.

In a rationalist age people tend to feel that mystery detracts from the factualness of a thing. But the greatest mysteries are the most solid facts; such as love, freedom, gender and, above all, being itself. It follows then that just because we can’t define something as a truth doesn’t mean we can’t feel it as a fact.

Both being and knowing are metaphysical mysteries capable of endless philosophical analysis. But they are also every day experiences of the most direct and immediate kind.

Intuitions of an ultimate reality are common to all profound thought about the universe, Christian or non-Christian.

It is perfectly reasonable to accept the fact that our own minds are not the measure of the universe, and that acceptance of mystery is the very condition of sanity and reason.

The most black and hopeless catastrophe conceivable to human nature would be to find a logical explanation of all things.

G. K. Chesterton

Just as people find water whenever they dig, man everywhere finds the incomprehensible sooner or later.

G. C. Lichtenberg

Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it, it is still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy; and when you find it, it’s a platitude.

G. K. Chesterton

Science doesn’t reduce mystery, it increases it.

In completing one discovery we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others of which we could have no idea before, so that we cannot solve one doubt without creating several new ones.

Joseph Priestley

The hardest thing to understand is how we can understand anything at all.

Albert Einstein

Sometimes it proves the highest understanding not to understand.


The broadest conviction of most people who have had some kind of natural mystical experience is the realization that beyond time and space there is order.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein

Mystery is a positive experience and not just a negative state of incomprehension.

The mystic is the person who had transcended, at least momentarily, the natural limits of human knowledge.

The trouble with mystics and unusual people is that they fool themselves so easily.

The pseudo-mystic appeals to the will in language borrowed from the spirit. He tells the multitude that the broad way they are treading leads to the straight gate into salvation, and the multitude are relieved and flattered on learning that the appetite for power, money or sex is a religious appetite. For an appeal to the will to succeed it must be totally devoid of reason.

Hugh Kingsmill

When knowledge of the seven spiritual laws is incorporated in your consciousness, it will give you the ability to create unlimited wealth with effortless ease, and to experience success in every endeavour.

Deepak Chopra

Thought is what we start from: the simple, intimate, immediate datum. Matter is the inferred thing, the mystery.

C. S. Lewis

We are not meant to put everything through the intellect.

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