A Skeptic has a Mystical Experience. Who would have thought it?

A few weeks ago, I had a mystical experience.  I mention it because I am not at all sure what a mystical experience is and because I am not somebody who has mystical experiences.  Still…this time I did.

So what’s a mystical experience?  Some people talk easily about experiences that are “inexplicable,” but all kinds of things have been explained satisfactorily that were once “inexplicable,” so I would rather say that, for me, a mystical experience is unexplained.

I have a very low bar for unexplained events, so you would think I would have a lot of
them.  The picture I use of my own conscious experience is a small campfire in a large dark forest.  The campfire casts a little zone of light and beyond that, everything is shadowy, and then pitch black.  Some of that darkness is inside me and some outside.  The common element is that I have no conscious access to it.

That’s a lot of darkness and just a little light.  When I say that something has come to me, a realization, let’s say, from “out there,” it’s not a big deal.  Most of the things I once knew are out there and a lot of things I spend energy on not knowing or not remembering.  They are all out there, too.  I don’t call those mystical. They are just “out there.”

But this experience was not like that.  This was an intimate and powerful  feeling and it came with a very persuasive visualization of the event.  I was asleep—kind of—and I immediately felt that something had happened and that it was a really good thing.  I saw a man dressed in a long coat or maybe a robe walking away from me into the fog.  The fog is the reason I don’t know if it was a trench coat or a robe.

He had been close to me, apparently.  Maybe even as close as conversational distance, but by the time I saw him, he was maybe 30 feet away and walking slowly into the fog.  I knew at once what “it” was.

This is an odd time to begin saying “it,” isn’t it?  I have been saying “he.”  But I change now to “it” because although the figure was the figure of a man, I knew that it was the embodiment of a grievance I have held for a long time.  “It,” the grievance, was walking “away,: walking out of my life.  I hoped ardently that he/it was gone for good.  It was a real relief to think that that particular grievance might be gone for good.

I don’t want to deal with the particularities of the grievance—at this distance from the events, it doesn’t matter much anyway—but I do want to say that I have been alternately treasuring and fighting this grievance.  Do you know what that is like?  I’m guessing it is a common experience, but I don’t really know.  An unfair and hurtful action was taken against me.  I resented it, of course.  It was hurtful; it was nightmarish.  Being angry about it felt a lot better than cowering under it.

After a while, it became clear that I was the only one still suffering from it and it was time to let it go.  And I tried for a while to let it go.  But I also kept on feeling angry about it.  I think that is why it hung around my life for so long.  I would try to let it go for a while, then I would burst out in righteous anger against it for awhile.  I thought I would be really proud to have mastered it and just let it go.  But I also thought I would be accepting and consenting to some really bad behavior by letting it go and I didn’t want to do that.

So I wanted sometimes to treat it like a crime and make my case in court and have it validated and the perpetrator punished in some way.  I also wanted to rise above the whole petty event; to think that I was a better person that the guy who would keep on holding on to a grievance years after everyone else has forgotten it.  

So I managed, by wanting one thing at one time and another thing at another time, to tie myself in knots.  Then I saw it walk away from me.  It walked slowly into the fog and was gone and I knew exactly what “it” was and what its “going away” meant and I remember hoping that it would stay gone and not ever come back.

And it hasn’t.  Yet.

The one piece of the experience I have not yet had a chance to fill in is that I had no sense at all that this was something I was doing.  This was something I was watching.  “It” was going away.  I wasn’t sending it away.  I had been trying that for a long time.  Of course, I was also trying, during that time, to have my cause judged and myself vindicated so if “it” was paying any attention to me at all, “it” must have been confused.

I am a big fan of acting in my own behalf.  I call it “agency.”  I spend a good deal of time thinking and writing about just what is worth pursuing, what kind of accomplishments I would be proud of.  This experience had nothing at all to do with agency.  When I say, as I did above, that this was something I watched, not something I did, it is agency I am ruling out.

So “he,” who was the embodiment of “it” walked away from me into the fog and I felt immediately that something important had happened.  And when I was fully awake, it felt just the same.  I felt that I was breathing more freely, more deeply, with less effort.  I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  I felt as if I could do all the things I do in a day with more focus and more energy now that “it” had left and wasn’t coming back.

It’s been several weeks now and there has been so sign of that old internal struggle.  I haven’t had to deal with it in any way since I saw its embodiment walk away from me into the fog.  I don’t understand it at all and I am someone who really likes understanding things.  I didn’t do it, myself, and I am someone who really likes acting on his own behalf.  I am experiencing a sense of confidence that the whole thing is over.  I hope that is right, but I know I am not in control of it.  I am the beneficiary of whatever it is that happened and I am grateful.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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