From Writing as a Sacred Path:
It’s hard to imagine that an Indian holy man, a second-century Christian hermit, and a follower of a modern Caribbean religious movement would have similar spiritual experiences. But for centuries, saints, prophets, and ordinary people from these and many other traditions have shared nearly identical experiences in which the qualities of everyday life are transformed, the boundaries of the self seem to fall away, and a kind of transcendent understanding arises.
These mystic states engage a heightened awareness of the Universe. They bring about the realization that all things present, past, and future are one, and inspire a feeling that the self is dissolving, merging with that great oneness. The mystic has the sense that she is operating in a realm outside of time and space and that she is in touch with a power outside of herself. Most fundamentally, the mystic state is an immediate, intuitive awareness of the Universe, the All, the Divine.
As soon as I started writing about writers as mystics, I knew I was in trouble. What did I know about mystic experiences, never having actually had one? How could I discuss something so difficult to define? Every description I read seemed completely different from every other. I’d heard of writers who considered themselves mystics, but they all lived in the 19th century—Tennyson, Blake, Wordsworth, the Bronte sisters. I didn’t know any personally. I began to wonder if I weren’t taking my book in the wrong direction.
Then this happened. I was writing about a long-ago moment of childhood shame. I’d struggled to write about it before, but this time, I could see the moment almost as if it were happening in front of me. Details emerged that I had completely forgotten. I could hear my own 10-year-old voice. I could see my mother’s face as it must have looked to me then. There was a smell in the air. The smell of my mother’s beef stew, something I hadn’t thought of for decades. I wrote, unaware of anything but that scene until I looked up from my keyboard and discovered to my astonishment that more than two hours had passed.
Some writers have these experiences all the time. Some never have them. For me, they come rarely, but when they do, they are powerful and awe-inspiring.
Are such states the same as those true mystics experience? In my opinion, no. But I do believe they have qualities in common with those of mystics, and so in my book, I call them “quasi mystic states.” Others call them “flow.”
The writers I interviewed for Writing as a Sacred Path had very diverse opinions about what is happening when they go into flow. Some asserted their deep belief that they were getting in touch with something beyond themselves. That they were communing with God, or in union with the All or Universal Mind. Others completely rejected supernatural explanations and described flow as a way of tapping into their own subconscious—a difficult-to-access source of imagination and creativity in their own minds. A few said the whole notion of flow was hogwash, and a lot of them didn’t really care what it was as long as it worked. I tend a bit toward the last of these myself. I can’t say I understand flow. I’m just grateful for it when it happens.
In the last couple weeks, I've been revisiting the four paths of the writer from my book, Writing as Sacred Path. So far, I’ve explored the Way of the Shaman and the Warrior Road. This week, I’ll be looking at the Mystic Journey. How are writers like mystics? What is the state of “flow”? How can we foster those flashes of brilliance, those waves of creativity, that great opening onto imagination?
Tomorrow: a few quasi-mystic experiences from writers of all genres and sensibilities.
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Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...