The mystical majority

Jules Evans at Aeon writes

The polling company Gallup has, since the 1960s, measured the frequency of mystical experiences in the United States. In 1960, only 20 per cent of the population said they’d had one or more. Now, it’s around 50 per cent. In a survey I did in 2016, 84 per cent of respondents said they’d had an experience where they went beyond their ordinary self, and felt connected to something greater than them. But 75 per cent agreed there was a taboo around such experiences.

Interesting that the number has changed so much.  I suspect that people in 1960 had stricter criteria for what constitutes a “mystical experience”, but you never know.  I have never had a mystical experience, cannot imagine what it would mean to transcend my ego.  I’m religious but not spiritual.  I’m in it for the rules, rituals, and dogmas.  One wonders how valuable these feelings of connection could really be if they can be produced just as well by drugs.  I do in fact recall some of the Christian mystics talking about these happy moments when God seems near, almost dismissively as enticements God sends to beginners to motivate them for the really important contemplative work that happens in times of His perceptual absence.

Still, while it may not have been a transcendent experience, it was pleasantly disorienting to read Philip Pullman, the atheist fantasist (the anti-Inkling, one might say), going on like Bruce Charlton about the universe being alive and full of purpose.

2 Responses

  1. As far as I can tell drugs only cause them indirectly. LSD mostly just causes random hallucinations. It is a lot like throwing noise in the system. I did have one crystal clear mystical experience when trying it once when young. I thin it did not cause it, I think it threw random noise in my brain, which mostly caused me to stop thinking, and it is stopping to think, analyze, the internal monologue and seeing the world directly that did it. So anything that stops the internal monolgue does it.

    This explains why meditation, in the Eastern sense (sit straight, watch yourself breathe out) does similar stuff. It just stop you from thinking and the “magic” happens when you stop thinking.

    While stopping to think makes a lot of sense in something like a nontheistic Buddhist framework, it may be harder to link to mysticism in the Christian one.

    It is not about sensing God, at least it does not feel like an entity somehow separate. It is that the world you see around you becomes far more impressive, inseparable from you, meaningful, because without thinking you really pay attention to it to extents never imagined before. It is falling in love with the beauty of ever drop of water on a leaf, it is so beautiful it almost hurts – because you could never pay as much attention to it as before.

    People call it a God-experience in our Christian culture mostly because when something feels overwhelming powerfully blissful and loving, what do you call it? But it is not personal love. It is just love as the lack of fear. The lack of worry in our thoughts. Being entirely unafraid and unworried feels like being loved and protected.

    Interestingly, even Buddhists say don’t pay too much attention to it. They are temporary rewards of meditation but real rewards are lasting changes, such as being more patient.

  2. This is just pleasure. They have a drink on Friday night after work and feel good.

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