What is Mysticism?
by Shaykh Ibrahim Spiegel

We limit our ability to perceive reality by becoming satisfied with things as they are or seem to be. A chair will always be a chair, and should remain placed just so on the floor. However, the Creator is infinite in All ways, including possibilities. All possibilities- however strange, odd, or inconceivable to us -- are possible to Allah. Why can't the chair be sticking partly out of the wall? Perhaps a person from another dimension but invisible to our eyes might be sitting in it. It is our limitation in thinking that limits our ability to perceive reality.

Mysticism is the science of removing mental limitations. A mystic is one who learns through practice to be able to look behind the veil of limitations and sees more clearly with more senses awakened.

How does one achieve this ability?

When a person begins to strive to be more fully "human" certain qualities of awareness arise which, according to different mystical traditions, can be mapped. Of course certain qualities can arise spontaneously and (seemingly) randomly outside these traditions. We're talking here about the ability to hear what others think, or seeing and hearing other beings, or passing back and forth through time. However, without a ground of tradition, a guide, or a map, these abilities can become dangerous to the individual and others. They can become unsettling and even lead to psychosis.

Within mystical traditions such as Sufism, these abilities are expected to arise, and are markers along the path. They are not, however, emphasized or even desired for themselves. They are indicators of one's spiritual growth. At these nodes of new abilities, it is the teacher's job to re-direct the student's attention back to the source of everything. In Sufism we call this source Allah.

The student's job is to acknowledge this ability as just another manifestation of Allah's and to continue to humble oneself, to be of service, and that when needed, this ability is available to help someone. That's it. The ability such as telepathy or seeing the future becomes a tool to help others.

The Mystic

A mystic tends to look at ordinary things as manifestations of a miraculous and infinite source of wisdom. From the mundane-seeming plethora of garbage and trash to the high mystery of photo-synthesis, anything can be translated into or ignite a mystical experience.

A scientist, thinking that s/he is seeing clearly the evidence of the eyes and empirical study, will announce a fact that, for example, photo-synthesis is how plants grow and obtain a majority of their nourishment. The plants do this by exchanging sunlight into energy and then into chlorophyll. The analysis ends there. A mystic, on the other hand, will use this as a starting point to reflect on the significance, both inner and outer, of such an obvious and mysterious miracle. Is there any relationship or analogy that can be drawn from this fact? For example, if we compare ourselves to the plant, and the sunlight to the Creator's life-giving essence, then perhaps might we also have the ability to transform that energy into something more than what we are given, into something more than what we think we are? Perhaps what we see is not necessarily what we get; that perhaps there is the possibility within us of transforming inner energy into something else.

As a matter of fact, that is exactly the same principal of garbage and fecal matter. The best plants grow from garbage, whether it's steer manure, or rotten compost from the garden. It is transformed by the work of the gardener into beauty, food, scents of paradise like the narcissus and rose from the stench of lowly intestinal activity.

To see within a glass of water some essential aspect of the Creator is the conscious goal of the mystic. To be striving to turn everyday activities and objects into a reflection of the divine is part of a Sufi's practice. Remembering that Allah is teaching, explaining, testing our abilities is an ongoing mystical experience.

One way to look at a mystical experience is to imagine the mind as a glass. Experience, knowledge, understanding can be contained within the glass, like water. But if you were to take that same glass of water and place it within the ocean........

Copyright 1995, 1996 The Qadiri-Rifa'i Tariqa of the Americas. Reprinted here with the permission of Shaykh Ibrahim Spiegel

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