Confessions of a mystic

"There must be some kind of way out of here,
said the joker to the thief
there’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief…"

                    From "All Along the Watchtower"*

I picked up a copy of TIME magazine the other day in the library, intrigued by the cover story "The God Gene." It wasn’t until I started reading it that I realized the publication date was Oct. 25, 2004. No wonder it looked familiar. 

Still, even a year after the fact I was curious about the perception of God in science and the media. Despite the beguiling notion of a gene that impels a spiritual impulse, and some thoughtful speculation on both sides, the only conclusion was the one we’ve lived with for millennia. Namely, that there is no proof of God.

But the article included a 20-question quiz called "How Spiritual Are You?" It was created by Washington University psychiatrist Robert Cloninger, author of "Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being." The questions range from "I often do things to help protect animals and plants from extinction" to "I believe that miracles happen."

I took the test, and scored 17 – "highly spiritual, a real mystic."  By comparison, a friend of mine who happened into Starbucks where I was writing this, took the test and scored in the 1-5 category: "highly skeptical." If I had his job, I  would be, too: he’s a cop.

Considering how regularly I fall off the wagon of faith, it’s hard to think of myself as a mystic, a designation that summons thoughts of St. Francis of Assisi or Thich Nhat Hanh.

But the questions triggered some interesting memories. Number 14, for example: "I have had experiences that made my role in life so clear to me that I felt very happy and excited."

Ten years ago, standing idly in a bookstore, perfectly sober, neither thinking nor observing, I sensed suddenly an energy that I recognized as the combined essence of all the writers whose works were in that room. That energy, that essence, was as distinct and identifiable as the smell of freshly baked bread.

Even more surprising was the certainty that I was one of them: I was a writer, an author, a conceit I would never have permitted myself in my normal, self-doubting state. Then I was flooded with bitterness and disappointment: my book was not on the shelves, and I had the feeling that I was looking in through a window at a party to which I’d been invited, but had neglected to attend.

Within weeks of that experience, I completed a non-fiction manuscript I’d been working on and sent it to an agent. That it was not published is a blessing. No matter how interesting it might have been – and some of it was sensational – I deeply misunderstood one of the key figures. I’ve not given up on that manuscript, and I’ve begun another. But back to the quiz.

Question 16: "I have had moments of great joy in which I suddenly had a clear, deep feeling of oneness with all that exists."

That’s happened often, particularly in nature. I spent an hour one afternoon in a national forest meditating on a huge rock on a sloping hillside. After several moments of settling myself, the sounds of the birds and insects, the drone of a small plane, faded. I lost all sense of time and place. It wasn’t until I came back to myself 45 minutes later that I realized I had been in a place where boundaries did not exist. I had merged with all things and all people, with what Eckhart Tolle calls "Being."

A woman asked the other day if I might be too self-absorbed in this quest of mine, and the answer I would give from my personal history is, "Absolutely." But I got more clarity a few days later when I was asked my passion was.

My passion is change – seeing people heal, change, get better. That comes from my own experience. Before I did the work, I was selfish, angry, defensive, judgmental and deeply wounded. Meditation, prayer and intensive personal work  have left me open, vulnerable and loving in ways that amaze me.

I write about it because I want others to know there is that the purpose-driven life that Rick Warren writes about is not just a fireside story. There is "some kind of way out of here." We’re not trapped. There is relief, and given where I’ve come from, it’s no exaggeration to call it a miracle.

* Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan; I prefer Jimi Hendrix’s version.

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