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Excerpt on Mysticism & Meditation
Lawrence LeShan

Copyright (c) 1974 by Lawrence LeShan
Excerpt taken from How to Meditate
(Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1974), 6-12.



Mysticism, from a historical and psychological viewpoint, is the search for and experience of the relationship of the individual himself and the totality that makes up the universe. A mystic is either a person who has this knowledge as background music to his daily experience or else a person who strives and works consistently to attain this knowledge.

The results of this attainment are a capacity to transcend the painful and negative aspects of everyday life and to live with a serenity, an inner peace, a joy and capacity to love that are so characteristic of the lives of the mystics. The best of mysticism also provides a zest, a fervor and gusto in life plus a much higher ability to function in the affairs of everyday life.

All other definitions of mysticism and mystics are the definitions of one particular school or religious group. They may be adequate definitions for that particular religious group; they are not adequate for the basic meaning of the term.

The mystic regards this search for knowledge of his relationship with the universe (and for a very deep sense of the union of himself and the All) as a search for a lost knowledge he once had and for a way of being that is the natural one for man. The root of the word "mystic" is the same root as the word "to close." The mystical search is training in closing off all those artificial factors which ordinarily keep us from this knowledge, this birthright we have lost.

[ . . . ]

There are two major common results reported by mystics the world over and that all mystical training schools (such as Zen, Hesychasm, Yoga, Sufi, Christian mysticism, Hindu mysticism, Jewish mysticism, and so on) aim toward. These are greater efficiency in everyday life and comprehension of a different view of reality than the one we ordinarily use.

Great Efficiency in Everyday Life

Nowhere is the usual stereotype of the mystic as wrong as it is in this area. They mystic is usually seen as unworldly and dreamy. It is a strange conecpt, almost as if anyone who trained regularly and in a disciplined manner in a gymnasium were to be considered as belonging to a group whose members were regarded as unmuscular and uncoordinated. Much of the work of any form of meditation is in learning to do one thing at a time: if you are thinking about something to be just thinking of it and nothing else; if you are dancing to be just dancing and not thinking about your dancing. this kind of exercise certainly produces more efficiency at anything we do rather than less.

Tuning and training the mind as an athlete tunes and trains his body is one of the primary aims of all forms of meditation. This is one of the basic reasons that this disipline increases efficiency in everyday life.

[ . . . ]

Comprehension of Another View of Reality

The second major result reported by mystics of all times and places, and aimed at in their training by all mystical schools, is the comprehension of a different view of reality. I use the term "comprehension" here to indicate an emotional as well as an intellectual understanding of and participation in this view.

This is a strange and difficult claim. What can the mystic mean when he refers to a different view of reality? Is not reality what is "out there" and is not our task to understand "it"? If there are two different views, must not one be "right" and the other "wrong"? If the mystic says that there are two equally valid views, is he not speaking in a basic contradiction?

The problem is a real one. On the one hand we know our usual view of reality is essentially correct. Not only does it "feel" right, but we operate in it far too efficiently; the results of our actions are predictable enough so that it is obvious that our assumptions about the nature of reality (on which we base our actions) must be correct.

On the other hand, a large number of serious people --including many of those whom humanity regards very highly-- have stated clearly that they were basing their actions on a quite different view of how the world works. They also state that they "know" this other view to be valid. And, to make it worse, they also appear to achieve their ends, to operate efficiently in the world, often to have a large effect on it. They also claim to have achieved serenity and joy in their lives, and outside observers report that their behavior appears to bear out this claim.

[ . . . ]

The mystic does not claim that one way of comprehending reality, of being at home in the universe, is superior to the other. He claims rather that for his fullest humanhood, a person needs both. . . .

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