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Whose Mountain #10
What is a mystical insight?
This week I got to meet a writing friend in person.and I met in Missoula and spent the better part of a whole day talking. Over lunch, a beer, two bookstores, and a lot of walking, we discussed spirituality, the great mystical traditions, being a dad, moving to a more rural life (he’s winning this one), trying to make money as a creator, and a host of random other great conversations. I felt like we’d been friends for years even though we’d never met in person before. It was a great way to spend a day, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities. Here’s a picture we took leaving Barnes & Noble.
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What mystical insight means to me
Every once in a while, I have these experiences where my worldview changes instantaneously. An idea or a reflection will come to me, and it changes the way I see my world. Like I’m looking through a new lens, and I will never see the world in the same way again. These moments change me, and maybe I change the world by being open to them.
I think those moments are what Plato alluded to in The Allegory of the Cave when he writes of the prisoner dragged to the surface.
"Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can see only shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually, he is able to look at the stars and moon at night until finally he can look upon the sun itself.”
My friendcalls them castles in the sky, these paradigm-shifting experiences that define our place in the world.
I love these moments of insight. I’m overcome by awe. My brain tingles and electrical potential surges through every fiber in me. They keep me up at night and won’t let me sleep until I satisfy my curiosity or pass out from sheer exhaustion (usually I do both). That’s not to say they’re easy — they’re often difficult — but they refresh my inner spring of joy.
My own place within these moments is so vivid, even as the exact moments of the experiences are hazy. The change that follows them stands out in my memory daily.
When I found out my son had autism spectrum disorder is one example. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop noticing all the ways his brain saw things differently from mine. I also suddenly see spaces not for what they do but for how they actually support our human needs for comfort, security, and peace. Most buildings are never designed to allow for transitions to occur smoothly, something that is really important for people with sensory issues.
My empathy expanded.
I had that same experience learning about other ways of knowing. While I’d long suspected that my parents, teachers, and friends were missing something, I could never explain what that something was. The first time someone explained participatory knowing — what the greeks called gnosis, I felt like I’d just discovered my own heart. Learning about the historical relationship to different ways of knowing through spiritual myths gave me that same experience. It’s like seeing the sky in all its different colors rather than simply saying it’s blue.
That perspective shift is the closest thing to wisdom I know of. Those experiences are, I believe, mystical insights. They’re the basis for cultivating mystical love, that peaceful feeling of knowing truth. In a combination of hard work, important problems, and continual growth, I prepare to have mystical insights. The insight won’t come unless I’m prepared for it. But I can’t will my way into wisdom and transformation either.
In my own life, those experiences created the capacity for personal transformation. I wouldn’t be open to discussing mystical insight if it weren’t for my son. I’d be too busy worshipping at the altar of science. Yet discussing these ideas fills my cup in ways my life never has before. I can only describe it as love. And I believe that these transformations will create the space for future transitions. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that only makes sense looking backward. I want to bring those experiences to more people. I want to help more people be prepared for mystical insights and want to explore how we can create the conditions to more reliably develop them. I hope you'll continue joining me as I try to do so.
A few things I’m enjoying that you might too
If you haven’t seen John Vervaeke’s series Awakening From The Meaning Crisis, it’s well worth your time. I am really enjoying exploring meaning through the history of human being. I suspect I’m going to be reading this for a long time.
I’ve been learning about Alfred North Whitehead. I mentioned him in last week’s newsletter, as I read Process and Reality. I wouldn’t recommend this book to start, but I’ve heard Science and the Modern World is a more approachable entry point. His ideas about God as the process of creation make a lot of sense to me.
That’s all this week. I’m working on translating these ideas into essays. Hopefully, I’ll have more to share soon.
Until next week, have an intentionally curious week.