The New Mystics of Peace

Growing up in the 50s and 60’s, my family, like so many others across the country, faithfully attended religious services. There the values of my faith community were taught: The Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, etc. Among all those Sunday School lessons, mysticism was never mentioned. Mysticism is defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience.” That means that mystical experiences can be attained by anyone, not just those living rigorous religious lives in monasteries or ashrams.

Many religions have long had Mystical practices. When did mainline faith communities stop talking about mysticism? Were the trances and fiery dances of mysticism too improper for our Puritan forbearers?  Did the advancements of science and technology veer us away from unexplained mystical experiences of the Sacred? Or were those visions of paradise on Earth and all peoples living in Peace and harmony just too far out for realists to accept as possibilities?

Why don’t we talk about Mysticism? Many people shy away from mystical explorations as if they were symptoms of a contagious disease. They cite interest in meditation, tarot, and a host of other spiritual practices as a worrisome sign that the world’s falling apart. That’s why it was fascinating for me to pick up William A. Richards’ book “Sacred Knowledge, Psychedelics and Religious Experiences.” Richards was one of the early designers of psychedelic drug trials for therapeutic use. 

Until Richards’ experiments were stopped, they were having steady effects on resolving relationship problems, among other things. Those trials have recently been restarted and are having quite favorable results on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as explorations of the mind. The people he quotes in this book are ancient mystics from Christianity and other traditions. The experiences being discussed are ones that awaken us to the vast cosmos and to the most minute and intimate connections with the world around us. They are in line with both ancient religious beliefs and the most modern cosmologies.

Some of the experiments in Richards’ book dealt with patients who were diagnosed with a terminal disease and were afraid to die. It seems that often only one micro-dose of psilocybin left them believing that there was nothing but Love and therefore no reason to be afraid. It was at that point I was startled into wondering whether, if we were raised practicing and seeking mystical experience, would our experience of life be completely different? Through mysticism would we become aware of the possibilities of Peace, Love, and Connection with one another not just as aspirations but as realities? How would that change our approach to poverty, war, inequality, the protection of our planet and the sharing of its resources?

John Lennon sang, “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Mystics are dreamers who see visions of paradise on earth and the ways in which we can live in Peace. Whether we start with exploring mysticism and stumble onto Peace or start with Peace and stumble in the other direction, I think the connection is real. Neither Mysticism nor Peace isolate you from the world. In fact, they bring you into closer alignment with it and others. When you and I stand and gaze at the rising full moon together, our hearts find a common rhythm. There is no place for animosity in those moments of shared wonder.

The more space we create to experience mystical moments, the more space we have to invite people into Peace and Peacemaking. That experience does not have to be drug-induced, rather it is available to all of us through more natural highs. Is there anything more Mystical than this season of Spring when the increasing sunlight in our hemisphere transforms frozen ground into fertile soil dotted with colorful flowers? Wherever you go, people stop to comment on the strength of the sunshine and the outbreaking beauty. Nothing like forsythia and daffodils to build bridges.These are ‘mystical moments of subjective experience’ bringing us into closer relationship with the Sacred and with one another. What if that shared wonder and appreciation for the renewal of life united us in a common commitment to sustain that life through Peacemaking? To paraphrase John Lennon, you may say I’m a Peacemaker. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday, you’ll join me, and the world can live in Peace.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace, and Blessed be.