“Rightly understood, the mystic is not a special kind of human being;
rather, every human being is a special kind of mystic.” –David Steindl-Rast
Usually when I teach a course on comparative mysticism, students ask a lot of questions. They want to know what mysticism is, and many of them are skeptical of what appears to be rather unscientific or irrational. In class discussions, I listen to impassioned debates between students who are empowered or challenged by this new horizon of experience. Without exception, however, in every course a student tracks me down to pose a similar question: Am I a mystic? One such person was Kevin, who stands out in my memory as unusually quiet and forthright. An engineering student who was taking Mysticism and Human Experience as part of his humanities requirement, Kevin approached me toward the end of the semester to discuss an experience he had the previous summer…He recounted that one evening he climbed on his surfboard under the light of the moon. The sky was clear and millions of stars were visible. He paddled out farther than he had gone before and at some point found himself floating on a calm sea. As far as his consciousness extended, he was rocked by the gentle undulation of the waves and the sounds of the distant surf….Suddenly, in the still darkness, he was stunned by an intense light illuminating his mind. For a moment, he was scared. But, then, the light filled him with the “greatest sense of belonging” he had ever felt. Although alone, drifting in a vast ocean on nothing more than a fiberglas board, he felt united with everyone and everything….
Although unable to make sense of his experience at the time, Kevin confided that he felt that perhaps he was a type of mystic. Like other members of the class, he harbored a common misunderstanding about mysticism–that it involves some kind of secret knowledge inaccessible to ordinary humans….The paradox of mysticism is that at the same time it is labeled “secret” or “ineffable,” the enormity of humanity’s spiritual archives attest to the fact that mysticism is not beyond human understanding but is the capacity within each of us to touch and be touched by wonder and awe.
–excerpt from Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred, pp. 34-35