26 October 2017

(Mis)Adventures In Mysticism

The word "mystic" gets thrown around a great deal. Or, at least, it does by me, when I'm in a certain mood. In the end, though, what does "mystic" really mean? Does anybody really know?

As it turns out, yes, Wikipedia knows. It's not like love, or culture, or Winnebago, it's not one of those words that defy sensible definition. Mysticism is a case in a world where so many things appear to be more "edge" than "case".

What's really weird about getting the meaning of mystical (at least the definition of the word) all tied down is that I didn't understand what it meant before. In a metaphysical realm so often rife with double meaning, vagueness and general goal-post moving matters of mysticism appear to be relatively straightforward.

As always, it doesn't take long before the deception provided by appearances becomes obvious. The bit we can be sure of is that mysticism is about making a connection to something. What the something is, ah, that's the rub.

If you're going to be glib about it then you can say it's about making a connection to God, capital-"G" and walk away ensconced in a cocoon of meaningless sophistry. Don't get me wrong I'll sink a pint with the bearded sky daddy any time he wants to get down to my local boozer, but the entire concept is as easy to forge a mystical connection with as any arbitrary non-god-like person on the planet.

There are plenty of non-god-like people already in the boozer, so why wait for bearded sky daddy to leave cloud mansion? They don't like him down the pub anyway, the management maintains burning bushes are a health and safety violation. Besides, his wallet is always "unfortunately" burned to a crisp in his lower branches.

The first question that springs to my mind in the matter of mysticism is "what do you mean by connection?" Say we're limbering up for "the big one" (whatever that turns out to be) so we decide to start small by making a connection to another human being. How do we do that?

If the goal is simply to speak to them then a simple "Hi" will suffice. Although the aspirant may feel the experience, if it is that, is on the underwhelming side. It has to be that "connecting" with someone is a deeper experience than "greeting" them. At this point, I can imagine many readers groping around to find a genital-themed experiment to try next.

Let's just leave that be. You can definitely get happy by slapping another person on the wobbly bits but are you "connecting" to them? A soup of mind-altering hormonal responses says yes. But good luck charming the infinite ineffable into the sack. The clue is in the name, the ineffable must, by default be un-eff-able. This whole business is like eating an entire chocolate trifle when you're hoping to gorge on chocolate cake. A trifle is not a cake, they both taste nice but once you're hungry again the craving for cake will resume.

So if we're not talking about talking with a person, and we're not talking about practicing dubious personal hygiene with a person, then how do you "connect" with them, in the mystical sense?

All of a sudden the scale of the problem becomes apparent. At least a person exists to be connected with. When it comes to the mystical experience the other end of the mystic telephone is connected to something we can't comprehend.

With mounting disappointment we realise, the mystic experience is about doing something that is ill-defined with something that you have no physical evidence even exists.

Did I mention that I wrote a novel? Did I further mention that the novel is out this week? (Oh, come on, you didn't expect to get off without the sales pitch, did you?) As it so happens and entirely coincidentally the revelations at the heart of the mystic experience are a crucial component of the antagonist's journey in that very novel. Crazy, ou quoi?

Of course, he gets it almost entirely wrong, he doesn't know what it is he is communing with. The wretched fool screws up the relationship and when the relationship entirely takes place in the metaphysical beyond, well... stars will fall if you follow my drift.

What is super-bizarre here is that I only realize that I wanted to talk about the pitfalls of frail humanity experimenting with the mystic experience right now. I wrote the novel a decade ago. It is possible to want to talk to your audience about something and not even know what that thing is.

There's a connection for you. The storyteller is trying to connect to the story reader through the medium of the story. The story, for its own part, comes from, somewhere, out there, beyond. Ask any author and they will tell you, they write down the story but they tend not to create it. At some point, the author is a "receiver" of the story from... from... where? Where in Hades does the story actually come from?

Sounds to me like the author, in that act of creating fiction is connecting to something vast and undefinable. Once they're connected like that they bring back messages. Like a broken Oracle the author is trying to communicate truth by spitting out thousands of lies. The art of writing is to pare down the lies and to tip the wink to the reader what they are so the reader can sift out a truth it would have been impossible to find were it not for the fiction.

It's not the only way to get there, but that definitely sounds like a mystic experience to me.

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