What is Mysticism?
with Kelly Deutsch
Have you ever felt curious about mysticism?
💡What exactly is it?
💡Is it the same thing as contemplation?
💡Am I a mystic? How do I become one?
After hearing so many questions about this best-kept secret, I set about creating a FREE course split into bite-sized videos.
Check out part 1 of our NEW Seeker's Guide to Mysticism below!
This week, we'll define that cloudy concept of mysticism in less than 100 characters.
What other questions would you like answered?
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You may have heard people use the word mysticism or mystic before, especially if you're a student of spirituality. But what exactly do they mean and why do they always seem to elude definition? In this video, I'm going to give you a concise definition of what mysticism is and its four traits.
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But first, let me introduce myself. I'm Kelly Deutsch, the founder of Spiritual Wanderlust. I've been exploring the interior life for 20 years, studying the mystics, psychology, and theology, but also practicing it daily for the past two decades. I spent most of my life thinking I'd be a nun and I entered the convent but the Divine had other plans
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I now share these treasures and tidbits that I found along the way to help you on your journey to wholeness and divine intimacy. I'm glad you found us. Let's get back to our original question What is mysticism?
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There are two kinds of mysticism that people frequently refer to, and I'm going to talk about one of them. The first kind of mysticism is something esoteric. The word mysticism comes from the word mystery, right? This something that is shrouded in some sort of secrecy, and that's often where it came from.
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You think of the Gnostic movement in the first few centuries, and that had to do with gnosis, which meant secret knowledge, you know, and you think of like tarot cards and esoteric cults and astrology that sometimes what people are talking about when they talk about mysticism.
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That is not what I am referring to in this video, and getting these two confused can cause a lot of misunderstandings. What I am talking about when I talk about mysticism and what most religions are talking about is an experience of divine union and that's found in every major world religion.
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So let's talk about that. The concise definition of mysticism is the search for an experience of divine union so it can look different in different people. This experience of the search for divine union. You think of some mystics and they have these spectacular experiences, you know, ecstasies and levitations.
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Teresa of Avila was one of those people. She would have these profound and spectacular experiences, and she'd ask her sisters in her convent to sit on top of her so she wouldn't levitate because she found it very distracting.
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Or Saint Philip Neary was a priest in Italy, and he'd have such divine raptures, especially when he'd go celebrate mass, that he would ask people ahead of time when he was getting ready for mass. He'd ask people to tell him jokes to distract him so he didn't get so wrapped up in the divine.
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But for most of us, it's not quite that spectacular, right? It's something a lot simpler, like a deep quieting interiorly, or a gentle sense of presence. You know, beyond all knowing that God is here and that I am deeply loved, the reason why it's not often defined is because it's not easy.
00:03:30:06 - 00:03:45:02 It can't really be contained in words. So we do our best to dance around it. Describe it. And that's what I'm going to do here for you is give you four traits that point toward this mystery of divine encounter of divine union.
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That's true for these experiences, though you can't reduce it to simply that. So we'll do a little dancing around four traits. First of all, it's a gift, and it's something that cannot be achieved. The analogy that I like the most for this is that of surfing.
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You cannot produce a wave. All that is up to you is to get on your surfboard, paddle out into the ocean and wait for the waves to come. You practice, you know, you might practice on dry land first, then you practice in some shallow water like ‘okay can I stand up on my board?’
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How does this work? Practice is involved, but the wave itself is not up to you. That is all gift. All you can do is prepare yourself for that gift. And if you're curious about that, how to prepare yourself?
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We'll have another video on How do I become a mystic? So stay tuned for that one.
So first of all, it's a gift that cannot be achieved. Second, it's beyond knowing, so it's beyond all of our rational explanations, beyond all of our reflections or anything that we can do on our own, which is why it feels so baffling because we can't study our way there. I can't progressively, you know, achieve this thing because it's something that happens to you like that wave in the ocean. It is short circuits your senses, your thoughts, your intellect, your will.
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All of these things just seem to be suspended or not even relevant anymore when you're experiencing something profound like that. The closest that I can explain to it, there was a 14th century mystic who called it the cloud of unknowing. Beyond.
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It's not just, it's not knowing. It's kind of like knowing like a deep bodily knowing in the core of who you are. But it's beyond all normal knowing, and it's this cloud that while a cloud is real, you can't really contain it.
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Like you can't grasp a cloud or you can do is hold it. And that's the same for a mystical experience. It's not something that can be grasped in your hand as soon as you do. Just like when you grab a cloud, what do you have in your hand?
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Nothing, you know, maybe a few particles of moisture. But it is something that you can open your hands to and somehow receive. This is what makes it the third trait – ineffable because it's an experience it's very hard to describe unless you've experienced it as well.
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And as I'm speaking through this, you might say, you know, maybe I have just in those fleeting moments experience something like this where you have that gentle presence or, you know, beyond all knowing that God is here, that there is divine, sacred presence here, that I am a part of it and so are you, is everyone.
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The closest analogy I can come up with for this is an experience of wonder when your breath is taken away and you can't explain to others what just happened. I once went hiking in Wales with a friend of mine and we went on this hike. He grew up in the mountains in northern New York. And so he was like leaping like a gazelle up these mountains and I, from the flatlands of South Dakota, was like huffing and puffing my way up.
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And we came around this bend as we meandered our way up the mountain and I heaved and came around this bend and saw what we learned. The Welsh called Akume. So there was this glassy mountain lake way up in the mountains with this wall behind it that just stretched up into the heavens.
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And the way that the mountain was formed, we didn't see it until we were upon it, you know, so we come around this bend and see this glassy lake and this wall stretching what seemed like forever. And we both just.