"As a soldier in World War II, at one time, I was serving in the Pentagon and living in Washington. I was a pious youth and customarily knelt to pray by my bed before getting into it each night. One night, just after I knelt, I felt my context transformed. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. But I was surrounded and pervaded by a presence. In a way that I had not known to be possible before and have not experienced since, I felt totally loved, totally accepted, totally affirmed. I learned the meaning of “bliss.” The bliss lasted, probably, only a minute or two. Then faded. I can write with some detachment about God loving every creature. I believe that. But my experience of being loved was not just the realization of that. It was more, much more. And I still cannot really understand how the Spirit that loves everything can also make itself felt so intensely and profoundly in an individual case. I almost left it out here, as so often, because I am so deeply shaped by our “nothing but” culture that I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have experienced much “more,” and still can hardly believe it myself. Still, I am deeply, very deeply, grateful to Jesus’ Abba."
Process Philosophy offers a way of interpreting and appreciating eight mystical sensibilities. We might call them eight kinds of mysticism.
I think of the experience described by John Cobb above as of the fifth kind (see below): a mysticism of divine love. But the very idea of categorizing it in this way can take away from its preciousness. He did not seek the experience; the experience happened to him. And it was not a "force" or an "idea" that surrounded him; it was the Abba of Jesus: a person not a thing.
The "nothing but" culture of academia often seeks to "explain" such experiences in reductionist terms. They happen "because" the chemicals in our brains are aligned in a certain way, or we are under stress, or the historical conditions of our lives "lead" to them. But such explanations miss the grace, the serendipity, the tenderness, and the particularity. It was not Abba's love of all creatures that he experienced, it was Abba's love of the young John Cobb. He was touched emotionally not just intellectually, and spiritually not just emotionally.
Process philosophy invites us to appreciate this way of being touched. This does not mean that we will have the experience John Cobb had. But it does mean that we can learn from his experience and appreciate, without qualification or embarrassment, that there is something in the universe, the Spirit, who so loves each of us that we can only say, from the depths of our heart, thank you.
We may not be sure about how to think about the One we are addressing, but that is not so important. No need to place Jesus' Abba in a mental frame or theological grid. In the moments he felt surrounded and accepted by the Spirit, the grids had dropped away. There was only the bliss, the love, the acceptance, the tenderness. The words fall away, too. Being touched by the tenderness, even for a minute or two: that is enough. - Jay McDaniel
Eight Forms of Mysticism
1. Mysticism of Inter-Connectedness.
This is an intuitive sense that everything is connected to everything else in a vast web of causal dependence. It can also involve a feeling that each particular reality in the universe -- each star, each planet, each blade of grass, each person - is a place where the whole of the universe is gathered into unity.
Mysticism of inter-connectedness takes Whitehead's idea of relativity and makes it a feeling, not just an idea. Whitehead's idea of relativity is that everything is present in and dependent on everything else. This kind of mysticism feels the truth of this mutual presence and calls it the universe.
2. Mysticism of Local Community.
This is a localized version of the mysticism of interconnectedness. It is a feeling of at-oneness or solidarity with a family or community of people. It can take the form nationalism, allegiance to a sports team, or a heightened moment of ecstasy at a rock concert. It can also take the form of a sense of belonging to a local place: a bioregion, for example,
3. Mysticism of Creative Energy.
This is a feeling that there is an energy - a bottomless creative stuff, albeit active rather than passive -- of which all events and actualities are particularized manifestations. It can be combined with a sense that all things emerge out of the abyss in their moment of occurrence and return into it when their subjective immediacy passes away. The creative abyss is an abyss because it has no special form or shape, and it is endless. It is, in Whitehead's words, a creative advance into novelty. And it is creative because it is in fact a creative advance into novelty. The creative abyss is not a creator, and it does not have preferences. Some people call it the Godhead; Whitehead calls it Creativity.
4. Mysticism of Divine Archetypes.
This is an intuitive sense of a realm of pure potentiality -- a realm of timeless potentials -- which are seen in the patterns which unfold in the universe, but which also transcend those patterns. The realm of pure potentiality is what Whitehead calls the primordial nature of God. It is similar to Plato's realm of the Forms, except that, for Whitehead, it is not more real than the actual world and it is not normative. Nevertheless, it is real, and it is that realm of existence which mathematicians explore in higher mathematics and which artists explore when they entertain potentialities for shape and color, thought and feeling, in their imagination. It is the mind of God.
5. Mysticism of Divine Love.
This is an intuitive sense that the unfolding universe, and each entity within the universe, is embraced by a love that transcends all finite realities and that cares for each and every being on its own terms and for its own sake. This universal yet particularized love is what Whitehead calls the consequent nature of God.
Mysticism of divine love can be generalized and graciously diffused, or much more particularized and erotic, as seen in the poetry of Rumi or the ecstatic visions of Teresa of Avila.
And it can have two forms: (1) a sense of being cared for and loved just as you are and (2) a sense of being guided in a non-coercive way toward what is good and true and beautiful. Both of these forms are expressions of what Christians and others call grace.
6. Mysticism of the Collective Unconscious.
This is a sense that each moment of experience somehow includes the entire history of the universe within its being, combined with a recognition that conscious experience is but the tip of an experiential iceberg. It involves a recognition that we human beings carry within us memories of the personal and collective past which are the very substance of our lives, and which contain within them energies and archetypes which can nourish and enliven our souls, if only we awaken to them. Those among us who partake of this mysticism are often quite sensitive to dreams and to worlds of the imagination.
7. Mysticism of Shamanic Journeying.
Similar to mysticism of the collective unconscious, this kind of mysticism involves a sense of journeying into invisible realms of existence, inhabited by archetypes and energies and intelligences which have power in their own right. But in case the powers are not memories from the past actual world, but rather living personages who inhabit realms of their own.
In a Whiteheadian context these realms are regions within the extensive continuum: a continuum which includes an infinite number of regions, including those within three-dimensional space but also regions far beyond three-dimensionality, which can be inhabited by other kinds of actual entities. Mysticisms of shamanic awareness involve immersion in the non-three-dimensional worlds and receiving communications from the entities that inhabit them.
It should be noted that the "entities" which inhabit these regions may or may not be beneficent. They may contain angels but also demons. While the mindset of western modernity neglects or dismisses these dimensions, Whitehead's notion of an extensive continuum opens the possibility that entities exist within them; and it also opens up the possibility that, after death, a soul journeys into and through the other regions. In this sense the Whiteheadian perspective is post-modern rather than modern.
8. Mysticism of Ordinary Life
This is a feeling that there is something absolute, and irreducibly beautiful, about ordinary life itself: this face, this cup of coffee, this moment. It does not matter that the moment passes away. The beauty is in the moment, and it would not be so precious if if did not pass away. These kinds of mysticism find their home in the sacrament of the present moment.
There are many kinds of mysticism of ordinary life, and they extend a principle in institutional religions which is sometimes neglected. This is the principle that this very world, rightly understood and rightly related to, is the very place of the sacred. Many Jews and Christians understand a mysticism of ordinary life as an extension of the principle of incarnation. God is found in flesh, and in moments, and in shared suffering, and in laughter.