According to religious scholar Huston Smith…
…interest in the mystical experience is a relatively recent development in our society.
The mystics were not part of his formal education. In a recorded talk, he says…
“Though I had an undergraduate major in religion and a graduate degree in philosophy and religion from the University of Chicago, I really had not been introduced to the mystics.
“The mystics are in all the bookstores now—very popular, very prominent, but this was a half century ago and that was not the case.”
I do not assume that trends in the U.S. signify world trends. Nonetheless, I believe our current interest in mysticism could mark a significant shift for humankind. Our desires are human desires. If we desire more at this time, others elsewhere likely desire more. We don’t wish to merely study mysticism—I believe we’re interested in mysticism because we want the mystical experience.
I believe this desire can lead us to a new mythology. The mystical experience can coalesce all our nebulous spiritual thoughts and feelings into a unified whole. From this experience can come the structure, the system, the text, the rituals which would be a new mythology.
In the past, the mystical experience was sought by very few. Now, it’s sought by so many. True, we often try to satisfy this desire in all the wrong ways. But we believe we must make such mistakes before we can get it right.
We consciously seek this experience—unlike those innocent wanderers struck down by lightning. On the other hand, we’re not sitting atop a mountain, waiting for the divine visitation—most of us spend the majority of our time involved in mundane pursuits. Some of us are looking for gurus, but most aren’t. No more prophets, no more messiahs—we want our own experience and we want to find it on our own.
We’re willing to assume responsibility.
We’re willing to stand in the open field and welcome the lightning bolt.
I believe that we, as a society, feel spiritually deprived. But this sense of deprivation actually works in our favor. In our struggle to regain a sense of the spiritual, we will create that which we seek.
(The Huston Smith quote comes from a series of recorded talks entitled Religions of the World, produced by Sounds True.)
© 2010, Michael R. Patton