Mystical practices grant one extraordinary abilities by transforming human perception.
J.B. Hollenback asserts that this transformation creates a more subtle awareness and sensitivity within the individual of his/her inner world through which the perception of reality is transformed. Increased awareness leads a person to enter deeper levels of mystical experience.
Hollenback employs "single minded concentration" and "a "lifestyle of exclusive devotion to mystical goals" as the primary enabling mystical practices. Sustained over time these mystical practices led to the empowerment of imagination. Empowered imagination gains access to phenomena such as visualisation and hypnotic suggestion which requires a state of enhanced awareness, allowing the mystic to transcend "private" experience in a way that is ontologically and epistemologically meaningful.
An example of a perception transformation would be a transformed perception of time making the mystic aware of not just the present but the past and future; perceived as an existential continuum, granting the extrasensory perception of precognition.
Meaningfulness combined with Emotional intensity creates awareness of the potential to experience paranormal abilities which in turn feeds back as motivation for further empowerment of imagination.
The Safedian movement
The Safedian Kabbalah is characterised by the emergence of the Kabbalah as a social movement during which Kabbalists started to organise themselves differently. They no longer worked as one or two people, but in circles of 10 to 20 people drawn to a charismatic person reputed to have acquired powerful mystical and magical attainment. Some groups organised through contracts which described duties, obligations and privileges for membership. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero systemized the different mystical traditions and sources of Kabbalah. Rabbi Isaac Luria developed a new system of Kabbalah based on revelations he experienced from various internal figures. This system incorporated a social psychology to determine if somebody's soul is suitable for group membership and attempted to mend the soul of its deficiencies. The Safed's interrogation of the soul led to a complete corpus of teaching on reincarnation. They described the human psyche and defined a plural psyche where each individual found his own soul in the texts.
The Hasidic movement
The Hasidic movement (3rd wave, the late 18th and early 19th century) turned the Kabbalah into a social mass movement, not limited to exclusive circles but rapidly spreading across Jewish communities of Europe, focused on charismatic figures but attentive to everyday concerns, not just spiritual ones, and as mystical psychologists they began to diagnose solutions to everyday concerns.
The Trans "method" was used by Hasidic leaders in social interaction to put followers into a collective group trans in a social psychological dynamic, and to explored the inner paths in the psyche. The purpose of trans was to bring wholeness and integration, provide the healing that people needed, look into their souls, explore their unconscious, and claim access to paranormal powers.
Rabbi Kook’s writings
Rabbi Kook claims that our notion of free choice is nothing but a "superficial aspect" and secondly he admits "our very essence is free choice". These statements can be non-contradictory because they have different contextual perspectives.
He references an outward viewpoint relating to the physical world of fact. The word “appearance” indicates a sense perception of something external and the word “however” used right after the statement continues to speak about an internal aspect, showing that the former was concerned with an external aspect. He writes about free choice in the context of good and evil.
He then refers to an inward viewpoint of the essential world of being and/or value. By discounting ”psychological questions” he indicates he is not dealing with a subjective inner world but with something more exalted. This refers to the soul since the text ends with “It reveals the light of individual souls…” In the second he writes about life revealed by free will in the context of an exalted state of being.
Free choice manifests in the external world between good and evil but free will is inwardly free in that it’s creative or “revealed”. Our essence is the free will to create our own reality (“develops all that is of existence”), while the external world is merely a reflection of our application of free choice. The subtle change in perception is from man as a victim of circumstances to man as creator of his future. The creative act is revealed when it draws closer to “the absolute good and free will of divinity”.
The two statements seem contradictory but are applied in different contextual perspectives, combining to show interrelatedness between the inner and outer worlds.
Prof Garb states that Rabbi Kook holds an attitude of sympathy towards the secular because stronger forces are operating on a cosmic, psychological and national level than the superficial choices people make to live a secular life. He accepted secular life because it is unknowingly collaborating with the divine.
Nationalism seeks to redeem the entire Jewish people and not just individuals or sectors. The end objective of nationalism remains lofty even if carried out by secular people. The secular can be returned to an original exalted state.
Influenced by the philosopher Hegel’s work on history, Rabbi Kook did not view the secular movement as constituting a violation of the principles of Jewish messianic history, but rendered it as instrumental in fulfilling history. The Jewish nation is a synthesis of the secular and religious.
Orthodox (Eastern) Catholic Mysticism
St Theophan’s view of sin
St. Theophan describes sin as an extreme egotistical focus on the self rather than a failure to comply with rules and laws. Sin is caused by a habitual external focus, driven by the demonic forces of social conformity that alienates man from the true self and forms attachments with the external world.
Based on this description of sin, the title of St Theophan’s book “Turning the heart to God” implies that a transformation is needed in which the will has to be changed. A shift is needed from the external world to a focus inward to the inner being. This change must come through repentance. Through God’s grace man becomes aware of an inner dissatisfaction. Initially the ego driven personality might try to change through its own effort but will later realise that the old ego driven self must be destroyed in totality. A rebirth of the self is needed with an internal orientation.
Ultimately man will realise, through experiencing the doubt and/or struggle that follows spiritual progress that change is only possible through the grace of God; which appears when obstacles in life are removed. The turning of the heart through repentance was followed by a war on the self and ultimately a call on and surrender to God’s grace. God’s grace manifests through emotions – through the heart - by dissolving through grace all attachment to the false self and releasing man from thinking that he must do it alone. Turning one’s heart develops human potential to have mystical experiences such as visions, dream messages or a different way of feeling.
Hesychasm view of repentance
Hesychasm in the 19th century was focused in Eastern Europe while 20th century Hesychasm shifted to Western Europe where globalisation confronted it with an array of spiritual teachings. The 19th century was predominantly practiced within religious traditions while the 20th century showed the emergence of mystics that practiced outside the religious traditions.
The 19th Century experienced a shift toward psychology while a strong connection with psychology defined the 20th century. Psychology was part of the contemporary language used. Repentance was no longer just a psychological process but seen as anontological process concerned with changes on a deeper level of spiritual being.
Demonic forces were more prevalent in the 19th century than with the 20th century which emphasised positive spiritual psychology. While 19th century focused on the destruction of the old self the 20th century focused on the transformation of self by transforming thoughts. The 19th century promoted the detachment or pushing away of attachments of the old self while the 20th century transformed thoughts by moving it to a spiritual realm.
Western Catholic mysticism
Trance, passivity and antinomianism
Mysticism is a subtle change of the perception of reality. Commonalities across mystical movements e.g. Jewish, Hesychasm and Quietism coalesce around trance, passivity and antinomianism. Trance is a half-conscious state characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli. Passivity is the trait of remaining totally inactive; lacking any sense of initiative. Antinomianism claims that the soul does not need outward observance when it has reached Divine Awareness.
The connection is in a triangular relationship: Trance, the affirmative impulse, is the means, passivity, the receptive impulse, is the prerequisite and antinomianism, the reconciling impulse, is the result. The mystic goes into a trance to reach a state of passivity to manifest Divine Revelation and the consequence is transcendence of worldly laws and religious traditions.
Trance, used by Charismatic Hasidic leaders, assists their followers to penetrate deeper psychological layers to bring healing. The Hasidic movement used trance to transcend normative reliance on religious authorities by trusting one’s own soul. Hesychasm used somatic techniques like repetitive prayers, breathing and visualisation to reach a “stillness of the soul”. The Jewish Hasidic movement and Hesychasm used prayer and seclusion to focus on the heart or inner dimension. The 15th century Jesuits made spiritual themes compelling on an emotional level through guided imagination. Rivka Shatz connected Quietism with the Hasidic movement (the Marranos) emphasising that a passive state is needed to receive Divine Revelation.
Passivity was emphasised by the Hesychasm movement. They saw excessive focus on self as a stumbling block. The transformation of self, needed a passive state where God’s grace dissolves all external aspects with which the self identifies. Catholic revival aimed to combat desires; redirecting the focus from earthly to spiritual matters. In Spain and Italy Miguel de Molinos promoted the need to bypass the intellect and calm it down allowing God alone to act. In quieting the mind the active powers of intellect and will are lost and a phase of darkness entered, prior to further development of the soul. Modern mysticism’s referral to “Take a nap in nothing” implies a form of Trance. Trance closes down the whole psychic system in passivity. Trance and passivity are found in the Hasidic idea of nothingness and that the ordinary conscious mind must be annihilated.
Antinomianism is the consequence of turning within. In the 17th century, Antoinette Bourignon de la Porte developed antinomian psychology stating the soul does not need outward observance when it has reached a certain state. The focus on God transcends law and frees one from cultural/social expectations. The “Religion of the Heart” movement challenged traditional authority with new individualistic values based on meaning found in the heart. The connection of Quietism with Hasidic Kabbalah led to religious authorities being challenged. St Miguel de Molinos’ antinomianism abolished the distinction between means and end stating that once the desired end state is reached the means is no longer needed.
Trance (as function), passivity (the surrender of will) and antinomianism (a state of being) coalesce into unity with Divine Inspiration.
Quietism versus Pietism
Both Quietism and Pietism see that Divine Power comes from the outside and that this action comes through God’s grace alone. Quitism differs from Pietism since it focuses on passivity as a central idea while the latter focuses on will. As can be seen in Böhme's a statement “All lieth in the will”.
For the Quietist, will could be dissolved through God’s grace alone but Pietism taught there was a creative impulse with its seed in desire and human will must be transformed creatively to become God’s will. The Quietist focused on the inner experience of God's grace while Pietistic psychology focused on God's creative nature. The latter saw will as being creative and that it must flow into practical applications. The soul is seen in Pietistic terms as a desiring entity through which the divine could move while the Quietist tried to lose him/herself in God to experience the soul through a state of oceanic consciousness.
In terms of process Jacob Böhme sought to transform desire by casting away reason until human will is God’s Will. In Pietistic psychology the transformation came through an intense and painful creative process. Quietism focused on God’s grace dissolving the attachments with which the false self identifies. In Quietism the process was a purging or cutting away the dross that inhibits the soul. Quietism moved passively away from doing to not doing, while Pietism moved creatively from reason to will.
Recent developments amalgamate together these apparent differing approaches. JG Bennett in “The deeper man” states that if man is to transform himself into what he could be, the three worlds of will (Pietism), being (Quiteism) and function must combine to realize a soul with individual will, coherent being and coordinated functioning.
Moving from mysticism to spirituality to a mystical humanism
The movement from mysticism to spirituality is a post-modern phenomenon vested in globalisation. There is a shift away from mysticism relying on specific traditional teachings to spirituality which focuses more on expressing the experience of the divine in terms of general principles and psychological terms.
Driven by technological forces that earmarked modernity, specific traditions were increasingly exposed to each other resulting in a dialogue between traditions from which common themes could emerge. Simultaneously, differences informed and influenced traditional teachings both directly and indirectly. Using psychological and scientific terminology gives neutral ways of further investigating and comparing different traditions. The risk inherent in this approach is "presentism" where historical texts are neglected and ignored in favour of a social science approach which focuses on the present moment of dialogue and interaction. Consequently spirituality only excavates the ideas of the present generation at the cost of the experience and depth gained by previous generations. A return to mysticism steeped in a historical approach will prevent the watering down of mysticism and ensure that the depth of historical text will continue to influence and inform contemporary dialogue.
Spirituality has its obvious advantages of allowing people from diverse backgrounds to share commonalities in spiritual experiences without focusing on traditions that tend to separate one tradition from another. The disadvantage is that spirituality might become superficial and embedded only in a contemporary modality of thought. Returning the focus to mysticism has the advantage of leveraging the depth of experience hidden in traditional texts with enriched group spiritual depth. However mysticism has its own caveat in that a reliance on traditions with its own bias towards a particular tradition has the risk of separatism and elitism for particular traditions. Unfortunately emphasis on traditions most often leads to vilifying and even demonising other traditions which isolates one tradition from another. A focus on a specific tradition will make it difficult to get that tradition out of a separatist mindset since each tradition has over time built up a self-referential and self-contained logic which feeds its own sense of superiority making tradition to the group the same as what ego will be to the individuality.
As Prof Garb indicated, a new approach towards mysticism is needed that transcends the isolationist perspective of traditions but still maintains a healthy balance between contemporary dialogue in generic terms and historical depth. This approach will be an approach that is based on humanism that focuses not on tradition but on our common human experience and history. Such an approach must be built on tolerance towards different viewpoints and constructivist investigation and dialogue. The total scope of historical records of mystics of various backgrounds seen as a collective search in humanity for deeper meaning can then become available to empower mystics.
The balanced depth of theory and methodology will enable the post-modern mystic to penetrate even deeper into the individual layers of the soul but also to go deeper into the collective soul of humanity as a who