The Radical Irony of Mystical Experience: The Overview Effect of the Divine

The ironies and paradoxes run high and deep in mystical experience. Here is some of what I’ve experienced.

One of the radical and ironic realizations I had when I went through my faith crisis with Mormonism, when I realized it was “not true,” and subsequent mystical experiences, is that there was truth in nearly every Mormon doctrine, but it was not at all how I had been taught it, or anything like how I had believed it.

The truth is there, deep in it, far deeper than I had ever before conceived or even imagined, far deeper than could be expressed, or that I can express now. It’s a mystical insight which unveils this Truth.

And it’s not exclusive to Mormonism either. It can be found deeply in most of the world’s religions and spiritual traditions too, which frame it in a multitude of diverse and beautiful ways.

As I heard John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, say recently even in the context of Mormonism, (paraphrased),

You don’t need to change traditions, you just need to go more deeply in your tradition. If you go deeply enough, you will find the truth.

Mormon Discussions podcast with Bill Reel, Mythical Jesus 023

I think that may be true, although in my own case, I feel I had to (ironically) step away from Mormonism to be able to see the forest for the trees, to see the truth I was missing by being immersed (drowning) in the tradition. It was also somewhat the opposite, then, from Spong’s insightful comment.

I was so buried and deep in Mormon details, that I could not see the overall pattern. I was only seeing the parts, but not how they all fit together in One Great Whole. Only by stepping away was I finally able to properly study other traditions with a more open mind and take up a spiritual contemplative practice which I feel revealed that holistic pattern, the One, the Holy (Wholly) One.

So it was paradoxically both getting an overview effect, which simultaneously dove me far more deeply into the “doctrine” of Mormonism, or at least an understanding of the origins of that doctrine, to its very Source, at one and the same time. I was getting the 100,000 foot IMAX high resolution picture, and also the deepest detail imaginable. Both were revealed nearly at the same time.

Can one find this by just diving deeper into Mormonism? Possibly. Yes, I think some have. Others it may take a step or two away to reveal the Whole deal. Then it may all “click.”

I don’t claim to know all, in fact one of the radical insights of mystical experience is that we DON’T know what we think we know. That’s not real Truth. None of it. Ultimate Truth is not something that can be known by the intellectual mind. No mind. Not my mind or anyone else’s. It is something that is experienced, felt, at-one in your own self, your own being, your inner consciousness, everything you are. That is the only way you can know it. Nothing else can reveal it. Nothing. This is why some form of contemplation is necessary, to move beyond the rational thinking mind, into the depths of your own being. There it is seen clearly, in that contemplation that is the “Temple of Consciousness.”

As Paul taught several times, do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God lives in you? In YOU! (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). You are the “dwelling place” of God. You are that temple.

Yes. You.

The photo at the top of the post is Earthrise 1: Historic Image Remastered, taken by the crew of Apollo 8, Bill Anders, in 1968 from the surface of the moon (processing by Jim Weigang). This is the actual first image of Earth rising over the moon surface, digitally remastered in color as explained here. Astronauts have noted having an experience known as the “overview effect” when they go into outer space, which is a kind of mystical experience. They see, vividly, the whole picture, and that somehow seems to put everything into perspective in an instant. As astronaut Bill Anders exclaimed, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow is that pretty!”

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3 thoughts on “The Radical Irony of Mystical Experience: The Overview Effect of the Divine

  1. You are right Bryce. Most people do not look deeply into their own religion. I was baptized a Christian, sang in the choir, attended Sunday school and was confirmed. Rose and I were even married in that church years later.

    My introduction to mysticism was through Vedanta. I attended services at the Vedanta Society in Chicago and spent three months being tutored by Swami Nikhilananda in New York, which eventually led to my receiving a Carnegie grant to study in India.

    It was 40 years later that I learned about the rich tradition of mysticism in Christianity.

    1. Fascinating. I’m not sure what my initial introduction to mysticism was. I wrote about the Mormon temple for many years, which is steeped in Christian/Masonic esotericism, so I think I got a lot of schooling that way. And I had some minor mystical experiences, and didn’t know what they were. But none of it seems to have penetrated through deeply until I started a daily meditation practice. Then, almost suddenly, the doors of perception began to be cleansed, and I began to have insights that I had never dreamed of before.

  2. I have had several brief epiphanies and two extended trances. One trance was at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. It was the Director, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who referred me to the Vedanta Society in Chicago.

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