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The New Mysticism

by Keith Hill

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Runner-up in New Zealand's 2018 Ashton Wylie Awards for Best Book in the genre of mind, body and spirit.

Like much in the modern world, mysticism is undergoing a fundamental change. Evidence-based approaches are replacing traditional religious outlooks while also challenging the scientific materialist worldview. Keith Hill engagingly situates this transformation into its cultural and historical context, showing the new ways reality is being explored.

For millennia, mystics’ explorations of reality were considered a religious quest. This changed during the Victorian era, when researchers began redefining mystical experiences as psychological phenomena. No longer strictly religious, mystical experiences came to be seen as grounded in anomalous perceptions, involving experiences or events that provide a breakthrough from our everyday view of reality to another more insightful level.

Keith Hill proposes that anomalous experiences lie at the heart of the new mysticism. In this illuminating study, he examines the historical and cultural developments that have contributed to a radical shift in mystical practice. He also weighs what is required for the fostering of what Einstein called “mystical wonderment” to be sustained.
230 pages, 6 x 9 inches / 129 x 152 mm
ISBN Paperback: 9780473187637. Ebook: 9780473402242.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Hill is a New Zealand writer whose work explores the boundaries between mysticism, history, science, religion and psychology. He is a three-time winner of the Ashton Wylie Award, New Zealand's premiere prize for spiritual writing.
KIRKUS REVIEW

“Every culture has stories of saints meeting angels and devils,” the author writes in his latest nonfiction work, “sages rising into heaven, shamans transforming into animals, and mystics entering transcendental trance states in which their awareness expands beyond the usual body-centered limits.” What lies beyond those limits is the main subject of Hill’s (The Kosmic Web, 2015, etc.) volume, in which he attempts to present a more balanced view of both the materialist, verifiable reality all around his readers and the immaterial, subjective experiences they feel every day—what he refers to as “the sound of two hands clapping.”

The book explores typical New Age phenomena like remote viewing and out-of-body experiences—both the author’s own and those of others—regularly reminding readers that “openness to enchantment drives the mystical outlook.” He focuses on personal perceptions during heightened states of awareness. Hill also takes readers on a cogent and inviting tour of mysticism throughout the last 3,000 years and its intricate connections with the births of both philosophy and science—including the long pursuit of alchemy, which preoccupied a number of great scientists, such as Isaac Newton. The author’s goal in all of this is to encourage his readers to “acknowledge subjectivity equally with objectivity,” insisting that “only when the spooky is normalised as just another way to experience reality, will we be able to accept that our existence encompasses two hands clapping.”

READ FIRST CHAPTER
THE SOUND OF TWO HANDS CLAPPING

I didn't know where I was going. When I asked for directions at the Merta City bus terminal a guy waved vaguely at the dirt road that swung away from the diesel-belching bus. There were no street signs, and even if there had been I couldn't read Hindi, so I just followed the straggling line of passengers as they trudged from the station, feeling hot, dry, confused.

I passed street stalls where men wearing dhotis—long pieces of cloth that circled their waist and looped around their legs—were selling fruit, milky tea, and meals of rice, vegetables and chapatis. Smoke from charcoal fires drifted in the air, mingling with the heat and dust. I passed concrete buildings, their windows vertical metal bars, behind which were weathered wooden shutters. Soon the street ended at a T-junction. In front of me was an expanse of bare ground, dotted with low shrubs and stunted trees, part of the Rajasthani desert that stretched away for hundreds of kilometers. Here the road went left and right. I flipped a mental coin, chose one, hitched my pack on my shoulder, and kept walking. The year was 1979, I was twenty-two years old, and I was in India looking for a guru.

For years after, whenever anyone asked me why I decided to travel alone to a small town deep in Rajasthan, knowing no one, not able to speak the language, not clear about what I would find, I was never able to offer a sensible explanation. The truth was I actually didn't think much about it. Going to India was something I just felt compelled to do. India was a place something deep inside me needed to experience, the latest step in a quest that had begun years before.

When I was growing up in suburban New Zealand a pop song expressed the frustration many of my generation felt about living in a world shaped geopolitically by the Cold War and socially by 1950s conservatism. The song was We Gotta Get Out of This Place, performed by The Animals. Realising I was ignorant of so much, the place I felt I "gotta get out of" wasn't the suburbs, it was my own uninformed self.

This feeling, and my desire to ride it into dazzling revelation, reached a turning point in mid 1973, when I was sixteen years old. Hungry to learn, I had been reading everything I could get my hands on. Books became highways along which I raced, intoxicated by real and imagined vistas from the past, present and future, as I soaked up others' insights into worlds I longed to enter. Yet among all the books those on mysticism held a special allure.

As readers, we've had the experience of excitedly turning a book's page and suddenly, click!, what we are reading causes some fragment deep within us to spark into life, pushing us towards what we are convinced we truly need to explore. During late 1973 and early 1974 three books in particular riveted my attention and sent me in an unanticipated direction. This pivotal period began with Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality.

IN SEARCH OF A SEPARATE REALITY

By 1973 Carlos Castaneda's first three books had become a cultural sensation. During the 1960s Castaneda had been an anthropology student at the University of California, researching the use of psychoactive drugs by Central American shamans. In Mexico a colleague introduced Castaneda to a man to whom he gave the name Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian reputed to have knowledge of hallucinogenic peyote.

After a year of regularly meeting, Don Juan revealed himself as a brujo, a sorcerer. He agreed to teach Castaneda about the hallucinogens he used. However, Don Juan maintained that the way to learn was not via the detached observational method used by anthropologists but through personal experience. Castaneda subsequently became Don Juan's apprentice. Over a period of five years he underwent a series of drug-stimulated encounters that profoundly transformed his view of himself and the world.

To me, Castaneda's first book, A Separate Reality, vividly conveyed the realisation that the world is not as it appears, that an aspect of reality exists in parallel to the everyday, from which mysterious forces emanate, acting on us in ways we rarely recognise. Yet if we expand our awareness, as Castaneda did under Don Juan's tutelage, it is possible for us to directly experience that parallel reality for ourselves.

At sixteen, I found such a prospect utterly thrilling. From the ages of five to fourteen I had attended Sunday school, learning the stories and theology of the Presbyterian Christian faith. As children do, initially I accepted what I was taught. But by my teens I had developed a major problem with the Christian outlook. I was being taught that the era of exploring spiritual reality was over. Jesus had done it all. He had been born of virgin, debated with the Devil in the wilderness, performed miracles, raised the dead, visited hell, was resurrected from the dead, and finally disappeared into heaven. What a life that was! I wondered why I couldn't experience at least some of it, but was told my task as a believer wasn't to hang out in the wilderness, meet the Devil, experience miracles, descend into hell, or sample heaven. That was for the sons of gods and was off limits to mere human beings. Instead, my task as a believer was to study the scriptures, do good, live soberly, and patiently wait for Jesus to come back ... for as long as that took.

Personally, this prospect of eternal passivity was deeply unsatisfying. I wanted to become involved in at least some of whatever spiritual action was happening. Castaneda's books excited me because they indicated that, even though we live two thousand years after Jesus, the separate reality is still available to us today and we can jump into it if we want. All we needed was to transform our awareness.

But how could I do that? What I needed was more information. In Goodeys, a bookshop in my home town dedicated to spirituality and mysticism, I came across the second inspirational book, Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret India, an account of his 1930 travels through India in search of sages. Brunton's book remains unique. It was the first to introduce Westerners to yoga. It also described people who possessed remarkable skills and knowledge, particularly Ramana Maharshi, who in the following decades came to be acknowledged as one of the twentieth century's greatest mystics. Brunton was no wide-eyed pushover. He strove to be open-minded and non-judgemental, but he was also alert to humbug and sought to maintain a level-headed and rational approach when dealing with the often strange people and phenomena he encountered. During his travels Brunton met astrologers, philosophers, magicians, yogis, and self-professed messiahs. Accordingly, I realised that Don Juan wasn't the only person who knew about the separate reality. There were many, many more.

A Search in Secret India led me to the realisation that I needed guidance. Clearly, for me to travel to Mexico in search of the mysterious Don Juan, whose real name Castaneda had not divulged, would be a futile exercise. Yet that didn't matter because Paul Brunton's book indicated there were multiple potential guides. The problem was that Brunton had travelled to India decades before, so none of those he met were still alive. At the age of sixteen I was also a minor under parental care, so travelling anywhere was impossible. I needed to find some other way to "get outta this place".

I found the solution in the third book, In Search of the Miraculous, by the Russian writer, P.D. Ouspensky. In 1915 Ouspensky had recently arrived back in St Petersburg after travelling through the East in search of what he called the miraculous.

The "miraculous" is very difficult to define. But for me this word had a quite definite meaning. I had come to the conclusion a long time ago that there was no escape from the labyrinth of contradictions in which we live except by an entirely new road, unlike anything hitherto known or used by us. But where this new or forgotten road began I was unable to say. I already knew then as an undoubted fact that beyond the thin film of false reality there existed another reality from which, for some reason, something separated us. The "miraculous" was a penetration into this unknown reality.

Soon after arriving in St Petersburg Ouspensky was introduced to the Greek-Armenian mystic, G.I. Gurdjieff. In Search of the Miraculous describes Gurdjieff's system, which he called the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way began with an analysis of humanity's limitations, then offered a set of psychological practices individuals could use to transform their awareness. In Gurdjieff's Fourth Way Ouspensky found a miraculous entrance to the unknown reality.

Everything I read in In Search of the Miraculous resonated with me. When I reached a passage in which Gurdjieff stated that progress required a school environment, I began searching for a suitable school. Within two weeks I had found such a group operating in my home town. It was led by a New Zealander who blended Gurdjieff's Fourth Way with spiritual teachings drawn from Buddhism, Indian mysticism and Sufism. I joined in 1975. The group provided me with a highly stimulating learning environment for the next fourteen years.

Everyone finds the miraculous in their own way. Books provided my path. A Separate Reality revealed that an alternative reality exists, from A Search in Secret India I learned there are many ways to transform awareness to access that reality, and In Search of the Miraculous led me to a suitable practical method for transforming my own awareness.

But was this actually the case? Concerned people tried to persuade me that I wasn't on a journey of discovery but, as a mere teenager, I was instead being taken for a ride. It's a widespread and justified fear. Paul Brunton met people who impressed him as highly capable fakirs; others he found were fakers. But in his later years Brunton was himself accused of being a false guru. Similarly, Ouspensky was criticised for losing his mojo in his final decades, while Castaneda and Gurdjieff have tarnished reputations, with critics describing each as a charlatan whose greatest ability was to exploit the vulnerable.

As I walked through the streets of Merta City the question that kept coming back to me was what would I find? Truth or falsity? A fakir or a faker? Of course, the reality was more complex than this simplistic dichotomy allowed. I soon discovered my biggest problem wasn't that I risked being given wrong answers, my problem was that I was asking the wrong questions.

THE MIRACULOUS AND INDIA'S ENIGMAS

After wandering around the outskirts of Merta, I eventually found the ashram. I hadn't ever been to a Christian monastery, let alone an Indian ashram, so I had few expectations. But I didn't think I would find battered iron gates so nondescript they could open into an engineering shop. I also anticipated some level of formality, that a follower would meet me and I would be taken to an audience with the yogi. My introduction didn't pan out that way at all.

I hit my knuckles three times on the gate, stood back, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I began to suspect that I had come at the wrong time. Maybe the yogis were meditating. Or, worse, maybe I had knocked on the wrong gate. I was considering what to do next when I heard bolts pulled back and the gate squeaked half open.

A man well past middle age looked out at me. He was slight, had straggly grey hair and beard, and wore only an orange cloth, tied loosely around his waist, which was not entirely clean. I introduced myself and stated I had come from New Zealand. He said nothing but signalled me to enter. So I met Shri Mouniji Maharaj.

After we were seated on a concrete pad outside the ashram's main steps the yogi offered me cool water, which I gratefully accepted, then quizzed me on how I knew about his ashram. I pulled out a letter from a friend who had provided directions. During this inquisition I learned more about Shri Mouniji. First, he didn't speak. He communicated by pointing at letters to spell words. I found out later that he understood English very well but had taken a vow of silence many years before—"mouni" means mute. I also discovered why Shri Mouniji had responded to my knock on the gate: there were no followers to do so. Only Shri Mouniji and his right-hand man Chelaji—"chela" means pupil, "ji" is a term of respect—lived in the ashram. Chelaji was a solidly-built man in his forties who laughed a lot, spoke a little English, and did all the talking to visitors. Otherwise two boys rented rooms at one end of the ashram. They attended a local school, went home during the weekends, and kept to themselves. The ashram was a quiet compound on the edge of town, with the desert blowing beyond its walls.

Conditions were austere to an extreme. L-shaped in design, the single ashram building consisted of a public reception hallway, a kitchen, and a number of rooms for sleeping. Everything was constructed of concrete. The rooms had no doors and there was no furniture. Everyone sat and slept on mats laid out on the concrete floors. Outside, the ashram's dirt grounds formed a rectangle about one hundred metres by eighty. They were surrounded on all four sides by walls well over head height. The ashram had originally been built in the desert outside Merta, but over the years residential building had crept out, and now lanes and squat concrete houses ran along two of the ashram's walls. The only greenery inside the grounds was a small vegetable garden and a eucalyptus tree donated by one of Mouniji's Australian pupils. There was also a shower block and a septic tank toilet. The desert beyond was dry and hot, and when winds blew dust flew everywhere.

After Mouniji had consented to my staying he showed me to the small room where I was to sleep. I remember putting down my pack, looking at the concrete walls and the thin dust-covered sleeping mat on the floor, and wondering if I had made a mistake. Could this really be a place where I could find the miraculous that would lead me to the separate reality? What I didn't know was that the starkness of the physical conditions belied the richness of the experiences I was about to undergo and that they would topple key foundations that supported what I thought constituted reality.

MEETING THE MIRACULOUS

Several days after arriving a knock rang out from the ashram gate. A taxi driver had arrived. Chelaji told me I was to accompany him. In town we picked up three other men, travelled a short distance through the streets, then stopped at a shop. One of the men went in and soon returned carrying a bottle of whiskey. As we drove out of town I became confused. Were we travelling into the countryside to drink? Is that what sadhus in India did? No one spoke English, so I only found out what our journey's real purpose was an hour later, as we pulled up outside a small complex of buildings. The complex housed a temple. Barely a dozen people were present, so we had only a short wait before it was our turn to make an offering.

The shrine was a three-sided alcove, inside which was a statue that had a body, face, and eyes, but no mouth. The shrine's priest—I assumed he was a priest, although he wore street clothes rather than robes and appeared somewhat bored by the whole process—took the bottle of whiskey we had brought. He opened it and poured whiskey into a small cup. After muttering a short prayer he lifted the cup to the statue's head and held it up, above shoulder height, where a mouth would be if the statue's face had one. After a few seconds he lowered the cup. It was empty.

Really? That would be anyone's natural reaction. The priest's sleeves were pulled up above his elbows, showing he had no tube to surreptitiously suck up the whiskey. The statue had no mouth, and therefore there was no hole for a tube to be inside the statue with someone sucking madly on the other end.

I watched closely as the priest filled up the cup again, held it up for a few seconds, then lowered it. Once more the whiskey had been sucked away. A third time the same action was repeated. However, this time when the priest lowered the cup only half the liquid had been taken. Chelaji nudged me and said, "Two halb." He meant that the statue only ever "drank" two and a half cups of whiskey. No less, no more. The priest replaced the lid on the bottle and gave it back to us. The ceremony was over.

I found out later the bottle had to be unopened, otherwise it was rejected, and that only good quality whiskey was accepted. Fair enough. If you're drinking copious amounts of whiskey each day, you want the good stuff, right? As we bounced along the road back to the ashram I was left to ponder what I had witnessed. What had "drunk" the whiskey? Was a spirit of some kind slurping it up? What really happened?

Another puzzling event occurred soon after. Late one morning a man arrived at the ashram. He had heard that a Westerner was in town and wanted to show me what he could do. There was nothing remarkable about him except he talked flat out. He began by showing his credentials. Unfolding a newspaper article, he described how he had once stopped a train using mental concentration so a politician could climb on board and keep his schedule. The newspaper article confirmed what he claimed. Next the visitor asked for a metal wok to be brought out from the kitchen. He placed the wok upside down on the concrete floor and tapped it with a small piece of charcoal while repeating a short phrase several times. He then lifted the wok and revealed that underneath it was a bunch of bananas.

I had watched carefully. The man had pulled up his sleeves. Sleight of hand was difficult given the bunch of bananas was too big to fit into his clothing. As we ate the bananas—which felt and tasted just like bananas —I wondered if their appearance here meant a seller in the local market had just discovered a bunch of bananas was missing? Years later I read a book by the Sufi Idries Shah, who described witnessing exactly the same "miraculous" banana trick in Central Asia. He was similarly left bemused as to how it was done.

Siddhis, consisting of physical, mental and paranormal powers, play a significant role in Indian mysticism. Paul Brunton witnessed a yogi who swallowed a cloth and manipulated it so it travelled down his gullet, through his stomach and intestine, and came out his anus. That's one way to do an internal body flush. Brunton also observed a yogi who meditated for years without food or drink. Mouniji told me that when he was young he heard of a yogi who had been walled up in a cave outside Mumbai. Every ten years the yogi's pupils removed the bricks to check he was still alive. Mouniji was there when the wall was taken down. The yogi was alive, but remained in deep meditation. After checking that no insects had eaten parts of his body, the pupils rebuilt the wall and the next ten year span began.

Other strange incidents occurred. One day I craved fruit so asked if I could go to the local market to buy oranges. Mouniji indicated he would think about it. Half an hour later a visitor arrived with a bag full of oranges. Laughing, Mouniji gestured they were for me.

What was going on here? What had "drunk" the whiskey? How had the bananas arrived under the wok? The television show Star Trek showed machines teleporting people and objects. Had I witnessed mental teleportation? Or was something else going on? And how about the oranges? Had my desire "reached out" and caused a visitor to buy oranges on the way to the ashram? Or had my awareness somehow picked up that a visitor was bringing oranges and responded with anticipation? Or was it just a coincidence? I lacked information to decide what was actually the case. The enigmas India was presenting me were mounting up. A further enigma was Shri Mouniji himself.

Shri Mouniji may have been in his sixties or in his eighties. He wouldn't say. In his early years Mouniji had been a naked naga yogi—"naga" refers to those who have power and is associated with the snake, itself a symbol for kundalini, transformed sex energy that travels up the body via three channels and on the way illuminates seven chakras (energy centres). Naga yogis are naked because nakedness interrupts the automatic performance of social codes and so frees awareness for meditation. Naked yoga became a fad in the West in the 1990s, resulting in people being arrested for being unclothed in public. In India, there are no such prohibitions. However, Mouniji stated he had taken to wearing a loin cloth in deference to others' sensibilities.

Shri Mouniji's principal form of yogic practice was raja yoga (kingly yoga). One exercise he had undertaken when much younger involved sitting in the midday summer sun surrounded by large fires. He no longer engaged in such extreme austerities. However, when I visited the ashram a second time, in 1991, he didn't eat for the six months I was there. He drank milky tea and coffee, and took tablets to ensure his intestinal tract remained clear, but ate nothing solid. During that six months he lost no weight, and there was no negative impact on his physical, emotional or mental abilities.

On this first visit, after eight weeks my time on the ashram came to an end and I returned to New Zealand.

EXPERIENCING THE NON-ORDINARY

Did the enigmas I experienced in Rajasthan illuminate what Ouspensky defined as the miraculous? Did experiencing them involve me in what Castaneda called the separate reality? One point was clear to me: my stay on Shri Mouniji's ashram exposed me to enigmatic phenomena for which I had no ready explanations. These supplemented other experiences I had undergone over the preceding decade.

At the age of ten, as I lay in bed at night waiting to go to sleep, I often felt my awareness drift up to the ceiling. I was then simultaneously in two places: in my body lying in bed and hovering under the ceiling looking down at myself. I had done nothing to initiate this experience. It occurred spontaneously. For a year the sensation repeated, then ceased. Another experience occurred during my late teens, when I carried out an exercise of praying several times a day. This generated ecstatic feelings centred on my heart that lasted several hours. I stopped the exercise after a year because even ecstatic states become boring if repeated endlessly.

When I was nineteen I underwent the type of expanded consciousness experience widely described in mystical literature. One afternoon I was on my bed, not thinking at all, just sitting, when I suddenly felt my consciousness expand beyond its usual boundaries. The best way I can explain it is to use terminology from the Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas, which states that we enter heaven when the inside becomes as the outside and the outside becomes as the inside.

Our normal experience of being conscious is dual. On the one hand we live in a reality that exists physically and externally to us. But at the same time we are aware that our identity is internal and that we are looking "out" at the world and everyone in it. Our body and its senses provide the boundary that divides inside from outside. On this occasion, I felt the body-defined boundary dissolve and what was inside and what was outside became a single field of awareness. I no longer had a sense of being an individual identity inside a body. There existed only pure, unmodulated consciousness.

The sensation did not last long. But it has remained with me ever since. This, along with other unusual experiences, including the enigmatic phenomena I encountered in India, has fuelled my passion to discover what reality is and how it is constituted. Yet, while such conundrums are fascinating, they are only part of much wider sets of phenomena. Castaneda coined the term "non-ordinary" to differentiate between phenomena encountered in heightened states of awareness and what we experience in everyday life. Usually heightened states of awareness are cultivated, as occurred during Castaneda's apprenticeship, yet occasionally such experiences can occur spontaneously, as I discovered during childhood.

Worldwide mystical literature testifies to many different kinds of non-ordinary phenomena. Every culture has stories of saints meeting angels and devils, sages rising into heaven, shamans transforming into animals, and mystics entering transcendental trance states in which their awareness expands beyond the usual body-centred limits. Recent testimonies provide accounts of out-of-body and near death experiences, as well as of remote viewing, lucid dreaming, telepathy, and many other kinds of paranormal phenomena. The internet and self-publishing make it easier than ever to share experiencees, so there is now a superfluity of people's accounts of non-ordinary phenomena. The difficulty is how to make sense of them all, just as, after leaving India, I struggled to make sense of the enigmas I experienced there.

This book is my attempt to grapple with non-ordinary phenomena. The sheer variety of ways in which people experience them means we have to begin by widening our definition of what mysticism involves. Basic to the approach I have adapted here is that human experience involves both the material and the immaterial.

CLAPPING WITH TWO HANDS?

The material realm is the physical world we live in, the world we experience via our bodily senses. It is the realm sciences and technologies enable us to so successfully explore and exploit. The immaterial is not as clear. Each of us has a subjectively experiencing immaterial core of awareness, a core that encompasses both our subjective sense of being alive and our sense of personal identity.

How our sense of subjectively living in the world arises is contested. For the religious, subjectivity is a function of the soul. For the scientifically oriented, the brain generates our subjectivity, drawing on a combination of cognitive capacities, the activity of the limbic system, instinctive urges, chemical exchanges, evolutionary pressures and quantum states. However there is no agreement in scientific circles regarding precisely which factors contribute to human subjectivity or how they interact to generate personal identity. Adding to our lack of understanding is the variety of non-ordinary experiencing. Our ability to enter deep meditative states, have flashes of intuition, see ghosts, know what will happen before it does, or feel our awareness travel beyond the body all have to be taken into account when defining the nature of human subjectivity. However, the standard scientific attitude, that the immaterial realm is imaginary rather than real, means these varieties of phenomena remain contentious.

This controversy regarding the relative status of the material and the immaterial is recent. Ancient cultures accorded material bodies and immaterial spirits equal status. Almost all religions maintain that human beings possess an immaterial soul that by nature is separate from the material body. Alternatively, philosophic mystics have long viewed the material and immaterial not as fundamentally separate but as two aspects of one extended reality. This is seen in the Zen Buddhist practice of striving to internally realise "the sound of one hand clapping". The point is to experience material objective matter and immaterial subjective mind as a unity, directly perceiving inside and outside as one. This is mystic monism, popularly known today as non-dualism.

The scientific community is also monist. However, scientific monism is entirely material. It acknowledges only natural phenomena, explaining immaterial experiences as being either entirely rooted in physical processes. The assumptions behind the monist materialist outlook underpin the secular attitude that dominates the modern world. Accordingly, before exploring the immaterial experiences that are typical of mysticism, three issues need to be acknowledged.

The first is I ask readers to allow that both the objective and subjective, the material and the immaterial, have a legitimate place in human reality. I call this duality "the sound of two hands clapping".

The second is that a fundamental difficulty emerges from this proposition. Most people are comfortable agreeing that we are dualistic beings and that our daily experience consists of the physically material and the subjectively immaterial. However, as soon as it is proposed that the subjectively immaterial includes the mystical, the supernatural, the paranormal, the occult, the comfort transforms into discomfort. It is never easy acknowledging that human subjectivity includes experiences that are not just non-ordinary but are often extremely strange. Complicating this unease is that we cannot currently explain what parts of us enable us to undergo non-ordinary experiences. We don't understand how they occur. This makes non-ordinary experiences problematic scientifically, religiously, psychologically, philosophically, culturally and personally. The wide-ranging experiences that are termed mystical exist in a borderland, between what we know, what we don't know, and what we're not quite sure we really want to know. As a result mysticism not just a complex phenomena, it is a disconcerting one.

Third, the pre-modern religious way of knowing, which relies on divine authority, supernatural narratives, and myths and symbols, is insufficient in the modern world. Today evidence, not faith, is seen as leading us to knowledge. Like much else in contemporary culture, mysticism is being reinvented to fit with this modern need. What makes the new mysticism significant is that it doesn't use just one hand to hold up that evidence to scrutiny, it uses two. The material and immaterial are seen as equal contributors to mystical phenomena.

This examination of new mysticism begins with a consideration of what we mean by the word "mystical" and why it has become so controversial.