Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ancient Memories Arising from our Depths?

World religions fascinate me and I enjoy teaching them. One class focuses on Eastern major religions, and the other focuses on Mid-Eastern major religions. This is great for me since I really enjoy learning about religious experience and religious practices around the world. Also I have a very strong interest in the mystical traditions of the major religions as they apply to my life and the lives of my friends and students. It is this mystical background that truly underlies each of the major religions and brings them on to a common ground.
In class discussing common experiences of mystical traditions students quickly realize that whatever the religious affiliation of the speaker, the aspects sound amazingly similar from religion to religion. For instance, religious mysticism will address the experience of unity with the divine. It will discuss the sense of oneness that comes from union with all of creation. There are different languages and names used to describe the deity, but all of them essentially become one with the inability to describe this experience with current vocabulary. It is impossible to describe something for which there are no categories for reference. Yet, as soon as the experience is able to be placed in a category it becomes a non-experience, only a set of statements removed from the conversation by at least one step.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow (Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences) spoke often about "peak experiences", ones which were transformative and incorporated a sense of unity with everything. Basing his assessment on perception, insights, and expectation from clinical situations without current state-of-the-art brain scanning tools, he believed that most if not all people were capable of having an experience of unity with the universe and the divine. It was even, he thought, part of the human make-up to seek the experience of union with the divine. People were not isolated stand alone specs of matter. They were part of something more than just a collection of atoms.
For Maslow humans had the capacity to seek for a living experience, one that includes not merely the material definitions of what constitutes the universe, but one that breathes with life the way God breathed a soul into people (Genesis 2:7). Perhaps the desire for mystical or unity types of experiences is the ancient reflection of our awakening from the soul giving breath of God while seeking for more. Perhaps this is an ancient memory returning to our semi-consciousness as we currently gasp for breath in a spirit denying and suffocating world where everything that exists does so without a wholeness, a holiness-if you will, a gestalt.