Sun with bright rays against a blue sky

My grandfather died when I was twenty-one. Upon returning home from his memorial mass where I gave his eulogy, I experienced an altered state of consciousness when crossing the Bay Bridge. My skin tingled, I felt an energy push out of my skin, and I felt a new cleansing energy fill me to replace the old energy. At first the experience concerned me, for I was driving after all, but I signaled a lane change, safely changed lanes, found that I was still aware of my surroundings, and decided it was safer to continue driving that to stop in the middle of the bridge. I went on to experience at will, usually by staring into a candle flame, a series of altered states that felt either cleansing or seductive. Ever since that time, I have identified with mystics. Since I had a history of severe suicidal depression, I realized then that if I saw a psychiatrist and described my experiences, I would likely have received a diagnosis of mental illness. Because I ascribed religious meaning to the experiences and believed that God was calling me to some purpose, such as seminary training or a ministry of some sort, I did not seek psychiatric help. Instead, I attended the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at Newman Hall, the Roman Catholic community at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a student. I went back to my family’s religious roots to make sense of what I had experienced. Today I understand that my mystical experiences can also be explained as symptoms of the manic and hypomanic states of bipolar disorder.

My current belief system is not limited to a Christian viewpoint, though I do love Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. Never have I ruled out other religions, or secularism for that matter, as valid and valuable belief systems. Honestly, as long as you seek truth and love, you’re going in the right direction. I am open to any explanation or definition of a higher power, whether that be a scientific explanation, nature itself, consciousness, existential freedom, humanism, pantheism, Western monotheistic concepts of God, or Eastern religions and philosophies. For simplicity, I use the term God to encompass any and all meanings of higher power or greater order, including most importantly love, truth, and universality.

That said, when I was thirty, I went on a one-week contemplative retreat, the topic of which was the Christian mystics. I had no idea that going on a contemplative retreat meant spending a week in near total silence. I went on the retreat because of my interest in Christian mysticism, and left with a new discipline – contemplative prayer. This discipline, practiced by the mystics, gave me a new way to pray, to open myself to God’s love, and to experience God’s presence in my life. In the busyness of life, I often forget the lessons I learned on that retreat, and find that I must return to mystic visionaries to remind myself that I, that we all, can have a close, personal, sometimes maybe even exhilarating and ecstatic, relationship with God (or whatever concept that most closely reflects the meaning of truth, love, and universality).

Mysticism can most simply be understood as the direct experience of God. Mystics seek to directly experience God through physical and contemplative states. Can God be known by reason or the five senses? Perhaps. Apologists and scientists use reason. Those who find God in nature, through the senses. The soul can also experience communion with God through direct, personal experience, intuition or insight. Throughout history there have been mystics claiming to have known God through visions or other revelations. Many have argued that these mystics suffered from neurological or psychiatric disorders, which may very well be true. Regardless, I for one find inspiration in their experiences and in the wisdom they gained and subsequently shared with others. Mystics continue to inspire and to raise questions as to the cause of their mystical experiences. Were they suffering from the symptoms of mental disorders? Were their visions the result of severe austerities including self-imposed near starvation and sleep deprivation? Or, were their experiences divinely inspired?

As a former psychotherapist and as someone who both identifies with mystics and has struggled with the sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying symptoms of a brain disorder, namely bipolar disorder type II, I believe that mystical experiences can be both divinely inspired and biologically based. God speaks to us, loves us, holds us close to Her/Him/It, in our illness, in the midst of hardship and suffering, as well as in health and joyous celebration. She/He/It is there when we soar high, as well as when we fall.

50 thoughts on “Mysticism

  1. Earth Angel December 29, 2014 / 6:57 am

    Thank you Kit, I came to your sight in a very round about way, perfect time to share from my heart to yours. We are spiritual beings and our “density ” “thoughts “” Bodies” can get in the way until we enter a state of sustained love where our thoughts and beliefs fade into the pure state of timeless ageless peaceful love, this is where the ” new” grounded Being exists. Eckhart Tolle describes this “inner heaven” in his book ” The New Earth”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley December 29, 2014 / 11:15 am

      Thank you for your feedback. Tolle and many other mystics speak of the same thing. We are all one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Earth Angel December 29, 2014 / 6:46 am

    Thank you Kit You have opened the hearts of so many here! As spoken here in comments being a wayseer ,can be very challenging . Your open heart sings to all that hear you! Heart to heart Robyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. glenn2point0 November 21, 2014 / 7:47 pm

    An interesting post Kitt. Since being on antipsychotics I have a better understanding of why people embrace religion. Some literally and others metaphor and everything in between. I don’t put down others’ belief as I was inclined to in the past….pre-seroquel. My disbelief is not displayed as disrespect for their beliefs. I guess that I have more empathy for my fellow man, woman and any other gender that people identify with since being on seroquel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley November 22, 2014 / 12:36 pm

      Honestly, as long as you love and have empathy for your fellow beings (human, other animals, and even plant species, for ecologically speaking, we are all interrelated), you are on the right path.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sandy Sue November 21, 2014 / 3:23 pm

    I loved this very balanced exploration of the mystical experience.
    As someone who was on “the mystic’s path,” I’ve had all these same questions. What I’ve determined for myself is that assigning meaning to these experiences can lead to delusional thinking–all those things I hope/wish/want to believe they mean. Instead I try to just experience them–the changes in energy, consciousness, awareness, emotion, the physical sensations–without making up any stories about them.

    In another culture, we would be the shamans, the pathfinders. We would be taken care of so that we could follow these experiences for the good of the tribe. Alas, here we must stay fairly grounded so that we can take care of our own physical/material needs. Maybe in another life…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley November 21, 2014 / 6:16 pm

      Intriguing and mature response. Sometimes we struggle to discern meaning where there may in fact be none. But to be aware is crucial. Thank you for your experience and insight.


    • Earth Angel December 29, 2014 / 6:41 am

      The pathfinders, wayseers are once again leading the way, I am a wayseer and I am in my 50’s ,I have had a very profound near death experience, and yes in fact had a psychotic episode in my 30’s

      I have journeyed into a grounded presence as I share what it is possible for mankind, living in unity and the vibration of love. So many of us who have had manic episodes( spiritual awakening) and out of body experiences are now able to express these visions in a world so filled with prior illusions, including the illusion that we are separate.

      I so appreciate your sharing this deep “process” that has been labeled ” mentally ill “when in fact spirituality rests out of the body. Without its density, just now after many moons of labels and dark ages, we are living as bright unlimited lights of love!

      Keep up the journey, as being grounded in spiritual work is very possible when we release all past labels. You both have so much to offer Heart to heart Robyn

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kitt O'Malley December 29, 2014 / 11:12 am

        Thank you, Earth Angel. I do treat my bipolar illness, though, for my brain health and emotional stability is very important to me, especially since I am a mother.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Earth Angel December 29, 2014 / 2:41 pm

          Yes Kit very important! I took medication for two years Early 30’s , yet never had symptoms after doing some incredible work with Dr John Demartini’ the breakthrough experience. My grounded peaceful centered balance is the most important to me. It seems the wayseer work became important only after years of Stability. My husband is one of the most grounded divine spiritual Males I know, so this helps in our journey as wayseers together. Seeing your light and your assistance for so many Kit! Keep being you! Heart to heart Robyn

          Liked by 1 person

          • Kitt O'Malley December 29, 2014 / 9:54 pm

            Thank you, Robyn. Bless you. Having a loving husband who is your soul mate is a truly wonderful thing. I have one, too!

            Liked by 1 person

    • cabrogal February 15, 2015 / 2:33 am

      What I’ve determined for myself is that assigning meaning to these experiences can lead to delusional thinking

      I couldn’t agree more.

      What’s more the symbols used to define the meaning are inclined to crowd out the mystical experience itself, replacing it with what is basically an ego-driven ideology. The experience lends the ideology a false aura of holiness and infallibility.

      Nothing means anything but itself. Alternately, everything means everything else. Other assignations of meaning are just metaphors. They have their uses but you need to be careful to avoid confusing them with reality.

      There’s a meaning there but the meaning there doesn’t really mean a thing. – Russell Morris in The Real Thing

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kitt O'Malley February 15, 2015 / 5:50 am

        Yes, in fact, attributing meaning, aside from simply experiencing it, can be quite dangerous. Thank you for pointing that out.


  5. Bradley November 21, 2014 / 9:57 am

    Wow, Kitt. Beautifully written. I don’t know if we’ve had this discussion, but whether you know it or not, you are likely a Unitarian Universalist.

    I appreciate you clarifying what a mystic is. I have several friends who consider themselves mystics, and my minister considers himself a mystic. Finally, I now know what they mean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley November 21, 2014 / 12:20 pm

      Intellectually, yes, Unitarian Universalism fits the bill. Thank you.


  6. Dr. Walker Karraa November 21, 2014 / 9:27 am

    Reblogged this on Stigmama and commented:
    An amazing piece by STIGMAMA contributor, Kitt O’Malley regarding mysticism, spirituality, and mental health. Thank you, Kitt for putting words to the wisdom.


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