A New Perspective on Mystical Thinking

Mystical thinking combines the rational with the irrational to create a convincing story about life. To explore this phenomenon, let’s consider these two aspects of mind – rational and irrational.

  • The rational mind thinks in terms of certainty, probability, and knowledge.
  • The irrational mind thinks in terms of uncertainty, possibilities, and assumption.

Each mind competes and defends itself in its relationship with the other. This adversarial relationship results in an experience I perceive as my life. A life in which I compete and defend.

A New Thought Process

My life experience could be considered mystical because it is simultaneously and wholly rational and irrational. Explainable and inexplicable. Separate and whole.

Within this mystical life experience lay a vast territory available to me by virtue of my capacity to imagine and make choices.

Mystical thinking is the result of these two aspects of mind coming together to defend a single reality. For example, one might apply an imagined irrational attribute like “scary” to a rational physical thing, like a tree – to create a “scary tree.”

Mystical thinking includes that which has a “meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence.” (Merriam-Webster)

How does one defend the indefensible?

Practical Interactions with Mystical Thinking

What happened when the first human came across the giant fossilized bones of a dinosaur? They probably wondered what kind of animal has stone bones and of such a huge size. Perhaps they made up a story to justify and fit their giant find into the cultural understandings. That is, they sought to fit the evidence of giant creatures into their social storyline where there were no giants. They created mystic stories of impossible creatures and places where these stone-boned creatures must exist. For example, the ancient Greek myth in which all who laid eyes on the Medusa were turned to stone.

What do I do when faced with an unexplained aspect of my life story? How do I justify living in a dimension of rational and irrational experience? Perhaps the first thing I might do is adjust the evidence to conform to my perspective of reality. Then I’ll defend that belief. With mystical thinking, I can adjust the story to fit the evidence and/or adjust the evidence to fit the story. It’s a much more flexible way to think.

It’s a way to fit the unexplained into the context of a previously explained story. Thus, saving energy and making the story more interesting in the process! I can use a sense of mysticism to make sense of a world I may be incapable of understanding – now.

Some Benefits

Perhaps one benefit of mystical thinking is to bridge the limits of my logic to include the illogical. Like use of symbolism, art appreciation, and application of various beliefs without the necessity of empirical evidence. In this type of thinking, explanations need only make sense to the observer to be logical to the observer.

In this way, I can settle for a sense of wholeness when I perceive I don’t have it. Mystical thinking is my way of rationally compensating for the irrational thought that I am not already whole.

The Domestication of My Ego – Part 2

In my bubble of limited awareness, I see survival as a set of unquestionable needs that must be filled. Rigid adherence to this program of need-fulfillment is what I call self-domestication.

Let’s investigate three aspects of domestication and apply them to ego.

  1. A sense of survival (needs)
  2. A sense of relationship
  3. An understanding of self in relationship

Sense of Survival

Defense is a survival program that domesticates my thoughts and behaviors. When I domesticate, I trade one understanding of how to survive for another. Thus, I adapt to a new intention.

In the case of dependence, the survival program is master over me. I domesticate to that understanding by defending it. In that understanding and defense, I am not in charge of my life – that domesticator is. That domesticator is not a person, place, or thing. It is my dependence on it! Even when the domesticator proves to be me!

Because survival has a very narrow understanding, I must seek resources to help me live and escape predation. My survival program knows nothing of options or choices because it’s strictly controlled. My mind adds versatility to consider options.

Sense of Relationship

Perhaps domestication is adaptation to the power structure in a relationship matrix of which I and others are served. In the case of a pet, for example, this power structure is represented in the difference between master and pet. This structure appears in families in the power difference between generations, and, to some degree between domestic partners. To the degree one adapts to power structures, one exhibits domestication.

In the process of domesticating animals, man and animal live by the same process of give and take to create a mutually beneficial relationship. I can do the same with my mind by accepting a different relationship with my ego. Thus, a new way emerges.

Understanding of Self in Relationship

When the ego is in charge, we both feel afraid. When the conscious mind is in charge, everyone feels more secure. Out of that relationship emerges selfless service.

Understanding the power structure of mind in relationship with ego is the beginning of realization and exercise of compassion.

The more I learn about my world, the more I am able to “know myself” as the ancient Greeks admonished us. The more I know myself, the more I am able to exercise compassion. It’s a positive feedback loop that acknowledges ego in the process of knowing self. This can free the mind from its shackles – bringing all aspects of creation into the light of compassion.

What if compassion is the goal of the game of life?

When I distrust my ego – “it’s something I have to overcome” – what am I saying to an aspect of me? What would a new relationship look like with my ego? How might I connect to my ego with gratitude, affection, and respect?

What if I were to consider my ego in a loving relationship with me – like I would a loved pet or companion?

  • What do my ego and I want/need/intend?
  • How can I relate to my ego in a way that honors it?
  • Why do I want a relationship with my ego?
  • Who am I with my ego?

“I train humans, and rehabilitate dogs.” (Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer)

What if I were to adapt Cesar’s quote to:

“As I awaken my conscious mind, I rehabilitate my ego.”

The Domestication of My Ego – Part 1

Understanding Ego as a Bubble of Limited Awareness

According to Freud, ego is that aspect of mind that “mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.” (Oxford Dictionary – Ego) Although somewhat vague and esoteric, that definition appears to give my ego a position of power we might challenge.

Just to refresh, that level of awareness Freud called ego is “characterized by comparisons, competition, judgments, defense, blame, and perception of limited resources external to self. Survival-consciousness based on instinct.” (Aha Zone Glossary – Bubble Awareness)

The source of all that “bad juju” – judgments, blame, etc. – can’t be anything but bad, right? A demon! In ME!!!

From the Aha Zone perspective, “ego” appears as a limited conscious experience of life. From that perspective, it’s the originator of a person’s sense of self-esteem,self-importance, and self-worth. There’s some value in that which is useful to that part of me that needs to earn wholeness through value. Maybe it is the good guy!

In the Aha Zone, we define ego as that aspect of mind that views itself as separate from the whole. Through parlor tricks of smoke and mirrors, it seeks to convince the whole of mind that its sensual, emotional, and mental illusions are real. Thus, it supports and defends perception of separation as real and requiring attention.

The paradox is that the ego is, itself, unreal – an artifact of limited awareness. So, why the deception?

Defense is Everything and Nothing

Although I have a tendency to demonize ego – for example, “that’s just ego talking” – that’s just ego talking. The aspect of mind that seeks to convince my entire mind that its perception is the right/only perception, is neither demon nor angel. Instead, one might consider that aspect of mind as simply “busy” at its job. That job is to convince me that I am separate from that which I perceive. It’s an aspect of mind that gets a LOT of practice in my bubble of limited awareness!

Through a process of defense, wholeness experiences limitation while remaining whole. A sense of “separate me” defends itself against perceived threats to its separation. It confirms this sense by defending itself against everything outside itself. Thus, “I” interact with an illusory outside reality that appears to confirm my belief in its separate status. I am separate from my environment because it is separate from me. A self-referential logic error that results in an experience of limited awareness in an infinite sea of awareness.

The Power of Ego

Where does that illusory imagery come from? Evolutionary instinct? Learned behaviors? Chemical interactions in body-mind? Or could it simply be the result of intention? That intention of the whole to experience limitation.

In wholeness is ALL. And, to paraphrase Syndrome, the villain in the first The Incredibles movie, “When everyone’s whole, no one is.” What’s the fun in that?!

Maybe an infinite “I” wants to experience what it’s like to “be” limited. What if the intention of an infinitely powerful me is to experience something finite. To do that without actually being finite would require a device of some sort. That device would have to be “make believe”. Hmm, sounds a lot like ego to me.

Exploring the Matrix of the AHA ZONE

Exploring the matrix helps me understand it. By studying my bubble of limited awareness, it becomes a proverbial tool in my hand to investigate “Why?” Why the bubble, why limited awareness, why and why not?

This has led me to ask, “What, how, and why else?”

Perhaps the answer to all my questions lies in between the asking and the answering. Could this be where limited awareness is seeking resolution? A trip from nowhere to nowhere that I experience as reality?

Might recognition and appreciation of this instant of no-where-ness and no-when-ness, result in an incredible sense of gratitude and bliss? Could this be the fabled gateway to what lies beyond imagining, beyond questioning, beyond reality as I know it?

It’s All About Awareness!

Due to the limiting effect of separation, I can attend to only one mind at a time. Each mind competes for my attention.

Conscious thought promotes recognition of a paradoxical relationship between confusion and inquiry. Awareness promotes inquiry that promotes awareness. Awareness and inquiry are mutually supportive of an environment conducive to conscious choice. This awareness, in turn, affects the perceptual dynamic of fear in which I associate psychological change with physical threat.

That consciousness affects the way the mind interacts with its physical environment. This took the mind from fear and pain to questioning its reality. “In the past, I acted like this and failed. How else might I act instead?” That kind of inquiry spurred greater use of imagination. And exploration!

In ancient times, change was slow, painful, and in-your-face personal. Today, I can affect and accept change in an instant of Aha!

Breaking Out of Instinct

One evolutionary step in the direction of a new awareness was the recognition of symbolism. Someone realized that the world they perceived was more than it appeared.

Just as the mirror image is not the one it reflects. Those who drew animals on cave walls understood that the drawings were not the literal animals they drew. They applied an esoteric meaning that transcended literal interpretation.

A human broke the old instinctive patterns of interpretation by asking a question. They may have thought, “Wait just a second! What does this mean?” The Aha Zone is in that “instant” when we consider a meaningful question.

Today, I continue this tradition when I seek meaning in my life.

In each generation, one seems to appear to challenge the status quo – prompting all of us to explore beyond. That required an element of risk and some courage. Some of those folks in my past risked being barbequed for their disruptive ideas.

Over time, the concept of pain has shifted. I see pain as evidence of change. Because I expect change, I find pain much less frightening. Because change is inevitable, I can embrace the pain – and celebrate it as I adapt to the change.

Constant inquiry is the Aha Zone at work.

Some years ago, I listened to Fritjof Capra in which he stated that matter only appears to exist. That it is actually not material at all – instead, matter is made up of probability patterns.

Later, I heard that the closer to the speed of light one travels, the slower time passes. As an observer, I’d see light travel at about 186,000 miles per hour. If I were a tiny particle sitting on the photon I’d observed from a distance, I would experience no passage of time. I would literally arrive at my destination in the instant I left. The photon experiences no time passing. No concept of time as the observer reckons.

In other words, time and space do not exist as I reckon them.

Imagine that – having an experience of time and space where neither exists. What?!! How is that possible? It’s a paradox!

In order to experience, one must take themselves out of the flow of acceptance, investment, and defense… and into… the Aha Zone!

“What else…?” drives me forward, giving me the experience of change. I am cause, all I experience is effect. I experience time and space because I am change. Everything I experience expresses who I am. I am and I am not my experiences. Like the map is not the territory it represents, I am not reducible to an experience. It’s all figurative!

What does that mean? Well, then, maybe that is the ultimate question, “What is consciousness?” What gives me the capacity to have an experience of separation within wholeness? How am I the creator of my experience of life?

Occasionally, these questions flash a light into infinity – the Aha Zone.

What does this mean?

Instinct and the Antelope-Cheetah Question

In instinct, I don’t question, I simply follow the program. I see this process in automatic responses like reflexes – gut reactions in which I simply do without thinking. As a human, I have the capacity to exceed this instinctive level of living through learning. When I recognize instinctive behavior, I can question the unquestioned.

What if evolution is the result of questioning?

Things tend to remain as they are until something changes. Change can be initiated by a question – “Why must I continue doing what I’ve always done?”

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” (Rita Mae Brown, in her 1983 book, “Sudden Death“)

One example is the relationship between the antelope and the cheetah. When the antelope perceives the cheetah running toward him, he instinctively jumps into flight. He doesn’t question his actions, he just does them.

What if he were to initiate a new response? What would happen were he to instead of running away, start running toward the cheetah. The cheetah’s slender physique is no match for the horns of the antelope. And yet, the antelope never once considers this possibility – it’s an antelope and antelopes run from cheetahs. It’s a formula!

Occasionally, I’m faced with the cheetah. My instinct is to fly away as quickly as I can to return to my safety zone. It takes time I don’t think I have to investigate options by asking questions. And, like the antelope, I might get eaten as a result! It’s a formula!

Risking Advantage?

Adding a questioning program offers the individual an option to improve upon instinct – possibly adding an advantage. There’s a risk involved in this process. For example, the ovum will remain a single cell until it questions its singular status by opening its membrane to another. It risks losing integrity of its membrane while offering an opportunity for something else to develop. This is repeated at the crisis point we call birth where we challenge our safety to experience what is beyond.

What might happen when I apply a questioning method to all my learning – including questioning? That is, questioning that which I feel I know. Questioning the questioner! Might this open a new understanding about my limitations?

When was the last time you questioned an instinctive response – like a fear or pain response? For example, when your body winced in pain, did you ask in your mind, “What does this pain mean?” “How does this represent who I am?” “Why this pain in this location in my body?”

What if I questioned my attitudes? Moods? Judgments?