In my previous essay, I provided a brief introduction to the Path of the Sensuous Mystic, a spiritual path arising from my personal spiritual reflections, particularly those related to how we might utilize the Arts in tandem with digital media (interactive technologies) to strengthen our realization of Spirit on a daily basis in our contemporary lives. In this post, I share the ground of the path and explain how you can begin to engage in valoressence1.
Throughout history, all over the world, people have sought Spirit—and all over the world they have given It different names and written treaties on their discoveries. Mystic paths arise from this—our deep yearnings for communion with Spirit. Many of us have had such yearnings, but unless we were extremely fortunate, we probably didn’t have anyone around to explain our yearnings as the sacred stuff they were—as the first step on the path of mysticism. All major religions have mystic paths—often more than one—unfortunately these paths are often kept quiet, or repressed by the religious mainstream. By definition, mysticism is a path in which individuals pursue personal communion with God, Divinity, Ultimate Reality, or Spirit, through their own direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. One fruit of this Union is an opening, or blossoming into broader domains of Spirit.
When we seek out and take up mystical paths we’re seeking direct communion with Ultimate Truth, Source, or whatever words we favor to designate the Divine. Mystic paths encourage us to awaken to Spirit by taking up practices that have been handed-down by prior seekers—practices such as engaging in meditation, contemplation, praying, chanting, dancing, playing music, singing, engaging in tantric sexual practices, ingesting various mind-altering substances, and so forth. While some definitions of mysticism imply that mystical paths don’t value the intellect, this interpretation is a misunderstanding. It is often through the intellect that we arrive at the doorstep of mysticism. We arrive because a discrepancy has arisen between what we’ve been taught and what we’ve experienced, or understood in our own lived experience. We arrive because a longing has arisen within us that cannot be quenched by vicariously experiencing someone else’s description of Divine Union. What we read and study serves as a spiritual tugboat—pulling us to the meditation cushion, to the chanting, into the whirling.
When we think of mystic paths, we generally think of a path with an origin in a specific philosophic or spiritual tradition (for example, Sufism is a mystic path arising from Islam, while Kabbalah is a mystic path arising from Judaism), however through exploring the experiences of practitioners across these, and other spiritual traditions, similarities have been recognized. These similarities are a major subject of study in the field of transpersonal psychology and they are often referred to as the Perennial philosophy.2 The Perennial philosophy dates back to the earliest philosophers and spiritual texts, but one of my favorite definitions comes from Aldous Huxley:
[The Perennial philosophy] is the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being—the thing is immemorial and universal. (1970, p. vii)
The Perennial philosophy states that every religion has an esoteric dimension, which is essential, primordial and universal. The literal meaning is the relative expression and the esoteric is the absolute expression. As the ground of the Sensuous Path, the Perennial philosophy is informed by integral theory, a philosophical approach explored and expanded by Ken Wilber.3 Wilber’s Integral theory provides us with contemporary methods of integrating science and spirit, and moving beyond either/or thinking across disciplines. This is important because even the Perennial philosophy itself is divided into opposing camps: the perenialists (or essentialists) and the social constructionists (or contextualists). The perenialists regard mystical experience as superseding the historical, cultural, and religious context in which it takes place, while the constructionists regard mystical experience as determined by the expectations and the conceptual background of the individual. Integral theory offers us a model through which we can view these opposing positions as parts of a larger whole. Spirit, as the immanent and transcendent Absolute Ground of all being, certainly supersedes all historicity, but in the relative, everyday world of our lived experience, Spirit manifests in diverse and myriad forms from epoch to epoch.
The Path of the Sensuous Mystic owes its existence to current epochal shifts—evolutionary shifts in consciousness and patterns of interconnectivity arising from information and communication technologies. These shifts are changing our mythic landscape. The emerging hyper-interdependent mythos of planetary consciousness is itself another reflection of Spirit—thus, the emergence of new paths to union through this refection should be understood as following an age-old continuum—an evolutionary process. In the Sensuous path, the tried and true practices—meditating, praying, chanting, dancing, playing music, singing, etc.—converge.
Since mystical paths are those in which we seek personal communion with Spirit through our own direct experience, if you feel inclined to explore the Path of the Sensuous Mystic, summon your valoressence and begin by recalling the first time you wished you could talk to God, Spirit, the Divine, or whatever name you first used when thinking of the Great Mystery. How old were you? Where were you? What thoughts, feelings, or emotions, aroused this desire? Write about your experiences and see where they lead. Whatever your experiences, from now on, recognize them as sacred experiences. Contrary to what we’re generally taught, “sacred experiences” are not something that occurred to a select number of disciples long ago, but rather, experiences in the here and now that bring us closer to the Great Mystery. On the mystic path, you must be willing to see and name the sacred within yourself. You must anoint yourself as a worthy vessel for the Divine.
1) Valoressence is the courage to explore the Good, True, and Beautiful, on one’s own terms.
2) The term, “Perennial Philosophy” was first coined by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz as “Philosophia Perennis”, but the metaphysic is “immemorial and universal” (Huxley, 1970, p. vii).
3) Ken Wilber’s Integral theory is informed by the integral theories of Sri Aurobindo and Jean Gebser, among others. While Wilber’s Integral theory is the approach applied to this path, readers should be aware that a variety of integral scholarship exists, for examples see the works of Ervin Laszlo, Edgar Morin, and Jennifer Gidley.
Huxley, Aldous (1970). The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper Colophon Books
Wilber, Ken (1995). Sex, ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Boston: Shambhala
Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral Spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Integral Books/Shambhala
Psychologist exploring the impact of digital technologies on the mythic and moral dimensions of humanity; passionately curious about the conscious use of interactive technologies to advance secular ethics and spirituality qualities such as altruism and compassion. Integral scholar and Dzogchen practitioner.