IV. 4. CONNECTION AND MYSTERY
Life-affirming death awareness is key to experiencing the deeper realms of connection and mystery.
It may not be too much to say that we cannot be truly alive until we experience our deepest and most intimate connection with all life. A practice focused on direct spiritual experience, combined with our willingness to face our deepest pain about our mortality, can dissolve conventional boundaries and identities, and transport us to unimagined realms of aliveness, connection and mystery.
People who have had direct spiritual experiences over the centuries have reported a transformed sense of aliveness, love and feeling. It is not simply that they feel "more alive". It is that their entire experience of life and being has been transformed . They report experiencing greater levels of appreciation for the preciousness of life, and a greater desire to preserve it not only for themselves but for all living beings, than they ever before imagined.
Central to this experience is fully feeling our pain at our mortality, and seeing it transformed into a deepened connection with all living beings who face a similar fate. We realize the deepest possible compassion and empathy for both ourselves and all others who are programmed by evolution to want to live but know from an early age that they must die. We not only feel compassion and empathy for the pain this knowledge causes our fellow human beings, but for the many ways it distorts our lives, diminishing our feeling, relationships, and child-rearing, and increasing violence and environmental destruction.
When we focus on direct and unmediated spiritual experience, we are taken to even deeper realms of connection. Direct spiritual experience is by definition first a non-verbal and non-conceptual experience of spirit. We usually only add words and concepts to it a bit afterwards, as we apply our religious understandings to it, or seek to remember or communicate it.
The Israeli and Palestinian, Hindu and Muslim, Christian and non-Christian, in other words, all have similar direct spiritual experiences. We can feel the deepest possible connection with each other if we focus on the direct experience itself, rather than the words and concepts we apply afterwards that so badly divide us.
Facing death has also been a major cause of direct and non-conceptual spiritual experiences that are a pathway to mystery. The many accounts of direct spiritual experience described over the centuries usually feature non-conventional understandings of life, immeasurably expanding our awareness and experience of aliveness. Descriptions of direct spiritual experiences - what people actually experience before they project, verbalize, concretize or seek to communicate their experiences - often feature:
o a dissolution of conventional and limiting identities and boundaries - of nation, gender, religion, race, even of being human - and an intensified connection with life itself.
o an even deeper identification with life in which we do not only feel a "small part" of life, but experience that we are life, of becoming life so deeply that there is no distinction between self and other. We are not simply connected to other living beings, but rather of each other, and of life itself.
o a release of tremendous energy and vitality, coupled with a deep sense of inner peace, aided by no longer being held in place by conventional and limiting identities.
o an experience of alignment with "what is," a sense that things are as they are or need to be; a deep sadness and poignancy at the idea of death coupled with a deep acceptance of it.
o experiencing the full range of our feelings, from painful to joyful, neither pushing away nor seeking to hold onto any particular experience.
o a shift in perception of time, an experience of timelessness, of there being no beginning, middle or end, no past or future, but only a personal experience of successive moments of now suspended in an eternal simultaneity of human experience in the midst of an Eternal Now.
Such "mystical" experiences of mystery dramatically expand our aliveness. They are often triggered by encounters with death, and often take people beyond their fear of or pain about death.
As we shall discuss in a moment, however, such experiences can diminish our aliveness over time if we do not pay close attention to what happens afterwards. We can have an experience of mystery in which we do not feel sadness about our death, and then return to our daily life, believing that we are "over" our death-pain due to this one experience or several like it. In fact, such experiences are usually temporary, as we see when we return to more ego-oriented behaviors in other areas of our daily life. We can also resume denying our death-pain, believing that it no longer exists.
We are most alive when we enter into a dance with the joy that such mystical experiences can bring and the anguish that giving meaning to experiences in this life inevitably triggers, albeit often unconsciously.