There are lots of different ways of talking about mysticism, but one of the things I haven’t often heard is that it’s about “getting real.” Do you know what I mean? Most of the time what we mean by “getting real” and “being mystical” seem contradictory, at least to most people. Of course, we mystics tend to think and talk a lot about what is really real in a metaphysical sense, but there are a couple of other meanings to the phrase “getting real” that I want to address in this post.
First, getting real often simply means being honest. If you’re like me, being honest about what is really real means acknowledging that to some degree reality is a mystery our tiny little brains cannot completely solve. Being honest about this condition also urges some of us to admit that we’d really like to believe we can completely think out a solution to that mystery, or at least have some explanation that sounds good enough to let us get on with living in other ways. Following it a little deeper than the drive for explanations, our honesty may help us discover that closer to the heart of our being is a drive to know and understand, and that it can be motivated by something stronger than our instincts for comfort, belonging and even survival. In other words, we can discover in ourselves, or witness in others, that it’s possible to love the truth so passionately that we are willing to sacrifice everything for it. Of course, getting real in this sense also brings with it the awareness that we can be just as willing to make enormous sacrifices for illusion rather than welcome uncomfortable, painful, or threatening truth. I suspect the honesty with ourselves that acknowledges both of these drives at once – for truth and for illusion – is intertwined with our honesty about the utter mystery of things. It seems to be the crux of a cross we can choose to bear or to deny, a cup we can either drink or allow to pass.
Second, as part of the commitment to honesty in getting real, we mystics sometimes find ourselves challenged with accepting that we are really just ordinary human beings. In all our God-focused weirdness we sometimes lose sight, often willfully, of the fact that we’re wrestling with the same crap as everyone else. Being mystics certainly does not make us morally superior; we sin, or miss the mark, at least within ourselves, just like everyone else. Our spiritual practices do not deliver us from that cross we just considered; in many ways it only becomes more present. We don’t attain some permanent state of angelic consciousness in which we are forever removed from the ordinary psychological and ethical struggles of humanity. Even after extraordinary events of receiving the Holy Spirit, not unlike Jesus after his baptism, we can find ourselves alone in the desert and repeatedly tempted. And we all know what it’s like to be face-down in the dirt at midnight, so racked with fear that we figuratively, if not literally, sweat blood as we pray to be spared some great trial, and one that we have almost always brought upon ourselves in some measure.
Aside from all this wrestling, struggling, and sweating blood, I also think getting real for most of us mystics can and should include a good laugh at ourselves and life at least once a day. Finally, on a more personal note, in this moment it’s important for me to say that I am not just speaking generally about mystics. When I say “we”, that starts with me.