IMG_9196When my friend C responded with “what’s your definition of Mysticism?” I knew I must have offended him.

We were at this Buddhist bookshop in the Gongguan (公馆) area in Taipei….well, actually it is more than a Buddhist bookshop – it sold Buddhist books on top of other religious paraphernalia like incense, statuettes and other prayer accessories for many different religions.  It even sold tarot cards, crystals, horoscopes and other items I usually do not associate with Buddhism.  C was there to help a Buddhist friend purchase books on Osho.  Those who know who Osho was would know that he was an ‘Indian mystic, guru and spiritual leader’ (1931 – 1990) <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneesh> so a Buddhist being interested in Osho was another surprise.  And hence my question to C – “Are you into Mysticism?”

Being more than just a casual user of the English language, I guess I should have been more careful with my words.  Yes, all languages have value laden semantics, that is, words carry values, both positive and negative.  More than just being a name for something, words often also reflect the speaker’s value judgement.  I should have been sharply aware that the label ‘Mysticism’ carries with it a negative value.

“I prefer the word ‘Spiritualism’,” pronounced C, closing the issue.

The episode got me thinking.  In recent years, my contact with spirituality has increased, surprising even myself since I’ve never been comfortable with this realm other than being steeped in the ‘Faith of our Fathers’, my affectionate term for Christianity.  Since leaving the faith for personal reasons, I’ve not contemplated any other religious nor supernatural dimensions although I deeply believe that life is more than just physical reality.

What then drew me to those encounters with it?  Well, some may say that it’s a spiritual hollow created by my leaving the faith.  Perhaps.  But when I thought about the number of people I know who are going into Spiritualism, many of them intelligent and educated, non-superstitious people and many still committed totally to their faith, it raised the question of whether religion especially institutionalized religions like Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism were sufficiently meeting the needs of their believers.  A psychologist friend told me that perhaps, religion has outgrown its role of meeting believers’ needs and so the phenomenon.  What that means is left to our imagination.

With religious scandals looming large on the horizon, with insularism and sectarianism, exclusivity and hostility to religious differences and even differences in moral convictions, it is little wonder that religion may no longer be the favour of the day.  Headlines today emphasize negative news about religion more than the care, love and support it has for its believers and society at large.  The feeling it creates is that religion has somehow lost its relevance.

Or perhaps it is as Eckhart Tolle, in his international bestseller, The Power of Now1, says, “The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse.”  He continues, “This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as ‘My or our God is the only true God, and your God is false,’ or Nietzsche’s famous statement ‘God is dead’*.”

Loneliness in a modern faceless cosmopolitan city might be another reason why people become increasingly fascinated and involved in spirituality.

For me, the first encounter that I had was my need to find a cure for my headache that refused to go away even with visits to the doctor and medication.  I tried meditation and though it was short-lived, it did alleviate my pain.  Later on, I was introduced to Mindfulness**, a practice that emphasizes meditation.  What drew me to it?  Curiosity in part but perhaps it was my attempt at finding a gateway into the healing benefits of meditation.

Thinking back to what could have caused the headaches, I’m wondering whether it was the result of the extreme loneliness and facelessness which I was facing at that time in my life.  I had turned forty-nine and lost my sense of meaning in life.  The feelings were so deep and devastating that they almost consumed and destroyed me totally.  God and Faith didn’t help.  In fact, their failure to deliver increased my depression.

In my opinion and it is mine alone, those people who seek spirituality are perhaps the casualties of similar situations experienced like mine, experiences in a cold, unfeeling and cruel society which is outwardly progressive and successful but internally sick and combusting.  Not surprisingly, those who warm up to spirituality are also those who experienced lots of relationship issues – with colleagues and friends, with siblings and parents, with partners and people who are closely related to them…and ultimately with their faith.

Whatever the reasons for my increasing encounters with Spiritualism, I think there are many out there, many of whom I believe have similar issues like mine and who will subsequently come in touch with it.  Some will embrace it quickly while others like me will sit by the side, and wait and see.  I may finally be won over but like I told C, my friend, I need time to sort things out.  Who knows, one day soon, I may be writing a post about how ‘I Found It’.

So is Spiritualism mambo jambo?  No, if you should ask those who believe in it.


1 Tolle, Eckhart The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 2011 Edition, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

*Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche>

**Mindfulness – Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditational practices derived from Buddhist anapanasati…. Mindfulness practice is being employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction.  It has gained worldwide popularity as a distinctive method to handle emotions. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

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