There are certain activities or states of mind which trigger in me what Abraham Maslow calls “peak experiences”. Reading Keith Hancock’s Mystical Experience of Reality does just that.
I have been sitting in our beautiful cottage garden in the spring sunshine. The birds have been singing and all is well. Phrases in Keith’s book take me to treasured places and I really care little if this seems a mere flight of fancy.
I am in Narnia running ever on into greater and higher levels of Eden, alongside the lion, the children and all the talking animals. I am leaving Middle Earth with the elves, from the harbor at Grey Havens, travelling with them to their mythical and otherworldly origins. I am subliming with Ian M Banks to a transcendent realm outside of physical reality.
It is odd how merely reading about such states or places can often bring on feelings of being in them or at them. But there we go, that is the way I find it to be.
When reading Keith’s words, I feel a deep calling to that state of disembodied serenity I have so often felt of late. There is much I recognized in his book, so much which accords with my own eccentric journey into silence.
So much of what Keith says, so much of what he describes and the way he tells it rings true to me, speaks of the experiences I have felt of late.
Keith had a series of mystic experiences and in this book he describes both his own mystic experiences and quotes extensively from the writing of others on the subject. People have had such experiences throughout recorded history and have believed them to be an enlightenment, a release from the ordinary world, a glimpse of perfection and an afterlife. A state of existence where all is well and where sorrow, pain and hunger do not exist.
The big question for the skeptic is whether such experiences are “real”. I may feel that I have experienced an alternative (and better) state of reality but the scientists and materialists will inevitably dismiss such altered states of consciousness as merely manufactured by the brain. The brain receives sense input from the external world from which it creates a sense of “reality” in our waking life. Sight, sound, smell and touch are interpreted by the brain as a simulacrum of what is actually “out there”. An “interpretation”, not direct experience. The brain is interpreting the signals it receives and creating a “reality” which we assume roughly corresponds to what is out there in the physical world.
In dream states, we no longer rely on input from our senses but the brain nevertheless produces states which, while we are dreaming, we usually believe to be real.
The skeptic would argue that a mystical experience may be explained in a similar fashion – a dream state “imagined” or fashioned by the brain which does not represent any form of reality.
Keith and the mystics would argue strongly otherwise. To them the reality they experience while in a mystical state is, by contrast, more real than the physical world we normally interpret as “real”.
Not all scientists would disagree with the mystics. Some have the humility to admit that there is much about “reality” which we currently fail to grasp. To the layman it is incredible to learn from the scientists that “matter” as we customarily experience it does not exist – it is a collection of force-fields or strings of energy, not solid at all.
Now that is weird. Is it so much weirder to believe that reality is not as we customarily perceive it at all? Is it so far fetched to give credit to the possibility that certain people are able to see through to “ultimate” reality, a place of infinite fecundity and goodness from which we came and to which we will return?
This is not a subject I care to argue about. There really isn’t much point. The materialists and physicalists will get hot under the collar and call such a possibility absurd and ridiculous. They will usually deride and mock the mystic as a misguided and outdated fool who belongs back in the middle ages, when pixies lived at the bottom of our gardens and witches roamed the forests.
But some of us have a sense that the materialists may be understanding only part of life’s story. And we are joined by some of the more imaginative and less dogmatic scientists who concede that the universe remains a great mystery, some of the secrets of which may never be revealed by the scientific method.
In any event, I welcome Keith’s contribution to the debate and find his story accords with my own, shall we say, “wishes”!