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What are the distinctive features of a ‘mystical’ experience?

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What are the distinctive features of a 'mystical' experience? A mystical experience can be defined as having an experience of an ultimate being, which you find hard to describe or express in normal words. These experiences are very powerful, and often lead to conversion into religion. They typically feature bright light, heightened senses, extreme energy, and can provide an insight into the unknown and spiritual realms. As each is individual, and can never truly be recaptured it is difficult to pick out the distinctive features, though theorists and philosophers have tried to breakdown mystical experiences into categories to try and understand them better. An example of this is Stace, who made a distinction between extrovertive and introvertive mystical experiences. An extrovertive experience is when the individual has a sense of all objects uniting together as one single being. An example of this is described by William James, 'Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter but rather a living Presence: I became conscious in myself of eternal life.' ...read more.


We can only truly understand the experience if we experience it ourselves- we cannot recapture it, or decide to experience it again. William James also described a important Noetic quality in mystical experience. This is when the experience leads to an insight into the truths. These universal and eternal revelations cannot be gained through intellect- only through mystical experience. Although this new found knowledge is difficult to express, or to tell someone else, these 'truths' can often lead to the individual either converting to religion, or significantly changing their outlook and approach to life in a more spiritual and secure way. The third distinctive feature of mystical experience is Passivity. This can be described as when the mystical experience takes over the person, and can often result in phenomena such as speaking in tongues and other languages. The mystic often feels in a state of a superior being taking over their body. An example of this is found in the mystical experiences of Madame Guyon, as described, "it is He who acts in her; she becomes like an automaton in His hands; she writes remarkable things without preparation and without reflection. ...read more.


An example of this is in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila- a famous Christian mystic, she says, 'the soul is fully awake as regards God, but wholly asleep as regards things outside of this world.' Visions are also often a feature of mystical experiences. St. Teresa of Avila's experiences often included visions,- the most famous being a "small angel with a beautiful face holding 'a long golden spear' tipped with a 'little fire' which he thrust into her heart." St. Teresa describes: '...it penetrated into my entrails. When he drew out the spear he seemed to be drawing them out with it, leaving me all on fire with a wondrous love for God.' Due to the quality of transiency in mystical experiences, these visions are rarely accurately remembered. As mystical experiences can barely be described and are often not remembered, it is difficult to provide many examples and distinctive features in mystical experiences, except that they are difficult to express, and have a clear sense or relationship with the divine. Though philosophers and theorists try to describe and classify these experiences, it is difficult to truly understand a mystical experience until we have experienced one ourselves. ...read more.

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