Here’s a link to a good essay on mysticism by Rabbi Alan Lurie on Huffington Post. I won’t attempt to summarize it – it’s not that long, and it’s well worth reading for yourself.
The comments to this piece on Huffington Post fall into two categories. Those who get it agree wholeheartedly. And those who don’t claim that mystical experience is a change in brain chemistry and nothing more. If the ground rules of your worldview state that “the immaterial is immaterial” (to quote a movie villain with whom I share a last name), then you are likely to dismiss any evidence or interpretations which point toward a non-material reality.
If, however, you are open to wisdom from spiritual sources, then mystical experiences can be some of the most meaningful and helpful events in our lives.
Rabbi Lurie’s background and tradition are very different from mine, but our experiences are similar. Mystics in all traditions – Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan – understand “there is a purposeful presence that underlies all creation, and that there is a oneness to everything.”
This seemingly conflicts with the work of Stephen Prothero, whose new book God is Not One is getting a lot of favorable reviews. But on deeper examination, the conflict fades.
I’ve talked a lot recently about three levels of religion: the mythical, the ethical, and the mystical. Clearly, different religions have different myths: the myth of Jesus is very different from the myth of the Mother Goddess. And clearly, different religions have different ethics: Unitarian Universalist ethics are very different from Wahabi Muslim ethics.
Some people never get past the mythical stage and many never get past the ethical stage. Mix in politics, cultural differences and our evolutionary urges and you end up with a wide variety of beliefs and concepts that are easily confused and ripe for abuse (though many do rise above the confusion to do great things).
But practice any religion diligently and with the heart-felt desire to connect to God / Goddess / the Ground of Being / insert-your-metaphor-here and you will end up in the same place – at the Unity of All.