Mike’s note: What follows is an excerpt from Blessed are the Weird, a field manual for reclaiming your creative soul and healing the world. Interested in a review copy? We still have a few eBook copies for qualified bloggers via Speakeasy. Find out more here!
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
Let’s wade into the deep end of the pool with the likes of Lao Tzu, Buddha, Hafiz, Jesus Christ, Meister Eckhart, Carlos Castaneda, and many others. This is not a sociable group of skinny dippers. They are all so quiet and tend to float off into solitary corners and stare at the sky.
It is hard to get any weirder than mystics. They appear among us and seem to have little use for the way most people see the world. It isn’t that they are always antagonistic to the lesser motivations of their fellow people—mystics often have deep compassion for the struggles of humans being human—it’s just that they soar up to higher vantage points and see things about life, the universe, and everything that boggle our minds.
Mystics have a simplicity about their vision that is almost too pure for this world. What they have to say is usually so straight to the heart of things that our minds have a hard time finding handles for. This is exactly how their messages need to be delivered.
Jesus told parables about birds and lilies and grains of wheat. He sat on a hilltop and gently laid out his vision for a different kind of world.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God…
He went on to tell his followers,
You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world.
He was talking to men and women who were exhausted and bruised by life. His audience was filled with people who had been abused by oppressive rulers for many generations. He was telling them that not only was the kingdom of heaven within them, but also that they would gain it in the most paradoxical ways. Humility, meekness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking were to be the currency of the new powerful rather than swords and shields. It made no sense, but he said it anyway.
After many years of being raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult, I left the church and turned away from all things Bible. I learned how it had been stitched together, curated, twisted, and fabricated to serve the purposes of various powerful groups down through time. In my first book, there is a scene in which the main character’s Bible was burned by his guides so that he could experience life without the rigid framework of beliefs he had been taught since birth. Later in the story, he encountered another guide who told him this:
Your particular sect is an extreme case, but most who call themselves Christians hold a similar view—that their truth is the only truth. You are being called to see beyond one form and appreciate the vital Truth that flows through all. One day you will return to the dead ashes of your old Bible and discover new meaning. It will become an entirely different book for you. For now, trust that your journey afield will not leave you lost and abandoned.
I began to understand that, whoever this Jesus person was, when he referred to God or the “kingdom of heaven,” he did not mean the same thing about them that traditional religion would have us believe. He was expressing a mystical way of experiencing the Big Everything.
We should not be surprised that they killed him for it.
The world has been misunderstanding and abusing mystics since day one for their audacity to suggest that things are much more than they appear to be.
Lao Tzu is said to have written the Tao Te Ching. Like Jesus, exactly who he was—or even if one man by that name really existed— is shrouded in the mists of history. I love one of the legends about how the strange and powerful words of the Tao came to be written:
Lao Tzu grew weary of watching the moral decay of society in Chengzhou and became certain that the kingdom was falling into decline. He escaped west on a water buffalo to live as a hermit in the great, unsettled desert frontier at the age of one hundred sixty. At the far border of the kingdom, a guard who was also secretly a disciple of his teachings recognized him. The sentry held him for several days and demanded that he write the teachings of the Tao for the good of the world before he would be permitted to continue on his journey.
Lao Tzu reluctantly agreed and what he wrote was said to be the Tao Te Ching with its eighty-one passages.
The first section of the Tao Te Ching reads—
The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
Lao Tzu and the other mystics express truths that rattle our reality tunnels. They walk a lonely path because most humans are invested in seeing through a fixed belief window. Mystics help us understand that there is a lot more to the whole picture. Even though we might not understand their paradoxes and metaphors, something in us thrills to know that we are connected to an intelligent system so imponderably massive that our minds cannot comprehend the wholeness of it for more than split seconds at a time.
Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
In this simple, potent sentence, he strips layers of sacred paint off the idea of prayer. What if we forget everything we know about prayer and just turn life into one continuous thank you? “Thank you for everything. Thank you for this next breath. Thank you for the ability to be here as myself for the tiny moment known as my life.” His statement isn’t complex, but it is mind-bending and life-changing. That’s what mystics do.
Human potential researcher Abraham Maslow talks a lot about the “unitive experience” in which a person suddenly breaks into a feeling that everything is somehow One Thing. He said,
The great lesson from the true mystics, from the Zen monks, and now also from the Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists, is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life…in one’s own backyard.
Self-actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family.
I read his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, when I was struggling to find my place after several years of mystical breakthrough (and, truth be told, simultaneous nervous breakdown) during which I was not sure that I would ever be able to navigate the normal world again. He helped me understand that I was not alone and also that people who have these peak experiences eventually need to come down from the mountain top and walk among their fellow humans. Otherwise, what they have experienced is wasted because it is isolated and so lofty that it cannot be used in real life.
He pulled me out of the clouds with this thought:
The person in peak experiences feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.
In other words, a mystical episode becomes practical when it activates this tremendous sense of personal power and a responsibility to live deeply.
The reason any of this matters to us now is because we are called upon by the age in which we live to self-actualize. We have never reached such a peak of potential as a species before and, if we are going to do anything with it, we must step into the power of ourselves that lies beyond the common way of humans. Our era is begging us to do it.
Modern mystic Thomas Hübl said it well. “Responsibility is not a duty. Responsibility is my ability to respond authentically to the world.”
To put this in immediate terms, you matter. I matter. Our own mystical experiences and epiphanies matter too. The moments of what C.S. Lewis called “flashes of pure northernness” that reveal our unbreakable connection to All That Is often come out of thin air. It is easy to ignore them with the rational thought of “…well, that was weird,” but, when the mirror-sky cracks above us and we see times beyond time, for just a moment, we have experienced the mystical and ourselves as mystics. Most of us will never make the mystical life our full-time occupation. That job seems to be reserved for just a few in the world. But we can take our place alongside those visionaries who have gone before with no sense of unworthiness, because this anomalous way of seeing is part of our design. It is our long-forgotten birthright.
Most painters, writers, poets, troubadours, misfits, and heretics are mystics to some degree. The act of creation is mystical and we often cannot explain exactly how inspiration comes to us. Scientists like Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, and Buckminster Fuller spoke of what led to their discoveries with humility and awe. Mozart was a degenerate fool in most areas of his life, but when he sat down to write music, he tapped something transcendent. When we reach beyond the realm of common reason, we connect with the vast energetic matrix of information. When we bring some of it back to share with the world, we are doing the work of mystics because we are accessing the same Source.
G.K. Chesterton said it in Orthodoxy:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery, you have health; when you destroy mystery, you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.
Mystics have always asked us to see the world through different eyes. They call us forward on the journey of meaning and purpose and destiny. They invite us to carry our own visions of what might be back to our lives and assist in the forward progress of evolution.
My friend Teresa “TJ” Phillips is a quiet, gentle spirit. As a young child, she had a prelude to the eternal self while gazing up at the stars. She saw herself and the whole world through eternal eyes. Her life was never the same after that. An Near-Death-Experience (what she calls a beyond-this-life experience) in her twenties shifted her perspective of this awareness from the body-self to an effortless understanding of the All and Nothing, and it became her natural state of being.
She has lived an essentially normal life of unconditional love and compassion for all, but has faced feeling like an outsider and being misunderstood while growing up; then difficult marriages, financial challenges, and poor health through what she calls the unfocused years. Through all of it, she carried an unshakeable knowing about life on this planet, a sense of peace amidst the chaos, and an insatiable fascination with living. It wasn’t until recent years, after meeting people like me, that she understood how differently she sees this existence. She has a profound wisdom and has been instrumental in helping many people touch what is real and true in themselves. She came alongside me years ago and we have spent hours on the phone at times. There was something in her presence that helped me to become clear about my gifts. Sometimes during a long-distance chat, the sound of a passing train will overwhelm the usual stillness of her Midwestern home, and we will have to wait until it roars and rattles away into the night before resuming our conversation.
In recent years, she has grappled with death more than once. Twice, after surgery, she fell into a coma. Her body was frozen, but she was able to see and hear discussions about “end of life options.” She came out of the coma, but despite her powerful awareness, this experience rattled her human self and left behind a trail of trauma that has required her to undergo therapy and reach out for support from family and friends in a way she never had before. When I talk with Teresa now, she has even more compassion for her fellow humans and how we all struggle to be here in this life.
Teresa is not a famous mystic, preferring to share insights through conversation, stories, poetry and social media as Believe in the Moment. I include Teresa in this book out of gratitude for how she touched my life—and still does. She struggles with the ugly, painful stuff of being human and she also shows up with reminders that life is good, that my spirit is on a beautiful journey here as me, and that all of this is worth it.
“Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they will never cease to be amused” is her favorite saying and way of letting me know everything will be all right.
That’s what mystics do.
Jacob Nordby is a writer. He is also a starer-at-the-sky and a breather and a hill-walker and a sushi eater.
He wrote The Divine Arsonist – A Tale of Awakening and his most recent release, Blessed Are the Weird – A Manifesto for Creatives. He is actively plotting new novels and other projects. His work has been featured in compilation books with Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, Lisa McCourt, Jack Canfield, and others.
Jacob is the proud father of three children who often leave the door open like they are trying to heat the whole damn neighborhood—and who have taught him about life, love, and acceptance.
Jacob is the founder and teacher of Creative UnBootcamp – A Course for Writers…and those who want to be. He offers intuitive coaching sessions that are designed to help people solve their creative puzzles. People often come to him for guidance on writing but these sessions often extend into other areas as Jacob is convinced that “creativity is not something we put in a little room or a box and visit when it’s convenient for us.”
Find Jacob online at BlessedAreTheWeird.com.
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