Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Four Stages of Mysticism

I often refer to the four universal stages/cycles of psycho-spiritual growth, first brought to my attention by the work of Dr. M. Scott Peck. I have found these four stages in every one of the world’s religions. This paradigm for developmental spiritual growth recognizes that humans are on this planet to grow souls. Just as nature operates by moving through stages and cycles, so does the invisible human psyche. We grow from self centered egoism to an expanded awareness of the other, and from other-centeredness to skeptical individuation, and from individuation to mystical union. Scott Peck calls the stages:

1. Chaotic-Antisocial: The world revolves around me and my pleasure.
2. Formal-Institutional: As self centeredness brings increasing suffering, I discover the ‘other’ – a person or ideology which makes me expand beyond narcissistic self obsession.
3. Skeptic-Individual: Eventually the ‘other’ no longer fills me up, and I fall into a period of disillusionment and seeking, asking ‘who am I’?
4. Mystic-Communal: After a period of seeking, sorting, wondering and wandering I come to some sense of who I am without being completely self centered or by finding my identity in the ‘other’. I surrender to a Higher Power, discovering purposeful peace of mind and a sense of mystical connection in a universal communion.

Recently, I have come to see that each of the four stages can be divided into sub-stages by the stages preceding each. For example, the Mystic-Communal stage actually has four sub-stages:

1. The Egoistic-Mystic
2. The Otheristic-Mystic
3. The Sketpical-Mystic
4. The Mystical-Mystic

Why would we not need to grow through each stage? One does not become a full blown mystic overnight! After all, we never really jettison the prior stages, we just haul them along into each successive stage slightly altered.

1. The Egoistic-Mystic has experienced a state of personal surrender to a Higher Power. This person is moving from a life of victimization by troubling external circumstances and people. I begin to realize that my mind has the ability to affect my perception of reality. I see that I have personal choice and must take responsibility for all situations in my life. However, I am still self obsessed. In this infant stage of mystical awareness, I really think that the Universe exists primarily to serve me. I begin to focus on my mental, emotional and material prosperity. Spirit exists to make me healthy, wealthy and whole, most often at the external levels.

This is a normal and necessary stage for growing an infant soul, but those of us who have been raised in consumeristic America are especially susceptible to getting stuck in this stage. The recent book and DVD, The Secret, reveals a nation of nascent baby boomer mystics who have awakened to spirituality of the egotistical mystical variety. If you have been critical of The Secret, take heart; we are seeing a host of baby mystics awaken to a Source beyond the ego alone.

2. We eventually graduate into the Otheristic-Mystic stage. In this phase we align ourselves with some mystical teacher or organization which we think is going to enlighten or save the world. Personal prosperity is subjected to a larger vision of mystical awareness. It could be Al Gore’s mission to stop Global Warming, a recovery program like Alcoholic’s Anonymous or the Pro-Life campaign to stop abortion. It could be devotion to a particular spiritual path like Buddhism or Scientology. We often find a particular teacher, minister, guru or cause with which we passionately identify. This too is normal and necessary as a phase. But it will grow old.

3. It is not uncommon for a person to eventually burn out in this phase and become a Skeptical-Mystic. The fizzle is often related to being let down by the cause or teacher. Sometimes we feel it's 'just not working.' The ex Beatle, John Lennon, wrote the song Sexy Sadie about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when Lennon heard a rumor that the Indian guru was a flirting with a female devotee. Disillusioned and cynical, Lennon left the ashram and wrote the song. He later found out that the rumor was unfounded. The point is that we must lose our mystical ‘other’ and learn to trust completely in Spirit. Jesus pointed out that none is good but God. In this phase, one can never really abandon the original blissful mystical experience, but one can become a very cynical, miserable and bitter sage. But it need not end here.

4. Finally, there is the Mystical-Mystic stage. This is when one is really surrendered to a Higher Power. Peace of mind does not depend on divine physical healing, a huge bank account, the ideal relationship, an enlightened teacher or set of teachings. We come to see the mind, emotions and body as necessary but temporal instruments of soul-making. We are at peace with the fact that everything on this planet is designed with flaws and built in obsolescence so we can learn to let go. Like Jesus, one can face his death, no matter how horrible and painful, with tranquility and forgiveness toward all who have harmed him.

Remember, these are normal and necessary stages. There is no skipping over them, however, there does seem to be the possibility of getting stuck in one. We must pay attention to the progressive nature of soul-making. Take stock. If we have been in a stage which no longer serves, it may be time to get on our knees and ask God to help us move forward.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

My name is Sally.

Very interesting reads. I plan to read more.

I wonder if a Buddhist or Muslim can go through these four stages, and find salvation in the sense Christians expect(eternal life).

Do you have any opinion about the exclusive claims of Jesus being the only way?

This has always confused me, especially now that many are calling themselves "Christ Followers" who believe there is some salvific truth in all religions.

Do you have an opinion about the exclusive claims of Christ?

Michael (Mike) Bogar said...

Hi Sally,

Without a long explanation, my opinion is that these stages are as universal as any other psycho-spiritual experience. Such experiences are not dependent upon humanly constructed texts, organizations or teachings. Jesus taught this very clearly in Mark 4:26-29 when he said that spiritual growth takes place 'all by itself' (automate in Greek).

Most people I know who think Jesus is the 'only way' are egoistic-mystics, and that includes the person who wrote John 14:6. keep in mind that there is nothing 'wrong' with this kind of mysitc - he/she is still just a child in universal God-consciousness, thinking their 'system' better.

Unknown said...

Thanks for telling me about this post. I sought it out. It saved my life. I always have been dramatic, haven't I? Maybe more accurately, it made my month or year.