One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its root and center in mystical states of consciousness.
—William James (1902, p. 379)
Have you ever had a mystical experience?
What separates a mystical experience from an ordinary one?
The Core of Mystical Experience
Researchers agree the one essential feature of mystical experience is an experience of unity.
Indeed, debates on mystical experience are best understood in terms of how this unity is to be interpreted.
Much of the Western study on mystical experience begins with reference to William James’s book Varieties of Religious Experience.
James tells us that mystical experience is a relatively rare event in which individual consciousness merges in radical unity with the universe.
James identified four characteristics of all mystical experiences:
What is essential from James’s investigation is the notion that mystical experience is different from the everyday world of experience.
James set the standard for the modern study of mystical experience.
Introvertive and Extrovertive Unity
One of the questions researchers have asked since James work is: What is the mystical experience of unity all about exactly?
Stace (1960) contended that the mystical experience of unity is expressed in one of two ways: “introvertive” and “extrovertive.”
In the introvertive type of unity the subject “looks inward into the mind” to achieve “pure consciousness.” This type of unity is experienced during meditation with one’s eyes closed and is perceived as an experience of nothingness.
In the extrovertive type of unity the subject “looks outward through the senses” (Stace, 1960, p. 110) and grasps the unity of all things in or through the multiplicity of the natural world. In this type of experience all things are felt to be alive (e.g., stones, trees, the sky).
Synchronicity, a term coined by the late psychologist Carl Jung, is said to occur when an objective event meaningfully relates to one’s inner state.
In a person’s synchronistic encounter, there is no causal connection between the objective event and one’s inner state of being. In other words, this phenomenon can capture the extrovertive sense of mystical experience.