What is the relationship between pathology and holiness? In recent years, scientific studies have sought to draw a link between psychopathologies — […]
Opinion: It seems a lot of potential mystics start out by making plenty of mistakes.
This is hardly surprising. Often a whole new world opens up to them but they still carry all their psychological baggage. So inner experiences go through the filter of the personal unconscious, getting misinterpreted and distorted along the way.*
Some, I think, never really learn from their mistakes and just move further away from sanity as time passes. Others, however, are able to remain humble and admit their mistakes. By admitting when they’ve goofed up, potential mystics can move on and learn how to better discern between truth and error, and most importantly, remember to admit their uncertainty when they are uncertain about the alleged “truths” of their inner world.
A valuable approach for the contemporary mystic might be to offer hypotheses and probabilities – instead of certainties – with regard to the apparent fruits of their contemplation. For instance, instead of saying “I know” a mystic might say, “There is a 90% probability that so and so feels a certain way and is involved in a given activity but a 10% chance that I am mistaken.”
Ironically, some neuropsychologists and psychiatrists are not humble and do not admit their uncertainty when making unwarranted extrapolations from scanty data. So to my mind, they’re just as misguided and dogmatic as the worst deranged mystic.
But since the world is somewhat brainwashed by science and also places more value on “exterior” reality these days, mistaken scientists and psychiatrists tend to get a free pass while mystics who make mistakes exploring the “inner” world are usually not quite so fortunate.
* In fairness, I should note that the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung articulated a similar idea. For Jung, the contents of the “collective unconscious” can be distorted by the unresolved “personal unconscious.” Also, Catholic spiritual directors have been aware of this dynamic – within their own belief system – for centuries.