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An exploration of mystical experiences through life histories Biela, Thomas Johannes 1993

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AN EXPLORATION OF MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES THROUGH LIFEHISTORIESbyTHOMAS JOHANNES BIELAB.A., University of British Columbia, 1990A THESIS SUBMIIThD IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENT FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinThe Faculty of Graduate StudiesCounselling PsychologyWe accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTIlE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIADECEMBER, 1993() Thomas Johannes Biela, 1993In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives, It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department of /The University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate 2/793DE-6 (2/88)11ABSTRACTThe purpose of this study was to explore the meaning of mystical experiences within thecontext of life histories. Existing research has primarily employed traditional methods in itsconcern for codification, regularization, and generalization. Qualitative methodologies havereceived little attention. The aim of this study was to contribute to existing research by aholistic, contextual understanding of mystical phenomena and to inform counsellors in theirefforts to help clients in the meaningful integration of these experiences.This thesis employed a multiple case study approach within narrative methodology. Threeindividuals, one woman and two men, all in their fifties and with appropriate mysticalexperiences were identified through a network of acquaintances and invited to participate.Intensive interviews were conducted, transcribed, analyzed, and presented as “straightened”individual stories. Cochran’s (1990) discovery of four natural phases toward a unifieddramatic composition provided an important framework for analysis. Each story was validatedby the respective participant. In addition, a summary analysis or common story wasconstructed of the individual accounts. Findings indicate that the mystical phenomena wereintimate to the very lives as lived, making a holistic research approach indispensable for theinvestigation of meaning.k/\-\‘/TABLE OF CONTENTSABSTRACTTABLE OF CONTENTSACKNOWLEDGEMENTSCHAPTER I. INTRODUCTIONBackground of the ProblemDefming MysticismCHAPTER IL REVIEW OF THE LITERATUREMysticism as Family ResemblanceMystical Experience as the “Numinous” and the Interaction ofthe Nonrational with the RationalMysticism as the Mystic Way Toward the Unitive LifeMysticism as the Inward Way and the Outward WayMysticism as Visions, Voices, and HyperemotionalismMysticism as Seen by ScienceMysticism as PathologyMysticism as Drug “High”Mysticism as Peak ExperienceCulture and MysticismMysticism as Universal Core Experience of ValuesMysticism as Seen in Cultural ContextMysticism as Survivalism, Functionalism, Contextualism;the Cultural Source HypothesisPhenomenological Issues and Dilemmas of Before, During, andAfter Mystical Experiences111Pagen111VII113555791012• 131719• 212122242525BeforeivDuring 27After 29Research 31Problems with Operationalization . . . 31Mystical Experiences: Frequent or Rare? 31Mysticism: Mental Health and Personality 33Social Class and Education. 34Gender Differences . 35Triggers and Antecedents . . 35Miscellaneous Findings . . 36Limitations of Existing Research . . 37Approach to the Present Investigation 38CHAPTER ifi. METHODOLOGY . . . 43Explication of Presuppositions . . 43Selecting Participants 44Life History Interview 45Analysis: “Straightening” the Story 47Scientific Rigor 48Participants’ Critical Review . . 50CHAPTER IV. RESULTS M’1) ANALYSIS: LIFE HISTORYCASE STUDIES 52Life History One: Sister Chelsea 52The Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or Awakeningand Unification of Yearning 52The Middle: The Phase of Positioning or the Attainmentof Personhood 58VThe Middle: The Phase of Positing or the Work of LifeThe End: The Phase of Completion or the Unitive LifeLife History Two: JohnThe Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or Awakeningand Unification of YearningThe Middle: The Phase of Positioning or the Attainmentof PersonhoodThe Mystical ExperienceThe Middle: The Phase of Positing or the Work of LifeThe End: The Phase of Completion or the Unitive LifeLife History Three: HenkThe Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or Awakeningand Unification of YearningThe Middle: The Phase of PositioningThe Mystical ExperienceDescent into LimboNew Hope: Reemerging Unification of DesireSummary Analysis .The Beginning: IncompletionThe Middle: Part one, PositioningThe Middle: Part two, Positing .The End: CompletionMystical Experiences and Life HistoryCIIAPTERV 122LimitationsImplications for TheoryImplications for Counselling64677577818488939494100105108109113113115116118119122122125Implications for Future Research.130Summary 131REFERENCES 133APPENDIX A: Recruitment Letter 141APPENDIX B: Consent Form 142viviiACKNOWLEDGEMENTSI wish to acknowledge the members of my committee, Drs. Amundson, Cochran, andWhittaker. I extend my thanks to Larry Cochran, my thesis advisor, for his solid guidanceand keeping me focused, Elvi Whittaker for her inspiration during my foray into anthropology,and to Norm Amundson whose bold suggestion to apply for a sizable grant literally paid offmany a bill.I am exceedingly grateful to the participants in this study who entrusted me with thegift of their life stories. Their generosity and honesty enriched my life immeasurably.I extend my gratitude to Norbert Buxbaum of the Bavarian Room Restaurant for lettingme occupy a quiet corner for many hours, many days, and many years, allowing me to remainin contact with the world while immersed in my work.I am grateful to have met Nurit Barkan-Ascher who became a good friend and comradein arms throughout the experience of the master’s program.Finally, I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to my family. I thank my wife Pamfor encouraging me to begin my B.A. at age forty despite the dauntingly slow part-timeprocess whose end seemed ever so far. I have seen our baby daughter Stephanie grow into ayoung teenager and our son Daniel mature from a ten year old into a university student. I amgrateful for their patience, understanding, and enthusiastic support to see me through.1CHAPTER IIntroductionThe purpose of this study is to explore the meaning of mystical experienceswithin the context of life histories in order to gain a deeper understanding of thephenomenon’s emergence, nature, and potential to influence a person’s life.Background of the ProblemThroughout history and across cultural boundaries experiences of a greater, allinclusive, ultimate reality beyond the reaches of ordinary sense perception have beenreported. In their highest form, these experiences have a power and “given-ness”which irresistibly absorb the person’s total attention or being. This “totalityperception” provides new knowledge in the form of revelation and illumination boundup with feelings of bliss, peace, and joy, by way of participation, not observation. Theintuited reality is variously called the Ground of the Soul, the Abyss of Being, the Self,the Absolute, the One, or God, etc. (James, 1972; Underhill, 1955).Despite numerous and often negative connotations, the term “mystical” appearsto be best suited to capture the “mysterium tremendum” (Otto, 1958) which lies veiledbeyond the reaches of the senses. Equally important is historic continuity from ancientGreece through the Middle Ages where the mystical referred to the hiddenness andsecrecy of sacred rites and the ineffable experience of the presence of God.Although the terms “mystical” and “religious” experience are often usedinterchangeably, the mystical realm assumes primacy” ... in that personal religiousexperience has its root and center in mystical consciousness” (James, 1972 p. 299).Indeed, the mystical gave rise to and lent meaning to all great civilizations and religions(Hay, 1987; Harkness, 1973; Hunt, 1984). However, with the advent of modern,materialistic science in the nineteenth century, religion and the mystical were declaredillusion at best or pathological at worst. Past civilizations were thought to be founded2on ignorance and superstition (Feuerbach, 1967; Freud, 1907; Marx & Engels, 1957).As Hay (1987) pointed out, Karl Marx’s description of religion as the “opiate” of thepeople and tool of the ruling class to retain power did not lack evidence. Nevertheless,investigation of religious experience around the turn of the century by Starbuck, James,and Underhill supported a short-lived hope that science and religion might bereconcilable. But the rising tide of materialism, including Freud’s psychoanalysis andits paradoxical opposite in Watson’s (1931) theory of behaviorism which denied innerexperience, effectively defined mystical experience away. Research on mysticism cameto a halt.The 1960s brought about a significant change. Advances in the philosophy ofscience argued that systems of knowledge and their application as science operatewithin a given socio-cultural context. Modern science is not absolute (Kuhn, 1970).Furthermore, behaviorism was no longer successful in convincing people that they aredevoid of consciousness and inner experiences (Hay, 1987). Consequently,phenomenological methods gained increasing acceptance for the investigation of innerexperiences. Researcher’s bias within the human sciences appeared problematic. Butphilosophy of science assisted in the recognition that every researcher proceeds from aninescapable social context or overt and tacit assumptions, including a personal lifehistory (Hay, 1987). With objectivity and awareness of bias being limited,methodologies in the human sciences developed in which the observer and the observedcreate a composite whole. Similar observations were also made in quantum physics(LeShan, 1969). The recent ascent of narrative methodology (Polkinghorne, 1988) andits adaptation to research life histories (Cochran, 1990) appears to be particularly suitedfor the investigation of meaning and values.With respect to mystical experiences, narrative methodology offers new avenuesleading beyond surveys, questionnaires, and quasi-experimental methods with theirfocus on character variables, mental health, and demographics. Although interviews3were used occasionally in data collection, in-depth phenomenological studies employingnarrative principles, including hermeneutics and life histories, are completely absent.The approach to the investigation of mystical experiences through life history isgoverned by the gap in the existing research and their surging acceptance as legitimateinner experiences associated with personal growth.Defining MysticismDefmitions of mysticism span the continuum from pathology to its embrace asthe highest expression of evolution or spiritual development. The trend over the lasttwo decades has been to wrestle mysticism away from its entrenched identification withpathology in modern psychology.Despite great efforts to determine the essentials of mysticism, no claim touniversality remains unchallenged. This fact should not surprise since mystics describetheir experiences in analogies and metaphors not meant to mirror the actual experiencewhich is said to be ineffable. Consequently, phenomenological description andinterpretation cannot be neatly separated. Also, some analogies capture the experiencebetter than others depending on the intellectual, linguistic, and imaginative giftednessof the describer and the cultural context.In absence of a contemporary, solid, and continuous mystical tradition in theWest, theorists have relied on classical, traditional literature of Western medievalmystics such as St. Augustin, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, MeisterEckhart, John Ruysbroeck, etc., as well as Eastern traditions in order to constructsystematic categories. Despite shortcomings of relying on medieval mystics, who wereof a different socio-cultural era, the mostly autobiographical accounts provide a concisestarting point from which to venture into modem times. As indicated, some writersquestion the translatability of meaning systems in general (Berman, 1981; Kuhn, 1970)4and of mystical systems in particular (Jones, 1983). This relativity issue will bediscussed in detail in chapter ILA further threat to comparing and understanding mysticism is the practice tocarefully choose among Eastern mystical traditions in order to support a particularargument (Foster & Hufford, 1985). The same can be said about choosing fromWestern theories such as psychoanalysis, humanism, evolution, cognitive development,etc., for the purpose of defining mysticism.Disagreement also abounds with respect to parameters of mystical experiences.James (1972) might be considered a latitudinarian casting his net rather wide (Foster &Hufford, 1985). Stace (1960) admitted only the purest manifestations while Underhill(1955) and Otto (1958) were cautiously open to experiences which point in the ‘right’direction.Since boundaries defining mysticism are fuzzy, it appears appropriate to followWittgenstein’s (1953) concept of family resemblance rather than attempt to constructwell defmed categories. The vastly differing viewpoints on this issue require athorough analysis in order to lay a solid foundation for this study. Therefore, theexploration of family resemblance will be deferred to the review of the literature inchapter II.5CHAPTER ILReview of the LiteratureMysticism as Family ResemblanceOtto’s (1958) categorization and phenomenology of mystical experiences willserve as a point of departure followed by Underhill’s (1955) mystic way in order to laythe foundation for further discussions. These authors are closer to the traditional,nonsecularized view and provide a contrast to scientific explanations andoperationalizations. Their highly generalized, typical diagrams of mysticism areneither to be taken literally, nor are they applicable to any one mystical experience ormystic.Mystical Experience as the “Numinous” and the Interaction of the Nonrational with theRationalOtto (1958) distinguished between the “numinous” or non-rational “felt elementof the holy” of the mystical and the “mysterium tremendum” as its immediate, rationalschematization and meaning (p. 13). These two categories are to be understood withthe interdependence of” ... the warp and the woof of the complete fabric” (p. xvii).The “numinous” transcends sense perception and rationalization. It is,nevertheless, experienced as intensely objective, suggesting an ontology of something“wholly other”. The intensely felt objectivity of the “numinous” produces animmediate and primary subjective feeling response which Otto called “creature-feeling”analogous to cosmic dependence, nothingness, humility, dread, or a sense of impendingannihilation before some absolute living Power. This “creature feeling” may havegiven rise to such concepts as “original sin”, “karma”, and “predestination”.Otto (1958) made a further distinction between “mysterium” and “tremendum”.The “mysterium” fmds its creative schematization in the “wholly other”, God, the All,the One, the Void as the noetic object of the “numinous”. As of the “numinous”,nothing defmite can be ascertained about the “mysterium”. A common practice is to6talk in terms of negations which paradoxically enhance the positive sense about the“mysterium”.The “tremendum” is a conceptualization of both the tremendous, aweful,stupendous, mysterious, powerful nature of the “numinous”, as well as the immediatetotal response inherent in the “creature feeling”. The individual is shaken to the bottomof the soul. Otto (1958) subdivided the “tremendum” into “awefulness”,“overpoweringness, and “energy or urgency”. “Awefulness” is ambiguous and itsexperience may range from a mild, gentle, loving presence, to a sudden, powerful,vibrant, bewildering, blissful, and ecstatic force, to an unpredictable, wild, willful,demonic tempest imparting a sense of terror. The “tremendum” and the “whollyother” may be typically experienced as a strange harmony of bliss and dread aptlyexpressed by St. Augustine,What is that which gleams through me and smites my heart withoutwounding it. I am both a-shudder and a-glow. A-shudder in so far as Iam unlike it, a-glow in so far as I am like it” (Confessions, ii. 9. 1.).Schematization of “awefulness” seems to take an ethical bent and becomes thewrath of God, Divine justice, righteousness, punishment, etc..“Overpoweringness” or “majesty” of the “numinous” may be schematized asGod’s omnipotence and omniscience, evoking humility and worship.The felt “energy” or “urgency” of the “numinous”, akin to a never restingvitality, aliveness, or “frenzy” may crystallize to the idea of a “Living God”, the“Source of all Being”, as well as willful demonic power. Further elaborations about itsnature are expressed as “passion, emotional temper, movement, excitement, activity,impetus, or ‘consuming fire’ of love” (Otto, 1958, pp. 23, 24).The “mysterium tremendum” is incomplete without the “fascinans” orfascination with the “numinous”. The passive, stupefied, awestruck and tremblingcreature is, nevertheless, irresistibly attracted to the inexplicable, yet wondrousqualities of the “numinous”. The passivity changes to active entrancement seeking7interaction. This relationship may range from attempts to manipulate and capture the“numinous” for human ends through magic, shamanistic practices of conjuring andpossession, to total self-giving in union with the object of love. In its highest form, the“numinous” is experienced and interpreted as salvation, rebirth, conversion, grace, orthat which warrants ultimate human concern as expressed in a religious or mystic wayof life.The nonrational or intuitive perception, in conjunction with emotionalexcitement, functions as the source of energy and motivation, whereas the rationalguides and criticizes conceptualization and meaning.Mysticism as The Mystic Way toward the Unitive LifeThe mystic way can be conceptualized as emanating from the psychology of the“fascinans” carried further as the remaking of personality in conformity with theperceived reality toward a life of unity with the “numinous”. Underhill (1955) deviatedfrom the traditional threefold mystic way of purgation, illumination, and ecstaSy. Shesuggested the five phases of the awakening of the self, purgation, illumination, the darknight of the soul, and the unitive life.The awakening of the self. Something must happen, either gradually orsuddenly, before the mystic way can be meaningfully embarked upon. An experienceof a new, wider, and transcendent reality that relativizes and questions hitherto heldfundamental concepts and beliefs must break into awareness. Inherent in the awarenessis the recognition that a new way of being in the world may require the remaking ofone’s character in accordance with the new reality. The old ways must be purged.Purgation: The purification of the self. Underhill defined purgation as“unselfing” or “self-simplification”. This process of “self-simplification” aims atstripping away all that hinders and at cultivating all that helps toward the unitive life.Traditionally, purgation meant detachment from worldly ambitions and mortification of8the senses whose highest expression in Christianity was the cultivation of love andcompassion for those who seemed most repulsive.Illumination of the self. According to Underhill (1955), illumination is a stateof consciousness qualitatively different from everyday consciousness. The day to dayworld is now permeated by a “Sense of Presence” of the Absolute, God, etc.. As arule, this non-sensuous Presence is experienced as subtle, heightened apprehensionrather than as states of ecstasy. However, Underhill made allowances for “unstableartistic types” in whom the Presence may well up in ecstatic visions or voices.Throughout this phase the individuality of the self is maintained, falling short ofcomplete union with the All.It is within this phase that Underhill (1955) placed nature mysticism or theilluminated vision of the world as something to be expected on the way to deeperparticipation in the consciousness of the Absolute. In anticipation of further discussionson nature versus depth mysticism, suffice it to say that she recognized the mystic wayas encompassing both, depending on personality and focus of the mystic.The ‘dark night of the soul’. This phase emerges slowly and is recognized asthe loss or withdrawal of the sense of Presence. Only faith, hope, sheer endurance,and recollection of previous experiences sustain the mystic through the sense of utterabandonment and desolation. Purgation is now aimed at the last vestiges of self-withholding in order to bring about complete self- surrender, utter humility, or death ofself as prerequisite for the unitive life. Psychological correlates for this phase may bemental or psychic fatigue and chaos, a total sense of helplessness, a heightened sense ofimperfection, depression, and more.The unitive life. Slowly the desolation recedes. Depending on temperament,historic context, and focus, the mystic may experience the union as either transmutationinto an impersonal transcendence of the Absolute or as spiritual marriage in the deepestpossible relationship with a personal God. Any awareness of self, the senses, or9intellectual activity is obliterated during the most intense moments of completeabsorption. In everyday experience the “Self, though intact, is wholly penetrated - as asponge by the sea” (Underhill, 1955, p. 417). Absorption in the Absolute also meanspartaking in its freedom, peace, and the union of acting and being. The self hasbecome a center of creative energy seeking expression.Wapnick (1969) suggested a sixth stage to Underhill’s mystic way in the returnto active participation in the world. But Underhill stated clearly that the mystic life ispractical and active throughout in various forms. Although temporary withdrawal fromsociety in meditation, purification, and contemplation are considered necessary inpreparation for the unitive life.Mysticism as Inward Way and Outward WayScholars have divided mysticism into two approaches which are not necessarilyseparated by the mystics themselves. In the most generalized fashion, the inward wayis one of introspection, gradually moving beyond all physical and mentaldifferentiation. Depending on the prevailing tradition, the aim is to intuit theundifferentiated self, soul, or pure consciousness. At the bottom of this consciousnesslies identity or union with universal consciousness, God, the Absolute, etc.. This wayis also referred to as soul mysticism (Otto, 1932), introvertive mysticism (Underhill,1955), or depth mysticism (Jones, 1983).In its briefest form, the outward way is the perception of the union of all thingsalso referred to as the extroverted way (Stace, 1960), the unified vision (Otto, 1932),the illumination of the world (Underhill, 1955), and nature mysticism. Both formsmay coincide or occur separately to the point of antagonism (Otto, 1932). However,Underhill (1955), Stace (1960), and to some degree Otto agreed that both ways aim atunion which, as a concept, is transcended in its deepest form. Here, beyond any10differentiation is the Absolute Stillness, Desert, Void, Abyss of Being, Nakedness, orNothingness of the Godhead or Self.Stace (1960) noted that mystical techniques seem to be exclusively of theintrospective kind, because they allow some measure of control. An example isUnderhills mystic way toward the unitive life which is reached through various levelsof contemplation. In contrast, outward unitive experiences occur spontaneously andsporadically.Otto (1932) made three important qualitative distinctions within the outwardway. The lowest stage is the perception of the unity of all things. Surface diversity ofthe world is not obliterated but illuminated in a transcendent unity in which theobserver is included. This state is accompanied by feelings of bliss, peace, ecstasy,etc.. Individuality remains intact. Otto (1932) placed nature mysticism within thislower stage similar to Underhill’s (1955) illuminated vision of the world. Senseperception remains intact but is partially transcended in the service of a deeper intuitivevision (Underhill, 1955). The second stage is the intuition of the One, who is morethan the sum total of all diversity, suggesting its own ontology. In the third stage theOne becomes the absolute transcendent reality or Godhead uninformed by sensory andintellectual concepts.Mysticism as Visions. Voices, and HyperemotionalismScholars and the great mystics are unanimous in regarding automatism orspontaneous sensory and quasi-sensory parapsychological or supernatural phenomenawith suspicion (Otto 1932; Stace 1960; Underhill 1955). Although visions andauditions are relatively common among mystics, they are in themselves not mystical.The mystic tries to overcome the intrusion of the sensuous, mental, and emotionalmanifestations, because only the pure self can find union with the Absolute in a deepsense of serenity.11Underhill (1955) took a less abstract approach without trivializing the inherentdangers of pathology. The problem arises when vision and auditions are taken literallyinstead of being understood as artistic symbolizations of “subconscious activity of thespiritual self’ (p. 271). These symbolizations are given form through personaltemperament and historico-cultural belief systems. The great mystics were blessed withsharp, discriminating intellects and took great pains to distinguish betweenhallucinations and interior mental phenomena of various spiritual values. Underhilldistinguished between three categories of visions and auditions. First, “intellectualvisions” and “immediate inarticulate voices” are qualitatively beyond expectation,imagination, or intellectual speculations. They come closest to the felt “Sense ofPresence” of Christ for instance. No sense perception is involved. Second, “imaginaryvision and “interior words” occur in the mind and are not sensory hallucinations,though the border to the outside world is less tight. The mystic is aware of theirsymbolic qualities with their deeper truth and new understanding of latent and overtbeliefs. Thus, a Christian may have a mental vision or auditory experience of Christ,the Trinity, or the Blessed Virgin. These visions may in part result from concentrativetechniques such as the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius in which the mind focuses onsacred subjects. Both, the intellectual and imaginary visions are passively received incontrast to the third or “active imaginary vision”. This vision is more dramatic, dreamlike, or mythological in character, allowing participation as in “journeys” throughheaven, purgatory, and hell, etc.. The value of visions and auditions does not liewithin themselves, but in what is fruitfully gained. This is equally true of highlyemotional experiences or ecstasies who, by themselves, have no mystical value andmay point to a temporary or chronic loss of inner equilibrium (Otto, 1932; Stace,1960; Underhill, 1955).12Mysticism as Seen by ScienceIntroduction. As an act of faith, modem science has committed itself to amaterialistic and atheistic paradigm, redefining rationality in keeping with this view(Hufford, 1985). Consequently, spiritual or supernatural concerns and experiences areprejudged as something less than they appear to be. Reduction of mystical experiencesrange from their outright rejection as irrational, meaningless, and pathological, to theirwarm embrace as the highest form of human evolution. Though the supernatural hasbeen exiled by definition, the basic mind-body relationship remains far from beingsolved. Reducing mind to an epiphenomenon of matter is an epistemological bias(Hardy, 1979; Hufford, 1985).Hardy (1979) argued that materialistic evolution of natural selection does nottell the whole story. Human consciousness, particularly in the form of language andculture, is a selective force in its own right beyond genetic inheritance. Evolution ofconsciousness includes spiritual development making humans “fitter still” (Hardy,1979, p. 12). However, consciousness remains unexplained not amenable toinvestigation. It is a medium in which humans live, shaping itself in accordance withevery turn of the mind (Stace, 1960). Hardy exemplified the belief that an expandedview of evolution and science will eventually explain the interaction of mind and body,granting each its own realm.At the bottom of naturalizing and secularizing spirituality lies the recognitionthat values and meaning are a necessary, integral, and natural part of human existence.Supernatural explanations are not needed (Hardy 1979; Maslow, 1983). However, theassumption that science transcends values, culture, and existential constraints is beingweakened. Following Kuhn (1970), science is practiced within a socio-cultural contextof values from which it is inextricable. The world can no longer be seen as anobjective, preinterpreted given (Manicas & Secord, 1983).13Many scholars such as Maslow, James, Underhill, Stace, Hunt, only to mentiona few, consider mystical, religious, peak, or transcendental experiences to beinstrumental in and perhaps the origin of ultimate human concerns, values, andcivilization. Science, being subject to values itself, must expand its methods in orderto investigate and understand them if civilization is to survive. However, if mysticalexperiences are accepted as the highest expression of human evolution (Underhill,1955), supernatural explanations must be given due consideration. Scientific reductionis a Western practice. Eastern cultures have traditionally included religion,psychology, the natural and the supernatural into a comprehensive framework ofunderstanding. The Buddha nature is thought to permeate all creation (Bakalar, 1985;Hufford, 1985).The long tradition of irrationalizing and pathologizing mystical experiences byall modern, secular and nonsecular institutions has been an effective form of socialcontrol. As a result, the reporting and investigation of mystical experiences wassuppressed, preventing the development of adequate support systems to incorporatethem into a healthy lifestyle (Foster & Hufford, 1985; Hay & Morisy, 1978; Lenz,1983). The object of science is not to spiritualize its endeavors, but to approach themystic realm with respectful criticism while avoiding prejudging its ontological value(Foster & Hufford, 1985; Lukoff, 1985). Otherwise the tacit research questionbecomes, “Why do people who know better insist on claiming such experiences andmaking such interpretations of them” (Hufford, 1985, p. 179).Mysticism as PathologyMental illness and mystical experiences have had a long history of association.Prophets of the Old Testament, Socrates, St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, Boehme, and manyothers have, at times, been considered mad. Kroll & Bachrach (1982) discussed therelativity of cultural understanding of mental illness with respect to mystical14experiences, suggesting a reassessment of modern psychopathological categories of“religious symptoms” (p. 719). In their comparison study of 134 medieval visions,Kroll & Bachrach concluded that, given their cultural context, these mystics should notbe considered mentally ill. Today, the pathology of mystical experiences can bedivided into the two main streams of regression and of psychosis or schizophrenia.Regression. Beginning with Freud (1907), modern psychology, and particularlypsychoanalysis, reduced religion to obsessional neurosis. Mystical experiences becameregressive disorganization of the ego to an infantile psychological equilibrium or“oceanic feeling” as defense against overwhelming circumstances (Freud, 1930).Leuba (1929) saw mystical experiences as indicative of a serious neurosis. Prince andSavage (1972) moderated this view to adaptive regression, serving the ego insofar asthe mystical union led to positive psychological outcomes such as improved coping,creativity, integration, etc..Hood (1976) and Hufford (1985) regarded the entire notion of regression asspeculative supported only by tradition and authority rather than scientific evidence.Hood (1976) suggested that psychoanalysis has mistaken analogies and metaphors usedby mystics to describe the loss of ego or self in mystic union as literal explanations.Since the infant has no ego to surrender, the adult process of losing the ego intoundifferentiated consciousness without losing awareness is not a return to infantileconsciousness. Indeed, James (1972) noted that “in mystic states we both become onewith the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness” (p. 329). Underhill (1955)spoke of transcending the ego rather than regression.Nevertheless, the regression idea is very much alive and can be pursuedindefinitely (Prince & Savage, 1972). For instance, Hunt (1984) saw regressionoperative in mysticism as cognitive disorganization triggered by a “crisis in meaning”in which consciousness returns to a fetal state. Here, spontaneous cross-modalreorganization between usually masked sensory organization takes place. This15disorganization is experienced as dread in the face of annihilation of the self.Reorganization is experienced as bliss, rebirth, union, insight, light, relief from fear,etc.. Hunt’s theory included reasons why the entire experience is “numinous” inquality, beginning with dread and ending in bliss. He explained St. Teresa’s dreadbefore the loving union as symptomatic of human “recombinatory capabilities”. Thismystical capability is developmentally upward though risky and tragic. The choice isbetween the death of the self in order to live or a living death refusing to grow.Psychosis and mental illness result from the miscarriage of and defense against thesedevelopmental pressures (Hunt, 1984).Deikman (1966) foreshadowed Hunt’s (1984) theory and suggested that aprocess of “deautomatization” of everyday habitual sensory perception andschematization is implicated in producing mystical states of consciousness.Contemplative meditation may assist in the retreat of organized perception to its moreprimitive preorganized form. Thus, a state of union is achieved free of conceptualboundaries making no distinction between the self and its object of contemplation.Short of union, deorganization may result in heightened physical perception akin to theilluminated vision of the world.But regression recedes further. Maven (1969) pushed the origin of mysticalunion back to the remembrance of the blissful union of egg and sperm at the moment ofconception. Grof (1971) allowed consciousness to regress to phylogenetic orevolutionary memories.Associated with self-surrender is the assumption that mystical experience, likepsychosis, is symptomatic of a weak and immature ego. However, research points tothe opposite (Greeley, 1975; Hardy, 1979; Hay & Morisy, 1978; Hood, 1976).Individuals with healthy egos are less reluctant to surrender them. Hidas (1981) notedthat therapy traditionally focuses on strengthening the weak ego, paying little attentionto the importance of surrender of the strong one. The assumption is that a strong ego16must be developed prior to surrender. Consequently, children are thought to beincapable of true mystical experiences for lack of ego. Armstrong (1984) objected tothis view, citing research by Hardy (1979) and numerous autobiographical accounts,indicating that mystical experiences are perfectly natural to childhood. Armstrongoffered two explanations. First, based on research by Stevenson (1983) and Wilber(1980), he suggested that transpersonal or super-consciousness, spanning severalreincarnations, may be accessed by the child. Second, the child may be capable of anatural openness to a deeper self.Schizophrenia. Salzman (1953) and Ostow (1974) observed similarities betweenschizophrenia and mystical experiences. With reference to introspective techniques,Alexander (1931) declared these experiences a special kind of schizophrenia.The neglected observation that some psychotics return to normal life withimproved mental health (Bateson, 1961; Laing, 1967) led to the association ofschizophrenia with the mythical hero’s journey and rites of passage marked byseparation, initiation, and return (Lukoff & Everest, 1985). Joseph Campbell (1956)noted that the mystic, the psychotic, and the LSD taker are equally plunged into a deepinner ocean. Campbell and pertinent psychiatric literature agree that the mystics, byvirtue of native talent and training, fmd themselves able to swim whereas psychoticsand frequently LSD takers drown. Similar to the mystic way, mental odyssey and riteof passage begin with separation or the “awakening of self’, continue with the initiationinto the inner world of gods, demons, or the self, and end with the successful returnmarked by psychological well-being and social integration (Lukoff & Everest, 1985).It is not difficult to conceptualize St. Teresa’s mystic development as an epic journeythrough the Interior Castle of her deeper consciousness.Hufford (Foster & Hufford, 1985) deplored the association of psychosis withmysticism. Hood (1976) accused psychiatry and psychoanalysis of mistakingperipheral phenomena such as vision, auditions, etc., as the essence of mystical17experience while understanding little of the undifferentiated union beyond sensory andconceptual schematization. Nevertheless, therapists sympathetic toward mysticism stillface the diagnostic challenge of differentiating between psychosis and mysticalexperience. Lukoff (1985) distinguished between “simple mystical experience,mystical experience with psychotic features, psychotic disorder with mystical features,and psychotic episodes” (p. 156). Although much work has been done in creatingdiagnostic categories by Goleman, Smith & Dass (1985), Gottesfeld (1985), Lenz(1983), Lukoff (1985), Wapnick (1969), and others, the general consensus is that proofis in the fruit or the ensuing life. James (1972) and Underhill (1955) expressed asimilar sentiment in that the mystic life is an ordered life in every respect.Mysticism as fruit will be discused in turn. In essence, the mystic is notattached to the experience whereas the psychotic is fixated (Gottesfeld, 1985). There isno loss of everyday common sense and no conceptual disorganization in mysticism(Lukoff, 1985). The mystical experience leads from less to more freedom, creativity,flexibility, self-losing, service, meaning, inner peace, hope, etc., (James, 1972).Psychosis results in mental estrangement, rigidity, isolation, hopelessness, despair, andsometimes suicide (Lenz, 1983). But as Laing (1967) advocated and Lukoff’s andEverest’s (1985) case study indicated, short term psychosis, often with mythical andmystical features, may have beneficial outcomes.Mysticism as Drug “High”The association of psychedelic drugs with mysticism is very controversialdespite its venerable history. Throughout the ages and across all continents “sacred”substances have been instrumental in inducing a form of mystical consciousness usuallyin connection with religious practices (Clark, 1969; Prince, 1968). Despite argumentsthat psychedelic drugs may at best produce unauthentic, hallucinatory, pseudo religiousexperiences (Bucke, 1923; Zaehner, 1972), evidence suggests that some psychedelic18experiences may have mystic merit. James (1972), Huxley (1963), and Leary (1970)were the most prominent supporters of drug use in connection with mysticism. Stace(1960) argued that the test lies, in part, in phenomenological similarities between drugand mystical experiences. Based on Stace’s categories for mysticism (ego quality,unifying vision, sense of objectivity or reality, nonspatial, nontemporal, noetic,ineffable, positive affect, sense of the Holy, paradoxicality) similarities have beendocumented under controlled and supportive conditions (Clark, 1969; Grof, 1971;Pahnke & Richards, 1969). Conversion experiences or personality changes comparefavorably with non-drug mystical experiences (Clark, 1969). Psychedelic experienceshave generally been compared to lower level nature mysticism. However, someaccounts suggest that deeper experiences may occur (Clark, 1969). Again, the proof isin the fruit (James, 1972). But Clark noted that not much is known about the durabilityof drug induced religious experiences. Given the present day restriction an researchwith psychedelics little new information will be forthcoming.Maslow (1983) acknowledged the effect drugs may have, but joined a commonargument that a life-long quest would be preferable to a quick fix. This argument iscountered by testimony that psychedelic experiences often involve great inner strugglein order to break through to genuine mystic consciousness. It is claimed that drugs arenot a trigger as in a cause and effect relationship. Rather, the veils of perception seemto be temporarily removed to reveal what is usually hidden (Bakalar, 1985; Clark,1969; Prince, 1968). Following Clark (1969), drug mystical experiences are not theend, but the beginning of a long arduous journey. The problem is that apart from drugabuse, many drug users are unprepared for the sudden, overwhelming encounter withthe “mysterium tremendum”. The novice is suddenly confronted with inner “demons”and undesirable character traits previously not recognized. Great courage andpersistence is needed to work through and integrate a “bad trip” (Clark, 1969).19The use of psychedelics may be an attempt by naturalists to bring mysticismwithin the realm of biology for, “that which can be induced naturally can also beexplained naturally” (Foster & Hufford, 1985). From the Freudian perspective, drugsare just another way to access the unconscious and induce regression to infantile states(Bakalar, 1985). The scientific materialist may welcome drugs in order to reducemystical experiences to brain chemistry. Thus, Francis Crick suggested thatpsychedelics mimic “theotoxin” or God-poison (Bakalar, 1985). Another argument fora chemical connection is the suggestion that ascetic practices change brain chemistrywhich in turn triggers mystical experiences. In any case, reducing mystical experiencesto brain chemistry has so far eluded all efforts (Bakalar, 1985).Mysticism as Peak ExperienceMaslow’ s (1983) concept of peak experience must be understood within thecontext of his agenda to expand science to allow the investigation of values and tocreate a unified vision of human nature and society. This unity is necessary, because“dichotomy pathologizes and pathology dichotomizes” (p 13). Some examples ofdichotomies Maslow wanted to integrate were those of the rational versus thenonrational, science vs religion, religion vs religion, the sacred vs the profane,introspection vs extrospection, autonomy vs belonging, good vs evil, the natural vs thesupernatural, and the values of religion vs value free science. The source for thisunified vision was to be found in human nature itself, that is, in transcendingparticipation of union and ecstasy or in peak experiences.Stripped of all interpretations or ethnocentric phrasing, the peak experience isthought to be the undifferentiated, universal, core-religious or unitive experience.Achievement of this union lies within natural human capacity rather than in appeals toor interaction with the supernatural. The objective is to increase awareness andoccurrence of peak experiences. The more authentic, integrated, or self-actualized a20person becomes, the more often peak experiences should occur and guide the persontoward the unitive life.Maslow (1983) referred to Otto’s (1958) “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”stressing the importance of awe and wonder and allowing the wild, willful, orgiastic,fascinating, demonic, and mythological Dionysian elements of the “numinous” theirproper place in human nature. Maslow, (1983) following Otto (1958), saw thenonrational qualities in their positive expression as the source of transcendence.Maslow stood in opposition to the Freudian tradition of seeing the unconscious only innegative and pessimistic terms.Peak experiences also represent Maslow’s (1983) way out of the impasse ofexistential nihilism and chaotic subjectivism through directly perceived universal“Being Values” such as truth, goodness, perfection, justice, etc..As a rule, peak experiences are classified in contemporary mystic literature asnature mysticism. Maslow (1983) did not separate introspection and extrospection, butsaw both openness and reflection as complimentary characteristics of a self-actualizedperson in whom autonomy, belonging, and serving society are integrated.Maslow may be criticized in several ways. Unlike Otto (1958), James (1972),and Underhill (1955), he made the noetic optional in peak experiences which can bepurely ecstatic. The benefit derived from pure ecstasy is the awareness that it ispossible and enjoyable in itself. However, he frowned upon self-seeking indulgence.Unfortunately, Maslow did not clarify the emergence of “Being Values”. FollowingOtto (1958), the schematization of the “numinous” would be the immediate beginningof rationalization. How this process of perceiving universal “Being Values” remainsuncontaminated by ethnocentric concepts is not clear. Hufford (Foster & Hufford,1985) criticized Maslow (1983) for excluding the supernatural a priori despite nearlyuniversal claims for its existence. It appears that Maslow considered Western scienceto be beyond existential constraints capable of transcending ethnocentric differences.21Hufford also suggested that Maslow advocated a secularized religion, sacrificingdifferences for ideological reasons. Nevertheless, Maslow (1983) has beeninstrumental in bringing mystical experiences within the realm of healthy mentaldevelopment. He stressed that self-actualization is a life long process of hard work anddiscipline in which peak experiences illuminate the path away from narrow selfcenteredness to self-giving, creativity, and an all inclusive cosmic awareness.Culture and MysticismMysticism as Universal Core Experience of ValuesPerhaps the only agreement with regards to the universality of mysticalexperiences is the notion that something in human nature allows them to occur. Thesearch for a common core experience must center on specific universal knowledgeclaims and meaning rather than on apparently universal, but vague categories such asineffability, noetic quality, transiency, passivity (James, 1972), unifying vision,transcending of space-time, surrender of ego, sense of objective reality, peace,sacredness, and paradoxicality (Stace, 1960). Mysticism is about an inner quest forabsolute reality and values that allow for a unified position from which to live and actmeaningfully (Foster & Hufford, 1985; Jones, 1983; Underhill, 1955). Maslow (1983)accepted and employed this basic tenet of mysticism. In order to build a unitivetheory, Maslow needed universal values he believed to be accessible through peakexperiences. By necessity, the naturally occurring mystical experience must beuniversally the same and undifferentiated. Interpretations are governed by culturalcontext and are overlaid with “ethnocentric phrasing”. Maslow seems to haveunderestimated the complexity of cultural context within which mystical experiencesare embedded. A discussion of contextualism appears to be warranted.22Mysticism as Seen in Cultural ContextThe objective is not to resolve the problems of contextualism, but to highlightthe difficulties surrounding claims for a universal core experience. Extremecontextualism confmes knowledge claims to strictly within its cultural contextincommensurable with other cultures. Following Berman (1981), the local context inwhich “men conceived of matter as possessing mind, ... matter did possess mind,‘actually’ did so” (p. 92), with the same ontological and epistemological importance asmodem scientific materialism claiming the opposite. Since modern science has nottranscended existential constraints (Kuhn, 1970), objective cross-cultural investigationis not possible (Foster & Hufford, 1985). In any case, the existence of a universal coreexperience is just another assumption (Foster & Hufford, 1985), though shared withmost scholars. The benefit derived from contextualism is in that it endows culturespecific truth claims with ontological and epistemological legitimacy. This is inconffict with both supernatural and positivist claims for objective reality, though theydiffer on the nature of reality and how it should be investigated (Foster & Hufford,1985). From the contextualist point of view, empirical investigation across beliefsystems makes little sense since they are all true. However, contextualism’ s dilemma isthat arguments with respect to cross-cultural truth value become circular andunproductive (Hufford, 1985).In general, and with particular reference to mysticism, contextualism remains aserious issue. Jones (1983) warned that it is not necessarily meaningful to equatemystical experiences across cultures and that translation to a different realm of meaningdoes not give access to correct’ understanding. Also, mystical systems are cultures intheir own right and interact in complex ways with a heterogeneous rather thanhomogeneous, socio-cultural environment. Therefore, contextual issues arise within aswell as between cultures.23Within cultures. Contextual separation is already operative between the actualmystical experience as holistic perception and the interpretation through everydayknowledge ruled by subject-object differentiation. The ineffability of the mysticalexperience throws the mystic back on the prevailing cultural context for analogies andsymbols without claiming one to one correspondence to everyday language usage. Onthe other side of the equation, doctrine, tradition, and general cultural beliefs precedeand inform the mystical experience (Jones, 1983). Underhill (1955) and Jones (1983)stressed the inescapability from the cultural milieu and its importance for informing themystic in order to avoid pathological idiosyncrasy. Despite the appearance ofcircularity, new knowledge does emerge, often in a manner that tests the limits ofprevailing doctrines. New knowledge will be further discussed in connection with thefruit of mysticism. Suffice it to say that the mystic’s relationship with articles of faithis not ideological, but creative often to the point of heresy (Jones, 1983). For instance,within Christian mysticism, Christ, as the sacrificial lamb of God, becomes thebridegroom of the soul. More controversial are expressions of union bordering onidentity with God or His immanence in creation at the expense of transcendence, as inpantheism. Both St. Teresa (Underhill, 1955) and St. Augustine were so troubled bythe ‘pantheistic’ nature of God’s overwhelming immanence that they took todeliberately contemplating God’s transcendence in accordance with the teachings of theChurch (Harkness, 1973). Meister Eckhart came very close to formulating a hereticaldoctrine of identity of the soul with the Godhead. Both Teresa and Eckhart came underinvestigation for heresy (Jones, 1983). But heresy, too, depends on the cultural contextwithin which it makes sense (Kueng, 1974).Between cultures. Mystical systems lay claims for absolute knowledge ofreality. They do not consider themselves mutually complimentary as part of a greaterwhole. Jones (1983) suggested that the analogy of several blind men touching differentparts of an elephant does not hold true since mystics consider themselves anything but24blind. A diluted, abstract, universal version of mysticism is equally problematic sincemysticism is lived concretely within its context (Jones, 1983). For example, theTheravada Buddhist idea of rebirth in the quest to end suffering is inherently unique toa particular perception of reality. Self-concept, treatment of others, motivation, etc.,are in accordance with the total way of being and acting. In this context, mysticismserves in the cultivation of values and means deemed important toward a particular end.Elements of various belief systems may appear similar in isolation, but their meaningwill be different given the context from which they emerged. Therefore, Jones warnedthat the concept of rebirth cannot be grafted onto a Christian belief system of salvationor vise versa. For the purpose of perspective, Christian, medieval mysticism was not ameans to salvation, but a way of “loving God and of improving charity” (Jones, 1983,p. 151).Hufford (Foster & Hufford, 1985) considered neither contextualism norpositivistic materialism as absolute. In view of available accounts, he made a case forthe supernatural as a cross-cultural category of thought, including its alleged interactionwith the natural world. Another opening for fruitful cross-cultural comparison,considered by Hufford, are rapidly accumulating reports of near death experiences.These phenomena, though varied, consistently claim encounters with the supernaturaland exhibit many features of classic mystical experiences. The question is not one ofproof, but of respectful consideration of seemingly universally reported phenomena.The above arguments should suffice to point toward the formidable task ofeither extracting core values from ethnocentric phrasing or their construction from theapparently noncomplimentary diversity of mystical experiences.Mysticism as Survivalism. Functionalism. Contextualism, and the CulturalSource HypothesisContextualism was a reaction to functionalism which, in turn, was a reaction tosurvivalism. The survivalist-positivist maintains that some beliefs have become useless25vestiges of a defunct world view about to be replaced. The supernatural has sufferedthis fate within the context of academia because it lacks “a proper orientation to reality”(Hufford, 1985, p. 179).The functionalist assumes that beliefs have survived, because they fulfill auseful, though often latent function. The supernatural may serve as a denial of death,support social control and sanctions in the name of God or by threat of damnation.Another useful function of mystical experiences might be their powerful effect on self-actualization or perhaps their role in defensive regression.The contextualist, as explained above, grants legitimacy in addition to functionto different belief systems.The cultural source hypothesis claims that people have mystical experiences andbelieve in the supernatural because the culture supports and expects them. Hufford(Foster & Hufford, 1985) objected by pointing to sufficient experiential evidence thatthe reverse is the case. An example of cultural source was given by Durkheim (1915).He postulated that Christian revival meetings generate religious excitement flooding theindividual with peace and joy as if originating from a source greater than the self,though the actual source is the community. Later, when alone and in prayer, all that isleft is a faint memory. Malinowski (1974) disagreed with Durkheim. Speaking frompersonal experience and anthropological observations, he stated that the mostmeaningful religious experiences occur in solitude.Phenomenological Issues and Dilemmas of Before. During, and After the MysticalExperienceThis section will serve as a transition between conceptual and defmitional issuesof mysticism and the review of pertinent research.BeforeThe focus on what precedes the mystical experience may range from an entirelife context to antecedents, such as physical and mental stress, meditation, prayer,26absorption in nature, or more immediate triggers like drugs, sex, sensory deprivation,etc.. However, the purity of the mystical experience is influenced by the state ofpreparedness (Clark, 1969; James, 1972; Underhill, 1955). James cited Starbuck(1899) emphasizing the importance of an awakening to a condition of incompletion aseither a wrongness from which to escape, an ideal to work towards, or both. Thisawakening is a necessary first step in the preparation toward conversion or mysticalexperience. Preparedness may follow the deliberate path of a mystic way (Underhill,1955) or involve a, more or less, conscious quest for meaning, purpose, or self-actualization (Maslow, 1983; Lenz, 1983). For the unawakened and unprepared, amystical experience may well be negative, resembling a “bad trip”, psychotic episode,or a nightmare, depending on the individuals temperament, character, lifestyle, desires,present focus, setting, etc.. Therefore, the greater concern is not with triggers, butwith life as lived in meaning, its values, purpose, openness to experience, andpreparation implicated in the occurrence, nature, and purity of the mystical experience.Awakening. In its most general form, awakening is the gradual or suddenawareness of a gap between what is and what ought to be (Cochran, 1990).Disillusionment with present reality, the ways of being, thinking, and acting in theworld grow increasingly meaningless (Hidas, 1981; Hunt, 1984; James, 1972).Despair thickens with the realization that a solution lies beyond intellectual andemotional capacities. A dark period of the soul descends, pushing the person beyonddespair into apathy and surrender. But it is at this “point zero” where meaninglessnesstoward past and future has sapped all willful intent that the redemptive process begins(Hidas, 1981; Hunt, 1984) and the new way is incubated (James, 1972). Purging ofthe old and stilling of all struggles have prepared an inner void open to somethinglarger than the egoistic concerns of surface consciousness (Underhill, 1955). Theperson has become receptive to the inpouring of the deeper reaches of the selfexpressed as illumination, conversion, ultimate reality, the Divine, etc..27The foregoing description is prototypical and many variation are possible. ButUnderhill (1955) pointed out that deep inner upheaval is the rule rather than theexception. James (1972), too, differentiated between the “once born” who live with anatural effortless transcendental awareness and the “twice born” needing a conversion.The importance of considering an entire life context in the emergence of a lifeproblem, quest, or vocation, has been demonstrated by Cochran (1990). Personal,cultural, and historical circumstances collude in the awakening of a “primitive lifedrama” during childhood. The early beginnings are largely tacit and their emergenceinto a life’s quest is by no means guaranteed. Discipline, endurance of uncertainty,pain, and luck are needed to develop a meaningful one-pointedness and purity ofpurpose. The life histories Cochran (1990) consulted indicated that transcendentmoments of certainty akin to peak or mystical experiences can be instrumental in theconsolidation of certainty, personal identity, and purpose.Within mysticism, the process of personal growth has been systematized fromthe assumption that sense perception and intellect can be transcended to allow theuncontaminated inflow of, or union with a greater, superior reality. From the outset,the aim is to purge the rational and the senses from the illusion that they are theprimary source of knowledge. Underhill (1955) summarized the methods of the inwardway as recollection, quiet, and contemplation.Recollection. Recollection follows awakening and resembles meditation ratherthan reflecting on memories. It is a gathering of dispersed consciousness and dissipatedconceptual and sensory multiplicity into a singular purity and stillness of heart andmind. As an act of sheer determination, recollection is the most difficult and painfulpart of purgation and the mystic way (Underhill, 1955).DuringOuiet. The quiet or interior silence is the process of surrender and developingreceptivity to a deeper intuition or a will larger than the self. The paradox of the quiet28is that it” ... is actively embraced, not passively endured” as a transition from the “...old, unco-ordinated life of activity to its new, unified life of deep action - the ‘mysticlife” (lJnderhill, 1955, pp. 321). The great temptation is to remain in this phase toenjoy the mystic peace, joy, or union for its own sake. Idle quietism leads to “holyindifference” (Underhill, 1955, p. 321) and egoistic self-absorption destroying mentaland moral life. It is in contrast to the paradox of passive, yet active “self-giving andself-emptying” (Underhill, 1955, p. 321).Contemplation. Contemplation, unlike meditation, is a family of related statesduring which the transcendent is beheld and includes ecstasy and rapture. Part of thecontemplative state is under the mystic’s control in the contribution of focusedconsciousness and active response to the given-ness of the All, the One, or UltimateReality perceived to be streaming in by its own volition. The contemplative state ispart personal effort and part gift whose refusal is still possible, though only with greateffort and pain. In contrast, ecstasy and rapture are beyond all control and impossibleto resist. The distinction between these two states is that ecstasy gradually arises out ofmore gentle contemplation of the trained mystic. Rapture, also an ecstatic state, ismore typical of individuals untrained and experienced as a sudden, forceful, transport,as if lifted up and carried away into another reality, the Divine, etc.. Both rapture andecstasy are accompanied by a, more or less, deep physical trance, includingdiminishing heartbeat, slowing of breathing, and perhaps a catatonic immobility, bypsychological mono-ideism or intensely focussed attention, and by an experience ofUltimate Reality, Union, the Divine, etc.. The actual unitive experience is brief, butdepending on its intensity, the trance may last for hours (llnderhill, 1955).According to Underhill (1955), contemplation in any of its manifestations is anexpression of personal temperament. Ecstatic states have often aroused suspicion ofpathology. These states have mystical value only in conjunction with noetic qualities(Underhil, 1955).29A dilemma. For any discussion of what transpires during mystical experiencestwo issues must be considered. First, pure mystical consciousness is said to transcendany sensory and intellectual contributions. As St. Teresa said, “She does not see it then[during the orison], but she clearly sees it later, after she has returned to herself, not byany vision, but by a certitude ... “(Teresa, 1961, p. 423). This lack of content or theinherent ineffability, does not provide its own interpretation.Second, the more sensory, emotional, and mental material contributes to theexperience, the less pure it is, the more cultural specific and idiosyncratic it becomes,and the more ineffability recedes. The boundary between a mystical experience andmere ‘religious type’ feeling may become a problem if the net is cast too wide.AfterFruit of mystical experiences. James (1972) expressed the general consensus ofmystics and scholars that mystical experiences are best judged by common sense fortheir beneficial effects on the individual and society. The ensuing life must be orderly,balanced, and free of excesses. The direction of positive mysticism is from less tomore consciousness, joy, peace, self-acceptance, selflessness, compassion, harmonyand unity within self and with others, ethical fortitude, vocational commitment,strength in adversity, creativity, awareness of eternal values, belief in an afterlife,appreciation of beauty, humor, and ability to laugh at oneself, etc. (James, 1972).Conversely, there might be a decrease in worldly concerns and ambitions for their ownsake, in self-importance, fear of death etc. (James, 1972; Jones, 1983; Pahnke &Richards, 1969; Underhill, 1955).Excesses might occur by inflating the significance of the mystical experiencethrough asceticism aimed at the mortification of the senses, denial of the world, andobsessive devotion at the exclusion of practical accomplishments (James, 1972;Underhill, 1955).30James (1972) placed the beneficial effects of mysticism on a continuum fromsubtle and imperceptible to the outsider to increasing empirical evidence of “sainthood”as in the unitive life. James also recognized the problem of backsliding after theexcitement and newness wear off. He cited evidence by Starbuck (1899), indicatingthat conversion experiences are rather resistant to a complete return to the former state.The least that might be learned is, “ ... that it should even for a short time showwhat the high-water mark of his spiritual capacity is ... “(James, 1972 p. 209).The fruit of mystical experiences must also be seen in cultural and historicalcontext. Sainthood or holiness within the framework of overcoming suffering in thecycle of rebirth or the presence of the Buddha nature in all creation may emphasizedifferent virtues, action, or passivity than emulating Christ or attaining self-actualization.Mystical knowledge. Bertrand Russell (1921) defined mystical knowledge as,in essence little more than a certain intensity and depth in regard to what is believedabout the universe” (p. 3). James (1972), Stace (1960), and Underhil (1955) gavemore credence to the mystics’ expertise and claim that mystical knowledge is primarilya form of immediate holistic perception, emotions being secondary. Medieval mysticsdifferentiated between knowledge arrived at by intellectual discourse and true wisdomas grasped through osmosis of the knower with the known. Thus, mystical knowledgeis not based on propositions and logic that something is the case (Jones, 1983).Mystical knowledge and the mystic way reciprocally justify each other (James,1972; Underhill, 1955). The same, however, might be said of any knowledge system,including science, its methods, and findings. Nevertheless, it could be argued thatscience, at least, discovers new things whereas mysticism appears circular. Mysticismproduces new knowledge in keeping with its methods (Underhill, 1955). It isexperience internalized, “ ... into a dispositional cognitive framework” (Jones, 1983, p.146). Mystical knowledge, though rooted in tradition, may take the form of31illumination and revelation of new patterns, of confirming experientially what wasunderstood only intellectually, of bringing into the center what was merely peripheral(James, 1972; Underhill, 1955).ResearchProblems with OperationalizationLukoff & Lu (1988) deplored the lack of uniformity and agreement with respect tomethods and questions, making comparisons difficult. Notable exceptions arecontributions by Greeley, Hardy, Hay, Hood and others associated with them.Nevertheless, the parameters of what is actually being measured are not always clear.Hay (1987) pointed out that the strict standards of Otto (1958) and Stace (1960) wouldnot apply since they are based on extraordinarily gifted religious heros. Hood (1975)reflected on possible shortcomings of operationalizations in the Hood Mysticism Scale(1975) based on Stace (1960) categories whose universality cannot be assumed. Hoodconsidered his work empirically fruitful.Mystical Experiences: Frequent or Rare?Until the 1960s mystical experiences were considered uncommon, if notpathological. Bucke (1923) estimated the rate to be one in several million. James(1972), too, thought them to be relatively rare. Improved survey methods and the riseof phenomenology set the stage for the investigation of inner psychological processes.In addition, the drug culture of the 60s and 70s contributed to a freer expression offeelings (Hay, 1987).Some of the first surveys (Back & Bourque, 1970; Gallup Poll, 1977-78; Glock& Stark, 1965; Wuthnow, 1976) achieved startling, positive responses between 20%and 50% depending on the nature of the question and the population. Greeley &McCready (1974), Greeley (1987), and Gallup (1985) in the USA, as well as Hay &Morisy (1978) and Hay & Heald (1987) in Britain, showed consistently that at least one32third of the general population answered ‘yes’ to the question, “Have you ever felt asthough you were close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out ofyourself?” (Greeley, 1974). This question alluded to an experience of ecstasy orrapture. Thomas & Cooper (1978) challenged Greeley’s (1975) results in anexploratory study with university undergraduates, asking for detailed information inaddition to the above question. The initial results of 34% were almost identical toGreeley’s (1975) 33%. However, further analysis indicated that only 2% resembledclassic mystical experiences as postulated by Stace (1960) involving awesomeemotions, sacredness, perceived knowledge, oneness with God, restructuring ofpriorities, beyond space and time, and ineffability. Twelve percent were classified as“psychic” or “other worldly”, another 12% as “faith and consolation” experiences, and8% were uncodable.In contrast to Thomas & Cooper (1978), Hay & Heald (1987) in Britain andGreeley (1987) in the USA detected an upward trend in positive responses reaching50% and 43% respectively. Hay & Morisy (1985) conducted 300 interviews on ageneral population sample in Nottingham England which yielded the startling result of62% positive responses. Hay & Heald (1987) reported that about 40% of thosesurveyed had never told anyone about the experience compared to Nottingham’s 33%.Hay (1987) attributed this increase to improved survey and interviewing methods, ashift away from religious to spiritual terminology, weakening of the taboo to talk aboutthese experiences, and widening of the parameter that includes the mystical.Nevertheless, Hay (1987) believed to be well within the boundaries of the mystical byaccepting awareness of another realm including Wach’s (1958) categories of givenness, reality, total involvement, effect on behavior, lack of control, surprise, peacefuland elated mood. Only a small number of religious experiences would fall into Otto’s“numinous” category.33Mysticism: Mental Health and PersonalityResearch points increasingly toward superior mental health of individualsreporting mystical experiences. Greeley (1975) and Hay & Morisy (1978) employedthe Bradburn (1969) psychological well-being scale and found that “mystics” scoredhigher in mental well-being than “non-mystics”. Greeley’ s (1975) sample was moreoptimistic, less authoritarian, and lower in racism. The more classic the experiencewas, the higher the positive affect. Wuthnow (1976) found individuals reporting “peakexperiences” to be less materialistic, less status seeking, showing more social concern,and to be more self-assured. Hood et al. (1979) employed the Jackson PersonalityInventory (1976) and found that university students scoring high on the HoodMysticism Scale (1975) had a wide” ... breadth of interests, [were] creative andinnovative, tolerant of others, socially adept, unwilling to accept simple solutions toproblems ... [and] critical of tradition” (p. 806). Individuals giving a religiousinterpretation appeared to be more traditional and more concerned with the welfare ofothers. Smurthwaite & McDonald (1987) found that “mystic” universityundergraduates, contrary to the common notion of mystics’ exclusive absorption intheir inner world, were more concerned about social problems than non-mystics. Asimilar sample by Caird (1987) reported no correlation between mystics as measured bythe Hood Mysticism Scale (Hood, 1975) and introversion, neuroticism, or psychoticismas per the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (1975). Spanos & Moretti (1988)detected a correlation between diabolical mysticism and neuroticism, psychosomaticsymptoms, hypnotizability, and absorption in a university female sample. Oxman at al.(1988) conducted a content analysis of autobiographical material and found a significantdifference in lexical choice and frequency of words in schizophrenic, drug, andmystical accounts.With respect to ego development, Hood (1970, 1972, 1973) demonstrated thatintrinsically oriented individuals had more intense mystical experiences than extrinsic34persons. Further measures indicated that high ego strength and mystical experiencesare correlated, giving credence to the possibility of non-pathological surrender of theego (Hood, 1974, 1976).Social Class and EducationThe more education and the higher the social class the greater the likelihood thatmystical experiences will be reported (Gallup Poll 1978; Greeley, 1975; Hay, 1979;Hay & Morisy, 1978; Wuthnow, 1976). In Hay & Morisy’s (1978) National OpinionPoll in Britain, 56% of individuals with at least some higher education reportedmystical experiences. The upper-middle class reached 47%, the middle- class 49%,and the working class 31 %. More restricted samples of postgraduate students andnurses yielded 65% (Hay, 1979) and 66% (Lewis, 1987) respectively. For as yetundetermined reasons, blacks, Pentecostals, and members of messianic sects reportedmore mystical experiences in the USA, but not in Britain (Hay, 1987). However, theNottingham interviews indicated that earlier differences between social classes wereprobably inflated (Hay and Morisy, 1985). No significant differences were found intheir sample.Church membership appears not to be a determinant, though some correlationbetween church attendance and mystical experience exits. Hay, (1987) concluded thatthe most reliable indicator for the occurrence of mystical experiences is the individual’sconcern with spirituality. Of interest is also that, 23% of the agnostics, 24% atheists,and 23% who did not know their religious affiliation reported mystical experiences(Hay & Morisy, 1978)).The hypothesis that religion or ecstatic experiences are the consolation of thesocially and mentally marginalized is no longer tenable in view of the evidenceavailable.35Gender DifferencesGender differences with respect to the frequency of mystical experiences areinconclusive and are concomitant with church attendance, women being in the majorityin most denominations (Hay, 1987).Hood & Hall’s (1980) university student sample revealed that females usedreceptive language for both sexual and mystical experiences. In contrast, males usedagentive language for sexual but not mystical experiences.Mallory (1977) found reports of sexual arousal during mystical prayerexperiences by Discalced Carmelite nuns as opposed to Carmelite friar who were notparticularly aware of physical states during mystical prayer. Attention is drawn tosimilar gender differences in the choice of analogies of medieval mystics.Triggers and AntecedentsLaski (1961) has been credited with creating the perception that transcendentecstasies may have specific triggers (Hay, 1987). After reviewing the empiricalresearch, Spiilca et al. (1985), as well as Hay (1987) concluded that the wide variety ofpersonal, cultural, and social variables do not point to specific triggers or cause andeffect relationships. Hay & Morisy (1985) found that 73% of the Nottingham samplecould not think of anything that might have caused the experience. With reference togeneral antecedents, mental distress or feeling ill at ease due to impending death,severe illness, death of someone close, loss of livelihood and similar existentialconcerns were reported by 50% of the respondents.Hood’s (1977a) sample of a high school seniors indicated that suddenilluminations correlate with situational and mental “limits” rather than chronic stress asimplicated in ego regression. Another study by Hood (197Th) showed that high selfactualization, as measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory (P01) (Shostrom,1964), and mystical experiences are significantly correlated in universityundergraduates. Highly self-actualized individuals reported sex and drugs as triggers36and low self-actualized individuals reported nature and religious settings asinstrumental. However, the POT’s value as a measuring instrument is ratherquestionable (Hood, 197Th).Miscellaneous FindingsAccumulating research indicates that all age groups are well represented.Notably, data on children are conspicuously absent.The vast majority of mystical experiences or 61 % of the Nottingham sampleoccurred when the individuals were alone. Another 9% had their experiences whenalone in a public place. Only 7% occurred in a communal setting (Hay & Morisy,1985) which considerably weakens the hypothesis that cult activities are the source ofthese phenomena.Immediate after-effects of mystical experiences in a survey in Nottingham werereported as being: happy (14%), elated (61 %), at peace or restored (41%). Long termeffects were reported as confirming or intensifying of belief (24%), more optimistic(22%), insight into life (16%), and encouraged moral behavior (10%). Twenty-fourpercent found that the mystical experiences had made no difference in their lives (Hay& Morisy, 1985).Hardy (1979) collected over 4000 autobiographical accounts of mysticalexperiences over a ten year period and produced detailed phenomenologicalclassifications. Participants answered in writing to pamphlets and newspaper ads.However, a disproportioned number of respondents were elderly females presentingrather “polished” autobiographical accounts (Hay, 1887). Nevertheless, Hardy’s workwas at the forefront for the investigation of mystical experiences in modern times.Some attempts have been made to examine mystical experiences undercontrolled laboratory conditions. Pressinger (1988) induced a ‘mystical’ state of mindelectromagnetically by stimulating the temporal lobes of individuals. These areas arereputedly active during epileptic seizures and said to be implicated in mystical37experiences. The assumption was that ecstasies may be learned by repeatedlystimulating appropriate brain structures. However, an earlier study by Sensky (1983)indicated that epileptics did not report mystical experiences with greater frequency thannon-epileptics. James (1972) commented that attempts had been made to explain awaySt. Paul’s conversion experience as temporal lobe epilepsy.Efforts to show that mystical experiences are purely natural phenomena ledSiegel (1977) to observe drug intoxicated animals in laboratory and natural settings.Peculiar animal behavior was interpreted as “religious worship” occurring in a state ofecstasy normally not experienced. Lukoff & Lu (1988) remarked that it takesconsiderable imagination to bridge the gap between observed animal behavior and itsinterpretation as “inner” mystical experience.Deikman (1966) conducted meditation experiments in order to test hisdeautomatization hypothesis. By intense focus on a particular object, thedeautomatization process is said to weaken or remove perceptual boundaries andthereby produce an experience of union. The separation of the observer and theobserved is perceptually overcome. Ego awareness is suspended. Subjects reportedthat the object, a vase, became luminous, animated, including a feeling as if mergingwith it. A similar exercise was suggested by Underhifi (1955) for individuals whonever had a mystical experience, but would like to know what it might be like.However, Underhill indicated that this feeling of union with an object is not a mysticalexperience. Thus, many of the transpersonal and out of body experiences, or unionwith inanimate or animate objects belong, strictly speaking, not to the mystical realm.Limitations of Existing ResearchThe strong evidence supporting the prevalence and positive nature of mysticalexperiences surprised even those who were sympathetic toward mystical phenomena.The fact that purely “numinous” experiences are relatively rare is not surprising since38native talent, deliberate, and inadvertent preparations influence the nature and qualityof the experience. Otto (1932), Underhill (1955), and James (1972) accepted a rangeof experiences insofar as they challenge narrow ego confmement by accessing a wider,previously veiled, all inclusive reality. People emerge with the conviction that theeveryday world is not the whole of reality (Hardy, 1979).Research on mysticism seems to be declining with little or no new ground beingbroken. Traditional methods have focused on codification, regularization, andgeneralization which are achieved only at the cost of meaning and context. Qualitativemethodologies have received little attention and no hermeneutic or narrative studieshave been conducted. Language was seen as a problem by Maslow (1983) and otherproponents of the ethnocentric phrasing hypothesis. The assumption was that languagecan be cleaned of cultural presuppositions so that the real phenomenon might beexposed. The epistemological role of language had been overlooked.However, the essence of mysticism is about “ultimate” meaning and must beinvestigated with suitable methodologies as this study proposes to do.Approach to the Present InvestigationAs is apparent from the review of the literature, mystical experiences have notbeen examined from a holistic perspective of context and meaning, particularly withinthe framework of life histories. This study will contribute to filling this gap byproceeding from ontological and epistemological premises of the nature of humanreality and how it should be investigated.The ontological premise states that meaning, not matter, is the fundamentalreality which is ordered qualitatively according to aesthetic principles (Heidegger,1962). Intrinsic to the ontology of meaning is the hermeneutic circle within which aparticular way of being in the world is made meaningful. However, “meaning iscontextually grounded, inherently and irremediably” (Mishler, 1986b, p. 3) and39constructed linguistically (Pollcinghorne, 1988). Human experience is renderedmeaningful, that is, composed into holistic patterns by linguistic forms of narrative orstory whose basic structure is the plot with beginning, middle, and end.The hermeneutic circle. The hermeneutic circle encompasses existence,experience, the capacity for self-reflection, and language as inseparable from being inthe world or Dasein.Thus, in the portrait of reality given in the human experience, the hermeneuticand linguistic structures are understood to be aspects of reality which givesmeaning to reality’s self-display (Polkinghorne, 1988, p. 136).Human knowledge does not derive from objective, preinterpreted facts andformal knowledge, but proceeds from” ... our everyday participatory understanding ofpeople and events” (Packer & Addison, 1989, p. 23). Knowledge begins with theparadox that something must already be known, or a “fore-structure”, in order to knowanything at all (Heidegger, 1962). The “fore-structure” is shaped by largely tacit andtaken for granted socio-cultural preconceptions and expectations. Since Being orDasein is postulated to be inherently projective, the “fore-structure” is projected intothe world as a beginning of further understanding and interpretation. Thisunderstanding folds back on itself to be projected outward again in hermeneuticcircularity (Packer & Addison, 1989). According to Heidegger (1962), the circle ofunderstanding need not viciously verify prejudices, but is open to assimilation andaccommodation of new material within an expanding horizon of present understanding.Language. narrative or story. Following Polkinghorne (1988), the role oflanguage is epistemological and intrinsic to the hermeneutics of rendering humanexperience meaningful. Language is inherently “being with others” (Ricoeur, 1981),that is, meaning is constructed, negotiated, and shared communally through narrativediscourse or story. Narrative is simultaneously process and structure and intimatelyassociated with human experience of time. The awareness and experience of thetemporality of life binds time to the hermeneutic circle of meaning within the inevitable40story structure of beginning, middle and end. Human time is not merely a linear seriesof instances to be recorded as chronicles, but is a holistic awareness of past and futurein the present (Cochran, 1989). Citing Ricoeur (1981), Polldnghorne (1988) proposed“that narrative discourse is the linguistic, hermeneutically reasoned expression of thehuman experience of [and in] time” (p. 134). It is through the plot that the experienceof time and events are woven into a meaningful whole according to their importancefor the development of the story.The plot, or logical structure of story, is the movement and dramatic tensionbetween the two opposing poles of beginning and end (Cochran, 1989). The beginningmay be an unsatisfactory state of affairs the individual is motivated to change. The endis the desired, or eventually, the actual outcome. The middle is the means employedtoward the end in order to close the gap between what is and what ought to be(Cochran, 1989, 1990). The unfolding story is by nature open-ended and may displaytwo story lines. One is the intended line and the other is the actual one that may ormay not move toward the desired goal. Therefore, tension occurs between these twostory lines if they fail to converge. Since the outcome is not guaranteed, circumstancesmay lead to a different end than the projected one. The significance of what oncehindered or helped the movement toward the end may be reinterpreted in the light ofnew events and deeper understanding. Consequently, the tension between the actualend and the beginning determines retrospectively what is important and what organizesthe story. Events are not fixed facts, but receive their significance from the contextwithin a particular story. (Cochran, 1889, 1990). Emplotment is a creative,hermeneutic search for best fit between the parts and the whole (Polkinghorne, 1988).Mounting scholarly consensus within the narrative literature argues that humanbeings live in story (Cochran, 1990; Mishler, 1986b; Polkinghorne, 1988; Schank,1990). Following Cochran (1990), the only proof that is needed is our ownobservation that we explain, describe, work, plan, tell jokes, dream, read, watch41movies, etc., in story form. It appears that story is a “primary act of mind” andwhatever we do is done in story (Cochran, 1991, p. 20). Bruner (1988) argued thatfrom early childhood on we learn the story form which becomes so habitual that itbecomes an organizing principle for experience. The narratives we have “settled onbeing’ our lives” become so entrenched that “a life as led is inseparable from life astold” (Bruner, 1988, p. 582). A metaphysical shift is needed to become aware of thisfact. Thus, story is the medium in which humans live, more or less, unawares.Personal stories invariably reflect the socio-cultural environment from which they areadopted or adapted.Research method. This study employs life history case study methods inkeeping with the premises laid out in the previous section.According to Yin (1984), case study is a form of empirical inquiry thatinvestigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context; when theboundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and inwhich multiple sources of evidence are used (p. 23).However, as explicated above, this study proceeds from the recognition thatwithin the human realm of meaning, context and phenomenon are inseparable. Thus, amore precise definition is that a case study investigates occurrences in their naturalsetting “to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real life events” (Yin,1984, p. 14).Life histories may be defmed asany retrospective account by the individual of his [or her] life in whole or part,in written or oral form, that has been elicited by another person (Watson &Watson Franke, 1985, p. 2).Research interview. “One of the most important sources of case studyinformation is the interview” (Yin, 1984, p. 82). In order to fulfill the premises forthis study, the interview must facilitate a discourse capable of capturing context andmeaning as a coherent story. Mishler’s (1986b) explication of narrative interviewingmethods will be the guide to this end.42Following Mishler (1986a), “narratives are one of the natural cognitive andlinguistic forms through which individuals attempt to order, organize, and expressmeaning” (p. 106). The all pervasive context of interviews includes the circumstances,social conventions, personal intentions, needs, etc., inherent in the telling as well as theconstruction of the narrative. Therefore, the researcher will be vigilant to what helpsand hinders the elicitation of a coherent story and to what lessens the need “to presentoneself in socially valued images” (Paget, 1983, p. 73). “Interview as discourse”entails hermeneutic principles in the joint construction of meaning by the interviewerand the interviewee. The entire process of meaning-making, including the ensuinganalysis, is a cooperative endeavor in which power is equally shared between theresearcher and the participant to “restore control to the respondents over what theymean by what they say (Mishler, 1986a, p. 122). Within this framework, interviewsresemble conversations in which questions and responses are formulated andreformulated “so that together we understand what their stories are about” (Mishler,1986b, p. 249).43CHAPTER ifiMethodologyThe purpose of this study was to explore mystical experiences within the contextof three life histories. To this end narrative methodology was employed allowing forthe contextual emergence of meaning, both in the telling of the stories and theiranalysis. The following twofold procedure was observed. First, individual storieswere constructed from the transcripts of the interviews. Second, these stories served asthe basis for a common analysis.Explication of PresuppositionsIt will be taken for granted that the contextual and largely tacit nature offundamental socio-cultural assumptions are inextricable from conducting research(Kuhn, 1970; Manicas & Secord, 1983). Within the limits of this horizon, theresearcher is expected to declare significant circumstances surrounding a particularstudy in so far as they appear to influence the investigation (Mishler, 1986a; Whittaker,1986).Because of the dogmatic manner in which religion was imposed on me duringchildhood, I developed a strained relationship with Catholicism in particular andorganized religion in general. The desire arose to escape the narrow dogmaticconfinement, leading to a quest for intellectual freedom. At age eighteen the questbecame focused through an experience that falls within the mystical realm ofUnderhill’s (1955) framework. Within a timeless moment I perceived withunprecedented intensity that all my religious beliefs had collapsed. No longer believingin God to give my life direction, the quest for freedom instantly became a search formeaning. Despite having been raised to regard the mystical with suspicion, the nextthree decades brought a number of mystical experiences of various intensities andqualities leading to an increasing awareness of an all inclusive greater unity. Only44much later in life did I become acquainted with the mystical literature which helped meconsiderably toward integrating the experiences.In sum, the decision to conduct this study of life histories is based on personalexperience leading to the conjecture that the mystical is, for the most part, integral to alife as lived rather than a non-contextual, intruding phenomenon.Selecting ParticipantsSampling method. Non-probability, purposeful, opportunistic sampling wasemployed. Selection was based on the following requirements. Participants must havehad a relevant mystical experience broadly falling within the criteria outlined byUnderhill (1955) and Otto (1958). A number of years should have passed since theexperience in order to gain insight into its influence on the ensuing life. Ideally, theperson should be past mid-life for a wider life history perspective. Participants shouldbe conversant in the English language and be able to articulate coherent and reflectiveaccounts of their lives.Search for participants. Through my network of friends and acquaintances I letthe intent to study mystical experiences be known. Invariably, the first task was todefine mysticism which was generally confused with parapsychological phenomenasuch as apparitions of ghosts, E.S.P., out-of-body experiences, etc,. I spoke with threepeople who had experienced minor mystical phenomena that might be summarized as,“having been hit with a spiritual Force, Presence, or Light”, providing solace andreassurance regarding temporary difficulties without leaving a lasting impact other thanthe surprise that this unusual experience occurred.I met the first suitable participant, John, (all names are pseudonyms), at a socialgathering for counsellors. At the time I was unaware that he had been a Jesuit priestand that he would be my first ‘mystic’. A mutual friend was instrumental in arrangingJohn’s participation in this study. Through John, I contacted Sister Chelsea who45graciously agreed to take part. Sister Chelsea lives a good distance from Vancouverand we did not meet until the time of the interview. The same friend was againinvolved in contacting the third participant, Henk, whom I had also met socially priorto discussing mysticism.I did not seek out individuals with backgrounds other than stipulated above. Bymere happenstance the sample included a Catholic nun, a former Jesuit priest, and abiologist with a Calvinist background. Coincidentally, all participants happen to be intheir fifties. A further description of each participant’s background was included in theindividual stories.Life History InterviewsThe interviews proceeded from the premise that people are naturally inclinedtoward narrative discourse as an organizational scheme to render experiencemeaningful. “If respondents are allowed to continue in their own way until theyindicate that they have completed their answers, they are likely to relate stories”(Polkinghorne, 1988, p. 163). For this reason, unstructured, yet focused life historyinterviews were conducted, as suggested by Paget (1983). The focus was on tracingthe mystical as it emerged and influenced the participants’ lives. The interviews wereaudio-taped in order to free the researcher to be wholly present in the discourse and toallow accurate information taking.All interviews began with pleasantries such as the researcher expressinggratitude toward the informant for participating in the study, etc.. This preamble wasfollowed by the explication of the nature of the study and the participant’s role in it.The discussion included concerns regarding confidentiality, anonymity, the right toboth delete sensitive material and to withdraw from the study without prejudice,participation in the evaluation of analysis, etc.. The intent was to create trust andrapport to allow the person to speak freely. All participants expressed concern about46not being sure where to begin and not knowing if their stories would be of value to mystudy. I invited each person to begin by reflecting on his or her childhood and tosimply begin with memories that might have some connection with the way their livesdeveloped. I conveyed that we were simply engaging in a conversation with aparticular purpose and that any questions I might have were designed to further theformulation and cooperative understanding of the story.Length and number of interviews varied due to available time frames andpersonal circumstances. A total of four hours per participant proved to be the norm,including one hour for the discussion of the analysis. The aim of the first interviewwas to elicit as coherent and complete a story as possible to be followed by a secondinterview if necessary. Henk’s interview proceeded over a single three hour span afterwe had discussed the issues in great length during the previous three days. There was aone year lag between John’s respective one and two hour interviews. The previousyear, John had agreed to be interviewed for a class project on the same topic. SisterChelsea and I had scheduled a two hour interview which was later augmented by a onehour taped telephone conversation. All discussions of the analyses were conducted byphone.Previous social contact with both John and Henk greatly facilitated mutualrapport during the interviews. My initial concern with respect to interviewing SisterChelsea immediately upon our first face to face meeting were quickly dispelled by herdisarming openness, genuineness, and dignified presence.The interviews were transcribed verbatim for the purpose of analysis to bepresented as a “straightened” stories (Cochran, 1989).Sample of questions. The questions listed below served as a guide to focus theinterview and to further the telling of the life story.1. What are some of the early childhood memories that seem to have had alasting influence on your life?2. How would you describe your upbringing? Your family relationships?473. How would you describe yourself as a child?4. What events, people, strengths, circumstances, and shortcomings wereparticularly influential?5. What were your fondest daydreams or desires and what happened tothem?6. What captures your imagination now?7. How are these early experiences related to the mystical experience?8. How would you sum up your life up to the mystical experience?9. What was it about the experience that makes it stand out?10. What mental and physical conditions were prevailing before the mysticalexperience?11. What were you aware of during the mystical experience?12. What were you aware of after the experience?13. What insights did you derive from the experience?14. What immediate changes occurred in the way you saw yourself?15. In what way have these changes lasted or are still continuing?16. In what ways have you tried to have the experience again?17. What do you hope to accomplish in the future and what role does themystical experience play?Analysis: “Straightening” the StoryThe analysis contains two parts. First, individual stories were constructed fromthe transcribed interviews. These stories were submitted to the thesis advisor forevaluation and consequently made available to the participants for critical review andvalidation. Second, a common story was composed after the individual stories hadbeen accepted.Throughout the analysis hermeneutic principles were operative as outlined in theprevious chapter. Upon familiarization with the individual transcripts it becameapparent that Cochran’s (1990) method for the investigation of life histories within thecontext of vocation was particularly well suited for this study. All participants had astrong awareness of either a vocation or a life quest in which the mystical had becomethe central focus.Cochran (1990) conceptualized the story of vocation as a lived pattern ofmeaning that emerges over four naturally occurring phases toward increasing unity ofbeing and doing. Detailed explanations of the method were woven into the individualstories and supported by verbatim quotations from the transcripts in order to leave aclear ‘decision trail’ of interpretations, descriptions of experiences, and the general48construction of the story. This method of straightening the stones was particularlyappropriate, because it allowed each participant to judge method and analysis as awhole.Role of researcher. Following Cochran (1989), the researcher may beenvisioned in the ancient role of the bard, who creates meaning not merely by puttingpieces together but by “straightening” the story so that it makes sense. He selects whatis relevant, dismisses what is irrelevant, infers, explains, and interprets not in order toascertain truth, but to create wisdom and understanding. Removed from the action,like a spectator, the bard provides a different perspective. Rather than accumulatingand weighing facts, he reflects on the happenings. The bard and the actors need eachother and, together, they create meaning.There is no particular point of entry into the hermeneutic realm of meaning.“Understanding generates understanding until general appreciation is reached”(Cochran, 1989). A final understanding is never achieved. For all practical purposes,a saturation point eventually becomes evident (Bertaux, 1981).Scientific RigorPacker and Addison (1989) summarized prevailing, problematic issuesregarding validity and reliability within the human sciences and narrative research inparticular. These authors agreed with Kuhn (1977) that” ... not even natural sciencecan provide ... fixed validity. Interpretation-free validation is impossible there tooand it would stifle science if it were possible” (Packer & Addison, 1989, p. 188).Traditional science is based on the closed system of formal logic and mathematics andis therefore incommensurable with the inherently open-ended linguistic paradigm.Truth claims within the linguistic realm approach the status of likelihood(Polldnghorne, 1988) which is not far removed from Cook and Campbell’s (1979)suggestion to consider validity in traditional science as approximate.49Various efforts have been made to gain understanding of the nature of scientificrigor as it applies to the realm of language and meaning. Evaluation of narrativeresearch cannot escape its own paradigm and remains within the circle of qualitativeinterpretation and open-endedness.A true interpretation is one that uncovers an answer to the concern motivatingthe inquiry. If an answer has been uncovered by an interpretative account weshould find it plausible, it should fit other material that we are aware of, otherpeople should find it convincing, and it should have the power to changepractice (Packer & Addison, 1989, p. 289).Guba and Lincoln (1982), Yin (1984), Sandelowski (1986), and others,advanced similar suggestions. The following section will address some of the issues asthey pertain to this study.One of the main goals is “confirmability” (objectivity) also expressed asplausibility, intelligibility, likelihood, or coherence. “Confirmability” is achievedwhen the interpretation attains “creditability” (internal validity), “fittingness” (externalvalidity or generalizability), and “auditability” (replicability or reliability) (Guba &Lincoln, 1982; Sandelowski, 1986).“Creditability” is obtained when participants identify the description as their“own” and others are able to recognize the phenomena. “Creditability” is furtherenhanced by the researcher’s description of his or her involvement in the study.“Fittingness” refers to the meaningful fit of a study into a larger context. Both“creditability” and “fittingness” must survive scrutiny of the interpretations by theparticipants and others.“Auditabiity” depends on leaving a clear ‘decision trail’ so that others mayfollow the entire genesis of the study.With respect to this study, “creditability was furthered by explicating theresearcher’s presuppositions, the selection of the participants, the collection ofinformation, and the method of analysis. Also, descriptions, inferences, andinterpretations were supported by verbatim quotations from the transcripts indicating50that “interpretation is not a matter of conjecture and guess” (Packer & Addison, 1989,p. 289). The individual stories were made available to the thesis advisor, theparticipants, and the thesis committee for evaluation of “fittingness”. “Fittingness” isfurther evident by references to the literature throughout the study and chapter V inparticular. “Auditability”, that is, leaving a clear ‘decision trail was the researcher’sinherent intent and must by judged by others.In order to enhance “confinnability”, the researcher continuously consideredrival explanations in order to obtain the highest level of plausibility possible. Finally,the suggestion that the findings “should have the power to change practice” (Packer &Addison, 1989, p. 189) will also be discussed in chapter V.Participants’ Critical ReviewSister Chelsea commented that she felt deeply understood and regretted thatfuture contact with the researcher would be limited due to the considerable distancebetween their respective cities. Corrections were minor and mainly of a demographicnature.John commented that the story portrayed the essential spirit of his life.Corrections were similar to those requested by Sister Chelsea. John commented on themethodology as it appeared within the story. He was struck by the appropriateness ofthe psychological development as it might relate to religious vocation in particular.Henk had discussed the story with his wife. He commented with astonishmenthow succinctly his life had been captured within a few pages. He was saddenedreading about himself and considered the possibility that he may have wasted his life.We discussed some of the implications. Only minor misunderstandings needed to becorrected.I was also surprised and grateful for the careful thoroughness all participantsdevoted to validating their stories. Generally, there was some concern and self-consciousness about the difference between the casual conversational style of thelanguage as it appeared in the quotations and prepared speech or polished, writtencompositions.5152CHAPTER 1YResults and Analysis: Life HistorY Case StudiesLife History One: Sister ChelseaSister Chelsea, not her real name, is a member of an international, RomanCatholic, teaching order. Now in her fifties, she entered the community at age twenty.She holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Scriptures and has occupied a number of responsiblepositions. Her term as Provincial Superior has just come to an end. She is presentlyhead of the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department at a college in the UnitedStates. She also serves as vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce. Thecollege was founded by the order but is presently operated in trust by a secular body ofdirectors.Sister Chelsea is the oldest of five children. Reflecting on her family, she said,“We had a lot of marks of affection in our family. I’ve never been really abused, youknow, really abused by people I trusted.” Unfortunately, this is not the ease for manywomen she meets through her work. Sister Chelsea’s parents were Catholic but wentto church only on major feast days. Family prayer or saying the rosary emergedmainly during times of crisis. Catholicism, though contextual in young Chelsea’s life,was not zealously imposed by parental or other authorities.As will become evident, Sister Chelsea’s experience of God’s presence in theworld was as natural as growing up. By age six, an intellectual and intuitive unity, orwhat she called “singleheartedness”, was already sufficiently formed and active as abasic orientation capable of expanding and binding more and more of life into aseamless whole.The Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or the Awakening and Unificationof YearningCochran (1990) and Csikszentmihalyi and Beattie (1979) demonstrated howindividuals with a vocation or dominant life theme were able to identify, consolidate,53concretize, and externalize primitive dramatic childhood experiences into a coherentdesire, yearning, wanting, etc.. Cochran recognized repetition and rhythm of early,often tacit, dramatic units as instrumental in composing, strengthening, and unifyingdesire out of a multiplicity of fragmented, episodic, and perhaps chaotic experiencestypical of childhood. Why a particular experience becomes salient is not clear.Following Cochran (1990), innate temperament and socio-cultural milieu conspire inraising a particular experience to a prototype or metaphor whose boundaries aresufficiently fuzzy to allow incorporation of more and more of life into a familyresemblance of experiences and reality. Thus, an awakened salient experience isrepeated and dramatically strengthened in ever increasing variety and extension.The arousal and unification of desire is the recognition of a gap between what isand what ought to be. The emergence of opposing poles and the attempt to narrow thegap clearly define the movement of the story with a beginning, middle, and end.Sister Chelsea’s earliest childhood memories are of taking care of her youngersiblings when she was between three or four years old. While her parents wereworking in the fields, she was responsible for changing diapers, feeding, herding thelittle ones inside out of the sun, etc.. She remembers breaking her baby brother’s fallby throwing herself underneath him. At age four occurred what she called the “keyincident of all my life.” A brother was born a “blue baby” and after two weeks seemedto be dying. Her parents asked Chelsea to run for help to the neighbor, who was anurse. The nurse came too late, and the baby died. Chelsea’s mother worried over thedestiny of the baby’s unbaptized soul which would end up in some terrible place, likehell or purgatory. Sister Chelsea said,I remember standing there, thinking, ... being very philosophical about it,‘That’s not my God. I don’t think God would do that to a baby. I thinic thatmy parents are wrong.’54The circumstances of her brother’s death congealed two powerful influences thatcame to shape Sister Chelsea’s life. First, she awakened to a strong obligation towardassuming responsibility. Second, she became aware of a personal God.In one way, her brother’s death was a personal tragedy that seemed to havesummed up earlier experiences of responsibility for her siblings which was “at timestoo much.” But now she had failed to save the baby’s life. She said,I think, I couldn’t’ run fast enough. I felt responsible for his death. It was avery mixed up experience for a four year old at the time.Throughout her life, Sister Chelsea suffered the burden of being “superresponsible” accompanied by the nagging worry that she could have done more. As anadult she began observing others who seemed much less conscientious, caring littleabout coming to meetings unprepared, not even bothering to read the minutes.Becoming more and more aware of what she called, “My biggest fault”, she wonderedabout its origin. Somehow the traces always led back to her brother’s death.However, the evidence thickens considering her statement.I grew up too fast. I think, I grew up at age three, I was going on thirty. I’veoften thought about this in my life, when you talk about grief. I think, one ofthe griefs I had to work through in my life has been losing my childhood.Within the same context, she said, “God works with whatever happens.”Though spoken in retrospect, everything in Sister Chelsea’s life, whether the burden ofworrisome super-responsibility, grief, success, joy, etc., became subordinated andintegrated into an ultimate reality greater than the self, paralleling Cochran’s (1990)observation of individuals with a vocation. In Sister Chelsea’s life that journey beganwith the awakening to her personal God at age four. What stands out mostsignificantly is that things concerning God, from here on, had to make sense in additionto what her heart might feel. She said,I remember these things when I was four, six, eight. It was like religion wasboth a head and a heart thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel compassion for peopleor things, but a lot of that stuff just didn’t make sense. I always thought therehad to be an intellectual way of looking at it, you know, a critical way.55At age eight she observed her aunts praying for rain, because it would be goodfor the laundry hanging on the line. She dismissed this practice as “magic stuff’.Though God is capable of performing miracles, He is notThe God you could make do things, because you wanted it to happen Ithink that if God would let it rain, He would let it rain. We would have tomake that adaptation.Apart from further demonstrating her independent thinking, this incident alsohighlights her extraordinary sense for reality from childhood on. This ability to avoidescapism and embrace reality within the framework of what is, what ought to be, andwhat might realistically be accomplished, further typifies vocation (Cochran, 1990).From her teenage years on, Sister Chelsea made a daily reading of the bible partof her meditation. While in the novitiate this practice was frowned upon because itsmacked of Protestantism. But she would not be deterred and said,“They didn’t read the bible the Catholics, no they didn’t. I used to sit and prayabout the scriptures, meditate on what they meant. It just seemed more right.”Once more, taking responsibility or what she called being “stubborn” and“hardheaded” about religion is evident. But her reference to praying, meditating, andrightness refer obliquely to a, by now, well developed intuition about religious matters.So far, the explication of Sister Chelsea’s relationship with God has been seriouslyincomplete. It was at age six when that which began at age four emerged, in a way,complete.The family had moved from the Mid West to a city in the Pacific Northwest inthe U.S. Her account of that time leads to the conclusion that an accomplished youngperson burst into the world. As Cochran (1990) pointed out, in retrospect life seems tohave unfolded with an inevitability that belies the obstacles, struggles, and uncertaintiesthat prevail much of the time. However, Sister Chelsea’s “stubbornness”,“hardheadedness”, and inner directedness kept her on track. As much as God had tomake intellectual sense, she followed her heart with equally singleminded, intuitive56determination. Her actions point toward a basic unity of being and doing whichappears to have laid dormant needing an opportunity to unfold.Following an innate desire, six year old Chelsea began to go to church aloneevery morning without being prompted. With a chuckle she noted that she was barelytall enough to peek over the pew. From this time forward, daily mass became a matterof course whenever possible. One morning while in church, she became aware of awoman returning from communion. Sister Chelsea said,I had not received [first] communion yet. She [the woman] was real plainlooking, but I just knew there was a presence, something very special,different about her than a lot of other people. There was something about it thatwas kind of integrated and radiant I can still remember the feeling, and Ican still remember how she looked. There is something I never did understand,it is that I could sense something in people that were really holy.But Chelsea did not merely passively observe. This presence attracted her somuch that she moved along the pew so that she would be sitting next to the womanupon her return. This moment was a conscious recognition of what she called, “Thesingle grace of my life. I always felt God very present ... from childhood on.” Butthis moment was, above all, experiencing and witnessing holiness, wholeness, andintegration of a human being within God. Symbolically, intuitively, and in actuality,young Chelsea recognized what she wanted, where she belonged, and put herself in itspresence. Several times during the interview, Sister Chelsea mentioned how importantit is for her to live singleheartedly or with a purity of heart and a sense of belonging.She said,I think singleheartedness has always been there, you know, the real focus. Buthow I get there, I don’t know That doesn’t mean that other things aren’trelated .... That purity of heart gives your life a sense of direction andintegration, you know, that God is the All, that God is Everything, and how allthose pieces are directed there It’s more than service. It’s belonging.Single heart, to me, means totally belonging to God, and the doing flows fromthe belonging.These words, though spoken many years later, harken back to the earlyexperience of what integration, belonging, and singleheartedness came to mean. How57far six year old Chelsea had worked out the philosophical details is hard to say. Butshe said,I used to think a lot I remember thinking and meditating on some thingsthat didn’t make sense. One of them was baptism (laughs). It just didn’t seem[plausible] that God would put a purple mark on your soul. I thought indeliblyof purple pencil (laughs).However, she did not brood in isolation, but took the responsibility to knock onthe priest’s door to discuss her issues. She said, “He was a very kind Benedictine. So,we used to walk with each other all around the neighborhood, and we talked theology‘9Sister Chelsea’s awareness did not merely rest with her own concerns. With aninnate naturalness, she translated her intuitive and intellectual growth intocompassionate and practical activities in the community. She said,I felt drawn to take care of people. I felt drawn to pick up the kids in theneighborhood that were retarded, or couldn’t read, or couldn’t do anything.But I remember, I was only six years old that I used to do that.Though she was younger than many of her peers, Chelsea was the leader. Shetook the children to the nuns demanding they teach them to read. The nuns retorted,“You teach them!” Chelsea had learned to read at age three and a half. Herextraordinary intelligence is further evident in graduating from high-school two yearsahead of time and by being selected for a graduate school scholarship involvingcandidates from fifty colleges in fifty states. Unfortunately, the scholarship wasprematurely terminated and will be referred to in further discussion.Sister Chelsea recalled another important moment from that pivotal time at agesix while in church one morning.She said,I remember thinking, ‘I think, I might some day become a ‘religious’.’ Mysister reminded me of that just last Christmas.Her four year old sister had ruined her own doll and Chelsea said,58That’s okay., you can have my doll because, probably, when I get big, I’ll be asister, and you’ll be a mother, and you’ll need to know how to take care ofbabies, and I will not.In memory of that moment, her sister presented Sister Chelsea with a doll lastChristmas. Also, young Chelsea’s emergence of a vocation was not lost on those whoknew her well. At age twenty, she told her parents of her decision to become amember of a religious community. Her father remarked that he had known since shewas in the first grade.The Middle: The Phase of Positioning or Attainment of PersonhoodAt age six Sister Chelsea had achieved what proved to be an enduringunification of yearning directly accompanied by meaningful enactment of its spirit.Though very young, she had a sense of personhood. Cochran (1990) defmedpersonhood as the emergence of a regnant stance around which other stances crystallize“into a more or less harmonious position” (p. 39). Personhood is a symbolic,dramatic, and actual position necessary for sustained enactment of the central concern.Toward completion of that phase, the person recognizes him or herself as someone witha particular life’s work to do, or a vocation. From a methodological point of view, theperson’s life goal is clearly defined by the opposing poles of what is and what ought tobe. Motivation derives from the infusion with a sense of drama through the awarenessthat the work to be done matters “as if very existence is at stake” (Cochran, 1990, p.50). The middle of the story is marked by the development and employment of themeans to close the gap between the poles.Sister Chelsea’s life history leaves little doubt that she lived her life from agesix to age twenty in preparation for a vocation. Although her life’s path seemed tounfold unerringly with respect to her spiritual growth, avenues for concrete enactmentwere open to potentially many possibilities. In either case, repetition of a centralconcern and prototypical experience in varied guises proved instrumental in creating59and strengthening the unity of position. The following examples from Sister Chelsea’slife history will illustrate her journey.Repetition of Sister Chelsea’s central concern or her relationship with God isclearly identifiable. Particularly striking is the development of her intuitive spirituality.Apart from daily mass, a prayerful attitude began permeating her life wherever shewent. From an early age, prayer was not a matter of words, but silence in meditationand contemplation. She described prayer as “being with God”, listening and beingreceptive to His ways of communicating. That communication may be through anintuitive thought, a hunch, dreams, a book, a person, etc.. Equally important was thedevelopment of critical faculties in matters of spiritual intuition and will be discussed inturn.During junior high-school Chelsea worked in berry fields. She said,I used to pray a lot in the fields, kind of drink it all in. In the morning it wasbeautiful Yeah, I liked the solitude, prayed a lot, thought, watched thesunset. It was gorgeous.Manual labor, whether working in the fields, in the cannery, or elsewhere,became an opportunity for prayer. Thus, from a young age on Sister Chelsea practicedwhat Cochran (1990) called infusion of spirit of the central concern. Infusionalternates with diffusion. Diffusion found its expression in her active compassion forothers. What began with taking care of her siblings, gathering neighborhood children,continued throughout her school years either as teacher’s helper or someone whoassisted others who had difficulties catching on.Following Cochran (1990), nestled within repeating cycles of infusion anddiffusion of the central spirit lies the development of virtues and characteristicsnecessary for vocation and the unitive life. These characteristics includewholeheartedness, responsibility, courage, agency, industry, mastery, inspiration,finding models, and trying out personal metaphors and ostensive roles for one’s life.Infusion and diffusion of spirit are also bound up in the alternating cycle of reflecting60and doing in the roles of spectator and participant (Cochran, 1990). Much of thisactivity proceeds from a tacit knowledge base. Unity, vocation and its elements areattained indirectly rather than directly. Vocation is part gift and part willed (Cochran,1990).The phases of incompletion and positioning tilt toward the spectator role andconstruction of a livable reality through observation, exploration, incorporation, andreflection. “Involvement in the world is told and retold to oneself, ... formulated andreformulated” (Cochran, 1990, p. 87.) Within this context Cochran included Piaget’s(1968) theory of assimilation and accommodation as well as Kelly’s (1955) elaborationand revision. Corresponding and increasing participation make the central concern realand thereby heightens and unifies dramatic inspiration and motivation. Participationand spectatorship reciprocally influence each other in the construction andreconstruction of the symbolic or the meaning of action within the desired spirit.Sister Chelsea’s entire life has been an exercise in spectatorship andparticipation. Her prayerful life included reflecting and doing as a matter of course.Cochran (1990) pointed out that virtues and characteristics are specific to thecentral focus. Thus, the person need not be courageous, agentive, and responsible inall areas of life, but where it matters most.Sister Chelsea’s life history clearly reveals the emergence of appropriate virtuesand characteristics. Wholeheartedness is obvious in the importance ofsingleheartedness. Agency, courage, industry, and taking responsibility are evidentwith respect to her spiritual growth and in active compassion for others. With greatunderstatement, she said, “I did things.” Though her actions flowed from an innatedesire, she was also highly aware of her inclination to help others. She said, “I talkedit over with father [the priest], the sisters, or somebody.” In addition, societyreciprocated. Teachers and neighbors recognized her leadership and conscientiousness61by putting her in charge of others. Though one of the youngest, it was she who wasscolded if there was trouble.By age thirteen, reading had become an important means by which Chelseawidened her horizon and satisfied her curiosity about the world. At that time, she reada book a day. Her teacher declared the library off limits, saying that she read toomuch. Chelsea was angry and thought, “Well, if I can’t read them, P11 write them!”She consequently wrote her own novel. Again, with her strong sense of what is andwhat might be, she created a new reality with a never lacking self-confidence.Chelsea had also heard of Dr. Tom Dooley who, as a surgeon, had devoted hislife to helping others in South- east Asia. In Dr. Dooley, Chelsea found a role modelthat gave her desire to help others a concrete direction for working singleheartedlyfrom the awareness of God’s presence in the world. As will become evident, themetaphor of a physician, a healer, as someone creating and restoring wholeness hasremained a dominant force in her life. Eventually, Sister Chelsea had to readjust hervision of becoming a physician to different circumstances. However, her intentions atthe time were focused and serious. She said,I had operated on every animal in the neighborhood that ever died, ... anautopsy to figure out how they died. I wanted to be a surgeon.Thus, Chelsea practiced mastery in two important and connected ways. First,she cultivated her relationship with God which flowed into the second way of helpingand healing.A further example shall illustrate the breadth of young Chelsea’s awareness ofthe lack of wholeness and her self- directed agency to heal the rift. During her seniorclass in high-school, she was disturbed by the lack of interaction between the boys andgirls. She said,I got tired of the whole student body. They had the boys on one side and thegirls on the other. So, at noon time I told everybody to dance. I had somepeople teach other people. We used to have wonderful dances .... The principal62and his wife were very good dancers and that helped. He was a good model forthe guys.In anticipation of further discussion suffice it to say that, for Sister Chelsea, theintegrating of male and female aspects in the world extend into spirituality and God.Chelsea was very active and popular during her high-school years. Though theboys teased her at times for her strong moral values, it was also important for her to beliked by them. She was still in grade-school when she overheard a neighbor referringto her as being homely. Her mother’s consolation, to use her head instead, madematters only worse. Sister Chelsea said,I remember puzzling for many years whatever I was gonna do if I was thathomely. How is my life gonna turn out, you know? So, I didn’t have anytrouble when I got to junior high-school. It turned out okay. (laughs), I guess.But I remember there were a couple of years in there that was real trauma.That hadn’t anything to do with my vocation.After graduating from high-school at age sixteen, Chelsea worked for adepartment store and a physicians’ insurance company. She became engaged a yearlater. She said,But during that time [three years], I was engaged, and every time we would seta date it just didn’t seem right, you know. It didn’t seem the right thing. So,fmaliy, I went to the sisters at this college, as a matter of fact, and said, ‘Youknow, I think I’m supposed to join something’ (laughs).However, this little episode is wedged within a period of decision making thateventually led to the recognition of a vocation. This process included a very rationalapproach of considering various options. She carefully evaluated marriage, remainingsingle as a professional, possibly a physician, and the religious life. Whatever optionshe might choose would be pursued with the singleheartedness she had been seekingsince early childhood. She began exploring the religious communities by gatheringinformation, looking for sufficient “largess” that might suit her temperament. Evenafter selecting a particular community, it was still a very difficult decision. Therelationship with her fiance had to be sorted out. She was also very concerned aboutsome aspects of the community she considered joining. The curtainless windows63seemed to symbolize her growing impression of a general lack of hospitality andwarmth. Warmth and affection were not only the mark of her family, but belong to thewholeness and goodness inherent in her experience of God. She said, “... it seemed socold, kind of not hospitable, and that has been my biggest problem in the communitytoo.” In addition, she had to abandon her dream of emulating Dr. Dooley. As ateaching order, the community did not provide for the pursuit of medicine. She had towiden the metaphor and said,I had to work that through more, because I thought, ‘Well, in a way this isbeing a physician, because I’m dealing with a lot of kids who are hurting and alot of kids who have no real parents that love them. It’s like sublimation, Iguess you call it.With her great sense of reality, she said, “I decided that was my call, yeah.”Inherent in this simple statement are the intellectual effort of deciding and theintuitive ability to ‘hear a call’. Sister Chelsea reached a decision through her ability towork from an inseparable unity of intuition and intellect. Throughout the interview,Sister Chelsea stressed the development of both intellectual discrimination andawareness of intuition. Intuition is not followed blindly but scrutinized and heededwith a critical mind and much prayer. As will be shown, Sister Chelsea is very awareof self-delusion. In the final analysis, it is the outcome or fruit that determines thevalue.The phase of positioning was transcended with Sister Chelsea’s decision to enterthe community. Personhood had jelled into the recognition of a vocation breaking thecycle of uncertainty, hesitation, doubt, and tentativeness. She was now “... in positionand bent on fulfiffing ... her promise as a person” (Cochran, 1990, p. 91). The end ofpositioning is marked by a shift or a more or less subtle culminating experience thatseparates “striving to be” from the recognition “that one is” (Cochran, 1990, p. 91).Sister Chelsea’s account clearly indicates that shift. She was now in position to beginthe work of life.64The Middle: The Phase of Positing or the Work of LifeCochran (1990) defmed the phase of positing as the repetition of the centraldrama in order “... to actualize the spirit or tenor of one’s being” (p. 40). The newchallenge is to live up to the promise of the culminating shift in personhood. A newway of doing things has yet to be worked out through trial and error. Intensity ofcommitment and effort wax and wane. Success and setbacks, doubt about one’svocation, periods of hopelessness, etc., remain within the fabric of life. Thus, the wayto completion progresses through cycles of repositioning, positing, and incompletion.However, incompletion and positioning are now experienced with the difference of nolonger being chronically stuck. One knows the way out (Cochran, 1990).In its basic manifestation, Sister Chelsea’s life work began at age six. Perhapsher inscrutable awareness of God and cooperation with that Presence precluded areligious crisis and rebellious teenage years. Nevertheless, as an adult she had to find asuitable translation of singleheartedness in a particular manner. She had chosen adifficult route. It appears that her life’s work was accompanied by much personalhardship.Sister Chelsea faced the challenging task of balancing personal integrity andbeing a member of a community. In addition, a physical, mental, and spiritual time ofthe Dark Night was awaiting her. Sister Chelsea began her university education uponentering the novitiate. However, challenges to her commitment lay elsewhere. Astime went on, her assessment of the lack of hospitality was confirmed. She said, “Thenovitiate was a very, very hard time for me. At that time they did a lot of things thatwere not too humane.” For instance, letters from her former boy friend were withheldfor a period. Consequently, she was unable to communicate with him and perhapssoften the blow of their breakup. Her integrity was also tested when she and two othernovices refused to sign an agreement not to develop close personal relationships whichincluded not touching other sisters, because that would make love less universal. In65addition to the lack of warmth, affection, and caring, she found the community equallyinhospitable to new ideas. She said,I’ve always been five years ahead of schedule and gotten a lot of negativefeedback initially. People are always much more comfortable with what is thanlam.For Sister Chelsea, however, difficult times were the more reason for prayerand being with God. A rather serious reassessment of her commitment occurred when,after winning a scholarship for graduate school, she was pulled out of the program byher superior in order to take the place of a nun who was in a “snit” refusing to teachher classes. Not only had the superior broken her word, but the university viewed thewithdrawal as a serious breach of trust putting the future of the scholarship in doubt.Sister Chelsea wondered whether she should leave the community and continue theprogram on her own. But she decided to stay and eventually returned to school toobtain a Ph.D..Not so much a test of her commitment, but a particular way of experiencingGod was awaiting her as a high-school teacher. Apart from dealing with senior boyswho were regularly getting drunk in order to drown their fears of having to go toVietnam, Sister Chelsea had to endure what amounted to psychological harassment by asuperior who disliked her intensely. She said, ‘Tve never cracked up, but it was theclosest that I have ever come to that I might. “ That difficult time was accompanied bya particular awareness of God. She said,I had just a real sense of being enveloped by God It was a real physicalthrowing myself in God’s arms at night so that I would get some sleep. Ijustfelt I was being held in existence.The almost physical awareness of God’s presence and the wisdom of asupportive principal saved her until a kind provincial superior initiated a transfer to endher plight.The Dark Night. Sister Chelsea was about to experience six years of physical,mental, and spiritual alienation. The community had recognized her extraordinary66capabilities and appointed her the youngest novice mistress in the history of the order.In addition, she was chosen to be the spiritual director for the novices. This positionwas traditionally held by a priest since spiritual direction and the sacrament of penancewere deemed inseparable. Development of spirituality most closely identifies andunites what is closest to Sister Chelsea’s heart as the way to wholeness and integration.She did away with the customary focus on sin and the quick “checklist” of religiouspractices as measurement of spirituality. Instead, she devoted great individual attentionto each novice often deep into the night. She said, they talked aboutSpiritual direction as the art of, you know, helping someone grow and listen,trusting your own movement of the spirit, your intuition. We talked a lot aboutdiscernment. So, it was kind of new.She found much needed support in two priests, a Jesuit and a Sulpician, whobecame her life-long friends.But it was also a time of great physical and mental isolation. Sister Chelsea hadsuddenly risen to a very high position within the hierarchy of the community. Shesaid, “Even my friends wouldn’t come [to visit]. They’d put you in a differentcategory.” Also, Vatican II had rattled some of the old ways of thinking and doingwith the consequence that Sister Chelsea was “blamed for everything that was wrongwith everyone’s life.” Neither the old sisters, the young novices, nor those in themiddle could be pleased.However, more painful than her isolation from others was the loss of theawareness of God’s presence and guidance. She said,It was almost the whole time I was director of the novitiate, for approximatelysix years. I felt, I was in a dark tunnel, physically, mentally, and spiritually.Only, it was curved. I couldn’t see the light at the end. I knew it was there,and I kept praying. I went to a psychologist, because I had this tearing I couldnot explain, that I could not get rid of. It felt like my whole chest cavity wasraw, you know. It was like it was bleeding, but it wasn’t. But the feeling ofrawness, that burniugness, it was a terrible physical, just very painfulexperience. It would be like the picture of open heart surgery. I thought it waspsychological, my head thing again. I thought you can delude yourself. Youcan manufacture all kind of symptoms, stigmata, you know. I’m always afraidof fake religion, that’s a real fear of mine, being something that is not in67keeping with the way God made us. I don’t know what it was, and I can’texplain it. Nobody could. He [the psychologist] couldn’t either. I never didresolve that and eventually it disappeared, --- the Dark Night, --- gradually.Sister Chelsea’s account suggests that the Dark Night was a transition from thephase of positing to unparalleled unity of being and doing analogous to Underhill’ sunitive life and Cochran’s (1990) phase of completion. She said,That period of my life, from 1974 to 1978, was the time I felt most consoled.When I’d wake up in the morning, God was very present. I started prayingright away. It was like every thing was right. What I must do was right.During that time she started a center for spirituality, teaching spiritual intuitionand spiritual discrimination according to St. Ignatius. She particularly loved workingas a team with her Jesuit friends providing both female and male points of view.However, before discussing the next phase, the Dark Night deserves a fmal comment.Whatever conceptualization is hoisted onto the Dark Night is apt to deepen themystery rather than explain it. The important point is that a shift had taken place. Inthis context the idea of rite of passage or the hero’s journey might be helpful by themarkers of separation or symbolic death, initiation, and return (Campbell, 1956; VanGennep, 1960). Underhill (1955) described the Dark Night of the Soul as the purgingof the last vestiges of self-withholding in preparation for total immersion in God “as asponge in the sea” (p. 414). But from the outset, Sister Chelsea’s life was about joyfulparticipation rather than purgation. Although, within the context of vocation, purgationmight be interpreted as cultivating virtues, overcoming hindrances, and enduring whatcannot be changed. Judging from the life that followed, Sister Chelsea had transcendedpreparation for enactment of position. She had entered a unitive, timeless way of beingand doing.The End: The Phase of Completion or the Unitive LifeFollowing Cochran (1990), completion involves a shift in personhood.Personhood is no longer dominated by a regnant gap and the desire to close it as in theprevious phases, but by attainment and completion of dramatic unity. Completion ends68and transcends story. The end is not satiation, restful fulfillment, or retirement.Instead of working to fulfill, the person overflows from the fullness of being.Fluctuation, cycles, and fragmentation of previous phases recede. The centralenactment as repetition and series of individual acts gives way to timeless activity.With the opposing poles closed, the future is absorbed within the present. Cochran(1990) referred to Underhill’ s (1955) unitive life for further comparison. The mysticway is equally a way of personal transformation though by seeking increasing unionwith God, the All, etc.. (Underhill, 1955). It is equally a life of greater freedom,deeper participation, and total self-donation to a reality greater than the self. “The newlife is not an act, but a state” marked by great vitality (Underhill, 1955, p. 428).Life’s adversities are not banned, but are approached with an” ... indistinguishablegladness of heart (p. 437).Sister Chelsea exemplifies both the tenor of Cochran’s (1990) completion andUnderhill’s (1955) unitive life as her personal, creative attainment.Sister Chelsea leaves no doubt that her world is a seamless whole that issuesfrom God. Therefore, her intellectual and intuitive awareness of God will be the pointof departure. She said, “What is happening between God and the Son Jesus and theChristian community is a tremendous theological reality in which I am a participant.”This intellectual conceptualization is inseparably integrated with the intuitive awarenessthat God is intimately personal, caring, and loving. She said,God can intercede and miracles can happen. But ... that’s not the ordinary way.I think, God is present in the reality of the human condition and that’s where thediscovery [of His presence] takes place. People that argue, ‘Where was Godwhen my child died, or where was God then’? I mean, God is right in youwhen you are going through that terrible suffering.The human condition includes freedom, but also limitations, and is open togood, evil, misfortune and “God does not get in the middle of it.” Nevertheless, thenature of God as the Trinity is intimately relational. Sister Chelsea sees God ascommunity rather than God merely as Christ. She said,69I don’t know what Christian ms. I think it’s more Trinitarian thanChristian. Well, the Spirit, the wisdom figures. Sophia means a lot to me, sodoes the warmth of the Father, so does the Christ figure and His identificationwith all human beings, you know, our role model. In some way there is thefeminine too. I don’t know what you call it, the Goddess, the Blessed Mother,or what. It’s just more diffused than the word Christian. But it is relational,not abstract like ‘cosmic’ is Universe is out there. It’s relational, youknow, relationship as God as community. It’s wholeness again.It seems correct to say that, for Sister Chelsea, God as the Trinity sets the allinclusive standard for personal integrity and participation in a greater wholeness thatextends into the world. Thus, individual wholeness and participation in a communityor a greater whole are integral to the human condition. The unitive life is rooted inGod. Indeed, Sister Chelsea’s life has been a testimony to the balance betweenpersonal integrity and community. By her own admission, it has been very difficult attimes.The above theological conceptualization is accompanied by Sister Chelsea’sintuitive awareness of God’s presence. She distinguishes between “horizon awareness”,as awareness of someone’s existence somewhere, perhaps being in love, and the actualsense of God’s presence. Though “horizon awareness” is part of it, God’s presence isqualitatively different. She said,I feel myself just held as if in somebody’s arms, just a real embrace. It’s hardto explain. Most of my life I’ve either felt that, either Presence or beingembraced, or something.Upon being asked, Sister Chelsea clarified that this presence is neitherimagined, nor willed, nor under her control, but comes as a gift or grace. Uponentering the novitiate the Presence intensified to a feeling as if being “embraced” or“held in giant arms”. Not surprising, the Dark Night felt “pretty terrible”. Herreaction to the withdrawal of the Presence is indicative of how inseparable the physical,the mental, and the spiritual have become. She said,I think, I must feel a lot with energies. If the energy flow seems harmoniouslike, --- it happens all the time the way I treat people, a way of doingeverything. If there is a flow of energy, if there is a rightness about it, it feelslike God is right by my shoulders, something like that. If I’m moving along70with that energy flow it’s okay. But if I do things that aren’t quite charitable,selfish, or whatever, I know it.Referring to a particular incident, she said,I had absolutely no feeling of God’s presence, you know. It was lack ofintegration, and confusion, and resentment, --- lack of wholeness.God’s absence and presence have become a “totality response” as eitherfragmentation or wholeness. Within the physical realm, Sister Chelsea has learned toheed bodily signals such as headaches or a queasy stomach that something is “not quiteright, not quite jeffing.” With respect to the mental, dreams are very important and“clarifying” in what needs to be done, that changes must be made if the college is tosurvive, or they remind her that she is trying to be “super woman”. Of greatimportance are frequent premonitions preparing and guiding her. For instance, sheknew well ahead of time when a responsible position would come her way either asnovice mistress or provincial superior. She said, it might be God’s way to prepare hergradually, because of her tendency to be overly conscientious and to worry excessively.She said,It’s as if God said, ‘Well, you’ll be there in two years, but I’ll see you’ll beready for that. Don’t worry, it will happen, but I’ll be there, and I’ll guideyou’, or whatever.Often she knows beforehand who is coming to see her and what the problemmight be, or how a difficult business decision is going to turn out. Other times it mightbe a touch or voice. She said,So many times it’s either hearing a voice, sometimes it comes in my dreams.It’s almost as if, ‘Chelsea do this or do this, call so and so.’ It’s almost as ifI’m guided by a companion. That’s really true.For instance, she felt touched on her shoulder with the message, ‘Go be withLucy’. She said, “I knew it was God.” Lucy was in the infirmary with cancer but notexpected to die. Had Sister Chelsea not heeded the intuition, Lucy would have diedalone without anyone to comfort her.71The above examples demonstrate how Sister Chelsea experiences God’spresence as intimately personal, loving, caring, and working “with whatever happens.”The reality of her personal history as someone who worries is not taken away, butintegrated. Lucy’s life was not spared, but she died in someone’s arms. There is nohint of escapism, rather, there is acceptance and cooperation with life as it presentsitself. Life has become a single act, a flowing activity (Cochran, 1990), a state of totalbelonging (Underhill, 1955). Sister Chelsea said,It doesn’t matter whether I’m working with the Chamber of Commerce, orworking on a doctorate, or working with retarded children, you know. Workdoesn’t really matter. And the people, it doesn’t matter whether I’m with richpeople, or poor people, or people who can’t read, or anything else. Still, theheart is in the same place. The doing flows from the belonging, true, but it’s[the belonging that is] more important, even if I couldn’t do anything, even if Iwere deaf and blind. At one time I had a lot of ear trouble, and we thought thatI was gonna be deaf for ever more. I had surgery, and I thought, ‘Well, maybemy vocation will then be a contemplative.’ I’d be, so to speak, cut off from theworld. But that didn’t bother me. That didn’t even make me feel afraid,because that meant I’d be closer to God in a different way. (pause) That’swhat I mean by singleheartedness.During the interview, Sister Chelsea often paused, reflecting when asked to elaborateon God’s presence, her intuitive awareness, spiritual discrimination, or how shemaintains personal integration. Sometimes she said, “I take it so much for granted”, orshe mused aloud, “How do I do that?” Her reference to the harmonious flow of energyincludes an ever present, unselfconscious vigilance as if an inner gyroscope keeps heron track. Cochran (1990) cited Csikszentmihalyi (1975) who likened unselfconsciousabsorption to flow or total self-giving to the situation at hand. However,unselfconscious does not mean automatism or lack of awareness. In Sister Chelsea,various levels of consciousness cooperate harmoniously, including dreams, intuition,and the discriminating intellect. There are times when the rational attempts tominimize intuition by saying, “Oh, this couldn’t be.” Nevertheless, the rational is thelast instance of discrimination for following up on intuition, for making fmal decisions,for assessing value and veracity. When through her intuitive awareness God seems to72say, “Chelsea, do this or do this’, her freedom is never in question. There is neithercoercion nor blind obedience to anyone. But there is an unfathomable inner vigilanceand certainty for what is good, whole, and of God.Throughout her entire life, Sister Chelsea’s vigilance and focus towardwholeness seems to have protected her from becoming trapped in peripheral issues suchas resentment, blame, bitterness, and a host of other distractions. Wholeness alsoincludes knowing what kind of action to take, what to change, what to endure, when toquit. While working on her doctorate she suffered terribly from the prevailingcoldness, absence of caring, and lack of spiritual awareness at the seminary shedescribed as a “very gay world.” She endured the “harsh” environment by keeping herfocus on what mattered most and responded positively by forming a core group ofindividuals interested in developing their spirituality.Vigilance is also very much evident with respect to personal integrity. ThomasMore is her role model. She said,Thomas More is a lay person and that’s what a nun is, a lay person. ThomasMore had a sense of humor. Thomas More knew where he started and wherehe let off. He was a real person of integrity, and he lost his head over it, theChurch. But he stood what he stood for, you know How does one belongto an organization and still maintain one’s integrity? And I think that that isalways a struggle, because you want to belong but, yet to do some of thosethings would be a violation of integrity. And so, when I reach that brick wall,then I have to make some decision, and, usually I make that decision on the sideof integrity. But, I try to talk to the people in charge and tell them why.A number of years ago when she attempted to integrate spirituality andphilosophy into a credit course, she was inappropriately attacked and defamed.Although she had more than sufficient arguments to pay back in kind, she refused to doso. She knew that the point of no return had arrived. As always, she spent time inprayer and sought consultation with superiors. The requested transfer led to herdoctorate.Embedded in the previous episode is her ever present central enactment forhealing, for being a different kind of physician. Even at the present time, she is73troubled that education at the college is merely seen as improving job opportunities,neglecting philosophy and spiritual awareness. Equally, when asked what she wouldlike to do with the rest of her life, she said,I’m really drawn to spirituality. I feel a lot of our students are so confused.They’ve been in cultist situations, and I’m wondering, if I’m called to do morespiritual counselling.But there are also obligations to her community which include earning a wage.She said,I guess, I kind of live the reality that comes up. But I try and listen and see ifthere is a different reality to which I am called.Apart from living reality in the present as a flowing activity, the abovequotation implies that her life is open- ended. Listening requires being open to the newand unexpected, to a “different reality” which is, nevertheless, anchored in the searchfor wholeness. Sister Chelsea referred to the spiritual as the art of listening. Cochran(1990) defined vocation as artistic dramatic composition. In either case, unityovercomes fragmentation as well as rigidity and under its leitmotif embraces diversity,integrity, openness, and expansiveness. Cochran related wholeness to holiness andquality of life unified in meaning. Sister Chelsea exemplifies how a unified life is alsoa good life. Fragmentation not only compromises the quality of life, but Sister Chelseaexperiences it as physical, mental, and spiritual pain. Completion or the unified lifeare not perfection or the development of every human potential (Cochran, 1990). ForSister Chelsea, perfection is of the after life’ rather than of this world.With respect to the mystical, Sister Chelsea is very suspicious of visions ingeneral and does not claim to have had any extraordinary experiences akin to Otto’s(1958) “numinous” category. Her life exemplifies Underhill’s (1955) description of theintuitive awareness of the Presence and how premonition and automatism such asvoices and touch may accompany the mystic way and the unitive life. Sister Chelseamay be counted among the “once born” (James, 1972) who have no need for a dramatic74conversion experience, because their spiritual awareness is simply part of a natural wayof being.Much neglected in the mystical literature is humor, Throughout the interview,Sister Chelsea demonstrated a disarming ability to laugh at herself and readilyacknowledged the comical in human interaction with frequent chuckles. When askedfor a personal metaphor, she chose the oak tree, because it is alive, sturdy in adverseconditions, provides shelter for other creatures, and “was once a nut that held itsground.”75Life History Two: JohnJohn, not his real name, is in his fifties and married. He was a Jesuit priest,holds four masters degrees and is presently head of counselling at an educationalinstitution. He has remained active in the Catholic Church and is a volunteer with asociety for the mentally handicapped.John is the oldest of four. His father, a journeyman welder, was also aprofessional gambler who would disappear for months without a trace. He would sendfor his family only to repeat the same scenario. When John was about ten years old,his father left for good, leaving the family penniless and homeless. By that time, Johnhad lived in many states and been to well over ten schools. When the father wasaround, he acted somewhat like a pal who took his young son to the bar where much ofthe gambling took place. His father was not a Catholic and is deceased.John’s mother is Catholic. She took the children to church every Sundayregardless in which part of the country they happened to live. Otherwise there waslittle talk about God or Jesus in the home except for prayer before meals and atbedtime. The home was recognizable as Christian by a crucifix and religious picturesin the bedrooms.John grew up with the experience that “people who show care and concern didnot hug you physically” very much. Neither John’s father nor his mother came fromaffectionately demonstrative families.Synopsis of John’s life. John’s early life was marked by a constantly changingenvironment due to his father’s lifestyle. There was never time to develop friendships,to join peer groups, or to call a particular place home. Nevertheless, within thatswirling chaos, John found two reliable sources of stability that caine to determine hislife. He said,Stability was my mother. I recall, we were going to church every Sunday.And I moved from city to city, you know. I was just a little kid. One thingthat was stable was that there was always the Catholic mass. That was familiar,76the only thing that was familiar. The only stable person was my mother,occasionally relatives. But no matter where we moved, there were Catholicchurches and Catholic masses. That was there.The early experiences of the father, the mother, and the Church becameintimately intertwined into, what might retrospectively be called, a destiny.Particularly striking was the role of the Catholic community, who continuously openednew doors inviting him to ever deepening participation while simultaneously offeringprotection. The mother’s stability profoundly influenced his devotion to Mary. Withreference to his mother, he said,I think my devotion to Mary is also a relationship of stability, someone to go towhen you are troubled. It’s very easy [for me] to go to Mary. And so, overthe years that was there.Equally, the father had a profound impact on John’s image of God the Father.He said,My father image was of someone who was irresponsible, who was not reliable,someone who is not dependable, someone who is not around God theFather was very much affected by my own father as someone distant, remote,there and not there, reliable and not reliable, ah, never someone who would hugyou, ... not huggy, sort of stern figure.He summed up this description with the question, “Is this love?” In the simplestfashion, this image of God already contained the seeds of discontent. Eventually, afull-fledged crisis emerged that was ultimately resolved in a mystical experience ofGod’s loving presence “settling” and “rooting” John. The relationship with his father,and in extension with God, appeared to have been an important undercurrent that hasremained largely unexplored. John said,I haven’t spent much time relating my experience of my father to my attitudetoward God the Father or Jesus. I’m basically going stream of consciousnessout loud. It’s the first time I’ve been able to verbalize them in any way or evenattempted considering doing that. So, there has to be some kind of effect, and Ineed tothink about it more.However, a further powerful experience of Jesus’ presence alludes to anintimate connection. At the time, John was in his just deceased father’s apartmentsorting out business affairs and making arrangements for the funeral. The dramatic77setting is inescapable. Most telling is the meaning the experience had for John. Hesummarized its message as “the feeling of Jesus was there when I needed him” whichstands in sharp contrast to his father’s conduct.The Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or Awakening and Unification ofYearningFollowing Cochran (1990), repetition of early, often tacit, dramatic units isinstrumental in composing a coherent and enduring structure of desire out of amultiplicity of fragmented, episodic, and perhaps chaotic experiences of earlychildhood. John’s chaotic early life offered a number of potential themes that mighthave gained ascendency. In some way, circumstances and temperament colluded inmaking the experience of the ever present Sunday mass particularly salient. Thispositive relationship with the Catholic Church took a dramatic step forward when Johnwas in the fourth grade. His mother enroled the children in a Catholic boarding schoolafter the father had deserted the family. She settled in the same town. The childrenrejoined the mother one by one as her fmances improved over the years. John leftboarding school after one year. As the oldest he did not need constant supervision,allowing his mother to continue working.John described the destruction of the family, not having a home, and theensuing hardship as a terrible jolt that changed his personality. Although the siblingswere in the same school, they were separated by age and gender. A further trauma wasbeing poor. Since his mother had four children, she could not provide them withpocket money to join the other kids on Saturday outings to the movies. John said,It was painful, because the other kids were off and I was alone again. So, Iwould be different from the other kids, because a lot of them had money fromtheir parents. I, and maybe a couple of other kids, would play around theboarding school while others went off to the movies and enjoyed themselves.John dealt with these difficulties by becoming withdrawn, introverted, andreflective. He said, “Before that I was spontaneously involved in mischief like boysmy age. As a child I was always extroverted.” Significantly, it was not the negative78but the positive that gained strength. The early experience of the Catholic Church wasrepeated and widened by including school life. The Church was no longer just animpersonal Sunday mass, but began to take on a human face through the caring andloving nuns at the boarding school. He liked the daily rhythm of prayer. Also, for thefirst time his environment allowed him to become part of a stable peer group and toform lasting friendships.After leaving the boarding school, John continued going to a Catholic grade-school in the same town. His involvement with the Church deepened significantlywhen he became an altar boy, changing his role from mere spectatorship to participant.He said,I really started becoming aware of religion, you know, ‘This is what Pve beendoing!’ Instead of being at a distance, I was suddenly involved. It becamemore meaningful, much more so.When the time came to go to high-school, the Church was once again present inan unexpected way. The Jesuits, who looked also after the parish, decided to open theboys’ high-school after twenty-six years of closure. John was happy to continue hiseducation with them.Again, it was the people within the Catholic environment who continued tomake a difference. John said,The people were more important to me [than dogma] I was good friendswith the nuns. They liked me, and I liked them. I was good friends with thepriests, as good as a person could be friends with someone who was much olderthan he is. I felt comfortable around the church, the priests, the sisters. Theywere always nice to my family. I found the priests so understanding. I wasaware that they were friends of the students. Fortunately we had some of thebest Jesuits around. They were good! I would say, they were first with theirhearts. I mean, they were loving people.Being around the church was also fun. John and his friend, who was also analtar boy, had contests of who could say the most payers during service. The priestsorganized picnics, told ghost stories, etc.. The Church was present wherever Johnturned. When going to his friend’s house to play after dinner, the family was often79engaged in praying the rosary. John was invited to participate. John would rather playthan pray and worked on improving his timing. But he said, “The family was a verypeaceful and loving. So, that had an impact on me.” Through this family, Johnbecame aware of the rosary and devotion to Mary which became increasingly importantin his life.Even during the summer holidays while visiting his mother’s relatives, he wasamong Catholics. But more importantly, he said,I felt good around them. They were all nice to me, my uncles. They were hardworking ranchers, farmers, solid German stock So, I really learned a solidwork ethic from them.John’s home life normalized over the years. But the returning siblings meantgreater responsibility for him. In addition to a part-time job, John took care of theyounger children while his mother worked. The added responsibility was, at times,hard on him. But all the children became very independent. For John, independencemeant control over his environment. As long as he was in control, he would not behurt again as in the traumatic brealcup of his family that he was unable to prevent. Theneed for control came to permeate his prayer, meditation, and contemplation. As willbe shown, the control issue became important within the context of the mysticalexperience.Upon graduating from high-school, John worked for the railroad in aneighboring state. Without actively seeking it, the Church emerged once again andtook him under its wings. John worked as an assistant station master. His superiors,two station masters at different locations, were both practicing Catholics. One of themen was married. The men and family became friends. They went to church togetherand joined in recreational activities. Every other week John visited relatives nearbyand Sunday mass was a given. Summing up his early experiences, he said, “I wasalways around good people. I ran around with Christians. I was quite fortunate in thatrespect.” But John was not settled. He said,80I was on my own, and when Pd go home from work, I found myself prayingmore and more, because I didn’t have a family around me. I found myselftrying to fmd meaning in my life. I was restless. I could have lived a very fastlifestyle if I wanted to, because I had a fair amount of money coming in. I wastotally independent living on my own. And there was the Church again.After nearly three years with the railroad, he received a letter from a friend inthe Jesuit seminary inviting him to visit. John said,When I went to that seminary, I think my whole previous experience led up tomy life coming together. People [at the seminary] were very nice to me. I wasjust enthralled by the services. I talked to the novice master as well as theyoung men who were in the seminary. I was quite moved by the wholeexperience. It was very powerful, and I had never been to anything like thatbefore. It was very pleasant, and peaceful, and enjoyable. Then I went back tothe railroad, and I started thinking, and thinking, and thinking. And then, overa period of four months, I decided to become a priest, a Jesuit.During formal application and interviews two Jesuits, John had known as ayoungster, independently validated his decision. One of them said, “I always thoughtyou should be a priest. I’m surprised you waited this long.” John said, “That was aninteresting confirmation. It’s interesting, they never mentioned it to me when I wasgrowing up.”John’s life up to the decision to become a priest was clearly marked by arousaland unification of desire bound by the opposing poles of stability and instability. Hisearly experience of the Church contained the primitive dramatic unit promising to closethe gap and fulfilling his desire for stability, shelter, and wholeness. Becoming an altarboy brought a significant shift in awareness foreshadowing his inclination towardmeaningful participation that led to the priesthood. Circumstances remained favorableand strengthened the plot for life. John said, “I clung to Catholicism. It was natural.”This statement indicates a progression as well as tension. The early dramatic unit wasnot merely repeated in many different ways but was significantly transformed from ahaven to a way of being. Increasingly the Church offered an entire world as a coherentdramatic unity. The tension originated in the need to cling to safety which threatened81to disintegrate during the crisis of faith. This tension was resolved through the mysticalexperience by imparting a total sense of acceptance and belonging.John experienced the Church concretely through its people rather than throughabstract theology. Similarly, it was a personal experience of a living God that came tointegrate him and fused his personhood in the metaphor of a follower of Christ.Cochran (1990) described the phase of incompletion as dominated byspectatorship and rehearsal for life. Although John participated actively as a youngCatholic, it is clear that his work was watching and emulating others. He wassurrounded by role models. With reference to the priests and uncles he said, “I lookedup to them as father figures. I would observe how they behaved.”The decision to become a priest indicated a shift from relative passivity toagency by taking responsibility for making the potential actual. Desire had not onlybeen unified but was brought to a workable and realistic basis for central enactment.Incompletion was sufficiently transcended for the phase of positioning to emerge.The Middle: The Phase of Positioning or the Attainment of PersonhoodThe novitiate and postulate of religious orders are designed to serve as trialperiods for religious vocation and fit effortlessly Cochran’s (1990) conceptualization ofpositioning. As will become apparent, John’s personal development, entering theseminary, and the phase of positioning made for a dramatic confluence.“A person enters positioning with a plan, more or less, for bridging the gapbetween what is and what ought to be One is, yet one is not” (Cochran, 1990, pp.69, 74). Life is continuous rehearsal away from incompletion toward a passionatelydesired conviction from which to live. Inessentials are discarded, essentials acceptedand developed. Finally, all that is needed is what Cochran called a culminatingexperience of certainty that unifies personhood as a regnant stance for sustainedenactment of the central concern. Furthermore, the two analogies of protagonist versusantagonist and the rite of passage suggested by Cochran for this phase fit John’s life82particularly well. First, the battle between antagonist and protagonist was ushered inby a traumatic crisis in matters of faith literally involving “the nature of the world”(Cochran, 1990, p. 74). Second, this crisis was a preamble to a series of mysticalexperiences over thirty-five days where ultimate reality of the universe established itselfas spiritual. By direct participation in this reality, John underwent a transformationakin to separation, initiation, and integration analogous to a rite of passage. Throughthis experience he gained sufficient certitude to begin his life’s work.Antagonist vs protagonist or the crisis of faith. John found the atmosphere inthe seminary much to his liking. The military style discipline and structure provided ameasure of stability. His independence was safeguarded by prevailing freedom ofthought encouraged by the spiritual directors who continuously questioned ingrainedassumptions. However, the challenge to John’s faith came from the outside. Afterabout five years, the boot-camp atmosphere gave way to greater personal freedom byattending an open university. The crisis was ushered in during his studies inphilosophy, particularly the existentialists. As previously mentioned, John’s image ofGod the Father contained the seeds of discontent. Over the years this image widened.God became the enforcer of rules and regulations, a stern judge who would punish noncompliance severely, possibly with hell. He said, “There was not the hell fire anddamnation talk, but I had it in me that if you were not a Catholic you went to hell.”With reference to the crisis he said,I was throwing off stuff, taking on new stuff. I had to go through it Themore I studied the more I found myself distant. I didn’t believe in the divinityof Christ, the Holy Trinity. The Church was just another human organization.For me, God, if He existed, was way out there, remote, and had very little todo with reality in my life. I saw God as judgmental, not loving. I said, ‘Well,I don’t need to relate to a God like that.’ So, that’s it. I was agnostic, but Ihad atheistic tendencies.John wrestled with a host of other issues including the connection betweenpredestination and God’s goodness, the presence of evil, the nature of rules andregulations, etc.. He tried to make his faith happen, but to no avail. He stopped going83to church and stopped praying. His friends advised him not to make any majordecisions during that traumatic time, but to just keep going, to lead a normal life as agood person, and see what happens. Since he had run out of options, little choice wasleft but to surrender control. Within this passivity a measure of faith returned almostimperceptibly. But he said, “I knew to a certain degree there was a God.” It was likea tree in soft dirt. When the wind blows hard, it’s gonna fall.”The battle was not only over the existence of God, but equally about God’sinteraction with humanity. John had to heal and integrate God’s father image throughwhich he had come to experience the world. At stake was all that had given his lifemeaning and stability.While immersed in this “tremendous struggle”, John followed the urge to trackhis father down. This search took some effort since no one in the family had anyinformation about his whereabouts. John said,I have no idea what it really meant as far as the relationship with God the Fatheris concerned, because it was more a ‘getting to know you’ type of thing. Ihaven’t really made that connection myself. But I think it really important thatthat happened.There was no dramatic reunion or trying to make up for lost time and missedopportunities. John kept in contact with his father over the years and developed ameaningful relationship insofar as circumstances allowed. It was satisfying for John tolearn that he was among those his father wanted to be contacted in case of illness ordeath.A few years later John was called to his unconscious father’s bedside. Withamusement John noted that he was in a Catholic hospital. An attending nun wonderedabout his father’s religious affiliation. John did not know, but gave his consent to thesister’s inquiry to have his father baptized a Catholic. He was not expected to live thenight. However, his father recovered fully. He was delighted having inadvertentlybecome a Catholic and inquired about taking religious instructions. Apparently the84Monsignor he contacted rejected him by calling him an “old reprobate” who wanted tosave his soul at the end of a wasted life. John laughed. But the Catholic Churchplayed once again a healing role in John’s life. At least symbolically the father hadaccepted and joined the son’s world.There was another development around the time of the crisis. John’s motherdeclared that she was no longer going to suppress her affectionate nature. She begangiving hugs to her adult children.John commented on the thematic confluence of these occurrences. He reiteratedthat resuming contact with his father and his mother’s sudden show of affection wereparallel to the restructuring of his faith rather than instrumental.However, in retrospect, including the mystical experience, it can be said thatlove was emerging as the ultimate stability and freedom, transcending previousinstability and excessive control.The Mystical Experience.About four years later while studying theology, John had found a small privateChapel for regular quiet prayer and contemplation. He had become familiar with thespiritual exercises of St. Ignatius as well as the lives of saints and mystics. It seemsmost fruitful to provide a summary of the mystical experience in John’s own voice.The following quotations are a collection from various places in the transcript.I would go there [the chapel] on a daily basis. I somehow ended up in a formof contemplative, imaginative type of prayer. I would slowly slip into beingaware, literally, through my imagination, of Nazareth somewhere around thetime Christ began his public life. And through my visualization, I was justsitting there outside His house overlooking the valley, watching people, justbeing with Him. I could actually hear, and feel, and smell, and everything. Iwas right into it. It’s a very Ignatian prayer. I had been accustomed to thisform of prayer off and on. I would dialogue with Jesus. I would talk with Himabout what He was about to do going into His public life. I would share myconcerns, etc., or I would talk with His mother.Gradually, it started becoming very meaningful to me. I started feeling a senseof peace and a greater sense of wholeness than before. And it started affectingmy conscious awareness during the day. I was just becoming more and moreslowly aware that something neat was happening, something very peaceful, verysubtle. It was settling me, because I wasn’t settled. Then I got to the point85where it startled me, wondering what was going on with me. What’s happeningto me? I would try to verbalize, and I wouldn’t be able to. I’d try and saysomething, ‘I’m concerned about this or that’, and I wasn’t able to. I mean,that disturbed me [losing control]. What happened was that I was getting awarethat I really was in the presence of God and not just in my imaginationanymore. There was a building awareness. I found myself going into prayerand very quickly started getting absorbed into a sense of the presence of God.It was a sense of Jesus. It was a felt sense. It was like in the center of theprayer I was experiencing this Presence. I would try to use my imagination toplace myself at Nazareth and that wouldn’t work. I tried to say, ‘Lord I loveyou’, but I couldn’t even say that despite myself. As soon as I tried for asecond, ‘Be still, be quiet’, is what happened. It was almost like I was there,not just at Nazareth, but I was there in the chapel. I would come into thechapel, and I would be aware that somehow I was in the presence of a Being.And it was very, very peaceful. So, after a few days fighting the experience,trying to make things happen, I found I could no longer make it happen. Icould no longer make my imagination work. What I’d do, I’d go there and itwas almost like I was being held. I would just be still. I would just be there. Iwould just very, very deeply feel the presence of the Lord, and there wasnothing I could do about it. It was almost like the experience took me overrather than me leading the experience. I couldn’t control it. It was no longermy prayer, it was the Lord’s. It was His, but I was caught up in it. It’s almostlike He took over my prayer. It was like it happened to me. It was notsomething that I made happening. I was not aware of myself, I was aware ofthe LordInterviewer: But, yet you still had some sense of identity.John: No, I was just there. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. I triedto respond, somehow interact, but I couldn’t. ‘Be still’ is all thathappened. I mean, I was not aware of anything around me in thechapel.Interviewer: How did you regain awareness of yourself?John: I don’t know how. I just gradually became aware that my prayer wasover. Forty minutes passed just like that. It started to sort of fade, andI would be in time and space again. When I went into the prayer andwhen I came out of the prayer was kind of similar. It was very, verypeaceful.The experience was most intense during the last fourteen days of the thirty-fiveday period before it dissipated slowly. John said,I’d go back and try the felt sense occur again, try to make that deep sense ofpeace happen over again, and I couldn’t do that. And that kind of sadness wasthere that I couldn’t make this happen, force this again. And now it’s back toeveryday formal prayer again.’John’s account of the mystical experience is almost prototypical of Underhill’s(1955) unitive experience and Otto’s (1958) encounter with thew “numinous”,86including Stace’s (1969) and James (1972) categories discussed in the review of theliterature. However, the significance of the mystical experience lies in the meaningembedded in the context of the individual’s life history rather than a checklist ofabstract supposedly universal categories. As will become increasingly evident, John’slife gives testimony to this claim.Little or nothing can be said about what John called “the center of the prayer”where he was not aware of anything, not even himself. Descending into and emergingout of the center, awareness of the “Lord” waxed and waned respectively. The centerwas a complete, single-pointed focus, absorption, union, being caught up in thePresence. Since all physical and mental agency ceased, intellectual analysis andrational understanding had to be pulled from the sense of non-dualistic, participatoryknowing. Trying to translate the ineffable, John said,The theme that kept coming back over and over while I was reflecting on itwas, ‘I am with you. Don’t be afraid. I’m your companion.’ It was a feeling.It was an awareness. That was it.A further example of the kind of knowledge derived from the experienceinadvertently revealed the difficulty of expressing its nature. John said,Since that time it’s not an intellectual knowledge, ‘Oh, there is a God.’ It’s areal deep conviction or belief, or awareness, knowledge, that I know God existsnow. It would be hard to shake that knowledge. Not only a knowledge, it’s aperception, is all I can say. I can’t put it in other words than ‘I know’.The experience also transmitted knowledge about the nature of the relationshipbetween God, John, and others. He said,It’s a knowledge, it’s a uniqueness that somehow the Lord loves each one of uswith His whole being. Through my experience I feel that I know that He lovesme totally. No matter what I do, I can’t stop Him from loving me less thanthat. And that is His attitude toward others too.Despite the overwhelming power of the experience, John did not spare rationalanalysis for fear of deluding himself. With a sense of cynicism, he wondered whetherhe had invited the experiences by his readings and studies or fabricated it through his87imagination inducing self-hypnosis. He consulted his spiritual advisor in order to putthings into perspective. But after careful analysis, he said,The peace was too deep, too powerful. All I can say is, ‘It happened to me’,and this is twenty years later and still has a very powerful effect on my living.The mystical experience as rite of passage. The mystical experience was awatershed in John’s life. He distinguished clearly between the before and after,indicating the emergence of an ultimate, spiritual reality. In order to give theexperience the space it occupies in John’s life, an analogy to rite of passage will bringthe profound transformation into focus.Within the context of positioning, Cochran (1990) mentioned the rite of passage assymbolizing transition from one perception of reality to another. For John, it was thetransition from the material world to a spiritual reality. The mystical experience isoften described as a moment of rebirth into a new life while the old life lies dead(Happold, 1981; Hunt, 1984; James, 1972). Similarly, in rites of passage the death ofthe old life is symbolically enacted by ordeals, torture, forced inactivity or incubation.Shamanistic traditions talk of dismemberment and consequent reconstruction of thebody (Dobkin De Rios, 1989). Without difficulty these descriptions are analogous toJohn’s experience including the repetition of the ceremonial rites over a period of time.John noted the daily occurrence of the experience over thirty-five days while praying inthe chapel. His struggle to maintain control over the old way of doing things wasfinally thwarted by a greater power than himself. He talked about being held, beingspeechless, motionless, without image, unaware of himself, suspended outside spaceand time. His faculties were temporarily suspended resembling a symbolic death. Hewas rendered helpless as if in a womb. As he said, “I would just be there. I wouldjust be still. There was nothing I could do about it.” All his sensibilities except thepowerful focus and awareness of the new reality or the “Lord” were inactivated. Thecenter of the experience was a period of incubation and passive reconstruction. He88said, “It happened to me. It took me over. It wasn’t my prayer, it was the Lord’s.” Itwas as if someone or something reshaped him, because he said, “The experience turnedme around. I was a different person.” The old world was not merely overcomeceremonially, but actually. An old way of being in the world was replaced by a newway.The culminating experience put John in position for enactment of meaning. Thecentral problem of existence had been solved (Cochran, 1990). His personhoodcongealed around the root metaphor of being a Christian. Striving for faith andcertainty gave way to recognizing himself as someone with a particular life’s work todo, as someone with a vocation.The Middle: The Phase of Positing or the Work of LifeJohn’s description of the effects of the mystical experience or its fruit givesconcrete testimony to a new way of being in the world. It is a story of seeking tointegrate all of life in harmony with his experience of spiritual reality. Thus, being a‘religious’, a counsellor, department head, volunteer, and husband, becomeexpressions of a unified center of meaning. The challenge of this phase is to live up tothe promise of the culminating experience. The way to completion as a unity of beingand doing progresses through cycles of incompletion, repositioning, and positing whileworking out concrete ways of doing things. But periods of incompletion are nowexperienced with the significant difference of no longer being chronically stuck. Oneknows the way out (Cochran, 1990).John’s life is marked by returning again and again to his “Lord experience” as asource of inspiration and strength for meaningful enactment of his central concern.Reflecting on his life, he emphasized his lifelong desire to live wholeheartedly inaccordance with reality whatever it may be. The mystical experience radically changedhis perception of reality. Although as the hero of the drama he is continuous as acenter of experience (Cochran, 1990), the nature of the drama, that is, the meaning that89determines actions, goals, attitudes, and feelings, was redirected. Always vigilant notto delude himself, he was wholeheartedly committed to the new life.Materialism vs spiritual reality. John described the old reality as basicallymaterialistic. Despite his Catholic upbringing, he had learned that it was acompetitive, rational, and logical world of an “eye for an eye”, requiring as muchcontrol as possible over one’s life. He said,I can be a pretty tough fighter when it comes to going after people. That’s theway I used to be. When I was in sports I was very competitive. And if wewere ahead twenty to nothing I would keep going after the team enjoying, ‘Letskill’em fifty to nothing.’ [Without the mystical experience] I’d go into ameeting and I’d walk all over the person or he’d walk all over me, one of thetwo. I can be like a bulldog in meetings. I mean, I’ve been described yearsago that I was like a bulldog. I’d go!The spiritual reality does not deny the material world, but subordinates itsvalues. The period of disbelief had brought him to the abyss of meaninglessness thatcould not be bridged by pursuits of the material world. From his new position of being“rooted”, “anchored”, “grounded” in the spiritual world, he said,I don’t understand how people who do not believe in God do not commitsuicide, because to me, life is meaningless without God. When I went throughthat struggle back when I was studying philosophy, that’s where I was. I mean,you can get caught up in computers, making money, buying a house, traveffing.Having a lot of things doesn’t excite me. That’s not the core of meaning - tome. That wouldn’t satisfy me. I went through that.The shift from material to spiritual pursuits became centered around theexperience of being loved to the core of his being and that God extends the same loveto everyone. He said,That has affected my life tremendously, my approach to counselling, myapproach to people and business dealings. I’ve really taken to heart ‘what youdo to the least of mine you do to me.’ That wasn’t there before.John’s task was to work out new and creative guidelines of conduct based onthis principle of love which was in sharp contrast to his legalistic and narrow religionof rules and regulations. His training as a Catholic and Jesuit had equipped him with atheoretical and practical framework for a Christian life.90While giving examples of his daily conduct, John continued to draw cleardistinctions between the spiritual life and what his attitude would have been without themystical experience. He talked about being betrayed, cheated, and hurt. His formerreaction was to translate feelings of anger and resentment into “going after” the person.Revenge may range from “never talking that person again” to destroying his or herreputation or seeking legal redress. But John said,The spiritual life says, ‘that’s stupid. That’s not the way to do things.’ I makea deliberate decision not to do that. I pray for that person.John acknowledges his initial feelings of anger, hurt, and desire to even thescore. He said,There is a wanting to go after the person. I go to the Lord about it. I mean,He said, ‘Forgive them.’ I say, ‘Who am I especially to condemn anyone foranything.’ I feel really comfortable about the whole thing when I pray for theperson. The anger goes. I can be angry about it, but at the same time there is afreedom there. I feel more fully myself. I feel integrated, if you would.Union of intuition and intellect. The above quotation indicates that intellectualdiscrimination and deliberate effort were also deeply rooted in an intuitive awareness ofrightness, integration, freedom, and wholeness. Following Cochran (1990), this unityis experienced as quality of life. A unified pattern enhances the quality of life,fragmentation and division lessens it. The mystical experience had become abenchmark of unity and quality, because John said,“That is where I found,- experienced a sense of consolation, peace, sense ofjoy, a real sense of wholeness, and a sense of Jesus.Surrender of control. However, the price for the experience of unity was thesurrender of his much treasured control. John experienced that ultimate control andtrust did not rest within himself and his efforts, but with God. Aided by prayer he wasnow able to let go of controlling the outcome of circumstances such as meetings,important decisions, etc,. He said, “I go in there praying and it usually works out, notnecessarily to my satisfaction, but it works out.” With reference to decisions he said,91My decisions are based on that ultimate reality. It’s not just the material worldaround me. I take them to prayer. If I were an atheist or agnostic, I wouldn’tdo that.Giving up control was not surrender of agency to find solutions or abdication ofresponsibility. These faculties were now employed according to his perception of thespiritual realm. As John said, “It’s not just the rational, logical, sensible thing to do.”The Dark Night: knowing the way out. John demonstrated that living inaccordance with the spiritual reality required courage and hope in general andparticularly during episodes of spiritual darkness and difficult times. He said,That is not to say that there is not real darkness at times. I question Him attimes. It’s not that I don’t have darkness or a sense of emptiness at times, or asense of ‘what is this all about?’ I feel distant at times from the Lord. Butthere is this whole other experience. I just recall what happened to me. It pullsme. It doesn’t change the feeling [of darkness], but it changes my attitude. Isettle down. That is something I grab onto. That’s what I meant when I said itwas an anchor. It brings me a sense of calmness again, you know. That’s whatI meant by rootedness. That does not mean there is no pain and suffering.There is another level of my being, - my experience- that I can turn to. It isalways with me.By returning to the experience John reciprocated between infusion and diffusionof spirit or the roles of spectator and participant (Cochran, 1990). Once again, histraining as Jesuit has been instrumental in the development of virtues includingdiscipline, regular meditation, and contemplation necessary for his vocation. Themystical experience, though it was powerful and overwhelming, did not find himunprepared for fruitfully employing it’s meaning.There have also been difficult times in John’s life when he was aware of Jesus’presence, but not with the same intensity as the first unitive experience. He said,So, when I go through some difficult times emotionally, psychologically, orexistentially, when I’m in that pain, ... I will, for example, pray in the livingroom when I’m alone and that strong awareness of His presence is there again.It’s hard to say whether or not it’s imagined, or it may have some imaginationto it. It’s just an awareness of His presence. I just know it. It’s almost like Idon’t feel it It’s a real deep knowledge and nothing is going to change that,and it’s not my imagination making it.--- That knowledge brings me a sense ofquiet, gives me some peace.92Apart from the earlier described mystical experience it was upon his father’sdeath when the presence of Jesus was overwhelmingly strong and consoling. John hadnever told anyone about this experience, not even his spiritual advisor. As mentionedpreviously, John did not offer an analysis of its significance in terms of his relationshipwith his father and God the Father. But while taficing about this encounter, he seemedto reexperience the emotional depth as if it had just happened. He described theexperience as follows.I was sitting in the room in the [father’s] apartment by myself. It was morningtime and all of a sudden I was just totally overwhelmed by the presence of God.I just had this feeling. It was just totally unexplainable, --- ah, caught mecompletely unprepared. I was sitting there quietly just looking around and all ofa sudden I just had this overwhelming (strongly emphasized) experience. It wasJesus ... across from me about five feet away. I just sat there. It was justthere. And I became very peaceful. I cried a little bit. I packed everything upand from then on it was easy.Interviewer: How did you perceive the Presence?John: Not visually, but a sense of being there. Someone was there, a person,right there in physical form, but I couldn’t see it. In my imagination, Icouldn’t see it. There was a form there, but I couldn’t see the form.It’s just weird. It’s just strange. It was Jesus! I didn’t see Him. Ididn’t imagine Him. I didn’t visualize Him in my imagination.Somehow I could see Him, but I couldn’t see Him. So, after a fewminutes that was gone.Interviewer: What did you receive from Him?John: Terrible, terrific peace. I felt extremely relieved, peaceful. Before thatI had been rushing around. I was grieving. I felt peaceful and it wasjust, --- something happened. I never verbalized it before. As a matterof fact, I was getting a little emotional. But anyway, (He becameemotional) I guess it was the feeling of Jesus was there when Ineeded Him. • It was very significant. It was sort of a confirmation thatah, this is when I studied philosophy, that was an affirmation that Hispresence ----- (John broke off overcome by emotion).John indicated that this experience harkened back to the traumatic time ofsearching for his faith during philosophy when all that had supported him during hisyouth was in danger of slipping away into meaninglessness. Perhaps this experienceput to rest a deep seated fear of existential abandonment rooted in his chaotic early life,the break-up of the family, and losing his faith in God. In the presence of Jesus, John93experienced once more the closing of the gap bound by the opposing poles of the storyof his life. Once more he experienced the fulfillment of his desire of fmding ultimatestability, a sense of belonging, wholeness, and love.The Phase of Completion or the Unitive LifeStory is transcended in completion, because the gap between the opposing polesof what is and what ought to be has been closed. Dramatic unity has been achieved.Personhood is no longer defined by a regnant gap, but by unselfconscious unity ofbeing and doing as timeless activity (Cochran, 1990). The person approaches life withan “inextinguishable gladness of heart” (Underhill, 1955, p. 437) despite persistingadversities.In John’s life, completion began with the unitive experience where the splitbetween being and doing had been overcome in principle. Following Cochran (1990),the shift from action to activity and from intending to being is gradual. There is nodramatic demarcation separating the phase of positioning and striving from theemerging phase of completion. Perhaps a single line uttered by John is sufficient toindicate that completion has begun. Reflecting on his previous need to control others,to be a winner at all cost, or to take revenge, he said, “I don’t have to do that anymore.It’s no longer a struggle.”94Life History Three: HenkHenk, not his real name, was born in Holland to a Dutch father and a Germanmother. He has one younger brother. His childhood was marked by the tensions ofWorld War II contributing to his decision to immigrate to Canada at age twenty-one.He is now in his fifties, married and has five children two of whom are of a previousmarriage. He obtained a B.Sc. in biology. He elected to be a house-husband andhome-school teacher so that his wife may pursue her professional career.Synopsis of Henk’s life. Henk emerged from his childhood with three salient,interconnected issues setting the tenor for his ensuing life. The first and centralconcern focused on his cultural identity. A second, subordinate theme formed aroundthe refusal and fear of taking responsibility. From the beginning both issues becameentangled with mistrust and fear of authority.The Beginning: The Phase of Incompletion or the Awakening and Unificationof YearningRepetition of often tacit, primitive dramatic units is instrumental in composing acoherent and enduring structure of desire out of a multiplicity of fragmented, episodic,and perhaps chaotic experiences of early childhood. Why a particular experiencebecomes salient is not clear. However, temperament and socio-cultural environmentconspire in raising a particular experience to a prototype whose boundaries aresufficiently fuzzy and allow more and more of life into a resemblance of experiencesand reality. Thus, an awakened salient experience is repeated and dramaticallystrengthened in ever increasing subtlety and complexity (Cochran, 1990).Henk’s most salient early childhood memory goes back to kindergarten when heoverheard the conversation of two little boys. One boy said, “I know how to speakGerman you know” and began making strange noises. Henk listened withastonishment. He had grown up fluently bilingual in Dutch and German. Reflectingon the experience, he was still perplexed about his strong, silent outrage to thefalsification of his cultural heritage. This salient moment awakened a latent sensitivity95and awareness of his sense of cultural belonging that became increasingly confused.He became aware that language reference to an object is arbitrary rather than aninseparable reality. He said,The notion of cultural relativity, as I now call it, was sort of my birth right.That was a given to me. That language and object were the same just neverarose.The embryonic notion of cultural relativity grew into a sense of culturalhomelessness aided by the extreme hatred Henk’s Dutch relatives displayed toward theGermans who had occupied Holland. The messages of hatred began to coffideincreasingly with his own experiences. He said,I made visits to Germany for a few weeks every year. My sympathies wereactually with the Germans, because those relatives were much warmer and morehumane than my Dutch relatives who had this very cold, Calvinistic sort of feelabout them.In the meantime, Henk and his mother came to live with his Dutch grandparentsin a small village in order to escape the increasing bombing of the city. His fatherstayed behind. The dichotomy between the hate messages and his own observationscontinued. He saw his German mother being kicked under the table by his Dutchgrandfather. He listened to his relatives’ stories about the helpfulness of the Germansoldiers while in the same breath professing their hatred. Henk said,Every story was one of generosity, and consideration, and concern for them bythese German soldiers. I mean, they would climb up the [thatched] roof anddouse the flames. They would come down with food and keep them supplied.They would warn them when there was an attack, you name it. They would tellyou these stories of how pleasant these soldiers could be under thecircumstances and then in the next sentence would again express this hatredagainst the Germans. It made absolutely no sense. You would sit there andlisten to this. Crazy! They were embedded in ideology.Henk summarized his early experiences of cultural dichotomy as follows.I grew up in this sort of torn world. Half my world was on one side and theother world was on the other side. So, my whole world was sort of tornasunder right from the beginning. There was no coherent whole. I was notembedded in the culture I grew up in. But worse, there was no culture toembed myself into. Right’? [I felt a] lack of belonging. --- I fell into acrack, yeah.96Out of this “continual confusion” the desire “to heal the split” began to awaken.He said,There arose the drive to make some sense of it. I mean, both cultures disagreedon just about everything. So, where was the truth? Where was anything tohold on to? So, I was forced from a very early age to sort of look behindthings. Of course, I was not equipped to do that as a young child.His disillusionment with culture and its representatives had suffered anadditional blow leading him to a fateful decision at age six. He overheard aconversation between the first grade teacher and his parents discussing his grades. Theteacher explained that she was quite concerned that the children would not get too highan opinion of themselves and would automatically assign the equivalent of a C’ toeverybody. Only exceptional ability would be rewarded with a better grade. Henksaid.I’m listening there and become quite enraged about being dismissed as amediocrity by this person. My response to this dismissal is to say to myself,‘Well, I’ll show her. If that’s how it works in this culture, I’ll just be amediocrity,’ ah, because I felt unique and individual up to that point.Obviously that is not appreciated or not acknowledged.’ .... I’m not sure whatenraged me so much I was very angry at them when I made that decision.Yeah, yeah, I was punishing them It’s sort of pissing on authority.As will become evident in further discussion, the decision to be a mediocrityhad a number of disabling consequences hardly foreseeable by a six year old. At thevery least, it prevented him from testing his intellectual abilities and building selfconfidence. In time he wondered whether he was intelligent enough to fmd the answershe had been seeking. At the time, being average was not only an escape from corruptauthority, but also a way of preserving a measure of autonomy and a sense of power.He said,If I become a mediocrity nobody can get a hold of me. Nobody can expectanything. Nobody can make me do anything. Right? Pm not so bad that theycan punish me. I’m not so good that they can make use of me. I’m just anobody that slips through the system without being hassled, without beingnoted.97Why this particular episode became salient and what roused him to react in thismanner is shrouded in early childhood experience. Other options to express his attitudetoward authority might have included rebelling, pleasing, or ignoring.However, a further reason for remaining unnoticed emerged. Henk said, “Idon’t know how it developed. I have a real thing with authority, a real terror ofauthority. [I am] really scared of them.” The final part of this decision was to renegeall responsibility. He said,The other thing that goes with all this is not taking responsibility as far as I amconcerned. This is all part of the package in which, even for myself, I take noresponsibility, period!In anticipation of further discussion suffice it to say that the last decisionbecame fateful after the mystical experience, casting its growing shadow over hisensuing life.Henk’s decision to be a mediocrity remained unchallenged since throughout hisyouth authority did nothing to redeem itself. In fact, further evidence confirmed earlierobservations contributing to a deepening sense of fragmentation.A temporary respite from hatred and confusion occurred after the war when thefamily moved to Germany. Almost immediately Henk’s father was arrested by theallies for collaborating with the enemy. He was sent back to Holland, tried, convicted,and sent to prison for four years. Nevertheless, the next four years seemed likeparadise for Henk and his brother. To this day, whenever possible, the brothers returnto their favorite spot by the river seeking to recapture the sense of peace and wholenessof those memorable days.Upon his father’s release from prison, the family returned to Holland. Onceagain Henk was tossed into the turmoil of unabated hate mongering against Germans.However, a further blatant division occurred. The school system in Holland wasdivided along denominational lines between Calvinists and Catholics. Henk’s choice98was to attend the Calvinist school. Of importance is that the circle of hatred issuingfrom the irresponsibility of authority widened to include organized religion. He said,The Calvinists in those days were very militant. It was a war-like situationbetween the Catholics and the Protestants. It was also a time when they weretrying to outbreed each other.Henk’s mother modeled a gentle, open-ended form of religion. His awarenessof religion widened through his mother’s job as a maid in a minister’s home. Henksaid,She was baffled, because the man was constantly in agony because of hisbeliefs, and she did not feel attracted at all to hard-nosed belief structuresBut the Church school was something else.Henk enjoyed religious instructions, Church history, etc., saying, “I just lovedit.” Then, at age fourteen the major turning point arrived. Henk said,The split came, ah, the moment of decision. One of the students asked theteacher, ‘If I believe, do I go to heaven?” The teacher said, ‘Of course, if youbelieve you go to heaven.’ I was a bit baffled by the answer and obviously sowas the student, because the next hour the next teacher came, and he asked thesame question and gets the opposite answer, ‘Of course not, just because youbelieve does not mean you go to heaven.’ As I grew up and understood moreabout how the belief system of the Calvinists, both answers are actually correct.But, when I was fourteen they seemed so antithetical to each other. So, I gotvery upset and very decisive, actually, in a response to that, saying to myself,‘If God himseff can’t make up his mind, everything else is split and God,obviously, is split too. (laughs) I obviously cannot believe authority or whatpeople say, because they have misinformed me as long as I have beenconscious. When my grandparents were saying, ‘All Germans are swine’, Imean, I knew better. So, at this particular juncture I decide that for the rest ofmy life I’m going to devote my life to fmding out what is behind all this. Imean, there must be something whole somewhere. There must be somethingthat is ultimately true. The intent was to transcend authority and the culturalgiven. Even at age fourteen I realized there must be something that isultimately true, not just cultural truth, you know. That cultural truths arerelative, because one person believes this religion and the next culture believessomething else, by that time, I knew that. Questions like: ‘What is the use ofreligion?’ ‘Is there a God.’ And things like that. So, this is sort of anoble decision. It was a very conscious decision. ‘I’m gonna fmd out!’ Verycold blooded!Following Cochran (1990), Henk’s decision to devote his life to fmd truth andunity underlying all cultural diversity proved to be an enduring, unified, and centrallymeaningful composition of desire. The passionate prototypical experience of99falsification of his cultural heritage at age five had sufficient dramatic energy to furtherinteract with a fertile though negatively experienced environment, allowing tacit andovert repetition in various guises incorporating more and more of life. As Cochranpointed out, “passionate judgment could be the beginning of drama” (Cochran, 1990,p. 53). The repeated messages sent by untrustworthy representatives of the culture andadults in general became subsumed and united under the heading of cultural relativity.With each repetition the pattern of experience strengthened the perception that realityseemed inherently fragmented.According to Cochran (1990), a unified stance is a combination ofcircumstances and personal responsibility. Henk’s contribution to the transformation ofdesire from passive endurance to a condition of action has its roots in his unflinchingassessment of reality and his passionate reaction to it. Although his observations werein conflict with views espoused by culture and authority, he decided for himself whatwas real. He neither escaped into a pleasant world of make-belief nor did he assuagehis pain by compromising his experiences in order to fit more comfortably into hissocial surroundings. This acute sense of reality and courage to stick to it were crucialin determining the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’, thereby creating aplot for life. Each repetition of his painful, fragmented reality included the growingdesire to “look behind things.” Gradually his inherent temperament and experience ofthe world gave rise to the notion that ultimate reality ought to be found somewhere.Closing the gap between the opposing poles became “the main business of life(Cochran, 1990. p. 55). Henk’s personhood was sufficiently unified in the metaphorof someone who wants to know the truth so that meaningful action is possible.Reflecting on his late teens and beyond, Henk acknowledged that it becameincreasingly difficult to act. He felt continuously “hamstrung” by the fundamentalconfusion of cultural values. Cochran expressed what Henk knew only too well,namely, that “there is no meaningful pattern of enactments in the future unless the100central problem of existence is solved” (Cochran, 1990, p. 58). Through his negativeexperience of authority and the world around him, Henk knew that he could not rely onothers to solve his existential problem for him. Realizing that he was on his own, heassumed responsibility for his quest. At the time of the “noble decision” Henk’s goalwas largely an ideal. His general approach grew in the assumption that the most usefuland comprehensive quest would be the search for the existence of God. Henk hadentered the phase of positioning.The Middle: The Phase of PositioningFollowing Cochran (1990), a “person enters positioning with a plan, more orless, for bridging the gap between what is and what ought to be .... one is, yet one isnot” (pp. 69, 74). Life is a continuous rehearsal away from incompletion towards apassionately desired conviction from which to live. Inessentials are discarded,essentials are accepted and developed. Getting into position requires repeated goalsetting, adjustment to circumstances, trying out roles and stances, finding ways to makethe potential concrete. Possibilities are explored and consolidated into a widening andcoherent world view.Incompletion and positioning are dominated by the role of spectatorship ratherthan participant, because the hero of the drama has not yet achieved a unifiedpersonhood from which to act centrally. According to Cochran (1990), spectatorship,though it may be active, is largely limited to assimilation and accommodation (Piaget,1968), elaboration and revision (Kelly, 1955). The drama is bound up in the infusionof spirit since the proper channels for its diffusion in central enactment have yet to beworked out. Henk’s way out of the chaos and turmoil of incompletion is analogous tothe meandering path of a river trying to reach the ocean. There is no immediate orobvious solution (Cochran, 1990).The quest or the way out. Henk finished high-school as a “true mediocrity”.At that time his life underwent a further split. He said,101I did not see my life’s work and the quest to be the same thing. Sorry, life’swork is the wrong term. But my means for making a living is quite divorcedfrom seeking the truth. The search for truth goes on quite independently as aspare time occupation which I pursued by reading a lot, philosophical andreligious discussions, popular science books, and stuff like that.Without much deliberation, Henk followed in his father’s footsteps and went totechnical school for two years. He said,I’m enthralled. For the first time, what I’m learning makes some sense. I getreally, despite myself, really interested and get picked up as a genius which Iam not able to shake for two years no matter what I’d do. I didn’t study. So,anyway, that was the first slip-up (laughs).Barely out of technical school, Henk was drafted into the army. He refused tobecome a lieutenant but could not avoid becoming a sergeant. Being surrounded byauthority and having to exercise authority was unbearable. This situation contributed tohis decision to immigrate to Canada while still in the military. The second powerfulinfluence to escape was the undiminished hatred toward Germans. In addition, Henkand his brother suffered great mental anguish for what he called “the sins of ourfathers.” He said,[We felt guilty] for the sins of our fathers who did all this stuff in Germany andhad absolutely no sense of guilt, at least my father didn’t. He thought what wasdone was perfectly normal, and proper, and so on. But my brother and I feltthis numbing guilt for the whole thing. This dominated much of our lives, thisfeeling of ‘mea culpa’, while at the same time being rather enraged by the hatemongering which seemed totally senseless and served no purpose.Henk was never persecuted or discriminated against because of his partlyGerman background. He said,It was strictly an internal feeling Ah, all this cultural disillusion producedso much confusion, it was difficult to act. I forever had this feeling of beinghamstrung, --- not knowing where to go with this stuff.During that time, he came across Norman Vincent Peal’s “positive thinking”.Henk said,So, [it seems that] “positive thinking” provides a way out of that. You justartificially compress reality into ----‘pow’. It works worth a shit, but I gave ita try. ‘if I just do it right, it might work, yeah if I just do it right.’102Nevertheless, Henk’s fascination with this message of hope increased theattractiveness of moving to North America, because it is there where it originated.Henk’s quest remained dormant for the first four years in Canada. His life wasdominated by adjusting to his new surroundings. Although he had no trouble fmdingwork, loneliness was his constant companion. After one year he met his first wife,who was also a Dutch immigrant. He said, “We were both lonely, and we fell intoeach other’s arms, and we marry for that reason.” The father of Henk’s wife had beentransported to the Dachau concentration camp with three hundred other men from thevillage in retaliation against the Dutch underground resistance. He did not return.Henk said, “So, here are people who were actually seriously hurt by the war, strangelyenough, carrying no hate toward the Germans.” Henk noted that both he and hisbrother married women whose families had been victimized by the Germans. Hisbrother’s first wife was Jewish. Both marriages ended in divorce.The couple moved to a small town and settled down to have a family. Henk resumedhis quest. He began by reading science fiction, because he liked the loose constraintson reality allowing imaginative play with what might be possible. He also came acrosswritings on mysticism, including Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, works by AlanWatts, etc.. Increasingly he realized that an answer, should it exist, would lie inmysticism.His previous experience with “positive thinking” and newly awakened interest inmysticism contributed to his interest in the religious sect of the Emissaries of theDivine Light. Apparently the founder had based his insights on a few nights ofautomatic writing. Underhill (1955) consigned this practice to the realm of psychicphenomena occurring on the very fringes of mysticism. The product would be heavilycontaminated with cultural and idiosyncratic material. Henic soon realized that thebasic message was little more than “positive thinking” presented in different guise.103Henk was initially attracted by the freshness of something forming beforedogmatic rigidity sets in. However, within six months he was no longer able tocompromise his intellectual integrity as the price for remaining a believer. He said, “Itwas bullshit half of it. Why rationalize the fmding of dinosaur bones by saying, Godwants to test us.” Besides, the teachings were becoming repetitious. Nevertheless, ittook some time before he was able to extricate himself from the community and thesense of belonging he had been seeldng since childhood.Henk found his first and last intimate involvement with a community ofbelievers wanting in furthering his quest. However, he was intrigued by the sect’spractice of “attunements” he described as follows.The leader would go with his hands behind our necks and sort of down ourspine, stuff like that, to transfer energy. He healed me once and it was reallyspectacular. When I put my hands on someone that did not happen.Suffice it to say for the moment that after the mystical experience Henkdiscovered his ability to administer “attunements”. But another very strong themebegan to occupy his awareness. He said,The most important question became, ‘Am I inteffigent or’ You know,having faith in my intelligence. If only I were inteffigent, I’d be able tounderstand all this stuff. It gets worse and worse.In the past he had received mixed messages regarding his inteffigence. Aimingto be a mediocrity had prevented him from testing and verifying his intellectualabilities, resulting in a lack of self-confidence. Henk remembered an episode whileliving in Germany after the war. The German high-school system is hierarchical.University preparation is only possible at the highest level of schools. Henk overheardthe principal of one of the top schools tell his mother, “He isn’t really bright enough tobe here.” Later in technical school he was tauted a genius. In contrast to his wife, hisinteffigence had not been verified by the proper authorities. His mistrust and rejectionof authority proved to be a double edged sword. He despised them while at the sametime needing them to verify an important part of his self-worth.104Henk was temporarily stuck until his brother arrived from Holland for anextended visit. He had brought a book written by a Dutch psychiatrist whose basicmessage Henk translated as, ‘You never step into the same river twice.’Reading this book proved to be an important turning point in Henk’s life. He said,I realized that my assumption had been totally Freudian which says, ‘By agesix, that’s it! You are cast in concrete.’ So, here all of a sudden, this bookproves to me and gives me permission to change. And it is mind boggling.Life isn’t over yet. I’m not cast in concrete. It’s a revelation. So, movementto freedom and growth was now permitted.Henk was twenty-nine years old. He nagged his wife to go to university and dosomething with her life, because her intelligence had been verified. But his brotherastutely recognized that it was Henk who wanted another chance and challenged him onthat account. Henk rose to the challenge and set out to obtain his grade twelvecertificate. Then, with newfound confidence, he decided to go to university. Thefamily moved to the city. Henk said, “I really only went to university to find outwhether I could do it or not. I didn’t really want to do anything in particular.”However, Henk’ s life remained split between the quest for truth and earning aliving. For practical reasons he chose to study biology. He also continued to followanother ingrained pattern, that of being a mediocrity. After obtaining very high gradesinitially, he neglected his studies. He said,Well, getting all As’ and ‘Bs’ doesn’t fit my self-image. I can’t live up tothat. I ended up with an exact 3.3 average which is how I see myself, a nicegood average.Although he enjoyed university, his real interest remained in the avocationalpursuit of his quest. Henk and his wife became associated with the Unitarian Churchwhere the “biggest action” was taking place. He said,Our marriage had never been good. Actually it was a bit of a disasterNow, this happens to be the late sixties. That was the time of encounter groupsand this sort of thing which the Unitarian Church lovingly embraced. We weregung-ho on all this stuff. So, all hell breaks loose, literally We getinvolved with encounter groups and it [the marriage] went really sour. Itactually gets much wilder than that We get involved with wife swappingand communal living. We tried everything all in search of what is going on.105But, it’s a bit more than our good Dutch morals can handle. So, five years, themarriage has just about broken up, but somehow survivedWithin this tumultuous experimentation Henk became increasingly despondent.He had read many of the mystics and was confronted with the inadequacy of languagerendering the mystical ineffable. Second hand knowledge would no longer do. Theonly way to know would be to have a mystical experience. He was now in his latethirties and under the impression that with increasing age the likelihood of having amystical experience decreases. He said,I was in the third year of biology. I faced the fact that I had missed the boat.I’d given it everything I had. I’ve come as far as I can. The rest is out of myhands. I can’t do anything about it. It’s a gift. The answer, if it is there, Ican’t get at it. I just pooled all my energy into biology.The Mystical ExperienceHenk continued.About two or three weeks after that decision I come walking down the mountainand all of sudden it hits me. Actually I look at a copse of trees. I’d studiedquite a bit biology by that time. So, I look at it as a biological unit. Thattriggers the whole thing. Ah, to this day, I have absolutely no idea how long Istood there, or even what came after, or what happened during. But it startsout as an intellectual, ecstatic contemplation of a copse of woods, trees, andthen slips into this, this feeling of total unity. I mean, first it’s an intellectualunity and all of a sudden it slips into this ‘all is one feeling’. Ah, it’s not animage. Most people talk about light. I didn’t have a light experience exceptreality starts to shift, you know. I actually withdrew from it. I don’t really seeanymore after a while, --- while I stand there. I don’t think it has anyintellectual, verbal content. It is just a knowing, but a knowing of such breadththat it takes me half a year afterwards to sort it all out. I had this feeling ofbeing insignificant as a grain of sand on the beach and at the same time being aslarge as the universe. I felt at the same time infinite as far as time wasconcerned. Ah, I totally experienced that at the moment. This sort of imagerycomes up later. Ah, it’s a total sense of rightness. I mean, everything isabsolutely the way it should be including my life. Everything I’ve done to thistime is absolutely proper and appropriate. It had to be this way to carry outwhat needs to be done. Ah, there is a sense of no time, of eternity, well notime is the only way to describe it, transcendence of time. There is a sense ofincredible importance of the self, the ego, the individuality and yet, at the sametime the total immersion, the seamless unity. It’s a rotten word, but I can’tthink of a better one. Ah, --- it’s, it’s all part of a whole. There are none ofthese separate perceptions. It is all part of whatever it is. So, I blend out ofthis again. As I said, I have no idea how long it lasted, whether it was a fewseconds or whether it was ten minutes Nobody was there. I was all bymyself. I started walking again Well, what the mystics had told me istrue. It meant something. I was amazed what was in the experience. Therewas no end to it. It was like an endless cornucopia. I spent literally six months106every spare minute delving through my memory and everything that wascontained in my mind I was holding up for inspection, and about a third of itwent ‘chuck’, because it is nonsense. And all the questions I had, the answersto them were obvious, nothing to it. I was actually quite angry, because I haddiscovered that most of the earthshaking questions were simply languageepiphenomena. There was no sense of reality from which to ask the question.It was total nonsense (laughs). Anyway, it was a marvelous house cleaning.Henk’s mystical experience fits the general category of the exterior way asdescribed in the review of the literature. The onset seemed to have been triggered byfocusing on the unity of the natural world rather than withdrawing in inwardcontemplation typical of the interior way. However, his entire life history provided theall inclusive meaningful housing for the experience. Henk’s life confirms theobservation that mystical experiences are part personal effort part gift which is grantedafter becoming receptive by surrendering the struggle. His account confirms that theexterior way may lead to a classic, “numinous”, unitive experience as suggested byOtto (1932) and Underhill (1955). In a state of complete receptiveness, Henk hadtranscended all sensory perception and willful cognitive activities. As he said, “Iactually withdraw from it [reality] ... I don’t think it has any intellectual, verbalcontent.” Though the center of the experience seemed void of content, he described itas absorption in union, “a total sense rightness” and wholeness. Henk’s story alsovalidates Otto’s (1958) description of the interdependence of the non-rational and therational. Although the immediate experience surpassed all understanding, it washolistically extremely meaningful and a rich well-spring for his reconstruction ofreality. His description also highlights the difficulty surrounding Maslow’s assumptionof immediately perceivable universal “Being Values” inherent in peak experiences.Henk was absolutely certain about the rightness, authority, and experiential value of hisexperience. But he clearly indicated that his interpretations followed afterwards. Inorder to render his experience meaningful and to conceptualize seemingly inherentvalues, Henk returned to his socio-cultural context and to language. Yet, he isconvinced that he had transcended cultural relativity experientially. His consternation107with the inadequacy of language was not directed at the ineffability of the mystical,because he was aware of the limits of analogy. He was angry, because he felt that hehad been misled all his life by language epiphenomena rather than valid representationsof reality, rendering his “earthshaking questions” equally illusory. But Henk’s desireto overcome the limitations of language, cultural relativity, and inadequacy of authoritywas fulfilled in holistic participation of ultimate reality he perceived as whole and true.Despite the profound impact of the experience all was not well. The world hadbecome unified in principle, but Henk remained split. The mystical experience cut likea dividing line across Henk’s life. The quest had been successful beyond hisexpectations. But within the next two years a new question arose. “What now?”Cochran’s (1990) observation that peak experiences do not necessarily unifypersonhood into a regnant stance from which to commence enactment of life’s centralconcern appeared to have been Henk’s new dilemma. He remained in the role ofspectator dominated by analyzing and understanding rather than fruitful participation.Henk said,What I find in a lot of spirituality that always makes me laugh is that peoplethink the spiritual is to get out of this game, but the opposite is true. It pointstoward wholehearted participation in the game. The key is wholeheartedness.The mystical experience should provide that, but it doesn’t always. Ah, I foundit very difficult to get wholehearted afterwards. I know that I am not alone inthat. I get the whole power in my hand and franidy, I don’t know what to dowith it. The power is not to control others. The power is for me to shape mylife, to play wholeheartedly the space-time game, no bullshit, undivided, andthat is the big stumbling block for me. I’ve rejected responsibility, or what Icall responsibility, and it turns out to be the only game in town. That’s theultimate reality, the only thing I’m asked to do, and I get totally stuck. Everytime I start thinking about responsibility I get frightened. I go ape, a terrorattack and become totally ‘gelaehmt’ (German for incapacitated, limp, lame).You are half way through your life. You had all the success. It was almost adisaster, because all your life you worked toward success, here you are at thirty-seven, and you had ultimate success. It was a catastrophe, because my wholelife had been directed toward understanding. The quest for understanding isfinished. Now what? With the understanding must come action of some sort.Something needs to be done. The other question has been, ‘What is thepurpose of life?’ You realize that’s a dumb question. You have to be God toanswer that one. The question that becomes important is, ‘What is the purposeof my life?’ So, instead of a general philosophical question, it becomes now avery personal question.108Descent into LimboThe story appeared to have ended. The gap of what is and what ought to beseemed closed. Henk had no contingency plan for putting insight into action, becausethe quest and the dramatic energy that had motivated him were supposed to have lasteda life time. Gone were wholeheartedness and passionate judgment indispensable forunifying desire. He had lost the navigational beacons of steering away from culturalconfusion and moving toward the hope that truth may overcome feeling “hamstrung”,freeing him for wholehearted participation. His diffused childhood decision to renegeresponsibility had suddenly become specific when a different kind of action wasrequired of him. Based on Cochran (1990), Henk found it extremely difficult to makethe transition from wholehearted spectatorship or infusion of spirit to wholeheartedparticipation or diffusion of spirit. Ironically, rather than freeing him, the moment oftruth froze him in inaction worse than ever. Henk had returned to the phase ofincompletion.Henk spent much of the next twenty years in hopelessness, mourning the loss orparadoxically the success of his quest. He feared that any future achievement wouldnot equal the value of the mystical experience. But ultimately, it was the activeavoidance of responsibility for shaping his life in accordance with the perceived truththat proved to be the stumbling block. The deep-seated fear of responsibility seemed tofeed on itself, growing in strength like a monster, evoking “terror attacks” every timehe faced it. Although Henk tried, there was no escape.In the meantime, Henk and his first wife divorced. Two years later he decidedto marry again. He rationalized his step from a biological point of view and said,The only true power you have is reproduction. The guy who procreates carriesthe day. It’s also a great way, and I experienced that very well, of not facingthe music. If you don’t want to cope with anything, children is one of them.They take a lot of work.109Since Henk hated his job, and his wife’s career was very successful, the coupleresolved that he should stay home as the primary care giver and home-school teacher.However, neither a very stimulating marriage nor numerous family demands were ableto break the fall into ever deepening depression. Henk said,The mystical experience was twenty years ago and for the most of the time thatfeeling gets deeper and deeper. So, things get from bad to worse. I get moreand more depressed. I get more and more lost. You think it can’t get anyworse, --- the next year it still gets worse. I act less and less, and I become likea vegetable. I don’t cultivate my friendships, sit around, watch tv, readnewspapers. I can’t get turned around--- deciding what to do. It’s like beingin an aquarium. The world is out there. I know I should be out there doing mything, but this impenetrable barrier, --- I can’t even smell through it. All I cando is see through it. I get downright hopeless. It gets so bad, I get sweatattacks, you know, all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. Yet suicide, I thinkabout it, is not an option, it’s not functional. We are tailcing about my agefifty-two, that was four years ago. By that time I was getting so hopelessand it just seems, no end is in sight,--- going until I’m dead. --- Seems that I’mstuck here which fits my story.Henk had consulted several counsellors and psychologists over the years, but hehad “no use for them” with the exception of one therapist who helped him overcomehis psychosomatic symptoms.New Hope: Reemerging Unification of DesireDespite all appearances, the story does not seem over. Signs indicate that thefuture meaning of Henk’s life lies in the very experience of this limbo. After he hadspoken about the non-suicide option, he sighed deeply and said, “I shouldn’tunderestimate --- there is this sort of training going on. In this strange limbo all theseexperiments were going on.” For instance, after the mystical experience Henk felt theincreasing urge to try “attunements” whenever someone was hurt, but he felt very self-conscious and said, “It seemed so freaky to do that.” One day, Henk and his first wifewent skiing on a blacktop road barely covered with snow. His wife fell and seemed inconsiderable pain. Since she was “desperate”, she allowed Henk to administer an“attunement”. To his very surprise the pain and sweffing vanished within twentyminutes. The following day brilliant green spots confirmed that his wife had sustained110real trauma. From that day forward, “attunements” became an important part ofHenk’s life. He began to successfully experiment with psychic states and trances. Hepaid particular attention to developing his intuition and carefully traced its validity inorder to avoid deluding himself. At times, seeking explanations for some of theoccurrences challenged his rational understanding. He became involved with JeanHouston who told him, “Develop your sensorium and serve.” These words broughtinto sharp relief what Henk had known all along. To this day he has been ponderingthis message wondering how he might concretely implement her advise. Through JeanHouston, he came in contact with others who had had mystical experiences which easedhis feeling of isolation.About six month after the mystical experience Henk was gripped by anothermystic state. This time he experienced the gamut of all imaginable emotions andvarious levels of the self while watching the process as if from a higher self thatremained untouched by the diversity. He summarized the inherent noetic knowledge asbeing aware of the inseparable wholeness of the self despite its diversity, including theunity of body and spirit. He said, “All separation is simply linguistic, tearing apartstuff that can’t be torn apart. Although he said, “I fiddled around, I really fiddledaround,” he seemed to be taking an increasingly positive attitude toward the “wastedyears”.The preamble to a more positive reassessment of the years in limbo was a visitto Holland about three years previously. He said,I have this experience all of a sudden, ah, deciding to be responsible for myown response to the world or as close as I can come to it. It’s being a totalparticipant without being a spectator, without puffing back, withoutreservations. I knew that’s what I had to do, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.The connotations were to limited. That’s the first time I sort of tried it, no bigdeal! Somehow I slipped around this whole thing, ‘I’d better takeresponsibility.’ So, I’m really pleased with myself. It actually took myhopelessness away. It totally took away the depression strangely enough. Thebrick wail wasn’t impermeable, maybe --- hope was rekindled.111Although Henk suffered a setback feeling “depressed worse than ever”, his nextvisit to Holland cleared away a mutual dependence between himself and his brother.Henk became suddenly aware that he and his famous professor brother had embarkedon very different life paths. With liberating clarity he recognized the legitimacy andvalue of his own way. Comparison was no longer possible. Henk recognized that therelationship had changed significantly. He felt no longer responsible for the safety andwell-being of his younger brother, who was equally no longer responsible for Henk.He said,What I’m doing is no longer visible to him. It was a very sad experience, but atthe same time liberating, because I had the feeling that at last, I was free, totallyfree to go my own way. He could no longer criticize me. He could no longerjudge, because he had not taken my route. He was no longer cognizant of whatI was doing. So, that’s where I stand now.Henk was also reassessing the scary monster of responsibility. He said,I discovered years and years ago that I was taking all sorts of responsibilitieswhich did not affect not taking responsibility in the least. This whole conceptof taldng responsibility has a meaning I’m not clear of myself, obviously. Andwhat I really mean by taking responsibility is to take responsibility for my ownlife and not have it dictated by someone else. And I think that came out when Idescribed my relationship with my brother, how it changed.Henk’s emerging desire is to help others with similar experiences of gettingstuck after a mystical experience due to the lack of a cultural framework within whichto bring insight to fruition. The idea to write a handbook for inadvertent mystics isgaining strength. He recognized the Catholic Church as the only remaining traditionalsource for guidance in mystical matters. However, he is suspicious of the Church’sintentions which he sees as wanting to capturethe mystical for Her own self-serving purpose. He is aware of the need to unify hispersonhood around a metaphor, perhaps that of a “guru”. But he is unhappy with theconnotations of this concept. His depression has lifted. He is discovering a sense offreedom by increasingly entrusting his life to the present moment which appearedlimiting in the past. Trusting the freedom of the present harkens back to the complete112surrender and immersion in the wholeness and timelessness of the mystical experience.Henk is beginning to unify and energize desire through the reappearing dramatictension between the opposing poles of what is and what ought to be. What appears tobe a new plot is nevertheless continuous with everything that came before. The story isstill about making his entire life a meaningful whole.113Summary AnalysisThe life histories of the participants confirm that humans live in story. Storystructures of beginning, middle, and end, including the conceptualization of vocation inthe four phases of incompletion, positioning, positing, and completion, are evident.Thus, narrative methodology as story offers a common framework for exploring thecomposition of a life into a meaningful whole while allowing for individual differencesin their richness, uniqueness, and creativity.The Beginning: IncompletionThe successful resolution of the phase of incompletion consolidates thebeginning as a necessary precondition to a coherent life story. Incompletion beginswith the awakening to an inescapable, positive, or negative existential problem andends with the unified desire to take responsibility for its solution. Awakening occursthrough sudden or gradual passionate judgment infusing the situation with dramaticenergy sufficient for the emergence of a prototypical experience capable of bindingmore and more of life into a meaningful whole. By repetition the embryonic dramaticunit becomes the drama of life.Sister Chelsea. Sister Chelsea, John, and Henk, each in their own way,awakened to a pervasive existential condition that came to matter “as if very existenceis at stake” (Cochran, 1990, p. 50). At age four, Sister Chelsea became aware of herpersonal God. With passionate judgment she decided that her God was a God ofconsummate compassion, who did not condemn unbaptized, deceased babies to hell aswas popularly believed. God mattered utterly from this moment forward. Herextraordinary religious giftedness allowed the consolidation of her spiritual awarenessas early as age six. Through her innate unity of intellect and intuition, she was able towitness wholeness, holiness, or integration of a human being with God in the womanreturning from communion. Incompletion had been transcended the way it began, bypassionate judgment. Symbolically and in actuality, young Chelsea recognized what114she wanted and where she belonged. She had achieved what proved to be an enduringstructure of desire directly accompanied by its meaningful enactment in compassion forothers.Henk. Similar to Sister Chelsea, Henk’ s story of incompletion began and endedwith spontaneous, passionate judgment. At age five Henk became outraged at the“falsification” of his cultural heritage, sensitizing him to the dilemma of growing upbetween two antagonistic cultures. By age fourteen the primitive dramatic unit hadevolved into a universal drama in which his role became to seek wholeness in the faceof a seemingly fragmented reality. His passionate decision to embark on a quest fortruth transcended the phase of incompletion.Henk’s central experience of incompletion is analogous to a progressive fallfrom grace through no fault of his own. He became increasingly an outsider to eitherculture. Cultural relativity and his rejection of authority as transmitter of culturalvalues and traditions had become all inclusive. In contrast, Sister Chelsea’s centralexperience resembled a progression into grace which included a more favorable but notuncritical accommodation with her socio-cultural environment.John’s awakening to a central drama was more gradual and marked fromthe beginning by the opposing poles of instability and stability. With each repetition ofbeing uprooted and experiencing the constancy of the Catholic Church, his passionatedesire to escape instability and embrace stability strengthened. Throughout his youththe permanent break-up of the family remained a constant reminder that instability wasa latent possibility motivating his increasing participation in the Catholic community.Similar to Sister Chelsea, John’s experience of culture, tradition, and religion were partof the solution rather than the source of the problem as in Henk’s life. However,John’s critical assessment did not occur until he was well into adulthood, precipitating acrisis that invited a dramatic shift in values.115John’s decision to become a priest united his restlessness and desire for stabilityin a meaningful way. John’s, Sister Chelsea’s, and Henk’s transition fromincompletion to positioning is clearly recognizable by a shift toward greater agency andresponsibility toward a solution of their respective existential challenges.The Middle: Part One. PositioningAlthough all three participants awakened to an existential problem between theages of four and six, the resolution of incompletion and positioning was not so much amatter of age and maturity as developing the resolve to begin trying to bridge the gapbetween what is and what ought to be (Cochran, 1990).Sister Chelsea. Sister Chelsea’s fundamental orientation of livingsingleheartedly in God was never in doubt. Her task during positioning was to find andcreate the most suitable circumstances and appropriate role for the enactment of hercentral concern. Her innate sense for balance between intuition and intellect, reflectionand participation was nourished by her awareness of God’s presence in the world.Consequently, finding a proper expression of that awareness was a matter of listeningin silent prayer and her spontaneous, self-confident interaction with the world. ForSister Chelsea, all of reality was from childhood on unified in God. Dividingexperience into secular and non-secular simply made no sense, because “God workswith whatever happens.” Nevertheless, this awareness did not save her from theintense struggle preceding the decision to become a religious’. The resolution wasachieved by the intimate interaction between intuition and intellect in the unifiedperception of a call to a particular vocation.Henk. Henk began the phase of positioning from the unified desire to findwholeness and truth as indispensable for meaningful action. Unlike Sister Chelsea, hedid not proceed from a fundamental unity of reality but from fragmentation anddivision. Similar to Sister Chelsea, he knew that action ought to flow from a deepsense of belonging. Although he desired a successful resolution, he felt safe to assume116that the meaning of his life would lie in a journey unlikely to end in a sudden discoveryof the desired treasure. A contingency plan was not needed.Unlike Sister Chelsea and John, Henk lacked a trustworthy cultural framework for thetranslation of the spiritual illumination into action. He remained stuck between theconfusion of incompletion and unsatisfactory attempts at repositioning. Nevertheless,the mystical experience remained the focus of his life and may yet contain the latentpossibility of unifying his personhood. It is as if Henk has been waiting for anexperience of certainty to continue his quest.ihn. John’s transition from incompletion to positioning seems to have been anatural progression in the search for a meaningful life. In contrast to Sister Chelseaand Henk, John’s early life circumstances did not favor a critical assessment of hisbeliefs. He was concerned with finding stability and a sense of belonging. Inretrospect, he had to fall from grace and transcend the innocence and dependence of hisyouth in order to gain personhood in the awareness of responsibifity for who he was,what he believed, and what he wanted to do. John’s crisis of faith is particularlydramatic, because his entire way of being in the world had come into question. Hereturned to incompletion by being tossed into the traumatic abyss of meaninglessness.Failure to resolve the crisis may have required arduous attempts at rediscovering asuitable way to close the gap between instability and stability, possibly outside theChurch and perhaps without God. Analogous to a rite of passage, John underwentmetaphorical death and rebirth as well as actual transformation from materialism tospirituality. The mystical experience consolidated the basic premises of his religious,socio-culturai environment, facilitating its meaningful integration into personhood andthe recognition of a vocation.The Middle: Part Two. PositingSister Chelsea. Sister Chelsea’s central experience of positing may besummarized as a profound test of her personhood, that is, of her resolve and courage to117actualize her vocation against the stubborn persistence of difficult circumstances. Thisperiod of trials not only confirmed the genuineness and solidity of what began duringearly childhood, but served as a transition to an unparalleled unity of being and doingin completion.The balance between the preservation of her personal integrity and being amember of a religious community proved to be an enduring challenge. This challengeincluded issues regarding the spiritual life, enduring psychological harassment,accepting the betrayal inherent in the loss of a scholarship, developing personalrelationships against official disapproval, and tolerate the lack of human warmth andsuspiciousness toward new ideas. Again and again she had to confront her “greatestweakness” of excessive worrying when asked to assume responsible positions.However, none of these matched the spiritual, mental, and physical desolation shesuffered during the time of the Dark Night when God seemed to have withdrawnpermanently. Sister Chelsea persisted in faith and hope without assurances to ever seethe light again at the end of the “curved tunnel”.Analogous to a rite of passage (Van Gennep, 1960) and the mystic way(Underhill, 1955), Sister Chelsea’s time of darkness may be conceived as the death ofall self-withholding, of surrendering all support, including God’s presence, for therebirth of the self into the unitive life.John’s account clearly indicates the prominence of the mystical,conversion, or culminating experience as a watershed for change and a beacon forcontinuous orientation. His central concern for the phase of positing was governed byseeking to integrate all of life in harmony with his experience of spiritual reality.Again and again he returned to his “Lord experience” as a source of inspiration andstrength when threatened with temporary confusion of incompletion. Like SisterChelsea, he kept the faith through times of darkness and challenges to hiscommitments. He wrestled with the redirection of enactment from the priesthood to a118lay person, counsellor, and volunteer with the handicapped. Increasingly his being anddoing became permeated and united by the spiritual reality subordinating materialvalues, need for control, and self-concern.The End: CompletionFor all three participants the beginning of the story included the immersion intoan inescapable problem of existence and the birth of desire for wholeness. For SisterChelsea life would not be whole unless she found a way to singleheartedly belong toand participate in the felt sense of God’s presence. John desired ultimate stability forlife to be complete. Henk’ s painful experience of fragmentation led to his conclusionthat wholeness was necessary for meaningful action and that it ought to existsomewhere. Of importance is that from a young age all participants had an innatesense of quality of life. They knew intuitively that a good life was the opposite ofdissipation, fragmentation, division, and chronic instability. Completion or wholenessbecame a distant goal. Meaning and meaninglessness became contingent on movementtoward or away from their respective destinations of closing the gap. FollowingCochran (1990), it is the striving that matters, the keeping of the faith in adversitieswhether or not completion is realized. However, the end of a story and completion arenot necessarily synonymous. Henk’s story of his quest ended, but his potentialvocation in the new story of fulfilling the promise of the mystical experience mightproceed through positing in its movement toward completion.hn. John’s account indicates how experience of spiritual reality came topermeate every corner of his life. The distinction between striving and being, acts andactivity, self and non-self has become blurred. The regnant gap appears to beincreasingly giving way to a dramatic unity that overflows with fullness of being.Sister Chelsea. Sister Chelsea’s unique attainment is an example of harmoniouscomposition of personal integrity, participation in the community and a greater realitythat issues from God. Her physical, mental, and spiritual faculties function as an119indivisible whole in an ever-present unselfconscious vigilance directed toward healingdivision and fragmentation wherever she fmds it. The complete self-donation toultimate reality invites an unparalleled sense of vitality and freedom void of external orinternal coercion. However, perfection is not of this world and “life’s adversities arenot banned, but are approached with an inextinguishable gladness of heart” (IJnderhill.1955, p. 437). Sister Chelsea receives reality with complete trust and opennessthrough an attitude of inner listening for creative and spontaneous participation, for“God works with whatever happens.” Infusion and diffusion of the spirit of centralconcern have become a timeless activity in a unity of being and doing.Mystical Experiences and Life HistorySister Chelsea’s intuitive awareness of God’s presence became indivisiblywoven into the fabric of her life. Even its absence during the Dark Night dominatedher physical, mental, and spiritual way of being. Wholeness and goodness as qualitiesof life had become impossible outside the Presence. Sister Chelsea has committedherself to the mystic may. It is conceivable that the Presence may never have returnedand the unitive life might have remained a distant goal regardless of a continued centralenactment. The point is that completion of the mystic way as well as vocation areexperienced as a gift that far surpasses the struggle involved. The struggle for self-fulfillment is paradoxically aimed at self-giving rather than self-satiation.John’s and Henk’s mystical experiences emerged from a deep desire forwholeness beginning in childhood. Of particular interest is that the mysticalexperiences fit the very life histories as lived, providing intimately personal answers toequally personal existential conditions. These answers were more than mere solutionsto a problem. The solution seemed to entail a response resembling a personalobligation toward the way life ought to be lived. Henic expressed the inherent personalobligation in the shift from the general question concerning the purpose of life to thepersonal challenge of, “What is the purpose of my life?”120As for John, the “Lord experience” restored him to himself within the contextof his personal history. The perception of a new reality neither trivialized norrewarded his past struggles, but rendered them meaningful as the very foundation forthe transformation to be actualized. Similarly, Henk’s intensely negative experiencesof his youth and his various experimentations during adulthood were gathered up in theunitive experience. To his surprise, nothing was dismissed or judged unworthy ofbecoming integrated. Henk’ s personal history was not violated but became the groundfor transcendence. Henk said,“Ah, it’s a total sense of rightness. I mean, everything is absolutely the way itshould be including my life. Everything I’ve done to this time is absolutelyproper and appropriate. It had to be this way to carry out what needs to bedone.”Sister Chelsea expressed that sense of rightness when she said that “God workswith whatever happens.” John conveyed the same sense when he said,“Through my experience I know that He loves me totally. No matter what Ido, I can’t stop Him from loving me less than that ....“Sister Chelsea, John, and Henk, each befitting their personal history, live withthe seemingly irreversible certainty that a greater, spiritual, or ultimate reality hasilluminated and transformed their existence. Henk’s twenty year depression does notstand in a cause and effect relationship to the mystical experience but emerged from theentire context of his life. Henk did not in the least diminish the value inherent in themystical experience. Ultimately he held himself responsible for the ensuing catastropheof not being able to shape his life in accordance with the perceived values. UnlikeSister Chelsea and John, Henic was unable to fmd an acceptable cultural framework thatmight have encouraged a fruitful translationfrom insight into action.In sum, all participants intuited the importance of personal integration andintimate belonging to a greater whole. Sister Chelsea intuited God as the guarantor ofboth individual personhood and the community. John experienced personal restoration121in the unitive experience. Henk felt a “sense of incredible importance of theindividuality and yet, at the same time the total immersion [into] seamless unity.” ForSister Chelsea spirituality is an attitude of listening for a personal relationship with Godand its enactment in the world. John’s “Lord experience” has remained the spiritualfocus of his life guiding every action. Henk expressed a similar sentiment in whichspirituality is inseparable from “wholehearted participation in the space-time game.”The life histories in this study confirm that the mystic life is not abstract butconcrete. Experience of and belonging to ultimate reality is experienced a personalsalvation. But it appears that Maslow’s (1983) undifferentiated, universal “BeingValues”, should they exist, remain trapped in the paradox of being culture specificdespite the personal experience of their universality. But John may speak for allparticipants when he said, “I can’t put it any other way than, ‘I know’.”122CHAPTER VLimitationsIn narrative research, interpretations remain open-ended and may change if newinformation emerges, because linguistic systems do not operate according to closedsystems of mathematics and logic. Similarly, cause and effect are not seen inmechanistic, positivistic terms, but in a common sense manner (Polkinghorne, 1988).Unlike traditional science, narrative research is not based on discrete facts in order toestablish truth, but its ultimate aim is to create understanding and wisdom (Cochran,1989, 1990). Following Polkinghorne (1988), story reality is a construction andreconstruction of experience and describes how something happened retrospectively.Thus, the future of the human realm is not predictable, but can only be anticipated bywhat went before.Further limitations arise from the sampling method which was purposeful andopportunistic rather than probabilistic. The sample was small and limited by age, race,culture, and method of information gathering. Information was confined to theparticipants’ field of awareness and by what they were able and willing to conveywithin the focused scope and time restraints of this study. Exhaustive life histories,involving many hours of interviewing augmented by third party information, mayfurther enrich the interpretations. For the above reasons the results are generalizable totheoretical premises rather than populations (Yin, 1984).Implications for TheoryPhenomenological descriptions. Beginning with mystical experiences proper,the phenomenological descriptions offered by John and Henk clearly fall within thespectrum of categories outlined by James (1972), Otto (1958), Stace (1960), Underhill(1955), and Wach (1958). These categories include ineffability, noetic quality,transiency, passivity (James, 1972), unifying vision, transcending space-time and ego,123sense of objective reality, peace, sacredness, paradoxicality (Stace, 1960), given-ness,surprise, elated mood, and total involvement (Wach, 1958). Despite the totalabsorption in seamless union, John as well as Henk experienced a heightened validationof their respective individualities. Perhaps, being familiar with the mystical literaturehelped in the retrospective conceptualization of the experiences. Nevertheless, bothparticipants clearly put these phenomena beyond the realm of the ordinary and asunaccessible by the senses. The centers of the experiences were free of content, yet themeaning extracted from this apparent void surpassed all ordinary, conceptualunderstanding. Of further interest is that John’s interior way and Henk’ s exterior wayequally resulted in relatively uncommon “numinous” unitive experiences as describedby Otto (1958). Otto’s “creature feeling” was somewhat evident. John was startled byhaving control over his prayer gently wrestled away from him by a superior Power.Henk experienced terror while fleeing from the manifestations of the self, but he didnot talk about dread before the “numinous” during the first experience. In sum, thesemystical experiences fit the classical descriptions in the literature in theirphenomenology and as an extraordinary source of knowledge.The mystic way. It is the contextual nature of the study that contributes mostsignificantly to the body of research. Particularly, Sister Chelsea’s life, as an exampleof the mystic way (Underhil, 1955), might have been missed with an exclusive focuson the mystical as sporadic, powerful, conversion-type experience. Sister Chelsea fitsJames’ description of the “once born” who live naturally in the awareness of a higherorder. But it is Underhill’s (1955) mystic way that best captures Sister Chelsea’svocation as an ever deepening participation in and cooperation with the Presence.Rather striking is the Dark Night described by many mystics as dreaded isolation fromthe object of love and stripping of the last vestiges of self-withholding in preparationfor the umtive life (Underhill, 1955). All efforts of resolving the utter feeling ofabandonment seem to fail. The literature talks about concomitant physical and mental124fatigue, depression, hopelessness, etc.. Sister Chelsea’s experience of physical painduring that period appeared to have been part of her “totality reaction” to thewithdrawal of God’s presence. She was aware of the possibility of pathology andsought help, but her efforts were inconclusive. She continued to function effectively inall areas of her life. Her reality perception with respect to the everyday worldremained intact. Sister Chelsea’s self-criticalness and fear of self-delusion endow herdescriptions of the experience of God’s intuited presence or absence with the same airof reality observable in other aspects of her life. By general consensus, the mystic lifeis an ordered life in all respects (Hidas, 1981; James, 1972; Underhill, 1955). SisterChelsea leaves no doubt that this is the case. As described by Underhill, the DarkNight lifted gradually accompanied by the return of the Presence in an unparalleledexperience of unity.Sister Chelsea’s experiences of God’s guiding presence, whether as Hisinaudible voice, His touch, her premonitions, hunches, dreams, and intuitive sense ofstaying with a flow of energy, must be seen in the context of her life. Underhill (1955)made allowance for these phenomena as prevailing artistic expressions of the spiritualself embarked on the mystic way. Sister Chelsea’s courage to admit to theseexperiences is admirable since she is very aware of their generally held association withpathology. These experiences are always submitted to rational follow-up for theirvalue and veracity.Following Underhil (1955), John’s non-sensuous perception of Jesus in hisfather’s apartment may also be conceived as an artistic, cultural specific creation of hisspiritual self. However, for John, it was simply Jesus. Although he questioned thenature of this manifestation afterwards, his most parsimonious explanation remainsunchanged. With respect to research, Hufford (1985) noted that reports of supernaturalphenomena persist across all cultures regardless of social acceptance or suppression.125He suggested that these phenomena be accepted as a universal category of thoughtthereby restoring legitimacy to the experiences without admitting them as proof.Life context, meaning. and vocation. Throughout the individual stories and inthe summary analysis the importance and inseparability of life context in the creation ofmeaning has been demonstrated. The discussions included: (1) the emergence and roleof mystical experiences within the creation of coherent and meaningful dramaticcomposition understood as a life vocation, (2) the inescapability of living in storyproviding structure for the meaningful expression of experience while allowing foremplotment commensurate with the individuals life history, (3) the gift of quality oflife concomitant to successfully shaping fragmentation into wholeness, (4) thesimilarities between Underhill’s (1955) mystic way and Cochran’s (1990)conceptualization of vocation.In sum, with respect to the life histories investigated in this study, mysticalexperiences are inseparable from a particular dramatic, holistic composition ofmeaning. This study tentatively suggests that wholeness and quality of life are potentialand innate to human nature. Henk’ s experience particularly highlights the consumingdesire for wholeheartedness and unity by their very absence. His life exemplifies howfragmentation and division can become an unbearably painful condition relentlesslydemanding to be addressed. But the solution lies within the entire context of his lifehistory. Henk has become his quest apart from which his life does not makes sense.As Cochran (1990) noted, any resolution estranged from the very life as lived seemsartificial and is bound to fail.Implications for CounsellingThis study contributes mainly to raising counsellors’ awareness about thecomplexities surrounding mystical experiences and their role in the unification of life.An effective counsellor would need a thorough knowledge of pertinent traditional and126contemporary literature, including recent research and issues concerning pathology andculture.Based on recent surveys (Greeley, 1974, 75, 87; Hay & Morisy, 1978; Hay,1979, 87; Hay & Heald, 1987) it appears that the wide-spread occurrences of mysticalphenomena are no longer in question. One of the major challenges facing a counsellorwould be to develop a discriminating attitude while remaining open toward acceptingmystical experiences, including claims for the supernatural, as a legitimate category ofhuman experience (Hufford, 1985). As is evident, every participant stressed theimportance of rational discrimination for assessing the value of the experiences within atrustworthy tradition and the context of their lives. Henk’s dilemma was partly due tobeing unable to find an acceptable cultural framework for understanding and fruitfullydeveloping the experience.Although the possibility of pathology and self-delusion was taken seriously byall participants, counsellors may encounter clients who are not inclined toward critical,rational analysis.Proponents of mystical experiences as pathology would be hard pressed todiscredit Sister Chelsea’s subtle awareness of God’s presence through most of her life.Strictly speaking, Sister Chelsea would have lived a life guided by a lingeringpathological perception. The Dark Night might be explained in accordance withprevailing theories of depression rather than the withdrawal of the most meaningfulaspect of her life. Sister Chelsea’s account of “hearing” God and “feeling” His touchwould equally challenge an uniformed counsellor. However, in the context of SisterChelsea’s life, her publicly observable daily conduct, her devotion to heal division andto create wholeness point toward saintliness rather than pathology. William James(1972) defined saintliness as:1. A feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world’s selfish littleinterests; and a conviction, not merely intellectual, but as it weresensible, of the existence of an Ideal Power1272. A sense of friendly continuity of the ideal power with our own life, anda willing surrender to its control3. An immense elation and freedom, as the outlines of confining selfhoodmelt down.4. A shiffing of the emotional center towards loving and harmoniousaffections, toward “yes, yes” and away from “no” where the claims ofthe non-ego are concerned” (pp. 220-22 1).Similarly, Joh&s thirty-five days of mystical episodes clearly indicate that aninner transformation from fragmentation to unity occurred through a personalexperience of God or Jesus. John’s ensuing life in his enduring and self-lesscommitment to others speaks for itself. Again, a counsellor ignoring John’s lifecontext and mystical tradition might be tempted to pathologize the experience. Thesame applies to John’s experience of the presence of Jesus after his father’s death. Thepositive and dramatic nature of this experience would be lost without taking John’shistory with his father and the Catholic Church into consideration.With respect to Henk, the twin effect of success and catastrophe through themystical experience would be unintelligible without a thorough knowledge of his lifehistory. Henk’s account suggests that the origin of his depression is the central loss ofmeaning and the inability to overcome hindrances rooted in childhood to regain apurposefully directed unity of desire for a central enactment. Also, Henk reported thathe was able to induce non-mystical, ecstatic moods at will after the mysticalexperience. He said, “I was playing with these new abilities.” This practice resulted incomplete physical exhaustion. Equally, by an act of will, he stopped these moodswings from occurring. During the entire second mystical experience, Henk wasrunning through the forest, gripped by terror, fleeing from the manifestations of theself while at the same time calmly observing the scenario as if from a higher self. Themarks of pathology are disintegration and fragmentation. But Henk experienced theopposite, that is, the multiplicity of the self within a greater unity. A counsellor, awareof Henk’s quest for wholeness, would explore the wide range of these phenomena intheir context in order to avoid unnecessary associations with pathology.128The participants of this study would also challenge a counsellor to consider thereported interaction between the rational and intuition. Sister Chelsea exemplifies theharmonious flow between heeding her intuition, rational analysis, gaining ego strengthor personhood and its surrender in quiet contemplation. Through passive, yet active“listening”, she practiced openness to the deeper reaches of intuition, the self, God, orwhatever conceptualization befits the experience.John’s control of his contemplative prayer was literally taken away from him.He was invited to surrender all self-concern in order to allow entry into the unitivestate. Henk’s relentless search for wholeness came to fruition only after he hadsurrendered his exhaustive efforts. Thus, from the lives investigated in this thesis,counsellors are invited to consider surrender in its context. As Hidas (1981) noted,therapy traditionally focuses on strengthening the weak ego paying little attention to thesurrender of a strong one. The literature suggests that an intense struggle for meaningpushes the person beyond despair into apathy and surrender (}{idas, 1981; Hunt, 1984;James, 1972). For John and Henk surrender was neither a trivial exercise nordeliberate but grew out of an exhaustive struggle that left them spent.At this juncture Cochran’s (1990) conceptualization of vocation as a holisticdramatic composition offers the counsellor a contextual framework for assisting personsin their efforts to overcome fragmentation and division in order to enhance the qualityof life.The live histories explored in this thesis corroborate Cochran’s (1990)observation thatwholeness and quality experience are mutually involved in life. In this sense,the principle is a promissory guide and perhaps the best one we have forexploring and perhaps helping persons to develop in a more individual fashion”(p. 194).Following Cochran (1990) the role of the counsellor would be that of aconsultant to the production of a life drama. Problems or counselling issues would be129seen in terms of their potential role in furthering a unified life story in its naturalprogression through the phases.With reference to the participants in this thesis, Henk exemplifies howextremely negative circumstances of incompletion may be composed into the unifieddesire of a way out that is also the beginning of a life story. A counsellor would bechallenged to recognize young Henk’s consuming existential concern and foster itsdevelopment. The danger is to alleviate Henk’s confusion and pain through prematuresolutions that would arrest their dramatic potential. Henk’s rejection of authority andhis decision to be a mediocrity might be explored for their consequences. The dramaticenergy inherent in his early decisions may be “reframed” and integrated into his quest.In retrospect, Henk’s phase of positioning might have been enhanced byunifying his private quest and the necessity to earn a living since this issue hasremained unresolved to this day. However, staying with Henk’ s account as presented,he may still have explored “positive thinking”, declined to become a lieutenant,immigrated to Canada, etc.. But a counsellor may have widened and stretched Henk’squest by exploring his responsibility and creative role in shaping the much desiredwholeness out of the very the chaos of his life. Henk’s search for the existence of Godmight have been furthered by challenging his cultural conceptualizations and perhapsintroducing him to appropriate literature.After the mystical experience, a counsellor familiar with Henk’s life historymight have pointed out the necessity to endure a renewed phase of incompletion inorder to redramatize his life according to the gained insights. The lingering issue ofrefusing to take responsibility might have been explored for its consequences in theconstruction of the new story. The aim would be to assist Henk in achieving a regnantposition from which to begin the work of life.Sister Chelsea’ s and John’s vocation emerged out of the guiding tradition of theCatholic Church. Counselling in the form of spiritual direction is integral to the130religious life in which the mystic way is partiy implicit and often explicit. As has beendemonstrated, Cochran’s (1990) phases meaningfully capture Sister Chelsea’s andJohn’s development of vocation. The accounts of all participants concur that a unifiedlife “is not given, but must be earned” (Cochran, 1990, p. 196).Finally, as Cochran (1990) pointed out, the counsellor will be alerted to thelimits of normative stage theories. Sister Chelsea’s fundamental, holistic compositionof personhood at a very young age would remain unexplained by prevailing stagetheories of cognitive development.Implications for Future ResearchExisting research has focused mainly on establishing phenomenologicalcategories, immediate antecedents and effects, personality variables, and quasi-experimental elicitation of mystical experiences. These research efforts indicate thatmystical phenomena are common occurrences and as a rule contribute to superiormental well-being. Determined by purpose and design, past research has largelyignored meaning and context in which these phenomena arise. In view of this gap, lifehistory case studies promise to contribute significantly to the holistic, contextualunderstanding of mystical experiences.To date, this study appears to be the only one of its kind. Employing narrativemethodology, future research could further explore the relationship between mysticalexperiences and life context. Particular focus might be directed toward thephenomenon’s relationship to vocation or quest for meaning by recruiting populationsof either gender and various ages, cultures, religious affiliation, believers, agnostics,atheists, etc.. As Sister Chelsea’s account suggests, children’s experiences might befruitfully explored. Particularly challenging could be longitudinal studies fromchildhood to adulthood of children who report mystical experiences.131Life history case studies may also shed light on the suggested connectionbetween pathology and diabolical experiences (Spanos & Moretti, 1988) and theconfusion surrounding psychosis and “pure” mystical experiences (Lukoff, 1985).In the past, mystical tradition have selected and prepared gifted individuals forthe mystic way (Happold, 1981). Henk suggested that he would have greatly benefitedfrom an acceptable cultural framework for fruitfully integrating his experience. Heechoed Maslow’s (1983) suggestion to reconceptualize the mystical in accordance withthe context of its time in history. Research and practice may explore the possibility forreestablishing a trustworthy, contemporary mystic way.SummaryThe purpose of this study was to explore the meaning of mystical experiences withinthe context of life histories. Existing research has primarily employed traditionalmethods in its concern for codification, regularization, and generalization at theexpense of context and meaning. Qualitative methodologies have received littleattention. The primary aim of this study was to contribute to the existing research by aholistic, contextual understanding of mystical phenomena.This study employed multiple case studies within narrative methodology. Threeindividuals, one woman and two men, all in their fifties and with appropriate mysticalexperiences were identified through a network of acquaintances and invited toparticipate. Intensive interviews were conducted, transcribed, analyzed, and presentedas “straightened” individual stories. Each story was validated by the respectiveparticipant. In addition, a summary analysis or common story was constructed fromthe individual accounts.Important for this study were Cochran’s (1990) conceptualization of vocation,Underhill’s (1955) mystic way, and Maslow’s (1983) concept of self-actualization.These conceptualizations share the common goal of the unitive life in which being and132doing are one. Within this context, Cochran’s (1990) discovery of four natural phasestoward a unified dramatic composition provided an important framework forunderstanding the life stories investigated in this thesis. At the time of analogy itbecame apparent that this method was particularly well suited since all participants hada well developed awareness of either a vocation or life-quest intimately intertwinedwith the mystical. The findings indicate that the mystical phenomena were intimate tothe very lives as lived. 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Philosophical investigation. Oxford: Blackwell.Wuthnow, R. (1976). Peak experiences: Some empirical tests. Mimeographedpublication # A 161 of the survey research center, University of California,Berkeley.Yin, R.K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Beverly Hills, C.A:Sage Publications.Zaehner, R.C. (1972). Zen. drugs. and mysticism. New York: Vintage.140141APPENDIX: AConsent FormResearch Project: The Exploration of Mystical Experiences in the Context of LifeHistories.This project is conducted as part of a Master’s degree by Tom Biela (263-1071)under the supervision of Dr. Larry Cochran (822-5259) in the Department ofCounselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. The purpose of thisstudy is to investigate the emergence, nature, and impact of mystical experiences in thecontext of life histories.Your commitment will involve several hours of audiotaping. As a rule, fourhours should be sufficient. The tapes will be transcribed, disguising your identity, andwill be available only to the researcher and thesis advisor. In order to further ensureconfidentiality, the tapes will be erased after the completion of the project. You willalso be asked for your feedback during the analysis so that your experience will berepresented as truthfully as possibleYour participation is strictly voluntary. You may ask any questions regardingthe project and are free to withdraw at any time, without prejudice.****** ************************* ** *********** ************* *** * * * *I agree to participate in this study and acknowledge receipt of a copy of this consentform.Date Signature of Participant142APPENDIX:Recruitment LetterDepartment of Counselling Psychology,University of British Columbia,5780 Toronto RoadV6T 1L2Date:To:The purpose of my study is to investigate the emergence, nature, and impact ofmystical experiences in the context of life histories. This project is conducted as partof a Master’s degree under the supervision of Dr. Larry Cochran in the Department ofCounselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. I am interested infmdmg individuals who have intuited the presence of a benevolent power or haveexperienced a transformed, unitive “vision” of the world, clearly set apart fromordinary sensory awareness. These experiences may, or may not be expressible inreligious terms. The focus of this study is on the entire life context insofar it pertainsto the “mystical experience” in order to gain a deeper understanding of thesephenomena.Your commitment will involve meeting with me to further discuss the nature ofthe study and your role in it. Depending on your needs, several hours of audiotapingmight be necessary to tell your life history with reference to the meaning and nature ofthe experience. As a rule, four hours should be sufficient. You will also be asked foryour feedback during the analysis in order to represent your experience as truthfully aspossible. Participation in this study might be an interesting and beneficial experiencefor you.Participation in this study is completely voluntary and participants are free towithdraw at any time without prejudice. All identifying information will be deleted inorder to ensure confidentiality and privacy.Sincerely,Tom Biela (263-1071) Dr. Larry Cochran (822-5259)M.A. Student ProfessorDept. of Counselling Psychology Dept. of Counseffing PsychologyUniversity of British Columbia University of British Columbia


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