Read an Excerpt
Mystical Experiences in 30 Days
The Higher Consciousness Program
By Keith Harary, Pamela Weintraub
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1990 Keith Harary, Ph.D., and Pamela Weintraub
All rights reserved.
THE YOU NOBODY KNOWS
Who are you? A construction worker, teacher, bartender, or computer programmer? A parent, a child, or a lover to your spouse? Are you an American? A member of Mensa? A Vietnam veteran? Or do you conceive of yourself in even broader, more abstract terms: adventurer, dreamer, artist, activist, or survivor of life?
Now, who are you when you peel away these outer layers of identity and reach into the inner core of your personal existence? Does some deeper, more basic and immutable aspect of your identity — your "inner" self — lie waiting to be discovered beneath these everyday roles? In the following exercise, you will explore this possibility by pretending that all your memories are merely products of your imagination.
Begin by choosing a place where you can be completely alone for a couple of hours. (You may also practice this exercise if you're alone among a group of strangers — on an airplane, for example, or in a movie theater.) Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. As you continue to breathe in and out slowly, let your life pass before you: Recall childhood events, adolescent experiences, major life accomplishments or mistakes, memories of family members and friends. Don't become analytical about past relationships or get stuck on particular experiences. Just let your impressions come and go. How does it feel to be the person you've become?
After you've allowed yourself to focus on these thoughts for at least half an hour, take another deep breath. As you breathe, concentrate on how alone you are at this moment. Pay attention to your physical environment and your body's sensations. Continue to breathe slowly.
Now envision the experiences you have just recalled fading in a mist. Imagine that your present situation and immediate surroundings represent the whole of reality. Everything you remembered about the world and your life, the people and events in it, is imaginary. In fact, you've just come into existence in the past few moments. Continue to focus your imagination on this idea for at least another hour and a half.
Now ask yourself this: If everything you remember about your life is a product of your imagination, who are you? Is there some aspect of your existence — a particular set of values or a relationship with another person — that appears to transcend mundane levels of reality and that is impossible to imagine as an illusion?
In the last half hour of this exercise, allow yourself to imagine that you were born into a completely different life. Is there a "real you" that would still be there even if you had been born in another place and time, existed in a completely different reality, or weren't even human? What aspects of your personal identity — if any — would continue, unchanged, had you been born in the days of King Arthur, or had you lived as a giant octopus on the ocean floor?
Finally, take another deep breath. As you let it out, ask yourself how you know that your life, as you experience it, really exists at all. How do you know you are not merely imagining the details of your everyday existence? For all you know, you may really be a slime mold growing on some forgotten rock, so bored and miserable with life as you know it that you have simply imagined the details and complications of an apparent human existence as a distraction.
After you have entertained yourself with this bizarre concept for a while, allow your thoughts to drift back to the everyday world.
Transcendental Tip — With regular practice, this exercise can help you approach everyday reality in a different way: not as boring, habitual, or conflicted, but rather as a realm of expanded possibility that responds to your true creative self. This exercise can also put you in touch with the most sacred, enduring aspects of your life and help you to appreciate qualities that do not depend upon the transitory, material world.
THE PASSING PARADE
On Day 2 you will focus on inducing a Mystical Experience by altering your perceptions of the people around you. Pick a crowded location full of strangers: a busy airport, train station, or shopping mall will do. Spend anywhere from two to four hours sitting in one place observing the people milling about.
Take time to observe your surroundings and experience the various sensory experiences that are available in the location you've chosen. Notice the stationary aspects of your environment — benches, vending machines, newsstands, restaurants, and coffeehouses. Then notice the things that are in a continuous state of change, such as the activities of the crowd and the coming and going of buses, trains, cars, or airplanes. After an hour you'll probably notice underlying patterns in the surrounding activity.
You may notice the broad patterns of moving objects or vehicles, and the far more subtle patterns of the crowd. You may also notice that the individuals moving in cars or on foot are unaware of their "patterned" roles. Behind the patterns of moving objects and people lie still broader patterns defined by society, the earth, and the universe. How are the lives of the people you're observing influenced by the sweeping patterns of which they may be unaware?
As you watch the people all around you, consider the possibility that no one else experiences reality exactly as you do. Pick out a stranger and, without disturbing this individual, compare your reality to his. Don't dwell on superficial differences such as physical appearance, racial identity, or cultural background. Instead, focus on the possibility that the world may be a unique and radically different experience for each of you. Your usually unstated assumption — "I share the same reality with this stranger" — may be only an illusion.
It is, in fact, logically impossible to prove for certain that any two individuals are perceiving exactly the same reality, because each of you would interpret those differences within your familiar frame of reference. Ask yourself, for example, if you have any way of knowing if you and the stranger you have chosen perceive the color red in exactly the same way.
Now relax, take a deep breath, and turn your attention back to your general surroundings. Instead of focusing on the possible uniqueness of your personal perceptions, consider what you have in common with the people you're watching. You're all alive at this particular moment in human history; your lives have crossed paths, even if at a comfortable distance. Even if you never speak to one another and are never again in the same place, there will always be a time in your mutual past when your paths crossed. If the world or your life were to end at this moment, it would end for you in the company of these strangers.
But you do not have to face death to sense such camaraderie. Instead, just imagine that a part of you can perceive reality from the perspective of "the group mind." For this portion of the exercise, picture yourself and the strangers you're watching as a single group, one organic entity moving without individual perceptions. Envision the environment you are sharing as a single, finely tuned organism, and see yourself and others as individual cells. Allow yourself to feel as connected as possible to those around you, and note the ways in which you are all bound together through your membership in the greater whole.
Now, once more, consider the notion that reality is subjective — that the world as you know it is exclusively manufactured within the innermost recesses of your mind. Ask yourself: "If I am alone in the way I perceive reality, what do my perceptions tell me about who I am?" Repeat this question to yourself until its deeper meaning sinks in.
Finally, spend half an hour or so exploring your local surroundings on foot. Continue to imagine that your experience of reality is entirely subjective. Study the people and objects all around you, and imagine that everything you see exists on at least two levels: the level at which you personally experience it, and the level at which it expresses its own objective nature. Then, taking this approach further, ask yourself: "If there is an objective reality hidden behind the layers of everyday reality as I experience it, what might that deeper reality be like?" Try to envision that other reality in as much detail as possible.
Transcendental Tip —Now consider the fact that no matter how seriously you try to envision a deeper reality, you will inevitably interpret your experience through the subjective limitations of your own perceptions and intelligence.
Complete this exercise by celebrating the joys of mundane reality. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae, go to a shopping mall, or feed the pigeons in a nearby park. Allow yourself to enjoy your unique subjective experience of the everyday world.
Mystics have long claimed that reality is unified — that if we could perceive the true nature of the universe, we would realize that everything is connected to everything else. Through today's exercise, you should be able to experience reality from this alternate, mystical perspective, ultimately perceiving the world around you as a unified whole rather than as a collection of separate and independent parts.
To begin, choose any ordinary location where you can practice this exercise without being disturbed — your favorite chair, for instance, a park bench, or the beach. Allow yourself time to settle into the location you've chosen and become relaxed.
When you feel comfortable, focus on some common object in your immediate environment: a candy dish, for instance, a seashell, or a leaf. Any object will do, as long as it is close enough for you to focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.
Take a deep breath and concentrate on the object until it's all you see or think about. (Even the most ordinary and familiar object can take on a surrealistic quality if you concentrate all your attention on it for an extended period of time.)
As you continue to focus, consider the physical structure of the object you have chosen. First notice its shape. Then, if it has more than one piece, notice how different parts are attached: with glue, for instance, or with nails. Now envision the object on a microscopic level: If it's a plant, see the individual cells. If it's a wood carving, see the individual grains of wood. Finally, consider the object on a molecular and quantum level: Envision the electrons whirling around the nuclei of the atoms, and tell yourself that both you and the object are made of the same basic types of particles. The particles constituting you and the object may even be bound together by physical fields. In other words, the sense that you are separate from other people and the rest of your environment may be a product of your perceptual limitations. It may have nothing to do with the way things are put together at all.
In the art of Zen meditation, one can learn to focus so intensely upon the everyday world that the act of focusing, in and of itself, creates its own special sense of transcendence. On Day 4 of the Higher Consciousness Program, you'll begin exploring this type of experience for yourself by focusing on some of the more bizarre aspects of the world in which we live.
Begin today's exercise by visiting your local anthropology or natural history museum. If you absolutely cannot get to such a museum, you may substitute the anthropology section of your local bookstore or library. Your goal: to visit three separate exhibits representing three distinctly different human cultures. (Alternatively, you may review the artifacts of three cultures by flipping through photographs in various books.) As you explore the objects, don't allow yourself to become overly analytical. Instead, just spend your time absorbing the overall experience.
If you are visiting New York's American Museum of Natural History, for example, you might begin by investigating the hall of Northwest Coast Indians and examining the giant totem poles, carved rattles, dyed blankets, and colorful masks. You might then proceed to the Central America exhibit, where you will encounter an Aztec sun wheel, stone fertility figures, and artifacts of gold. Then you might take the elevator to the hall of Man in Africa to study the skin drums and shrunken heads.
As you encounter the various objects, imagine what everyday reality must have been like for those who created them. How do your feelings toward reality shift as you move from exhibit to exhibit? How do these feelings differ from your usual feelings toward everyday reality?
For the second phase of this exercise, return home and choose some synthetically produced object that could have been manufactured only in contemporary society. Although many people mistakenly believe that transcendent experiences can only be achieved through meditating for years on so-called sacred objects, this is not the case. By focusing on something ordinary, like a can of sardines or a baseball card, you can learn to appreciate transcendent levels of reality in the here and now.
The object you choose for this phase of the exercise should be as unredeemably tacky as possible. It should ideally (though not necessarily) represent something in the "natural" world, yet not be natural at all. A plastic Halloween mask of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, or some other cartoon character would be ideal for this portion of the exercise, as would a bunch of plastic flowers, a rubber hand, a piece of wax fruit, or a toy stuffed animal with fluorescent fur.
Sit in a comfortable position with the object you have selected directly in front of you. Take a deep breath, feel all the muscles in your body letting go of any residual tension, and allow yourself to relax. Then close your eyes for a few minutes and calmly reflect upon your remembered mental images of the objects you encountered in the museum earlier in the day. Remember how those objects made you feel about the worldviews of those who created them. Then allow the memory of these ancient objects to fade.
Now, without otherwise moving your body, open your eyes and begin focusing exclusively on the contemporary object before you. Then imagine that you are an anthropologist from another culture — perhaps even another world — studying this object for the first time. How does this object make you feel about the overall worldview of the culture that created it? Notice how these feelings differ from those you had earlier in the day, while you were examining objects from the past.
After you have maintained this focus for at least 10 to 15 minutes, gradually let go of any intellectual reflections about the object in question. Instead, focus on its independent existence as a thing in the universe. Note that the object exists apart from human values, history, or culture. Intensify your focus until all preconceived ideas about the object dissolve, and you feel as though you are appreciating its unique existence for the very first time.
You should be able to recognize when you have achieved this intense focus, because the object will cease to appear tacky and mass-produced. In fact, it won't appear to have any particular human value or function at all. Instead, it will seem to reflect an almost transcendent dimension of reality, placing you in touch with an ineffable inner truth. You should then feel as though you have finally recognized the object for exactly what it is — in and of itself — for the very first time.
Once you achieve a sense of transcendence, again allow yourself to experience the object as a somewhat surrealistic reflection of the day-to-day reality in which you live.
In today's exercise, you will turn your attention toward your own body. Find a private and comfortable place where you can sit completely naked, and totally alone, for at least an hour. Position yourself on the floor in front of a mirror in a dimly lit room. The mirror should be positioned so that you may easily see your entire body without shifting from your initial position.
Keep your eyes open and focus your attention exclusively on your reflection. Take a deep breath and, as you let it out, imagine warm currents of energy moving up through the soles of your feet, into your legs and hips, and gently relaxing your lower extremities. With your eyes still open, take another deep breath and, as you let it out, imagine the currents moving up through your abdomen and lower back, into your chest and arms, and relaxing your entire midsection. Finally, take another deep breath and, as you let it out, imagine the currents moving up through your shoulders and neck, and out through the top of your head. It is not necessary to become completely relaxed for this exercise — only to let go of at least some tension, leaving stress from the outside world behind.
Excerpted from Mystical Experiences in 30 Days by Keith Harary, Pamela Weintraub. Copyright © 1990 Keith Harary, Ph.D., and Pamela Weintraub. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.