The Kabbalists describe the experience of the mystical as follows: we are small circles within the large circle of God. At times the boundaries of our circle dissolve and then we have a mystical experience. We become at one with the divine. At these moments, we are not praying to God; we are participaing with God. This can be an everyday experience, such as feeling the beauty of the ocean or feeling attuned to a very good friend. We are taken out of ourselves and participate in a greater whole. The Kabbalists experience the divine, that is, they see the world as God sees it.
This does echo a trend in psychotherapy called the ‘relational” approach. The therapist is not distinctly separate as the ‘expert’, although he or she, of course, still has the needed training and responsibility for the treatment. The relational school stresses mutuality -- therapy is a co-creation. The therapist does not ‘give’ the patient the understanding; rather it emerges from the united experience between the two.
It is interesting how Kabbala arose when Judaism had become very rule oriented, in the 13th century, and now again, interest in Kabbala is resurging after a century and a half of rationalism in Judaism. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day Kabbalist and scholar, makes the point that mysticism arises when the logic of the times becomes stifling. Mysticism is disruptive. It creates new understandings. It also threatens the power structure. If the divine is so accessible, who will need the authorities? The relational school also emerged in response to arbitrary or authoritarian trends in psychoanalysis.
Mysticism involves awareness that there is much beyond physical reality. This is an exercise of the imagination-- that in-between quaisi physical state, discussed eloquently by a master in my field, Winnicott. He termed this transitional space, between inner and out reality, the space of illusion where freedom, creativity and cultural appreciation reside. This is the space I hope to operate in when I am with patients.
Taking a more frankly mystical turn, Corbin, a philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic studies, describes the space of the imagination, as he illuminates the ‘imaginal world’ of the Sufis. This is an intermediate world between the intellect and the senses, which is perceived by the creative imagination. Once we have left the world of the physical universe, we have left the “where”, so we are “no-where”. Translated from the Persian, it might be called the “city of no-where.” To go to this “city”, we do not go from one locality to another; rather we go inward. We go from the outer, visible, world to the inner, invisible world – from the natural to the spiritual world. In this world, we encounter subtle bodies, in contrast to corporeal bodies, such as images found in dreams.
Once the journey inward is completed, the inner starts to envelop the outer reality. We cannot find spiritual reality in the “where”; the “where” is now in it. This may be similar to the Kabbalists who describe the mystical experience as when our boundaries dissolve and we can be enveloped in the divine.
Following Corbin’s discussion, being in this spiritual reality is the primary means to engage with the world of Creation. To refer to the work of the psychotherapist, this may be viewed as creation with a small “c” -- what we do everyday with patients –help them ‘create’ small changes, emotionally and behaviorally.
This entrance into the imagination is especially evident in a technique of dream work I use: Embodied Imagination, I help patients enter this inner world of imagination to engage with ‘subtle bodies’, that is images in their dreams, to transform their habitual ways of experiencing the world. As mentioned in previous posts, in this work, the dreamer enters a hypnogogic state and embodies various dream images and therefore sees the world from multiple perspectives. These multiple perspectives are fused together in a “composite” which the individual practices every day for a period of a few weeks. This practice of the composite is a chaotic process (from Chaos Theory) that allows new ways of being to emerge, new patterns that help the dreamer emerge from old, dysfunctional ones. Here the imagination is used to help create a disruption in the individual’s usual way of being to bring about therapeutic change.
This relates to the mystical, as the dreamer, exercising her imagination, temporarily enters and becomes at one with the images as she embodies them. Then when she practices the composite, enough disruption is created to facilitate change. We have helped the patient go to the City of No-Where to find a new Where.
Corbin, H. (1972). Mundus Imaginalis or The imaginal and the the Imaginary. Translated from French by Ruth Horine. http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/mundus_imaginalis.pdf