When you see “mystic” there, you know, it means basically loony.– Michael Palin in No Such Thing as a Fish 20 hour podcast.
I love Michael Palin, and I am sure he would have a more nuanced view on this in a different setting and conversation, although I thought it was an interesting comment.
He referred to a specific person who may have been a bit loony. (He wanted to crash a plane half-way up Mount Everest and walk the rest of the way.) And in that particular podcast setting, it’s easy to make fun of groups nobody there belongs to. It creates a sense of cohesion.
So is there some truth to it? Are mystics loony?
The looniness of mystics
Yes, mystics can definitely be seen as loony from a mainstream view. Mystics are wrapped up in an obsession with the divine, and most people don’t even know if there is such a thing as the divine, and if they do, they don’t think it’s possible to have any kind of direct connection with it. So yes, it can seem weird and perhaps a bit crazy.
The path of the mystic does often come with experiences outside of the mainstream – of the divine in all, of perceptions of oneness, visions, synchronicities, seeing things others don’t, perceptions at a distance, strong energies running through the system that can’t be measured by modern medicine, and so on. This can be seen as loony.
Some mystics also get caught up in certain interpretations and fantasies that are not grounded in intellectual honesty, and this – rightfully so – can seem loony.
There are many types of mystics. All have experiences outside of the mainstream that can seem weird and even crazy to others, even if they are real experiences and reported faithfully. Some may be a bit crazy in their interpretations if these are not grounded in intellectual honesty. And a few may actually be a bit crazy in a DSM sense. (Although not the ones I know about, or the ones most known from history.)
The sanity of mystics
Then there is the sanity of mystics.
If we notice what we are (Big Mind), get familiar with it, explore how to live from it, and are honest in our interpretation of it, we tend to be quite sane. In a sense, we are saner than most since we are more aware of our true nature.
Most perceive and live as if their fundamental identity is this human self, while in reality this human self and the wider world happens within and as what we are. So if we wanted to reverse the “loony” statement, we could say that it’s loonier to believe and live as if you fundamentally are something you are not.
Many mystics also work on their relationship with themselves, others, and the world. They befriend their world and live more from kindness and a sense of unity of it all. That’s not loony at all. It’s sane.
Loony and not
So are mystics loony?
The answer is yes, no, and it depends.
Yes, they can seem that way from a mainstream view.
Some may actually be a bit loony if they latch on to interpretations not grounded in intellectual honesty, or if they have some actual mental disorder. This goes for anyone independent of what label we put on them.
And no, to the extent the mystic notices what they are and live from it to the best of their ability, live from kindness and a sense of oneness, and have some intellectual honesty.
A note about the label mystic
Mystic and mysticism can refer to many different things, from the most outlandish beliefs to glimpses “beyond the veil”, nature mysticism, and non-duality. In mainstream western society, mysticism is probably mostly associated with the two or three first ones. Non-duality may not necessarily be perceived as mysticism, partly because Buddhists and others have done a relatively good job taking a pragmatic approach and bringing it down to earth.