I have been a mystic all my life. I didn’t choose this, nor did I intend it, as far as I am consciously aware. I had my first visionary experience (which was more than just a vision, in fact) when I was about five years old. I’ve been having mystical experiences ever since (maybe I had them before and I just don’t recall, who knows?). In other words, I have no issue whatsoever with mystics or mysticism, being a natural mystic, myself.
Being a mystic really is like seeing an extra colour in the spectrum, or hearing music that is out of the range of normal hearing. It can be quite extraordinary. It can be fun, too, and profoundly moving. It can, I suppose, be life-altering, but since I’ve been having these experiences so regularly and for so long, I’m not in a position to judge. Certainly, I’ve read of people having a powerful mystical experience that changed their entire outlook, shifts their worldview, and fundamentally alters their perception of themselves and their reality.
The thing is, and I know this is terribly heretical of me to say this, at least in some circles, mysticism really hasn’t got much to do with awakening. About the only thing I can think of that mystical experiences might do is get you used to weird perceptions and experiences, so that when and if you do wake up and see yourself and reality in a whole new way (because that’s what awakening is), it doesn’t crack your nut open permanently. Some people don’t experience post-awakening as strange; I am not one of those people, but, frankly, I’ve had so many weird experiences that are outside the realm of ordinary that by the time I really opened my metaphorical eyes and had a look around, I was only a little freaked out. Some people, as I understand it, freak out a lot. It’s entirely possible that mystical experiences might ease the transition somewhat.
But, other than that, mysticism and awakening don’t have much in common. Awakening is about, well, waking up. Mysticism is about different ways of experiencing within the dream. Yes, it’s quite possible that some mystical experiences are a kind of touching of the Divine, but when you wake up, you see that everything is Divine, because, well, you’re seeing the dream for what it is, mystical experiences and all.
Imagine you and everyone you know has had their eyes closed all of their lives. Everyone has their own way of coping with the world around them, through touch, through sound, through smell, through other people telling them what’s going on (although as they have their eyes closed, too, one wonders at the effectiveness, there), whatever. You do, too. Then, one day, your eyes open. It’s disorienting. Stuff isn’t what you thought it was. Thinks look really different with your eyes than they did in your imagination. Your old methods of navigation and coping don’t work so well, if they even work at all. And you try to tell your friends what happened to you and what you’re experiencing and they think you’re a lunatic, or they ignore you, or they argue with you, because what you’re describing doesn’t match up with the world they imagine, not even realising they’re imagining it, that they’re dreaming it. That, in a nutshell, is what the experience of awakening is like, to a general approximation.
It can, I am told, take some time to learn how to navigate in the new environment in which you find yourself. Years, some say. I suspect it depends on the individual, actually. It can even take a long time to even realise that you’re awake, or at least figure out that what you’re seeing is, well, what you see when you open your eyes. I can tell you it took me quite a long time to get that one. It has also taken a long time to learn how to navigate this strangely fluid reality in which I find myself (those words do not do anything justice, but, alas, there are no words, and even if there were, if your eyes are open you don’t need me to tell you what you see, and if they’re not open, you wouldn’t understand what I was describing, anyway, though you might be able to imagine it if I used metaphors that aligned with your particular belief set and idiomatic way of thinking and imagining your reality).
So, bottom line here, there’s nothing wrong with mysticism. Visions, epiphanies, satori, out of body experiences, all of that is fine. But it’s not awakening. And it won’t necessarily lead to awakening, either. I don’t honestly know what triggers awakening, any more than I know what triggers childbirth to commence, or what triggers people to wake up from a deep sleep for no obvious reason. It is what it is, and it happens as it happens. I suspect, very strongly, that it’s a game that Consciousness plays with Itself, just as it plays at being separate when it is actually One. Sometimes, Self just wants to wake up to Itself and remember. And sometimes, it wants to be mystical and play hide and seek games with Itself through visions, epiphanies, and so on. Mystical experiences are exactly as valid as any other experience, as far as experiences go. But they are not awakening. That is another game, entirely.