Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.
It was hard not to feel the skepticism rise up when we decided on mysticism for this issue. Much of my education and cultural upbringing was to make small of what didn’t sit in the realm of reason. If it couldn’t be understood through the intellect or five senses, it was probably of little value to the world. For most of the family I grew up with, real achievement was in the acquirement of financial and intellectual capital: the more you knew and gained in a tangible, transactional sense, the better you could sleep at night. I know I’m not alone in this conditioning, and I know it’s still the modus operandi for most cultures today.
And yet, there was also something about the way the word “mysticism” landed in me that felt liberating. The concern that this issue would be dismissed like a puff of smoke was ultimately overcome by a more exciting impulse: that it might help me and others break free from some of the restrictive ways of knowing ourselves—and all that we’re a part of.
One of the realisations I had while working on the issue is that mysticism isn’t exclusive to a niche subset of people living in the hills making potions and chanting. The ability to access the mystic, to be the mystic, is innate in all of us, and can find expression in the most mundane of activities. The work is to imagine things in one’s orbit as alive and porous: the pot-plant on the coffee table, the stranger on the bus, the mountaintops in the distance—all of it already in dialogue, awaiting our participation. It is there, in that space of imagination and deep listening, that we learn who we need to be.
Wrapping a single definition around mysticism (demystifying it, if you will) is a tempting prospect, but it also feels somewhat futile. The kind of connection the early mystics talked about went far beyond the intellect; it was a union with the Divine (or god or universe or higher consciousness) that occurred through experience—one that was usually contemplative or ecstatic in nature. It’s often likened to a process of surrender, where all sense of separation falls away. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner describes a mystic as someone “who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” I also like Joseph Lee’s provocation in this issue that mysticism is “a longing to return.”
Regardless of how open you are to this conversation, I hope you find something in these pages that sparks your curiosity. The absence of mysticism in our modern lives is palpable: it’s in the carelessness that is shown to the land—the species loss, the climate denial; it’s in our struggle to make healthy connections. I’m curious about what might shift if we did start to live with an eye for the holy: making meaning out of the magpie that keeps showing up in our lives, or stopping to take in the language of the seas. How might that drive us to more fiercely protect what we’re part of? How might it help us to love more than we’ve known?
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Enjoy the magic.