My friend, Patty, wrote to me last week with a revealing question about some mystics: “Many of the self-professed mystics I’ve encountered seem incredibly egostistical, as if they held a truth no one could touch. Is this phenomena somehow inherent in mysticism?” Below is my attempt to answer her question to best of my ability:
Some long time ago, Patty, I knew a man who took extraordinary pride in having once been to Santa Fe, New Mexico. For years, he went about his small town repeating the story to anyone who would listen, and he seemed to imagine he should be revered for his travels. He even had a way of giving an impression to many people that he looked down on them, who had not also been to Santa Fe.
It is interesting how the ego aggrandizes itself. Anything and everything is grist to it. Sometimes the results are obvious, as with the man who once traveled to Santa Fe, and sometimes the results are more subtle. I think we usually call only the most obvious egotism “egotism”, but it seems the process of ego aggrandizement is essentially the same, regardless of whether it is obvious or subtle.
Because the ego will readily use anything and everything to aggrandize itself, there is really no need for the mystical experience to have anything special about it for the experience to lend itself to egotism. Nevertheless, the mystical experience does indeed have at least a couple of attributes that seem almost designed to encourage egotism.
By most accounts the experience tends to leave someone with the impression all their former notions of themselves and of the world were flawed. The implication, of course, is that whatever other people who have not had such an experience might think of themselves and the world is just as flawed as the mystic’s former notions are flawed. This is fertile grounds for egotism.
Another attribute of the mystical experience that lends itself to egotism is the overwhelming sense, feeling, or perception that one is experiencing things in a way that is primal — e.g. more real or truer than how one normally experiences things. The notion one has “seen the truth” is, once again, fertile grounds for egotism.
So the mystical experience — or at least it’s aftertaste — does not come without challenges. It is of course up to the individual how they deal with those challenges.
To qualify all that I’ve said here, most people rightfully point out how mystical experiences most often tend to ameliorate egotism. That, however, was not your question: So, I haven’t addressed it here.