“When do you have the mystical feelings? During shower or when you are shaving?”
A Sufi of the Mevlevi order was asked this question by an American journalist during an interview. I don’t know the exact English words of the question. I read about the interview in a Turkish daily newspaper back in the early 80’s. I don’t think there is an error in translation from English to Turkish and my translation from Turkish back to English. The question is simple and clear enough. According to the newspaper article the Sufi was puzzled by this question.
I have to remind you that anti-American sentiment was very strong in Turkey in the 70’s and 80’s fueled by Soviet propaganda. These days the anti-American sentiment is still strong but now it is fueled by Islamic fundamentalism. Times have changed but the anti-American sentiment remained. I am sure that the newspaper columnist who brought the American journalist’s question to our attention had an anti-American agenda. It was very popular to make fun of American mannerisms and American way of thinking in those days.
Why did that question sound so strange to Turkish ears? It is a perfectly legitimate question.
When I read about that question I was already meditating and I knew what mystical feelings were like. By the way, I don’t use the words “mystic”, “mystical”, “mysticism” in my writing. I prefer the terms “devotee”, “devotional” and “spirituality,” respectively. It should be clear that “mystical feelings” means devotional feelings for God.
There are many religious practitioners who have not experienced any mystical feelings. There are many religious practitioners who pray mechanically at certain times of the day without any devotional (mystical) feelings. They fear God but they don’t love God. The main characteristic of the mystical feelings is the great love and attraction we feel for God.
If the American journalist asked the same question to one of those ritualistic practitioners he would get the same response: puzzlement. The reason for the puzzlement would be completely different than the reason for Sufi’s puzzlement. It probably does not even occur to the ritualistic practitioner that we can remember God at any time of the day. It does not have to be a specific time of the day. Some ritualistic practitioners also have strange notions about the place of worship. They think that you can only pray when you are in a place of worship. These dogmatic people would consider it disrespectful to remember God during shower.
During that interview the Sufi was puzzled by the “American” question probably because having mystical (devotional) feelings during particular activities sounded strange to him. I am a bit familiar with the Sufi practice. We have a similar practice in Ananda Marga. We try to ideate on God constantly in all hours in all places and in all activities. This sounds like an exaggeration but it becomes natural after many years of practice. I was never good at meditation but I have diligently worked on the “ideation” practice for the last 33 years.
My understanding of ideation (bhava in Sanskrit) is that it is a feeling involving love and devotion. Ideation on God is the same thing as having “mystical feelings.” Ideation is love and devotion experienced in sweetness of heart. Ideation is not necessarily thinking about God. Sometimes it can simply be having a calm and reflective moment. The key characteristic of the practice of “Ideation on God” is tranquility.
I try to ideate on God in all hours of the day, when I walk, work, watch TV, read and hug my son. Yes, I also remember God when I am in the shower or when I am shaving. I remember God even when I am being naughty. I remember God when I see a beautiful woman. I admit that beauty is dicey. It can remind you about the Divine Beauty or it may distract you from your spiritual goal.
Sages tell us that there is a stage of spiritual development when ideation on God becomes constant. Some explain this state of mind by saying that their inner calmness is without interruption. Some explain it by saying that they experience sustained pleasant and happy feelings.
I wish you constant ideation!