Mysticism.

The word itself mystifies.

It excites feelings of awe and anticipation: an indefinable awe and dread in the awareness of forbidding depths beyond the normative reach of man; yet also anticipation of discovering secrets that confound even as they arouse curiosity.

Man is defined as the rational being.

To be rational means to think, and to think means to be inquisitive, to search.

Our search encompasses questions about our very being - our source of origin and our ultimate destiny; questions about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence.

Oftentimes we embrace quick answers so that our search may come to rest in some certitude. Yet again and again our certainties are shaken.

Some try to escape by denying their doubts.

They submerge themselves in social and professional ambitions and identities. Yet moments of spontaneous reflection recur. Thoughts touching issues that transcend the here-and-now force themselves upon us again and again.

Every so often we snatch a glimpse of that transcendence.

It may come in a state of contemplation. It may come from a deeply touching experience: from an experience of consummate love, from a perception of the immensity of nature, from being transported to ecstasy by music or poetry, or from so many other experiences that penetrate the very core of our being.

Such glimpses are part of what we call mystical experiences.

They are not restricted to a select circle of initiates to the esoteric sciences, nor to those who have withdrawn from the mundane.

The mystical experience, in the wide sense of the term, is an integral part of the human experience. It is native to all people, without distinction of race or creed. With some more, with others less - yet, universal.

The universality of mysticism is both fascinating and problematic.

It has made mysticism the subject of academic study and scientific research - to be analyzed, classified and categorized by professionals in the fields of theology, philosophy and psychology. For the mark of mysticism is not only the intense feeling of the mystical experience, but also, and more so, its effects.

Nothing is closer to man than an actual experience.

The more gripping - the more real it is to him. Thus it is not surprising that a mystical experience causes man to draw practical conclusions affecting his philosophical perspective and judgments.

Obviously, these conclusions are relative to the experience, to the degree of its intensity and its perceived relevance. They are also relative to the individual's mind and emotions. In other words, these conclusions are highly subjective.

They may differ drastically one from the other, even contradicting one another.

They are influenced by many varying factors: personal background, previous commitments or inclinations; they are colored by mental and psychological conditioning.