08/17/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Global Spirit: The Mystical Experience (VIDEO)

"Just as in earthly life, lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls bend in a soft whisper, so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer, he can, as it were, creep into God." --Soren Kierkegaard

The "mystical experience" has been called the genesis of all religions. Most world religions can be seen as a codification of an original "revelation" or primary mystical experience -- Moses had his on the mountain, Jesus in the desert, Muhammad in a cave and the Buddha sitting under a Bodhi tree. Most mystics believe that the supreme being or the Divine, however defined, must not only be thought about, but directly and personally experienced.

"Mysticism," from the Greek mystikos ("an initiate"), is the knowledge and personal experience of states of consciousness or aspects of reality that lie beyond normal human perception, including the experience of connection with a supreme being.


On this Global Spirit program we focus our attention on the Abrahamic faiths, to shed light not only on the deep mystical traditions within Islam, Christianity and Judaism, but the connections and similarities among them. The program features three engaging studio guests: Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man, Brother David Steindl-Rast and Lynn Barron. Rabbi Omer-Man is a teacher and co-founder of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.


"If you look at Moses, he had the experience of the ineffable, with the burning bush almost wordless. And then he was told: 'Go out into the world, liberate your people,' and his response was, 'Who me?' And God said, 'yes you!' So it is the experience, immediately translated into action, sometimes even into political action. The Prophet Mohammed had to go to Mecca and start organizing the tribes and placating and removing the idols. So it is both mystical but immediately translated into a social, sometimes political reality." --Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man

Brother David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk with a deep connection to Christian mystical thought and experience. Originally from Austria, Brother David is an internationally renowned author and has studied Zen Buddhism and other religious traditions.

"We shouldn't put the great mystics up on a pedestal as if they were a different kind of people. The mystic is not a different kind of human being, but every human being is a different kind of mystic. Abraham Maslow already explored what makes human beings particularly creative, particularly resilient -- that is, what makes great people. He came to the conclusion, to his own greatest surprise, that it was the mystical experience. And he actually wrote about it. But in psychological literature it didn't sit so well, so he changed the term from 'mystical experience' to 'peak experience' because it is the peak of consciousness." --Brother David Steindl-Rast

Naqshbandi sufi teacher Lynn Barron is a practicing modern-day mystic who has had several mystical experiences that have become central to her teaching:

"I kept having this sense of someone saying: 'Come to me! come to me, come to me, come to me!' And it was saying: 'Stay in the light. That is the way. Stay in the light.' And then at some point of arrival, it said, almost like a little giggle or something: 'Ha! you finally made it! It's been a long journey!" --Lynn Barron

Lynn's Sufi tradition has its origins in the Islamic faith. While Christian and Jewish mystical practices are mostly internal in nature (and therefore somewhat difficult to represent visually), the Sufi path that follows the teachings of the Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi has a practice called sema, which has both an internal and an external dimension. This is the practice of the whirling dervishes. The following video sequence, from the One Through Love project, provides a dervish's experience of the sema. It is narrated by the Turkish sufi teacher and whirling dervish Jelaleddin Loras, and, along with other videos in the multi-lingual series, is subtitled in Persian, Turkish and Arabic.

The Mystical Experience is now showing on many public TV stations (check local broadcast schedules at

Global Spirit is a unique inquiry into humankind's belief systems, wisdom traditions, and states of consciousness. Presented by British actor-comedian John Cleese and hosted by author and spiritual seeker Phil Cousineau, this new series takes viewers on a mind and soul-expanding journey, exploring the relationships between ancient wisdom traditions, diverse belief systems, world religions and modern science. Produced & Directed by Stephen Olsson, GLOBAL SPIRIT is a co-production of CEM Productions and Link TV.
Stephen Olsson is a HuffPost blogger.