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Mystical Experience of Douglas W. Shrader, Ph.D.

Douglas W. Shrader (1953 – 2010) was Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Oneonta.  He authored numerous publications, including Near-Death Experiences: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives (1995) and Seven Characteristics of Mystical Experiences (2007).

“It was the summer of ’71. I graduated from high school and worked throughout the summer as a lifeguard at a country club. It was an excellent summer – the stuff of adolescent dreams and cheap B movies – but now it was drawing to a close. I found myself walking slowly along a narrow dirt path in the densely wooded mountains of Eastern Kentucky, playing my well-worn 12-string guitar, and writing a song whose words and chords I have long since forgotten. 

Suddenly, without warning, my life changed – the world changed – forever. In an unsolicited blinding flash – in a timeless, eternal moment that encompassed creation, annihilation, and everything that falls between the two – I was stripped bare of all my preconceptions: preconceptions about myself, about the world, and about God.”

“There are surely elements in my background that laid foundations for the experience. They may even have prepared me in some important sense. Even so, the experience itself was unsolicited, unexpected, and – in terms of occurrence, phenomenology, and content – intensely surprising. As odd as it may sound, the experience was both unsettling and reassuring. 

Although I had never taken a class in Philosophy or Religious Studies, I had thought deeply about philosophical as well as religious topics. Even as it occurred, I tried desperately to make sense of the experience. Like a small boy trying on his father’s clothes, nothing seemed to fit. I tried first one thing and then another. Many ideas and concepts that I expected to fit seemed totally inappropriate. Others fit in a loose, unmanageable manner (like a father’s hat that sits on the child’s head, but obscures his vision because it falls in front of his eyes). Eventually, having emptied my conceptual toolbox and exhausted my linguistic dictionary, I quit struggling. I surrendered to a warm, loving presence which so totally engulfed me that the “me” that it engulfed was no longer separate from the experience.

Any description that I could provide of the experience, once I surrendered, will be inadequate at best. Worse, my words are as likely to obscure and mislead as they are to inform and illuminate. Acutely aware of this problem of ineffability – long before I had learned the term or encountered [William] James’ anatomy of a mystical experience – I made a silent promise to myself to keep the whole affair a closely guarded secret. The concern was not simply an intellectual one: I did not need a dictionary to tell me that my peers might regard the experience as “confused and groundless speculation” or “superstitious self-delusion” [definition #3 for “mysticism” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language].”

“As I write these words, thirty-six years later, that experience is as real, as vivid, and as unyielding as it was when I looked far…less like a middle-aged professor. It has shaped, informed, and provided both contours and color for every aspect of my life, every dimension of my being, every experience, every thought, every emotion, every moment of happiness, every hour of sorrow, every expectation, every hope, every doubt, and every disappointment: in short, every breath that I take.”

“Colleagues who have known me for a long time may be deeply and profoundly surprised by these…remarks. That extraordinary experience on a late summer day in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky is always with me – closer, more reliable, and more important than the beating of my own heart – more essential to the person that I have become (and to the person that I am in the process of becoming) than my twenty-nine year career as a Professor of Philosophy, my relationships with students and friends, or even my marriage of thirty-two years to Barbara: the love of my life, my best friend, and soul mate. Yet it is not something of which I speak on a daily basis. In fact, it is something of which I almost never speak at all.”

Quoted from Douglas W. Shrader’s 2007 paper, “Seven Characteristics of Mystical Experiences.”

Photo Credit: Douglas Shrader from www.oneonta.edu.

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