Mystics hold that there is a deeper, more fundamental state of existence hidden beneath the appearances of day to day living (which may become, to the mystic, superficial or epiphenomenal). For the authentic mystic, unity is both the internal and external focus as one seeks the truth about oneself, one’s relationship to others and reality (both the world at large and the unseen realm). The mystic’s motivation for such an arduous endeavour appears to be unique to the individual and culture, and sometimes a new religion, order or sect may be the legacy. Generally approached through the purification processes of prayer, meditation, contemplation (communion with Reality) and a wide variety of other means, the mystic seeks to transcend any constraint to his direct experience of the divine.

The divine realm has been expressed in any of various ways across cultures – as God/Allah/Brahma/Creator, Baqa' (Sufism), the perfect goodness, ultimate reality, Hal (Persian Sufism), a universal presence, force or divine principle. The ultimate unification with the divine may be experienced by the mystic as psychological emancipation, Samadhi, being born again, Wahdat al-Wujud (Sufism) or unity consciousness, but in practical terms it can be described as a surrendered egoless state in which the external world synchronizes with the mystic’s true nature and purpose. The term, heaven/nirvana, while generally considered an after-death experience in Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Indic religions including Buddhism is understood by the mystic as a non-physical realm or “field” with physical effects in the eternal “now.” Severe cultural alienation often accompanies this effort as the mystic turns away from the world either through fasting or emptying, seeking reunion with the God-head within.

Mysticism is usually understood in a religious context, but as Chittibaba and Babu have pointed out, transcendent experiences may happen to anyone, regardless of religious training or inclinations. Such experiences can occur unbidden and without preparation at any time, and might not be understood as religious experiences at all. A momentary unity may be experienced by the artist or athlete as a perceived interconnection with existence or a loss of self accompanied by feelings of euphoria, by the scientist as a spontaneous ecstatic inspiration, by an ordinary individual as a shift in physical reality after experiencing a temporary uncomplicated state of mind, by a prophet as an open channel of knowledge or even dismissed as psychological disturbances in modern times.

But, the authentic mystic’s ultimate goal is a sustained stable state of full consciousness, wholeness/holiness through self-knowledge. First, the observer role must be stabilized before he/she can return to being, merge with the pre-existent field – the Divine, allowing him to fulfil his purpose or realize his passion. With that in mind, the word mysticism is best used to point to conscious and systematic attempts to gain transcendent insights/experiences through studies and practice. Possible techniques include meditation, contemplation (of causality), prayer, asceticism (fasting from the world), devotions, Dhikr, Sama, the chanting of mantras or holy names, communion with entheogens, and intellectual investigation. Mystics typically go beyond specific religious perspectives or dogmas in their teachings, espousing an inclusive and universal perspective that rises above traditional sectarian differences because they comprehend the shared basis of other religious traditions beneath the superficial.

Chittibaba points out that a mystical experience displays the world through a different lens than ordinary experience. The experience, in his words, is “ineffable” and “poetic”; placed beyond the descriptive abilities of language. While there is debate over what this implies, and whether the experience actually transcends the phenomenal or material world of ordinary perception, or rather transcends the capacities of ordinary perception to bring the phenomenal and material world into full view, it should be remembered that a complete absence of terminology – related to modern psychology, biology and physics – existed during the evolution of mankind’s sacred texts and earliest attempts to communicate the unity experience. Ancient religious and mystical language may become more accessible with modern terminology and understanding in future translations and interpretations. However, mystics generally focus on the experience itself, and rarely concern themselves with ontological discussions assuming that the initiate understands, or will grasp the semantics as they progress