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What is a Spiritual Experience?

by Becoming a Person

A mystical or spiritual experience refers to an experience of spacelessness, timelessnesss, and/or transcendence of the normal, everyday human experience. It might include unexplainable occurrences, visuals or sounds. It will likely involve intense feelings, particularly cathartic feelings. A spiritual experience might occur when the person is incredibly tired, emotionally exhausted, or under the influence of psychoactive substances. Or it might occur seemingly without provocation in otherwise normal circumstances.  

Is a Spiritual Experience a Good Thing?

People who have had spiritual experiences report feelings of well-being and calmness that last long after the experience ends. There is also research that shows a slight correlation between mindfulness and spiritual experiences. Both spiritual experiences and mindfulness are positively correlated with well-being and mental health.

Aspects of spirituality help people deal with negative experiences and can act a psychological buffer.

Keeping this research in mind, a spiritual experience should be regarded as a good thing. It often gives people the perspective needed to make their emotional or physical pain not so acute.

Many people will go their entire lives without experiencing a mystical or spiritual experience. So you might also count yourself lucky if you think this is something that has happened to you.

If you like this article, check out our guide to understanding mindfulness.

Who Can Have a Spiritual Experience?

Anyone can have a spiritual experience whether they are religious or not.

Some believe that you can be more receptive to a spiritual experience, and this is true at least in one sense. A common form of spiritual experience is transcending the confines of perspective, thoughts, and emotions that we feel daily. In this sense, you can train to be more receptive to this experience through practicing meditation and practicing awareness of your own thoughts and feelings.

This is a common experience and has been written about extensively under different names by different authors. A famous example is the German philosopher Martin Buber. In his Seminole work, I and Thou, he describes a unique and infinite connection to the present moment through prose and normal text.

Additionally, musicians, poets, and other artists frequently describe spiritual experiences. The Doors of Perception was a book describing the limitations of human perception and the beginning of spiritual experience through psychoactive substance use. The Doors are a famous rock band led by Jim Morrison who named themselves after this book.

Kanye West is an example of a contemporary artist who also frequently mentions spiritual experiences and God in his music. While he is controversial in other ways, he remains a particular vocal artist who characterizes spiritual experiences.

How Do I Know I Had A Spiritual Experience?

Spiritual experiences don’t have a litmus test. If you are logically minded and typically unopen to these types of experiences you will be likely to be cautious to label an experience as spiritual. This is acceptable and normal.

However, if the experience truly contains inexplicable aspects, you will likely have a nagging feeling of mystery. If this is the case, then there might be something that cannot be explained. This would fall into the realm of spiritual experience.

Try not to let your ego stop you from experiencing something beyond the normal human experience. Having an experience where you feel utterly and infinitely connected to the object immediately around you doesn’t invalidate your capacity for logical thought. Actually, it is only logical to acknowledge the bounds and limits of human perception. Trying to explain absolutely everything is impossible as shown by the statistical nature of how the world interacts on a fundamental level.

Often our deepest thinkers had spiritual natures and openly acknowledged our limits.

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” – Max Plank

What Are Some Examples of a Spiritual Experience?

After too many alcoholic drinks with friends, you pause to look at the moon. You cease to be aware of your own body and life affairs. You forget your troubles, your age, and where you are as you look engrossed at the beautiful night sky.

At a concert you feel lost in the crowd and the rhythmic thumbing of the music seems to put you in a trance. The present moment seems like an eternity or at the least very slowed down. You lose your sense of time while moving to the music.

After an intensely stressful and difficult period in your life, you suddenly realize how small this is in the scheme of your life. You realize how small you are and your clients are. You realize how temporal all of this is and how much you derive self-worth from your work. You laugh at the absurdity of it all and are filled with strong emotions. Nothing changed ostensibly, but you feel a great cathartic release after this fateful bus ride.

You feel strange while laying down on the sofa late one night. Your head is filled with images of yourself in the third person and you feel as if you are watching yourself. Such as an out of body experience.

After a long battle with addiction, you see something simple such as a woman walking across the street with her child. This otherwise unremarkable event suddenly releases a flood of emotion. You then have the resolve to live a healthier life.

During a normal trip to the store with your son, you suddenly are filled with images of him completely grown. You feel as if you remember everything he will do and you already know the older version of him.

What Happens to Our Brain During a Spiritual Experience?

Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist who sought to understand what happens to the brain during mystical or spiritual experiences. When Newberg scanned the brains of religious people such as monks undergoing mystical experiences, they reported feelings of timelessness, spacelessness, and self-transcendence.

Newberg saw reduced activity in their parietal lobes, the orientation area of the brain responsible for perceiving three-dimensional objects in space during these experiences. There is further research that shows people who have had damage to their right parietal lobes experience selflessness more often than those who have not.

You can find Dr. Newberg’s book here.

So clearly there is a measurable physical effect in the brain that corresponds with spiritual or mystical experiences. Whether the correlation implies causation is another question that will not be answered anytime soon.

If you like this article, check out our guide on how to start practicing gratitude.

Conclusion

A spiritual experience refers to an experience of selflessness, timelessness, or transcendence that cannot be explained. These types of experiences can happen to anyone whether they are religious or not.

There is no definite way to know if you had a mystical or spiritual experience. Only you can decide.

However, don’t feel so quick to brush the experience off as nothing. Even our deepest scientific thinkers believed in the limits of the human mind and had a sense of spirituality.

There are many examples of spiritual experiences and there is no cookie cutter example. Also there are definite brain changes that can be measured as you are having a mystical or spiritual experience.

This is all so interesting!

I recommend welcoming these experiences and practicing meditation to enhance your receptiveness to them. Selflessness, timelessness, and a little transcendence is a boon.

So many crimes and evil acts have been committed from a distorted perception and image of the self. So many people are imprisoned by their own anxious and threatening thoughts.

Having a mystical or spiritual experience can remind you of some much needed perspective. There is much more than who you are and how you fit in this world. There is much more than your own thoughts and emotions.

And we may be able to, if only briefly, experience this bigger world.

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