I have had spiritual experiences -- twice! The first one occurred in 1990. I awoke one morning in July of that year, and in a matter of seconds, discovered that I could not go on living the self-destructive, alcoholic way I had been living all my adult life. What I experienced that morning was sudden, intense, brief and totally unexpected, but it set me on a path of profound personality change. My old way of living began to fall apart at once. In the years that followed, my life changed in every possible way, and I became a totally different person.
My second spiritual experience occurred ten years later in the year 2000. My father was dying of cancer that year. Suddenly and inexplicably, I became interested in near-death-experiences, and that interest in NDEs quickly evolved into an interest in all things spiritual. The Internet became my window to a spiritual universe. I found myself on a quest for spiritual knowledge and wisdom that continues to this day.
Spiritual experiences are sometimes referred to as mystical, transcendental, or paranormal experiences. Some people call them epiphanies, peak experiences, or “white light” events. Whatever you choose to call them, these experiences take you beyond the normal limits of the physical world.
People who have had these experiences say that, during the experience, they felt an overwhelming sense of oneness or unity with everything that exists, accompanied by feelings of ecstasy, love, insight, well-being, and loss of fear.
These experiences are often sudden and unexpected and may only last a short time. Normally, they are spontaneous, though spiritual practices like meditation and yoga may prepare us for their occurrence. They normally happen when we are alone. And -- perhaps most importantly -- they nearly always have a lasting impact on our lives.
In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, published in 1902, psychologist and philosopher William James identified four general characteristics of spiritual experiences:
1. They are ineffable. That is, they are difficult to describe to others.
2. They are noetic. They give us a sense of knowledge, insight, awareness, revelation, or illumination that we could not have gotten by other means.
3. They are transient. They are typically fleeting in duration, perhaps lasting only a few seconds or minutes, but they usually have a life-long impact on us.
4. They are passive. The timing of their occurrence is beyond our control. We cannot turn them on and off.
People who have had a spiritual experience may undergo a complete change in lifestyle or personality. They often become:
- less dogmatic, less authoritarian, and more relaxed.
- increasingly interested in spiritual matters.
- convinced that the mysteries of life can be revealed to us.
- less fearful of death and more interested in the afterlife.
- more connected to others.
- more joyous and serene in life.
- less depressed and anxious.
A spiritual experience almost always precipitates an increase in our level of consciousness and a life-long desire for further spiritual growth. It sets us on a conscious spiritual journey which we wouldn’t want to stop, even if we could.
So, my first spiritual experience occurred in 1990 and the second one in 2000. The first set me on a path of profound personality change. The second put me on a conscious spiritual journey. Together, they changed my life completely.
Since these experiences occurred in 1990 and 2000, I concluded -- perhaps facetiously -- that they might occur every decade for me. I further concluded that I should therefore experience one in 2010. But time is running out. Only a few days remain until the end of 2010.
How about you? Have you ever had a spiritual experience? If so, how did it impact on your life? Indeed, couldn’t it be said that all of life is a spiritual experience? I invite you to share your thoughts and describe your experiences below where it says “post a comment.”