Maybe you enjoyed it in the moment and then brushed it off later, trying to rationalize it…
I want to create a space here to acknowledge and honor experiences that are difficult to explain. I know I’ve definitely had experiences that I can’t completely explain that have caused profound shifts in my life. And I’ve also had some that just feel mystical even if they don’t seem to have any meaning at all.
I recently decided that it is important to honor these experiences and emotional shifts and acknowledge them even if we can’t explain them. In fact, it may be better if we don’t even bother trying to explain them, but simply honor the direct experience.
I want to bring awareness to the importance of honoring the full range of unexplainable mystical experiences to complete acceptance of all emotions as they flow, and everything in between.
So what exactly is a mystical experience?
William James a psychologist and philosopher defined four characteristics of mystical experiences:
1) Ineffability: an experience too great or extreme to be described in words, too sacred to be spoken
2) Noetic Quality: States of knowledge, insight, and awareness beyond the grasp of intellect, a feeling of union, and that space and time are transcended
3) Transiency: fleeting in linear time yet feeling eternal
4) Passivity: a feeling of being swept up by a superior power, trance, out of body experience, experiencing visions, etc.
All of the experiences I’ve had meet these criteria to some degree–mostly the first two. They’re difficult to describe and I can definitely relate to feeling a sense of union and interconnectedness that I’m not usually aware of.
But mine have left me feeling altered for much longer than the 30 minutes to two hours described above. And while I might feel a sense of God/the Universe and gain insight, I can’t say that I’ve felt swept up or had an out of body experience.
So I propose here that we dismiss criteria and honor any emotional experience that is enjoyable and difficult to explain.
Examples of Mystical Experiences
I recently read an excerpt from a book called The Imprisoned Splendour which gives several written personal accounts of mystical experiences. All of them seemed to meet the criteria outlined by William James. Common themes among them were being out in nature and feeling an overwhelming sense of connectedness and insight, as if the normal experience of reality had fallen away to reveal a more interesting and truthful reality.
One woman sitting in the countryside had just cracked an ice pond, so some lambs could drink water and forgot all her worldly fears and worries, feeling a deep sense of interconnectedness with nature. Another account was of a person who witnessed a strange smoke while at a church service and then began to visually perceive the outdoors beyond the walls of the church with 360 degree vision, along with a feeling of other spiritual beings, but only for a brief amount of time before everything returned to normal.
Okay, so you might be thinking: what was in the smoke??? But even the smoke seemed to be part of a vision or visual experience, and regardless what the cause was–does it matter? Does seeking a rational explanation for such an experience really discount its impact?
The most profound types of mystical experiences I’ve ever heard of are the ones where people have near-death experiences that are so amazing and intense that they live their lives completely differently afterwards.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like that, but I have definitely had blissful experiences and perhaps mystical experiences I can’t explain. I remember one time in yoga class, each person was asked to team up with two other people for back bends. One person would go into a back bend and be pulled in opposite directions from someone on either side to create an intense spine stretch. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this, and I have no idea what happened.
Being pulled from both sides while in a back bend felt amazing and when I came out of it, I felt significantly altered. I can’t even describe it. I felt extremely euphorically happy and calm and blissful and this lasted for several days. I felt immense joy in every moment, just by looking at familiar objects. I have no idea how to explain it. I’ve read that kundalini energy can be cultivated in yoga practice, which is supposed to travel up the spine and create such experiences, and maybe it was that–but who knows???
Around the time that I had my great synchronicity experience last year, I felt a deep sense of interconnectedness. I felt bliss and a sense of divinity all around me working for my highest good and this last for several weeks.
I’m starting to notice a pattern within myself. Complete surrendering to the moment and feeling fully present seems to be the antecedent for bringing about such experiences for me. They reach a peak where I feel bliss and interconnectedness, but then I feel afraid that I will lose the feeling and it will leave, and I won’t be able to explain it or understand it or feel it again. I find myself starting to disconnect from the feeling, maybe out of fear. And then I just start to feel normal again.
Most of the experiences I read about in the excerpt from The Imprisoned Splendour were similar in that the people who had these experiences always felt sadness that they would come to an end. Sometimes they created profound shifts that were life-changing, but the feeling always ultimately left.
Are These Experiences Real?
So if you have a mystical or strange feeling that comes out of nowhere, are these experiences any less real because they don’t feel like reality?
We’re taught that reality is harsh and there is cold hard truth. People offer up pessimistic perspectives over optimistic ones and complain that anyone who doesn’t like them doesn’t want to hear “the truth”.
But what if the truth is that most of what we feel on a daily basis is actually an illusion–the sense of mundanity, disconnection, and fear of the the worst happening?
What if the reality is bliss, connectedness, and that everything always works out for the best, and that there is so much more to reality than could ever be fully perceived in our current state? And what if we can only glimpse this in tiny intervals when the curtain falls away just for a moment, revealing a beautiful reality that stands in contrast to our typical day to day experience?
I recently read an amazing idea proposed by Marianne Williamson that blew my mind on this perspective. You know that feeling when you have a crush on someone or first start dating someone you really like? In a way, it feels almost like a mystical experience–you feel bliss, happiness, connected, like the world is an amazing place. It is a time when you are focused on the positives and not the flaws of the other person. The scientific word for this state of mind is limerance, a neurological state lasting about three months. This is also known as the “honeymoon period” if the relationship progresses.
We tend to view this experience as illusion and what comes after is a slow descent into reality, where we start to notice flaws in the other person and begin to tackle real issues that come up.
But what if the reverse is actually true? What if the joy and full acceptance and feeling of unconditional love you feel in the beginning is actually a deeper connection to true reality? What if you are tapping into a more fundamental joy and unconditional acceptance of another person that is eventually lost over time in the same way mystical experiences fade?
Just a thought!
Integrating Mystical Experiences
In the past, I haven’t responded to such experiences in the best way. I would become frightened and disconnect from my emotions. I would over-analyze the experience and try to figure out exactly what caused it, maybe even coming to the conclusion that finding a specific reason somehow invalidates the experience. Such as I felt that way only because A, B, and C happened, so it makes sense. As if finding the source and explaining it takes away the ineffable quality. Or I would omit the experience from my story and write off the experiences as a fluke.
I believe a better way to handle such experiences is to accept them fully without trying to question them. It is natural to search for a source and it may be possible to find one, but looking too hard creates the opposite of a mystical experience. When we over-analyze and try to understand, we are trying to gain control, and this moves us away from the direct experience–the very gift that it is.
This happens on a small scale when we don’t fully feel our day to day emotions, over-analyze them, try to name them, and wonder where they came from rather than simply observing and feeling the flow without questioning.
Emotions are associated with right-hemisphere processing in the brain along with intuition. It is the left hemisphere that tries to find reasons for what the right hemisphere experiences. Our search to find reasons may be completely pointless.
Studies have shown that people with brain injuries or damage who are exposed to images outside their consciousness will remember them without being conscious of them and act on them without knowing why. For instance, a person with short term memory difficulties might be shown a picture of a Coke and then forget about it. They may have a sudden desire to get up and get a Coke and when asked why, they might say they are thirsty or remembering a Coke commercial they saw–completely unaware that the real reason is that they just saw a picture of a Coke and forgot about it!
So how do we know that the reasons we come up with to explain our emotions or experiences have anything to do with what’s really going on inside of us? The real reasons may have more to do with what we are unconscious of.
When you start to pay attention to how your body reacts to emotions you feel, you may find that one very small thought you had a few minutes ago created a big shift that you are still reacting to even though your stream of consciousness has moved on to something else.
That’s why it’s so important to stay conscious of feelings. Identifying the source of a feeling can be helpful, but not always necessary. It is enough to accept any emotion that comes up as valid regardless of being able to find a reason and without creating a meta-feeling. A meta-feeling is a feeling about a feeling which moves you further away from direct experience. It might be a feeling of shame about an emotion, avoidance of an emotion, or any reaction that separates feeling from the raw experience.
I invite you to accept any strange and mystical experiences or emotions you have had now as part of you, your life, and your story, regardless of where they came from and what they mean. To deny them is to disassociate and not be wholly who you are. You are already everything you have ever been and experienced and everything you will ever be. If you’ve never had an experience like this, I invite you to feel each passing emotion fully without trying to explain it or find its definitive source. Just feel it and acknowledge it.
If you have a mystical experience to share or a strange emotion/altered state that came out of nowhere, leave a comment below and own it!
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