Have you ever had a sensational experience that seemed to transcend your typical state of mind? If yes, no, you’re not sure, this is all for you! It is an amazing, under-discussed topic that is ultimately about the transformation of perception. A wild one, but I know you’re ready.
A little background: These experiences might be very difficult to articulate, but there are several names for it and several varieties. Psychologists have called it peak experience (Abraham Maslow), spiritual awakening, spiritual emergency (Stanislav Grof), psychosynthesis (Roberto Assagioli), altered state of consciousness, vision-logic (Ken Wilbur), and exceptional human experience, to name a few. There is a long list of the varieties found on the network for exceptional human experiences. To give you an idea, some are extraordinary or prophetic dreams, synchronicity, encounters with the supernatural, out-of-body experience, and deep empathy and intuition (ehe.org, 2001). The experiences have further expanded the complexity of consciousness and human potential. With the growing research and discussion about it, it has become accepted as a purely human experience, accessible to all, and part of our evolution. There are all sorts of ways to increase the the likeliness of them occurring such as meditation and yogic practice, engagement with nature, fasting (safely!), psychedelics, holotropic breath-work, sex, creativity (coming soon!), or stimulation of a sense. Sometimes it needs no intention to be triggered and comes on suddenly, other times it comes on gradually or in relation to a crisis. Many cultures are polyphasic, or live from the perspective of multiple states of consciousness. They embrace and integrate all experiences as how they function and view life. Much of Western culture has been embedded in a monophasic perspective of living in primarily one, ordinary state of consciousness, but now there is a shift happening in the understanding of of reality (Walsh and Vaughan, 2018).
What happens when it happens: The experience is highly subjective which is why it is difficult to identify any one way to try to explain it and perhaps why there are so many theoretical perspectives on it. I can speak from my personal experiences in saying it sometimes presents as all of my surroundings glowing. I know it best is through fleeting moments of euphoria and overwhelming peace. In that moment there is no time, no separation from anything, no body. It is immensely liberating! I’ve most often experienced it “randomly” in group meditation, on solitude walks in nature, with the use of psychedelic substances (post coming soon!), and while writing poems (also coming soon!). I’ve had anxiety attacks that have closely presented as the experience. They present differently for everyone, and sometimes it’s complicated to make sense of it. That is sort of the beauty of it—how it seems to defy logic and breakthrough the confines of comprehension. Some may feel fear intertwined with bliss because the sensation is different from usual. Know there is no harm, but an invitation to either explore or accept as is. Opening to other states of consciousness is to say, “sure, why not!” even if a little discomfort around it is like choosing between a red pill and a blue pill.
Often gradual awakening experiences present in the form of depression or crisis of faith. In the circumstances when you begin asking “what’s the point?” “what purpose do I have?” or searching for meaning in your life, the process has begun. Not going to lie, it’s unpleasant. This is why Stan Grof calls it a spiritual emergency. It’s not as alarming as the term sounds, “emergency” emphasizes “emerging.” This depressive state, or existential crisis is kind of the chrysalis to your metamorphosis. Then out comes the beautiful butterfly! A crucial piece to this process is integration. You must integrate! How does the whole experience apply to your life? You felt this tremendous, overwhelming feeling that gave you new meaning and allowed you to see all the beauty that is life…now what? Now you can practice what is called “the beginner’s mind” which is that child-like curiosity and awe. We can’t feel bliss all the time, otherwise we wouldn’t know what it is with nothing to compare it to. However, you can slow down and increase your attention to your sensations. See the way the sun is hitting that tree, zone in on the drums of your favorite song, feel the temperature of the air as it brushes your nasal passageway. Many have reported that the feeling of connectedness to all things in awakening experiences has strengthened the bonds in their relationships with the deeper, newfound gratitude and empathy. Others have found the experience has helped them realize their true nature, a being beyond their body. Explore what it can do for you, the true magic of perception change.
Though this is a very condensed overview, the point is to recognize the existence of awakening experiences in order to really benefit from the expansion of your capacity for greater possibility, deeper knowledge, and stronger purpose. It is to discover that we humans are capable of more than the ordinary state in which we dwell. It’s a hefty concept, so sit with it, bookmark this page, talk about it, revisit it.