The Natural and Pervasive Power of Spiritual Experience
by Dr. Jonathan Ellerby

Spiritual experience is one of those terms that has become stereotyped and misconceived.

Many religious communities have come to fear direct spiritual experience, and modern secular communities have come to ridicule them. Associated with psychedelics, paranormal phenomena, and altered states of consciousness, many people have become unsure of the safety and validity of such experiences. Yet, those who have become familiar with them, know them to be among the most important and defining experiences of their lives.

When we do not have a spiritual context or explanation, we often call such experiences “peak experiences” or “highs.” Just as we can be convinced that spirituality lives in a building or under the authority of a few people, we can also be convinced that the extraordinary moments of our lives are indications of nothing more than passing emotions. These moments should not be overlooked. The spiritual path calls us to re-examine the nature of perception and our reality.

In the western world there is great diversity of opinion about the nature and cause of spiritual experience. In eastern cultures the nature of spiritual experience is something that has long been described and documented in detail. Buddhist and Hindu traditions, for example, have elaborate inventories, frameworks and schools of thought devoted to the study and understanding of spiritual experience. Most date back thousands of years and show great complexity and detail. Sacred practices are designed to evoke these experiences so that we may have direct awareness and knowledge of The Sacred.

When referring to “The Sacred,” most people intuitively understand that we are referring to something of ultimate importance and influence on life. As we discuss spiritual experience, the term “Sacred” certainly carries that same meaning, but with specific reference to those forces, feelings and aspects of our universe that are understood to be from or relating to a reality that transcends our ordinary physical and psychological world. Many traditions use the term, “The Sacred” to refer to the wide and likely unlimited world of Spirit, consciousness and subtle energy that exist in a hidden yet accessible dimension of Life. Each tradition has their own understanding of what is included within “The Sacred,” such as God, angels, spirits, Ascended Masters and more. For our purposes, we include any and all expressions of this Living Energy Universe.

Many modern societies have lost a sense of the Sacred and learned to abuse altered states and the practices once revered. Recreational drugs like alcohol, coffee, and marijuana, are all commonly used to medicate unsatisfying lives or simply to enrich a moment. As a result they become mundane subjects and continue to provide ways to escape life rather than embrace it.

Without respect and intention, even the sources of spiritual experience can be corrupted. Societies and governments have found many reasons to seek to condemn or control communities and individuals in search of spiritual experience. Whether the Ghost Dance of Indigenous, American people during the settlement of the American west, or the LSD researchers in the 1960s, few governments have tolerated or supported liberal access to experiences that show us that true power and authority exists beyond the human realm and can never be controlled or regulated.

Just as the Chinese government has opposed the Falun Gong movement, which cultivates inner peace, moral action, and a regular spiritual practice, governments all over the world have tended to oppose radical creativity and free thinking. Most great spiritual leaders, from Jesus Christ to Martin Luther King, were perceived by some as radicals.

The very essence of spiritual experience leads to a perception of the world that is free from fear, the belief in hierarchy, and materialism. Sadly, most thriving societies, businesses, and governments are built on these qualities and rely on them as mechanisms to maintain power and control. Despite fear or resistance, spiritual experience persists throughout time because it is essential to who we are as human beings.

The ability of the “average” person to have unexpected and extraordinary experiences of The Sacred is not only possible, but frequent. Concert goers can experience a euphoric sense of unity with the music, performers, and other fans. Lovers can experience blissful moments of surrender, unity, and timelessness. Chefs, artists, athletes, and even business professionals can experience flow states of high awareness, connection, and creative insight. Even a sunset walk with your best friend or pet can deliver us into moments of sublime peace, openness to beauty, and a confidence in the hidden design of life. Though fleeting, we all have experiences that are not only filled with inexplicable feeling, but also meaning. The more people I work with the more I am amazed at the profound and diverse ways people are experiencing the Spiritual World without even knowing it. What seems to make a significant difference in their lives is whether they recognize and integrate their experiences or not. This is often an issue of awareness, assumptions, and choice.

Frequently, this is also an issue that relates to religion and a lacking sense of permission to be independently spiritual. Many people feel that if they have a spiritual experience outside of a religious setting it must be wrong, or invalid. As with most things in life, people want a sense of permission. If we let the mind alone dictate what is true, then anything that defies logic or measure is received with less weight and meaning.

Powerful dreams, intuitive knowledge, the perception of subtle energies, a sense of being connected to something greater, astounding synchronicity, and the feeling of a guiding divine presence are all examples of extraordinarily ordinary experiences. Nevertheless, I have met many people in the USA and Canada who come to me with questions about spiritual experiences filled with guilt, shame, confusion, and fear. If they don’t know what it is they are experiencing they often doubt or resist it. If their culture has not approved it, they assume it must be bad. Sadly, many children are chastised or educated not to pay attention to or respect their spiritual experiences.

In Asia, South America, Africa, and Native America, I have found that spiritual experiences, such as encounters with spiritual beings, transformative dreams, the power of faith, and the deep impact of intuition, are not only common, but expected. Rather than doubting, questioning, or denying such experiences, many cultures integrate them as a routine aspect of life.

Though spiritual experiences are often profound and inconceivable, simple things like inspiration, a deep sense of hope, and the feeling of meaning or purpose can all be considered spiritual experiences. They help form the very foundations of our lives and choices. Regardless of belief or perspective, spiritual experience is essential to our health and a full experience of life. The secret lies in allowing the spiritual experiences, recognizing them, reflecting on them, and drawing their wisdom and peace into our daily lives. Just because it doesn’t fit our religious upbringing, or what we’ve been told to expect does not mean it is not spiritual or meaningful. None of us were born knowing how to run, talk, or dance, and yet with very little encouragement and an environment of support, all such expressions come easily. Sometimes we just need a little support, or someone to help us see how spiritually connected we really are.

Excerpted with permission from The Seven Gateways of Spiritual Experience: Awakening to a Deeper Knowledge of Love, Life Balance, and God. Findhorn Press ©2024.

The Seven Gateways of Spiritual Experience: Awakening to a Deeper Knowledge of Love, Life Balance, and God.Dr. Jonathan Ellerby offers a rare background including advanced academic degrees and research, combined with decades of practical leadership and applied experience in settings as diverse as hospitals, rural communities, Fortune 500 boardrooms, international settings, and premier retreat and resort facilities. Author of five books, there are few topics in the world of consciousness, culture, religion, and spirituality that Jonathan cannot address with clarity and an inspiring perspective.





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