I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Waking from Sleep’ by Steve Taylor. It’s a look at different types of spiritual experience and ways to achieve them. Apparently the Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson practised a form of mantra meditation by silently repeating his name to himself. 'This act frequently induced high-intensity awakening experiences in which he lost all sense of seperateness, and became part of the formless spiritual ‘ground’ of the universe. As he describes it:
"Individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this was not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words – where death was an almost laughable impossibility – the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction but the only true life."Taylor discusses how dancing, meditation, listening to music, contemplating poetry or painting, running, or simply sitting contemplating in silence, can all induce either high-intensity awakening experiences, or something calmer and more peaceful. I know from my own small experience of meditating how I can lose a sense of boundaries within my body, and I have experienced a great sense of love and peace. And some people experience transcendent sex -- when you have a mystical experience during the act of sex, without necessarily having any interest in or knowledge of, mysticism or religion.
Epilepsy or other brain conditions can sometimes induce powerful states, too, such as the scientist, Jill Bolte-Taylor, who apparently experienced Nirvikalpa samadhi.
"I could no longer define the boundaries of my body. I couldn’t define where I began and where I ended. […] My left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent, just [as though] someone had taken a remote control and pressed the mute button. At first I was shocked to find myself inside a silent mind. But I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me… I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was and it was beautiful there…
My spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria. Nirvana, I found nirvana…"
And a quote from the author and spiritual teacher Alan Watts, from his autobiography:
"Every morning when I first awaken, I have a feeling of total clarity as to the sense of life, a feeling of myself and the universe as a matter of the utmost simplicity. “I” and “That which is” are the same. Always have been and always will be.”I read an article recently about how it’s common for astronauts to have deeply spiritual feelings or experiences. Since then, a quick search on Google reveals just how common an experience this is and it even has a name, the overview effect. It is said to be a similar effect that is experienced by Buddhist monks whilst meditating.
Here's an interesting article about the first 24 astronauts on the moon -- upon their return most of the astronauts found their perspective on life to be considerably changed.
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who rode on Apollo 16 in 1971 describes how a feeing of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe.
"What I do remember is the awesome experience of recognizing the universe was not simply random happenstance…that there was something more operating than just chance."
Astronaut James Irwin founded the religious organization, High Flight Foundation and Charles Duke formed the Duke Ministry for Christ.Mitchell founded the Institute for Noetic Sciences, a leading institute for consciousness studies, upon his return. He also maintains that UFOs are real, and that the US government has been covering them up for 60 years.
Some people say that these astronauts just went a bit crazy upon their return. And it's a natural reaction, given the tiny constraints of the worldview we normally operate within, which has little time for spirituality and religions, and most view both with the highest degree of scepticism, especially given the recent trend of atheism with people like Richard Dawkins jumping into the fray. Some might think it's just the physiological effect of being in space, and that the chemicals in the body produce euphoria-like effects which have us fooled into thinking there is something more mysterious out there. But, in terms of evolution, humans are puny! We have a small understanding of the world around us and are currently grappling with science to attempt to make Einstein's theory of relativity fit into the world of quantum physics. We can't discount the vast swathes of mystical experiences on account of not having proof for it yet. We don't have proof to entirely eliminate the possibilities these experiences present, either. Personally, as a believer in God and a believer in a mysterious universe, I find these experiences continually fascinating. And I hope one day they point us in the right direction for our own spiritual evolution towards a more peaceful world.