Everybody Has a Mystical Experience
“If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity.” ~ Albert Einstein
In a previous article, I spoke about Einstein’s three stages of religion. In that article, I pointed out that Einstein felt that human religion passed through three stages, with the third stage being about mystical experience and “cosmic religious feeling.” Einstein’s view is interesting, specifically because it points away from organized religions and towards some sort of internal spiritual experience as the ultimate manifestation of human spirituality.
For some readers, this idea may be controversial. If you’re an atheist or agnostic, you might dismiss Einstein’s thoughts and assume that mystical experience is some sort of induced infantile delusion, like Freud did. If you’re a faithful Sunday church attendee, you might accept the idea of it, but think it is a rare event that confines itself to celibate monks and nuns cloistered away in secluded monasteries and temples.
If you think either of these things, you’d be wrong. Not only is mystical experience a real experience with many positive consequences for those who have them (something we’ll talk about later), it is also much more common than you might think (Sosteric 2018). In fact, mystical experience, which I simply call “connection experience,” is ubiquitous. “Ubiquitous” is just a fancy word meaning “everywhere.” It means mystical experiences are happening all around you, to all sorts of people, all of the time.
Or at least, that is what Abraham Maslow, late psychologist and esteemed founder of both the Humanistic and Transpersonal schools of psychology, found when he studied them. Maslow began his career thinking that mystical connection experiences (which he called peak experiences) are rare and that they happen only to a few “worthy” people. As his research progressed, however, he eventually came to conclude that these experiences happen to everybody and that when they didn’t happen, it was because people weren’t noticing them, or were ignoring, dismissing, or repressing them (Maslow 2012:340–41) because they were overly rational, mystically frigid, or simply afraid (Maslow 1962: emphasis added). It’s interesting, I think, that a psychologist who studied these experiences felt that everybody had them. If true, it raises a lot of fascinating questions not the least of which is, “Have I had a mystical experience?”
The answer to that question is, probably. The problem is, how do you tell? Even when you get past the psychological and emotional blocks to remembering your connection experiences, it’s still hard to tell. As I point out in my book Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Authentic Spirituality, people experience connection in so many different ways that it’s got even the scientists who study it confused.
For example, people can experience connection while unconscious, in dream experiences where they experience connection and communication in “shamanic” or lucid type experiences.
People can have low-intensity flow experiences, which are experiences where one loses oneself in an activity, like drawing a picture, playing music, or playing chess.
People can also have slightly more intense peak experiences, which are a secular form of connection experience where you feel happy and at one with nature.
Beyond that, people can experience intense unity experiences, which are experiences where one feels connected to all life and even the entire universe. I think this is what Einstein had in mind when he talked about cosmic religious experience.
Finally, people can experience blistering transcendent experiences of mind-blowing cosmic expansion and pure cosmic bliss. This sort of experience is what mystics talk about when they talk about mystical experience.
Obviously, unless you engage in a gargantuan repressive putsch, it is easy to know when you’ve had a powerful and intense connection experience, because its probably blown the top of your head off. However, subtler forms of connection, connection with negative outcomes (like confusion, paranoia, etc.), and connection experiences with “secular” content (like peak experiences, nature experiences, flow experiences, and so on) can be easy to miss and even easier to repress. Given all this, how do you tell if, and when, you have a connection experience, particularly when the experiences are not explosive and grand?
As long as you are open to the idea, it is not that hard to detect. No matter how subtle or intense, long or short, good or bad a connection experience is, people who talk about them would probably all agree that when they have them, they feel different in some way. A connection event feels like something not-quite-normal-and-routine. A connection event feels different than your “normal consciousness.” A connection experience puts you in a space “other than” your normal reality. When someone has a connection experience, no matter if it’s dramatic and intense or subtle and gentle, they always feel like they have entered a mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual space outside their typical, normal, day-to-day consciousness. They feel something different than normal. If I was to get all “sciency” about it, I’d say there was a different phenomenology to a connection event. This phenomenology can be hard to describe, especially when the experiences are intense, but, it is easy to recognize and acknowledge, if you’re open and you know what to look for.
So, if you want to know if you’ve had a connection experience, simply ask yourself the question, “have I ever had an experience where I feel outside my normal daily consciousness and normal reality routines?” If you find you’ve had one, congratulations. I could tell you that by having them you were special in some way, but unfortunately, I can’t. As Abraham Maslow said, everybody has them. Having one is simply no big deal. Having one just baptizes you as a functioning member of this Earth’s currently dysfunctional and disconnected rainbow family.
And what if you haven’t had a connection experience?
If everybody has these things, is not having them something to worry about? I don’t think so. In fact, I’d hazard to suggest that there’ s probably no such thing as a person who hasn’t experienced connection. Based on what Maslow said, I’d be interested in finding out what is blocking these common experiences from surfacing in consciousness. And even if you are one of the rare, possibly non-existent, people who hasn’t had one, it’s probably not that hard to have one, if you want. If these things are as common as Maslow suggested, it shouldn’t take much more than an open mind, an intent statement, a wish, a mantra, a spell, a prayer, and a safe and quiet space to solicit, elicit, and induce one.
- Abraham Maslow — The Farthest Reaches of Human Nature
- Mike Sosteric — Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Authentic Spirituality
- Mike Sosteric — Everybody has a Mystical Experience
Maslow, A. H. 1962. “Lessons from the Peak-Experiences.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2(1):9–18.
Maslow, A. H. 2012. “The ‘Core-Religious’ or ‘Transcendent’ Experience.” Pp. 339–50 in The Highest State of Consciousness, edited by John White. New York: Doubleday. https://amzn.to/2O8LaIo
Sosteric, Mike. 2018. “Everybody Has a Connection Experience: Prevalence, Confusions, Interference, and Redefinition.” Spirituality Studies 4(2).
T: connection experience