Since my mid teens, I have been susceptible to spiritual or extra sensory experiences. I want to list these and see if I can make any sense out of them. The reason for doing this is that recently a fairly prominent historian, whom I’ve known for years, questioned the validity of spiritual experiences. I took his criticism as a challenge to probe more deeply into my own to reach a better understanding. Here goes.
As far as I can determine I’ve had seven spiritual or extra sensory experiences in my life. They are:
1. I was fourteen years old and sitting in a religion class. Each member of the class took turns reading passages of scripture. All of the sudden as I sat there my emotions were heightened. I had never experienced such a feeling. I asked my teacher if this is what it means to have a confirming experience of the truth of what we had been reading. He affirmed that it might be.
2. I was preparing to go on a mission for the Mormon Church. I was nineteen years old and had been dating a person who was not a member of my religion. She told me if I went on a mission, she would start dating other guys. She kept her promise, and I went into a depression. One afternoon I started praying and told God that I wouldn’t be able to go on the mission. I was too depressed. If he wanted me to go he would have to help me out. After the prayer, I fell asleep on my bed and didn’t wake up until the next morning. As I did, I felt absolutely no depression. I was stunned at how good I felt.
3. I was in my senior year of high school. I was a first string water polo player. I was pretty good, but it was hard to score. In the middle of the season, we played Wilson High School. Some of my closest friends attended Wilson. My girlfriend also went to school there. During the game, I felt like everyone started moving in slow motion. I would pick up the ball and throw it very slowly and the goalie would move even slower. I scored. Our star player picked the ball up and threw it hard as he could and it just fell in front of him. I yelled out, Give it to me. He did and again it was like no one was moving. We ended up winning the game 9 to 8 and I had four of the goals. Since that time I have never had that kind of experience.
4. I was in my very early thirties. My wife and I had determined to sell our home and buy a new one. One night I had a dream that felt real. In it I was in a congregation and one of the leaders came down and took me by the hand and led me up to his seat and invited me to sit there. I woke up and told my wife that I had a dream that felt real, like it had really happened. We decided to delay our move. About one year later, I took that leader’s place.
5. I was thirty seven years old. I was disappointed with the progress I was making in my career. One Saturday morning I was mowing my lawn and a clear voice came to me, outside my head, and told me what was going to happen to me over the next several years. Within three to four years all of that happened. By that time I had left my profession and started a whole new career. Surprisingly, it was familiar territory. The voice had described it.
6. After that I started listening to a voice inside my head. No matter what challenge I was having, the voice would tell me everything would be fine. I recorded word for word what the inside my head voice had told me.
7. This past winter I was in Rome working on a book with a co-author. He informed me that he would no longer be able to continue. I was disappointed. We had worked on this book for close to two years. The next day I walked to the ruins of the Roman Forum. As I stood over a rail to observe some of the ancient arches, the image of a brick mason who lived two thousand years ago appeared in my mind. He was sitting on a stone slap down by the arches. In my mind, we started talking to one another. We understood each other perfectly. I was fascinated with the idea that humans don’t change from millennium to millennium. It made the trip to Rome worthwhile.
Do you see any patterns emerging in these experiences? I do.
The Mind Can Do Novel Things
In three of the seven experiences, I was experiencing stress brought on by a problem I was having. For example in the instance of the professional malaise I was going through, a voice came to me, outside of my head, and informed me of my future.
Evidently when I’m under enough pressure, my mind is capable of doing novel things to pull me through. This may also be what happened when I prayed to alleviate my depression before my mission, and when I was bothered by the experience in Rome.
However, while all that is true, there are plenty more times where I have been under pressure and no spiritual experience has occurred. In other words, these extra sensory spiritual occurrences tend to be random and infrequent. But when they have occurred they were meaningful.
The experience when I was “in a zone” while playing water polo may not be considered a spiritual experience, but most definitely would be an extra sensory experience. When the water polo goal cage seemed much larger than it actually was, when players were swimming in slow motion, and it seemed like I had all day to throw the ball, I would conclude that I was not experiencing the normal.
Athletes often speak of having these kinds of experiences.
I believe part of the answer to this lies in the concept of visualization. Maybe what happened was that I visualized the game before I played the game. I probably did this because that particular game was important to me. I do that all the time as a speaker to corporate groups. The only times I’m not satisfied with my performance is when I haven’t been able to visualize the experience before I’ve actually had to do it.
A Good Feeling
I believe that the heightened feelings I had when reading scripture was a natural experience. Humans are emotional beings. We feel things deeply. That I felt something special about what I was reading is evidence that I am in contact with my feelings. I believe you can feel, and at least sense, the truth of situations which confront you. It’s like when you fall in love for the first time. You feel it much more than you think it.
We should all hope to have strong positive feelings at certain moments in life.
I’m like everyone else. I have dreams. Usually they don’t make sense.
But, every once in a while a dream comes along that has great clarity, even about the future, or maybe especially about the future.
Perhaps one of those times happened when I had to make a decision about whether to stay in our home or move up to a better home in another city. I thought so much about it that it invaded my dream state. The dream merely drew out what I really wanted to do, but couldn’t figure out in my awake hours. I wanted to stay put, participate in the leadership of our community, etc. The dream convinced me to do what I really wanted to do. Without the dream, I don’t think I would have stayed put. Things come into play when they are needed, even dreams.
Everything Will Be OK
When I changed professions, in the beginning, I was in over my head. I had been a religion teacher, now I was a businessman, a management consultant no less. I was also on the radio spouting my “wisdom.”
After a while I started feeling anxious. That’s when I started listening to the voice inside my head. No matter how complicated the situation would get, the voice would say, “Don’t worry, everything will be ok.”
The more things turned out ok for me, the more I depended on the voice. I did this for several years. Then, one day the voice said, “when are you going to stop depending on me so much?”
How do I explain all THAT?
I believe I was engaging in a powerful dose of self talk. It was like there were two of me. One would take risks, go out on the limb, and finally get scared and panic. The other me would come in and calm things down. Self talk is a powerful human trait. Its downside is if your self talk is negative. Fortunately, mine was positive.
However, I became so dependent on that voice I stopped reasoning things out. Correction was needed. It was time to consciously work things out by thinking things through.
Well, what’s it all about?
In my sixty years plus on the earth, I have had seven spiritual or extra sensory experiences. They were real. They were explainable. They were important. However, they didn’t take up the vast majority of my life. Plain old rational thinking does that. I’ve come to have a passion for clear thinking. The rational mind is our greatest gift. It keeps on giving day after day. It’s the work horse of our lives.
Nevertheless, in the process of growing up, I have witnessed firsthand how versatile the brain can be in delivering up novel ways to experience the world.
So how would I answer the historian who challenged the validity of spiritual experiences?
To him I would say, that’s not been the case with me. Though infrequent, these extraordinary extra ordinary spiritual moments have helped me through some rough patches in my life. From these, I am convinced there are different ways to experience truth.
But on one point I would agree with the historian. Rational thinking in solving the vast, vast majority of our every day challenges is the core of what makes a human being unique.