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how to have a mystical experience

pros and cons of mystical states, what to watch out for, & how to navigate the space in-between

Do you think that mystical experiences make you crazy?

Mystical experiences are more common than you might think…

Second, having a mystical experience can be extremely beneficial, but is sometimes pathologized by others.

I’m here to give you the pros and cons of mystical states, what to watch out for, and how to navigate the space in-between. 

Mystical experiences are based in altered states of consciousness. 

Altered states of consciousness have likely been part of human experience for at least 100,000 years. Archaeological evidence for altered states of consciousness has been found in human societies across the planet and throughout human history. The prevalence of these practices suggests that altered states of consciousness play a fundamental role in the maintenance of human social fabric and human social-spiritual connection

However, somehow, in contemporary North American culture, altered states of consciousness are typically thought of either as unusual events, only pertaining to specialists —hypnotic states induced by therapists, meditation led by teachers— or they are pathologized. 

Photo left & the cover sources from Kaja Reichardt @ Unsplash.

Sometimes, mystical states are labeled ‘psychotic.’ 

I am here to tell you a different story — a mystical experience doesn’t make you crazy.

I personally feel the pain and loss of mystical experiences potentially being called ‘psychotic.’

What are mystical states of consciousness?

Physiologically speaking, altered states of consciousness can be defined by what happens in the human brain.

Typically on MRI scans there is decreased activity in the posterior superior lobe and the inferior parietal lobule. This decreased activity has an impact on your reference to your 3D-spacial awareness.

The use of psychedelic therapy and meditation has show to deactivate the medial default mode network (DMN) and decrease cerebral blow flow. When you tone down the use of the DMN the idea of “self” becomes more fluid; people often describe this as feeling the boundaries of self dissolving. 

Nevertheless, I do not want to reduce consciousness or mystical experiences to simply what happens in the brain. 

We don’t know what consciousness is, after all.

And, how we define consciousness and mystical experiences depends on personal belief structures (even in academia).

There is so much more to altered states of consciousness than what physically happens.

A mystical experience is defined as an altered state of consciousness characterized by feelings of unity, transcendence, bliss, joy, peace, love, awe, gratitude, humility, compassion, forgiveness, and/or empowerment

Mystical experiences are usually accompanied by visions, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical sensations.

Awareness of time is fundamentally altered. Awareness of space and self is also altered. 

Additionally, mystical experiences in altered states of consciousness may give us an experience of the numinous.

Numinous (adj.) – filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence; filled with a sense of the presence of divinity

Much of what has been experienced in mystical states are the foundations of the world’s religions. They are the stuff that mystical truths are made of. Think about Moses and the burning bush, or receiving the 10 commandments from the hand of god. 

However, they are not necessarily associated with religious beliefs or spiritual practices, as they may come about spontaneously

What are the benefits of mystical experiences?

Having a mystical experience has many benefits. Altered states provide a breadth of fresh air from mundane reality. They can provide meaning, purpose, and hope to a persons life. 

When so many parts of being human brings suffering — from the connection to our food, to the lack of connection to wild nature, to how we work and connect with others, and so much more— mystical experiences help link to that which is beyond the personal. 

Once we move beyond the personal, into the transpersonal, we may rest in an expanded perspective. 

We may receive insights from a space that is beyond the limitations of the small self (ego).

Some benefits of mystical experiences are listed below:

• A mystical experience can change your life forever.

• Having a mystical experience can give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

• Having a mystical experience can improve your relationships.

• A mystical experience offers an experience of transcendence. Mystics feel that they have transcended the physical world, and they no longer need to worry about things like pain, sickness, death, etc. They feel free from the limitations of time and space.

Left Photo by Lê Tân on Unsplash

  • A mystical experience can give you a felt sense of unity. Mystics feel that everything is connected. There is no separation between self and others, and nothing exists alone. Everything is interconnected.
  • Mystical experiences can also offer a felt sense of positive emotions like bliss, peace, ecstasy, illumination, timelessness, joy, and universal love.
  • Mystical experiences can also offer wisdom – you may gain knowledge that was previously unknown to you such as insights on life and death.
  • They may offer a transformation of physical and emotional healing.
  • Mystical experiences in drug-induced therapy research are paired with the likelihood of lowering depressive tendencies, lowering anxiety measures, increases in the openness dimension of personality (which includes correlated traits such as aesthetic appreciation, imagination, awareness of feelings, and intellectual engagement), lowering dependance on alcohol and tobacco cigarettes, positive attitudes about life and self, positive behaviour, positive social effects, increased spirituality, pro-environmental behaviour and attitude, and increased creativity.
  • Mystical experiences may allow us to dream awake, an experiential process that’s pertinent to the here and now designed especially for us.

How to have a mystical experience

I believe that there is something special about human beings, and that we all possess this potential to have mystical experiences.

Having a mystical experience is not difficult. Typically people have gone about having mystical experiences through these means:

When spiritual practice is engaged for long-enough and frequently enough, people tend to have a mystical experience. 

A lot of the following techniques help you focus your attention inwardly. By focusing your attention inwardly, you may enter an introvertive mystical experience.

Techniques on How to Have a Mystical Experience 

  • Meditation (specifically traditional Buddhist- or Yogic-type meditations)
  • Dance and other extraneous physical effort (e.g., Kundalini Dance, 5 Rhythms)
  • Breathwork (e.g., Holotropic Breathwork, yogic pranayama)
  • Listening to soundscapes (e.g., Celtic drumming, innerdance, Tibetan bowls)
  • Fasting (e.g., 7-day water fast or esoteric yogic fasting with the moon cycle)
  • Drug-induced (e.g., LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine)
  • Chanting (e.g., Gregorian chants, Tibetan throat singing, mantra recitation in yoga)
  • Sensory deprivation (e.g., float tanks or dark rooms)

Left Photo source unknown. I’m sorry.

Mystical experiences can also come about spontaneously through grief, sexual experiences, extended periods in wild nature, or from terminal illness.

Mystical experiences & altered states of consciousness are more accessible than you might think. They are not mysterious and are available to all. They support health and healing when used with careful intention.

The tenants of set-and-setting are fundamental to a mystical experience. The more safety that is created, the more an individual can let go into the mystical realms. 

Two other important aspects are that of trust and surrender. Trust in self, other, the larger cosmos to be able to surrender to the process. Sometimes the mystical experience can take one to the depths of suffering, so surrender is required to move through the experience to a point of resolution. The resolution point is what brings the potential insight and transformation. 

Potential pitfalls of mystical experiences

There are pitfalls to mystical experiences as well, here are some things to be aware of.

Some potential pitfalls of mystical experiences are listed below:

  • The main difficulty with these altered states of consciousness is that people either get frightened by mystical experiences or resist and judge them.
  • Mainstream North American culture does not yet fully see their benefit, although there is a shift in the climate with the increasing popularity of mindfulness meditation, yoga, and psychedelic therapy.
  • Ego-inflation is something that one must aware of. When one first begins to experience mystical states, they might believe they are ‘special’ or somehow ‘chosen’ for a special task.
  • Becoming obsessed with the mystical experience and isolating from the ordinary world is a recipe for disaster.

Left photo by Clarence E Hsu on Unsplash.

  • Some individuals try to reenact a mystical experience —going into an altered state repeatedly to repeat an experience has an addictive quality. People can become extremely attached and obsessed with these experiences, or confuse them with the goal of spiritual practice.
  • Becoming overwhelmed by the experience, such as from energetic sensations, visions, or sounds. 
  • Ego-dissolution is a challenging process as the old self and its ideas about reality change. This is especially difficult if one considered themselves as a materialist or an atheist. 
  • Some mystical experiences may unground you and cause a disconnect from physical reality. They can be a place to hide or seek security from physical reality and the outer world.
  • Integration of mystical experiences can be challenging if these states were not brought about in a natural and balanced way. 

Engaging mystical states can be scary if done alone. It is recommended to have a guide in these realms. A guide can provide safety and guidance through the obstacles.

Mystical experiences are not rare if you seek them. Although there are many techniques for inducing mystical experiences, they can also come about spontaneously. 

Caution and wisdom is necessary when following the mystic’s path. 

One must tread lightly, stay grounded, and integrate mystical experiences by tethering them to the physical realm.

It is a difficult task to live in the world in a spiritual way.

Blessings to you if you are curious about this path, and I share a story about Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to leave you with:

While giving a talk in Berkeley once, sitting in a large hall with people who’d paid money to see him, said to them, “How many of you are just beginning a spiritual practice?” A number of people raised their hands. He said, “Fine. My suggestion is that you go home. At the back door, they will give you your money back and you can go home now and not get started in this very difficult and terrible process.” He continued, “It is a lot more difficult than you know when you begin. Once you start it is very difficult to stop. So my suggestion to you is not to begin. Best not to start at all. But if you do, then it is best to finish.”

Initially shared by Jack Kornfield
Photo source unknown. I’m sorry.

May the above be beneficial to you on your path.

I’ve written the above with the best of what I know, but I still have to offer a disclaimer…