“The potential for a mystical experience is the natural birthright of all human beings.” - Stanislav Grof
“Man may intellectually argue himself in and out of anything. But he can only defend it as long as he has not experienced the fact that he is wrong. Once he has come to the interior realization that a situation is not right, he cannot rest until he does something about it.” – Manly P. Hall
“Its persuasiveness seems to hinge on an experience of this interconnection…” – Richard M. Doyle
What has been generally termed a “mystical experience” is something that has been reported throughout time and across disparate cultures. At its core, it’s a direct, non-verbal experience wherein an individual feels an expansion of the self to union with, to borrow a phrase from Alan Watts, “the whole works.” Themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness are commonly relayed, along with the ultimate ineffability of it all. Religions and the sciences have blah, blah, blah – I’m preaching to the choir here, so let’s get to the goods.
Found this gem tucked away in the corners of the web and figured it deserved its day in the sun. It’s called The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (TASTE), and it’s a site where scientists themselves were allowed and encouraged to submit their own experiences of “non-ordinary” states of consciousness. Its mission statement:
“The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (TASTE) is an online journal devoted to transcendent experiences that scientists have reported. It lets scientists express these experiences in a safe space, collects and shares them to debunk the stereotype that ‘real’ scientists don’t have ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ or ‘psychic’ experiences, builds a database of these experiences for future research, and helps us understand the full range of the human mind.”
(check out the site’s Introduction page for further detail)
Neat, huh? Only, and unfortunately, the site ceased taking submissions around 2004 and has been inactive ever since. Would be nice if there were a bare bones database like it around today for scientists to freely and openly share such experiences. Something with maybe a higher profile that might help lift the stigma in the sciences from admitting and exploring this world of experience (check out Fear of Admitting to the Transcendent in the Introduction page).
Now, all of the accounts featured at that TASTE site are of the “spontaneous” variety. But – as most here are well aware – something of the same nature can seemingly be facilitated through the safe and/or guided use of psychedelics (as this congenial British gent could also attest). Anyway, while there are a variety of experiences reported (and I recommend reading through them all), I’m drawn to the instances of cosmic consciousness (or whatever other name one prefers).
As such, my favorite comes from Allan Smith – who was a medical doctor and self-described “atheistic materialist” at the time of the occurrence:
My Cosmic Consciousness event occurred unexpectedly while I was alone one evening and was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. I was sitting in an easy chair placed next to floor-to-ceiling windows that faced northwest. The sun was above the horizon and was partially veiled by scattered clouds, so that it was not uncomfortably bright. I had not used any marijuana for about a week previously. On the previous evening I probably had wine with dinner; I do not remember the quantity, but two glasses would have been typical. Thus, we would not have expected any residual drug effects.
The Cosmic Consciousness experience began with some mild tingling in the perineal area, the region between the genitals and anus. The feeling was unusual, but was neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. After the initial few minutes, I either ceased to notice the tingling or did not remember it. I then noticed that the level of light in the room as well as that of the sky outside seemed to be increasing slowly. The light seemed to be coming from everywhere, not only from the waning sun. In fact, the sun itself did not give off a strong glare. The light gave the air a bright thickened quality that slightly obscured perception rather than sharpened it. It soon became extremely bright, but the light was not in the least unpleasant.
Along with the light came an alteration in mood. I began to feel very good, then still better, then elated. While this was happening, the passage of time seemed to become slower and slower. The brightness, mood-elevation, and time-slowing all progressed together. It is difficult to estimate the time period over which these changes occurred, since the sense of time was itself affected. However, there was a feeling of continuous change, rather than a discrete jump or jumps to a new state. Eventually, the sense of time passing stopped entirely. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but perhaps it would be better to say that there was no time, or no sense of time. Only the present moment existed. My elation proceeded to an ecstatic state, the intensity of which I had never even imagined could be possible. The white light around me merged with the reddish light of the sunset to become one all enveloping, intense undifferentiated light field. Perception of other things faded. Again, the changes seemed to be continuous.
At this point, I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact, to say that there was a universe, a self, or any ‘thing’ would be misleading — it would be an equally correct description to say that there was ‘nothing’ as to say that there was ‘everything’. To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into Cosmic Consciousness, but during Cosmic Consciousness there was neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’. All words or discursive thinking had stopped and there was no sense of an ‘observer’ to comment or to categorize what was ‘happening’. In fact, there were no discrete events to ‘happen’ — just a timeless, unitary state of being.
Cosmic Consciousness is impossible to describe, partly because describing involves words and the state is one in which there were no words. My attempts at description here originated from reflecting on Cosmic Consciousness soon after it had passed and while there was still some ‘taste’ of the event remaining.
Perhaps the most significant element of Cosmic Consciousness was the absolute knowingness that it involves. This knowingness is a deep understanding that occurs without words. I was certain that the universe was one whole and that it was benign and loving at its ground. Bucke’s experience was similar. He knew, ‘… that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain.’
The benign nature and ground of being, with which I was united, was God. However, there is little relation between my experience of God as ground of being and the anthropomorphic God of the Bible. That God is separate from the world and has many human characteristics. ‘He’ demonstrates love, anger and vengeance, makes demands, gives rewards, punishes, forgives, etc. God as experienced in Cosmic Consciousness is the very ground or ‘beingness’ of the universe and has no human characteristics in the usual sense of the word. The universe could no more be separate from God than my body could be separate from its cells. Moreover, the only emotion that I would associate with God is love, but it would be more accurate to say that God is love than God is loving. Again, even characterizing God as love and the ground of being is only a metaphor, but it is the best that I can do to describe an indescribable experience.
The knowingness of Cosmic Consciousness permanently convinced me about the true nature of the universe. However, it did not answer many of the questions that (quite rightly) seem so important to us in our usual state of consciousness. From the perspective of Cosmic Consciousness, questions like, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ or ‘Is there an afterlife?’ are not answered because they are not relevant. That is, during Cosmic Consciousness ontologic questions are fully answered by one’s state of being and verbal questions are not to the point.
Eventually, the Cosmic Consciousness faded. The time-changes, light, and mood-elevation passed off. When I was able to think again, the sun had set and I estimate that the event must have lasted about twenty minutes. Immediately following return to usual consciousness, I cried uncontrollably for about a half hour. I cried both for joy and for sadness, because I knew that my life would never be the same.
Smith offers further commentary on his experience at the link.
Each submission/account is prefaced with some background on the subject, including a name (or a pseudonym) and their scientific training/credentials. Most, like Smith, didn’t have an inkling of the “spiritual” in their body beforehand – and some were actively hostile to the idea altogether. Their subsequent experiences aren’t all as intense in degree as Smith’s, but they each shine in their own right.
With that said, here’s a sampling from a few others:
I was listening to the music and looking through the open window at a tree in the garden, when something strange happened. I felt that I had left my body and had become one with the tree in the garden, with the pebbles on the garden paths and with everything else in the universe. I felt some mild amusement seeing my body sitting there in the living room. I had a feeling of indescribable bliss, a feeling that everything was, is, and forever will be as it should be, and could not be any other way, and that time did not pass, that the future was contained in the past and the past contained in the future, and there was only one time, time present.
One night as I was falling asleep my mind suddenly stopped its ceaseless activity and became still. It was as if it had turned inward and collapsed onto itself. I felt a soft effusion of supreme comfortableness engulf my being and my mind was for a moment unbounded with no thoughts or perceptions. I was filled with a profound feeling of well being and happiness. I felt wrapped in a blanket of love and safety, or rather I was That, the wrapper and the wrapped all at once. There was no differentiation of experience. I WAS that state, nothing else. It was not me experiencing something outside of me. It was not happiness about any particular thing, but an unconditional, all pervading bliss that depends on nothing outside of itself. It was as if the river of ever-active consciousness moving in streams of thoughts and perceptions had arrived at the ocean of silent, ever full, unbounded awareness.
My mind was totally blank. After a while I realized that I had expanded. I was no longer a small discrete consciousness located in my head – I encompassed the whole valley. I was HUGE. I was part of everything – or rather everything was part of me. I was ancient and unbelievably powerful. It was wonderful.
1. This totally new view of things can’t be conveyed. It is too extraordinary. No conceptual framework, no words exist to describe the depths and the qualities of these insights. Only someone who went through the same experience could understand.
I am not trying to push any particular theological or metaphysical conclusions when I use the word “God” here. On the contrary, my readings in theology and metaphysics in earlier years never conjured up to my mind anything remotely like this experience. I am simply saying that since the experience, Vaughan’s line and a whole host of other statements made by mystics in all religious traditions seem to make sense as word-straining attempts to describe the strange state in which I found myself
“‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” - Carl Spackler