This post was originally an article on the Support4Change website. Because if its length, it has been broken up into 4 parts, and posted on Thursdays. Begin with Part 1.
This personal story describes the gradual movement from religious faith to agnosticism to spiritual awareness.
Searching for the Meaning of My Experience
Shortly after the book was mysteriously dropped on the floor, I had an appointment with a wonderful therapist, Chris Varnes. Telling her about the experience, I told her I was sure there was a logical explanation I haven’t yet thought of, for surely reason dictated I not accept this as a “sign” of a spirit. That would just be weird. (I had, and still do, an aversion to appearing “weird.”)
Her response helped set me on the path to exploring these phenomena as “spiritual” events. She said, “Arlene, it’s true that you could take two hours and give me every reason why you should dismiss these knocks and moved objects. But let’s imagine they represent something to which you ARE supposed to pay attention. How would you go about exploring what it all means?”
Just then my eyes caught the title of a book in her bookcase, Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis edited by Stanislav and Christina Grof. When I asked what it was, she was glad I’d noticed it because she needed to return it to a student who’d loaned it to her. Looking through the book, I saw Ram Dass (a guru!) had written a chapter. Before I could give the book back with a “Thank you but no thank you,” I noticed two of the chapters were written by people I admired. One by was by Roberto Assogioli, MD, PhD, who, as I mentioned, is the founder of Psychosynthesis. He is someone who I believed had his feet planted firmly on the ground. The other was Anne Armstrong, with whom I’d had a workshop on intuition. Although she feels she is “psychic” (a classification of individuals about whom I am even more skeptical than I am of gurus), she is one of the most ego-less persons I’ve met. She, too, seems to have her feet planted firmly on the ground.
So I bought the book. Then I started reading other writings, including a whole book by Ram Dass, on topics relating to spiritual development. No matter what the theoretical or religious perspective, I began to see that all of them were saying the same thing. They were just using different terms in their attempt to explain the inexplicable.
Let me tell you why this made a lot of sense to me. Perhaps ten years before the uncommon (to say the least) events in my house, I had the great good fortune of spending three days at a workshop with Joseph Campbell on “The Mystery of the Essence of Life.” Something he said rang so true that I’ve used it in working with many clients who were struggling with their faith or having conflicts between what they had been taught by their religion when they children and what they now believed, although at the time I hadn’t yet had my own spiritual awakening.
In a nutshell, this is what Campbell said:
The most important thing about any spiritual or peak experience is the experience itself.
The second most important thing is what we tell ourselves the experience means and how we fit it into our beliefs and past experiences. The third most important thing is how we explain our experience to others.
Once you have had a deep meditative experience (physical and paranormal phenomena are NOT required), you come away with a profound sense of having had an encounter with the essence of life. You know you’ve been touched by “something.” You know this is a mystery. But how in the world do you make a mystery clear? You don’t. If you could, it would no longer be a mystery.
Trying to translate the experience of one person to another so he or she will understand it accurately is like trying to explain what something tastes like. Imagine someone creates an entirely new fruit. With your first bite you know this will be the next food sensation and you want your friends to try it. “What does it taste like?” they ask. “Well,” you start to say, “it looks a little like a banana, but it doesn’t taste at all like a banana. It has the texture of a peach, the tanginess of a raspberry and the sweetness of a mango and . . . well, you’ll just have to try it yourself. I sure can’t describe it.”
Attempting to explain a spiritual experience is not far removed from that kind of exercise.
In this article I’ve tried to give you some idea of how I came to develop my perspective on God or Spirit. I am no longer jealous of those who are sure of their faith because I have faith in my own experience. Now I know what Sam Keen meant when he wrote in Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening The Spirit In Everyday Life that:
God is not a problem to be solved by human intelligence, but is the ground beneath our capacity to understand anything, the totality within which we live, move and have our being. It is the water in which the fish swim without knowing they are in it.
I now use the word “God” quite freely. It’s a shortcut that works for me. In using the word God and other words that express abstract concepts — spirit, soul, sacred, holy, forgive, compassion, grace, wonder, evil, hope, truth — I am aware that the meaning I give to these words may be different for me than it is for other people. However, because of my years of doubt, exploration and opening to spirit, I know we’re all doing the best we can.
One final point. It’s not easy to walk the path of a solitary spiritual seeker. You don’t have to listen for knocks and wait for books to fall off shelves before connecting with your spiritual center. In fact, no one I’ve met has ever had my experiences and I’m sure that joining a church or group of believers is much simpler than going through the process I went through. It often works out well to accept the experience and teachings of others. Besides, most of us start out that way.
If that is the route you choose, I would only suggest you not leave your reasoning power at the doorstep. You may even believe that hell is a real and essential structure of the universe. Just be sure that once-in-awhile you apply some logic when given explanation for sacred texts.
In other articles I’ve written for Support4Change you may recognize how my experiences have influenced how I view the world and how I approach the topic of God, Spirit and transcendence.