The Mystical Experience

On TV the other evening I saw interviews with two people who’d had out-of-body experiences. They were both mature adults. One was a neurosurgeon who had, through the course of his work, heard numerous stories of people who had “died” and then returned. He was a complete non-believer until he himself “died” on the operating table. The other person was a genuine, gracious middle-aged Australian lady, telling of her experience in a matter-of-fact way. Interspersed with these accounts were segments of interviews with a prominent American detractor of anyone who had such stories to tell.

Having had experiences like this myself, the presence of this man opposed to these fascinating stories was irksome. But more than that, it seemed incongruent. While it’s always smart to balance stories by bringing in opposing views, there is still the question of one’s credibility. In this case I don’t mean the legitimacy of the near-death stories, but rather that a person who hadn’t had such experiences can be deemed an “expert” in an area he has failed to explore himself. It’s like a blind person saying colors don’t exist. That’s not science. While doing research for my thesis years ago, I came across a pertinent quote from a woman more than 100 years ago.

Hence, (the mystics) should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to … prosecute such explorations for (our)selves. — Evelyn Underhill [1]

Over the years, having become more comfortable telling of my own spiritual experiences, this was in turn reciprocated by many others. Most often, due to being raised in cultures where the pseudo-scientific views of the protagonist above were prevalent, these people had not previously told anyone of their unusual experiences. It was my great honour to hear such stories, even more so when a number of these people consented to being published.

There are many out there who have had transcendent experiences that remain in the closet. The stories I tell are based on interviews with people from diverse walks of life. They are all genuine, honest people. Joy, for example, is a much respected psychotherapist who was already a mother of three grown children when she and her husband were “killed” in a horrific car crash. They were hurtled into spirit regions and underwent many intense experiences. Joy was even aware of their children grieving on the earth sphere while her body lay there in a coma. Still, she was greatly disappointed when she had to return to complete her life — without her husband.

Helen is a very successful Greek Orthodox businesswoman. She was totally unprepared for the past-life traumas she relived in full consciousness before being guided into a circle of people who had been key players in another important life from long ago.

Keely is an accomplished young scholar who barely survived a car crash, saved by a young man who had died only months before.

These are all very credible people with nothing to gain through sharing their experiences, except the knowledge that by doing so they might help others realize that life is much bigger than we can understand. What’s more, these people all display remarkable levels of higher-order attributes such as integrity, authenticity, and clarity.

Kathleen Diane Noble, author of Riding the Windhorse, gives a definition for the range of personal attributes that people develop as a result of spiritual experiences. Her study looks at a number of people who, by all reckoning, have had the kind of upbringing that might result in very dysfunctional lives. But in addition, her subjects have had spiritual experiences similar to those of the people in my book. Through these experiences, they have gained a different frame of reference for their existence. Despite their early traumas and abuse, Kathleen’s people have come to live very healthy lives, both on the inside and the outside. She uses the term spiritual intelligence to define the characteristics and personal resources which these people have developed as a result of their experiences. [2]

Kathleen’s work supports one of the great earlier researchers in this area, Kenneth Ring. [3] His studies suggest that those who have near-death experiences develop some key characteristics that contribute toward living a full life. They become more open-minded, have less or no fear of death, feel emotionally stronger and less fearful of life, have greater compassion and understanding for others and can develop intuitive abilities and a sense of being guided by higher powers.

So how do we measure the truth of a person? The disbeliever above seemed arrogant and cynical, in stark contrast to the two people whose experiences he tried to debunk. The people who shared their stories with me are remarkable people by any measure of goodness, and the above research supports my views in regard to the the “quality” of people who have had spiritual experiences of note.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from a wonderful mystic and poet:

That is at the bottom the only courage demanded of us:to have courage for the most strange,
the most singular and the most inexplicable
that we may encounter.

That mankind has in this sense been cowardly
has done life endless harm;
the experiences that are called “visions,”
the whole so-called “spirit-world,”
all those things that are so deeply akin to us,
have by daily parrying been so crowded out of
life that the senses by which we could have
grasped them are atrophied.

— Rainer Maria Rilke


  1. Underhill, Evelyn, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness New York: Meridian Books, 1911
  2. Noble, Kathleen, Riding the Windhorse: Spiritual Intelligence and the Growth of the Self Cresskill NJ: Hampton Press, 2001
  3. Ring, Kenneth Heading Toward Omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death experience, New York: Morrow, 1984
A silhouette of four people against a star-studded night sky
Thanks to Josh Felise for this image we called Night Light that we Uncovered at Unsplash