Mystical Experiences

May 20, 2019

I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day who told me that, while walking during a magnificent sunset on the island of Maui, he had a mystical experience. The majesty of the scenery, the intensity of the color and the shapes of the clouds, and the sheer power of the sun and the ocean connected him to an inexplicable sense of belonging and oneness to the universe around him. The depth of the experience softened his heart and he could see all the ways that his inner critic tormented him; he was able to look at that voice with compassion and accept himself as he was in that moment: perfectly imperfect. This profound inner peace has stayed with him.

There is something to be said for mystical experiences. Although we cannot control when they happen, their effects are profound. A large survey of thousands of people conducted by Johns Hopkins Medical School was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE. It revealed that “people who reported having personal encounters with [what they described as] ‘God’” or an “Ultimate reality” had lasting positive changes to their psychological health including improved life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning even decades after their initial experience. Data was collected from 4,285 people. Three quarters of the participants in the survey had mystical experiences through the use of psychedelic medicines and one quarter had spontaneous mystical experiences. Interestingly, “more than two thirds of those who said they were atheists before the experience no longer identified as such afterward.” Many reported a diminished fear of death.

In my medical practice I see so many individuals who are struggling with anxiety and depression and who are experiencing deep feelings of isolation even when being very social. My friend’s experience and the results from this broad survey would suggest that there is an antidote. I am not promoting the use of psychedelics here, although the research that is coming out about them is quite compelling. Rather, I am suggesting that it is essential for our physical, emotional and spiritual well being to connect regularly with what I like to call “the mystery” – breathing in the absolute wonder and glory that we are even here at all. Whether that is through connecting with nature or performing sacred rituals or some other experience that expands the heart and opens us up to the wonder of it all, this experience is an essential foundation for lasting happiness and inner peace.