Transcendent experiences happen. Someone can feel an experience of one-ness, bliss, or insight that is so powerful. It can shake the very foundation of a person’s understanding of themselves and life. This is not necessarily news.
As the work of Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad has shown, a problem occurs when a person prioritizes transcendence above other states. They might become checked-out from life on the planet, or someone might give up personal agency and/or wealth to a guru or spiritual group that promises more of a direct or constant connection to the “special” experience. A person can be vulnerable after a spiritual opening such as this (and sometimes vulnerable to delusions of grandeur and consider becoming a guru).
I feel that my experiences of bliss, connection and insight are too many to count, really. I think there are bits of it in every day!
However there was also an extreme experience I remember happening after a yoga class. I was saying goodbye to the teacher, looking into his eyes, and I had perception of palpable love that came down from above and held me in place, frozen for some time, like a Star Trek tractor beam of love. It was all around me, including the air and walls. It was overwhelming my senses, this experience of love like sensual molasses: it was thick and strong and all encompassing. I couldn’t even flesh out all the details with my mind, the love just kept going, expanding like a nuclear blast of love and magnetic intensity that kept going…
And I came back to the experience of my body, never to be the same again because I had experienced something more than I had known before. Words are not adequate.
After years of trying to understand (or at times to deny) this extremely transcendent experience, through spiritual reading, teachers, observing my experience in the world, and working to see the world as well as I can, I have formed some ideas about how to navigate transcendence even though the experience itself can be unasked for (in my case), totally disorienting, and overpowering in the moment and aftermath!
I think it’s not correct to use this knowledge to escape the suffering of the world. I know that this is the promise of spiritual traditions, and that it is a human impulse to move away from pain and towards pleasure. But I also think that any escape is temporary, and meanwhile the violence among people in the world and towards the environment of the world appears to be escalating. We haven’t found peace.
The transcendent experience I described earlier forms a foundation of belief for me. I have had an experience that I really cannot deny (even if there are moments and habits that are contradictory). I know there is love that is felt that goes beyond what I learned from others. I rationalize it as a vision of potential, a kind of faith.
I call on this knowledge to be fuel for trust in the goodness of this world, even as it is not fully expressed in time as we commonly think of it.
My “job” (I believe) is to use my agency/power/privilege to help healing in this world. We, as humans, can do so much better! Part of healing in our bodies in our communities on this planet is painful. It is important to discover when we are doing helpful work versus harmful actions in daily life.
The vision of healing includes building a structure of helpful actions to set us up for a house of love (including loving relationships) for the future. Right now the house is not loving—we are not there. Even if and when there is love present, the human work is to fortify love and build more to let healing expand beyond our own homes, close family, and communities. But we can know what it feels like to be there through the insight of a spiritual breakthrough. So feelings of spiritual bliss exist to help us believe in our potential for creating in this world and to believe in love and healing, even when we see pain, suffering, and oppression in lived experience.
Keep going. We can make things better.
* The title for this piece is a remembered phrase from a Mary Oliver poem!