“Mystical” experience

30


Discussion by: Machinehead

Hi

When I was 18 I was working as a runner at a film studio outside London. After a particularly stressful and busy morning, I managed to grab five minutes to sit down and relax a little. At that point something weird happened – it was like a light switch being flicked on. From feeling tired, pissed off and frustrated it suddenly felt like I had limitless energy – my internal monologue switched off and I remember being unable to think a clear thought. Despite this I felt supremely happy, confident and content. I viewed inanimate objects around my office with compassion, as if I understood them and felt connected to them. It was like I had a nuclear power station in my chest and I immediately went about asking my colleagues if I could do anything for them. The silence in my head was noticeable but it didn't prevent me from driving home, making dinner, etc. By the time I woke up in the morning I was back to normal.

I think if I had been religious then maybe I would have dropped to my knees to praise Jesus, or Buddah or something. I did think that maybe I'd had a 'mystical' experience and since then I dabbled in sufi literature and the Gurdjieff system but ultimately walked away and got more interested in magic and the science of the mind.

Atheists like myself sometimes decalre that we are capable of "spiritual" or "numinous" (thanks for that word CH), experiences, e.g. listening to music, falling in love and so on, but I've seldom heard of a similar experience to the one I described above.

Has anyone else had an experience like this and can they offer any explanation as to what the hell happened?

I'm pretty sure I didn't have a mini-stroke!

Cheers!

30 COMMENTS

  1. Well, I can’t say I have had any experiences as intense as you describe. At least not sober ;) Although I do quite often experience a sense of calm and feeling of being “one with the universe” (for lack of a better name) while meditating…

  2. I’m not a medical doctor…..I was wondering if you were “running” around quite a bit and whether you could have had a big shot of adrenaline…Were you drinking caffeine? I metabolize caffeine slowly and it can potentially cause elation. I’ve had experiences that made me feel extremely confident and really high. Also just wondering if you’ve had any issues with mania such as manic depression.

    Some years ago during my new agey years, I had a crush on this one guy who attended my church. I intensely prayed the day before for guidance about my life and direction I should pursue. Feeling in a really good mood, I got into a conversation with him and softly focused my eyes as I listened to him. (A similar focus as when you look at an image from magic eye) His face and skin became transparent and he had a soft glow. Pink and white light beams started to eminate from his face. The light streams flowed more quickly from his eyes, nose and mouth resembling gentle waves of smoke. In one area to the side of his face the pink was more of a peach color. It was bizarre because our conversation was actually a bit dead. I didn’t say much to him. It was as if there were two conversations going on that did not match; one was blah and the other was a deep connection. Some people told me it was as if I was having an acid trip (I don’t use drugs) others told me I was seeing a full blown aura. I asked someone who is an optometrist (at the church) and he told me that I saw an aura (Man did I do research in new age shops after that.) My guess is that feeling so “in love” I made myself high. The other strange thing is that decades ago when I was a kid I was playing “psychic” with my “barbies” and came up with the name of the man I would marry. It was a combination of a neighbor’s name and a Ken doll. Ironically, the name I came up with was the full name of this man. lol ha ha ha. seriously true. When I hear other people talk about their precious experiences I think back to quite a few of my own. No wonder it took me so long to give up a deist view.

  3. What you are describing is a fairly common phenomenon (it even has it’s own Wikipedia article) called Second Wind The article goes into the actual science behind it but I think from an intuitive perspective it seems pretty straight forward, when your body is nearing the normal limits of work but your brain tells you that it’s still really important to keep going (e.g., that tiger is still after you) it makes sense to me that the body would have a mechanism to release extra adrenalin or some combination of chemicals that can keep us going.

  4. After playing about 6 hours of guitar with a piano genius buddy of mine, in a party type situation with about 20 people there, we suddenly became able to play songs together that we hadn’t ever rehearsed. A couple songs we never even played (at least I never had). My piano mate has perfect pitch and is so so so gifted, he would bark chords out and we sang and played for a few more hours.

    We often get together and play a couple hours of music. We run The Dark Side of the Moon pretty much note for note…. But, this was something new and cool. We played for 8-9 hours, sounded good (at least that’s what the party goers reported), and were connected for a while there. Very “spiritual”. It should be noted that most rock and roll is relatively easy and comprised of repeating patterns and chords that are not super complex.

    Now, if we spontaneously cracked off Bohemian Rhapsody note for note, perhaps we’d be talking about a whole other level!!!

    • In reply to #4 by crookedshoes:

      Now, if we spontaneously cracked off Bohemian Rhapsody note for note, perhaps we’d be talking about a whole other level!!!

      Well, if you play long enough it’s bound to happen sooner or later. That is statistically speaking… although I’m afraid a normal life-span (or even a thousand) might not be enough to accomplish that… :D

  5. I hear LSD can do the same thing. I worked for 36 hours straight once. After about 30 hours I got a “second wind” and felt full of energy and ‘life’.

    Brain states: there are many and they all arise from the physical workings of your brains.

  6. Gosh! Well when I first wake up in the morning I often feel like I’m David Attenborough, a little later a bit more like John McLaughlin and later in the day (around lunch time) a nameless neanderthal living about 52,728 years ago on the Iberian peninsula. No drama, I put it down to having eaten a particularly hot vindaloo the day before.

  7. In my working life I had to deal with people who were having episodes like this. The symptoms you describe are very similar to the feelings people have on Meth Amphetamine. Meth Amphetamine hits a receptor in your brain reserved for endorphins. Joining the dots with what I read in RedDog’s link, I say you were having a natural endorphin high. Nothing mystical here.

  8. I meditated for a long time and have had numerous different experiences. The thing that made me different is that I didn’t just accept the usual yoga narrative of it being True consciousness, or the Buddha nature or whatever. I saw no reason not to think it was just another brain state.
    I did read an interesting article of something similar that happened to a guy after the removal of a tumour. Stimulation of a part of the brain caused him to experience dream-like states. After the removal of a large chunk of the left posterior cingulate cortex (PCC): “He reported experiencing no rumination and no negative thought for almost a month after the surgery. He described himself in a kind of contemplative state, with a subjective feeling of absolute happiness and timelessness.”
    This is very like some meditative states, as the remarked upon in the article.
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2014/02/23/disconnecting-consciousness-external-environment/

    • Ha! I know what you mean.
      Thanks for replies so far. Being quite young at the time and into all things “spiritual”, I did think that maybe I’d experienced some kind of fluke “higher” consciousness for a brief moment.
      In the last 10-15 years I’ve wondered if it was a reaction to something I ate (not a ‘special’ brownie!) and have given it less of a special place – as Apeseed says in his/her comment.
      I’d love to have a go on the God Helmet to see if it will cause the same effect…

      In reply to #10 by CdnMacAtheist:

      When you rushed out to pick up that special food order for the movie star, you shouldn’t have pinched that brownie…. 8-)

  9. Think the “Out Of Body” experience where people have the feeling of leaving their bodies and floating to the ceiling where they can see themselves is a pretty well known. It usually happens under some degree of anaesthetics of other physical trauma (eg. near death experiences). Apparently Neuroscience has advanced to the point where they know which parts of the brain are involved in producing this bizarre “spiritual” experience. And they can even produce this feeling at will with a couple of carefully placed electrodes. My source for this is a great book called “Deciphering How the Brain codes Our Thoughts” (available from http://www.audible.com)

    • In reply to #12 by Catfish:

      Think the “Out Of Body” experience where people have the feeling of leaving their bodies and floating to the ceiling where they can see themselves is a pretty well known. It usually happens under some degree of anaesthetics of other physical trauma (eg. near death experiences). Apparently Neurosci…

      There is another book out there written by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, who had a near death experience after an E-coli meningitis-related seizure whereby his brain was shut down completely and put him in a coma for 7 days. His experience went well beyond the typical tunnels and lights and floating outside of his own body.

      • In reply to #18 by MariaIsabella:

        There is another book out there written by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, who had a near death experience after an E-coli meningitis-related seizure whereby his brain was shut down completely and put him in a coma for 7 days. His experience went well beyond the typical tunnels and lights and floating outside of his own body.

        Hi Maria. Type in Dr Eben Alexander in the Search Box at top right to see what the scientific & RDFRS communities think of this medically unsupported anecdotal story…. Mac.

      • In reply to #18 by MariaIsabella:

        In reply to #12 by Catfish:

        There is another book out there written by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander

        This book is called “Proof Of Heaven” and am sure was a great money maker for Dr. Alexander but has been widely debunked as populist rubbish….

        Esquire magazine reported (August 2013 issue) that prior to the publication of Proof of Heaven, Alexander had been terminated or suspended from multiple hospital positions, and had been the subject of several malpractice lawsuits, including at least two involving the alteration of medical records to cover up a Medical Error.

        neuroscientist Sam Harris, who described Alexander’s NDE account (chronicled in Newsweek, October 2012) as “alarmingly unscientific,” and that “everything — absolutely everything — in Alexander’s account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was ‘shut down,’ ‘inactivated,’ ‘completely shut down,’ ‘totally offline,’ and ‘stunned to complete inactivity.’ The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate — it suggests that he doesn’t know anything about the relevant brain science

        Oliver Sacks agreed with Harris, saying that “to deny the possibility of any natural explanation for an NDE, as Dr. Alexander does, is more than unscientific — it is antiscientific.”…”The one most plausible hypothesis in Dr. Alexander’s case…is that his NDE occurred not during his coma, but as he was surfacing from the coma and his cortex was returning to full function. It is curious that he does not allow this obvious and natural explanation, but instead insists on a supernatural one.”

        Just been on the God Checker website and am not sure which of the 3000 known gods Dr. Eben Alexander was having this little get together with….. (http://www.godchecker.com)

  10. Yes I have. But it is mostly a chemical disorder as has been stated. I am hyper-creative person and have highs where I can work on a project non stop for hours sometimes days. Or get an idea to solve a problem and it works that will generate and extreme sense of joy and pride.

    I viewed inanimate objects around my office with compassion, as if I understood them and felt connected to them.

    Well that sounds like a bad trip, but having nostalgic feelings attached to objects is normal. Like looking at the pen my father used to write with and remembering him. Wanting to throw the pen away because it does not work anymore but having emotional attachment prevents me.

    A spiritual experience is nothing more than you swimming in chemicals produced by the brain triggered by a myriad of emotions or circumstances. Falling in love is being under the influence of these chemicals. They can be measured in the blood.
    You can believe anything your mind makes up while under the influence. I think this is major tool used in conversions and indoctrinations. They know about these chemicals and the whole architecture of indoctrination is composed of trying to get the victim under the influence of their on brain chemicals to experience so called speaking to god spiritual experience or something like that to get the victim to willingly join and become a believer. The reason for building cathedrals is this principle. Create an environment suitable for these type of emotions and subsequent brain chemical production .

    I have visited many churches and cathedrals and have felt a certain energy that resonates inside there due to the walls and it’s shape and construction. The way the voice of the priest echoes within the chamber is quite surreal. The music of the organ makes this even more macabre in my opinion. But it does generate some sort of reaction within the brain. Like a certain Opera that even if you don’t understand the language it moves you to tears.

  11. What you are describing sounds like “Runners High” to me. Continuous physical activity builds up levels of oxytocin,serotonin and endorphins. The longer you engage in rhythmic exercise the more pronounced the effect becomes.
    This is the reason why many hunter – gatherer tribes engage in ritual dancing that can go on for days on end.
    By the end of it they are experiencing all kinds of weird hallucinations and euphoric thoughts.

    I experience this in a mild form at least once a week when I return from a long run. In my case I would say it lasts about two hours.

  12. I’ve never been religious, but have had and continue to have experiences that could be described as “numinous” or “spiritual”. This most commonly happens when I’m on a high mountain, and that’s easily understood in psychological and physiological terms. It’s a place where I really want to be — where I feel most at home; it involved quite a bit of endorphin-releasing exertion to get there, and there’s some hypoxia involved. Of course I’ve felt similar things when in love or even just when paying music or sports with friends (being “in the zone”). When executing a perfect sneaky ball pass to a teammate or parsing space in pairs tennis or claiming a turn in a race car it can feel like a “psychic” connection is made. In reality, we’re giving over more control than usual to intuition, subconsciously reading body language, smells, sounds, etc., and the lack of time for reasoned response makes it seem mystical.

    There have been a few times when I’ve known incredible coincidences that didn’t seem naturally possible. But of course they were, since they happened. And I’ve had drug-induced “mystical” experiences, most of which I’m sure that I don’t remember. Once, while under the influence of LSD (I probably took more of that drug than did Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia combined), I lay in bed, unable to sleep, as a traffic light on the street below flashed over and over and over. I watched the light front slowly wash up the wall and across the ceiling and then as slowly retreat and repeat for what seemed a near infinity. In that addled state I thought that my perception was enhanced such that I could watch the speed of light as if it were greatly slowed. I thought that I was seeing individual photons trundling across the plaster. In reality, the filament of the bulb had some ramp-up time, and my chemically altered awareness of time made it seem very unusual.

    I don’t regret all that drug use. I won’t do it again, but if I had it to do over I would. It gave me a perspective on what I accept as reality, a tolerance for ambiguity, and the notion that absolutes (probably) don’t exist in nature.

    • Well said, Ted. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your anecdotes. I fully agree with your first paragraph and found myself ‘answering’ your experiences scientifically before you did so yourself (with the same answer). I don’t have your drug experience so it’s always interesting for me to hear those that do share them.

      In reply to #15 by Ted Foureagles:

      I’ve never been religious, but have had and continue to have experiences that could be described as “numinous” or “spiritual”. This most commonly happens when I’m on a high mountain, and that’s easily understood in psychological and physiological terms. It’s a place where I really want to be — wh…

  13. With due respect to and partial agreement with comments that such experiences are due to brain chemistry (or other physical phenomena) , this is not really a specific response or explanation. At least, given that I think all experiences stem from brain chemistry, there is nothing more chemical about sensing the numinous than putting the bins out for recycling.

    Rather, the question is not ‘are numinous (‘religious’) experiences chemical’ but ‘what – if anything – is distinctive about numinous/religious experiences?’. There is evidence for specific processes in the temporal lobe (e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6664802: also http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104291534, which speculatively suggests the temporal lobe as either only source or mediator of the divine).

  14. I remember reading about that and thought to myself , WHAT A LOAD OF BS !!

    I just can’t believe this crap is even allowed to happen. We all know there is no life after death. What this man experienced was Dreaming and nothing more. He was not dead. he was in a Coma. That means his brain was still able to create dreams,images anything that the brain creates when it is dreaming.

    “Dr. Eben Alexander has taught at Harvard Medical School and has earned a strong reputation as a neurosurgeon. And while Alexander says he’s long called himself a Christian, he never held deeply religious beliefs or a pronounced faith in the afterlife.”

    That alone is enough to call him a quack and to disbelieve anything this man can say about an afterlife being real.

    “According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent,”

    Apparently, according to what he has to say, he has no understanding of the brain and the mind !! He was not dead, he was in a deep sleep coma where the brain can dream up stuff. Why did he think it was about heaven? Because he is a Christian. A non religious one, but the fact still remains his indoctrination had an effect on his subconscious . He was imprinted with the notion of a heaven.

    He was described likely as a child what heaven to Christians looks like. This whole idea that because he is a neurosurgeon , that gives him some special kind of believability in this department. This is quite irresponsible and an insult to all non-theists who know there is no such thing as afterlife.

    Being in a coma is not the same as being dead. Being dead means no signs of life . If the person is resuscitated, the brain tries to make sense of the outage and puts together a set of memories to replace the lack of memories for that period of time. Those memories can be anything.

    The only thing that will convince me of an afterlife is someone being dead for at least 7 days then coming back to life and actually having some memories of what death was like. Which really makes no sense to want to know. The only thing you need to know is your body and you will not be there. Because it is dead and rotting or cremated. The idea they you see you long lost dearly departed standing there makes no sense because they have no body anymore why maintain the aura of having a body ?

    I think it is more scary to think there is an afterlife than to think the ride ends and you just get off. Lights out and it’s over. The hardest thing must be getting to that point without suffering too much. After that nothing matters except to the living.

    • In reply to #22 by GFZ:

      I remember reading about that and thought to myself , WHAT A LOAD OF BS !!

      You give Dr. Alexander to much credit by suggesting that he wrote this “Proof Of Heaven” book for any other reason than the money.
      Predictably it was a best seller for some time and made Dr. Alexander a wealthy and well known man. Personally think that the vast majority of people in the business side of religion are as atheist as I am and just doing it for the money. Is a great tax dodge if nothing else.

  15. To me it sounds like someone putted something in your food or drink, you described the feeling one gets after having cocaine for the first time. I think you where drugged without knowing. I might be wrong, but I might be right. If I was you I would look into it, even after all these years.

    • No, this definitely did not happen.
      In reply to #24 by desmondscifo 656998:

      To me it sounds like someone putted something in your food or drink, you described the feeling one gets after having cocaine for the first time. I think you where drugged without knowing. I might be wrong, but I might be right. If I was you I would look into it, even after all these years.

  16. I’ve had lower doses of that kind of serenity that hit unexpectedly. I think it’s hormones. I think our brains are subject to internal chemical events all the time, though we experience them as moods. I recall once the exact opposite experience however, riding the bus to work one morning. Suddenly, although nothing had happened to set it off, I hated everyone on the bus, and everyone I saw outside the window on the street or in cars. It was clearly a pathological moment when, if I had not been an otherwise stable and rational person, I might have done something violent. I tried to ‘examine’ whether I was in any sort of pain, or having asthma — the sorts of things that might trigger aggression, but i felt nothing except anger. Fortunately it gradually passed, and I didn’t embarrass myself (or kill anyone.) So, my point is, it’s hormonal.

  17. LOL, it isnt a mystical experience. I experience this all the time at the gym during intense exercise. Its especially intense after prolonged (say a week) of inactivity, or during times of high stress. It’s a natural endorphine / adrenaline / hormonal high brought on by physical activity. You can look up “exercise high” on the internet. I think the key was that it happened just after you ran around all day.

    You can try to recreate it again for yourself. Take a day off and lazy around. Maybe go for a few beers and lazy in the sun with your friends. Really get your body in a relaxed state. The next day, do some exercise. Brisk walking for a few hours, or intense jogging (10kmh plus) for an hour or should do it. Push through any mental barriers telling you to stop. Focus on getting to your goal. You will feel the same thing again soon enough.

  18. explanation as to what the hell happened?

    whatever happened, the symptoms are euphoria and it resulted from a change of brain chemistry, sounds like someone got fed up of you stressing and popped an E in your coffee ;)

    failing that I’d put it down to cortisol. it’s a type of steroid and your body produces it as a response to stress, some of the symptoms include raised blood pressure, reduced circulation to extremities, works on the hippocampus (instictive reactions), can have some pain-killing effects and it helps release energy reserves. It’ my guess that taking a rest caused an imballance that you experienced as euphoria. you don’t need to think clearly, just quickly and your heightened awareness of your surroundings might have made you feel empathy to inanimate objects while your intellect took the back seat.

    I think it’s very likely all mystical experiences are caused by hormones. in shamanism narcotics are used, in religion it’s often associated with extreme self-denial (esp sexual), sometimes music and dancing or hand clapping is involved but they omstly rely on getting back to your inner reptile. Jim Morrison knew this. probably explains his god-awful lyrics too.

    either way your experience sounds awesome and warranted putting your hands in the air like you just didn’t care

    • Thanks for responses, again.
      One has to wonder just how much of current belief in god(s) and the supernatural has been inspired by these simple, biological/ chemical reactions that have happened in our bodies and brains down the ages. I think there is still a very long way to go before we humans finally leave those archaic beliefs behind…
      In reply to #29 by SaganTheCat:

      explanation as to what the hell happened?

      whatever happened, the symptoms are euphoria and it resulted from a change of brain chemistry, sounds like someone got fed up of you stressing and popped an E in your coffee ;)

      failing that I’d put it down to cortisol. it’s a type of steroid and your body…

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