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IV. 1. WHEN SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE ENLIVENS

Spiritual experience most enlivens when it is direct and unmediated by belief-systems, institutions or individuals.

Embarking on a spiritual journey is fundamental to being truly alive, when we seek the direct experience of spirit that deepens our connection to all life and mystery - unmediated by belief-systems, institutions or individuals. Spiritual experience enlivens us when it helps us surface and work with our unconscious conditioning; accept and deepen all our emotions, painful and ecstatic; and develop a healthy, unified experience of body and spirit.

Such direct experience of spirit is transformative, taking us to deeper levels of love, appreciation, passion, joy and aliveness than we ever dreamed possible. It transforms our life in this way when it simultaneously (1) intensifies our appreciation of this life; (2) deepens our pain at the prospect of its loss; and (3) develops a larger awareness of both our joy and our pain.

Such direct spiritual experience does not eliminate painful feelings about the loss of this life. We may have experiences which comfort us as to what occurs after death - e.g., mystical experiences of all sorts, out-of-body experiences, seeing a white light beckoning us into another world, experiencing past lives, or experiencing "no-self" and that our consciousness will take on new forms after our physical death.

But such experiences are only useful when they do not desensitize and dehumanize us in this life. In this life, we are most alive when we allow ourselves to experience a deepened connection to all life on this plane. And doing so inevitably increases our pain at the prospect of losing contact forever with the experiences in this life that we treasure, love, value and give meaning to- whatever we believe will happen after we die.

Even a full experience of entering the Now, in which we are neither living in the past or the future, does not eliminate our pain about death. For along with the joy of the moment, we feel - in the present - a poignant sadness at our knowledge that our experience of this life is so fleeting.

But spiritual experience that helps us feel our pain more profoundly can also deepen and intensify our ability to be truly alive:

-- Direct spiritual experience can lead us to connect and identify with all human beings, and/or all living beings, thereby vastly amplifying our experience of, and rapture for, aliveness. We become far more alive, for example, if we can experience our pain and sadness about our own death, and then identify with all other living beings who will also die - rather than limiting our experience by primarily identifying with a smaller part of life such as our nation, religion, gender, ethnicity or community.

-- A spiritual journey can also transport us to realms of consciousness beyond human understanding and purpose, leading to profound epiphanies of awe and mystery that can add immeasurably to our experience of life. It is common on the spiritual path to experience dimensions of consciousness that cannot be easily explained by scientific-materialistic understandings of the human experience - as the greatest scientist of our age, Albert Einstein, described so eloquently. While we can err by seeking to explain the inexplicable, we also err when we summarily dismiss what can be some of our most profound experiences of life because human understandings cannot explain them. Opening ourselves up to such direct non-verbal and non-conceptual experiences, and feeling the sense of awe and mystery they evoke, can be among our most profound experiences of aliveness

-- Direct spiritual experience can give us genuine moments of deep inner peace and decontraction, an ability to align with the process of life and death that is so fundamental to the minute-by-minute experience of all living things. As we shall discuss below (D ancing With Anguish and Joy ), entirely escaping our pain about our loss of this life is neither possible nor desirable. But we can enter into a healthier relationship with our pain - both feeling it more deeply and yet neither being overwhelmed nor over-identified with it, through spiritual practices that help us align with all our experiences, painful and blissful. And when we can feel our pain more fully, it often transforms itself into a profound and ecstatic appreciation for all of life.

-- Direct spiritual experience can deepen our sense of deep inner peace by granting us a heightened experience of "inner knowing" , a deep sense of intuitive understanding that neither relies on the opinions of others nor our own conditioned feelings and ideas. Such an inner knowing allows us to move through life more gracefully and easily, and to deepen and broaden all our experiences of life.

-- And, finally, direct spiritual experience can help make the unconscious conscious , thus aiding us in breaking painful past conditioning and deadening psychological defenses that limit our growth and aliveness. ras Varadi