Many years ago, on a rather frustrating visit to Jerusalem, I had what I can only call a transcendent experience. My frustrations grew out of seeing too many ostentatious churches on sites where anything significant happened in Jesus’ life, but where Christians were in turf wars with one another. One notable exception was the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives. I walked in, found a seat, and was transported into a state of bliss and calm. The coolness and vastness of the soaring ceilings soaked into my soul, my sense of self drifted away, and merged with a cosmic reality. For twenty wonderful minutes I felt deeply connected to the universe, and the Divine energy that flows through it all.
INTERPRETING OUR TRANSCENDENT EXPERIENCES
Most spiritual paths teach about such transcendent experiences. It can sometimes even seem that ego-dissolving moments are the goal of spirituality. I agree that such experiences are both important and life-changing. I’m not sure they are the goal of spirituality. Rather, I believe they are moments of reorientation, expanding our awareness, and receiving necessary insights and tools for deeper, more connected living.
Author Ken Wilbur helpfully distinguishes between states and stages. My experience in Jerusalem was an altered state. As Wilbur points out, any state we may experience will be processed within whatever stage of development we have reached in our spiritual journey. (For more on stages, it may be helpful to read Spiral Dynamics (affiliate link) by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, if you haven’t already.)
This means that someone at the tribal, magical, animistic stage in their spirituality will interpret a transcendent experience (state) in magical terms, while someone at the communitarian, egalitarian, eco-conscious stage would interpret that same experience (state) in egalitarian, eco-conscious terms.
WORKING WITH TRANSCENDENT EXPERIENCES
What does all this mean for those of us seeking to nurture a way of being that can be called ‘spiritual’—cosmically aware, deeply connected, and indiscriminately compassionate? Here is my perspective:
- We can momentarily overcome our sense of self (ego), but we could never live in that state permanently (as least not in this life). Which means that, from an evolutionary perspective, we must have evolved our capacity for ego-dissolving experiences to help us adapt better to life with our ego in place. These experiences help us develop a healthy ego and empower us to navigate life’s chaos in a more human, compassionate, and connected way.
- It is important that we work not just on reaching transcendent states, but on growing from stage to stage throughout our lives. ‘Stage’ work is far harder and takes much longer than ‘state’ work, which may be why many people get stuck and stop growing beyond certain stages.
- The goal of spirituality is not to “meditate like a monk,” but to grow into a more whole and compassionate human being. To draw from Ken Wilbur again, we need to move from the early ego-centric stage, to an ethno-centric stage, to a cosmo-centric stage where we experience everything as sacred and connected.
HOW EVOFAITH CAN HELP
EvoFaith (and the online community at the EvoFaith Tribe), is committed to taking the work of intentional spirituality seriously. So in the next few weeks we will begin to explore how our spirituality ‘works’ in practical and transforming ways.
We will see how intentional spiritual practice:
- Equips us to nurture a healthy ego;
- Gives us the tools and the courage to face our shadow and integrate it into a healthy ego;
- Empowers us to integrate our multiple selves into a healthy, effective internal team for navigating life’s unpredictability and variety;
- Inspires us to leverage our transcendent spiritual experiences (states) to grow through the stages so that we can constantly become more fully our best, most human selves.
I hope you’ll join us in this journey. And if you’re looking for a true online community (not just streaming worship experiences) you may want to check out the EvoFaith Tribe.
And why not leave a comment below? Let’s keep talking.
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