Friday, April 04, 2008

UFOs & Enlightenment

Tons of my cult counseling clients, as well as commenters here, ask similar questions: "I had X experience. Was it valid? Where did it come from? Was it spiritual?

Some experiences reported to me (paraphrased to conceal identities):

  • "During puja on Teacher Training, I saw Guru Dev in the room."

  • "I witness sleep. Nothing much happens, I just am aware all night."

  • "Sometimes I suddenly wake up inside — even though I know I'm still sleep. It seems like I sit up, but when I look back, I see myself still sleeping. I can't move my body, but my 'spirit' floats around the room and I can look down from that point of view."

  • "Once on Teacher Training, shortly after we were given the TM-Sidhis, I was in an elevator with a fellow CP (course participant). All at once, I felt like I was going to lift off. There was energy tingling in my back, spreading out to my whole body. I looked at [the other guy] and I exclaimed, 'You're so beautiful!'" His face was ringed in flames. I felt a pressure growing in my forehead. Suddenly, it felt like a beam or ray shot out of my forehead at [my course mate]. He fell down! It seemed like the beam knocked him down. I felt like he and I were the same person. I couldn't tell if I was located in my body or his. I felt I could read his mind. This only lasted a minute or two, but for the rest of the evening it seemed like I was aware of him, wherever he was. I couldn't read his mind, but it seemed like I could tell what he was feeling. [My course mate] told me later that it seemed like he was knocked down by a force. He, too, felt like he could read my mind for a little while." (My personal experience.)

  • "One time when I was working as a receptionist, my boss came to complain about something I did. All of a sudden her face was filled with flowing flames — faint, but quite visible. It felt like the room was rushing into me. But her face floated before me. I must have looked weird because she asked me if I was alright."

  • "I dreamed of Patanjali. It wasn't like dreaming. It was real. He was in my bedroom explaining the Sutras to me. When I woke up, I felt wonderful. Like I knew secrets. My heart area was warm and tingly all day."

  • "I feel wild, rushing energy in my body sometimes. It's so intense, it almost hurts. It's like I'm having a full-body orgasm. It starts in my spine and spreads out through my whole body."

  • "I witness activity. I feel almost like there's two of me. There's the guy who's very present in the Relative, but I have the sense of another me, in the Absolute, who's just watching everything and everybody. And he's pretty amused by it all."

Frequently the next question they ask is, "Does that mean TM is real? It really works?"

I've heard dozens and dozens of similar stories. For years I've told people that I'm not in a position to judge these experiences. I'm not here to say that they aren't valid spiritual experiences. Nor am I certain they are.

If they have special meaning for you, cherish them.

There are possible explanations for them, however. Explanations that make sense from a rational, Western viewpoint. The visions may be sleep paralysis, mixed with hypnopompic or hypnagogic hallucinations ("waking dreams" experienced by millions who have never done Transcendental Meditation). After all, TTC pujas took place in warm, incensed-filled rooms, where we chanted Sanskrit softly. It wouldn't be outside the realm of reason for someone to fall into a dream that seemed real (a common experience for narcoleptics).

And visions are common for people meditating for hours a day. Zen, Tibetan Buddhist, and other meditators report these. It's possible that meditating so much makes one subject to dropping into REM states spontaneously — in which one could dream whatever is preoccupying your waking states the most. Which could be devotional or spiritual visions if you are watching 8 hours a day of the Maharishi talk about such things.

As to witnessing while awake, Western psychology has long described derealization and depersonalization experiences that can be encouraged by dissociation — at least one effect of meditation (trance).

But explaining these experiences rationally very rarely seems to satisfy my clients. What they are overwhelmed by is the "specialness" and reality of the experiences.

Like the Maharishi, I suggest they not get hung up on unusual experiences. (He couldn't have been wrong about everything!) Don't consider them to be proof that TM works — or that they are special people because they had them.

UFOs do exist. They are unidentified flying objects — nothing more. That doesn't mean that the are from another planet. We just don't know what they are.

Likewise, I'm of the opinion that we just don't know what these experiences are. Anyway, are weird hallucinatory experiences spiritual? Maybe they are just what they are. Weird and unexplained.

I have my own questions: Do these experiences improve our lives? Do they make us better persons? Love God more? Treat our fellows with more respect? Do our jobs better?

In all the spiritual traditions that I'm aware of, those are the hallmarks of increased spirituality. Everything else just may be weird fireworks.

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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