On a recent trip to Seattle I experienced two different events, both of which I feel were spiritual experiences. The first happened on the street a block away from the Virginia Mason Emergency Room. A distraught woman approached me asking for help. She appeared to be a street person, disheveled and dirty, and on her throat was a Band-Aid with blood on it. In her hand were some gauze bandages and with a gurgling voice she explained to me she had just had a "trach" (a tracheotomy) and asked if I could spare some money. As I was in the loading zone and rushing, I quickly handed her some money and before I knew it she was hugging me, kissing me on the cheek and saying "I love you." I was completely overwhelmed and felt such a strong connection of love with this beautiful soul.
The second experience happened as I was walking along a busy parkway with cement abutments. On the other side of the cement was a confined wooded area, with a small creek, flowers and scrub brush. I was feeling separated from its beauty by the cement and lamenting how the busy roadway had infringed on this previously lush wooded area. Suddenly my attention was drawn to a beautiful butterfly on the ground next to the cement wall. Its wings were grayish black with bright ruby spots, and as I bent down to pick it up, it crawled right onto my hand and I felt it wanted to stay there. For a long moment, nothing else existed in my awareness but my exquisite connection with this beautiful creature. With some reluctance, I released it on the other side of the cement wall. The intense experience of that moment changed the entire texture of my walk and my awareness stayed in a heightened state for some time.
How do we define a spiritual experience? Two possible definitions are: "a moment of sudden spiritual insight or awakening," and "a subjective experience involving contact with a transcendent reality."
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of respondents reported they have had a religious, spiritual or mystical experience. The same poll found 65 percent expressed a belief in or report having experience with at least one of several spiritual phenomena including reincarnation, spiritual energy located in physical things, having been in touch with someone who has died, or belief in yoga as a spiritual practice.
Americans' ideas of spirituality have become more expansive in recent decades, with a whole new category of people emerging who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" and an even larger group as "religious and spiritual." Many people who are not affiliated with any organized religion describe having spiritual beliefs and spiritual experiences.
Expanding on the two definitions given above, the following list is a sampling of spiritual experiences: a prophetic dream; a déjà vu experience; dream with a departed loved one; "coincidences" and amazing connections; receiving guidance from departed loves ones, angels, or dream teachers; seeing the inner light or hearing the inner sound; feeling a connection with all of life; intuition or direct knowingness; past life memory; experiencing a miracle of healing, protection or guidance; an out of body experience; a sense of oneness or a loving presence; giving service to others and experiencing divine love in daily life.
Have you had a spiritual experience? Many people have, and these experiences are very real. I would suggest that much of life can be described as a spiritual experience, depending on one's awareness and perspective. Ask God, Divine Spirit, your Higher Power or even your Higher Self to open your heart and mind to having spiritual experiences, and you may be surprised.
Wendy Hamilton is a Clergy member of Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God.