When discussing religion or spirituality with various people, one phrase that I’ve found is likely to come up is a phrase something along the lines of “I know X exists because I’ve had a personal spiritual experience that proves it!” Now, should we accuse these people of lying because we cannot objectively verify these experiences? Of course not. In fact, I’ve had religious/spiritual experiences myself! I don’t doubt that others have spiritual experiences, I just doubt that they are truly supernatural in origin. Allow me to explain.
There were several instances when I was a Christian where there would be an altar call or a particularly moving worship session, and I would pray fervently for peace or confirmation of my path. During these events, I would go into an almost trance-like state and I would feel my body relax. My face (and sometimes my fingers or hands) would feel tingly or numb and it would feel as if a weight were lifted off of my chest so I felt almost like I was floating and I felt as if I was truly and utterly alive. I sometimes felt giddy and, in a sense, one with god and the universe. I would have this renewed energy where I felt as if I could see clearer, breathe deeper, and take on the world. I often felt as if these experiences were the “holy spirit” coming over me to answer my prayers for peace or to confirm a decision I had made while in prayer. Sometimes I would weep with joy, knowing that god was communicating with me in this way. It was often an exhilarating and invigorating experience.
Before I deconverted, I realized I could have some similar experiences while listening to intense secular music as well. While at first I didn’t think much of it, I began to notice the similarities more and more and this terrified me. Instead of the reasonable assumption that music or other emotionally stirring events could cause some of these symptoms, I began to wonder if there were demons or dark forces that enticed me and invigorated me while listening to this secular (usually rock or metal) music in order to draw me away from God. I wrestled with these thoughts for much longer than I should have. I eventually came to the realization that it was just really good music that could stir my emotions, silly me! It was then I realized that maybe there was no “holy spirit” that inspired and invigorated me while worshipping, maybe it was just music created by people who knew how to evoke emotion. This thought terrified me even more than the last.
While this may not a huge step in my deconversion, it certainly drove me to think more analytically about the belief system I was holding onto.
Now we fast forward several years past my deconversion. At some point I discovered mindfulness meditation as a method to deal with stress. While I don’t practice meditation on a consistent basis, I did find that if I was feeling especially anxious or stressed, it helped to meditate to take a breath and clear my mind of anxious thoughts. One day while practicing mindfulness meditation, I felt my cheeks go numb and a small laugh rise out of my chest. I felt at peace and I felt a sense of wholeness. I felt as if I could see clearer, I could breathe deeper, and could go on with my day invigorated with renewed energy! But wait, I wasn’t praying to some deity, I was just breathing deeply and allowing my thoughts to come and go as they pleased! All of a sudden, all of my previous spiritual experiences seemed so foolish and I had to laugh a little at my past self. Even though I had realized long ago that my previous spiritual experiences were manufactured by my brain chemistry, self-fulfilling prophesy, and psychosomatic phenomenom…it was a bizarre experience to have these symptoms outside of a distinctly religious environment. From this point I realized I could replicate many of these experiences with a little bit of deep breathing…and maybe a little bit of emotion-evoking music.
That was a little about my spiritual experiences, I’d love to hear about yours! Feel free to share yours in the comments and thanks for reading!