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What is a Spiritual Experience?

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What is a spiritual experience?
You might have thought some one would have come up with the answer by now.

Some 53% of Americans have experienced a moment of sudden religious awakening or insight, found Gallup polls in the 1990s, while the British Medical Journal found an even higher 76% people in the UK reported having had a spiritual experience. Just what is this 'experience', what does it mean and where do we start to look for answers to these and other big questions?

People and societies from prehistoric times onwards have expressed surprisingly similar concepts about spiritual experiences and the soul. For thousands of years Chinese peoples have referred to the soul as a "vital breath" called "chi" or "qi" that is believed to be an energy coursing through our bodies and the universe. The Japanese call it "ki". In ancient Greece, there was a similar tradition of "life breath" known as "pneuma". In ancient Rome, the Latin word "spiritus" also meant breath of life and provides the basis for the English words spirit and spirituality. Tibetans refer to spirit as a subtle natural energy called "lung". In India's Sanskrit, there is an energetic breath called Prana, while Muslims call this life force Barraka. Lakota Sioux Indians in North America call it Neyatoneyah, while the busmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa refer to it as Num, which means boiling energy.

All these references suggest "spirit" is something akin to an energetic breath, breath of energy, or some form of energy. In fact, most early religions, with the exception of Christianity, generally conceived of and described God as an immaterial, incorporeal being. (It has only been comparatively more recently that God has been anthropomorphosized and given physical human attributes.)

To get some practical understanding of your own life force or "chi", try this basic exercise taught in Chinese medicine. Stop, relax, close your eyes and slowly bring both your hands together with palms open and facing each other. Before your hands touch, you may feel some slight resistance or slight increase in heat, sensation or pressure. This effect is supposed to reflect your "life force" or spiritual energy.

The only problem with this is trying to verify it scientifically, as the effect varies for every person. Is it truly an indication of our spiritual energy or is it merely a biochemical effect of raised arms pumping out more chemicals?

Another part of the problem has been that we haven't had the words, knowledge, understanding to explain what it is that we each sense. We all experience the same spiritual things, we just put different tags on them. This is why it is so complicated to get agreement on what spirituality is, what God is and what life actually means.

This is where science can play a role, it can provide objective and standard terms to things that have been described as spiritual. The true nature of things considered spiritual are now being revealed by science. For example, aspects of energy are being shown to be very similar to some spiritual things.

Consider how the Holy Spirit is said to be within and yet without you – at the same time. This has mystified us (well at least me for decades). But if I look at in terms of energy, I realize that energy is indeed inside of and without me. Science is now showing us how it can be both, how it can be something not physical and something very physical.
 

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