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dream
mystical
vision
Mon, Jan 25, 2016 - 06:56 PM

What should a humanist do with a mystical vision?

What should a secular humanist do with a mystical vision?  

I had a vision. I don’t know if I should call it mystical or spiritual, but perhaps it was. What should I do now?

About a year ago, I woke up in bed as usual on a weekend morning with my wife at my side. I had a dream unlike any other. In my dream, I had been in Nirvana, perhaps Heaven. Or, more precisely, I had been part of Nirvana or Heaven. It was a state of bliss, of pure joy and light, of knowing an understanding everything.  I did have my senses, but in expanded form, perhaps even extra ones. I could see and hear, but I cannot tell you what I saw exactly.  If I said that there was color, that would be an understatement. There was no self or other.  There were no beings (I did not meet dead relatives or Jesus), no dichotomies, no story, no time, no thought, no words, no communication, no shapes, and no messages.  Who knows how long the vision lasted, but I felt immersed for eternity until I woke up with a start.  

I had done nothing to trigger the vision. I no longer mediate (I was an undependable practitioner about a decade ago). I do not take drugs, alcohol, or medicine. I’m sound of mind with no personal or family history of delusions. I was not injured or sick. I’m a bit of a health nut.  This is my first and last vision, although I must admit that when I was a kid sitting in Catholic mass I tried my best to emulate an image in a church pamphlet. I tried to conjure up the image of Jesus when the priest raised the goblet of wine/blood.  I wanted so to see God, but that was decades back and I became a different person altogether. Indeed, as if to anticipate a question posed elsewhere on this website, I concluded a few years back that even meeting God wouldn’t make me believe in him. Lawyers (I am one) learn that the senses lie and only capture a tiny sliver of reality. My decades as a humanist/Unitarian Universalist/atheist/agnostic had long given me peace with the reality that I perceived. I no longer sought nor believe in the holy.

Then I came face-to-face with God, with my vision, my thought experiment. But I didn’t believe what I saw. This was not the God that everyone around me seems to pine for.  I did not experience the anthropomorphization of the mystical. I would have laughed if that had happened. What I experienced was perhaps something more profound and maybe more logical. I was part of the stream of pure energy and consciousness.  

When I awoke with a start, I was angry, dismissive. I was angry because the vision came to me in a dream, perhaps humanity’s least trustworthy medium. Maybe it was this realization that actually forced me to open my eyes. As I sat up in bed my anger grew. It was impossible me to interpret what I just experienced and, anyway, why send this vision to me, the worst receptacle for divine instruction on this earth. To top it off, I am also the worst purveyor of any profound insights because I had none. Other than to talk about it some with my wife and child, I chalked it up to a some random misfirings of my synapses. To quote Scrooge, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

But the experience lingers. I do not think it has changed my views. I don’t think I’ve adopted new philosophies, and I certainly haven’t undergone a religious conversion.  I fear death just like most humans, but nothing like when I was a kid. Then I believed in Hell (funny how much lovelier life became after I banished Satan from the universe).

What has made me think about this vision is that my daughter is about to go off to college, leaving my wife and I with an empty nest, a circumstance I abhor.  I am reminiscing like crazy about my daughter’s childhood, about family, about old friends and experiences. I remember that when I was young I sought out the divine in vain. But recently I realized that I may have found late in life what I was looking for back then. But it left no impact, which is starting to trouble me some. I know that entire religions have been formed and created by visions. I can’t call mine “prophetic” because, again, there were no messages.  

Recently I watched old Star Trek episodes. One recurring theme is to respect visions, which is something you wouldn’t expect from a science fiction show. Am I missing something here? Should I even care? I doubt that I’ll ever experience anything like this again and there is nothing about this vision that I can understand or interpret.



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5 Answers

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KO
KO

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KO

KO

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Print Tue, Jan 26, 2016 - 07:22 AM
I think you should take it seriously. One thing, for me, about being committed to humanism is its reliance on careful critical thinking. One of the great aspects of this is that you realize than in some circumstances (being partially awake, not awake, drunk, high or in a highly charged emotional state) you can't trust that your sense experiences are veridical, even if you have really strong feelings about what you think you saw. I say this because it probably was not a vision of an actual place (sounds like you're inclined to agree with this).

However, critical thinking also means NOT ignoring your emotions. We are complex beings with a powerful subconscious. It sounds like you are going through a profound change of life right now, the kind of change that causes us to reflect on the point of it all. That's a great thing. Why not see a counselor to talk about it? Those folks are fond of saying that every crisis is an opportunity, and your emotional reaction (from initial wonder and awe to anger) sound crisis enough. This particular image came to you as a gift from your subconscious to tell you something about yourself. Reflect on it, talk about it. Go where it leads.

All the Best,

KO


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Bo Bennett, PhD
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Bo Bennett, PhD

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Print Tue, Jan 26, 2016 - 07:11 AM
Hello,

I wrote on this very topic at https://www.thedrboshow.com/tools/qa/Bo/TheDrBoShow/22PSPtCt. In short, the mind is capable of both beautiful and horrible states that, when we try to make sense of them, we use the language of our culture (i.e., Heaven and Hell). The affective (feeling-based) sensations produced by the mind are followed by our attempt to make sense of them by creating a narrative—which is simply unnecessary. Random firings of neurons resulting in a euphoric state does not have to "mean" anything more than a random firing of neurons resulting in a euphoric state.

On a personal note, I have had a similar experience several times in my life. Beyond words. Some claim to achieve this state through deliberate mediation. I don't doubt it; I just can't do it. The mind is really amazing and we can embrace that fact without insisting that there is some deeper meaning behind the experience, just like horrible suffering has no meaning—it is all part of this amazing journey we call life.
Bo Bennett, PhD
Social Scientist, Business Consultant
About My Businesses > http://www.archieboy.com
About Me > http://www.bobennett.com
Books I’ve Written > https://tinyurl.com/bosbooks
Courses I Teach > https://tinyurl.com/boscourses
Podcasts I Host > https://tinyurl.com/bospodcasts


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Cj Stone

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Print Tue, Jan 26, 2016 - 07:22 AM
You can take it at face value as a dream. There's no need to read anything more into it as an event. People often have dramatic dreams without it being anything more. I myself have received messages in dreams, but I took them as messages from me to me. You can let your dream be a message from you to you and not reach for the mystic as an explanation.

You say, "... there is nothing about this vision that I can understand or interpret." There is a very simple interpretation: given your feelings about being an empty nester, which I take as a sensitivity to fragmentation of your family and relationships, you had a dream of the exact opposite—perfect unity. But if there were no others, there could be no "my daughter", so the entire concept of family and relationships is lost, and that would be the ultimate empty nest. Yet you report bliss and joy. So perhaps there is bliss and joy to be found in your daughter's developing life, which includes separation from you as a part of that development.

Of course, your dream is your own. I could certainly go on at length about the personal implications of your dream, but it's up to you to decide what the meaning is or might be. I don't see any reason to read it as anything other than a dream; but again, dreams can be powerful, so don't minimize it by saying, "It was only a dream."


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Sue Parry
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Print Tue, Jan 26, 2016 - 04:05 PM
Sounds like a wonderful dream. But I don't see why it's any more meaningful than any other dream. I think if you define it as mystical, then you almost have to look for what it "means." But if you remember that we humans MAKE meaning, rather than FINDING it coming to us from outside, then you can maybe relax and simply enjoy it. Then get on with the business of engaging with what's really happening in your life. But it does sound like an extremely cool dream!


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Mark Warkentin

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Print Sun, Jan 31, 2016 - 12:19 PM
I also have had several mystical experiences. I am not concerned where they come from, I simply accept them as part of being human. I know they are not sent by a Higher Power, they just occur. My view is that there is something about myself that is not readily explained (yet) by science or secular psychology. My experiences were similar to what other mystics from several different religions have described. Two of my experiences occurred when I was meditating, the others were when I was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
From my discussions with other people, I found that some people tend to have more of these than others. Since your experience was a first time, one-off event it came as a shock to you. I understand that. Relax, this was the opposite of a natural disaster. People used to think these were caused by a god; we now know they are caused by tectonic stress, atmospheric conditions, electrical discharge from clouds, etc. We know people have experienced transcendental moments, there is a whole body of literature devoted to them. There are many anecdotal experiences that are described by devout believers as coming from god since they cannot describe them. They are not yet codified in any science.
There is work being done by neurologists, psychologists and sociologists on these experiences. This scientific study is just beginning, working to measure and determine the source of these mystical experiences.
I strongly recommend that your read and listen to Bo's podcast https://www.thedrboshow.com/tools/qa/Bo/TheDrBoShow/22PSPtCt
If this experience has interfered with your daily functioning or it begins to weigh heavily on your mind, you may want to talk to a secular psychologist. https://www.seculartherapy.org/
Although you are not recovering from a religion (like many of their patients), they may have some help for you in coping with an unexplainable occurrence.

One experience I had also made me angry. I was reading in my apartment and had a "sense" of someone in my hallway. My roommate rushed out of his room, looking for who had come in the apartment. I told him there was something in the hallway. As I focused on that area, I had a clear image of an angel, with wings and everything. I had just begun the process of de-converting from Christianity and I had the thought that god was sending me a message. My roommate kept looking at the hallway and could not see anything but he was rather freaked out since he felt there was someone there that he could not see. The angel was so real to me that I spread my arms out and said, "I am willing to receive your message God". I really sought an insight, a revelation, a message to me personally from some Higher Power. I remained open and ready for any type of message to get me on the correct path in life. I felt an un-worldly sense of peace and love emanating from the angel. I continued to be open to any message since an angel appearing and my roommate also felling a presence must mean the angel was sent with a message. For about 3 minutes the angel was there and projecting this wonderful, god-like peace and love. I really wanted a message and was strongly seeking to listen and be open to any guidance. After about 3 minutes, the angel slowly drifted up and out of the apartment. My roommate suddenly relaxed and went to the hallway and waved his hand in the area that I had seen the angel. He asked what happened and I told him I saw an angel. He had seen nothing. I realized I had not gotten any message at all and I got pissed. Why would god have an angel appear to me and not give me any message? I got really pissed off and from that point I began publicly promoting to others that I was no longer a Christian. Before this experience I was quiet about my de-conversion. Not a result that one would expect from an angelic appearance, but it really made me critical about god and I thought that was a real waste of an angelic appearance.
Now I know I can have experiences that others would call spiritual, mystic, psychic or some other label. I just accept them and roll with the flow that there are experiences I have that cannot be explained by any science (yet). I think there may be something about myself that is more than biology or my reasoning mind. These experiences are anecdotal, but they are real to me. I need no explanation as to their cause, they are part of my life.
I would welcome any private conversation with you about these experiences. I am studying current scientific research on the area of mystical experiences without a connection to any god. I am open to the concept that there is something more than a biological explanation for these anecdotal experiences, but not open to any explanation that includes god. I have had a transcendental experience when I connected deeply and personally with the concept that there is no god, all gods are made up explanations for "spiritual" experiences.
Each of us is on our own; we make ourselves, our lives and our world what they are; then we need to connect with others.
Helping others, seeking community and knowing our authentic selves is how we create our own meaning and purpose in our lives.
I wish you peace and strength.


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Mark Warkentin
Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 12:32:41 PM
Mystical experiences have been anecdotally reported by many people. Some methods used: drugs, meditation, prayer, contemplation, isolation, religious fervor, martial arts, out of body experiences, near death experiences and even a "God helmet". Since so many report these experiences, it seems to me there is something beyond our bodies and minds that could be part of being human. One idea is that there is a "spiritual" aspect to being human. Since we cannot explain this fully with reason and cannot duplicate these experiences in the lab, most assign these to some other being than ourselves. This is an area I am studying as part of my blog on how to recover from alcoholism without any Higher Power. My blog is in the pre-planning stage. I think my path to recovery also applies to depression, some forms of PTSD, caustic or toxic relationships, etc.

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