“In mystic states,” William James wrote, “we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.  This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed” (William James quoted by Carl Herman Voss, in “The Universal God” ( p 258), Chris’s reading in the service of August 11 2002) 

James (1918) described four salient characteristic of the mystical experience which have sustained the test of time and are still quoted by today’s scholars of mysticism (e.g. Stace, 1960; Happold, 1990):

  • Ineffability: The experience defies expression; it cannot be described in words. (the experience incorporates affect)
  • Noetic quality: It gives insight and knowledge into deep truths, which are sustained over time. (it is transformative of cognitive connections and even structures–Piagetian “accommodation”)
  • Transiency: Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Usually they last from a few seconds to minutes and their quality cannot be accurately remembered, though the experience is recognised if it recurs. (“meaning” can derive from intuitive confidence in connections even when not he;d in conscious awareness)
  • Passivity: Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, like meditation, once they set in, the mystic feels out of control as if he or she were grasped and held by a superior power. 

(adapted from https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-ss-extraordinary-experience-06-10-2017/



“Psychosis and psychotic are very broad terms used to describe anything from relatively usual aberrant experiences through to the vivid and catatonic symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar Type 1 disorder (DSM-V, 2013). In a restricted sense, psychosis pertains to delusions (i.e., distortions or exaggerations of inferential thinking) or prominent hallucinations (i.e., distortions or exaggerations of perception), with the hallucinations presenting without the person being aware of their pathological nature (DSM-V, 2013). Psychosis is believed to exist on a continuum, ranging from normal psychological functioning to progressively more debilitating psychotic conditions (Hanssen et al., 2003; Stefanis et al., 2002; Verdoux & van Os, 2002).” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015)

  • Phenomenological overlap with ME is likely when the following five criteria are met: (a) ecstatic mood, (b) sense of newly gained knowledge, (c) perceptual alterations, (d) delusions (if present) having themes related to mythology, and (e) lack of cognitive impairment.” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015) 



“Spirituality involves feelings and experiences associated with a meaningful and purposeful life (Brinkerhoff & Jacob, 1987), along with “a search for meaning, unity, connectedness to nature, humanity, and the transcendent” (Emmons, 1999, p. 877). Spiritual experiences are relatively common; between 5% and 40% of the general population and 50% of psychologist’s surveyed reported having at least one transcendent experience (i.e., beyond normal human perception; Allman, de la Roche, Elkins, & Weathers, 1992; Davis & Smith, 1985; Kass, Friedman, Leserman, Zuttermeister, & Benson,  1991; Lukoff, Lu, & Turner, 1992). Bragdon (1993) outlined three main ways people react to spiritual experiences: (a) smoothly assimilate them into their lives and continue to develop psychologically and spirituality; (b) experience a psychological and spiritual crisis, but eventually assimilate the experience into their reality; or (c) fail to assimilate the experience and be caught in a continual state of fragmentation (i.e., breakdown in daily/social/occupational functioning).” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015)


Spiritual Emergence

“Throughout history, many cultures have regarded inner transformation as a key aspect of life. Elaborate rituals and practices that frequently elicit nonordinary (or altered) states of consciousness have been devised to foster spiritual development (La Barre, 1990). With such an extensive history of documented spiritual growth, some suggest that “realizing one’s true potential” or “moving toward wholeness” is an inherent evolutionary capacity for all human beings (Grof & Grof, 1991).

This process is called “spiritual emergence,” described as “the movement of an individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of deeper connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos” (Grof & Grof, 1991, p. 34).” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015)  [“sense of connection” confers “confidence” in one’s thoughts, actions, and thoughtless (or “intuitive”) actions] [“epiphany?” “aesthetic release?”]


Spiritual Emergency

“Bragdon (1998) suggests that a spiritual emergence is more likely to lead to a crisis when (a) someone has no conceptual framework to support the experience, with which to understand and accept the phenomena with equanimity; (b) someone has neither the physical nor emotional flexibility to integrate the experience into their life; and/or (c) the friends, family, or helping professionals, who support the person having this experience, see the phenomenon in terms of psychopathology with no possibility of their being positive signs of growth. When spiritual emergence becomes overly forceful and dramatic, it is often referred to as Spiritual Emergency (SE; Watson, 1994). Grof and Grof (1991) have defined SE as critical and experientially difficult stages of a profound psychological transformation that involves one’s entire being. Spiritual emergencies take the form of non-ordinary states of consciousness and involve intense emotions, visions, and other sensory changes, and unusual thoughts, as well as physical  manifestations. (p. 31)” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015)

  • A common experience that may also be relevant for inclusion as a SE is a mystical experience (ME; Yang et al., 2006). A definition of ME that is consistent across the theoretical and clinical literature is, a brief, remarkable experience characterized by feelings of unity, ecstasy, absence of ego-functioning, lack of control of the experience, sense of noesis (i.e., access to subtle spiritual dimensions), changes in time and space perception, and rapport with the Divine and everything in existence (Allman et al., 1992; Hood, 1974; Lukoff & Lu, 1988).” From Bronn & McIlwain (2015)

[recalls the Rudolph Otto’s Mysterium tremendum et fascinans Is a condition enabling (or catalyzing) a sense of “numinous”[1],[2]]






“We may dance toward it and away, achieve glimpses, and even dwell in its beauty for a time; yet few are those that have been confirmed in that knowledge of its ubiquity which antiquity called gnosis and the Orient calls bodhi: full awakening to the crystalline purity of the bed or ground of one=s own and yet the world=s true being.  Like perfectly transparent crystal, it is there, yet as though not there; and all things, when seen through it, become luminous in its light” (Joseph Campbell 1968 — speaking of “aesthetic arrest”).[3]

  • Transformative learning. All new knowledge changes us by either enlarging our understanding or (more rarely) transforming it.  Transformative learning occurs when our understanding shifts from merely knowing course content to realizing its relevance in personal and professional lives. This is shadowed by the Piagetian distinction between assimilation (enlarging; incorporating new knowledge in to a data base that is coherent in its positing a specific theory, model or world-view) and accommodation (changing shape; changing a theory, model, or world-view in order to allow new knowledge), in which the paradigm (frames of reference) in which knowledge in embedded is changed
  • Transformation can be dangerous: All change alerts the mind to possible danger. Depending on the real or apparent challenge to meeting basic biological needs (sensu our adaptative stress or  Maslow); novelty evokes at the very least a subclinical stress response (sometimes termed, “microstressor”), and at an extreme can evoke profound dysfunction as the coping mechanisms fail.
    • There is a mode of vital experience‑‑experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life’s possibilities and perils‑‑that is shared by men and women all over the world today.  I will call this body of experience ‘modernity.’  To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world‑‑and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.  Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology:  in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind.  But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity:  it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish.  To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, “all that is solid melts into air.”[4]  (Berman, Marshall 1982)[5]


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[1] Mysterium tremendum et fascinans: Defined by Rudolph Otto as a central aspect of the numinous “is a mystery (Latin: mysterium) that is both terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans) at the same time. This mental state “presents itself as ganz Andere, wholly other, a condition absolutely sui generis and incomparable whereby the human being finds himself utterly abashed.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Otto 

[2]The Idea of the Holy, published first in 1917 as Das Heilige – Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (The Holy – On the Irrational in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational). … defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous. Otto explained the numinous as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self”. He coined this new term based on the Latin numen (divine power). (This expression is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant‘s noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things.)”  — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Otto 

[3].  Joseph Campbell. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology.  The Viking Press.  1968  p. 66

[4]. “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It… has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous Acash payment@… for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation… Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones… All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” (The Communist Manifesto, was first published on February 21, 1848, and is one of the world’s most influential political tracts. Commissioned by the Communist League and written by communist theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it laid out the League’s purposes and program. The Manifesto suggested a course of action for a proletarian (working class) revolution to overthrow the ruling class of bourgeoisie and to eventually bring about a classless society. C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto .

[5] Berman, Marshall.  (1982)  All That is Solid Melts into Air.  Simon and Schuster, N.Y.  384 pp.