(ORDO NEWS) — A new study published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice suggests that mystical experiences are spiritual and not associated with any pathology. The study found that women who reported mystical experiences tended to also have high spiritual intelligence.
Mystical experiences, which are characterized by feelings of unity, inexpressibility, peace and joy, as well as changes in the sense of time and space, are seen as a correlate of psychopathological conditions such as schizophrenia. However, recent research results show that there is another side to such experiences.
“My personal interest in this topic began back in 2012, when I experienced my first mystical experience and other altered states of consciousness shortly thereafter,” explained study author Daiga Katrina Bitena from Riga Stradins University in Latvia.
“At that time, I was a person who was unaware of the existence of altered states – I had no significant contact with religion, spirituality, esotericism or similar thinking.
Therefore, these states of transcendental consciousness surprised me as being completely unprepared. On the one hand, they evoked truly divine feelings in me and made me perceive things that I had never encountered before, but on the other hand, their experience made me doubt my mental health.
“I lived in this sense of duality for several years until, at the age of almost 30, I decided to start my academic studies in psychology, which accordingly subordinated my attention to the study of mystical experience on a professional level.
Since then, my interest in this topic has only grown. What fascinates and interests me now is the vast and uniquely inexplicable breadth that science is just beginning to explore.”
“I am fascinated and at the same time driven by despair, as research on this topic has made me realize, more than anything else in my life, that a person knows and understands very little about himself and his limits,” Bitena said.
“It contains something that activates the desire for knowledge and aspiration, and at the same time full of despair. I have a great desire to understand, comprehend and connect the rational with the seemingly magical and divine.
The new study involved 299 women (aged 18 to 69) who were not diagnosed with mental illness during their lifetime. Volunteers underwent a psychological assessment of prior mystical experiences, spiritual intelligence, schizotypal personality traits, and psychotic symptoms.
Bitena and her colleagues found that mystical experiences are positively correlated with spiritual intelligence. In other words, women who had experiences in which all things seemed to be one, or experiences that could not be expressed in words, were more likely to agree with statements such as.
“I have often wondered or pondered the nature of reality”, “I I can identify a purpose or reason for my life” and “I recognize aspects of myself that are deeper than my physical body.”
The researchers did not observe a significant association between mystical experiences and the overall measure of schizotypy. But, consistent with previous research, mystical experiences were positively correlated with several individual schizotypal traits, including unusual beliefs and unusual perceptions.
Mystical experiences were also positively correlated with psychotic symptoms. However, it is important to note that mystical experiences were more closely associated with spiritual intelligence than with schizotypal personality traits or psychotic symptoms.
Bitena and colleagues found that spiritual intelligence made up 58% of the variance of mystical experiences, unusual perceptions made up 14% of the variance, unusual beliefs made up 9% of the variance, and psychotic symptoms made up only 4% of the variance.
“I think anyone reading my research should understand that not everything that is understood about science so far is set in stone,” Bitena told PsyPost.
“Knowledge is changing new evidence is emerging that changes the perspective of things that seemed to be understood before.
This has been particularly evident in the study of mystical experiences historically, mystical experiences have been considered a sign of pathology, but now we know that the coin has another side the potentially positive effects of transcendental states on a person’s mental health.
Accordingly, for those who experience transcendental experiences (especially if they occur spontaneously rather than intentionally), this study provides some comfort, reduces anxiety about mental clarity, and normalizes the experience.
The researchers noted that their study relied on questionnaires, a common limitation found in psychological research. It is also unclear whether the participants experienced spontaneous mystical experiences or purposefully sought them out using psychedelic drugs or spiritual techniques.
The results obtained should also not be interpreted as concluding that mystical experiences are inherently positive.
“It is important to note that the pursuit of transcendental experiences is a kind of trend today. Some practice spiritual and respiratory practices for this purpose, others go to shamanic rituals, and others use psychoactive substances.
I’m concerned about people’s minimal understanding of what they’re actually doing to themselves, sometimes in such an irresponsible way and just for fun,” Bitena said.
“It should be noted that intensely altered states of consciousness are associated with risks, including the development of psychological trauma and the activation of dormant mental illnesses.
My goal is not to keep anyone from having an emotionally and internally transformative experience, but to be good at the facts and also to go on adventures with at least a little understanding of what is about to happen.”
“The same topic is important in future research – I think it would be worthwhile to find out exactly what factors determine the outcome of mystical experience in human life,” Bitena continued.
“What are the prerequisites that increase the likelihood that an experience will become a step in a person’s life, and what determines the other pole – negative consequences?”
“I am very grateful that Western science and society are once again turning to the topic of altered states of consciousness, including mystical experiences,” the researcher added.
“I think it is extremely important to talk about it, to know these states, to experience them and to take further steps in recognizing the limits of human abilities and in understanding how the divine nature relates to us.”
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