(ORDO NEWS) — A new study published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice proves that mystical experiences are spiritual, not entirely physiological. The study found that women who reported mystical experiences also tended to have higher spiritual intelligence.
Mystical experiences, which are characterized by feelings of unity, limitlessness, peace and joy, as well as changes in the sense of time and space, were considered the result of psychopathological conditions such as schizophrenia. However, new 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 shortly after that, other altered states of consciousness,” explains study author Daiga Katrina Biterna from Riga Stradins University in Latvia.
“At that time, I was a person who was unaware of the existence of altered states – I did not have significant contact with religion, spirituality, esotericism or similar thinking.
Therefore, these states of transcendental consciousness surprised me as a completely unprepared person. On the one hand, they caused truly divine feelings and made me comprehend 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 begin my academic education 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 inexplicable immensity into which science is only just beginning to penetrate.
I am fascinated and seized with despair at the same time – the study of this topic made me realize, like nothing else in my life, that a person knows and understands very little about himself and the limits of his capabilities, “says Biterna.
“He has 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 combine the rational with the seemingly magical and divine.”
In a new study, 299 Latvian women (aged 18 to 69) who had not been diagnosed with mental illness during their lives underwent a psychological examination for prior mystical experience, spiritual intelligence, schizotypal personality traits, and psychotic symptoms.
Biterna 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 were impossible to put into words, were more likely to agree with statements such as.
“I have often wondered or pondered the nature of reality”, “I am able to identify a goal or the reason for my life” and “I am aware of aspects of myself that are deeper than my physical body.”
The researchers found no significant association between mystical experiences and overall schizotypy score. However, 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. Importantly, however, mystical experiences were more strongly associated with spiritual intelligence than with schizotypal personality traits or psychotic symptoms.
Biterna and colleagues found that spiritual intelligence explained 58% of the variation in mystical experience, unusual perception 14% of the variation, unusual belief 9% of the variation, and psychotic symptoms only 4% of the variation.
“I think that anyone who reads my research should realize that not everything that has been understood in science so far is unshakable,” Biterna said in an interview with PsyPost. “Knowledge changes – new facts appear that change the view of things that previously seemed clear.
In the study of mystical experiences, this is especially obvious – historically, mystical experiences were considered a sign of pathology, but now we know that the medal has another side – a potentially positive effect transcendental states on a person’s mental health.
Accordingly, for those who experience transcendental experiences (especially if they arise spontaneously, and not caused intentionally), this study provides a certain comfort, reduces anxiety about mental clarity and normalizes experiences.
The scientists noted that their study was based on self-written questionnaires, a common limitation encountered 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 experience is a kind of current trend. Some engage in spiritual and breathing practices for this purpose, others go to shamanic rituals, others use psychoactive substances.
What worries me is the minimal understanding of people that they actually do to themselves, sometimes in such an irresponsible way and just for fun,” Biterna says.
“It should be noted that highly 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 someone from an emotionally and internally transformative experience, however it is useful to know the facts and also to get involved in adventures, although a little understanding of what awaits them.”
“The same topic is important for future research – I think it would be worthwhile to find out exactly what factors determine the outcome of a mystical experience in a person’s life,” Biterna continues. “What prerequisites increase the likelihood that an experience will become a stepping stone in a person’s life, and what determines the other pole – negative consequences?”.
“I am very grateful that science and society are once again turning to the topic of altered states of consciousness, including mystical experiences,” the researcher added. “I think it’s extremely important to talk about it, to know these states, to experience them and to take further steps in understanding the limits of human abilities and in understanding how the divine nature relates to us.”
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