A Closer Look at Spiritual Awakenings

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Spiritual awakening, often referred to as a religious, spiritual, or mystical experience, is as varied as the individuals who have such experiences.
Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

The commonality in all such events is a situation which transcends reality and ultimately gives way to divine contact. Such contact differs from individual to individual. Some explain having seen beatific visions of recognizable religious figures such as Christ or the Saints. Others report having seen visions of unknown personages, to which they attribute divinity based on the profound nature of the encounter. Others still do not experience an outward “sighting” of religious figures or images, but rather have an “inward” experience of divinity. This may be the result of meditation or may originate at an unexpected time.

What is the Difference Between a Spiritual Awakening and an Apparition?

This moment or series of moments are recognized by the individuals as having been incidences of spiritual awakening. This deeply subjective reality is often rooted in the grandeur and distinctiveness of such an experience.

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A moment of spiritual awakening must be defined as such or it will otherwise be understood as an apparition or supernatural sighting. The distinction is that an apparition is something that is merely perceived or recognized by an individual. However in the case of a spiritual awakening, the divinity must inhabit or alter the individual in a profound spiritual sense.

Quite often, people reporting such awakenings had previously suffered from serious afflictions of one kind oranother. Not all afflictions are necessarily spiritual in nature. Individuals may have suffered from physical or

psychological conditions such as disease, depression or loss of loved ones. The awakening is often perceived as occurring in direct response to such an ailment of mind or body. After the experience, while not necessarily being cured in a medical sense, the individual is often able to take a starkly opposing viewpoint to the one previously held.

Are Awakenings Real?

Although mystical experiences have been studied by psychologists and philosophers in order to ascertain information, examine similarities and define outcomes, there remains a great deal of skepticism over the actual occurrence of such experiences. Those who are not “hard-line” skeptics often accept that an experience may have occurred, while attempting to offer a scientific rationale.

A number of similarities in spiritual awakenings do exist and have been classified academically according to their specific characteristics.

What Types of Awakenings Exist?

William James, the American scholar who studied these experiences from both a psychological and philosophical

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perspective, identified four central varieties of spiritual experiences:

Transient — the awakening lasts for a brief time and the person reverts back to his or her regular feelings.

Ineffable — In this instance, the individual fails to have the ability to concretely put their experience into words.

Noetic — This is most often associated with Spiritual Awakenings. In this case, the person admits to having gained an important awareness that was previously outside their realm of understanding.

Passive — the spiritual experience occurs without being influenced by meditation or similar activities. It has the impression of being “accidental” or lacking conscious effort.

 Have Other Scholars Identified Awakenings Differently?

Many scholars who have studied mystical experiences have approached their own ideas of classification. Consider the following examples:

Mediated — In this case, the experience was “brought on” by the use of a designated mediator. These experiences often take place within rituals performed by persons of religious backgrounds who have been “trained” in religion or mysticism of some form. The Mediated experience also includes the use of religious or occult objects in order to come into contact with the divine.

Immediate — This is a complete reversal of the Mediated experience. Here the individual has neither attempted to partake in a mystical experience nor does he or she expect contact with the divine. The individual experiences the divine without mediators or objects

What Do People Say to Skeptics?

Those who have reported contact with deities or other divine presences are often confronted with the questions, “How do I tell people?” and “Should I tell people?” Individuals often refute skeptics by saying that because they have no scientific reason to disbelieve what they may have seen or heard, they therefore must continue to believe that it is true.

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