Transcendental, mystical, and out-of-body experiences are becoming mainstream conversation—not only in pop culture, but also in the field of psychological research. Although more and more studies are emerging to try to determine the causes and nature of these experiences, it can still feel unnerving to go through one.
Fortunately, there is a resurgence of literature on these seemingly “extreme” realms of human perception—particularly psychedelic, mystical, and ghostly episodes. Here’s a little information on each to make you feel less alone and less scared in case you meet one in the future.
#1. Psychedelic experiences
Psychedelic experiences and psychedelic therapy have shown early promise in treating otherwise intractable conditions such as major depression, existential anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not only that, psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca, which have been used in shamanic cultures for centuries, are known to induce feelings of deep interconnectedness, joy, love, and awe—relieving people from the debilitating effects of neuroticism and negative emotions.
In some cases, these psychedelics have caused long-term positive changes in personality.
However, since there is much we do not understand about these substances, it is important to consider the following factors if you decide to have such an experience. Here are some recommendations from psychologist and psychedelia researcher, Sam Gandy:
- Because natural conditions can be unpredictable, a sheltered location with privacy is ideal. Natural settings and large doses should only be taken by those who have had previous experience with psychedelics.
- Strongly reconsider your choice of powerful psychedelics if you have a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. These conditions put you at increased risk for psychedelic-induced psychosis.
- Read the pros and cons of the experiences carefully, as a small percentage of people have reported side effects such as difficulty communicating with people, hypersensitivity, flashbacks/memories of adverse subjective experiences during the ceremony, disturbing dreams, hallucinations, slurred speech, brain fog and difficulty concentrating.
#2. Mystical experiences
According to a recent study, mystical experiences such as feeling part of a higher power and/or temporarily losing touch with time and space (which is not drug-induced) can be indicative of healthy psychological functioning, although often thought to be associated with psychological illness.
Such a mystical experience—characterized by feelings of joy, happiness, unconditional love, collective consciousness, and divine predestination—is actually related to spiritual intelligence, which includes a range of adaptive abilities such as:
- The ability to think critically about one’s own existence
- The ability to create and master life’s purpose
- The ability to recognize the transcendental dimensions/patterns of reality
- The ability to reach higher states of consciousness
Psychologists Daiga Katrīna Bitēna and Kristīne Mārtinsone of Riga Stradiņš University in Riga, Latvia have the following advice for anyone who may struggle to come to terms with a mystical experience:
“The most practical advice for a person who has had a mystical experience is to at least initially understand that this experience may be part of spiritual development or that it may be a symptom of pathology,” they explain. “It is important to take both points of view at the same time with an open mind and the fact that both can coexist. Don’t choose between the two, but try to understand what it’s like and how I should react to what I’m experiencing.
#3. Ghost experiences
A ghostly episode or haunting is perhaps the most controversial of the three paranormal experiences discussed in this article, and is often the most difficult to accept. It is important to understand that even these experiences fall within the scope of psychological research and, more importantly, are real.
First, if you’ve had a ghostly experience or an “anomalous experience,” there’s a good chance you’re high on “transliminality,” a concept that “represents a fine line between the conscious self and the unconscious self, as well as the external environment,” according to psychologist Brian Leith .
“Information from any of these sources tends to flow more easily in a person high in transliminality,” Laythe informs. “The state and trait of transliminality share links with creativity, imagination, fantasy traits, disassociation, and temporal lobe lability.”
According to Laythe, regardless of whether people choose to interpret anomalous experiences as “paranormal,” they should not feel alone or crazy for having experienced them for the following reasons:
- Having just one paranormal experience is extremely unlikely. According to previous research, long stories of various subtle and sometimes overt paranormal experiences are common.
- Anomalous phenomena are usually both subjective and objective. Intrinsic aspects of experience include a sensed presence or somatic touches or marks, while extrinsic aspects include moving objects or visions captured by technology.
Laythe points out that ghostly episodes, shamanic experiences, and general high weirdness are well documented in history. Moreover, over 100 years of modern empirical psychology show that they do not disappear despite changes in the zeitgeist of society.
“With these types of experiences, it’s often helpful to know that your experience is actually not unusual and has some predictable components,” he concludes.
Conclusion: There is much to discover and explain from psychology and research, especially when it comes to such extraordinary experiences. If you or a loved one has had one of these experiences, it is important to know that they are much more common than you think and do not necessarily point to pathology. In the case of psychedelics, they can even serve as a helpful course of treatment.