As I explain in my ‘What is Truth‘ article, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in my life trying to figure out how all truth in this world fits together into one cohesive whole. To me, that seems to be the highest idea LDS people learn in our church, taught to us in our highest temple ordinance just before we symbolically pass through the “veil” into the presence of “God”. I’ve read a good amount of most of the world’s religious works. I’ve had visions of spirits, I’ve heard voices, I’ve battled demons, I’ve dabbled in the hidden mysteries, and I’ve done my best to investigate and integrate into my worldview the best parts of the world’s religions. I was raised in the LDS Church and always considered myself an “orthodox” Mormon, and bought into a subtly condescending attitude toward those with views dissenting from the mainstream. Like much of the world’s religious faithful, I always had a strong “testimony” that our way was not only the best way, but the only true way. But after the death of my father, I gained an insatiable appetite for information relating to religion and the afterworld… and after years of asking—and getting answers, I gained a picture of reality that turned out to be quite different than what I thought growing up. I think my understanding and “testimony” now is in many ways very different from most Mormons, but still similar in many respects.
My testimony now (the LDS term for one’s belief system) is complicated. It’s certainly not black and white and doesn’t correspond to the sound bites of any particular church. (Despite considering myself LDS, and loving the truths in our church). Although this entire site is basically my religious thoughts that I am laying out for my kids or anyone interested, I want to use this article to try and summarize and prioritize my beliefs in a way that might help people better understand me.
Unity As The Highest Ideal
I believe the highest ideal is unity. As I explain in detail in my article What is Truth, Is the LDS Church the Only True Church? article, I believe ultimate truth is an understanding of a thing from every possible perspective, and so statements of testimony like “I know my Church is True” distort the very concept of truth. Because to most people such a statement is paramount to making one’s church ‘better’ than all the others, or suggesting that it’s mostly free from the lies, half-truths, misunderstandings, issues and limited perspective which are an inevitable part of anything run by fallible humans. I believe the tenets of all religions contain both truth and error, and are perceived differently by every member. Rather than taking sides in debates concerning truth, epistemology or ontology, I love to see what others believe and figure out how their beliefs fit into the big picture. I haven’t met a lot of people that I can’t see the truth’s in their perspective. I like to talk to people from their perspective as much as possible. I love to try and enlarge the perspectives of others.
My Spiritual (Metaphysical? Supernatural?) Experiences
I think like many people I had experiences of synchronicity, and answers to prayers in my youth, which really gave me a sense that there was a higher power. A sense that the natural world we typically interact with was only a small part of a larger unseeable reality. But the first truly supernatural experience (from my perspective) I had occurred in about the 7th grade. Being raised in an active LDS family, I learned about Joseph Smith’s first vision growing up, but for some reason, it suddenly really resonated with me. I decided if praying worked for him to see god, it would work for me. I set up a day to go out and pray in a secluded place but ended up falling ill that day— to the point I spent a few days in bed. So I set my mind on another day some time later… but I strangely got really sick again. It was one of many strange examples of synchronicity which was hard to dismiss. To me, there seemed to be something very real to this God-thing. My apophenic mind found significant meaning in the fact that “God” (more on my view of that later) or some part of my subconscious self was fighting my conscious mind to prevent me from pursuing this experience. (More on my views of ancient and modern theophany experiences below…)
Strangely, that experience served as an important backdrop as I’ve talked with multiple people over the years (and read the accounts of many others) who have had visions and interactions with what they felt was deity (see wikipedia’s article on theophany).
A few years after the above experience I started reading the Book of Mormon for seminary. I got through the book of Second Nephi and became engrossed. I couldn’t put it down and read the rest of the book in a day or two. While reading the story of Ammon & Lamoni I had my strongest feeling-based metaphysical experience ever. A warm/burning feeling overtook me that seemed to originate from my heart and radiate through my whole body. It was a classic kundalini experience. It made me collapse in bed and wonder if I was having a heart attack or something — but it was accompanied by incredible feelings of love unlike anything I had ever felt before. This was not simple emotionalism, it was a whole-body biological reaction to what I read. It was not simply like the warm-fuzzies we all feel when we watch a touching movie. It was far more visceral and biological, with feelings of ecstasy, warmth and enlargement in my brain and heart area. To put it quite frankly, it was much like having a completely unsexual orgasm (not that I would have had any clue what that even was at that age)–where I was spiritually united with some unseen reality. Feelings associated with that initial powerful biological and emotional outpouring lingered for days. I felt anointed and special. I felt connected to God and to that book, and I subsequently used that experience as an initial basis for a testimony of the LDS church and its living prophets. From that point on, I was a fully committed to Mormonism, yet at the same time I felt a connection to divinity that allowed me to define what Mormonism was to be for me—rather than having it fully defined by Mormon leadership. I felt a true unity with “god” and Mormonism and increasingly felt like whatever issues I saw I could get answers to resolve them.
(I’ve since learned that such biological/spiritual manifestations of spiritual experiences are not exclusive to any particular religion, and have been experienced and described for thousands of years by many different religious traditions. It is also referred to as the sacred anointing, baptism by fire or serpent fire of Jewish traditions & Kabbalah; and the coiled serpent, chakra/endocrine theory of Eastern traditions. see The Biology of Kundalini)
Two months before my LDS mission, my father was killed in a freak accident, and the seclusion and isolation of my mission became a powerful catylist for me in desiring to really know what lay beyond death. This was the beginning of my dark night of the soul. When my dad died, part of me died. After this, religion no longer remained a cultural and social given in my life. I became a true student of religion, because I wanted to know what lie beyond the grave. And although I really didn’t have many particularly unusual spiritual experiences on my mission (apart from very regularly occurring emotional religious confirmations and a few psychic voices in my mind), soon after my mission I began to have a number of experiences with what scientist have haphazardly termed sleep paralysis (which involve dream-like “thought forms“, or spiritual visionary/dream experiences) as well seeing earth-bound spirits. In my first experience of this sort, I woke up in the twilight hours before dawn to what I thought was my mother (a female individual) sitting on my bedside with her hand on my leg. As I opened my eyes and became conscious of her presence suddenly realizing that this was not anyone I knew, the individual instantly flew on top of me as if trying to enter my body (at least that was my perception). Not that this apparition was really even particularly frightening, but that I was horrified by not being able to move—and at the reality and unfamiliarity of the experience. After a few horrifying moments of me futilely trying to scream and defend myself (but not being able to move or make audible noises), the being left and my biological eyes opened (more on that in a second). This type of experience occurred a number of times from the ages of about 21 – 28, and as time went by I got better not freaking out and appropriately dealing with, or interacting with the experiences until it ended.
As I go through my subsequent experiences in this next section, I think it’s important to note that all but one or two of my experiences with seeing “spirits” have occurred with my biological eyes closed in the hypnopompic state. It’s a difficult phenomena to explain and it’s easy to see why those who haven’t experienced it would suspect all such experiences are just a type of dream (which is certainly one way to look at them). In most of my experiences I am mentally “woken up” to see some apparition from my bed—only to be bewildered by the fact that afterwards I end up opening my physical eyes to find I was actually still physically “asleep”. And yet I’m not asleep and these seem to me, far different than lucid dreams— I am totally aware of both my thoughts and surroundings and before opening my eyes, I can somehow see things like the time on the alarm clock and room lighting—which don’t change at all when I open my eyes. In these experiences I am always sure I’m wide awake with eyes open, only to surprisingly find myself later opening my physical eyes to an identical scene & feeling. (There is absolutely no sensation of waking up, only of opening my biological eyes). From my perspective I am somehow “seeing” things through the “eyes” of my spirit (for loss of a better word). I know that sounds hokey and I don’t expect those who have not experienced this phenomena to understand— but that is absolutely the perception I have of the experience. In multiple instances I have looked out the window to see the dawning light on the horizon, and then when my biological eyes open afterwards—there is absolutely no difference to what I perceived of the scene before and after my physical eyes open. In fact, it is absolutely uncanny how often these experience occur exactly as a sliver of light appears on the horizon. Even if I am in a dark room with curtains drawn, they nearly always occur within a short period of twilight.
One instance in particular really solidified my belief that my experiences with seeing spirits are more complicated than dreaming or super-lucid hallucinations. Sometime around age 25 I had an instance where I was awoken by the spirit of a young teenager in my room (my impression was that this individual had died as a teen). He woke me up purposefully by walking up to me and waving his hand repeatedly in my face. I remained semi-conscious and just watched him as he walked through the wall toward the living room where my wife was sleeping that night. I sensed his intent to try and annoy my wife as well, and so as I opened my eyes to get out of bed and start heading toward the living room, my wife popped in the room a bit shaken and asked if I had just snuck up to her and woken her up by loudly whispering “hey!” into her ear. She got up immediately and looked both beneath and around the sofa, fully expecting me to be hiding just out of her view. When she realized it wasn’t me, she was startled and came into the bedroom to see where I was. I have had many experiences with seeing and talking to spirits both before and after this one, but this experience with my wife sticks out as the first which was objectively confirmed by another individual. It is also interesting to note that my wife also had an experience of “hearing spirits” when she was young. It was a strange and frightening experience for her, and had never been repeated until this night. [Because of its transient nature there is can, of course, be little objectively provable scientific evidence of clairaudience or clairvoyance, so it deserves the skepticism it receives— but the phenomena has been documented for thousands of years, occurring to countless individuals; and my experiences certainly began to make me a believer.]
More Interaction with Beings
Since the shared experience with my wife, I’ve had many experiences where I am “woken up” (although my eyes are still closed), to some ethereal being standing near my bed, teaching me. (I can’t move my head and look at them because I’m not physically awake–only mentally awake). This has usually occurred after I’ve read something to make me sincerely ask heaven for answers to questions. The beings, (or sometimes just a voice) then give me lengthy, profound explanations which give me unbelievably clear visual and conceptual understandings of different topics. But then after I open my eyes and try to write down what was telepathically communicated to me, the vision and understanding fade and I fail to find the words to explain it. It’s a wild experience and in some periods of my life it’s happened with surprising regularity. Often the explanations will include scriptures or concepts which I don’t remember ever reading or learning, but when I wake up and look them up, they end up being legit verses. I’ve repeatedly considered the prevailing scientific explanation that these visions could just be a product of an insanely lucid imagination or a hallucinogenic mind, but as I’ve analyzed these experiences objectively from an agnostic/scientific perspective (and those of others) I believe it is more likely the other way around. (I don’t think current psychoanalysis of hallucinations can account for ‘group visions’, the experience where my wife was woken up too, or psychic premonitions that I’ve experienced (and occur regularly to millions of other people around the earth). As I’ve looked for answers, I think it’s more likely that both spiritual and hallucinatory experiences in general are connected to DMT’s ability to allow the brain to enter subjective states of consciousness wherein humanity is more connected to each other or some type of subconscious group memory and perhaps even to an intelligent infinite creation. (see Rick Strassman’s work at New Mexico school of Medicine, on the Pineal gland’s production of DMT, as well as the link between hallucinogenic drugs and higher states of consciousness. — Note, I’ve never taken illicit or hallucinogenic drugs/medications of any kind by the way, nor have I ever had a metaphysical experience I can remember of while taking any type of cold, flu or pain medication).
While my wife was pregnant, I had one experience where I believe I saw an apparition of the spirit of my unborn child in the same manner as the other spiritual manifestations I’ve seen; however in this experience when I opened my eyes, I could still faintly “see” (or better put, perceive with an extra-ocular sense) the outline of this infant-sized spirit which floated in front of me blinking her big beautiful eyes. Because of these experiences I believe in an afterlife (or at least a spirit-world or global mental realm of sorts, wherein we can subtly interact with the consciousness of the dead, unborn or extra-dimensional beings). I also believe in supernatural events, and certain extrasensory abilities of the human mind; despite the differences in perspective and obvious fraud and forgery existing in the world’s descriptions of these phenomena. I believe very firmly in an afterworld which houses the consciousness of the dead (Spirits & Angels). However, I believe that when we interact with this realm the visionary individual does so in a subjective way through their OWN consciousness (the mystic’s mind transformed raw channeled information into their own language, culture & even physical forms). At the same time I fully accept the possible validity of purely psychological explanations for paranormal activity; as long as they accept the idea of some kind of subtle shared global, or infinite consciousness. but I don’t believe that visions and experiences with this unseen realm are a viewing of a fully objective reality like our own. Attempts to view it as such run into issues both in my own experiences and in those of the thousands of others I have read of. There is an aspect of that realm that is far more subjective than our own. (I’ll explain this more later)
I think it’s also noteworthy to mention that I’ve never had any experience with seeing my deceased father in dreams or my night visions. I was woken once at my grandma’s house by a Spirit who I had the distinct impression was related to me, but I’ve never had anything like that happen with my dad, other than possibly feeling his presence or guidance during normal daytime activities. I would think, that if these experiences had to do with some kind of hallucinatory wishful thinking, that they would most certainly end up revolving around the one person who I always wished to talk with most beyond the grave? But nothing. Even despite having a small experience with another loved-one shortly after their death, where they told me something of what it was like there, I have never been woken at night by my father.
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