For most of us the other side is something we don't think much about. When someone close to us is very ill or dies, we do what we can do to get through our grief, and we continue on. Life is about this side and giving our best to what each day presents. Meanwhile, for many people, the other side is not something limited to brief encounters with death and dying but is something very close, present, a big part of life. The other side has been experienced in an extraordinary visitation, lucid dream, prayer, meditation, or Near Death Experience. This experience in its extreme vividness is stationed as if fixed in one's awareness. No matter how much they would like to get back to everyday life as they were before, they have had a spiritual awakening. The other side is close, too close, impacting nearly everything including what they do, think, and feel.
For the many thousands who had had a spiritual awakening, the other side is not some story about spirits and angels. It is not some belief brought home from Church. Almost uniformly, the other side is an experience of being in a vast space of great acceptance, boundless love or light that has penetrated their beliefs, challenged their values and goals, questioning the very structure of what was their identity. Their experience of spiritual awakening no matter how brief or how long ago showed a realm of incredible beauty, complete understanding, a feeling of coming home like no other they have ever imagined.
Once the non-material world is experienced so deeply, the physical world is not the same. The awareness of unlimited being in a realm of peace without any negativity is a stark contrast to the world most of us live in. There is confusion. There is an inner struggle. How does one live in this world when another world exists, a timeless world with no place for darkness? How does one embrace life in the physical world when there is life in eternity, full of wonders beyond anything they have ever imagined?
People who have had a transforming spiritual experience often find themselves trying to manage everyday life as their inner life is in turmoil. Of course friends and family try to support them. But more often then not, the spiritually awakened in their vulnerability and mind altering experience, feel judged and alien. In the midst of what everyone around them is thinking, they must come to terms with their own thoughts and more important all their feelings. Many find themselves no longer citizens of this side, the other side, or any side of life. They have found Heavenly bliss in the midst of life's pain and suffering.
Nearly every institution including school, church, medicine offer little support. More typically others think this person has lost touch with reality. And they are right! People who have had a spiritual awakening have lost touch with reality as we normally know it and have touched instead another reality which in its golden realness challenges their relationships, chosen work, their life journey. How can they continue the search for partnership, wealth, worldly rewards when they have experienced love and riches beyond anything they previously thought possible? The other side has crashed into their lives, sometimes literally. How does someone who now knows God, and knows that God knows him or her, live in a world arguing about whether God exists?
Recently I have had the fortune to meet and discuss this with Yolaine Stout, president of Aciste (The American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences). She says there are studies which say up to one-third of Americans have had some form of a spiritual awakening. There is research which shows up to 50 percent of these people suffer from some form of depression unable to integrate their spiritual experience with the very material experience of modern life. Many of these people are instead of being over joyed in knowing there is a great love in eternity are actually angry. They are angry being trapped in an unloving world when they know there is another realm which is so different, so caring, so giving, so accepting.
Yolaine explained to me that in recent years people who have had a spiritually transformative experience have begun coming together. They needed community. Aciste among other organizations have been formed to support experiencers, as they call themselves, to receive and integrate their experience. It is important they do not feel wrong or judged. The people who have had a spiritual awakening are often the person most quiet in the room. They are living more simply, humbly then most of us. Living typically unseen and not valued for their experience, those who have had a transformative spiritual experience have much to teach all of us.
Although many experiencers have this deep desire "to return home," they have little choice but to make a new home in this world. The answers they are discovering include creating a life of great heart, to embrace their heart, the hearts of others, the heart of life. Within their heart they realize is our spiritual essence. The other side is inexplicably here, now. The two sides are actually one. Heaven, this awareness of complete freedom and intimate peace is within us.
Experiencers are realizing a spiritual practice is necessary to keep and validate their spiritual awakening. They are taking time to be in their own inner quiet. Meditation and prayer takes them inside as they breathe, remember, and enjoy the landscape of Heaven. In our noisy world including the noise in our own heads, time in silence and solitude is important. The mind slows down and something opens in the heart as our awareness becomes less busy and more available. In our own inner stillness there is an inner world without border or boundary. There is eternity.
Spiritual awakening seems to include finding another source. The answers to our questions are not only in the world but very much inside of us. With life's challenges instead of fighting back, being defensive or reactive, there is another way of being, another perspective. The vast realm of goodness experiencers found on the other side, now with meditation and practice is found consistently within them. The timelessness they experienced in their awakening shows them love's essence is also in this moment and this moment continues.
Where normally fear and ego go into gear trying to manage life, a spiritual practice is teaching them to take time to remember fully their awakening and continue unfolding. This love heals fear and the egos attempt to control everything. The vast heart within the heart is the bridge to the other side. It is our source of trust and well being. The embrace and growing understanding of their awakening is telling them what is true, what is really happening.
Experiencers are discovering the gifts of their spiritual awakening. The vast treasure they found on the other side is still with them. They want to turn down the mind and turn up the life of the heart. Daily meaning and purpose is not in the big things the mind would like but enjoying and sharing the small joys, the grace that is present. Living the path of more heart, the Other Side is not in the past or future but in the intimacy of life itself. It is important to turn our awareness inward again and again. Slowly our true heart and the heart of life is apparent. Embracing beauty in all forms, the filter of the mind lessens and the brilliance of the light returns and grows in our awareness.
Instead of debating to live in this physical world or try to escape it, people who have had a spiritual awakening are finding the choice to turn awareness to the light within and see it in others. The superficiality of worldly life is less of a problem as they strive less to fill up the emptiness with things and activities and enjoy emptiness as a doorway to the vast space in the heart where spiritual transformation is happening. The other side is very close. It is not something to fear or question. The other side is love. Are we available to receive and become simple instruments of love's presence?
Bruce Davis, Ph.D. is retreat leader at Silent Stay Retreats in Napa, California and Assisi, Italy where people come to explore the landscape of their own spiritual awakening.