In order to really understand spirituality and religion, we need to go beyond surface appearances and penetrate to the essence, to have a direct encounter with the sacred, and to feel its numinous power.

This is what is known as the religious experience, and it can often be life-changing and transformational. Religious experience is the foundation of each of our individual spiritual paths, because without it, we are on the outside looking in, separated by an invisible barrier from that which we seek. But if we’ve experienced it, then we know it is real and that we are on the right path.

There are many different kinds of religious experience, each with its own unique feeling tone, texture, and content. Some are characterized by intense energy, while others are still and calm. Some involve specific deities, while others are empty of form. Similarly, there are many different practices and techniques that can help lead us to have religious experiences.

Meditation    Ceremony    Prayer   Psychoactive Plants    Music  Trance Dancing

— these are some of the practices and techniques that have worked for me in my spiritual path, but there are many others that may work for you.

Religious experience is also foundational across the broad spectrum of traditional and alternative religions around the world. For example, Siddhartha Gautama’s experience of enlightenment led to the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path, and the religion we know as Buddhism. Or Moses’s experience of the burning bush led to the Ten Commandments, the Torah, and the religion we know as Judaism. But it is not only the founders of religions that have religious experiences, it is also the practicing members of each religion as well. For instance, many Christians have the experience of being ‘born again,’ which is often the catalyst for converting to Christianity or deepening one’s faith.

So if we wish to understand spirituality and religion, then we need to understand the religious experiences that are at the core of each. This is the central methodological approach I use in my own spiritual path, and in my work as a ceremonial leader, a spiritual guide, and a religious studies scholar.