by Steve Taylor Ph.D.
Steve Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in psychology
at Leeds Beckett University.
is the author of
Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening.
that lasts just a few seconds
can change your
As a psychologist, I have been studying what I call "awakening
experiences" for a decade, and have recently published (with a
co-author) a new study (Exploring
Awakening Experiences - A study of awakening experiences in terms of
their triggers, characteristics, duration, and after effects)
of 90 such experiences in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.
Awakening experiences are moments in which our awareness expands and
We transcend the worries
that normally preoccupy us and feel a sense of elation or serenity.
Our perceptions of the world around us become more vivid, and we
feel a sense of connection to nature, other human beings or the
whole universe in general.
We feel a sense of love
and compassion, and there is a strong sense that we have transcended
a limited state, and that awareness has become more authentic than
At higher intensities of
awakening experiences, we may even feel that we have lost our normal
sense of identity and somehow become one with the whole world.
My research has found that there are three contexts that
consistently show up as major triggers of
Around a third occur
in situations of stress, depression and loss.
For example, a woman
described how she was devastated by the end of a seven-year
suffering that I didn't imagine could possibly exist."
However, in the midst
of this suffering, she,
experience a clearness and connection with everything that
existed… I was in a state of such pure happiness and
acceptance, that I was no longer afraid of anything.
Out of that depth
arose such a compassion and connection to everything that
The second major
trigger of awakening experiences identified by my research is
Around a quarter of
the experiences take place in natural surroundings, apparently
induced by the beauty and stillness of nature. People reported
awakening experiences that occurred while they walking in the
countryside, swimming in lakes, or gazing at beautiful flowers
And the third most
significant trigger of awakening experiences according to my
research - with a similar frequency to contact with nature - is
This primarily means
meditation, but also includes prayer and psycho-physical
practices such as yoga or tai chi. The relaxing, mind-quietening
effect of these practices seems to facilitate awakening
However, perhaps the most significant thing about awakening
experiences is their 'after-effects.'
Even though they are
typically of a very short duration - from a few moments to a
few hours - they frequently have a life-changing effect.
Many people described an awakening experience as the most
significant moment of their lives, reporting a major change in their
perspective on life, and in their values.
In our 2017 study of 90
awakening experiences, the most significant after-effect was a
greater sense of,
For example, one person
reported that even though,
experience was brief, it left a little piece of knowing and
hope. While I still was and am on a journey of self-reflection,
it left me knowing that your inner truth is always there for
Another person reported
"To know that it's
there (or here, I should say) is a great liberation."
One person had a powerful
awakening experience while suffering from intense depression during
"felt the most
intense love and peace and knew that all was well."
The experience only
lasted for a few minutes, but in its aftermath, she found that the
feeling of dread had disappeared from her stomach, and she felt able
to cope again, which led to a new, positive phase in her life.
As she described it,
"I looked around and
thought about all the good things in my life and the future. I
felt more positive and resilient."
Another person described
how her awakening experience,
"allowed me a glance
into the other side and opened me to the knowing that I am never
separate, alone, nor unheld."
Such changes in attitude
sometimes led to significant lifestyle changes, such as new
interests, new relationships and a new career.
Some people reported
becoming less materialistic and giving up high-powered professional
careers for a simpler, more altruistic lifestyle.
This shows that awakening experiences have a powerful therapeutic
effect. They make us realize that the world is a much more benign
and meaningful place than we normally perceive it to be.
And once we have glimpsed
this, it becomes a permanent reality to us.
As the great psychologist
Abraham Maslow noted - in relation to what he called peak
'A single glimpse of
heaven is enough to confirm its existence.'