What Is a “Spiritual Experience”?

5 min read

One of your inner voices is always giving you good direction.

Source: konstantynov/Depositphotos

Thirty-seven years ago, I stopped two serious addictions and started attending 12-step meetings.

Last week, while lecturing in Asia, I attended a men’s meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. As often happens in the daily meetings around the world, this gathering started with one of its members recounting his personal experiences with addiction and sobriety. Martin (not his real name) focused on his spiritual awakening on the road to recovery. He then invited all of the men present to reflect on their spiritual experiences.

If you are unfamiliar with the 12 steps, they are an effective roadmap to move from helplessly self-centered, out-of-control addiction to a life of increasing serenity, acceptance, growth, and service. The outstanding hallmark of the 12 steps (familiarly known as “The Program”) is one’s developing a positive connection and an abiding relationship with a Higher Power, or God “as you understand God.”

Martin’s charge immediately brought to mind my first real spiritual experience.

It happened late one night, many years ago, when I was utterly exhausted and about to crawl into bed. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, “Floss your teeth.” I immediately resisted, “I’m too tired. I don’t want to floss my teeth.” The voice insisted, “Floss your teeth!” “No, I don’t want to.” The struggle continued, “Floss your teeth!” “Don’t tell me what to do!”

At that moment, I had the crashing thought, “Who am I arguing with?” I have a mouthful of fillings, root canals, crowns, and implants, resulting from years of poor diet and lousy oral health care. So, whose voice was this?

Over the last three decades, I came to understand that this voice was in the foreground or background of my consciousness 24/7, 365 days a year. It was always giving me unfailingly good direction about the next best thing, the next right action to take for my own well-being, and, by extension, the well-being of others.

But it was one in a competing chorus of voices, “You flossed yesterday,” “You don’t need to floss right now,” “Flossing is way overrated.” “It’s a pain in the butt.”

As the years went by, I noticed—with increasing frequency—that the next-best-thing-voice was always there, and I also observed how often I willfully disregarded it, pushed it away, or put it down. And every time I negated it—by acting out on my addiction (even though the voice was always guiding me to a better, healthier action to take)—there was some version of hell to pay: I felt crappy, defeated, helpless, or hopeless.

I am a performance psychologist. My area of study, clinical work, research, and writing is focused on how stress affects human performance. I define stress not as finger-pointing (my kids, the government, climate change, and a thousand other things that comprise life), but rather as my reaction to those things.

Each of us is a unified, dynamic system of body, mind, and spirit. The optimal states for optimal performance are to be calm in the body, confident in the mind, and focused in the spirit. When we disconnect in one, two, or three, we become tense, self-doubtful, and distracted. In other words, we become stressed.

I was born into a Jewish family, and to me, God was an angry old Jewish man sitting on a throne in the sky, fearfully judging and punishing. He also happened to bear an uncanny resemblance to my late father. Why would I want to listen to that voice, much less follow its direction?

As my recovery from addiction deepened, I not only heard “the voice” with increasing frequency, immediacy, and clarity, but I began following its direction with less and less resistance. And as I did, my life became progressively easier, fulfilling, and hopeful.

After 50 years as a teacher, 40 years as a practicing psychologist, and 37 years in recovery, I’m convinced that every one of us has this voice. As I tour the U.S. giving talks on stress, I explain it this way: “Write out your initials in capital letters. If you live east of the Mississippi put a big ‘W’ in front of that string, and if you live west of the Mississippi, put a big ‘K’ there. What do you you get?” People call out: “WRBL,” “WVNG,” “KMSD,” and “KYGC.” Then I ask, “What does that sound like?” The answer comes quickly, “A radio station.”

That’s right. It’s your radio station, broadcasting to you all the time the unfailingly good direction of the next best thing to live a healthier, more productive life. A life that will ultimately contribute to the lives of others and the well-being of the planet. This voice is not coming from your mind. It is the voice of your spirit, of God, as you understand “God.” Following the direction of this voice opens the road to spiritual awakening.

The next time you hear “the voice,” pay attention. And, in the words of a well-known advertising campaign, “Just do it.”

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours