You go to a cathedral. Or a rock concert. You stand on the ocean shore watching a sunset. Or in St. Peter's Square as the Pope speaks.
If you feel uplifted, where does that sensation come from? The setting, what lies outside you? Your mind, what lies within you? Some combination of the two?
Most of us tend to speak rather simplistically about this. We'll say something like, "Disneyland was so much fun!" Or "I loved the movie I saw last night."
That is, we either ascribe a good feeling to some external entity or to ourselves. Both views are incorrect, in my experience. I am indeed affected by my outside environment. Yet my mind determines what i feel at any given moment.
I got to musing about this after reading some comments on a recent Church of the Churchless blog post. Someone spoke about the how the bliss and intoxicaton of a spiritual experience comes from within, not without.
Which I agree is true.
Just as a tree falling in the forest doesn't make any sound unless someone with ears is around, there is no bliss and intoxication without someone capable of experiencing a good feeling.
It seems fair to say that "outside" and "inside" blend within the human brain. Though we are affected by our objective environment, how this occurs is determined by our subjective state of mind -- which obviously is intensely personal.
Religious believers often mistakenly assume that when they feel uplifted in the presence of some supposedly holy entity, that feeling is produced by the entity.
Early on in my churchless blogging, I wrote about this sort of thing in "Did I see God in first class?"
I may have seen God in first class. The first class section of an Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco to Palm Springs, to be exact. Or, maybe I didn’t.
In the early ‘90s I was traveling from Portland to attend a “bhandara," or spiritual gathering, of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) devotees in Palm Springs. After changing planes in San Francisco I found myself in a right side aisle seat in the coach row directly behind first class, idly watching other passengers board.
A middle-aged Indian gentleman caught my eye. Bearded, he was wearing a white turban and blue jeans. His first class seat was across the aisle and one row up from mine. Before sitting down he glanced around the rear of the plane and our eyes briefly met. Then he took his seat and I returned to perusing a magazine. Nothing special seemed to have happened.
But it had, to quite a few other people sitting near me. For they were Bay Area RSSB members who also were heading to Palm Springs for the bhandara where the satguru (true guru) was to speak. And that Indian gentleman sitting a few feet away from me was the satguru—Master Gurinder Singh.
I began to hear whispers. “That’s him.” “The master is sitting in first class.” “I don’t believe it.” I hadn’t recognized Gurinder Singh, even though I’d seen him before at a bhandara in Vancouver, B.C. Fervent RSSB devotees consider the satguru to be God in human form, much as Jesus is regarded by devout Christians.
The difference being, Jesus is dead and Gurinder Singh was sitting alive and well in an Alaska Airlines first class seat. Imagine that a Christian gets on a plane and sees Jesus seated a few rows ahead of him and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the atmosphere on the flight to Palm Springs—among the RSSB disciples, at least.
I got mildly caught up in the excitement. However, even back then, when I was much more involved—psychologically and otherwise—with RSSB than I am now, I didn’t consider that seeing the satguru was a big deal. And until I made the connection between “Indian man wearing a turban” and “Master Gurinder Singh,” seeing him wasn’t even a small deal.
For I didn’t feel a hint of anything special until the disciples around me started up the “It’s him!” whispering campaign. Wouldn’t you think that if a person truly is God in human form, such would be obvious?
Not just to those who already believe in the person’s divinity, but to everyone—believer and unbeliever alike. Jesus, of course, suffered the same lack of recognition. If his purported godliness had been transparently apparent, impossible to deny, by the time he died Jesus would have had a lot more than a handful of followers.
Psychedelic researchers speak of the importance of set and setting in determining the nature of a LSD (or similar drug) experience.
“Set” includes the personality of the individual; “setting” includes cultural views about what is real. If someone with a devotional frame of mind joins a group like RSSB that affirms the divinity of a guru, then this person may very well see God sitting in first class. I, on the other hand, just saw an Indian man.
Some people go to a Lady Gaga concert and feel it was a life-changing event. Others, that it was merely a cause of hearing loss. Likewise, some people feel marvelously uplifted in the presence of a religious leader. Others feel nothing special.
This shows that good feelings, spiritual or otherwise, aren't produced by anything outside of us.
It takes a resonance between outside and inside, physical and mental, objective and subjective, to fashion a positive experience. Or any sort of experience.