People talk about "spiritual experiences" all the time. I've done my fair share of that myself. Yet frequent mentions of these words in a comment conversation on this post got me thinking about what they mean.
Conclusion: by themselves, nothing. Which fits with an earlier notion, that "spirituality" is a meaningless word.
A blog visitor asked me recently if I believed that people have had spiritual experiences. I replied, yes, people consider that they've had them. But before we can judge what this means, we need to define "spiritual."
And that's difficult to do, since there are so many definitions of "spirit." Any experience can be called spiritual, really.
Reaching the top of Mt. Everest. Having really great sex. Enjoying a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir. Meditating in a Zen monastery. Listening to Jimmy Hendrix. Seeing the Pope. Dancing the tango.
When I say that spiritual experiences don't exist, I'm looking upon "spirit" the way many do: as something metaphysical, other worldly, non-material.
Obviously any human who is alive can't be said to have had a spiritual experience, since he or she is experiencing life via a physical human brain. Similarly, as another commenter (tAo) noted recently, no one alive knows whether life continues after death, because anyone living hasn't died yet.
So it'd be better if people talked less about spiritual experiences, and more about experiences that they consider to be spiritual.
Meaning, tell me about the experience. Don't label it "spiritual." Describe it.
What were you doing when the experience you call "spiritual" happened? What did you see, hear, feel, taste, touch? Has it resulted in any lasting changes? Did you learn anything from the experience?
Again, this is necessary because the word is so vague.
If someone says, "I had a sexual experience," we have a pretty good idea what he or she means. (Of course, even here there is a lot of room for widely different varieties of experience.)
"Spiritual," though, can mean almost anything.
In Zen it could be chopping wood or carrying water. In mystic faiths it could be superconscious immersion in the bright white light of ultimate reality.
The only thing the word can't mean, in any meaningful sense, is a non-physical experience -- since anyone who claims to have had one did so as a physical human body.