People generally classify any experience that falls outside the normal range of the physical-vital-mental experience as “spiritual”. However, this is not an entirely accurate portrayal. Many of these experiences, albeit real and palpable to the person experiencing them, are actually taking place on the physical, vital or mental plane. We have heard of individuals, such as top athletes, performing flawless, extraordinary feats of physical effort, who describe the sensation of being one that goes beyond “normal”. They call this being “in the zone”, when the entire being is almost effortlessly carrying out actions in a concentrated and harmonious way. Similarly, we know of “out of body” experiences which have been described at great length with similar terms by many individuals, where the vital being leaves the physical body and can observe it, or travel to other places and observe things outside the ken of the physical being itself. Then there are the times when the mental clarity provides a breakthrough on some complex problem or issue being considered. Each of these and other similar experiences can be understood as real, and accepted as such without necessarily classifying them as spiritual experiences. They still reside within the bounds of the ego-personality and the human body-life-mind complex of the individual. The vital ego chases after such experiences. No doubt, the action of the soul is behind these openings, creating receptivity and faith in the workings of the universe and convincing the being of the reality of forces, powers and intentions beyond those normally available to the individual being, and actively preparing the various aspects of the individual being for a new way of seeing and working, with the spiritual force behind and informing the action.
The category of spiritual experiences encompasses those that shift the standpoint of the being from the individual human to the divine standpoint. These may or may not yield specific immediate results in the world, but they carry a veracity and a conviction of truth to the being that can refocus the entire life of the individual. They bring with them a sense of oneness, a sense of a vast peace, a sense of an infinite power, a sense of a larger will in creation, a sense of understanding the pattern and process of the universal creation, a sense of the divinity in all of existence. Spiritual experiences cannot be forced; rather, they are experienced as an act of Grace.
Sri Aurobindo explains in The Life Divine: “This is the first result, but the second is a free inflow of all kinds of spiritual experience, experience of the Self, experience of the Ishwra and the Divine Shakti, experience of cosmic consciousness, a direct touch with cosmic forces and with the occult movements of universal Nature, a psychic sympathy and unity and inner communication and interchanges of all kinds with other beings and with Nature, illuminations of the mind by knowledge, illuminations of the heart by love and devotion and spiritual joy and ecstasy, illuminations of the sense and the body by higher experience, illuminations of dynamic action in the truth and largeness of a purified mind and heart and soul, the certitudes of the divine light and guidance, the joy and power of the diving force working in the will and the conduct. These experiences are the result of an opening outward of the inner and inmost being and nature; for then there comes into play the soul’s power of unerring inherent consciousness, its vision, its touch on things which is superior to any mental cognition; there is there, native to the psychic consciousness in its pure working, an immediate sense of the world and its beings, a direct inner contact with them and a direct contact with the Self and with the Divine, — a direct knowledge, a direct sight of Truth and of all truths, a direct penetrating spiritual emotion and feeling, a direct intuition of right will and right action, a power to rule and to create an order of the being not by the gropings of the superficial self, but from within, from the inner truth of self and things and the occult realities of Nature.”