Have you ever left your body, encountered an extraordinary luminosity or entered a heavenly environment, where you felt completely at home? Did you experience the most indescribable feelings of wellness, rapture, love? Did you want to stay in this magical place forever? When you returned to your body, and to ordinary life, did you feel overwhelmed by it all?
If you have answered yes to even one of my questions, you are not alone in what you have experienced – nor are you mad. You are perfectly sane. Lots of people have had these kinds of experiences or something like it. There are different terms given to these experiences by different experts, however, there is one which really sums the phenomenon up, and it is the Spiritually Transformative Experience or STE for short.
An STE is a natural, and often spontaneous occurrence of heightened consciousness by which a person experiences an ultra-reality that comparably makes ordinary, material-based reality, appear less real or illusory. They can be catalysts for major change in the life of the experiencer, affecting the daily life of the experiencer, their families, communities and the world they live in.
STEs have been around for as long as there have been people walking the earth – that’s a long time! However, now with advancements in medical procedures – with more people coming back from the brink of death and with the added curiosity of Hollywood and the media, and bestsellers describing the phenomenon, there has been an increase in the reporting of STEs.
Who can have an STE?
The most important thing to know about STEs is that the phenomenon can happen to anyone – anywhere – at any age. This means it can happen to you, or your partner, or your child, or a friend – if it hasn’t already. It is likely to happen to someone you know.
If you are an experiencer, it could happen to you again. Some experiencers have had multiple experiences at different times in their lives. You or your loved one could have one or more of these experiences, at any time, and be transformed. Of course, death is the ultimate STE and we will all experience it, some day.
STEs have been known to occur in the following circumstances:
- Trauma – or a series of traumatic events
- Serious accident or injury
- Illness, coma, cardiac arrest, dying
- Grief, depression, despair
- Wellness, happiness, peace, love-making
- Meditation, yoga, fasting, chanting, contemplation
- Sleeping, waking, walking, driving
- Ordinary daily activities
There are many circumstances that can result in a person having an STE, however, the same trigger may not result in another person having an STE. Some STEs like near-death experiences (NDEs), near-death-like experiences (NDLEs), out-of-body experiences (OBEs), awakenings, kundalini experiences, past life experiences and after-death communications (and others) share similar features:
- A sense of transcendence – of having partially or substantially vacated the body, and the material world – perhaps even having a vision of departing planet earth and being in outer-space and beyond.
- An extraordinarily bright, pure, white or golden light, emanating intense love and acceptance.
- A feeling of spiritual homecoming – bliss.
- A melding in with universal power – having the feeling of oneness, wholeness, completion, perfection, eternity, God.
- Expansion of wisdom – gaining an instantaneous knowing of spiritual truth – of being able to understand complex universal truths easily, naturally, intuitively, instinctively.
- A panoramic, holographic life review or preview.
- Entering a heavenly, otherworldly, universal or expansive state or realm – vivid, ultra-colourful environment; landscape.
- Encountering a divine presence, angels, spirit beings, light beings, religious figures or deceased loved ones – communicating with them telepathically.
STE account: Julienne
The following extract is from an interview I conducted with Julienne, an Australian lady in her early 60s from Port Macquarie, New South Wales. She had an STE when she was a young woman, aged seventeen:
“I had glandular fever. I was in the hospital and the doctor and nurses were concerned mainly because it appeared I had fitted and lost consciousness.
The nurses seemed to be reviving me – I was watching this from out of my body. I felt light. I could move easily – wherever I wanted. My senses were heightened and I was able to feel many different emotions simultaneously.
Suddenly I was then looking down at the beautiful blue ball of earth. I was in space, looking back towards the earth. I felt a great love towards the earth, and was aware somehow, of all the emotions that exist here. It was overwhelming.
There was a silver thread of light connecting me to the earth. I was only dimly aware of this thread, which was like a thin silver thread-light similar to an umbilical cord. That was the only time I was aware of it.
There was a very bright light moving towards me from the right. I turned to face it, and moved towards it, as it felt so lovely. I wanted to walk into it. A large human-like shape emerged from the light … I would have to say it was God. I was the being of light myself! I seemed to belong to the light as if we were the same substance.
I was then aware of people sitting at a long table and that they were spirit beings who had lived on earth as humans. I recognised some and noticed a man, who I later found out was my mother’s uncle. I felt they were a family group and that I belonged to them. They recognised me, spoke to me and reassured me. I could see a place reserved at the table for my Grandma and Aunty, and for me, but it was not our time yet.
After seeing this, I returned to the hospital. I was willing the doctor away from my body with my thoughts, so I could re-enter it. I didn’t realise I’d had a near-death experience until ten years later when I read a book about other people’s similar experiences.
Sometimes I wanted to be back there and knew that someday I would. I feel happier about dying now, but I never really minded the thought of death anyway, as I felt like I would be going to a good place.”
All STEs are unique, however, experiencers can also share similar after-effects:
- STEs are intense, overwhelming, extra-sensory experiences which are difficult to verbalise.
- STEs often bring about a change in the way an experiencer perceives the world.
- An STE can super-charge an experiencer’s life – affecting their sensitivities, abilities, identity, relationships, interests, motivation and behaviour.
- Experiencers may lose all fear of death and suddenly gain an insatiable appetite for spiritual knowledge, learning, and creativity.
- Experiencers generally have a more positive and compassionate outlook and feel a greater interconnectedness with all life.
STEs can also bring about new challenges, like confusion, feelings of social isolation and depression. The reason for this is that an STE may contradict what a person was raised to believe in, and may go against what the experiencer’s family or community accepts as valid.
Also, the experiencer may have a need to express to someone what they have experienced, and yet it is often difficult to put it into words. Words never do the experience justice – it is so beyond words. In trying to share his or her experience, if they are invalidated in some way, it can be very isolating and frustrating.
An STE is a spiritual healing or ‘wake-up call’ and to process it appropriately an experiencer must be able to communicate it. One way is to share his or her experience with someone who will listen to them respectfully and without judgement. Other ways can be to write about the experience, create something that represents the experience – big or small, move into a profession that utilises wisdom gained from the experience, or to speak and teach about the experience.
There can be a big need in the experiencer to share what they have learned for having glimpsed eternity – ‘to pay it forward’ – to take what they have been gifted with and put it to some beneficial use, often in service of humanity. But if a person feels their experience will be dismissed, or ridiculed, by those around them, they will recoil and feel reluctant to speak of it again, if they ever dared to. This can result in inner turbulence and poor health until this energy is communicated effectively.
The transformative aspect of an STE is complex and far-reaching. Depending on the intensity of the STE, whether it was an uplifting or fearful experience, how often the varying phenomenon and after-effects frequent an experiencer, the kind of support and acknowledgement they receive, the resources available to them; it can take many years, even a lifetime, to truly integrate these profound consciousness experiences into daily life.
- STEs are also referred to as numinous, noetic, transcendent, transpersonal, mystical, anomalous, religious, paranormal, parapsychology or ecstatic experiences.
- There are many after-effects of having one or more STE’s, often resulting in the regeneration of the experiencer psychologically and spiritually. There can be a notable enhancement in a person’s creative and intuitive abilities, and sensitivities to his or her environment.
- The integration of an STE can take many years and happens at many different levels within the psyche, eventually culminating in an acceptance of what has happened, and how it has changed the experiencer’s worldview and the course of their life.
- It is important for an experiencer to be able to focus the extraordinary energy they gain from the experience in ways that benefit them and others.
- Everyone can benefit from the sharing of STEs – the experiencer and the recipient. If you wish to assist your own integration process, speak to someone that you can trust with your experience and write your experience down. You may even like to share it here at Spirit my way. We’d love to hear about it!
- If you would like to assist someone’s integration process, you can ask them to share their experience with you. You can encourage them to write about their experience or to share it here at Spirit my way.
- There are many helpful organisations and sites dedicated to the study of STEs: the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE), the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) – and others.
My book Where The Light Lives: A True Story about Death, Grief and Transformation is about my spiritually transformative experiences and healing from personal and intergenerational grief. My STEs arose from different circumstances and not from the dying experience.
I also recommend Yvonne Kason, M.D.’s book Farther Shores: Exploring How Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives. If you want to find out more about STEs and how to integrate these or to assist an experiencer with the integration process, Yvonne’s book is valuable reading.
Have you ever had an STE, and if so, what was it like? Do you feel changed by it in some way? Did you encounter any difficulties in sharing your experience with your family or friends? I’d love to hear about it!