Last week’s article “Mysticism Is Like Sex” argued that self-transcendent experiences are comparable to sex in that they are both hardwired into the human body. They don’t necessarily need to be attached to religious beliefs to be enjoyed and experienced.
As I explored in the article, my fascination with altered states of consciousness started when I was young. I was raised in a Charismatic Christian family that regularly spoke in tongues, and this revealed to me that interesting states of mind were always just around the corner. This provoked a lot of feedback from my audience on my discord server, and a number of people shared their own experiences with speaking in tongues.
One reader writes,
Growing up as a JW (Jahova’s Witness) it was drilled in our heads that meant the person doing that was possessed by the devil or demons. In fact anything mystical or fanatical was supposed to deeply scare us, since it was directly connected with Satan.
I don’t think this terror of altered states of consciousness is confined to the JWs. I’ve encountered Christians who have a mortal terror of all spiritual experiences, and I think this is sad. Letting go and being immersed in something larger than yourself is a wonderful experience. I couldn’t imagine my life without meditation, and I am routinely surprised by the vehemence and fear with which some Christians oppose it.
Another reader shared this:
You are yet another person who speaks about the experience of tongues being warm and fuzzy. My very first experience, when I received the holy ghost, was absolute cold dark silence. It was so real to me. I wasnt afraid of it though. This cold dark silence is my comfort place. But when it comes to the experience of tongues I dont understand how I seem to be the only who experienced what I did instead of the warm and fuzzies like everyone else, like I was taught my whole life.
This is an interesting comment to me because I think it demonstrates the variety of experiences people can have when it comes to the sublime and mystical. The experience this commenter is describing is closer to what I now experience in meditation.
The commenter went on to describe how they felt shunned and judged because they couldn’t get the same “warm fuzzy feeling” that other Christians got while speaking in tongues. They couldn’t conform to the dogmatic expectation to have a subjective, phenomenological experience.
This emphasizes why it is so important to hold on to these altered states of consciousness lightly and without expectation. Some people won’t experience them the same way I do. Some people won’t be able to access them at all. Or, where someone experiences bliss and delight, others might experience horror and emptiness. While I consider meditation one of the most important skills I’ve ever learned, up there with reading and writing, others may be harmed by the practice. We don’t need to carry expectations for how others are supposed to experience the sublime.
Another reader had this to say:
Funnily enough, I’ve spoken in tongues before too, but only during sex. But yes, mysticism is definitely a thing that shouldn’t be the exclusive purview of theistic people. Altered consciousness is beneficial in itself without that. Kink, in some ways for some people, is very much a mystical experience, with altered mental states being profoundly common and often the entire point of the activity.
I am now imagining, and loving, a Sacred Order of Kinky Contemplatives who access transcendent experiences through kink. Like the Cenobites from Hellraiser, but less terrifying, gory, and more consensual.
This leads me to the most exciting part of this topic for me: as a member of a New Religious Movement (The Satanic Temple) I get to explore new, novel avenues for spirituality. And so do you. Why not incorporate speaking in tongues into a suspension kink practice? Why not combine mindfulness meditation with a role-playing game? The beauty of being free from religious dogma is that we get to explore, and create, a new kind of religion.
But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my discord server. If your comment is excellent, I might feature it in a blog post. And, if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron and signing up for my newsletter.