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JSRNC (print) ISSN 1363-7320 JSRNC (online) ISSN 1743-1689
____________________________________ Evolutionary Advantages of Intense Spiritual Experience in Nature* ____________________________________
Terry Louise Terhaar
University of California, Santa Cruz, P.O. Box 113, Davenport, CA 95017, USA email@example.com
Although records of intense spiritual experiences in nature exist throughout history, the phenomenon remains a little-investigated question. This article is the lrst in a series describing empirical lndings on intense spiritual experiences in nature. Three data points were established including: (1) a cognitive analysis of forest attitude research interviews; (2) a cognitive analysis of nature authors who write about forests; and (3) a broad review of literature drawn primarily from research in neuroscience, psychology, medicine, consciousness studies, and philosophy. The lndings suggest that intense spiritual experience in nature has two variations: mystical and traumatic. The positive (mystical) and negative (traumatic) variations share seven physiological and psychological characteristics, with each characteristic providing adaptive, evolutionary advantages. Although partial and preliminary, the data offer compelling evidence demonstrating the existence of certain basic properties of the role of nature in intense spiritual experience. The lndings suggest that natural selection may favor intense spiritual experiences in nature. * This research was funded by the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Fellowship and the John F. Enders Fellowship of Yale University, the Weyerhaeuser Company, and a gift from the Yale College Class of 1964. I am deeply indebted to Stephen Kellert, John Gordon, and Paul Draghi who provided thoughtful advice and suggestions during the research. I also owe special thanks to three anonymous individuals who reviewed this manuscript. This article reports only one of three separate sets of interlocking data. Because space constraints prevent publishing all the data in one article, I ask readers to consider the data in its entirety when remecting on the observations and lndings presented in this individual article. Finally, I am especially grateful to JSRNC Editor Bron Taylor who recognized and understood the diflculty and value of reporting the results of inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary investigations to an inter-disciplinary audience.
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Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture The Notion of Biophilia
In 1984, Edward O. Wilson published Biophilia, an explanation for why humans have a tendency to relate to, or aflliate with, life as well as ‘lifelike’ processes. Wilson delned this tendency as ‘biophilia’ and argued that it might express a biological need integral to human physical and mental development and growth. In 1993, Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson published The Biophilia Hypothesis, additionally building the argument through the work of a group of scientists and scholars. Kellert concentrates on the biophilic tendency, which he regards ‘not as instinct but as a cluster of learning rules’ (1993: 43), by focusing on nine ways that humans value and aflliate with nature. These values are the utilitarian, naturalistic, ecologistic-scientilc, aesthetic, symbolic, dominionistic, humanistic, moralistic, and negativistic. Kellert’s framework of nine values presents a central way of understanding human aflliation with nature. For Kellert, the nine values, ‘considered biological in origin, signify basic structures of human relationship and adaptation to the natural world developed over the course of human evolution’ (1996: 26). Moreover, ‘these values of nature emerged because they conferred distinctive advantages to people in the process of evolutionary development’ (1996: 27). The moralistic value ‘encompasses strong feelings of aflnity, ethical responsibility, and even reverence for the natural world. This perspective often remects the conviction of a fundamental spiritual meaning, order, and harmony in nature’ (1993: 53). Kellert argues that the moral value holds biological signilcance. If the moral, or spiritual, value holds biological signilcance, then another question arises: What are the evolutionary advantages of a spiritual experience of nature? Introduction Records of an experience of the spiritual in nature exist throughout history.1 Epic tales about oneness with the natural world or shamanic
1. Zinnbauer et al. (1997) reported that personal delnitions of religiousness and spirituality share common yet different features, with religious delnitions focusing on organized beliefs and practices and spirituality delnitions focusing on personal attributes of the sacred. During survey pre-testing, respondents indicated they understood the terms ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ in a similar manner. Respondents with no religious aflliation could not answer questions using the term ‘religious’ but could answer questions using the term ‘spiritual’. Respondents with a religious aflliation could answer questions using either term. I thus used the term ‘spiritual’ to represent a family of similar types of general sentiments and beliefs in a power, state, or
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Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages
journeys to an eternal and timeless land appear in myths, poems, and narratives from around the globe. All of the world’s major religions offer stories about individuals who experience transformative events in nature, including the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Moses. People in contemporary societies also experience spiritual journeys ranging from wilderness treks to meditation retreats in the natural world. Some individuals returning from these settings report an experience of transcendence: they describe going beyond, often to a different realm, and becoming or being beyond. Some individuals make claims of transcending in, out of, or beyond nature. Some individuals also claim access to God, a Greater Reality, or another state of Being. Scholars and scientists, however, puzzle over the apparent paradoxes: How can individuals go beyond the ordinary world and ordinary human consciousness? What are they becoming that is greater than the individual self? Where is there a reality that exists apart from the ordinary, natural world? According to available research, 15.75% to 18% of surveyed individuals in the United States reported an anomalous experience of human consciousness in nature.2 In this study, the research interviewees and other data sources described experiences of unity, wonder, awe, extraordinariness, perfection, goodness, purity, virtue, holiness, or the ideal, in nature.3 Some individuals described an experience of an ‘Other’. Other individuals depicted a space far greater in physical magnitude than any known space and described a time far greater than that of eternity. Many individuals named a sense of ‘oneness’ or ‘unity’ with nature.4 But oneness with whom, what, where, why, and how? Science entails the development of observations, laws, and theories of concrete phenomena and events. Phenomena that are not part of the
condition that is more than merely human (often thought to be divine) and an awareness of the transcendent. 2. Greeley and McCready (1975: 13) indicated four out of ten respondents had mystical experiences. Greeley (1974: 140) noted that respondents, when asked the frequency of any experience that ‘felt as though you were very close to a powerful, spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself’, replied: never in my life (sixtyone percent), once or twice (eighteen percent), several times (twelve percent), often (lve percent), and cannot answer (three percent). Greeley (1974: 141) reported that ‘beauties of nature such as sunset’ triggered forty-lve percent of mystical experience. Wuthnow (1978: 61) reported more than eight in ten people had been moved by the beauty of nature. Laski (1990: 187-206) reported nature was the most frequently cited setting for ecstatic experiences. Laski selected the term ‘ecstasy’ to cover a range of states including the joyful and extraordinary ‘to the point of often seeming as if derived from a praeternatural source’ (1990: 5). 3. The terms are also used in the literature, such as in Otto’s seminal work (1958). 4. The research interviewees often used the term.
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© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Spiritual Quest or Psychic Disorder? (1976) by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry provides an introduction to some of the psychoanalytic arguments. . This concept forces me to ask an important question: What methods are appropriate for investigating a phenomenon that may be diflcult or impossible to observe directly? For interdisciplinary topics such as intense spiritual experience in nature. then they might collaborate on some of these important topics. multidisciplinary investigative approaches provide a possible answer. But this assumption is incorrect. Psychologists and psychoanalysts often believe reports of oneness do not represent an actual experience of oneness. The investigators could begin by asking the following questions: Does an individual’s self actually change and fuse with a deeper or more profound natural world?6 Does an individual merely imagine they become one with nature? What actually happens during an experience of oneness in nature? Reports about oneness in nature describe an experience and provide an interpretation. beliefs. A group of scholars known as the Contextualists argue that it is 5. environmental and human ethics. Multi-disciplinary investigations offer a way to examine these broader topics. As a scientist. The term ‘self’ has multiple meanings. spiritual values. and environmental management policies. or psychopathology. including: subjective aspects of human consciousness. a person might assume that such an experience cannot be subjected to scientilc methodology. then the experience can be separated from its subsequent interpretation and claims.306 Journal for the Study of Religion. they instead argue that the reports represent examples of extreme religiosity. Multi-disciplinary investigations also offer an array of investigative methodologies that might prove useful and productive when studying the phenomenon. I use the term to indicate what makes each of us an individual person. The notion of oneness in nature spans many scientilc and scholarly areas. no one has yet demonstrated that the phenomenon is not part of the material world. I may be skeptical about the concept of an individual’s fusion with nature. intense longing for the religious or spiritual. Extensive literature on this topic exists. If researchers observe these two dimensions. 6.5 Since the experience of oneness as a moment of actual fusion lacks concreteness. see Wulff (2000) for a brief summary. Nature and Culture material world lack concreteness. human health and well-being. but I cannot assume that the phenomenon lacks material or phenomenological referents. therefore they cannot yield to scientilc methodology. If scientists and scholars looked more broadly at the notion of oneness in nature. there is no clear understanding of what the ‘self’ actually is or how the brain and the mind create it. and behaviors. Although the phenomenon may be diflcult to investigate.
the example of the experience of death makes it impossible to argue logically that no human experience contains a common core. medicine. Modern medicine recognizes that death has universal attributes that cross all gender. 1983) seminal volumes on the Contextualists’ arguments. the human species. Consequently. social. Although it may be possible to argue that an individual’s knowledge of their death cannot be known independent of their values. who generally argue that the phenomenon is continuously shaped by its context or surroundings. often by describing the structures. 9. (2) a cognitive analysis of nature authors who write about forests. then other categories may exist as well. and the relationships between those organisms.7 But the experience of death disproves this claim. 8. and experiences. Two opposing perspectives are offered by the Essentialists or Perennialists.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 307 impossible to separate experience from its interpretation. ethnic. . See Wulff (2000) for a summary of both perspectives and Katz’s (1978. It must therefore be assumed that an experience of oneness may be known separately from its interpretation. Additionally.9 Although exploratory in character. The term ‘natural history’ often refers to the descriptive aspects of the study of life. Goal of the Investigation of Intense Spiritual Experience This investigation was undertaken to produce a broad synthesis of the state of knowledge and lnd an approach that supports forming focused hypotheses on intense spiritual experiences in nature. attitudes. the investigation was empirically conducted with data collected from a variety of sources. or biology and living organisms. the extent of an individual’s interpretation of their death is limited in time. functions. in this investigation. cultural. Three data points were established in support of lnding an approach that allows specilc hypothesis-testing of intense spiritual experience. psychology.8 The research can be viewed as a set of natural history observations of peoples’ responses to nature. There is a long-standing debate over whether mystical experience contains a common core or not. Natural history observations attempt to explicate the elements of these organisms and relationships. the event of oneness in nature may possibly contain a core experience that occurs cross-culturally. If a category of human experience such as death exists without interpretation. and the Contextualists. consciousness studies. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. and (3) a broad review of literature drawn primarily from research in neuroscience. or ecosystem. and religious lines. Thus. who generally argue that mystical experience contains a common core. The data points include: (1) a cognitive analysis of forest attitude research interviews. it is possible to argue that the act of dying may be direct and without interpretation. The entire investigation is described in Terhaar 2005. and circumstances of particular species including. beliefs. 7.
is rarely used to test hypotheses. none of the current ways of understanding the phenomenon account for certain observations of the event. Although my lndings are tentative. the 10. inference is subject to cognitive or methodological value judgments. I believe these data offer compelling evidence demonstrating the existence of certain basic properties of the role of nature in intense spiritual experience. Because existing ‘gaps’ in knowledge about intense spiritual experience did not allow for hypothesis-testing. this investigation was intentionally designed to be exploratory in character.S.11 Darwin used the inductive model. there is no shared understanding of the phenomenon. . providing plausible and testable hypotheses. I chose the inductive model in order to develop knowledge and form hypotheses. but hypothesistesting involves similar value judgments too. I discussed these issues in a previous work (Terhaar 2005). or inference. 11. ShraderFrechette and E. This investigation was not designed to test specilc hypotheses. with quantitative data often used to generate testable hypotheses. The investigation’s purpose was to synthesize knowledge and lnd an approach that would allow the formation of specilc hypothesis-testing of an anomalous phenomenon. Unlike deductive models of science that provide predictive ability. so as to formulate some hypotheses or patterns’ (1995: 126). Qualitative data.D. Methodology Although knowledge about intense spiritual experience in nature exists in many disciplines. A similar divide exists between quantitative and qualitative data. Until this testing occurs. The results of the three data sets support each other.308 Journal for the Study of Religion. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. The observations reported in this article thus represent deliberate generalizations or general notions based on inference from a limited understanding of particular cases. Nature and Culture and philosophy.10 Because this lack of shared understanding and failure to account for certain observations makes it diflcult to formulate and test hypotheses about the phenomenon. when developing the theory of evolution. Additionally. The ideas presented in this article and subsequent articles describing my research are based upon analysis and general observations of the collected data. especially in ethnographic studies. K. they offer explanatory power and simplicity. The use of inference raises a signilcant question concerning research design: How does an investigator interpret an investigation’s lndings? According to Shrader-Frechette and McCoy (1995: 126). While partial and preliminary. McCoy suggest that inductive models allow scientists ‘to lll in and extend data.
a region known for its forests. and non-prolt employers. Readers may view the © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Scientists cannot study the notion of oneness without a clear delnition of its characteristics. The Forest Attitude Research Interviews The data presented in this article are drawn from interviews with ninetyseven individuals who lived in the Pacilc Northwest region of the United States. mountains. I developed a typology of sensations. forest research institutions/governmental agencies. I added one psychological characteristic because it appeared in numerous typologies and research interviews. See the typologies and work of James (1958). Stace (1960). Interviewees were given a set of seven demographic and lfty-four open-ended interview questions with follow-up probes. By carefully noting when particular characteristics in one typology subsumed characteristics in others. or forestoriented environmental organizations.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 309 generalizations made possible by inferential research play a necessary and important role in the scientilc investigation of intense spiritual experience in nature. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. six physiological and one psychological. or intense spiritual experience exist. Yet empirical investigations require problem identilcation and delnition before commencement. (3) the interviewee’s interpretation and meaning of their experience.13 Although many individuals who 12. and lsh-bearing rivers. (2) the interviewee’s possible identilcation of their experience. 13. Interview transcripts were analyzed at four levels: (1) identilcation of intense spiritual experience criteria in the interviewee’s response. The individuals worked (or volunteered) for forest product companies. and (4) the interviewees’ spiritual values as a group. and Margolis and Elifson (1979). A Typology of Intense Spiritual Experience in Nature Numerous typologies of mystical. religious. I concentrated on physiological sensations because they offer a means of measuring the phenomenon. Each interviewee was randomly selected from employee lists drawn from a diversity of private. Specilc individuals were interviewed based on their availability.12 Although the typologies tend to identify similar qualities of the experience as important. the frequent use of opaque language and subjective criteria make it diflcult to identify and compare specilc experiences. institutional/governmental. . The interviews were conducted during a lve-month time period in 1997.
union. or fusion. often described as wonder or awe. revelations. Nature and Culture describe intense spiritual experience in nature delne the event by its characteristic of oneness. all inarticulate though they remain. I am suggesting that the term can be used to describe a physiological sensation of quizzicalness. Although the term ‘ineffability’ commonly refers to the inadequacy of language. (6) paradoxicality. (5) intense affect.16 and (7) a noetic quality sensation. Two Variations of Intense Spiritual Experience A careful examination of existing literature on intense spiritual experience reveals a startling piece of data: scholars note reports of either a blissful or horrifying event. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. full of signilcance and importance. then I label the encounter or phenomenon as an intense spiritual experience in nature. 14. I am suggesting that the term can be used to describe a physiological sensation that accompanies an experience occurring ‘outside’ of the brain’s verbal processing areas. and as a rule carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time’ (1958: 319). 17. Individuals’ use of the oneness term and its prevalence is discussed under the unity characteristic.17 The lrst six characteristics are physiological while the seventh is psychological. (3) ineffability.18 William James (1958) noted the appearance physiological characteristics as both physiological and psychological sensations. The difference in views may be resolved as we develop a better understanding of how the neurophysiological affects the subjective side of human consciousness. When the seven characteristics occur simultaneously in the natural world. They are illuminations. There is a diversity of names for both variations. The characteristics are: (1) unity. my analysis of the data suggests that intense spiritual experience in nature contains a total of seven characteristics. Although the term ‘paradoxicality’ commonly refers to an illogical quality. 16. or as psychological sensations only. or the sense that something deles logic because opposing facts feel accurate yet only one can be correct. (2) the presence of an ‘Other’. William James offered the following delnition: ‘Noetic quality—Although so similar to states of feeling. . it is possible to conjecture that each of these characteristics offer evolutionary advantages.310 Journal for the Study of Religion.15 (4) a sense of timelessness and spacelessness. 15. I invite readers to send me examples. 18.14 Moreover. mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. either strongly positive or negative. usually applied to knowledge and often described as noetic or intuitive knowledge.
feelings. This observation is based on all of the data sets. it is a different type of human experience. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. The confusion seems to occur because individuals who describe intense spiritual experience rarely explain that the phenomenon is experientially distinct from these other types of experience. secure from all intrusion. Although other scholars sometimes describe vast differences between these experiences. but for two minor exceptions. or beliefs. I have tried to distinguish between the interviewees’ responses and my general observations that are based on inference. such as extreme religiousness or religiosity. In the following descriptions of the characteristics. The negative variation occurs when an individual’s life is threatened or they perceive a threat to their life. The Unity Characteristic With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake. the interviewees describe aspects of their spiritual relationships with nature. the feelings are strongly negative and the felt presence is malevolent. or more ordinary forms of human experience. such as a near-death event or extra-sensory perception.19 An analysis of the literature reveals a second important observation: people who never experience the phenomenon often confuse it for other types of anomalous human experience. 19. Their responses may illustrate the prior occurrence of the individual characteristic and the way that individuals may develop meaning around its appearance. thus I label it ‘positive intense spiritual experience’. The existence of the two variations often seems to confuse individuals who never experience either variation. In the other variation. terrestrial. In one variation. The two variations share the same seven characteristics. free in the universal beauty. withdrawn from the sterner inmuences of the mountains. . Thus people who never encounter intense spiritual experience sometimes think that all of these experiences simply represent lesser forms or variations of one type of human experience that generates spiritual thoughts. secure from yourself.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 311 of two variations: a positive mystical experience and a negative diabolical mysticism. But intense spiritual experience does not represent a variation or lesser form of these other experiences. the feelings are strongly positive and there is a felt sense of a benevolent presence in nature. I use ‘intense spiritual experience’ for both varieties. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual. human love and life delightfully substantial and familiar…bees hum as in a harvest moon. and you seem dissolved in it. thus I label it ‘negative intense spiritual experience’. yet everything about you is beating with warm. feeling yourself contained in one of Nature’s most sacred chambers.
but slightly different. but a sense of actually being nature. 21. The unity sensation can be best characterized as a feeling of coalescence or fusion: an ultimate feeling of absolute integration. This observation is based on all of the data sets. and wholeness of the individual. These individuals are unaware that their feeling of ‘connection’ is experientially different.22 Neither variation seems to depend on the positive or negative emotional valence. too richly and homogeneously joy-llled to be capable of partial thought. totality.org/publication (accessed 6 August 2008). You are all eye. sifted through and through with light and beauty (Muir 1997: 90). The announcement can be viewed at http://www. Individuals who never experience the sensation also describe feeling connected.21 While it may be tempting to think that these individuals speak metaphorically.20 They do not seem to mean being in the midst of nature.23 20. The individual’s sense of the separateness of the self dissolves. and like them you lave in the vital sunshine. the sensory experience of a presence of an ‘Other’. Essentially. they have no experiential sensation where the self and something else are experienced as one and the same. The ‘oneness’ term’s prevalence and popular usage is remected in a ‘Call for Submissions’ published by ‘Earth Charter in Action’ on Youtube. I think it is more often the case that they mean an actual experience. 23. 22. Nature and Culture buttermies waver above the mowers.earthcharterinaction. of existing as nature. This observation is based on all of the data sets. Individuals who experience the unity sensation frequently describe feeling ‘connected’.312 Journal for the Study of Religion. unilcation. The emotional valence seems to depend on the tone of what is perceived as the ‘Other’. Individuals who describe an intense spiritual experience in nature often report a sense of ‘oneness’ or indivisibility with nature. using symbols to convey knowledge and create new meaning. But the oneness sensations do not include a particular identilcation of the union’s object. and not a mere symbol of oneness. where they and the natural world are one single entity. The unity sensations are most frequently associated with feelings of love and harmony. Individuals cannot identify the actual object because identilcation requires an awareness of © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. the physiological unity sensation marks the vanishing of an individual’s awareness of themselves as a separate entity. Individuals frequently confound the sensation of feeling united with a second characteristic. The individuals cannot distinguish between themselves and something else. although hate and antagonism may replace the bliss. variations of the unity characteristic. Individuals who experience the phenomenon report two similar. but they often use the term as a way to indicate a lesser feeling of ‘connectedness’ or a longing for connection. .
even when they interpret the second characteristic (the physiological sensation of the presence of an ‘Other’) as the actual object of their merging.24 For many individuals. I felt myself. Greeley (1974: 141) observed that fortylve percent of all intense spiritual experience occurs in the natural something outside or beyond an individual’s spatial discernment of the self. 24. During the next few hours I had an experience that I will never. former schoolteacher.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 313 One way to think of the unity characteristic is to visualize two separate circles that have merged and overlapped completely. The back cover of American author Jeffrey Goelitz’s book describes him as ‘an author. I experienced the river below breathing in the moonlight. as both the tree and the surrounding valley. The individual feels a fusion with something else.25 A. knew myself. One way to think of this variation is to visualize two separate circles that touch each other at a common point. This example represents the lrst variation of the physiological sensation of unity. samàdhi. could never. and avid gardener’. Some individuals describe the unity sensation as a feeling of their own skin. or the extrovertive type. Despite the slight difference in the overlapping or joined circle variations. the reference makes it easier to spot the characteristic in an individual’s description of the event. the two circles become one circle. . 25. Also. Jeffrey Goelitz (1991: 96-97) described the unity sensation and interpreted the presence of an ‘Other’ as the elements in the surrounding valley. there is a strong physiological sensation of unity or union in both versions. and beaver in various locations within the mile or two region that this tree had somehow brought within me. Scholars frequently call one variation the pure consciousness event. I will discuss several relevant neuroscience studies in a subsequent article. A slightly different variation occurs when an individual retains a slight sense of the spatial separateness of their self. deer. I experienced the vast expanse of forest-covered hills almost as if they were my own skin. businessman. as with twins who have joined body parts and organs. but each circle still retains its own identity. sahaja samàdhi. the sensation of unity delnes the phenomenon of intense spiritual experience in nature and drives the interpretation of the other six characteristics. In the following example. turkey. possum. or a transitory state. but I suspect it does not precipitate the other six characteristics. the introvertive type. forget—an experience that changed my life. Thus the feeling of unity and the awareness of something that is not-self are two different types of feelings. Upon them I felt the presence of bobcat. but still partially discerns his or her own. separate self. see d’Aquili and Newberg (1999).M. Individuals frequently interpret the unity sensation as delning and driving the phenomenon. this awareness is lacking during the sensation. The other variation is called the dualistic mystical state. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009.
27 For most of the interviewees. ‘In my mind it came from our Creator’. Nature and Culture world. the sky… I think it’s good because it’s the way it is. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. This high occurrence rate may explain why seventy-four percent of the persons I interviewed associated the unity characteristic with nature. created the cosmos. I become 26. you know. One interviewee described the calming effect of being in nature by saying. I have no idea but…it’s a spiritual thing for me. Although the interviewees tended to describe a single responsible being or event. 1 July 1997.314 Journal for the Study of Religion. . I bond with it in some way. They realized that outdoor settings. or what. facilitated. generated. but there’s a sense of me spiritually belonging there that’s a connectiveness that’s. signilcantly. I somehow feel a spiritual part of those places in the sense like I’ve come home. for only an entity(ies) or event(s) at this scale had the power and ability to generate a sensation of this magnitude. The following interviewee believed in the existence of a fundamental unity and said. in some unknown way. you know.26 Most of the interviewees focused on the presence of an ‘Other’ sensation as the object of the connection. I guess. tape recording. being humans. ‘You get into a big wheatleld and there’s a peace that…it’s not because it is a wheatleld. As far as who created it and how. ‘Where does that unity come from?’ She did not know the source or its mechanism. interview by the author. but. and with God’. Being a forest. To me. the presence became the causal source. tape recording. she replied. the oceans. As the interviewees tried to understand their experience. their thoughts turned to who. Female environmentalist #4. or a cornleld…it’s that oneness with nature. or a forest. I speculate that an individual’s choice of the causal agent may depend on whether they physiologically experience the overlapping or joined circle variation. and I believe that all of us are a part of each other. when I consider the place beautiful…then. 28. or promoted a sense of oneness far stronger than any other sensation of totality. transcript: 13-14. the unity sensations offered proof of the existence of a divine being or another reality. transcript: 17. 7 July 1997. She was then asked. ‘I think it’s all connected’. it is impossible to determine if their beliefs were grounded in monotheism. the source was a ‘who’. perhaps to a place I’ve never seen before.28 Another interviewee summed up her thoughts about a positive unity connection that she equated with goodness. 27. When she was asked. ‘Where did the unity come from?’. Some of the interviewees explained a benevolent connection. Female forester #1. it’s just the way that the earth was created. interview by the author.
One interviewee described the existence of a benelcial fundamental unity and traced its benevolent causal source: I feel there’s a unity in the forest ecosystems. very small in being a part of a great. In a sense. 17 June 1997. many aspects of my life. You might say I come out more than the sum of the parts that went into a forest. tape recording.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages part of it… I come out enriched. Female #3. transcript: 8-9. I come out almost more powerful. 30.29 315 When interviewees described the unity characteristic. 1 August 1997. interview by the author.31 And another interviewee spoke about the unity sensation and her place in the cosmos: ‘I think it leaves. I like to think of those as being special places to me and there’s a bonding to that…that gives you a feeling of signilcance. interview by the author. that I like to call my own. In that sense. they talked about their place in the universe and who (or what) created nature. which are basically a complex web of life. transcript: 10-22. and that each piece is a part of the whole. Male scientist #2. tape recording. I’m more functional. You know. it’s the self-centered part of it… 29. And the physical environment in which that life is dependent and the fact that it is a web and everything in some fashion [is] connected to everything else. When I come out. can make you feel very small. transcript: 7-11. Male forester #4. There are places in the forest that I go frequently. huge system that’s not just you… I think that everything is interrelated… I think we're all parts of a big. So it would come from Him… I have a sense of belonging to the forest in the sense that I believe humans are a part of the ecosystem… It makes me feel good to know I exist in a world that was created by someone a lot smarter and more powerful than me. yet at the same time. for me. tape recording.30 Another interviewee had a feeling that nature was ordered and good. interrelated mass organism… [W]e are all interrelated and not isolated. there’s a unity… I believe that the earth and everything in it was created by God. interview by the author. 31. some little special place where there is a secret hunting spot or lshing spot or a little stream back in the woods where you can get a drink of fresh water that nobody knows about. spiritually uplifted and revitalized in many. not independent of anything and everything that is on the earth… I think that what is here on earth is good. . And that He did it for my good and for my sustenance and that He thought enough about me to give me responsibility to care for what He created. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. 1 August 1997. energized. I come out recharged. big. if it’s been a positive experience in a natural forest.
reliance. 36. Female #1.36 Despite the strong sense of dependence. Trust in the ‘Other’ need not imply that it has ‘personhood’. 4 August 1997. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. transcript: 20. and thus enhance personal safety and security. that it will be there. The perception of connectedness seems to create a strong sense of dependence as the individual’s actions affect the other entity. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. I speculate that the heightened responsibility of the connection may make an individual exercise greater self-care and restraint. however. The inability to act independently dominates the connection and conveys a strong sense of mutual need. many individuals often seem to feel strong ties of relationship and kinship with the diverse forms of life in the surrounding natural setting. transcript: 13. Female #3.32 Based on observations drawn from all of the data.33 After the event. Frankl (1959) offers an account of a young woman’s last few days in a World War II concentration camp that bears striking similarity. The related feeling appears to be a more intense version of human bonding commonly found in small dependent groups or bands of uniled soldiers. ‘It’s somewhat of a sense of being a part of a whole. and reciprocity. tape recording. The individual trusts the other entity as they owe their allegiance to each other. support. however. the lived connection also appears to foster trust and loyalty. the unity sensation seems to provide a ‘lived experience’ of connection. interview by the author.34 The lived connection of intense spiritual experience is usually associated with a non-human entity. all of the interviewees enjoyed the connection because they no longer felt alone or isolated.316 Journal for the Study of Religion. 33. interview by the author.35 When the ‘Other’ was benevolent. they require mutual aid. Neither entity exists alone. Their feeling of connectedness seemed to generate a perception of enhanced security and safety. That as long as I protect this wholeness that provides me nourishment spiritually. 34. 17 June 1997. . and cooperation. tape recording. The individual’s lived experience of connection leads them to express a value for the concepts of autonomy. Nature and Culture that it sort of helps to kind of ground me and remind me [of] my place in the universe’. I use the phrase ‘lived experience’ throughout the article to indicate knowledge gained from actually living or going through an experience. 32. one interviewee replied. When asked what the dependence felt like. the sensation paradoxically appears to generate a respect for autonomy. The mutuality and reciprocity of the connection also seemed to evoke feelings of obligation and responsibility towards the ‘Other’. 35. This observation is based on a review of personal narratives of traumatic experiences. it gave me an active role of being part of it’.
37 The experience of a lived connection with a malevolent ‘Other’ seems to be evoked under lifethreatening circumstances or when an individual feels their life is threatened. The negative variation may also stimulate greater awareness and appreciation for individuals who are benevolent and trustworthy.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 317 independence. I reviewed narratives and interviewed individuals primarily holding Western cultural perspectives. The presence is apparent to them but not to their listeners who lnd it diflcult to discard normative. set up in preform. an intense spiritual experience in nature does not always provide a harmonious feeling of unity with a benevolent ‘Other’. the individuals often extend their respect to nature if they experience the positive variation. It is all one world to me. They frequently say something—or someone—is there with them. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. Deep within. but animals and humans see the aspect of physical existence as being primary. Moreover. I speculate that a lived experience of connection with a malevolent ‘Other’ may produce feelings of watchfulness that foster alertness and distrust. they may call this presence the ‘Other’. it may provide evolutionary advantages. then it may help an individual survive an arduous experience. humans sense more but cannot comprehend the ‘other’. The Presence of a Benevolent or Malevolent ‘Other’ Characteristic There are powerful energies that pour through me as I am a conduit for heavenly light. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Trust based on an individual’s deeds proves far safer than trust based on an individual’s words. If the unity characteristic strengthens the will to live and provides the ability to discern potential hazards. they will experience that ‘other’ although they might not understand the nature of their experience (Goelitz 1991: 72-73). If they become still. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. many individuals who describe intense spiritual experience in nature feel they are not alone. they may adopt protective measures that promote basic survival skills. . Western cultural 37. A distrustful individual often becomes more cautious and careful. often labeling it evil. Although it seems counter-intuitive to say the malevolent variation may be benelcial. Individuals with Eastern or indigenous cultural perspectives might use a term other than ‘evil’. and freedom. some individuals experience a physiological perception of unity with a malevolent ‘Other’. My origins are beyond this world. Its mow varies with climatic and environmental conditions. Underscoring the diflculty in naming such an entity. I am revered for my size and beauty. Despite many New Age claims.
The physiological sensation of the presence of an ‘Other’ represents the second characteristic. or touch this presence. a sense of physical proximity to an object or person. I suspect a broad variety of ‘body delusions’ exists. For this study. Extensive literature on the pathology of intense spiritual experience exists in the lelds of psychology and medicine. But individuals rarely supply extensive details about the perception. or wraith.40 If it is malevolent. . seeking its protection. with clear. apparition. they only describe a sense of the presence of an ‘Other’. however. They apparently use the word ‘Other’ when describing a sensation that represents feelings of nearness and closeness of a vague. Nature and Culture beliefs about reality. distinct features and marks. 39. then it would explain why individuals who describe these experiences report the presence of an ‘Other’. they feel uncomfortable talking about the presence. and they do not seem to mean a dim or hazy bodiless spirit. Or listeners think they are referring to a shadowy and illusive ghost. 40. They speak of a sense of nearness to something in the same vicinity or neighborhood. most of the interviewees said they had never told anyone © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Lockwood. smell. These listeners often think the individual sounds paranoid.39 If the sensation is a neurophysiological event generated under specilc circumstances.318 Journal for the Study of Religion. But individuals who describe these experiences do not seem to mean a specilc lgure with a body or shape. phantom. although they cannot see. A brief overview of the relationship between mystical experience and psychopathology can be found in Wulff (2000). the emotional valence depends on whether the characteristic occurs during an experience of intense tranquility (mystical experience) or fear (traumatic experience). When their narratives are analyzed. individuals who have such experiences do not appear to be paranoid or otherwise mentally ill. it strongly inmuences the perceptions of ordinary individuals who have no scientilc or scholarly interest in the topic. Davis. specter. indelnite something in their vicinity. they seem to withhold specilc knowledge about it. If it is benevolent. hear. they seem to withhold information out 38. and Wright (1991) discussed reasons for not reporting peak experiences. The sensation is remarkably similar to so-called ‘body delusions’ or ‘out-of-body’ sensations that neuroscientists induce by delivering electric current to specilc areas of the brain. indistinct. a sense of an object or person nearby in space. such as mild electric current.38 As a group. Individuals who describe the sensation of an ‘Other’ generally interpret the presence as either benevolent or malevolent. The ‘pathological’ view emerges most strongly in the psychoanalytic approach. they tend to think the individual has lost touch with reality. Listeners frequently think many individuals who describe these experiences speak of a lgure with a specilc shape or form.
In this quotation. The unity sensation is a feeling of melding. which I think is an extremely humbling. interview by the author. while the presence of an ‘Other’ is a feeling of something nearby.41 The interviewees often felt strongly connected to the presence. When the interviewees talked about the two characteristics. not believe them. sort of like a Moebius strip… [I]t has been sort of a metaphor for me in many ways. that you can have two parallel or more levels of interactions simultaneously. or they think people will devalue the experience. 24 June 1997. too. we’re connected to things so far away that they don’t even exist in about their experience. or think they are delusional. tape recording. thus it is often used to suggest the structure of an alternate reality. One interviewee used the metaphor of a Moebius strip as he described a mystical. Individuals usually interpret the sensation of unity with an unseen presence as the immaterial or the supernatural. metaphysical. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. honest. Individuals who describe these experiences also tend to combine the unity and the presence of ‘Other’ sensations in their descriptions. But it makes sense to describe the two as one. transcript: 13. thing to do…and realize that we are all parts of the connection with the stars…perhaps.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 319 of fear.42 We’re all part of a larger whole. Yet the two sensations are physiologically different. but knowing that those things are out there is a real calming inmuence… I think human beings would also be more humble and gentle around the universe…if they could be out in the country so that they could see the stars at night. but also on just a real chemical level… Even on that basic level. A Moebius strip is a surface with only one side and one boundary. Individuals who mentioned negative intense experiences seemed fearful and wary of talking. especially if an individual does not want to be specilc about one of the sensations. 42. their reasons for not talking were similar to those cited by Davis. in a mystical and metaphysical level. Male forester #2. and chemical connection with the presence of another reality. One interviewee identiled the ‘Other’ as the ‘breadth of the spirit’. I believe the interviewee used the metaphor to help explain his belief in the existence of two or more parallel and interactive realities. Some individuals believe that the sensations are too intimate and private to share with anyone. . even though they may appear on the surface to be mutually exclusive. they commonly referred to the ‘Other’ sensation as an indicator of the presence of God or a Greater Reality. The physiological presence sensations also seemed to produce equally intense feelings of aflliation. 41. as if the two impressions were the same sensation. we’re all part of interactive systems… I don’t get out in nature right now as much as I like. and we’re all part of a smaller level of interaction.
transcript: 6. it’s taking so long to get here. is different than it is to other folks. I speculate that the sensation may conlrm the meaningfulness of life. to me.46 Janoff-Bulman argues that we tend to believe individual behavior determines the outcome of an event. In both varieties. they felt a malevolent presence. A forest. they said did not want to talk about evil. I’ve had those individual experiences…where I was able to physically. I mean… completely mystical…and that’s what the experience was. They frequently associated the sensations with a particular habitat type or location. 1 August 1997. Despite the emotional valence. however.or supra-natural presence. The belief aflrms the world’s meaningfulness and reassures them that a morally 43. the negative variety rendered relief by lessening anxiety about complete abandonment under arduous circumstances. we believe good things happen to good people. interview by the author. Thus we believe that things happen to us because of what we do and who we are. it may help individuals interpret why life contains both good and bad events. that we are not masters of our domain.320 Journal for the Study of Religion. The positive variation provided great comfort by eliminating anxiety. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Yes. tape recording. feel the indivisibility between me and everything around me… I could feel the force of the thing that held the earth together because of where I was and because of what the force would feel like. Although it may seem counter-intuitive. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. interview by the author. interview by the author. 44. the interviewees seemed to derive religious or spiritual meaning through their interpretation of a super. .43 Many of the interviewees spoke about the location of their intense spiritual experience and its effects. ‘It’s just uplifting. Male #1. though. our beliefs in the meaningfulness of the world are based on fundamental assumptions about justice. When directly questioned about the sensation. transcript: 4-5.45 Some interviewees did not experience the presence as benign. binding together the world. 45. According to psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman (1992). 24 June 1997. tape recording.44 Another interviewee described the effect of a benevolent ‘Other’. Nature and Culture the light that we are seeing. the experiential knowledge of another’s presence lessened feelings of existential aloneness. It will remind us of that. A beautiful forest is kind of like a religious experience…it’s time to clean your soul’. individuals often seem to associate the sensation of a presence with God or an all-powerful entity who judges an individual’s life. in my body. 46. Male attorney #1. transcript: 18. 6 August 1997. I believe Janoff-Bulman primarily studies Western cultural beliefs. and bad things happen to bad people. One interviewee said. Male #1. tape recording.
the interviewees’ responses seemed to indicate a belief in its sentience. By opposing the experience of a malevolent world. however. Personal narratives by individuals who have undergone traumatic experience. At last. In this way. The big-leaf maple arcs overhead in a gracious loop of circular energy sustained by the ground. the malevolent sensation seems to help create a purposeful life. their hope becomes adaptive and sustains their will to live. the point of contact.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 321 good life produces good outcomes. they may no longer believe in the meaningfulness or goodness of life. If the helplessness persists. The belief in a meaningful world and self-agency may play a fundamental role in strengthening an individual’s will to live. If an individual believes they can inmuence the outcome of events. then they feel despair. . See Janoff-Bulman (1992) for a discussion of how trauma shatters individuals’ assumptions and worldviews. uphold this observation.47 The belief in self-worth strengthens the will to live and promotes self-care and protection. In an evolutionary sense. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. A great surge of joy ripples through my body. The sensation of an ‘Other’ may also support an individual’s sense of self-worth because the individual is worthy of another’s presence. When an individual experiences a loss of personal control they usually feel helpless.49 The Ineffability Characteristic Finally I stop. however. people hold the belief that what they do and who they are determines their fate.48 For a few of these individuals. ferns 47. Elegant moss-covered maple—I see you. the sensation may enhance the likelihood of survival under life-threatening circumstances. The worthiness implies the presence has sentience. then they are more likely to act in ways that solve problems. I speculate that the malevolent ‘Other’ sensation may also enhance self-protective measures as the individual may be hyper-alert for danger and more likely to mee dangerous places. A perception of a malevolent ‘Other’ may also change these individuals’ worldviews. 49. the individual may retain their sense of self-agency and this belief could increase their ability to act despite their tendency to believe in a meaningless world. The trunk’s life force shoots upward. 48. Along the sloping branch. nourishing myriad new buds and mowers. By acting as a wellspring of spiritual values. They seek altruistic acts as a counter to the world’s bad character. These feelings can contravene the will to live. the pure physical delight of the thing itself—richer and more sensual than any dream of memory. such as Nelson Mandela (1996) and Elie Wiesel (1987).
322 Journal for the Study of Religion. unutterable. Their command of descriptive adjectives and adverbs often rivals that of the world’s great poets. interpretive claims. I feel such tenderness in coming close to these exquisite mowers…now. 50. incredible. This lack of access to the brain’s verbal processing areas would explain the sensation of ineffability. projects the ineffable onto nature. This ineffability might occur if the event ‘bypasses’ the brain’s normal verbal processing areas. or indirect ‘how to’ instructions. in the actual presence of the tree. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. offers a seemingly endless mow of words that imperfectly describes the event. as in Stephanie Kaza’s words above.50 Intense spiritual experience in nature presents a conundrum: individuals who describe these experiences frequently report an inability to describe what happened yet they provide seemingly endless interpretations of the event. 51. offering instead poetical depictions. But then a listener hears the individual say they really cannot adequately describe the moment. or uses language related to sexual experience to convey the power of the experience. Stephanie Kaza is professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. This observation is based on an analysis of the interviewees and the nature authors. indescribable. . They use words that suggest the utmost limit of something in order to convey the power and exceptional character of the phenomenon. such as listening to a favorite melody. I recognize this consummation of yearning. One interviewee described the sensation’s effect by saying. Her primary area of scholarship is Buddhist environmental thought. I soften with the tenderness of the dance between two beings. The ineffability characteristic also emerges in other types of human experience.51 Individuals who describe these experiences seem to use this indirect way of describing the experience because they cannot verbally describe an actual moment of transcendence. Accomplished musicians frequently cannot describe the experience of hearing and playing an enjoyable piece of music. The inability to describe the experience of a favorite piece of music exempliles the sensation of ineffability. It is inexpressible. this fullllment of desire (Kaza 1993: 49-50). which is the third characteristic of intense spiritual experience. They hear the music but words cannot express their sense and feeling of it. The ineffability characteristic can be identiled in individuals’ narratives of the event in four ways: an individual acknowledges their ‘tongue-tied’ state. Nature and Culture drip with spring moisture from the night’s gentle storm. Their narratives thus shed little light on the event itself.
of all these things blending together to give me such pleasure. pleasure. it feels right. tape recording. tape recording. transcript: 9. Nature itself becomes a placeholder for the ineffable. presence of an ‘Other’. . But then I will stumble upon a campsite left by some unthoughtful hunters with beer cans. I suppose. Broadly speaking. It’s just more of a feeling than what you can put into words. however. and the indelnable feeling. Words exist to describe the contradiction. 1 August 1997. the inexpressible. The ineffability sensations occur when an individual cannot lnd the appropriate words to describe an experience. most notably the unity. Smell something slightly different as you move and walk through a forest. An altered state that I don’t get into when I’m running around in my car. Although she was unable to provide additional description of the sensation. The paradoxical sensations occur when an individual feels an event happens. is somewhat shattered… It doesn’t take much to somehow shatter this wholeness of all these wonderful pleasurable experiences…this matrix of beauty that add[s] up to put me in a very special kind of sensual and spiritual place. all that beauty. individuals who have intense spiritual experiences in nature often project their ineffability sensations onto some aspect of the natural world. That’s hard to describe. yet the event seems impossible because it involves a logical contradiction when described. 17 June 1997. As I questioned the interviewees about their diflculty describing their experience. bullet casing. but I guess you have to call it a kind of spiritual experience… You just feel a part of the nature. Female #3. one interviewee could describe what triggered the loss of the unity dimension but she could not describe the unity characteristic itself. She could only describe the union as a pleasure zone or altered state and speak of blending. It’s just a matrix of myriad senses. all that sense of what’s right.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages Well.53 52. That. interview by the author. as each characteristic denotes an individual sensation. I don’t know.52 323 Based on observations drawn from all of the data. Individuals who describe intense spiritual experience report sensations of ineffability and paradoxicality. I guess. all of a sudden. and toilet paper and. 53. interview by the author. if you would. beauty. But the ineffability sensations become apparent when an individual tries to explain one of the other six characteristics. Female #1. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. she could clearly describe what shattered the unity sensation. It feels like. it’s been a long time since that experience. it’s all these natural sense to allow me almost to get into a pleasure zone. transcript: 9. discriminating between the phenomenon’s ineffability and paradoxicality characteristics can be diflcult. and what is right. or strong affect sensations. to me.
The ineffability characteristic thus fosters notions of divine beings or states. The interviewees seemed to describe the sensation as a felt sense of the extraordinary or incomparable. perfection. transcript: 22.55 Based on observations drawn from all of the data. the opposite of an ideal state. Because they experience both the ineffability and the presence characteristics. . Kellert (1996) suggests the moralistic value includes strong feelings of ethical responsibility for nature. tape recording. Male #2. or a real state. morality. the natural world. 55. 58. the ineffability sensation seems to generate a lived experience that individuals understand as an experience of transcendence. When one interviewee was asked to be more specilc about what he described as positive feelings of a connection with an ‘Other’. See the noetic characteristic for a description of its particular character. that it can be that amazing’. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. individuals normally associate the sensations with the closeness of an extraordinary being or power. Because intense spiritual experience also includes a noetic quality sensation. Nature and Culture The ineffability characteristic frequently appeared in descriptions of a presence. however. transcript: 16. 8 August 1997. The ineffability characteristic also seems to play a role in the evaluation of ethical behavior. Male #1.56 Individuals who describe these experiences have experiential knowledge of extraordinariness. With the negative variation. 57. interview by the author. interview by the author. or some other state. or power. 56. individuals seem to interpret the event as certain and absolute. In either variation. ‘It’s kind of a spiritual feeling. ‘Any more than I can describe how good it feels to be part of a loving warm family’. Individuals who experience the characteristic appear to know through their 54. immorality. Existing data do not allow me to report whether individuals thought they were transcending the self. the sensations seem to foster moral perceptions of the natural world. the moralistic perspective is often associated with indigenous peoples and their relationships with the natural world. evil. 25 June 1997.58 Notions of the truly singular or unparalleled illustrate the ineffability sensation. One interviewee expressed the sensation very simply by saying.54 The ineffability sensations represent one of the most intriguing aspects of intense spiritual experience.324 Journal for the Study of Religion. facilitating ethical judgments about individual behavior and action.57 They have unequivocal knowledge of an experience of the divine. or some ideal state. individuals generally relate the sensations to goodness. tape recording. During the positive variation of intense spiritual experience. You’re just kind of in awe of this whole thing. the cosmos. he said he could not describe it. individuals generally relate the sensations to notions of wickedness. condition. and this knowledge provides tremendous inspirational and motivational power.
thrilling with the air and trees.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 325 feelings what is morally right or wrong for both human and environmental ethics. kindling enthusiasm. societal group. I am not arguing that other individuals would agree that the behavior is morally right or wrong.) The diversity of views on the sensation begs the questions: What. as if truly an inseparable part of it. the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic has two lxed reference lines for measuring its coordinates. I speculate that their knowledge may have helped them obtain the support and security provided by participation in a small. their views seemed to stem from how they interpreted the sensation. I am arguing that the sensation creates a perception of correctness that the individual then interprets and applies to particular behavior as being morally right or wrong. 60. Individuals who describe these experiences appear to focus more on one axis than the other. One line represents timelessness and the other delineates spacelessness. is reality. (Some individuals remain uncertain and uncommitted about whether the distortions represent alternate realities. 59. and how can we know it? Similar to a two-dimensional graph. Individuals who never experience the phenomenon often believe the sensation represents a perceptual distortion. individuals who experience the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic seem to interpret the sensation as an experienced moment of eternity or inlnity. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. but immortal (Muir 1999: 8). llling every pore and cell of us. Some interviewees believed they had to conserve (or steward) the land while other individuals disagreed by saying that a conservation ethic was unnecessary since nature could always recover from any management activity. making every nerve quiver. in the waves of the sun—a part of all nature. This observation is based on an analysis of the interviewees and the nature authors. neither old nor young. sensible reality. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. streams and rocks. yet individuals who experience the sensations usually view them as accurate representations of a true. Our mesh and bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us. sick nor well. Interviewees with particular land-management perspectives tended to work with individuals who held similar beliefs.59 The interviewees often expressed differing views of how to manage the natural world. The Timelessness and Spacelessness Characteristic We are now in the mountains and they are in us. . precisely.60 The space axis seems to emerge in the following text by Wallace Byron Grange.
which is here. especially when considering whether an event is ‘timeful’. has taken the earth’s sun away. an experience of people who are somewhat oblivious to their surroundings. and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us. or spaceless. or ‘without time’. usually when watching television or driving a vehicle. Although individuals interpreted the sensation as a moment of unending time and space. beauty to yet higher beauty.326 Journal for the Study of Religion. unknowable space. 62. Nature and Culture Darkness. When the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic combines with the other six sensations. beginning in the alders. The more appropriate label for this characteristic might be ‘Without Time or Space’. and unending space. It is eternally mowing from use to use.61 The time axis seems to emerge in the following text by John Muir. . Individuals who describe these experiences frequently make use of concepts such as eternity. Psychiatrists sometimes refer to stronger 61. the moment is interpreted as one of unending time. and we soon cease to lament waste and death. it exists on a spectrum of ordinary human behavior that ranges from mild to strong. and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable. and which runs outward beyond the beyond to the ends of the universe. The milder variations are commonly known as ‘spacing out’. Although the sensation sounds odd. ‘timeless’.62 I speculate that research into the physiological origins of this characteristic may provide greater understanding of all of the phenomenon’s sensations. but it has brought from their inlnite obscurity the other suns and planets and stars of space—vast. the eternal. and beyond the ends to the beginning (1990: 27). He was Wisconsin’s lrst Superintendent of Game. I thus want to point out the difference between the experience of the physiological sensation and its interpretation. while simultaneously experiencing a perception of timelessness and spacelessness. feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last (1999: 140). the individual effectively ‘dissolves’ into the experience and loses all sense of the individual self. we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. but these terms can lead us into murky metaphysical depths. it seems. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Their usage of these terms seems to indicate that the individual lacks neurophysiological temporal and spatial referents. One is constantly reminded of the inlnite lavishness and fertility of Nature—inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous wastage. the sensation is more appropriately described as a moment without time or space because the individual’s brain seems unable to access the areas that provide temporal and spatial referents. Wallace Byron Grange (1905–1987) served with the US Biological Survey. unspendable wealth of the universe. or inlnity. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds. or timeless.
Male #1. transcript: 1617. there are things so beautiful that it sort of delnes beauty for you. What I’m suggesting to you is that those scenes that you see so clearly are delning the beauty of the world. the ‘DSM-IV’. interview by the author. tape recording.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 327 forms as ‘dissociation’. physiological sensations of timelessness and spacelessness seem to 63. It isn’t quiet but it seems to be quiet and I think it’s because the noises there aren’t at all offensive or they’re noises that are soothing or touch something…there’s a sense that you’re walking through the forest and you don’t hear sound. Noting that the mowing water in a nearby stream caused a change in his sensory perceptions. I guess it’s a little bit like reaching out and touching something delned… I don’t suggest to you that God exists in those scenes.63 When the characteristic is active. an individual’s perceptions change as their sensory awareness narrows. When I’m there. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. It’s as though the forest becomes part of you and you become part of the forest…it’s an occasional experience. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. 9 July 1997. is a good way to put it. you can’t possibly have all the same thought processes and your senses change because now what you’ve got is this stream sound. tape recording. Yet the timelessness and spacelessness sensation can be helpful in a variety of circumstances. I suspect that ‘dissociation’ actually represents several different types of neurological events. transcript: 5. Sounds usually fade and disappear. not in a physical way. 64. The term’s usage is remected in one of the standard.64 Another interviewee tried to describe what he called ‘a very lasting impression’ that may have represented the timelessness and spacelessness sensation: It’s like a delned moment where there’s a moment in your life when you see something and it delnes that scene for the rest of your life and you see those things differently after that. but not a lot. Male #3. in a very positive way. one interviewee speculated about the origin of these sensations: When I sit down next to a stream…that’s kind of making noise. interview by the author. I guess. So other things kind of disappear… [Question: What do you think that is?] I’ve thought about it some. [Question: Can you describe the characteristics of those places to me?] I suppose it’s a muse of colors. And…those delning moments are very important and they do change you. I can speculate the sounds of the streams seem to draw you in more. psychopathology diagnostic manuals. published by the American Psychiatry Association (1994) and in Lynn and Rhue (1994). the strong form of ‘dissociation’ may be dangerous. 65. . but I think they change your perception. I really have no good answer.65 When an individual remains totally unaware of their current surroundings. 1 August 1997.
But the individual functions at a different cognitive level as the suppression of pain frees the mind to operate with greater capacity. 66. they may be more likely to survive in arduous.328 Journal for the Study of Religion. Nature and Culture simultaneously lessen feelings of pain and enhance specilc cognitive features. They also frequently describe how they never noticed their wounds during these events. from the pain. Children who undergo physically painful events and lack help managing their feelings often learn how to ‘turn off’. By eliminating distracting physical pain. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. When the sensation ends.66 The individual is conldent and more self-assured. and skills related to concentration seem improved. I speculate that the lessening or suspension of pain feature may also foster acts of altruism and heroism. Narratives of combat veterans who survive adverse situations often describe how ‘time’ seemed to move in ‘slow-motion’ when they had to make and act on survival decisions. Individuals who have learned how to dissociate as children show a higher rate of incidence as adults.67 Individual decisions become faster. Individuals may deliberately evoke the sensation in order to achieve heroic acts normally made impossible by physical pain. individuals may make better survival decisions. The cessation of pain is normally a brief event. and designed to meet personal needs of safety and security. As the individual becomes more intimately connected to their setting. (They do not always exhibit these features in the negative variation. or dissociate. . the individual apparently feels little or no physical pain. With the lessening of physical pain. Trauma literature on abused children upholds this observation. I speculate that the sensations may help create a physiological condition that bolsters survival skills. the individual again feels pain. 67. surer. however. however. The characteristic may allow individuals to lift heavy rocks or fallen trees or carry injured people out of threatening conditions. The return of pain may also heighten their survival likelihood as the pain may make an individual more cautious or bring attention to injuries.) The timelessness and spacelessness characteristic may explain why individuals report greater perceptual awareness and ability during intense spiritual experience in nature. some individuals report a more focused perceptual awareness and memory. When the characteristic is fully operational. outdoor circumstances. the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic may enhance both cognitive and physical performance. The timelessness and spacelessness sensation may also confer adaptive ltness in harsh conditions or extreme weather. Individuals who report occurrences in nature show heightened awareness of particular features in nature: their increased overall awareness seems to deepen their relationship with the outdoors.
The interviewees associated the intense feelings with specilc settings. 8 July 1997. transcript: 15. including terror.69 Another interviewee said the feelings were. 70. fear. For one interviewee. Like being in love. and I have found that whenever I have renewed in even the slightest way the early sense of communion and belonging I knew as a child. Exhilarating.68 329 Strong affect is the lfth characteristic of intense spiritual experience. Particularly a waterfall where the motion of the water creates ozone and just creates almost a lightheadedness that makes you feel like you belong there and you don’t ever want to go any place else. their expression may be an indication of their emotional suffering and their interpretation of the physical pain. bliss. Thus. 69. specilc forest settings evoked strong positive feelings. Although individuals often claim that physical pain ‘hurts’ or ‘feels’ painful.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages The Strongly Positive or Negative Affect Characteristic The lrst of such experiences. When asked to describe the moments of joy. including love. tape recording. or rapture. joy. dread. tape recording. they were the forerunners of countless others and gave me a desire that has led me into the wilderness regions of the continent in the hope that I might hear the singing again… Always there has been the search and the listening. One interviewee described ‘moments of joy in a forest’. or despair. she equated forests with personal safety and well-being. the emotions are strongly positive. happiness and joy have been mine (Olson 1997: 10). 68. 24 October 1997.70 The interviewees often described a very strong feeling of calm and comfort. However. occasionally the feelings are strongly negative. He served as President of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association. a blissful feeling or something like that’. I think it comes from being near moving water. Male scientist #2. . not only for me but for those who have been with me. the ability to simultaneously feel strong emotions but no physical pain seems to indicate that pain does not represent a true emotion. interview by the author. American Sigurd Olson (1899–1982) produced nine books on the importance of wilderness. Female #2. when people indicate that pain ‘hurts’. he replied ‘I would just put it in different words. whenever I have glimpsed if only for an instant the glory I knew then. interview by the author. transcript: 9. The intensely negative feelings exist even when the individual experiences the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic and its lessening of physical pain feature. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Generally.
if not foreverness.72 One interviewee replied. transcript: 17. 74. So I feel a sense of belonging there. It gave me pleasure to be there. so she was interviewed near her work desk. she replied. A calming feeling. it feels the way normal should be…peaceful and calming’. Female #1. interview by the author.330 Journal for the Study of Religion. thus her comments were expressed with tentativeness. the well-being I often feel when I’m in a forest.74 Knowing that it’s there or actually feeling it when you’re over there because. I can go there and feel protected. I guess. When asked to describe the feeling. I believe her desire and willingness to be alone indicated a remarkably strong feeling of enhanced security given the situation. Female employee #1. another interviewee simply described her feeling of belonging. transcript: 18-20. I have felt comfortable in a forest and secure in a forest. even if it’s a little part of it. So there is a sense of being a part of a continuum. tape recording. I guess. felt like I belonged there. Male #1. being part of ‘a whole’. it feels the way it should be. the serenity of a forest…lots of emotions there. about spiritual emotions. interview by the author. Nature and Culture It felt good. When asked if she wanted to postpone the interview. ‘The forest…I guess you could say it felt like. tape recording. interview by the author. ‘It feels in balance. standing in the middle of a group of trees is sort of protective. Although her colleagues were out of the oflce. 73. transcript: 13. the interviewee’s use of ‘sort of protective’ may not suggest a strongly protected feeling. somehow. but it’s still sort of protective. There were no known grizzly bears in her area. she tended to balance her desire to speak with her need for caution. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. it would be a sense of almost a spiritualness. Very soothing. The beauty of it. she refused. In this quotation. . A sense of.73 And another interviewee described a benelcial feeling of enhanced security. a sense of something that has been there for centuries and long before I entered the earth. I don’t know exactly… It’s sort of a freedom from other people. [Question: Do you sense any meaning or purpose in this feeling?] For me. and a sense of being close to nature. tape recording. like nobody can bother you…when I think about taking a 71. 26 June 1997. and will be here long after I leave. probably. I don’t know how. especially with interviewees who worked for the forest products industry or institutions. close to beauty…I’ve felt a part of it.71 Again referring to a forest. very comforting… I think the emotional dependence would be. The privacy of the interview setting was extremely important. too… I don’t feel as though I’m an alien or intruding in an area where I have no place. 4 August 1997. Just knowing that trees are there gives me the feeling that. 72. it gave me peace of mind to be there’. but there had been bear attacks nearby. 2 July 1997. No private interview setting could be found for this interviewee. A connection to a force that’s much greater than humankind. I have included her remarks because she consistently talked about how safe she felt as a female forester alone in a forest with numerous bears.
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Female #1. he could never quite bring himself to talk about the terror of the volcanic eruption. transcript: 11-12. That’s not a good experience…overpowering. they see greater malevolence and badness. be it human. . I didn’t venture up there until it was all done erupting. I mean. Most of those are related to tragedies within the forest. About 700. I always think about what places can I go where I’m not going to run into a lot of people. interview by the author. 76. but I think that we don’t understand what that is. they see greater perfection and goodness. 5 August 1997. There’s nothing you can do about it. or physical things that happen to the forest itself from some disaster… Mount St. Individuals who experience the intensely positive feelings tend to see the world in a rosecolored way. recounted his feelings of helplessness. But I don’t want to see other people and I guess being alone gives you a chance to sort of think about things…things that would probably be termed more spiritual kinds of things. it’s kind of impossible to recognize that the force ever took place [Question: How do you respond to those forces?] Carefully. the intense affect characteristic seems to produce one of two results. tape recording. Communing with nature or communing with God or whatever you want to call it…the forest is the best place to think…there probably is some kind of unity or balance or whatever but I think that. One interviewee mentioned his bad memories and. Based on observations drawn from all of the data. 75. interview by the author.000 acres of forest wiped out in one quick day. 11 August 1997. Male #2. which around here is sort of diflcult. But few individuals speak of the events in great detail. Helens. I guess this is a side note.75 331 Terror brought on by thoughts of imminent death marks negative intense spiritual experience in nature. Like why are you here and what’s our purpose and stuff like that. individuals who experience this variation often develop a strong aversion to talking about it. Intense negative spiritual experiences produce strongly negative feelings.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages trip or I think about going hiking or whatever.76 Although this interviewee tried to express his feeling of utter helplessness in the face of such overwhelming power. Individuals who experience the intensely negative feelings tend to see the worst in people and life. You can’t. Interviewees who voiced their negative feelings described unfortunate events in the natural world. transcript: 14. tape recording. How do you respond to those forces? You don’t. when probed. I speculate that groups of people need both perspectives in order to maintain a balanced perspective on their current circumstances.
See essays by Ulrich.332 Journal for the Study of Religion. like some dream state? I could easily have made this stuff up in a creative writing class’. One interviewee described particular messages that he experienced: It’s a spiritual feeling that occurs when I go to the woods. I guess I’m going to answer it in…terms of being abstract rather than physical because it’s not exactly voices. yet their factual knowledge of the situation clashes with their experience of the physiological sensations. or dreadful feelings can provide important information about an individual’s physical condition and circumstances. or experienced during the phenomenon. ‘Is this just rambling fantasy I’ve created. Verbal just meaning in terms of 77. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. When a safe location is reached. and this disconnect requires resolution. the negative feeling frequently lessens or disappears. and that’s why I go. terrifying. Feelings of pleasure may provide useful information about an individual’s physical state. understood. strangeness. but I have received very particular verbal messages. as well as Heerwagen and Orians. many people may dispute the notion that intense negative feelings are benelcial. and sometimes even their sanity. . or oddness that something feels correct or accurate. I feel better when I come home…I feel like I receive guidance in the woods in terms of guidance for my life. Essentially.77 Both types of intense feelings may thus promote a benelcial awareness of an individual’s current surroundings. Thus the paradoxicality sensation seems to leave these individuals questioning their understanding of the experience. They tell us when we are safe and circumstances permit our rest and relaxation. Intense negative feelings may motivate an individual to seek greater personal safety. The Paradoxicality Characteristic Again I asked myself if I was crazy. however. in Kellert and Wilson (1993). They focused instead on the seemingly inexplicable character of what they learned. their experience contravenes logic. The interviewees rarely described the quizzical feeling itself. Yet fearful. like someone’s behind a bush giving you guidance. or bliss. Ulrich (1984) is another seminal article. helpless. Nature and Culture Although no one doubts the advantage of intense feelings of love. joy. But the pull of my heart and the underlying belief that there are many realms of life unknown to humans carried me past my doubts (Goelitz 1991: 22). Individuals who undergo intense spiritual experience seem to experience the paradoxicality characteristic of a quizzical state of feeling. Intense positive feelings may promote the relaxation process and greater personal well-being. too.
When it’s time to leave. builds tolerance for differences. Based on observations from all of the data. 8 July 1997. Female #2. it’s usually time to leave. Verbally gifted interviewees usually solved their problem by lnding an object responsible for their quizzical state or describing paradoxical contrasts in nature.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages my mind and I interpret them in English. [Question: What might be the correct word?] Sharing. transcript: 14-15. . The contradiction between sensation and sense illustrates the phenomenon’s sixth characteristic of paradoxicality.78 333 Another interviewee expressed a paradox when she described an association with something but stated that she was not part of it. the sensation may allow an individual’s acceptance of nature’s contradictory features. interview by the author. Yet they may also set and accomplish concrete objectives under their present circumstances. Paradoxically. I speculate that the sensation yields adaptive benelts: it allows the acceptance of contradictory thoughts and feelings. the accounts represented a reasonable attempt to explain why the sensations contradict logic. She was there by permission. fantasize. The paradoxicality sensation potentially allows an individual to see life in shades of gray. The world thus becomes a contradictory mixture of bad and good. The natural world is 78. and develop goals for a better situation. She seemed to feel that the ‘Other’ would let her share its space or being but only partially. I don’t know that belonging is quite the correct word. an individual may dream. Although their descriptions rarely conformed to normative views of reality. you’re ok here. tape recording. Male #2. By developing a tolerance for paradox. And it has occurred in the woods more often than any other environment. I’ve felt like an interloper. and permits self-contradiction. Sometimes you might feel like you are kind of an outsider interrupting something and sometimes it just seems like. 8 August 1997. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. sharing an area. transcript: 23-24. the paradoxicality characteristic appears to be a lived experience where two logically incompatible experiences both feel true. since she felt she needed permission to be there. yeah. When viewed against the backdrop of the natural world.79 The interviewees provided perplexing statements in their attempt to reconcile the logic-defying phenomenon with the objectivity of the known world. interview by the author. Sharing a space. though. she could not truly be part of whatever the ‘Other’ was. but I’ve never felt like I. tape recording. and life is rarely black or white. This interviewee’s response matches Taylor’s (2010) category of ‘animistic’ perception. 79.
and joy. The paradoxicality characteristic may also provide a way to hold contradictory knowledge during a horrilc experience. fear. their link with everything that has ever been. linked to a cosmos. I listed the noetic characteristic as a physiological sensation but later changed it to a psychological sensation. Initially. American Roger Caras (1928–2001) served as President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Although admitting such uncertainty might weaken my argument. The phenomenon’s lived experience of paradoxicality may thus allow the acceptance of all truths about the natural world. It is in this concept that so many people see a master plan (Caras 1991: 17). and everything that can ever be. Terrifying natural disasters shock. even while living through a hellish affair. They may simultaneously understand life’s terrors and wholly value what makes life signilcant. The paradoxicality characteristic may thus facilitate the acquisition of meaning and wisdom. shatter. as human beings. Accepting this seeming contradiction may facilitate an individual’s ability to retain a healthy skepticism. That is the larger truth of the tree and the eagle. . 81.80 The noetic quality sensation is the phenomenon’s only psychological characteristic. inspiration. everything that is. The Noetic Quality Characteristic The continuous nuclear explosion that is a star came to earth and visited the eagle and the hemlock with energy made benevolent by the length of its journey. The human co-planeteers of the eagle and the tree can never forget that their subjects are. Nature has destructive power yet also provides beauty. I now lnd myself returning to my initial listing.81 Based on observations drawn from all of the data. But negative intense spiritual experience’s paradoxical dimension may permit an individual to retain the knowledge and hope of a better life. and distrust of portions of the natural world. The horrors of intense negative spiritual experience abound. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. and often crush peoples’ worldviews. The issue of how we experience and then interpret certain physiological sensations goes to the heart of how we. yet still enjoy the rewards and pleasures of being immersed in it. albeit with a more cautious or guarded outlook. like themselves. They may cautiously explore. individuals may resume their lives. and relax with due precautions. They show true wisdom.334 Journal for the Study of Religion. carefully gather food. Once the event ends. the 80. experience the subjective side of human consciousness. it is important to acknowledge that scientists have yet to understand these matters fully. Their kinds were born of that energy and forever linked to it. Nature and Culture neither all bad nor good but a source of both danger and good fortune.
so I assume that if it’s true for me. 2 August 1997. So…it’s important to me because it’s a part of who I am. however. about a 82.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages 335 characteristic leaves individuals with the lrm conviction that what they know is true. very profound. tape recording. But I guess I think it’s true for me. So. Frequently. and then to their interpretation of the phenomenon. you either engage in it or you don’t. he expressed it as a truth. They seem to prefer talking about the noetic content of their experience. He offered a powerful noetic truth based on his experience. interview by the author. I know that there is something to me innately right. with conviction and fervor: ‘Leaving aside the spiritual question. innately beautiful. interview by the author. One interviewee refused to answer any questions about his inner spiritual life apart from saying he thought individual living things were part of a larger whole. 83. My entire life has been part of my experience. Their interpretation is then expressed as ‘noetic’ or ‘intuitive’ knowledge. it’s true for a lot of people. Many individuals who describe these experiences express the noetic quality sensation as enlightenment. [Question: Why do you think this is important to you?] Well…it’s one of those things you don’t have any choice about. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. one thing is connected to everything else… I don’t know why it is. transcript: 8-9. for that experience. Male #1. that each of us has some deep threads that run through us. transcript: 9. The noetic sensation appeared to comfort the interviewees by providing self-validation. Exactly the same…I’ve never thought about that exactly [in] those terms. or for the parallel side of the experience… Because being alone with that stuff is very.83 One interviewee offered her noetic experience. that they’re the basic threads that we are. however. and I’m a regular person. Often.82 Another interviewee described his reasons for being in a forest. and solace. It offered truth. the interviewees did not understand how or why they knew these truths. I don’t want to say born in. hope. it is’. can be. but it’s built in one [way] or the other…and I think it is exactly the same there as it is with the forest. you ignore who you are at your own emotional and psychological peril… I think that there are. it’s that it’s who you are. because I’m not sure it is born in. It’s not that it’s important to you. Male #1. . Because the sensation is experienced simultaneously with the other six characteristics. I think that our understanding increasingly is that there is this web of life. Their passionate tones hold the strength and certainty of their conviction and knowledge. tape recording. I’m often there for exactly. 24 June 1997. When asked to explain how he knew there was a larger whole. when I’m on my own. and you know. our cloth is made out of…so I think some of this stuff is. individuals seem to apply the noetic quality to the phenomenon itself. ‘Deep in my soul. They rarely say they know truth or enlightenment.
Female forester #2. a close reading of her response revealed her sense that she knew this intuitively: [Question: Do you think this unity comes from anywhere?] Gosh. I guess I’d have to say I don’t think that. tape recording. tape recording. 25 June 1997. somewhere. noetic knowledge is an absolute and unquestioning belief independent of objective fact. I think that from the smallest atom to the largest mountain. veracity. and I’ve been able to observe through life and reading what I can read. I think that there’s. I don’t know why’. her belief appeared to illustrate conceptual understanding derived from education and observation. and seeing what I see… There’s no doubt in my mind. 7 July 1997.84 Another interviewee was asked if individual living things or systems were parts of a larger whole. ‘I think that’s just the way nature is. which I personally do. transcript: 11. And I see it reinforced often with science and just what I observe in the woods and land and with people as well. that all life is connected. transcript: 18-21. Another interviewee honestly summed up the noetic aspect of his belief about a larger unity by saying. Nature and Culture natural forest’. The characteristic may thus foster benelcial and adaptive group bonding and loyalty. I know that. 84. interview by the author. probably a scheme to things. transcript: 3. That one activity will always impact something else. interview by the author. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. tape recording. Female #3. 87. ‘Do you believe in a higher being?’ kind of question.85 One interviewee agreed that individual living things were part of a larger whole. that everything’s connected here. When she was asked the causal source of fundamental unity. and genuineness that cannot be denied. the noetic sensation encourages trust in both the self and others. . Because the characteristic fosters a sureness or positiveness. 17 June 1997.336 Journal for the Study of Religion. I speculate that the noetic sensation fosters or expands an individual’s sense of understanding and grounds their faith and belief in a lived experience. transcript: 11. even if they could not explain why. interview by the author. She replied. and everything is put here for a purpose. Both from believing in what I was taught in basic biology classes way back and observing. 86 Stronger than belief. Female #4. Well. I guess I interpret that question as almost. That nothing is isolated and…that’s a spiritual thing for me. interview by the author. 85. that that’s true… It comes back to sort of believing that the whole earth is connected. Initially. tape recording. 8 August 1997. 86.87 Many of the interviewees were conldent they were absolutely right. if the individuals share a similar interpretation of the knowledge claims. It supports the perception of a truth. and its purpose is not just solely to determine every other thing that’s here. Male #1.
and ethical questions: Where do people think they lt in nature? What is the character of authority in nature? What is real in nature? How can we know nature? How should we value and behave in nature? There is no consensus on why the natural world seems to trigger such experiences. intense affect. teleological. separate sensations occur simultaneously during events that I label ‘intense spiritual experience’. saying the phenomenon represented merely an intellectual perception or illusion of unbounded feeling. body. See Parsons (1999) for a discussion about the correspondence between Freud and his friend. ineffability. From an evolutionary perspective. Further research in this little-explored area. the presence of an ‘Other’.88 An individual who encounters intense spiritual experience feels seven physiological and psychological sensations: unity. residing between the environmental and neurological sciences. Romain Rolland. But Freud had no experience of this type. metaphysical. They often interpret their experience as a moment of transcendence. . but a multidisciplinary investigation might offer an opportunity to resolve the question: What is the signilcance of nature in intense spiritual experience? The individual characteristics warrant investigation. But there is no consensus on how or why each characteristic affects our mind. and noetic perception. paradoxicality. these data offer evidence about the types of perceptions people have during intense spiritual experience in nature. Freud (1961) acknowledged that he never experienced the ‘oceanic feeling’. epistemological. may eventually yield greater understanding of the subjective aspects of human consciousness.Terhaar Evolutionary Advantages Conclusion 337 Freud (1961) dismissed a friend’s claim of an ‘oceanic feeling’. I have argued that distinct. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. But this study has found patterns that can now be turned into testable hypotheses. and spirit. timelessness and spacelessness. These seven sensations may have evolutionary advantages that promote human survival. Although partial and preliminary. the individual perceptions appear to promote human health and well-being. 88. This lnding suggests that natural selection may favor intense spiritual experiences in nature. too. How and why do they occur together? Are they inter-related or entwined somehow? There is no consensus regarding these questions. The two variations leave individuals posing the following cosmological. We should develop a better understanding of the linkages between the environmental and neurological sciences in order to better understand how both variations affect human well-being.
Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Beacon Press). NJ: Prentice-Hall). 1991. and W. The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees (New York: Fawcett Columbine). doi:10.O. Nature and Culture Additionally. New York Times Magazine. spiritual values. 1991. 1992. V. beliefs. the phenomenon provides a way of studying what individuals value as well as how and why they develop those values. The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Penguin Books). Caras. and A. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press): 59-145. Ecstasy: A Way of Knowing (Englewood Cliffs. but intense spiritual experience in nature allows scientists and scholars to study such matters. 1990. 1993. Kaza. S. however. 1975. d’Aquili. 1983. 1958. R. Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Understanding of Trauma (New York: Macmillan). (ed. Janoff-Bulman. Goelitz. and C. there is no consensus on whether... S. Greeley. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 31. Behavior that seems protective to one individual may not be viewed similarly by another person. how. 1978. ‘Are We a Nation of Mystics?’. The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experiences (Minneapolis: Fortress Press). 1999.1: 86-94. ———.M. 1994. J. ‘Civilization and its Discontents’.M. Secrets from the Lives of Trees (Boulder Creek: Planetary Publications). Furthermore. in James Strachey (ed.).1177/ 0022167891311008.338 Journal for the Study of Religion. Newberg. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2009. Mysticism and Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press). Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-IV (Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association). Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press). Spiritual Quest or Psychic Disorder? (New York: Committee for the Advancement of Psychiatry).B. Davis. J. James. No one understands the linkage between experiences in nature. and why the patterns identiled in this research might shape the development of an environmental ethic. W. Grange. 1959. A. Because intense spiritual experience in nature acts as a window on ordinary spiritual experience. and behaviors in nature.B. and human behaviors.). References American Psychiatric Association. W. It seems far too simple to say that the positive variation creates a protective view while the negative variation stimulates a less-protective view of nature. A. Wright. Frankl. Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. The Forest (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).. E. multi-disciplinary investigations may some day yield greater understanding of the wellsprings of peoples’ spiritual values. . Lockwood. McCready. 1991. R. Freud. WI: Willow Creek Press). 26 January: 12-25. 1961. Katz. Those of the Forest (Minocqua. L. ‘Reasons for Not Reporting Peak Experiences’. S. 1974.C. 1976. Greeley.
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