I attended a panel discussion today about spirituality and the brain. Much of the discussion focused on the use of psychotropic drugs to induce altered mental states that may be conducive to spiritual growth.

One of the panelists relate his experiences, and the other panelist asked him a metaphysical question: whether he thought that such experiences are “real”. For example, if you have a spiritual conversation while under the influence of a psychotropic drug with a deceased friend, did you really have a conversation with that person?

In the end, they concluded that the question is irrelevant. Because the goal of such experiences is to advance along your own path to spriritual growth, it doesn’t matter whether you were talking to a “real” entity, or just to a construct that you’ve formed in your own mind. What you are actually doing is connecting with an important part of yourself.

I found myself thinking about stories. When we read a novel, or see a play or a movie, we know that the characters we encounter don’t actually exist. Yet we allow them to take us on an emotional journey — one that can be even more profound and powerful precisely because we experienced it within the “magic circle” of willing suspension of disbelief.

All such experiences, whether chemical, literary, meditative or other, are gateways to another part of our own possibility space. And there are many such gateways. That’s one of the fun things about being human.

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