I wish to briefly share a part of my life that I usually keep secret.
Three years ago, I was browsing a forum about the paranormal or something rather, and I found a thread by a woman claiming to be clairvoyant. She gave me some readings, I was impressed, and we kept in touch via email. After some time, she offered to teach me how to read people, and I agreed.
It worked. With practice, I was able to see into people's lives, peek into the future, and even communicate with people who identified themselves as being deceased. I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. It was nothing flashy or dramatic, more like brief visual images that I had to unravel, because I didn't do a lot of intensive training. But my life had suddenly taken on a profound sense of meaning which it had previously lacked. A whole new dimension of reality had opened up.
I've been on a spiritual roller coaster lately and haven't made use of these powers in about two years, but that's another story. I sometimes do pick up on people's thoughts by accident. At least, it seems to be their thoughts, I don't bother to ask for obvious reasons.
My experience with powers does bring me to make an interesting observation: in many traditions, practitioners consciously cultivate powers (I would even argue that Jungian active imagination is a form of this), but in Christian mysticism, the powers are considered to be gifts from God.
Is it appropriate for a contemplative to consciously develop powers if none arise in prayer? On one hand, this would seem to be a form of lacking faith in God. "God must have made a mistake by not granting me these gifts, so I will build my concentration and say a special mantra to get them." On the other hand, it is a shame to hear about contemplatives who never have these experiences, because they are missing out on a whole aspect of consciousness that is fascinating and empowering.
At the same time, I find it a little odd to say that different practitioners are gifted with different mystical graces. Isn't God's grace the same for everyone-- infinite?
Most major spiritual traditions have the same stance: powers are nice, but best avoided if you want to go far on the path. The notable exception is shamanic traditions. Primal peoples did not have access to modern medicine and often didn't even have access to a consistent food supply, so powers were the primary goal of practice.
At any rate, my main question is this-- is it appropriate for a Christian to cultivate powers?
This is a complex topic, but it might help to recognize that some people who aren't especially religious experience psychic powers, though not always predicatably nor in their complete control. This suggests a "natural" (rather than mystical) origin for some of these experiences. Actually, everyone has psychic moments, whether it's "knowing" what the song will be when you turn on the radio, or who is calling you on the phone, or when a loved one living away is in distress. There is a spiritual dimension to human consciousness that transcends space and time, and psychic gifts are evidence of this, moreso in some people than others.
Whether one who is naturally gifted with psychic sensitivities should cultivate this or not could be considered the same way we regard other gifts. Should someone with musical gifts be encouraged to develop their talents? Most of us would say yes. But psychic intelligence is a "hot potato," opening one to much more complex information and powerful energies. How to integrate this so that one can also function well in ordinary human space-time levels of experience is a challenge. There aren't many authentic teachers who can help one do so; this field is rife with frauds. But some people just can't help receiving psychic information anyway, and so they have to learn how to live with this.
One way we can all become psychic is by activating this "spiritual unconscious." Meditative practices that deconstruct the Ego (at least for a short time) will enable this possibility, along with kundalini rising and other related phenomena. Still, it's not always clear whether what is being experienced has objective validity or is simply one's own unconscious spewing forth thoughts, images, feelings and energies. There is an enormous risk of self-delusion, here, especially with regard to phenomena like past-life recall and reading others' thoughts. The memory and imagination can be stimulated in strange ways when kundalini and other processes from the unconscious are activated. That's one reason why meditators are usually counseled to avoid getting caught up in this material.
In the Christian spiritual life, charismatic gifts can be understood as the activation of our human psychic powers by the Holy Spirit, but for the good of the community. Gifts like prophecy, healing, tongues, word of knowledge, and working miracles all seem to resonate with what we witness among non-Christian psychics, the difference being that it is the Spirit who is operating through this level. Generally, these kinds of gifts subside after one leaves the ministry context. Because they are under the direction of the Spirit, there is less risk in expressing the charismatic gifts than there is if one is trying to cultivate and use them in a non-religious context.
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