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[JSRNC 3.3 (2009) 303-339] doi: 10.1558/jsrnc.v3i3.

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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 terry.terhaar@aya.yale.edu

Abstract
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. Kellerts 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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journeys to an eternal and timeless land appear in myths, poems, and narratives from around the globe. All of the worlds 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 Ottos seminal work (1958). 4. The research interviewees often used the term.
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material world lack concreteness, therefore they cannot yield to scientilc methodology. Psychologists and psychoanalysts often believe reports of oneness do not represent an actual experience of oneness; they instead argue that the reports represent examples of extreme religiosity, intense longing for the religious or spiritual, or psychopathology.5 Since the experience of oneness as a moment of actual fusion lacks concreteness, a person might assume that such an experience cannot be subjected to scientilc methodology. But this assumption is incorrect. Although the phenomenon may be diflcult to investigate, no one has yet demonstrated that the phenomenon is not part of the material world. As a scientist, I may be skeptical about the concept of an individuals fusion with nature, but I cannot assume that the phenomenon lacks material or phenomenological referents. 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, multidisciplinary investigative approaches provide a possible answer. The notion of oneness in nature spans many scientilc and scholarly areas, including: subjective aspects of human consciousness; human health and well-being; spiritual values, beliefs, and behaviors; environmental and human ethics; and environmental management policies. Multi-disciplinary investigations offer a way to examine these broader topics. Multi-disciplinary investigations also offer an array of investigative methodologies that might prove useful and productive when studying the phenomenon. If scientists and scholars looked more broadly at the notion of oneness in nature, then they might collaborate on some of these important topics. The investigators could begin by asking the following questions: Does an individuals 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. If researchers observe these two dimensions, then the experience can be separated from its subsequent interpretation and claims. A group of scholars known as the Contextualists argue that it is

5. Extensive literature on this topic exists; see Wulff (2000) for a brief summary. Spiritual Quest or Psychic Disorder? (1976) by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry provides an introduction to some of the psychoanalytic arguments. 6. The term self has multiple meanings; there is no clear understanding of what the self actually is or how the brain and the mind create it. I use the term to indicate what makes each of us an individual person.
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impossible to separate experience from its interpretation.7 But the experience of death disproves this claim. Modern medicine recognizes that death has universal attributes that cross all gender, ethnic, cultural, social, and religious lines. Although it may be possible to argue that an individuals knowledge of their death cannot be known independent of their values, beliefs, attitudes, and experiences, the example of the experience of death makes it impossible to argue logically that no human experience contains a common core. Additionally, the extent of an individuals interpretation of their death is limited in time. Consequently, it is possible to argue that the act of dying may be direct and without interpretation. If a category of human experience such as death exists without interpretation, then other categories may exist as well. It must therefore be assumed that an experience of oneness may be known separately from its interpretation. Thus, the event of oneness in nature may possibly contain a core experience that occurs cross-culturally. 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.8 The research can be viewed as a set of natural history observations of peoples responses to nature.9 Although exploratory in character, the investigation was empirically conducted with data collected from a variety of sources. Three data points were established in support of lnding an approach that allows specilc hypothesis-testing of intense spiritual experience. The data points include: (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,
7. There is a long-standing debate over whether mystical experience contains a common core or not. Two opposing perspectives are offered by the Essentialists or Perennialists, who generally argue that mystical experience contains a common core, and the Contextualists, who generally argue that the phenomenon is continuously shaped by its context or surroundings. See Wulff (2000) for a summary of both perspectives and Katzs (1978, 1983) seminal volumes on the Contextualists arguments. 8. The entire investigation is described in Terhaar 2005. 9. The term natural history often refers to the descriptive aspects of the study of life, or biology and living organisms, and the relationships between those organisms, or ecosystem. Natural history observations attempt to explicate the elements of these organisms and relationships, often by describing the structures, functions, and circumstances of particular species including, in this investigation, the human species.
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and philosophy. The results of the three data sets support each other. While partial and preliminary, I believe these data offer compelling evidence demonstrating the existence of certain basic properties of the role of nature in intense spiritual experience. Methodology Although knowledge about intense spiritual experience in nature exists in many disciplines, there is no shared understanding of the phenomenon. Additionally, none of the current ways of understanding the phenomenon account for certain observations of the event.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, this investigation was intentionally designed to be exploratory in character. The investigations 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, K.S. ShraderFrechette and E.D. McCoy suggest that inductive models allow scientists to lll in and extend data, so as to formulate some hypotheses or patterns (1995: 126).11 Darwin used the inductive model, or inference, when developing the theory of evolution. Because existing gaps in knowledge about intense spiritual experience did not allow for hypothesis-testing, I chose the inductive model in order to develop knowledge and form hypotheses. This investigation was not designed to test specilc hypotheses. The observations reported in this article thus represent deliberate generalizations or general notions based on inference from a limited understanding of particular cases. The use of inference raises a signilcant question concerning research design: How does an investigator interpret an investigations lndings? According to Shrader-Frechette and McCoy (1995: 126), inference is subject to cognitive or methodological value judgments, but hypothesistesting involves similar value judgments too. The ideas presented in this article and subsequent articles describing my research are based upon analysis and general observations of the collected data. Although my lndings are tentative, they offer explanatory power and simplicity, providing plausible and testable hypotheses. Until this testing occurs, the
10. I discussed these issues in a previous work (Terhaar 2005). 11. A similar divide exists between quantitative and qualitative data, with quantitative data often used to generate testable hypotheses. Qualitative data, especially in ethnographic studies, is rarely used to test hypotheses.
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generalizations made possible by inferential research play a necessary and important role in the scientilc investigation of intense spiritual experience in nature. 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, a region known for its forests, mountains, and lsh-bearing rivers. The individuals worked (or volunteered) for forest product companies, forest research institutions/governmental agencies, or forestoriented environmental organizations. The interviews were conducted during a lve-month time period in 1997. Each interviewee was randomly selected from employee lists drawn from a diversity of private, institutional/governmental, and non-prolt employers. Specilc individuals were interviewed based on their availability. Interviewees were given a set of seven demographic and lfty-four open-ended interview questions with follow-up probes. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Interview transcripts were analyzed at four levels: (1) identilcation of intense spiritual experience criteria in the interviewees response; (2) the interviewees possible identilcation of their experience; (3) the interviewees interpretation and meaning of their experience; and (4) the interviewees spiritual values as a group. A Typology of Intense Spiritual Experience in Nature Numerous typologies of mystical, religious, or intense spiritual experience exist.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. Yet empirical investigations require problem identilcation and delnition before commencement. Scientists cannot study the notion of oneness without a clear delnition of its characteristics. By carefully noting when particular characteristics in one typology subsumed characteristics in others, I developed a typology of sensations, six physiological and one psychological.13 Although many individuals who

12. See the typologies and work of James (1958), Stace (1960), and Margolis and Elifson (1979). 13. I concentrated on physiological sensations because they offer a means of measuring the phenomenon. I added one psychological characteristic because it appeared in numerous typologies and research interviews. Readers may view the
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describe intense spiritual experience in nature delne the event by its characteristic of oneness, my analysis of the data suggests that intense spiritual experience in nature contains a total of seven characteristics.14 Moreover, it is possible to conjecture that each of these characteristics offer evolutionary advantages. The characteristics are: (1) unity, union, or fusion; (2) the presence of an Other; (3) ineffability, often described as wonder or awe;15 (4) a sense of timelessness and spacelessness; (5) intense affect, either strongly positive or negative; (6) paradoxicality, or the sense that something deles logic because opposing facts feel accurate yet only one can be correct;16 and (7) a noetic quality sensation, usually applied to knowledge and often described as noetic or intuitive knowledge.17 The lrst six characteristics are physiological while the seventh is psychological. When the seven characteristics occur simultaneously in the natural world, then I label the encounter or phenomenon as an intense spiritual experience in nature. 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.18 William James (1958) noted the appearance

physiological characteristics as both physiological and psychological sensations, or as psychological sensations only. The difference in views may be resolved as we develop a better understanding of how the neurophysiological affects the subjective side of human consciousness. 14. Individuals use of the oneness term and its prevalence is discussed under the unity characteristic. 15. Although the term ineffability commonly refers to the inadequacy of language, I am suggesting that the term can be used to describe a physiological sensation that accompanies an experience occurring outside of the brains verbal processing areas. 16. Although the term paradoxicality commonly refers to an illogical quality, I am suggesting that the term can be used to describe a physiological sensation of quizzicalness. 17. William James offered the following delnition: Noetic qualityAlthough so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of signilcance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time (1958: 319). 18. There is a diversity of names for both variations. I invite readers to send me examples.
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of two variations: a positive mystical experience and a negative diabolical mysticism. The existence of the two variations often seems to confuse individuals who never experience either variation. Although other scholars sometimes describe vast differences between these experiences, I use intense spiritual experience for both varieties. The two variations share the same seven characteristics, but for two minor exceptions. In one variation, the feelings are strongly positive and there is a felt sense of a benevolent presence in nature, thus I label it positive intense spiritual experience. In the other variation, the feelings are strongly negative and the felt presence is malevolent, thus I label it negative intense spiritual experience. The negative variation occurs when an individuals life is threatened or they perceive a threat to their life.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, such as a near-death event or extra-sensory perception, or more ordinary forms of human experience, such as extreme religiousness or religiosity. 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. 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, feelings, or beliefs. But intense spiritual experience does not represent a variation or lesser form of these other experiences; it is a different type of human experience. In the following descriptions of the characteristics, the interviewees describe aspects of their spiritual relationships with nature. Their responses may illustrate the prior occurrence of the individual characteristic and the way that individuals may develop meaning around its appearance. I have tried to distinguish between the interviewees responses and my general observations that are based on inference. The Unity Characteristic
With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained in one of Natures most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner inmuences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it, yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial, human love and life delightfully substantial and familiarbees hum as in a harvest moon, 19. This observation is based on all of the data sets.
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buttermies waver above the mowers, and like them you lave in the vital sunshine, too richly and homogeneously joy-llled to be capable of partial thought. You are all eye, sifted through and through with light and beauty (Muir 1997: 90).

Individuals who describe an intense spiritual experience in nature often report a sense of oneness or indivisibility with nature.20 They do not seem to mean being in the midst of nature, but a sense of actually being nature, of existing as nature, where they and the natural world are one single entity.21 While it may be tempting to think that these individuals speak metaphorically, using symbols to convey knowledge and create new meaning, I think it is more often the case that they mean an actual experience, and not a mere symbol of oneness. The unity sensation can be best characterized as a feeling of coalescence or fusion: an ultimate feeling of absolute integration, unilcation, totality, and wholeness of the individual. The individuals sense of the separateness of the self dissolves. The unity sensations are most frequently associated with feelings of love and harmony, although hate and antagonism may replace the bliss. The emotional valence seems to depend on the tone of what is perceived as the Other. Individuals who experience the phenomenon report two similar, but slightly different, variations of the unity characteristic.22 Neither variation seems to depend on the positive or negative emotional valence. Individuals who experience the unity sensation frequently describe feeling connected. Individuals who never experience the sensation also describe feeling connected, but they often use the term as a way to indicate a lesser feeling of connectedness or a longing for connection. These individuals are unaware that their feeling of connection is experientially different; they have no experiential sensation where the self and something else are experienced as one and the same. Essentially, the physiological unity sensation marks the vanishing of an individuals awareness of themselves as a separate entity. The individuals cannot distinguish between themselves and something else.23
20. The oneness terms prevalence and popular usage is remected in a Call for Submissions published by Earth Charter in Action on Youtube. The announcement can be viewed at http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/publication (accessed 6 August 2008). 21. This observation is based on all of the data sets. 22. This observation is based on all of the data sets. 23. Individuals frequently confound the sensation of feeling united with a second characteristic, the sensory experience of a presence of an Other. But the oneness sensations do not include a particular identilcation of the unions object. Individuals cannot identify the actual object because identilcation requires an awareness of
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One way to think of the unity characteristic is to visualize two separate circles that have merged and overlapped completely; the two circles become one circle. This example represents the lrst variation of the physiological sensation of unity. A slightly different variation occurs when an individual retains a slight sense of the spatial separateness of their self. The individual feels a fusion with something else, but still partially discerns his or her own, separate self. One way to think of this variation is to visualize two separate circles that touch each other at a common point, but each circle still retains its own identity, as with twins who have joined body parts and organs. Despite the slight difference in the overlapping or joined circle variations, there is a strong physiological sensation of unity or union in both versions. Scholars frequently call one variation the pure consciousness event, samdhi, the introvertive type, or a transitory state. The other variation is called the dualistic mystical state, sahaja samdhi, or the extrovertive type. Some individuals describe the unity sensation as a feeling of their own skin; the reference makes it easier to spot the characteristic in an individuals description of the event, even when they interpret the second characteristic (the physiological sensation of the presence of an Other) as the actual object of their merging. In the following example, Jeffrey Goelitz (1991: 96-97) described the unity sensation and interpreted the presence of an Other as the elements in the surrounding valley.
I experienced the vast expanse of forest-covered hills almost as if they were my own skin. Upon them I felt the presence of bobcat, deer, possum, turkey, and beaver in various locations within the mile or two region that this tree had somehow brought within me. I experienced the river below breathing in the moonlight. During the next few hours I had an experience that I will never, could never, forgetan experience that changed my life. I felt myself, knew myself, as both the tree and the surrounding valley.24

For many individuals, the sensation of unity delnes the phenomenon of intense spiritual experience in nature and drives the interpretation of the other six characteristics.25 A.M. Greeley (1974: 141) observed that fortylve percent of all intense spiritual experience occurs in the natural
something outside or beyond an individuals spatial discernment of the self; this awareness is lacking during the sensation. Thus the feeling of unity and the awareness of something that is not-self are two different types of feelings. 24. The back cover of American author Jeffrey Goelitzs book describes him as an author, businessman, former schoolteacher, and avid gardener. 25. Individuals frequently interpret the unity sensation as delning and driving the phenomenon, but I suspect it does not precipitate the other six characteristics. I will discuss several relevant neuroscience studies in a subsequent article. Also, see dAquili and Newberg (1999).
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world. This high occurrence rate may explain why seventy-four percent of the persons I interviewed associated the unity characteristic with nature. They realized that outdoor settings, in some unknown way, generated, facilitated, or promoted a sense of oneness far stronger than any other sensation of totality. As the interviewees tried to understand their experience, their thoughts turned to who, or what, created the cosmos, for only an entity(ies) or event(s) at this scale had the power and ability to generate a sensation of this magnitude.26 Most of the interviewees focused on the presence of an Other sensation as the object of the connection; the presence became the causal source. One interviewee described the calming effect of being in nature by saying, You get into a big wheatleld and theres a peace thatits not because it is a wheatleld, or a forest, or a cornleldits that oneness with nature, and with God. When she was asked, Where did the unity come from?, she replied, In my mind it came from our Creator.27 For most of the interviewees, the unity sensations offered proof of the existence of a divine being or another reality. I speculate that an individuals choice of the causal agent may depend on whether they physiologically experience the overlapping or joined circle variation. Some of the interviewees explained a benevolent connection. The following interviewee believed in the existence of a fundamental unity and said, I think its all connected. She was then asked, Where does that unity come from? She did not know the source or its mechanism, but, signilcantly, the source was a who.
To me, its just the way that the earth was created. As far as who created it and how, I have no idea butits a spiritual thing for me, and I believe that all of us are a part of each other, I guess. Being a forest, being humans, the oceans, the sky I think its good because its the way it is, you know.28

Another interviewee summed up her thoughts about a positive unity connection that she equated with goodness.
I somehow feel a spiritual part of those places in the sense like Ive come home, perhaps to a place Ive never seen before, but theres a sense of me spiritually belonging there thats a connectiveness thats, you know, when I consider the place beautifulthen, I bond with it in some way. I become

26. Although the interviewees tended to describe a single responsible being or event, it is impossible to determine if their beliefs were grounded in monotheism. 27. Female forester #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 July 1997, transcript: 17. 28. Female environmentalist #4, interview by the author, tape recording, 7 July 1997, transcript: 13-14.
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part of it I come out enriched. You might say I come out more than the sum of the parts that went into a forest. When I come out, Im more functional. You know, if its been a positive experience in a natural forest, I come out recharged, energized, spiritually uplifted and revitalized in many, many aspects of my life. In a sense, I come out almost more powerful.29

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When interviewees described the unity characteristic, they talked about their place in the universe and who (or what) created nature. One interviewee described the existence of a benelcial fundamental unity and traced its benevolent causal source:
I feel theres a unity in the forest ecosystems, which are basically a complex web of life. 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; and that each piece is a part of the whole. In that sense, theres a unity I believe that the earth and everything in it was created by God. 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. 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.30

Another interviewee had a feeling that nature was ordered and good.
There are places in the forest that I go frequently, that I like to call my own, 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. I like to think of those as being special places to me and theres a bonding to thatthat gives you a feeling of signilcance, yet at the same time, can make you feel very small, very small in being a part of a great, big, huge system thats not just you I think that everything is interrelated I think we're all parts of a big, interrelated mass organism [W]e are all interrelated and not isolated, not independent of anything and everything that is on the earth I think that what is here on earth is good.31

And another interviewee spoke about the unity sensation and her place in the cosmos: I think it leaves, for me, its the self-centered part of it

29. Female #3, interview by the author, tape recording, 17 June 1997, transcript: 10-22. 30. Male scientist #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 August 1997, transcript: 8-9. 31. Male forester #4, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 August 1997, transcript: 7-11.
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that it sort of helps to kind of ground me and remind me [of] my place in the universe.32 Based on observations drawn from all of the data, the unity sensation seems to provide a lived experience of connection.33 After the event, many individuals often seem to feel strong ties of relationship and kinship with the diverse forms of life in the surrounding natural setting. The related feeling appears to be a more intense version of human bonding commonly found in small dependent groups or bands of uniled soldiers.34 The lived connection of intense spiritual experience is usually associated with a non-human entity, however. The perception of connectedness seems to create a strong sense of dependence as the individuals actions affect the other entity. The inability to act independently dominates the connection and conveys a strong sense of mutual need, reliance, and reciprocity. Neither entity exists alone; they require mutual aid, support, and cooperation. When asked what the dependence felt like, one interviewee replied, Its somewhat of a sense of being a part of a whole. That as long as I protect this wholeness that provides me nourishment spiritually, that it will be there, it gave me an active role of being part of it.35 When the Other was benevolent, all of the interviewees enjoyed the connection because they no longer felt alone or isolated. Their feeling of connectedness seemed to generate a perception of enhanced security and safety. The mutuality and reciprocity of the connection also seemed to evoke feelings of obligation and responsibility towards the Other. I speculate that the heightened responsibility of the connection may make an individual exercise greater self-care and restraint, and thus enhance personal safety and security. Based on observations drawn from all of the data, the lived connection also appears to foster trust and loyalty. The individual trusts the other entity as they owe their allegiance to each other.36 Despite the strong sense of dependence, however, the sensation paradoxically appears to generate a respect for autonomy. The individuals lived experience of connection leads them to express a value for the concepts of autonomy,
32. Female #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 4 August 1997, transcript: 13. 33. I use the phrase lived experience throughout the article to indicate knowledge gained from actually living or going through an experience. 34. This observation is based on a review of personal narratives of traumatic experiences. Frankl (1959) offers an account of a young womans last few days in a World War II concentration camp that bears striking similarity. 35. Female #3, interview by the author, tape recording, 17 June 1997, transcript: 20. 36. Trust in the Other need not imply that it has personhood.
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independence, and freedom. Moreover, the individuals often extend their respect to nature if they experience the positive variation. Despite many New Age claims, an intense spiritual experience in nature does not always provide a harmonious feeling of unity with a benevolent Other. Based on observations drawn from all of the data, some individuals experience a physiological perception of unity with a malevolent Other, often labeling it evil.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. Although it seems counter-intuitive to say the malevolent variation may be benelcial, it may provide evolutionary advantages. I speculate that a lived experience of connection with a malevolent Other may produce feelings of watchfulness that foster alertness and distrust. A distrustful individual often becomes more cautious and careful; they may adopt protective measures that promote basic survival skills. The negative variation may also stimulate greater awareness and appreciation for individuals who are benevolent and trustworthy. Trust based on an individuals deeds proves far safer than trust based on an individuals words. If the unity characteristic strengthens the will to live and provides the ability to discern potential hazards, then it may help an individual survive an arduous experience. 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. Its mow varies with climatic and environmental conditions. My origins are beyond this world, set up in preform. It is all one world to me, but animals and humans see the aspect of physical existence as being primary. I am revered for my size and beauty. Deep within, humans sense more but cannot comprehend the other. If they become still, they will experience that other although they might not understand the nature of their experience (Goelitz 1991: 72-73).

Based on observations drawn from all of the data, many individuals who describe intense spiritual experience in nature feel they are not alone. They frequently say somethingor someoneis there with them. Underscoring the diflculty in naming such an entity, they may call this presence the Other. The presence is apparent to them but not to their listeners who lnd it diflcult to discard normative, Western cultural
37. I reviewed narratives and interviewed individuals primarily holding Western cultural perspectives. Individuals with Eastern or indigenous cultural perspectives might use a term other than evil.
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beliefs about reality. These listeners often think the individual sounds paranoid; they tend to think the individual has lost touch with reality.38 As a group, individuals who have such experiences do not appear to be paranoid or otherwise mentally ill, however. When their narratives are analyzed, they only describe a sense of the presence of an Other, a sense of an object or person nearby in space, a sense of physical proximity to an object or person. They speak of a sense of nearness to something in the same vicinity or neighborhood, although they cannot see, hear, smell, or touch this presence. Listeners frequently think many individuals who describe these experiences speak of a lgure with a specilc shape or form, with clear, distinct features and marks. Or listeners think they are referring to a shadowy and illusive ghost, specter, phantom, apparition, or wraith. But individuals who describe these experiences do not seem to mean a specilc lgure with a body or shape, and they do not seem to mean a dim or hazy bodiless spirit. They apparently use the word Other when describing a sensation that represents feelings of nearness and closeness of a vague, indistinct, indelnite something in their vicinity. 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.39 If the sensation is a neurophysiological event generated under specilc circumstances, such as mild electric current, then it would explain why individuals who describe these experiences report the presence of an Other. The physiological sensation of the presence of an Other represents the second characteristic. Individuals who describe the sensation of an Other generally interpret the presence as either benevolent or malevolent; the emotional valence depends on whether the characteristic occurs during an experience of intense tranquility (mystical experience) or fear (traumatic experience). But individuals rarely supply extensive details about the perception; they feel uncomfortable talking about the presence. If it is benevolent, they seem to withhold specilc knowledge about it, seeking its protection.40 If it is malevolent, they seem to withhold information out
38. Extensive literature on the pathology of intense spiritual experience exists in the lelds of psychology and medicine; it strongly inmuences the perceptions of ordinary individuals who have no scientilc or scholarly interest in the topic. The pathological view emerges most strongly in the psychoanalytic approach. A brief overview of the relationship between mystical experience and psychopathology can be found in Wulff (2000). 39. I suspect a broad variety of body delusions exists. 40. Davis, Lockwood, and Wright (1991) discussed reasons for not reporting peak experiences. For this study, most of the interviewees said they had never told anyone
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of fear. Some individuals believe that the sensations are too intimate and private to share with anyone, or they think people will devalue the experience, not believe them, or think they are delusional. Individuals who describe these experiences also tend to combine the unity and the presence of Other sensations in their descriptions, as if the two impressions were the same sensation. Yet the two sensations are physiologically different. The unity sensation is a feeling of melding, while the presence of an Other is a feeling of something nearby. But it makes sense to describe the two as one, especially if an individual does not want to be specilc about one of the sensations. Individuals usually interpret the sensation of unity with an unseen presence as the immaterial or the supernatural. When the interviewees talked about the two characteristics, they commonly referred to the Other sensation as an indicator of the presence of God or a Greater Reality. One interviewee identiled the Other as the breadth of the spirit.41 The interviewees often felt strongly connected to the presence. The physiological presence sensations also seemed to produce equally intense feelings of aflliation. One interviewee used the metaphor of a Moebius strip as he described a mystical, metaphysical, and chemical connection with the presence of another reality.42
Were all part of a larger whole, and were all part of a smaller level of interaction, too, 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, even though they may appear on the surface to be mutually exclusive, were all part of interactive systems I dont get out in nature right now as much as I like, 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 universeif they could be out in the country so that they could see the stars at night, which I think is an extremely humbling, honest, thing to doand realize that we are all parts of the connection with the starsperhaps, in a mystical and metaphysical level, but also on just a real chemical level Even on that basic level, were connected to things so far away that they dont even exist in

about their experience; their reasons for not talking were similar to those cited by Davis. Individuals who mentioned negative intense experiences seemed fearful and wary of talking. 41. Male forester #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 24 June 1997, transcript: 13. 42. A Moebius strip is a surface with only one side and one boundary, thus it is often used to suggest the structure of an alternate reality. In this quotation, I believe the interviewee used the metaphor to help explain his belief in the existence of two or more parallel and interactive realities.
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the light that we are seeing, its taking so long to get here. It will remind us of that, that we are not masters of our domain.43

Many of the interviewees spoke about the location of their intense spiritual experience and its effects. They frequently associated the sensations with a particular habitat type or location. One interviewee said, Its just uplifting. A forest, to me, is different than it is to other folks. A beautiful forest is kind of like a religious experienceits time to clean your soul.44 Another interviewee described the effect of a benevolent Other, binding together the world.
Yes, Ive had those individual experienceswhere I was able to physically, in my body, 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, I mean completely mysticaland thats what the experience was.45

Some interviewees did not experience the presence as benign, however; they felt a malevolent presence. When directly questioned about the sensation, they said did not want to talk about evil. Despite the emotional valence, though, the interviewees seemed to derive religious or spiritual meaning through their interpretation of a super- or supra-natural presence. In both varieties, the experiential knowledge of anothers presence lessened feelings of existential aloneness. The positive variation provided great comfort by eliminating anxiety. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the negative variety rendered relief by lessening anxiety about complete abandonment under arduous circumstances. I speculate that the sensation may conlrm the meaningfulness of life; it may help individuals interpret why life contains both good and bad events. According to psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman (1992), our beliefs in the meaningfulness of the world are based on fundamental assumptions about justice.46 Janoff-Bulman argues that we tend to believe individual behavior determines the outcome of an event; we believe good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Thus we believe that things happen to us because of what we do and who we are. Based on observations drawn from all of the data, individuals often seem to associate the sensation of a presence with God or an all-powerful entity who judges an individuals life. The belief aflrms the worlds meaningfulness and reassures them that a morally
43. Male attorney #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 6 August 1997, transcript: 4-5. 44. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 August 1997, transcript: 6. 45. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 24 June 1997, transcript: 18. 46. I believe Janoff-Bulman primarily studies Western cultural beliefs.
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good life produces good outcomes. In this way, people hold the belief that what they do and who they are determines their fate. The belief in a meaningful world and self-agency may play a fundamental role in strengthening an individuals will to live. When an individual experiences a loss of personal control they usually feel helpless. If the helplessness persists, then they feel despair. These feelings can contravene the will to live. If an individual believes they can inmuence the outcome of events, however, then they are more likely to act in ways that solve problems. In an evolutionary sense, their hope becomes adaptive and sustains their will to live. The sensation of an Other may also support an individuals sense of self-worth because the individual is worthy of anothers presence.47 The belief in self-worth strengthens the will to live and promotes self-care and protection. By acting as a wellspring of spiritual values, the sensation may enhance the likelihood of survival under life-threatening circumstances. 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; they may no longer believe in the meaningfulness or goodness of life.48 For a few of these individuals, however, the malevolent sensation seems to help create a purposeful life. They seek altruistic acts as a counter to the worlds bad character. By opposing the experience of a malevolent world, 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.49 The Ineffability Characteristic
Finally I stop. Elegant moss-covered mapleI see you. A great surge of joy ripples through my body. At last, the point of contact, the pure physical delight of the thing itselfricher and more sensual than any dream of memory. The big-leaf maple arcs overhead in a gracious loop of circular energy sustained by the ground. The trunks life force shoots upward, nourishing myriad new buds and mowers. Along the sloping branch, ferns

47. The worthiness implies the presence has sentience; the interviewees responses seemed to indicate a belief in its sentience. 48. See Janoff-Bulman (1992) for a discussion of how trauma shatters individuals assumptions and worldviews. 49. Personal narratives by individuals who have undergone traumatic experience, such as Nelson Mandela (1996) and Elie Wiesel (1987), uphold this observation.
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drip with spring moisture from the nights gentle storm. I feel such tenderness in coming close to these exquisite mowersnow, in the actual presence of the tree, I soften with the tenderness of the dance between two beings. I recognize this consummation of yearning, this fullllment of desire (Kaza 1993: 49-50).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. They use words that suggest the utmost limit of something in order to convey the power and exceptional character of the phenomenon. Their command of descriptive adjectives and adverbs often rivals that of the worlds great poets. But then a listener hears the individual say they really cannot adequately describe the moment. It is inexpressible, indescribable, incredible, unutterable. This ineffability might occur if the event bypasses the brains normal verbal processing areas. This lack of access to the brains verbal processing areas would explain the sensation of ineffability, which is the third characteristic of intense spiritual experience. The ineffability characteristic can be identiled in individuals narratives of the event in four ways: an individual acknowledges their tongue-tied state, offers a seemingly endless mow of words that imperfectly describes the event, projects the ineffable onto nature, or uses language related to sexual experience to convey the power of the experience, as in Stephanie Kazas words above.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. Their narratives thus shed little light on the event itself, offering instead poetical depictions, interpretive claims, or indirect how to instructions. The ineffability characteristic also emerges in other types of human experience, such as listening to a favorite melody. Accomplished musicians frequently cannot describe the experience of hearing and playing an enjoyable piece of music. They hear the music but words cannot express their sense and feeling of it. The inability to describe the experience of a favorite piece of music exempliles the sensation of ineffability. One interviewee described the sensations effect by saying,

50. Stephanie Kaza is professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. Her primary area of scholarship is Buddhist environmental thought. 51. This observation is based on an analysis of the interviewees and the nature authors.
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Well, I dont know, it feels right. It feels like, its been a long time since that experience, but I guess you have to call it a kind of spiritual experience You just feel a part of the nature, I suppose. Thats hard to describe, I guess. Its just more of a feeling than what you can put into words.52

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Based on observations drawn from all of the data, discriminating between the phenomenons ineffability and paradoxicality characteristics can be diflcult, as each characteristic denotes an individual sensation. The ineffability sensations occur when an individual cannot lnd the appropriate words to describe an experience. The paradoxical sensations occur when an individual feels an event happens, yet the event seems impossible because it involves a logical contradiction when described. Words exist to describe the contradiction, however. Individuals who describe intense spiritual experience report sensations of ineffability and paradoxicality. Broadly speaking, individuals who have intense spiritual experiences in nature often project their ineffability sensations onto some aspect of the natural world. Nature itself becomes a placeholder for the ineffable, the inexpressible, and the indelnable feeling. But the ineffability sensations become apparent when an individual tries to explain one of the other six characteristics, most notably the unity, presence of an Other, or strong affect sensations. As I questioned the interviewees about their diflculty describing their experience, 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, pleasure, beauty, and what is right. Although she was unable to provide additional description of the sensation, she could clearly describe what shattered the unity sensation.
Smell something slightly different as you move and walk through a forest. Its just a matrix of myriad senses. That, to me, its all these natural sense to allow me almost to get into a pleasure zone, if you would. An altered state that I dont get into when Im running around in my car, of all these things blending together to give me such pleasure. But then I will stumble upon a campsite left by some unthoughtful hunters with beer cans, bullet casing, and toilet paper and, all of a sudden, all that beauty, all that sense of whats right, is somewhat shattered It doesnt take much to somehow shatter this wholeness of all these wonderful pleasurable experiencesthis matrix of beauty that add[s] up to put me in a very special kind of sensual and spiritual place.53

52. Female #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 August 1997, transcript: 9. 53. Female #3, interview by the author, tape recording, 17 June 1997, transcript: 9.
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The ineffability characteristic frequently appeared in descriptions of a presence. When one interviewee was asked to be more specilc about what he described as positive feelings of a connection with an Other, he said he could not describe it, Any more than I can describe how good it feels to be part of a loving warm family.54 The ineffability sensations represent one of the most intriguing aspects of intense spiritual experience. The interviewees seemed to describe the sensation as a felt sense of the extraordinary or incomparable. One interviewee expressed the sensation very simply by saying, Its kind of a spiritual feeling. Youre just kind of in awe of this whole thing, that it can be that amazing.55 Based on observations drawn from all of the data, the ineffability sensation seems to generate a lived experience that individuals understand as an experience of transcendence.56 Individuals who describe these experiences have experiential knowledge of extraordinariness. Because they experience both the ineffability and the presence characteristics, individuals normally associate the sensations with the closeness of an extraordinary being or power. The ineffability characteristic thus fosters notions of divine beings or states. Because intense spiritual experience also includes a noetic quality sensation, individuals seem to interpret the event as certain and absolute.57 They have unequivocal knowledge of an experience of the divine, and this knowledge provides tremendous inspirational and motivational power. The ineffability characteristic also seems to play a role in the evaluation of ethical behavior.58 Notions of the truly singular or unparalleled illustrate the ineffability sensation. During the positive variation of intense spiritual experience, individuals generally relate the sensations to goodness, morality, perfection, or some ideal state. With the negative variation, however, individuals generally relate the sensations to notions of wickedness, immorality, evil, or a real state, the opposite of an ideal state. In either variation, the sensations seem to foster moral perceptions of the natural world, facilitating ethical judgments about individual behavior and action. Individuals who experience the characteristic appear to know through their
54. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 25 June 1997, transcript: 22. 55. Male #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 8 August 1997, transcript: 16. 56. Existing data do not allow me to report whether individuals thought they were transcending the self, the cosmos, the natural world, or some other state, condition, or power. 57. See the noetic characteristic for a description of its particular character. 58. Kellert (1996) suggests the moralistic value includes strong feelings of ethical responsibility for nature; the moralistic perspective is often associated with indigenous peoples and their relationships with the natural world.
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feelings what is morally right or wrong for both human and environmental ethics.59 The interviewees often expressed differing views of how to manage the natural world; their views seemed to stem from how they interpreted the sensation. 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. Interviewees with particular land-management perspectives tended to work with individuals who held similar beliefs. I speculate that their knowledge may have helped them obtain the support and security provided by participation in a small, societal group. The Timelessness and Spacelessness Characteristic
We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, llling every pore and cell of us. Our mesh and bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the suna part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal (Muir 1999: 8).

Based on observations drawn from all of the data, individuals who experience the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic seem to interpret the sensation as an experienced moment of eternity or inlnity. Individuals who never experience the phenomenon often believe the sensation represents a perceptual distortion, yet individuals who experience the sensations usually view them as accurate representations of a true, sensible reality. (Some individuals remain uncertain and uncommitted about whether the distortions represent alternate realities.) The diversity of views on the sensation begs the questions: What, precisely, is reality, and how can we know it? Similar to a two-dimensional graph, the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic has two lxed reference lines for measuring its coordinates. One line represents timelessness and the other delineates spacelessness. Individuals who describe these experiences appear to focus more on one axis than the other.60 The space axis seems to emerge in the following text by Wallace Byron Grange.
59. 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. I am not arguing that other individuals would agree that the behavior is morally right or wrong. 60. This observation is based on an analysis of the interviewees and the nature authors.
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Darkness, it seems, has taken the earths sun away, but it has brought from their inlnite obscurity the other suns and planets and stars of spacevast, unknowable space, which is here, beginning in the alders, and which runs outward beyond the beyond to the ends of the universe; and beyond the ends to the beginning (1990: 27).61

The time axis seems to emerge in the following text by John Muir.
One is constantly reminded of the inlnite lavishness and fertility of Natureinexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous wastage. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally mowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last (1999: 140).

Individuals who describe these experiences frequently make use of concepts such as eternity, the eternal, or inlnity. Their usage of these terms seems to indicate that the individual lacks neurophysiological temporal and spatial referents; the moment is interpreted as one of unending time, or timeless, and unending space, or spaceless.62 I speculate that research into the physiological origins of this characteristic may provide greater understanding of all of the phenomenons sensations. When the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic combines with the other six sensations, the individual effectively dissolves into the experience and loses all sense of the individual self, while simultaneously experiencing a perception of timelessness and spacelessness. Although the sensation sounds odd, it exists on a spectrum of ordinary human behavior that ranges from mild to strong. The milder variations are commonly known as spacing out, an experience of people who are somewhat oblivious to their surroundings, usually when watching television or driving a vehicle. Psychiatrists sometimes refer to stronger

61. Wallace Byron Grange (19051987) served with the US Biological Survey. He was Wisconsins lrst Superintendent of Game. 62. Although individuals interpreted the sensation as a moment of unending time and space, the sensation is more appropriately described as a moment without time or space because the individuals brain seems unable to access the areas that provide temporal and spatial referents. The more appropriate label for this characteristic might be Without Time or Space, but these terms can lead us into murky metaphysical depths, especially when considering whether an event is timeful, timeless, or without time. I thus want to point out the difference between the experience of the physiological sensation and its interpretation.
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forms as dissociation.63 When the characteristic is active, an individuals perceptions change as their sensory awareness narrows. Sounds usually fade and disappear. Noting that the mowing water in a nearby stream caused a change in his sensory perceptions, one interviewee speculated about the origin of these sensations:
When I sit down next to a streamthats kind of making noise, you cant possibly have all the same thought processes and your senses change because now what youve got is this stream sound. So other things kind of disappear [Question: What do you think that is?] Ive thought about it some, but not a lot. I really have no good answer. I can speculate the sounds of the streams seem to draw you in more.64

Another interviewee tried to describe what he called a very lasting impression that may have represented the timelessness and spacelessness sensation:
Its like a delned moment where theres 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. I guess its a little bit like reaching out and touching something delned I dont suggest to you that God exists in those scenes. What Im suggesting to you is that those scenes that you see so clearly are delning the beauty of the world, I guess, is a good way to put it. [Question: Can you describe the characteristics of those places to me?] I suppose its a muse of colors. It isnt quiet but it seems to be quiet and I think its because the noises there arent at all offensive or theyre noises that are soothing or touch somethingtheres a sense that youre walking through the forest and you dont hear sound. Its as though the forest becomes part of you and you become part of the forestits an occasional experience. When Im there, there are things so beautiful that it sort of delnes beauty for you. Andthose delning moments are very important and they do change you, not in a physical way, but I think they change your perception, in a very positive way.65

When an individual remains totally unaware of their current surroundings, the strong form of dissociation may be dangerous. Yet the timelessness and spacelessness sensation can be helpful in a variety of circumstances. Based on observations drawn from all of the data, physiological sensations of timelessness and spacelessness seem to

63. The terms usage is remected in one of the standard, psychopathology diagnostic manuals, the DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatry Association (1994) and in Lynn and Rhue (1994). I suspect that dissociation actually represents several different types of neurological events. 64. Male #3, interview by the author, tape recording, 1 August 1997, transcript: 1617. 65. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 9 July 1997, transcript: 5.
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simultaneously lessen feelings of pain and enhance specilc cognitive features; some individuals report a more focused perceptual awareness and memory. I speculate that the sensations may help create a physiological condition that bolsters survival skills. When the characteristic is fully operational, the individual apparently feels little or no physical pain. But the individual functions at a different cognitive level as the suppression of pain frees the mind to operate with greater capacity, and skills related to concentration seem improved.66 The individual is conldent and more self-assured. (They do not always exhibit these features in the negative variation, however.) The timelessness and spacelessness characteristic may explain why individuals report greater perceptual awareness and ability during intense spiritual experience in nature. The timelessness and spacelessness sensation may also confer adaptive ltness in harsh conditions or extreme weather. With the lessening of physical pain, individuals may make better survival decisions.67 Individual decisions become faster, surer, and designed to meet personal needs of safety and security. 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. As the individual becomes more intimately connected to their setting, they may be more likely to survive in arduous, outdoor circumstances. The cessation of pain is normally a brief event, however. When the sensation ends, the individual again feels pain. The return of pain may also heighten their survival likelihood as the pain may make an individual more cautious or bring attention to injuries. I speculate that the lessening or suspension of pain feature may also foster acts of altruism and heroism. Individuals may deliberately evoke the sensation in order to achieve heroic acts normally made impossible by physical pain. The characteristic may allow individuals to lift heavy rocks or fallen trees or carry injured people out of threatening conditions. By eliminating distracting physical pain, the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic may enhance both cognitive and physical performance.

66. Children who undergo physically painful events and lack help managing their feelings often learn how to turn off, or dissociate, from the pain. Individuals who have learned how to dissociate as children show a higher rate of incidence as adults. Trauma literature on abused children upholds this observation. 67. 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. They also frequently describe how they never noticed their wounds during these events.
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The lrst of such experiences, 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, not only for me but for those who have been with me, 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, whenever I have glimpsed if only for an instant the glory I knew then, happiness and joy have been mine (Olson 1997: 10).68

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Strong affect is the lfth characteristic of intense spiritual experience. Generally, the emotions are strongly positive, including love, joy, bliss, or rapture. However, occasionally the feelings are strongly negative, including terror, fear, dread, or despair. The intensely negative feelings exist even when the individual experiences the timelessness and spacelessness characteristic and its lessening of physical pain feature. Although individuals often claim that physical pain hurts or feels painful, the ability to simultaneously feel strong emotions but no physical pain seems to indicate that pain does not represent a true emotion. Thus, when people indicate that pain hurts, their expression may be an indication of their emotional suffering and their interpretation of the physical pain. The interviewees associated the intense feelings with specilc settings. One interviewee described moments of joy in a forest. When asked to describe the moments of joy, he replied I would just put it in different words, a blissful feeling or something like that.69 Another interviewee said the feelings were,
Like being in love. Exhilarating. I think it comes from being near moving water. 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 dont ever want to go any place else.70

The interviewees often described a very strong feeling of calm and comfort. For one interviewee, specilc forest settings evoked strong positive feelings; she equated forests with personal safety and well-being.

68. American Sigurd Olson (18991982) produced nine books on the importance of wilderness. He served as President of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association. 69. Male scientist #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 24 October 1997, transcript: 9. 70. Female #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 8 July 1997, transcript: 15.
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It felt good. Very soothing, very comforting I think the emotional dependence would be, probably, the well-being I often feel when Im in a forest. A calming feeling. The beauty of it, the serenity of a forestlots of emotions there, about spiritual emotions, and a sense of being close to nature, close to beautyIve felt a part of it. I have felt comfortable in a forest and secure in a forest. So I feel a sense of belonging there, too I dont feel as though Im an alien or intruding in an area where I have no place. [Question: Do you sense any meaning or purpose in this feeling?] For me, it would be a sense of almost a spiritualness. A connection to a force thats much greater than humankind. A sense of, if not foreverness, a sense of something that has been there for centuries and long before I entered the earth, and will be here long after I leave. So there is a sense of being a part of a continuum, even if its a little part of it.71

Again referring to a forest, another interviewee simply described her feeling of belonging, being part of a whole. When asked to describe the feeling, she replied, It feels in balance, it feels the way it should be, it feels the way normal should bepeaceful and calming.72 One interviewee replied, The forestI guess you could say it felt like, felt like I belonged there. It gave me pleasure to be there, it gave me peace of mind to be there.73 And another interviewee described a benelcial feeling of enhanced security.74
Knowing that its there or actually feeling it when youre over there because, I guess, standing in the middle of a group of trees is sort of protective, somehow. I dont know how, but its still sort of protective. Just knowing that trees are there gives me the feeling that, I guess, I can go there and feel protected. I dont know exactly Its sort of a freedom from other people, like nobody can bother youwhen I think about taking a

71. Female employee #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 2 July 1997, transcript: 18-20. 72. Female #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 4 August 1997, transcript: 13. 73. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 26 June 1997, transcript: 17. 74. In this quotation, the interviewees use of sort of protective may not suggest a strongly protected feeling. The privacy of the interview setting was extremely important, especially with interviewees who worked for the forest products industry or institutions. No private interview setting could be found for this interviewee, so she was interviewed near her work desk. Although her colleagues were out of the oflce, she tended to balance her desire to speak with her need for caution, thus her comments were expressed with tentativeness. When asked if she wanted to postpone the interview, she refused. 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. There were no known grizzly bears in her area, but there had been bear attacks nearby. I believe her desire and willingness to be alone indicated a remarkably strong feeling of enhanced security given the situation.
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trip or I think about going hiking or whatever, I always think about what places can I go where Im not going to run into a lot of people, which around here is sort of diflcult. But I dont want to see other people and I guess being alone gives you a chance to sort of think about thingsthings that would probably be termed more spiritual kinds of things. Like why are you here and whats our purpose and stuff like that. Communing with nature or communing with God or whatever you want to call itthe forest is the best place to thinkthere probably is some kind of unity or balance or whatever but I think that, I guess this is a side note, but I think that we dont understand what that is.75

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Terror brought on by thoughts of imminent death marks negative intense spiritual experience in nature. But few individuals speak of the events in great detail. Interviewees who voiced their negative feelings described unfortunate events in the natural world. One interviewee mentioned his bad memories and, when probed, recounted his feelings of helplessness.
Most of those are related to tragedies within the forest, be it human, or physical things that happen to the forest itself from some disaster Mount St. Helens. About 700,000 acres of forest wiped out in one quick day. Thats not a good experienceoverpowering. I mean, its kind of impossible to recognize that the force ever took place [Question: How do you respond to those forces?] Carefully. I didnt venture up there until it was all done erupting. How do you respond to those forces? You dont. You cant. Theres nothing you can do about it.76

Although this interviewee tried to express his feeling of utter helplessness in the face of such overwhelming power, he could never quite bring himself to talk about the terror of the volcanic eruption. Intense negative spiritual experiences produce strongly negative feelings; individuals who experience this variation often develop a strong aversion to talking about it. Based on observations drawn from all of the data, the intense affect characteristic seems to produce one of two results. Individuals who experience the intensely positive feelings tend to see the world in a rosecolored way; they see greater perfection and goodness. Individuals who experience the intensely negative feelings tend to see the worst in people and life; they see greater malevolence and badness. I speculate that groups of people need both perspectives in order to maintain a balanced perspective on their current circumstances.

75. Female #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 11 August 1997, transcript: 11-12. 76. Male #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 5 August 1997, transcript: 14.
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Although no one doubts the advantage of intense feelings of love, joy, or bliss, many people may dispute the notion that intense negative feelings are benelcial. Yet fearful, terrifying, helpless, or dreadful feelings can provide important information about an individuals physical condition and circumstances. Intense negative feelings may motivate an individual to seek greater personal safety. When a safe location is reached, the negative feeling frequently lessens or disappears. Feelings of pleasure may provide useful information about an individuals physical state, too. They tell us when we are safe and circumstances permit our rest and relaxation. Intense positive feelings may promote the relaxation process and greater personal well-being.77 Both types of intense feelings may thus promote a benelcial awareness of an individuals current surroundings. The Paradoxicality Characteristic
Again I asked myself if I was crazy. Is this just rambling fantasy Ive created, like some dream state? I could easily have made this stuff up in a creative writing class. 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, strangeness, or oddness that something feels correct or accurate, yet their factual knowledge of the situation clashes with their experience of the physiological sensations. Essentially, their experience contravenes logic. Thus the paradoxicality sensation seems to leave these individuals questioning their understanding of the experience, and sometimes even their sanity, and this disconnect requires resolution. The interviewees rarely described the quizzical feeling itself, however. They focused instead on the seemingly inexplicable character of what they learned, understood, or experienced during the phenomenon. One interviewee described particular messages that he experienced:
Its a spiritual feeling that occurs when I go to the woods, and thats why I go. I feel better when I come homeI feel like I receive guidance in the woods in terms of guidance for my life. I guess Im going to answer it interms of being abstract rather than physical because its not exactly voices, like someones behind a bush giving you guidance, but I have received very particular verbal messages. Verbal just meaning in terms of

77. See essays by Ulrich, as well as Heerwagen and Orians, in Kellert and Wilson (1993). Ulrich (1984) is another seminal article.
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my mind and I interpret them in English. And it has occurred in the woods more often than any other environment.78

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Another interviewee expressed a paradox when she described an association with something but stated that she was not part of it. She seemed to feel that the Other would let her share its space or being but only partially. She was there by permission. Paradoxically, though, she could not truly be part of whatever the Other was, since she felt she needed permission to be there.
Ive felt like an interloper, but Ive never felt like I, I dont know that belonging is quite the correct word. [Question: What might be the correct word?] Sharing. Sharing a space, sharing an area. Sometimes you might feel like you are kind of an outsider interrupting something and sometimes it just seems like, yeah, youre ok here. When its time to leave, its usually time to leave.79

The interviewees provided perplexing statements in their attempt to reconcile the logic-defying phenomenon with the objectivity of the known world. Verbally gifted interviewees usually solved their problem by lnding an object responsible for their quizzical state or describing paradoxical contrasts in nature. Although their descriptions rarely conformed to normative views of reality, the accounts represented a reasonable attempt to explain why the sensations contradict logic. The contradiction between sensation and sense illustrates the phenomenons sixth characteristic of paradoxicality. Based on observations from all of the data, the paradoxicality characteristic appears to be a lived experience where two logically incompatible experiences both feel true. I speculate that the sensation yields adaptive benelts: it allows the acceptance of contradictory thoughts and feelings, builds tolerance for differences, and permits self-contradiction. The paradoxicality sensation potentially allows an individual to see life in shades of gray, and life is rarely black or white. The world thus becomes a contradictory mixture of bad and good. By developing a tolerance for paradox, an individual may dream, fantasize, and develop goals for a better situation. Yet they may also set and accomplish concrete objectives under their present circumstances. When viewed against the backdrop of the natural world, the sensation may allow an individuals acceptance of natures contradictory features. The natural world is
78. Male #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 8 July 1997, transcript: 23-24. This interviewees response matches Taylors (2010) category of animistic perception. 79. Female #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 8 August 1997, transcript: 14-15.
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neither all bad nor good but a source of both danger and good fortune. Nature has destructive power yet also provides beauty, inspiration, and joy. Accepting this seeming contradiction may facilitate an individuals ability to retain a healthy skepticism, fear, and distrust of portions of the natural world, yet still enjoy the rewards and pleasures of being immersed in it. They may cautiously explore, carefully gather food, and relax with due precautions. The phenomenons lived experience of paradoxicality may thus allow the acceptance of all truths about the natural world. The paradoxicality characteristic may also provide a way to hold contradictory knowledge during a horrilc experience. The horrors of intense negative spiritual experience abound. Terrifying natural disasters shock, shatter, and often crush peoples worldviews. But negative intense spiritual experiences paradoxical dimension may permit an individual to retain the knowledge and hope of a better life, even while living through a hellish affair. Once the event ends, individuals may resume their lives, albeit with a more cautious or guarded outlook. They may simultaneously understand lifes terrors and wholly value what makes life signilcant. They show true wisdom. The paradoxicality characteristic may thus facilitate the acquisition of meaning and wisdom. 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. Their kinds were born of that energy and forever linked to it. The human co-planeteers of the eagle and the tree can never forget that their subjects are, like themselves, linked to a cosmos. That is the larger truth of the tree and the eagle, their link with everything that has ever been, everything that is, and everything that can ever be. It is in this concept that so many people see a master plan (Caras 1991: 17).80

The noetic quality sensation is the phenomenons only psychological characteristic.81 Based on observations drawn from all of the data, the

80. American Roger Caras (19282001) served as President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 81. Initially, I listed the noetic characteristic as a physiological sensation but later changed it to a psychological sensation. The issue of how we experience and then interpret certain physiological sensations goes to the heart of how we, as human beings, experience the subjective side of human consciousness. I now lnd myself returning to my initial listing. Although admitting such uncertainty might weaken my argument, it is important to acknowledge that scientists have yet to understand these matters fully.
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characteristic leaves individuals with the lrm conviction that what they know is true. Because the sensation is experienced simultaneously with the other six characteristics, individuals seem to apply the noetic quality to the phenomenon itself, and then to their interpretation of the phenomenon. Their interpretation is then expressed as noetic or intuitive knowledge. Many individuals who describe these experiences express the noetic quality sensation as enlightenment. They rarely say they know truth or enlightenment, however. They seem to prefer talking about the noetic content of their experience. Their passionate tones hold the strength and certainty of their conviction and knowledge. The noetic sensation appeared to comfort the interviewees by providing self-validation. It offered truth, hope, and solace. Frequently, however, the interviewees did not understand how or why they knew these truths. 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. When asked to explain how he knew there was a larger whole, he expressed it as a truth, with conviction and fervor: Leaving aside the spiritual question, I think that our understanding increasingly is that there is this web of life, one thing is connected to everything else I dont know why it is, it is.82 Another interviewee described his reasons for being in a forest. He offered a powerful noetic truth based on his experience.
Often, when Im on my own, Im often there for exactly, for that experience, or for the parallel side of the experience Because being alone with that stuff is very, can be, very profound. My entire life has been part of my experience. [Question: Why do you think this is important to you?] Wellits one of those things you dont have any choice about. Its not that its important to you, its that its who you are, you either engage in it or you dont. Soits important to me because its a part of who I am, and you know, you ignore who you are at your own emotional and psychological peril I think that there are, that each of us has some deep threads that run through us, that theyre the basic threads that we are, our cloth is made out ofso I think some of this stuff is, I dont want to say born in, because Im not sure it is born in, but its built in one [way] or the otherand I think it is exactly the same there as it is with the forest. Exactly the sameIve never thought about that exactly [in] those terms. But I guess I think its true for me. So, and Im a regular person, so I assume that if its true for me, its true for a lot of people.83

One interviewee offered her noetic experience, Deep in my soul, I know that there is something to me innately right, innately beautiful, about a
82. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 2 August 1997, transcript: 9. 83. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 24 June 1997, transcript: 8-9.
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natural forest.84 Another interviewee was asked if individual living things or systems were parts of a larger whole. She replied,
I think that from the smallest atom to the largest mountain, that all life is connected, that everythings connected here. That one activity will always impact something else. That nothing is isolated andthats a spiritual thing for me. And I see it reinforced often with science and just what I observe in the woods and land and with people as well.85

One interviewee agreed that individual living things were part of a larger whole. Initially, her belief appeared to illustrate conceptual understanding derived from education and observation.
Well, I guess Id have to say I dont think that, I know that. Both from believing in what I was taught in basic biology classes way back and observing; and Ive been able to observe through life and reading what I can read, and seeing what I see Theres no doubt in my mind, that thats true It comes back to sort of believing that the whole earth is connected.

When she was asked the causal source of fundamental unity, 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 interpret that question as almost, Do you believe in a higher being? kind of question, which I personally do. I think that theres, somewhere, probably a scheme to things, and everything is put here for a purpose, and its purpose is not just solely to determine every other thing thats here. 86

Stronger than belief, noetic knowledge is an absolute and unquestioning belief independent of objective fact. Another interviewee honestly summed up the noetic aspect of his belief about a larger unity by saying, I think thats just the way nature is. I dont know why.87 Many of the interviewees were conldent they were absolutely right, even if they could not explain why. I speculate that the noetic sensation fosters or expands an individuals sense of understanding and grounds their faith and belief in a lived experience. It supports the perception of a truth, veracity, and genuineness that cannot be denied. Because the characteristic fosters a sureness or positiveness, the noetic sensation encourages trust in both the self and others, if the individuals share a similar interpretation of the knowledge claims. The characteristic may thus foster benelcial and adaptive group bonding and loyalty.
84. Female #3, interview by the author, tape recording, 17 June 1997, transcript: 3. 85. Female #4, interview by the author, tape recording, 7 July 1997, transcript: 11. 86. Female forester #2, interview by the author, tape recording, 25 June 1997, transcript: 18-21. 87. Male #1, interview by the author, tape recording, 8 August 1997, transcript: 11.
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Freud (1961) dismissed a friends claim of an oceanic feeling, saying the phenomenon represented merely an intellectual perception or illusion of unbounded feeling. But Freud had no experience of this type.88 An individual who encounters intense spiritual experience feels seven physiological and psychological sensations: unity, the presence of an Other, ineffability, timelessness and spacelessness, intense affect, paradoxicality, and noetic perception. They often interpret their experience as a moment of transcendence. These seven sensations may have evolutionary advantages that promote human survival. This lnding suggests that natural selection may favor intense spiritual experiences in nature. Although partial and preliminary, these data offer evidence about the types of perceptions people have during intense spiritual experience in nature. The two variations leave individuals posing the following cosmological, teleological, metaphysical, epistemological, 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, 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, too. I have argued that distinct, separate sensations occur simultaneously during events that I label intense spiritual experience. How and why do they occur together? Are they inter-related or entwined somehow? There is no consensus regarding these questions. But this study has found patterns that can now be turned into testable hypotheses. Further research in this little-explored area, residing between the environmental and neurological sciences, may eventually yield greater understanding of the subjective aspects of human consciousness. From an evolutionary perspective, the individual perceptions appear to promote human health and well-being. But there is no consensus on how or why each characteristic affects our mind, body, and spirit. 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.
88. Freud (1961) acknowledged that he never experienced the oceanic feeling. See Parsons (1999) for a discussion about the correspondence between Freud and his friend, Romain Rolland.
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Additionally, the phenomenon provides a way of studying what individuals value as well as how and why they develop those values. No one understands the linkage between experiences in nature, spiritual values, and human behaviors, but intense spiritual experience in nature allows scientists and scholars to study such matters. Furthermore, there is no consensus on whether, how, and why the patterns identiled in this research might shape the development of an environmental ethic. 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. Behavior that seems protective to one individual may not be viewed similarly by another person. Because intense spiritual experience in nature acts as a window on ordinary spiritual experience, however, multi-disciplinary investigations may some day yield greater understanding of the wellsprings of peoples spiritual values, beliefs, and behaviors in nature. References
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