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Integrating, Applying, and Validating Our EHEs
Rhea A. White
Note: The 1993 annual conference of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, was on the theme of "Exceptional Human Experiences: Validation, Integration, Application." For the last session Pat Fenske asked some of us to describe one of our own exceptional experiences and tell how we had integrated, validated, and applied it. I had never really thought clearly about these processes until she confronted us with the necessity of verbalizing an answer. This piece is a summary of what I said. I have found these approaches useful in regard to my own experiences and those of others. It was originally published in the Journal of Religion and Psychical Research and reprinted in Exceptional Human Experience, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1997, p. 78.
It seems to me that to the extent that we are able to integrate our EHEs, they are self-validating; that is, integration and validation go hand in hand. After a certain level of integration/validation has been achieved, applications become part of what I am calling the afterflow of the experience. (Flow seems more apt than glow because of the ripple effect of exceptional experiences (EEs). They are not like events that become part of our history, in which some influence our lives more than others from that receding point in our past. They do do that, but they will also keep ahead of us and make a way for us if we will follow their lead.) We continually need to inscend within and transcend without to renew them and grow with them.
The process of validating an EHE requires that we make alterations in our life story. EHEs are heralds of change, and the changes start with the story we tell of who we are and what our life is about. Integrating an EHE means discovering or maybe even creating a context in which it can live. It starts out, most of the time, as an anomaly in our experience. We have a precognitive dream or a mystical awakening or encounter an apparition. These things are not supposed to happen! Immediately we begin a process of self-examination. Did we eat something different? Are we crazy? Are we losing it? Are we deluded? The first impulse is often to explain it away. I think we try to explain it away because at some level we know that if we took it seriously, we would have to change, for we have to become more than we were in order to incorporate and integrate an EHE.
The process of validation is very interesting, because it takes place in both the inner and outer worlds. If one does one's best in reaching outward, something inward will rise up to augment one's reach. If one does one's best to seek within for the answer, strange synchronicities are likely to occur from without bringing answers in the form of a person, a book, a "chance" remark. Initially, integration involves both social and cultural aspects. The first thing we can do is learn whether others have had the same or similar experiences and what they did about it, and what happened to them. We need to be able to identify the experience we had, in our own cultural tradition, if possible, but if necessary, in the traditions of other cultures. We need to find out that we are not the only people to have had such an experience. We need to expose ourselves to what others have done with their similar experiences. To some extent, we can be guided by their example, which can teach us what not to do as well as what approaches might be worth following.
We need to relate to our experience, and that process also moves in both directions. We need to broaden and deepen our knowledge of our experience and we need to discover how to relate to it, that is, how to create a living viable relationship with the experience by incorporating it in our lives.
Sometimes we do not even have a name for what we have experienced. If so, that is the first step in integrating/connecting it. The NDE that changed the direction of my life happened many years before that term was coined; therefore I referred to it as my "accident" (as it was associated with an automobile accident). If anything, that augmented its status as an anomaly in my experience. I was able to take a big step toward integration when the term near-death experience was coined, serious research got underway, and I was exposed to experiences of others that were similar to mine. I then could learn from both the similarities and the differences. Their experiences shed light on mine. I was then much better equipped to incorporate the experience and relate to others who had had NDEs or any other kind of exceptional experience.
At a certain point in the process of integration, one finds that one is beginning to apply what one has experienced and learned. This ushers in a new stage wherein one deliberately builds on one's experience, that is, relates to the world by putting weight on one's experience. And when one does that, the world begins to open up to let one pass. A way—or ways—will appear in which one can apply one's EHE. This application stage may be the final stage of the process, but if so, it need have no end. The EHE effect can ripple forever! Indeed, there is a stage beyond, in which others begin to respond to and apply what your experience has taught. At this point you know and know that you know that the strange anomalous experience you may have had months or even many years earlier has been integrated and applied—what better validation can there be?
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