Consider this a follow-up to Devyn’s fantastic post on The Lottery of Spiritual Experiences.  In that post, Devyn refers to hiking in the mountains as a context for spiritual experiences, which really resonated with me.  I have come to believe over time that a lot of the pride that keeps us from having spiritual experiences is made possible and/or facilitated by brain chemistry.

Some years ago, I talked with a friend of mine in Santa Cruz, California, who had taken the drug ecstasy.  He took an interest in it after an experience in high school where he was at a beach party and the high school bully showed up at the party.   Everyone was expecting the guy to pick a fight and clobber someone like he normally did, but instead the guy went around to people at the party, apologizing profusely and sincerely for every mean thing he had ever said or done to each person there.  My friend said he was mystified by what he was seeing, until someone explained that this bully was on ecstasy.  Ecstasy, used in psychotherapy, has been called an “empathogen” for its ability to strip a person temporarily of their pride and help them see the word with an immense amount of humility and empathy.  My friend took an interest in the drug and tried it, and he told me his feelings while on ecstasy- he said it was the closest he had ever felt to God, and he also had a strong awareness during the experience that what he was doing was wrong, like he was cheating to get a revelation.

I have never tried ecstasy, but I have experienced a “humbling” change in my physiology (endorphine rush?) while doing hard exercise, especially climbing mountains.  There is something about a brutal, sustained workout that changes our chemistry and breaks down our pride, just like fasting.  For that reason, it doesn’t surprise me that some of the greatest spiritual epiphanies ever recorded — think Moses, Nephi, Elijah, the brother of Jared, the Transfiguration, etc. –  have come on the tops of mountains, when the prophet’s body is broken down from physical exertion.

One of the most spiritual people I have ever met, my former stake president, used to do a demanding mountain bike ride every morning, and he would stop in the hills in the middle of his rides and say his morning prayers in the woods.  Elder Maxwell used to talk about his fondness for racquetball, and he once said “what I do in there (pointing to the gym) is what allows me to do what I do in there (pointing to the Church Office Building).  On my mission, Elder Joe J. Christensen told our mission in a conference that it was important to try to stay healthy because when our bodies are sick or unhealthy, it can impede our ability to receive revelation.

When Devyn wrote his posting on spiritual experiences, I had just been on a 20-mile bike ride on some long, painful hills in the Shenandoah mountains.  When I arrived home my wife asked me how I was feeling, and I responded “I feel like I want to repent.”  That was exactly how I felt- humbled, eager to live right, and very, very happy.


 Backside of Mt. Whitney (California)

From Mount Juneau (Alaska)