The Placebo Effect of Mystical Experience


The placebo effect is a medical phenomenon in which a patient’s symptoms can be alleviated by an otherwise ineffective treatment (i.e., a sugar pill). It is presumed that this is because the individual expects or believes the treatment will work. The placebo never cures the underlying disease; it only alleviates some of the symptoms temporarily.

Mankind acquired an incurable disease called a fallen sin nature from the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. This sinful nature has separated us from God. The only prescribed remedy for this condition was provided by God when He sent His only begotten Son to become sin for us and to suffer and die in our place.

Unfortunately, many reject this free remedy. Others deny they have the disease, or claim there are many remedies to apply. They essentially choose their own diagnosis and manner of treatment, opting for the placebo by turning to mystical experiences to gain closeness to “God.”

As discussed in previous articles, Contemplative Prayer and all other forms of mystical meditation are the same practice. However, Contemplative Prayer is often described in spiritual or Christian sounding terms to make it more acceptable in some Christian groups.

The argument that often arises in support of Contemplative Prayer and other mystical experiences is that it must be from God because of all of the positive benefits that result from its regular practice. Practitioners report a long list of physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits. In fact, one website lists 100 benefits of meditation which includes the following:

Lowered oxygen consumption, decreased respiratory rate, increased blood flow and slowed heart rate, increased serotonin level, improved mood and behavior, resolved phobias and fears, increased creativity, improved character, increased will-power, improved listening skills and empathy, peace of mind, happiness, a deepened capacity for love, increased compassion, a sense of “oneness,” enlightenment, and increased wisdom.1

It is important to note that these are the benefits promised to anyone practicing mystical meditation—it doesn’t matter whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or even an atheist!

However, these benefits are simply the placebo effect. The entire focus of the meditation is to go to a place mentally—that altered state of consciousness—where the effects of life, life choices, and convictions of conscience are diminished. This euphoria results in the belief, “If this solves all my emotional, physical and spiritual problems, who needs God?”

Don’t Confuse the Foliage with the Fruit!

As always the Scriptures provide insight when we encounter an enigma. Jesus teaches in Matthew 12:33 that the tree produces its fruit be it good or corrupt, because the tree is known by its fruit.

Those who support the “benefits” of Contemplative Prayer and mystical meditation use this concept to declare the practice is acceptable of God because of the positive spiritual benefits. But on closer analysis, are they seeing the actual fruit? Fruit isn’t something that is immediately apparent. The tree must first grow to maturity, the growing season must come, and then finally the fruit is produced.

You can see the folly of those who after analyzing the early sprouting, the branches, the leaves and then the blossoms, exclaim, “But look at the beautiful tree, look how green it is, look at the gorgeous, fragrant blossoms, it has to be a good fruit tree! Look at all the good things that spring from it. It is a good tree because it produces good fruit.” Wait…what? The fruit has not begun to produce. They have mistaken the foliage for the fruit. 

Simply because some of the immediate results of a particular teaching or practice appear good, it does not mean that it actually is good. The practice may actually produce corrupt fruit that is not evident until it actually bears fruit. If before the fruit has even grown a person has been convinced that the tree is good because of the foliage, that person will eat the corrupt fruit without a second thought.

It is important to realize that the many alleged benefits of Contemplative Prayer and mystical meditation are only the foliage of a tree that will eventually produce corrupt fruit.

The Fruit of Contemplative and Mystical Practices

So what is the actual fruit that grows from Contemplative Prayer and mystical practices? Remember fruit is only ripe at the end of the growing season. The following doesn’t happen overnight.

Although there are some exceptions, most issues occur gradually over a period of time in those who have regular mystical experiences through Contemplative Prayer and meditation:

  1. The most common fruit of mystical experience is the development of a panentheistic and interspiritual world view. Panentheism is a belief that God is in everything and everyone. An interspiritual world view believes there are many paths to God.
  2. An increasing acceptance of the authority of experience over Scripture.
  3. Unbelievers risk oppression or even possession by demonic entities who often pose as spirit guides.
  4. Believers risk harassment or oppression by demonic entities.
  5. One phenomenon called the Kundalini Awakening is particularly troubling. This includes a number of nightmarish symptoms in which the participant is not in control:

…tremors, shaking, spontaneous or involuntary body-movements [This includes being forced to do asana or yogic postures one right after another] and changes in respiratory function. Sensory symptoms are thought to include changes in body-temperature (feelings of heat or cold), a feeling of energy running along the spine or progressing upwards in the body, a feeling of electricity in the body, headache and pressure inside of the head, tingling, vibrations and gastrointestinal problems. Cognitive and affective symptoms are thought to include psychological upheaval, stress, depression, depersonalization or derealization, intense mood-swings, altered states of consciousness (trance-like experiences), hallucinations (inner visions or acoustical phenomena), but also moments of bliss and deep peace (Sannella, 1976; Greyson, 1993 & 2000; Greenwell, 1995; Scotton, 1996; Kason, 2000). A roaring noise or other loud auditory hallucination have also been reported…” 2

For those who disagree that Contemplative Prayer could produce this affect, I refer to Thomas Keating’s forward to Philip St. Romain’s book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. Thomas Keating, one of the three trappist monks who developed Centering/Contemplative Prayer states:

This book is the first description that I know of in Christian literature about the awakening of kundalini energy in a purely Christian context…this energy is also at work today in numerous persons who are devoting themselves to contemplative prayer…His (Mr. St. Romain) compelling testimony is a powerful affirmation of the potential of every human being for higher states of consciousness…Kundalini is an enormous energy for good.3

  1. Finally, and most importantly, for those who have never accepted Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the ultimate fruit is that they die in their sins while completely convinced they are saved by a placebo.

Raising the Bar in 2010

For those who have accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, but have become deceived and drawn away by mystical experience, the ultimate corrupt fruit is the distraction of the enemy.

This results in the loss of true relationship with our Lord and the quenching of the Holy Spirit.

Our relationship with God is not based on mystical experiences or feelings of any kind. Our relationship with God is based on faith through grace. We are told in Romans 10:17, “So then Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Faith is not based on feelings. It is based on the truth of God’s Word.

There are a number of well-known Christian pastors, leaders, and teachers who endorse Contemplative Prayer or mystical practices without understanding the truth behind the phenomenon. The danger in this is that many people who respect and trust them may go into eternity unsaved; believing all the time that they are saved because of their mystical experiences with “God,” rather than the gift of salvation offered through the blood of Jesus.

Instead of seeking experiences, mystical or otherwise, which only give us the feeling of being closer to God, in 2010 let’s determine to avoid the placebo effect of any unscriptural practice or experience and instead base our relationship with God on His Word through faith.

Leisa Garcia is a Silver Medallion member of Koinonia Institute and serves as the Lead Teaching Assistant in the Issachar courses while continuing her own coursework and research.


  1. Remji, Frederick.  “100 Benefits of Meditation”  I Need Motivation.  Web. 5 Dec. 2009.
  2. “Kundalini” Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, Thai Exotic Treasures:  Gifts and Information. Web. 5 Dec. 2009.
  3. Keating, Thomas.  “Foreword” Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality.  1991. Web. 5 Dec. 2009.