Universal Patterns of the Experience of Divine Guidance

During my research into the experience of divine guidance I discovered several universal patterns that seem to appear across spiritual traditions and cultures. This research included in-depth interviews with advanced spiritual practitioners and teachers from various spiritual traditions and cultures; a meta-analysis of sacred texts from the Judaic, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Shamanic, and metaphysical traditions; and over 20 years of experimentation and testing of numerous guidance theories and practices from these traditions. The following is a composite depiction of the universal patterns of the experience of divine guidance which I uncovered through this research journey:

Patterns of Experience

The Experience of Source

Individuals who have the experience of divine guidance appear to have a conceptualization of a SOURCE of guidance that either takes a 1st-person (Higher Self, Original Self, etc.), 2nd-person (God, Jesus, Angels, etc), or 3rd-person form (the Tao, Holy Spirit, the Word, Buddha Nature, etc.). This conception of a Divine Source of guidance also appears to include the projection of various particular attributes (imminent, transcendent, etc.), motives (beneficent, merciful, etc.), and activities (creator, sustainer, etc.) onto that Source. The attributes, motives, and activities the individual ascribes to the Source seem to affect their ability to connect with that Source. For example, individuals who perceive the Source of guidance as vengeful and judgmental tend to have a hard time receiving guidance, while those who perceive a loving and forgiving Source appear to have an easier time receiving guidance.

The Experience of Seeking

The individual who experiences divine guidance seems to go through a period of SEEKING a connection with the perceived Source through a process of preparation and purification facilitated by the performance of certain practices, such as prayer, meditation, and ritual. The perceived Source also appears to seek out the seeker, assisting with and/or instigating the process of preparation and purification, and sometimes even offering the seeker an experience of spontaneous guidance through divine grace.

The Experience of Receiving

The process of seeking culminates with the seeker having an experience of RECEIVING a communication from this perceived Source that seems to come in a variety of forms (perceptual shift, inner voice, visions, etc.) and appears to carry a particular content (information, direction, etc.), along with a range of experiential qualities (sense of a higher presence, heart-opening, etc.). The variety of forms seems to require a degree of openness and receptivity within the receiver. The receiver’s encounter with this perceived Source also appears to be experienced through the lens of an archetypal metaphor or theme of encounter (dipping into an inner river, becoming a divine vehicle, etc.), whose form seems to depend on the personal, cultural, and religious influences of the receiver’s life. There also appears to be a universal paradox around seeking and receiving, in that one must let go of all seeking in order to receive, yet one usually cannot receive unless one seeks; it appears that the challenge becomes knowing how long to seek before letting go of the seeking in order to receive.

The Experience of Following

The experience of receiving of communication from the Source ultimately leads to a period of FOLLOWING in which the receiver of Divine communication attempts to interpret and follow the guidance received. This following is based on various effects (fruits) of the experience of Divine communication (purification, consolation, transformation, etc.) that often follows the experience of receiving. The receiver of guidance then uses the effects of the experience, along with the form, content, and qualities of the communication that were received, to discern the authenticity, validity, and meaning of the communication. The receiver then seeks to incorporate the experience into their own life and consciousness.

Patterns of Influence

The individual’s entire process of conceiving of a Source of guidance, and seeking, receiving, and following guidance from that Source, also appears to be influenced by various other factors. These factors seem to contribute to, impede, develop, and mediate the experience.

Contributing Factors

There are a variety of internal and external factors that appear to have contributed to the seeker’s original seeking of the experience of divine guidance and that continue to influence the ongoing process. These may include experiences of insight, the individual’s relationship to the perceived Source, a sense of being called by the perceived Source, and various other life and religious experiences and influences.

Impeding Factors

There is an assortment of personal obstacles (ego, lack of awareness, fear, etc.) and personal constructs (mental, emotional, perceptual, etc.) that appear to impede or block the individual’s ability to seek, receive, and follow divine guidance. The individual must transform and/or transcend these obstacles and constructs through the processes of preparation and purification in order to move past the resistances to seeking and following, and to clear the barriers to receiving the guidance that is continually being transmitted.

Developmental Factors

The individual’s particular developing relationship to the Source, and their evolving degree of faith, will, and ability to surrender appear to develop over time and with experience. In turn, these same evolving forces may exert a developmental influence on the process itself.

Mediating Factors

The individual’s entire experience of divine guidance also appears to be mediated by a synergy between effort and grace, the creation of a conducive set and setting, as well as influential life experiences and events. A process of transcendent education also seems to influence the individual’s process of purification, and their personal and spiritual growth. This transcendent educational process includes the sense that the Source is transmitted lessons in the form of inner and outer life experiences as a way of inducing deep transformative change in us.

General Patterns

Ultimately, the individual’s authentic experience of divine guidance tends to be perceived as a profound subjective experience. It appears to offer superior information, knowledge, wisdom, and direction; foster constructive personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal growth and healing; and elicit a wide range of positive affectivity. These universal patterns also appear to manifest in unique ways according to an individual’s life experiences and perceptions, spiritual and religious tradition, and various cultural and social influences. 


THE SEARCH FOR A DIVINELY GUIDED LIFE: A Spiritual Autobiographical Inquiry into the Experience of Divine Guidance by Mark Allan Kaplan, Ph.D. (2014).

THE EXPERIENCE OF DIVINE GUIDANCE: A Qualitative Study of the Human Endeavor to Seek, Receive, and Follow Guidance from a Perceived Divine Source.  Mark Allan Kaplan, Ph.D., Dissertation Abstracts International, 2005, 66 (05), 2855. (UMI No. 3174544)

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