Life is hard. That is why so many people look for relief/escape in drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, food, and various forms of travel and entertainment. We are looking for instant gratification, a quick fix, an escape from a reality that has become painful and burdensome. Any uncomfortable emotion is now looked upon as a pathology to be medicated. We are not looking for personal growth, we are looking for relief.
Some people are able to look past the immediate and yearn for something more than a quick (and temporary) fix. They are not trying to escape their present reality, they are looking for a way to understand it and get better at living within it. This can take the form of spiritual tourism, whereby we look for the next vacation, trip, retreat, class, church, temple, congregation of like-minded people, to support us in our quest. While potentially helpful, there is an element of striving to this which is counter-intuitive to any real spiritual experience. And it is a spiritual experience which is required to create meaningful change in how we view ourselves and the world around us.
Virtual reality (VR) offers us the opportunity to experience a reality that is different than the one in which we are experiencing discomfort. What does this have to do with spirituality? All religions have rites and rituals designed to create an atmosphere of the transcendent. These rites and rituals use music, dance, incense, and formal prayers to create an atmosphere which invite us to experience the divine. It is in this mystical environment that we are able to expand our consciousness beyond our daily cares concerns and and connect with timeless truths which can offer us insight and guidance. This path has traditionally been pursued by those searching for a deeper meaning to their existence.
When you put on the headset, you enter into a virtual world that can be manipulated to create a specific environment tailored to meet your needs. Virtual reality has the ability to manipulate the environment and your experience in ways that can easily be more compelling than real life. VR has been successfully used in exposure therapy for treating people suffering from various phobias and from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). VR allows people to experience their fears and past trauma in a safe and controlled environment. People know that the experience is not “real,” but the brain is tricked by the artificial stimuli. The overwhelming sense of “presence” experienced in VR which makes the experience so powerful. This presence allows people to experience VR as if it were real, and to experience the powerful emotions that can be triggered by this experience. It is the triggering of these emotions that has the power to create change.
Anyone on a spiritual quest is seeking a new way of experiencing the world. Those who can afford it can travel to spiritual centers in Tibet, Bali, and other places in search of enlightenment. Most people seeking spiritual growth don’t have access to these opportunities and will need to find something closer to home. In VR, you can attend a virtual religious service along with others in a virtual space, you can listen to a teaching from a spiritual master, and you can experience meditating on a beach in Maui — VR gives you instant access to another world. The brain-tricking power of VR provides us a tool to experience life as those who have sufficient means to travel and to create meaningful connections with others whom we might not ordinarily meet.
In summary, VR can give you the opportunity to expand your consciousness and experience life in a safe environment as a means of achieving personal growth. With VR, technology replaces religious rites and rituals with predetermined stimuli which can be arranged to create the desired effect that the individual is seeking. VR isn’t going to replace religion, it is going to provide an additional tool to enhance people’s lives in a way that religion has not been able to due to the immersive quality of the VR experience.