Ok, so it's different for everyone.
Before I joined IV I identified as a rationalist skeptic, albeit a somewhat reluctant one.
I grew up in a progressive Catholic family (I know that might sound paradoxical, but that's what it was). When I was about 11 or so I felt the belief evaporating: I vividly remembering listening inside for some sign of life by God or Jesus, but I only found silence. Since then I stuck to what I knew I could rely on, which was my rationality. That, at least, seemed to *work*.
I found that rationality did not apply or work for everything, though. There were many questions and experiences that it didn't touch or concern itself with, and also some that it tried (and tries) to concern itself with though it really has nothing to say. I'm still quite allergic to rationalist methods or science being applied to "explain" things that are way out of its league - for instance, the incessant and inexplicable urge that practically every scholar displays to "explain" Tolkien by considering possible sources; a practice that I find futile and even undesirable (at least in the degree that I see it happening), because it leads people away from what matters.
I've certainly had a fair number of irrational but very meaningful experiences in that time, but lacking a framework to understand them in, they remained obscure and disconnected. I certainly looked for a spiritual home, I've had a few times that I thought to have found something - like Buddhism - but they all turned out to be not quite what I was looking for. Eventually I sort of gave up and settled in being a rationalist. Though, as I said, I was never so outspoken or vigilantly anti-religious as some others, because I did have that sense that rationality wasn't the alpha and omega of everything.
I eventually stumbled upon an organisation called "the Brights", that was founded to provide some balance to the rising Christian fundamentalism in the US. They had just started and were testing out a forum, for which I was invited. I liked it at first, and eventually became a moderator and one of he forum administrators.
After about two or three years things started to feel a bit stale: as if the same discussions were being held over and over and over again. I grew somewhat tired of it and came less often, until I met a girl in there who was trying to consolidate spiritual experiences with a rationalist outlook. I was fascinated, and while talking with her, that irrational part within me seemed to wake up and grow quite a bit more intense. After some time it became so strong that I had an almost continuous awareness of something that presented itself. This is hard to describe: as if another view on reality was overlaid on my usual consciousness, accompanied by a kind of feeling that I have seen described as “ego-death” or “being very small and yet significant, connected to the universe as it were”, usually in connection with practicing Zen meditation or the like.
Somehow this led my dormant interest in the elvish languages to also wake up. I had tried to make sense of them as a teenager, using the appendixes in the LOTR, but he resources weren’t available back then. But now they were, and I set myself to learn Sindarin, and via a mailing list that I subscribed to for that, I was eventually contacted by one of the IV members who asked if I was maybe interested in what they were doing.
This was quite a large step and I thought it over for a few weeks, but eventually I decided that it would not hurt me to try.
What happened next is that I listened to some of Stephan Hoeller’s lectures and was given a series of ‘active imagination’ assignments (by Dave). Maybe it was coincidental, but they provided exactly the missing key. I had always been somewhat aware of an inner imaginative realm, but because the cultural mindset assigns so little significance to it, I never gave it much thought. But now I did, and found that it opened up to an inner realm that seemed as rich and infinite as the outward reality.
For me, this might have been a bigger change than for most other members: it seems to me that all others had at least committed to some form of spiritual awareness before they arrived. But to me that dimension had not existed at all. It was indeed like having a complete dimension added to your world, or to suddenly see in color where you only could see in black-and-white before.
This was not always easy to deal with. Because I never had been involved with any religious activity or interest before, people around me would have been surprised to say the least if I had told them everything like I do now. I still think that most would think I had gone a bit nutty. This made the whole thing also quite a lonely adventure, because practically everyone that I know in real life are nonreligious - and besides, the ones that are religious would not condone this sort of thing, either: to them it is plain heresy.
My apologies for the lengthy introduction, but I think it is necessary to also provide a background for any conclusion to make sense. Hopefully I can now answer your question.
What has it brought me?
I think it is important to stress that this epinoia has almost exclusively addressed my non-rational self (which I think is a synonym for ’soul’ or Jung’s ‘eternal / timeless self’) and woke it from a dormant and nearly forgotten state to grow into an active part of my self next to the rational self.
Maybe it sounds strange, but since then I have been aware that the rational self and the imaginal self are coexisting within me. The rational part still tries to question the validity of the imaginal part at times, but (as I think I mentioned elsewhere) it does not stand a chance of dethroning it again. It is striking how the imaginal self looks unreal when seen through the rational mind; but the opposite is just as true: the rational self looks utterly flimsy, transient and irrelevant when seen from the imaginal perspective. Overall I think the imaginal is even “heavier” than the rational - that’s the beset description that I can give - though I remain as true as I ever was to rationality, though *only* when applied strictly in the factual domain. And I can’t say that I see this restriction being heeded everywhere (and that’s an understatement).
So, I could say that it has made me a more whole person, in the sense that Jung talks about “individuation”, which indeed comes down to reintegrating one’s soul. I think this is much healthier in a psychological sense, even at the cost of some inner strife. Maybe this antagonism between imaginal and rational is unavoidable.
But that’s definitely not all. I did not yet mention that this process of opening up of the imaginal was above all incredibly joyful. It’s amazing and very difficult to describe in regular terms; but at the time an analogy presented itself of me having been inside a busy inn for as long as I remembered, talking to people, for so long that I had literally forgotten that there was anything outside. But something happened that made me suddenly notice the door of the inn, and I got up, opened it and looked out over a very wide landscape, stretching out as far as I could see. And also, there was a large dog sitting next to the door (it reminded me of a St. Bernard dog) who had been waiting for me to come out again all that time. It was both incredibly touching and incredibly strange. I later tried to paint that scene (without the dog though):
Going inside that imaginal realm comes with a very specific kind of fulfilment, but for me at least it also comes with a moral sense of obligation to put it to some kind of use. I felt that the best that I could do is to find a way to present the reality of it to others, hoping that this might help them find it as well. But that isn’t easy, because our culture is in a state of serious denial that there is anything there at all, or even that “imagination” itself is of any worth apart then to provide entertainment for small children (only). If there is anything that I think this time needs, it’s surely for people to realise that “imaginative” does not necessarily mean “false”, or reversely, that “factual” does not necessarily mean “true”.
I try to do that in several ways: by creating artwork based on imaginal experiences - I found they often tend to make people think even without explanations. Another way is by writing: I found that I like to write, be it satirical fiction or articles that (hopefully) provoke people to think about these things, for instance, that article for Medium that I put in here somewhere (I did not yet publish it though, lacking time
I’m still thinking about whether it would be possible or good to start being a bit more open about these things towards my environment, for instance the Dutch Tolkien society. As I said above, I am exceedingly reluctant to discuss this openly out of fear to be labeled a lunatic. Maybe I’m too anxious about it, but it makes sense to be very careful in any case, because I cannot turn back the clock once I have become more outspoken.
Did it make me feel more peaceful? I’m not sure. In one sense it even added some unrest as I described above, but all in all I think that I feel quite a bit more whole and balanced now than I did before.
It does not provide definite answers to the big questions. As I tried to make clear, it acts first and foremost on my imaginal side, which is not prone to have Great Insights (or what have you) in any case. But in a more indirect sense it is very helpful. It has made me much more creative and perseverant. I think I do understand a lot more about how certain things work, because I’ve experienced them myself. For one thing, I could never have come to the realisation that the cultural mind-set has such a phenomenal blind spot without this.
And yes, I do have a sense of “connectedness”, though that works through my imaginal side.
I also gained a very clear sense of purpose, of what to do with my life, where I almost completely lacked that before - at times I forget that. Even though the imaginal feels somewhat more distant when I’m using my rational side, for instance during work, I’m always aware of it, as if feeling that the everyday world is embedded inside something larger.
I hope I did not forget something … I’ll add that if I find out. Hope this helps!