"When personal growth becomes a crisis of transformation."
I have been involved with many people undergoing the profound personal transformation associated with this type of crisis. With the supportive conditions and understanding offered here, this type of crisis can have a positive outcome. It can result in emotional healing, a radical shift in values and a profound awareness of the mystical dimension of existence.
I hope that the information outlined here will deepen your understanding of the positive nature of this kind of crisis. You are welcome to contact me for further information.
Spiritual Emergence Defined
The following is an extract from "The Stormy Search for the Self" by Stan and Christina Grof. They coined the phrase 'spiritual emergence' for this phenomenon, and this is one of the best books available on the topic.
In the most general terms, spiritual emergence can be defined as the movement of a individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of deeper connection with other people, nature and the cosmos. An important part of this development is an increasing awareness of the spiritual dimension in one's life and in the universal scheme of things.
Spiritual development is an innate evolutionary capacity of all human beings. It is a movement towards wholeness, the discovery of one's true potential. And it is as common and natural as birth, physical growth, and death - an integral part of our existence. For centuries, entire cultures have treated inner transformation as a necessary and desirable aspect of life. Many societies have developed sophisticated rituals and meditative practices as ways to invite and encourage spiritual growth. Humanity has stored the treasure of emotions, visions and insights involved in the process of awakening in paintings, poetry, novels and music, and in descriptions provided by mystics and prophets. Some of the most beautiful and valued contributions to the world of art and architecture celebrate the mystical realms.
For some individuals, however, the transformational journey of spiritual development becomes a "spiritual emergency", a crisis in which the changes within are so rapid and the inner states so demanding that, temporarily, these people may find it difficult to operate fully in everyday reality. In our time, these individuals are rarely treated as if they are on the edge of inner growth. Rather they are almost always viewed through the lens of disease and treated with technologies that obscure the potential benefits these experiences can offer.
In a supportive environment, and with proper understanding, these difficult states of mind can be extremely beneficial, often leading to physical and emotional healing, profound insights, creative activity and permanent personality changes for the better.
When we [the Grof's] coined the term spiritual emergency we sought to emphasize both the danger and opportunity inherent in such states. The phrase is, of course, a play on words, referring to both the crisis, or "emergency", that can accompany transformation, and to the idea of "emergence", from the Latin emergere: 'to rise' or 'to come forth'. This name thus indicates a precarious situation, but also the potential for rising to a higher state of being. The Chinese pictogram for crisis perfectly represents this idea. It is composed of two elementary signs, one of which means 'danger' and the other 'opportunity'.
The potential for spiritual emergence is an innate characteristic of human beings. The capacity for spiritual growth is as natural as the disposition of our bodies toward physical development, and spiritual rebirth is as normal a part of human life as biological birth. Like birth, spiritual emergence has been seen for centuries by many cultures as an intrinsic part of life, and, like birth, it has become pathologized in modern society. The experiences that occur during this process cover a wide spectrum of depth and intensity, from the very gentle to the overwhelming and disturbing.
Why does Spiritual Emergence happen?
It seems that at the core of this experience our Soul/Spirit is demanding recognition, healing and transformation. It is the healing crisis of the whole Being. From the core of our Being there is a cry for freedom and true expression. We are being asked to awaken to the Truth of who we are - to know ourselves. It demands we shed limiting beliefs and old ways, and strip away the illusions and false images about ourselves and life.
The wide range of triggers of spiritual emergence suggests that our readiness for inner transformation is by far the most important factor. For some people it can be very intense and frightening, for others it may be a gentle unfolding. This experience is not only confined to those engaged in regular spiritual practices, such as meditation, prayer or yoga, which are specifically designed to activate spiritual energies. It can happen to anyone at anytime.
It may begin as a sense of longing for something more, a longing that leads us to explore our inner depths or to embark upon a quest for meaning. It can also be triggered by emotional intensity or stress, physical exertion, disease, intense sexual experience, childbirth, shock or other forms of trauma, exposure to psychedelic drugs and artistic or creative practices. These are all powerful experiences that have the potential to open us fully, and open a way to the hidden depths of our psyche.
For anyone undergoing this process, the crisis is often due to the intense activation of the psyche involved. Psychological upheaval can happen as a result of the radical clearing of various old traumatic memories and imprints. The process is by its very nature potentially healing and transformative.
Forms Spiritual Emergence can take
Ego death and dark night of the soul: These states can arise as a stage in a particular spiritual practice or as a result of life circumstances that challenge one's sense of identity, self-image or status. They centre on the dissolution of the self - our inner and outer worlds - and a consequent loss of reference points.
The awakaning of Kundalini: This refers to the spiritual energy that arises from the base of the spine. Some symptoms are - tremors of energy rising up the spine; sensations of extreme hot or cold; perception of flashing lights; psychological upheaval.
Shamanic crisis: This typically involves images/sensations/dreams focused on a quest or journey to the underworld where demons or animal spirits are often encountered, culminating in experiences of death, dismemberment and annihilation before a rebirth.
Near-death experience: These experiences often involve an unusual and profound shift in the experience of reality. This usually includes an out-of-body experience and can involve profound lessons about life and universal laws.
Episodes of unitive consciousness: An experience of transcending the ordinary distinction between object and subject and experiencing ecstatic union with humanity, nature, the cosmos and God.
Crisis of psychic opening: This may involve channeling, telepathy, clairvoyance, out-of-body experiences and meaningful coincidences.
Past life experience: People can behave irrationally because they are experiencing something from the past as part of their current life, or else a person can be haunted by physical feelings and emotions that are seemingly unconnected to anything in the personal history.
Possession states: This is characterized by an uncanny sense that one's body and psyche have been invaded and are being controlled by an alien energy or entity that has personal characteristics. It can be another type of 'crisis of psychic opening'.
Psychological renewal through the central archetype: This usually involves themes of death and rebirth, battles of opposing cosmic forces (eg good and evil), and a conviction of being the world saviour. If properly understood and treated as a difficult stage in a natural developmental process, spiritual emergence/emergencies can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing, deep positive changes of the personality, and the solution of many problems in life.
For further information on Spiritual Emergence
Bragdon, E.A. A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergence
Greenwell, B. Energies of Transformation: A guide to the Kundalini process
Grof, C. & Grof, S. The Stormy Search for the Self: A Guide to Personal Growth Through Transformational Crisis