Before proceeding, please take a few moments to watch a Ted Talk on Spiritual Emergence.
The term “spiritual emergence” was coined by Dr. Stanislav Grof and his wife Christina Grof, two leaders in the field of transpersonal theory, as a way of referring to breakdowns of meaning that lead to transformative growth and greater psycho-spiritual health on the part of the individual. It is, as the Grofs describe it, “the movement of an 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” (Grof and Grof 1990, p. 34). The term spiritual emergence is often used in conjunction with “spiritual emergency” (also coined by the Grofs), a term used to describe a crisis state in which the process of growth and change stimulated by this “emergence” becomes so overwhelming and unmanageable that the individual is unable to gracefully return to day-to-day functioning. (Source: Webb H.S. (2014) Spiritual Emergence. In: Leeming D.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6086-2_770)
A few weeks back I got in touch with a Shaman based out of California. Speaking to her was like music to my ears. She has traveled the world, learned from the most prominent spiritual gurus, worked with the indigenous tribes from California to India, and has 25+ years of experience in Shamanism. When I spoke to her and told her about my experiences, she patiently listened to me and empathized with me. She gave me the validation that I had been looking for – It can be scary if we don’t know what’s happening but I am not alone. She introduced me to the term “Spiritual Emergence” and explained what I had experienced from the spiritual lens. And that was the first information that I had received in the past five months that made me finally feel like at least someone could understand the mental stress of going through an experience that you know nothing about.
Now, I finally came across a scientific figure who had addressed such spiritual experiences and I am so glad that I finally found someone! Just the awareness of the term, “spiritual emergence” had helped me find various therapists and organizations where trained therapists offer psychological guidance to people having a spiritual experience.
Grof describes a spiritual emergency as: “There exist spontaneous non-ordinary states of consciousness, (NOSC) that would in the West be seen and treated as psychosis, and treated mostly by suppressive medication. But if we use the observations from the study of non-ordinary states, and also from other spiritual traditions, they should really be treated as crises of transformation or crises of spiritual opening. Something that should really be supported rather than suppressed. If properly understood and properly supported, they are actually conducive to healing and transformation”.
The term ‘transpersonal’ is used here to refer to psychological
categories that transcend the normal features of ordinary ego-functioning, that is, stages of psychological growth, or consciousness, that move beyond the rational and precede the mystical. At the root of the transpersonal perspective is the idea that there is a deep level of subjectivity or pure spirit that infuses all matter and every event. A common metaphor throughout the spiritual wisdom traditions refers to this consciousness, or living spirit, (be it called Brahman, Buddha-Mind, Tao, or The Word) as having been breathed into all being at the moment of creation as a manifestation of divine nature. It is necessary for sentient life because experience and awareness are possible only through the activating power that flows from this Source. (Source: lycaeum)
When spiritual emergence is very rapid and dramatic this natural process can become a crisis, and spiritual emergence becomes a spiritual emergency. When I was going through this emergency, I had come across several stories of people who had gone through similar experiences for whom the lack of emotional & professional support had led them to take drastic measures, some going as far as committing suicide. Reading those stories had scared the sh*t out of me. It was only when I had read an account of another individual who had gone through a similar experience, had got himself admitted to a hospital, got an MRI/CT scan, and finally realized that nothing was wrong with him, that I started to believe that I was not alone. He, now, hosts a group on Facebook where hundreds of individuals from across the globe share their experiences about the Dark Night of the Soul.
Listening to all these Ted Talks and hearing stories about people who could understand these experiences has helped me feel much better about my experiences instead of trying to find reasons to run away from them. It took a long time to reach here but I don’t have words to express how grateful I feel towards all these people who took the initiative to speak up. What baffles me is the lack of awareness and support for such a common occurrence. We’re aware of the most uncommon diseases and would have some therapy available for the rarest needs, but something that has been on the records by so many individuals across the globe is provided absolutely no support, let alone awareness. When a person intentionally takes classes and seeks guidance to raise his spiritual understanding, he/she is equipped with the tools needed to guide them through such experiences. He/she has the support of their teachers and guides to help guide them through these moments. However, spiritual awakening/emergence is not limited to people who intentionally seek these out. I am a living example of such people. While some people experience this after going through a major loss, some experience it as if it’s an everyday occurrence. For me, I consciously didn’t suffer any loss but for my soul, the loss was significant enough to slap me hard & force me into an awakening. I can’t say how helpful it would have been at that moment had someone given me the right support that I needed without me contemplating taking drastic measures myself. Don’t get me wrong, I received the support that I needed from my guides but my awakening would have been much easier had these experiences received the recognition that they deserve.
It’s my utmost hope that whoever is reading this article finds this as a validation that if you or your loved one has experienced any “out of ordinary” experiences, then, you or your loved one are not alone. Speaking from experience, I know it’s tough. Some days you wake up, praying to whoever is listening to give you a break. Some days, you try hard to make sense of what’s happening and get all the answers that you need. Some days, you’re overwhelmed with emotions, memories of lives you don’t remember, feel energies & emotions that don’t feel like yours, see visions & dreams that seem so unreal but are real, experience connections that you cherish that you never knew you had, display abilities that you didn’t know you possessed, and have answers to questions that you never remember having. Some nights you can’t go to sleep no matter how much you try while some days you’re too tired to get out of bed. Sometimes you’re filled with so much energy that you can’t sit still yet other days you feel so cold that you start to shiver. Some days you wish you had just one person who could hug you and tell you that they know how tough it can get but assure you that everything will be fine, and some days you’re just left wondering what is the meaning of life.
I am here to tell you, it gets better. Equip yourself with tools and knowledge that can help make sense of what’s not taught in school. Ask questions and reach out to those who have had similar experiences. But above all, believe in yourself. You’re completely normal. We’re all just becoming aware of a reality that is not captured by the streamlined media/ & today’s a science/society. It’s a weird position to be in because most people close to you won’t understand anything that you’d share with them. Some might even leave when you’d most need them. No matter what happens, I am here to tell you that you’ve got this. Keep telling yourself that until you start to feel it. The moment you start to feel it, the experiences become much more calmer, and over time you get equipped with tools that can help you deal with the experiences. The experiences that scare you can also liberate you. Trust yourself and believe your truth even if no one else around you does. Seek out people who do, and you’ll start to realize that you have nothing to doubt. It’s all real and it’s all safe. It already exists, most of us just can’t see or remember it. The only difference between people who go through the emergence and those who don’t is that the former can see the truth. That does not make it unreal, it just makes it difficult to prove. But you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. It’s your truth, just trust yourself.
Below are a few things that helped me. I hope it helps you too:
- Ask for help – Reach out to people who you can trust. Be it a spiritual teacher, a spiritualy inclined friend/family member or an acquaintence who has shared his/her experience, getting help can make you feel less isolated and bring these experiences into context. Though it might be difficult to have faith at this time, pray and ask for help. It will come.
For those whose loved one is going through a similar experience, don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to make sense of it. Even your love one can’t. The best you can do in such a situation is to believe them. Offer your support. Equip yourself with knowledge and, if possible, help your loved one find a spiritual teacher who can help him/her make sense of it. Above all, be with them. Don’t leave them at this time because these experiences make a person feel extremely vulnerable. They’re going through something that’s not considered “normal” but is completely natural. They’re feeling extremely isolated and scared. The worst you can do is distance yourself from them at this time. Offer your support while recognizing that you don’t have the answers. Help them carry out their day-to-day activities because these experiences can be too overwhelming to function normally. If you’re guilty of not believing someone who had such experiences, it’s never too late to reach out and let them know that you accept their truth. You’ll probably not be able to make sense of it and that’s fine. You don’t have to. If you’re supposed to, you will when the time is right. Trust me, it would make a huge difference to your loved one. They’ve literally gone through a life changing experience and not everyone makes it.
- Take a break from meditation – For me, my experiences started after I had meditated for 21 days for 40-45 minutes at a stretch, sometimes meditating even twice a day. It need not be the case with you. But, if your experiences started after you started meditation, take a break from meditation. I have read accounts of people for whom these experiences started after using psychedelics. In case that’s you, take a break from that too. Your brain has literally gone through a series of transformations and it’s overloaded with information. Take a break to allow your brain to relax until you start to feel a little more in control.
- Mindful exercises – For me, I was lucky enough to meet a Shamanic teacher who helped me release the fear that had a crippling effect on me. For a week straight, I performed 3 exercises that helped me calm my mind and body, and continue to do it now whenever I feel overwhelmed. First, a breathing exercise where I breathed in positive energies like love, courage, and strength, and breathed out fear and self-doubt. Second, a tapping exercise helped me ground myself in my body. Third, an establishment exercise that helped me cleanse my aura. Finallly, learn to shield yourself. You’re most probably going to feel quite sensitive to energies that may impact your emotions and state of mind. In my case, I sometimes feel energies of the masses, sometimes certain individuals leave me feeling exhausted/anxious and sometimes I feel emotions of those who I share a strong soul connection with. When India was hit with the second wave of Covid, I could feel the energies of fear and heartbreak while sitting in a different part of the world. It was anxiety inducing to say the least. Energy shielding can help in such cases to help you stay safe in your aura. When I started these exercises, I had zero clues about what they meant. I was desperate to just do something and anything that would work, and they did. They only started to make sense as I progressed in my journey.
- Seek a guide – Again, for me, I was fortunate enough to meet my guides from the beginning of these experiences. In retrospect, I was constantly asking for help but didn’t realize that my experiences were showing me the support that I was asking for but I kept running away from those who were offering me their unconditional love and support. It wasn’t until I met someone I trusted and whom I knew in this life that I started to feel an iota of safety again. In your prayers, ask for a guide to help you through these experiences. You might find a friend for life too. Ask for a teacher to help you release your fear, and protect you from what doesn’t serve you. You’ll be surprised by the love and support that’s showered on you.
- Journal – During one of my meditations, I was asked to start journaling. Without giving it a second thought, I started to do just that and that was probably the best decision of my life. Not only did my journaling help me get in touch with the writer within me but also helped me make sense of what was happening around me. Most of the time, the blogs I write are written within 30 minutes without me consciously choosing the words or the topic. Words just flow and once I am done, I start to feel relaxed.
- Surround yourself with friends/family – Having a support system or at least one person who you can openly talk to about your experiences can help a lot. For me, that someone was a friend who made it her personal mission to listen to all my stories and offer her suggestions whenever she could. She had never had such experiences herself but, fortunately for me, believed the spiritual books and gurus that she followed. Above all, just having someone who believed in me provided me the strength that I needed to progress in my journey. I will forever be grateful to her for accepting me when I had rejected myself.
- Accept – Things will change. You will change. Your reality will change. You will soon find that your emotions, thought processes, and behaviors have gone through a major transformation. The speed of change would be faster than all the growth that you’ve done so far. Sometimes your experience will not even make any sense but know that they will as you progress. Sometimes, I find it difficult to relate to the person I was five months back. My outlook on life has changed and it keeps changing every single day. What helps me with my transformation is acceptance. Acceptance of myself, my truth, my experiences, my reality, and my life. The more I accept myself, the easier it gets and the more I find myself accepting everyone and everything around me.
- Help others – A powerful shift happened when I started to write these blogs and when I started my Instagram account. All of a sudden, I wasn’t writing for myself anymore. I had this urge to help and support others – those who are still asleep or others like me who had gone through similar experiences. And the more I wrote, the better I felt. When a few people reached out to ask for help, I felt humbled to, finally, be in a position where I could offer some guidance.
- Move – While initially it might feel like you can’t get out of bed, when you’re ready, move your body. Do something as light as taking a walk or going to the gym or doing yoga. Anything that works for you and helps you introduce some movement into your life. Movement helps clear the extra energies that we sub-consciously carry. I have tried doing qi-gong, yoga, dance, exercise, combat and walking, and everything seemed to provide different benefits.
- Seek a community – Having people around you who you can talk to about your experiences who can relate to these can be very empowering. While it might be difficult to find such people initially, keep an eye out and start to find such a community when you’re ready. I reached out to people who follow Shamanism, Reiki practices, Akashic recording reading, Qi Gong & other energy workers, and other people from the spiritual community to get a sense of belonging. Speaking to these people helped me understand that these experiences were not limited to me. It also helped me learn from their experiences and understand what I could do to help myself during my journey.
- Find a Therapist – This one can be tricky. While having a therapist to speak to can help in multiple ways, if the person you reach out to has little to no experience working with people having a spiritual awakening, it can lead to further complications. The good news is that there are now therapists who are experienced with clients having spiritual experiences. It can take some time to find the right fit for you but once you do, the rewards will be worth it. They can help bring your awareness back to reality, empower you with tools that can help you when you’re having a tough time and above all provide you an outlet to be yourself without worrying about being judged.
- Find a creative outlet – Finding a creative outlet to let out what you’re feeling, experiencing and thinking can take some burden off your chest. For me, journaling proved to be a very beneficial platform that allowed me to speak my truth and allowed me to look at my experiences from a broader perspective by detaching myself. The creative flow allowed me to bring to light some of my subconscious thoughts and believes that had otherwise laid dorment for years. You can choose your own creative outlet that allows you to express yourself in a way that works for you. By simply giving yourself a platform, you get the validation from the one person who needs to validate your experiences – You.
- Ground yourself – Finally, find a way to ground yourself to the reality because it can be confusing at times to differentiate between the spiritual world and the world that we live in. For me, reading scientific and psychology based research helped me provide myself some clarity for my experiences. Going out in nature, body scanning meditations and pampering myself with massages helped me relax and bring my awareness to the present.
- Try not to ask why – I learned it the hard way. Being the curious individual I am, I wanted to know why this happened. While I got a few answers, I still can’t make sense of it all. If anything, it only further complicated my journey. It was only when I realized the difference between being the one having these experiences and the one observing these experiences, that I started to get a sense of relief and calmness. Know that the answers that you’re seeking will come to you when you’re ready. Everyone’s journey is unique and what you need to know during yours, will come to you when you’re ready and you’ll know when you’re ready. If you still want some answers, try to be specific about what you’re looking for and frame questions with – “What” or “How”.
In the end, you’re the creator of your path. You don’t have to follow someone else or even wait for someone to give you validation. Validate yourself and find your own path. Whoever you are, please know that there is at least one person who completely believes in you and has no doubt about your experiences. And the more you’ll seek, the more people you’ll meet who have been on this path before you. Continue to believe in yourself and love yourself. Know that you have all the answers within yourself. I wish you soon find the peace and love that you have within!