| WRITTEN FOR PSYCHOLOGY DEPT., UNIVERSITY OF CT, 1990 |
The purpose of this article is to provide the etiology and definition of spiritual emergence and emergency.
One's life is permanently changed, there is no going back no matter how hard one tries. Although spiritual emergence is the process of moving into higher levels of evolutionary development and is irreversible, spiritual experiences, which include the phenomena listed above, may give a glimpse or brief visit into the higher transpersonal levels, but one's personality structures may remain unchanged. Spiritual experiences can occur at any time and place, although there are specific times and particular circumstances in which they are more likely to emerge. Bragdon has organized the circumstances of occurrence into six main categories.
The first, "Time of Life" includes those experiences which occur any time, ranging from deja-vu to mystical experience. This category also includes the "Dark Night", which refers to the typical mid-life crisis, especially among individuals who have achieved some real level of stability and prosperity in the world. They have met their material goals and still haven't found inner satisfaction. The pursuit of ego gratification is no longer enough and then one encounters an existential meaninglessness, which is very often a yearning for Spirit, a greater sense of wholeness, and interconnection with the eternal, universal principle. This dissatisfaction and yearning can also occur at adolescence or anytime. "Destiny Calls" is another aspect of this first category in which individuals may suddenly feel impelled to advance their lives into transpersonal levels.
The second category, and one of the most important and prevalent, is that of spiritual practice. The practice of spiritual disciplines, intense prayer, yoga, breathing exercises, chanting, meditation and other purificatory practices from a wide range of religious and spiritual traditions around the world significantly influence a growing number of people today in reaching transpersonal levels of consciousness.
The third category includes the areas of physical distress. This refers to intense physical workout, disease, injury, near death experiences, surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and miscarriage.
The fourth category is emotional distress caused by intense encounters in a wide variety of life adjustments, transitions, and physical and psychological therapies. All these experiences tend to lead one to question their sense of reality and meaning in life. Other causes of emotional distress occurring today include feelings of fragmentation partly brought on by breakdowns in social norms and lack of continuity in our rapidly changing culture and society.
The fifth category is intense sexual experience. This is often a powerful catalyst to transpersonal development and spiritual experience. The sexual union can stimulate identification with the archetype of divine union the uniting of male and female energies.
The sixth category includes those spiritual experiences induced by drugs. Seldom lasting, they are also potentially dangerous.
A spiritual emergence is more likely to turn into a spiritual emergency when:
The need for some conceptual context in order to help understand these phenomena, so that we will be more comfortable with our own and more supportive of others' spiritual awakenings, cannot be over emphasized.
Spiritual literature and traditions from all over the world have placed a high value on non-ordinary states of consciousness as an important means of learning and identifying with the spiritual dimensions of existence. The systems of yoga, the cultures of India, Tibet and the Hopi Indians of America, to name just a few, have the type of conceptual framework which supports and allows for a natural integration of spiritual experiences into normal life.
The world view created during the industrial and scientific revolution in the West, has dramatically changed this orientation. In the Newtonian/Cartesian mechanistic model of the universe, in which only materialism and rationality are considered real, religion and spirituality are viewed as irrational, immature superstition.
Mainstream medicine, psychiatry and psychology still adhere to the now-outdated Newtonian/Cartesian model and generally make no distinction between mysticism and mental illness. They don't recognize that the great spiritual traditions that have been studying human consciousness for thousands of years have anything beneficial to offer. Direct experiences of spiritual realities are diagnosed as psychotic manifestations of mental illness, a controlled and suppressive approach is taken to eliminate these experiences. The improper use of tranquilizing medications on cases of transpersonal crises can lead to the hindrance of personal growth and serious side effects. Modern day consciousness research in the area of clinical and experimental psychiatry, in depth experiential psychotherapies, anthropological field studies, parapsychology, thanatology, psychedelic therapy, Jungian psychoanalysis, and others strongly suggest that spiritual emergencies have a positive potential and should not be considered diseases that require medical treatment. A major revision in the psychological literature seems way overdue in the area of mysticism and psychosis. We need a new model that includes not only the historical medical elements, the Freudian "biographical" aspects, but also the Jungian collective unconscious and spirituality. While traditional approaches tend to pathologize mystical states, it's also equally possible to overlook real organic disorders, so it is important to take a balanced approach to discriminating between mysticism and psychosis.
Many clinicians and researchers working with psychotic individuals have developed categories for distinguishing episodes with the potential for positive outcome: problem solving schizophrenics(Boisen,1962); positive disintegration(Dabrowski, 1964); creative illness (Eellenberger,1970); spiritual emergencies (Grof,1985); metanoic voyages(Laing,1971); visionary states (Perry,1977).
Such criteria for defining a person in spiritual emergency by Grof and Grof (1986) include:
If two out of the following four criteria are satisfied, a psychotic episode is likely to have a positive outcome:
The proposition that some psychotic episodes may lead to experiences of growth may appear wishful or farfetched to many mental health professionals. However, the diagnostic approach presented in David Lukoff's "The Diagnosis of mystical experiences with psychotic features", that of Grof and Grof and others, adheres to the existing diagnostic procedures within the mental health profession, and uses functional criteria based on empirical studies.
The psychiatric approach can be very helpful and sometimes necessary for spiritual emergence with psychotic features, but only with a therapist highly trained in the different types of spiritual emergence.
I have had very good results working with clients using spiritual healing and counseling integrated with prana and chi healing through the chakra and meridian systems. I have helped people with shamanic crisis, kundalini awakening, episodes of peak experiences, psychic opening, past life experiences, communication with spirit guides, near-death experiences, and experiences with UFO's.