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Spiritual EmergenceThe Agony and Ecstasy of Spiritual Emergence --
(c) 2006 By Gaia_d@yahoo.com – Please don’t reproduce without Permission.
Visions of Goddesses, demons, mythic creatures or strange beings; sensations of energy coursing through the body; uncontrollable spasms or violent tremblings; losing individual identity and merging with the cosmos; flashes of light or brilliant colors; music or voices coming from trees and rocks – you may fear you’re going insane.
You’ve been meditating, seeking the Goddess, improving health practices, studying metaphysical books, trying out some consciousness-expanding exercises, or going through a life crisis. Suddenly you experience any of these strange symptoms, which may last anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks.
You may not be losing your mind, but rather experiencing what Transpersonal Psychologists call a ”spiritual emergency“ or perhaps more positively, ”Spiritual Emergence.“ This psychic and spiritual awakening cracks the comfortable, insulating shell of the ”status quo“ that might have surrounded you. It shakes you awake, boosts Kundalini energy, and blasts open the psychic receptors. It is”a kind of birth pang in which.....some areas of your life that were not yet encompassed by (the) fullness of life are now integrated or called to be integrated or challenged to be integrated..... Breakthroughs are often very painful, acute and dramatic.”
It pushes you through the door of transformation, renewal, and growth -- ”ready“ or not!
While people struggling to develop psychic senses dimmed through disuse and cultural conditioning may envy these experiences, they can be terrifying for someone actually experiencing them.
A whole new area of psychotherapeutic practice has developed to distinguish between Spiritual Emergence and psychosis (which it seems to mimic), to diagnose and treat this remarkable experience.
It can include such symptoms as: unusual sensory experiences, confusion, dissociation (feeling distanced from one’s own being, body or emotions), ”Shamanic illness“ (a healing crisis), strange bodily sensations, visual or auditory hallucinations, perceptual alterations, and mythically-themed delusions. 2
A. Varieties of Spiritual Emergence:
Ten forms of Spiritual Emergence have been identified and described by Dr. Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof, two pioneers in the field: 3
1. Shamanic Crisis --
”a dramatic episode of a non-ordinary state of consciousness that marks the beginning of the career of many shamans.“
It often involves an experience of symbolic death and renewal; and may include physical illness.
2. Awakening of Kundalini --
is a ”powerful and extreme rousing of the individual’s bio-energetic field,“ often accompanied by uncontrollable movements, or strange sensations of vibrations, heat, or electricity moving up or down the spine.
3. ”Psychological renewal through activation of the Central Archetype“ --
involves an episode of ”psychological renewal marked by an inner experience of perceiving oneself as being in the middle of the world process.....there is an emphasis on themes of death, afterlife, and return to the beginnings of creation.“
4. ”Psychic Opening“ --
includes experiences of extrasensory perception (ESP) and other paranormal manifestations. In other spiritual systems, they have been called ”spiritual/ psychic gifts“ or ”Gifts of the Holy Ghost“ -- but they all refer to similar experiences, and include clairvoyance, clairaudience (hearing), prophetic utterances, healings, psycho-kinesis (ability to move objects with the mind -- frequently associated with adolescents), remove viewing, etc.
5. Emergence of a Karmic Pattern --
involves experiences of ”dramatic sequences that seem to be occurring in a different temporal or spatial context, i.e. past lifetime, pre-birth, etc.
6. ”Possession“ --
is an episode in which the individual acquires the physical characteristics, attitudes and behaviors of someone else, sometimes divine or ”diabolical“ in nature. (If one realizes that the individual may somehow be accessing aspects of the mind/ spirit that have been previously suppressed/ repressed, often called the ”shadow“, or aspects that might be part of the ”collective unconscious“, the so-called ”diabolical“ aspects of this experience become a bit more understandable and less threatening.)
7. Episodes of Unitive Consciousness --
Originally identified by Abraham Mazlow as ”Peak Experiences,“ are experiences of dissolution of individual boundaries; one feels ”at one with the universe,“ with the Creative Source or God. Usual categories of time and space seem to lose meaning or application, and one experiences emotions ranging from deep peace and serenity to ecstatic rapture.
8. Communication with Spirit Guides or Channeling --
Encounters with a ”being“ who seems to show interest in a ”personal relationship and assumes the position of teacher, guide, protector, or convenient source of information.“ Such beings are often perceived as discarnate humans, suprahuman entities, or deities existing on higher planes of consciousness and endowed with extraordinary wisdom. Problems such as inflated ego, sense of moral or spiritual superiority or exclusivity, and surrender of individual responsibility and accountability have been seen with such experiences.
9. UFO close encounters and abductions --
Have been detailed by some people as precipitating and / or being the substance of a spiritual emergency. These may be either very positive or terrifying experiences, with very different emphases. Some people report torturous ”laboratory“ experiments being performed on their bodies, implantation of strange technological or medical objects, implantation and harvesting of embryos, etc. Some report being given special ”messages“ to communicate to the people of the world, often of an apocalyptic ”warning“ nature. Some report sensing a kind of unity or spiritual relationship -- even though undesired -- with their abductors.
10. Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) --
Have been identified as another kind of spiritual emergency, triggering fundamental re-examination of an individual’s complete spiritual and emotional life.
B. Precipitating Factors:
These experiences may have a number of triggering factors. Severe physical distress, such as serious illness, accidents or NDE’s; intense psycho-social stressors and personal crises such as employment termination, divorce, or death of a close loved one; powerful emotional experiences; major life passages or transitions; inexplicable or paranormal experiences; the use / abuse of psycho-active substances; and powerful sexual experiences have all precipitated spiritual emergencies. One of the most important and consistent catalysts appears to be deep involvement in meditation and spiritual practices of any kind.
Spiritual Emergence may occur at any time and any age, but seems to cluster around mid-life or other major passages. Frequently it happens during a ”dark night of the soul,“ when the old identity is no longer satisfying and the ego longs to be re-infused with he power, mystery and richness of the spiritual world. Another possibility is to be ”grabbed by the eternal“ through a ”dramatic dream, chance meeting with an inspiring person, or a spontaneous awakening.“ 4
C. Differential Diagnosis:
Because Spiritual Emergence mimics psychoses and other serious mental disorders, the difficult problem of determining the difference has become crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment - for misdiagnosis can lead to treatment that would be inappropriate or even destructive.
The following criteria for identifying a person in spiritual emergency has been developed by Grof and Grof: 5
1. Episodes of unusual experiences that involve changes in consciousness and in perceptual, emotional, cognitive, and psychosomatic functioning, in which there is a significant transpersonal (spiritual) emphasis in the process, such as:
dramatic death and (re)birth sequences, mythological and archetypal phenomena, past incarnation memories, out-of-body experiences (OOBE’s), incidence of synchronicities (unusual, fortunate “coincidences” which seem to have a significant pattern or purpose), ESP, intense energetic phenomena (Kundalini Awakening), states of mystical union, identification with cosmic consciousness.
2. The ability to see the condition as an inner psychological process and approach it in an internalized way; the capacity to form an adequate working relationship and maintain the spirit of cooperation with others.
3. Flexibility to adapt and accommodate to new areas of experience is part and parcel of the spiritual emergence process -- in contrast to inflexibility, which characterizes deeply entrenched psychosis.
To determine whether a person is experiencing a spiritual emergency, two sets of criteria should be employed:
A. criteria for a spiritual experience,
B. criteria for a positive outcome of a psychotic episode.
A. The criteria for a spiritual experience include:
1. Sense of newly-gained knowledge or wisdom;
2. Perceptual alterations.
3. Delusions (if present) have themes related to mythology.
4. No conceptual disorganization -- any delusional, metaphorical speech which is present may be difficult to understand, but is comprehensible and internally consistent.
B. If two out of the following four criteria are satisfied, a psychotic episode is likely to have a positive outcome:
1. Good pre-episode functioning -- as evidenced by no previous history of psychotic episodes, maintenance of a social network of friends, intimate relationships, some success in vocation or school.
2. Acute onset of symptoms -- during a period of three months or less.
3. Stressful precipitants to the episode -- such as a major life changes; a death in the family, divorce, loss of joy (not related to the onset of the symptoms), financial problems, beginning a new academic program or job. Major life passages which result in identity crises, such as transition from adolescence to adulthood, should also be considered.
4. Positive attitude -- toward the experience as meaningful, revelatory, growthful. Research has found that a positive attitude toward the psychotic process facilitates integration of the experience into the person’s post-psychotic life.
D. Dealing With Spiritual Emergence:
Because the emergence can be such a frightening challenge to one’s perceptions, sense of control and even sanity, it is crucial for the experiencer to have good information, support, resources and assistance. A professional helper must understand the dynamics of Spiritual Emergence as well as psychological principles to provide appropriate diagnosis and treatment. A medical examination is important to rule out organic/ physiological involvement or complications.
1. Use of Psychiatric/ Psycho-Active Pharmaceuticals:
In the case of clear, unmitigated spiritual emergence (rather than organic or psychiatric complications), psychiatric or psychoactive drugs should be used sparingly if at all, for they may inhibit the natural movement toward growth and renewal that drives the emergency. Such drugs can dull inner awareness, prevent catharsis, inhibit grounding, unbalance the body’s homeostatic process, and cause disorientation.
Supportive non-professionals are also helpful, as is the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN), a national network and referral service that keeps a list of knowledgeable professionals. 7
Any helper must provide a caring, sensitive, yet firm presence, able to help the individual stay grounded and centered, or to provide catharsis as needed. Everything one knows (or can learn) about basic psychic skills such as grounding, centering and shielding goes triple for the person experiencing a spiritual emergency (as well as any helper involved). (Some excellent resources are included in the ”Resources“ section at the conclusion of this article.) A consistent, thorough regimen of physical and psychic/ spiritual health is essential; regular psychic cleansing, shielding, grounding and centering should be as much a part of the daily routine as physical bathing. A safe, quiet, serene environment; healthy, balanced nutrition (this is no time to try out an unusual new diet); a regular schedule with appropriate exercise and relaxation are absolute, basic requirements -- and often most difficult for the experiencer to maintain on their own.
3. The four essential needs for a person experiencing a spiritual emergency are:
a. Grounding (a sense of connection to the earth and a sense of community);
b. Education (to understand the process);
d. Sanctuary. 8
A basic strategy for integrating the unusual aspects of Spiritual Emergence is to “ground” back into the physical body, the immediate surroundings and circumstances as concretely as possible.
A helper can facilitate this by:
1. Staying in contact:
Maintain eye contact, touch them (with their permission), affirm the experience and its positive aspects; share emotions, but do not express divisive thoughts (“I hope that never happens to me”). Let them know you are available to them.
2. staying in present moment.
Ask the experiencer to describe their surroundings in a concrete, precise, explicit way: “I see the plants in the corner; I'm sitting on a brown rocking chair, there’s a beige couch, with three pillows by the west wall under the window.” This will help orient them to their surroundings and cope with feelings of unboundedness.
3. Affirming boundaries
Persons in spiritual emergency may be highly sensitive to others entering their personal space. Affirm your awareness and sensitivity to this.
Encouraging them to physically, concretely identify their personal space by (for example) pressing against an imaginary line all around their boundaries, may clarify and reinforce their sense of individuality, and help you know where their boundaries are.
4. Supporting creative expression:
Encouraging the creative expression of the spiritual emergence helps the experiencer communicate their experience to others (which is frequently very difficult), integrate it into their lives in a meaningful way, and reconnect with their world.
5. Affirming connection to people and nature:
This helps the experiencer feel less alienated, more comforted and encouraged, and reintegrated into their world. Nature can be especially healing.
6. Eat grounding foods
Denser foods such as meat and dairy products have the effect of helping people identify with the grosser energies of the physical world. They are more difficult to digest and therefore demand more vital energies in the process of digestion.
On the other hand, if a person in spiritual energy is coping with unpredictable rushes of energy, their system may be incapable of handling much food. Aside from avoiding additives and preservatives, wisdom and individual preferences and needs should be the guiding principles in choosing an appropriate diet at this time.
7. Rhythmic Activity
Walking, housecleaning, baking bread, sweeping, raking leaves, swimming, and other easy-paced, repetitive, rhythmic movement is helpful for grounding, and can give the experiencer a sense of meaningful productivity.
8. Grounding Visualizations:
Persons in spiritual emergency can benefit from visualizations that foster reconnection with the earth and its slow, cyclical rhythms and stabilizing influence. Keep such visualizations brief, concrete, and specific, to prevent the experiencer from drifting even further into their own inner world and processes, however. For this reason, meditation practices might be best carefully considered and -- especially during the acute phase of the emergency -- monitored or facilitated by a knowledgeable helper.
In many cultures and spiritual systems, ritual is a safe, powerful way of both invoking and dealing with spiritual experiences individually and collectively. Participating in ceremony which formalizes their experience can help persons who are overwhelmed by spiritual emergency. If this is done with others, it can minimize the sense of alienation many experiencers suffer. 9
A helper can also provide explanations and reassurance to others, since these experiences can be extremely alarming for family and friends. Of course, the helper should refer to appropriate professionals who are both knowledgeable and experienced in Spiritual Emergence.
E. Synthesis And Conclusion:
The Chinese character for “crisis” means both ”danger“ and ”opportunity.“ It could well serve as the icon for Spiritual Emergence; for while a spiritual emergency may seem frightening, even horrifying, painful and onerous, it has enormous potential for growth. It is perhaps one of the best examples of the very human drive toward ultimate humanity; toward communion with universal energies and the realization of transpersonal values. With proper, knowledgeable help, discretion and wisdom, it can become the transformational experience of a lifetime.
With it, we can find and affirm our true selves; access the deep mysteries and gifts of the psyche; we can find the power in our Shadow selves; and we can emerge from a painful ”Dark Night of the Soul“ into an integrated, centered, self-determined new life.
1. Brother David Steindl-Rast, SEN Convention, May, 1985.
2. Emma Bragdon, Ph.D. _A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergency_. Lightening Up Press: CA, 1988.
3. Dr. Stanislav Grof, M.D., and Christina Grof, ed. _Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis_. Tarcher: 1989, New York. pp.14-26.
4. Kenneth Roshi, quoted by Bragdon in _Sourcebook_, p. 38.
5. Bragdon, _Sourcebook_, pp. 74-75.
6. Ibid., pp 103-112.
7. The Spiritual Emergence Network, 250 Oak Grove Avenue, Menlo Park, CA. 94025. (415) 327-2776.
(Web site is also available on Internet.)
8. Bragdon, _“The Call of Spiritual Emergency: From Personal Crisis to Personal Transformation,”_ Harper and Row: San Francisco, 1990 p. 72.
9. Bragdon, _Sourcebook_, pp. 104-113.
10. Dion Fortune, “Moon Magic,” San Francisco: Throsons, 1990.
11. Joanna Cazden, ”The Coming of Winter,“ from _"Sagewoman Cauldron"_, Lunea Weatherstone, ed. p. 80-81.
12. Demetra George, _Mysteries of the Dark Moon_, Harper San Francisco: 1992. p. 261.
13. Ibid, pp 143-145.
14. Ibid, p. 163.
15. Ibid, p. 173.
On Centering, Grounding, Psychic Cleansing, Protection:
Gay Hendricks, _"The Centering Book“_ and _”The Second Centering Book“_
Enid Hoffman, ”Develop Your Psychic Skills.“
Diane Mariechild, _”Motherwit: A Guide to Healing and Psychic Development“_
Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips, _”Psychic Self-Defense and Well-Being“_
Marion Weinstein, _”Positive Magic“_
On Understanding and Coping with Psychic Transformation:
Demetra George, _”Mysteries of the Dark Moon“_ and _”Finding Our Way Through the Darkness“_
On Spiritual Emergence, Religion, and Transpersonal States of Consciousness:
Journal of Consciousness and Change.
Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.
Journal of Humanistic Psychology.
Capra, F., The Tao of Physics.
Grof, S., Beyond the Brain.
Haich, E., Initiation .
James, W. Varieties of Religious Experience.
Keyes, K., Handbook to Higher Consciousness.
Maslow, A. H., Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences
Monroe, R., Journeys Out of the Body.
Rama, Swami, Ajaya, Swami, and Ballentine, R., _Yoga and Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness_.
Sannella, L., _Kundalini: Psychosis or Transcendence_.
Trungpa, C., and Freemantle, F. ,_Tibetan Book of the Dead_.
Walsh, R. and Vaughan, F., _Beyond Ego_ .
Weil, A., _The Natural Mind, a New Way of Looking at Drugs and Higher Consciousness_.
Wilber, K. _Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development_.
Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN)
c/o Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
250 Oak Grove Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Telephone: (415) 327-2776
(Rocky Mountain Office) of SEN
c/o Rebecca Browning
4301 North Broadway
Boulder, CO 80302
Nizhoni School for Global Consciousness
Route 3, Box 50
Gallisteo, NM 87540
John F. Kennedy University School of Consciousness Studies
12 Altarinda Road
Orinda, CA 94563
Attention: Sharon Solfvin
Telephone: (415) 254-0200
384 Field Point Road
Greenwich, CN 06830
3960 West Sausal Ln
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Littleton, NH 03561
Telephone: (603) 444-6938
150 Felker St. Ste G
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Clinical Details: Bob Newport, M.D.
I hope that’s helpful – Blessed Be ~ GaiaDianne
Total Comments 5
23 Jan 2012 05:09 AM #2
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Re: Spiritual Emergence
I have never heard of kundalini, and I was not actively meditating when these occurred, though sleep may be something akin to meditation. I am not certain how to integrate this information. Maybe it means nothing and maybe I should do something.
23 Jan 2012 07:38 AM #3
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Re: Spiritual Emergence
I think it's highly unlikely that this sensation was caused by Kundalini rising.
You would feel that energy first a whole lot deeper than the ear.
Buuuut, (as I learned last summer) we have kinda psychic ears on the back of our heads, a bit below, where the rim of the skull is? And tingling sensations on the back of the neck can also indicate spirit activity. Maybe it falls in this category what you felt.'You had to repay, good or bad. There was more than one type of obligation.
That’s what people never really understood.….Things had to balance.
You couldn’t set out to be a good witch or a bad witch. It never worked out for long.
All you could try to be was a witch, as hard as you could.'
Terry Pratchett 'Lords and Ladies'
Confuzzled and proud.
Read the shocking confessions of a primal witch.
23 Jan 2012 04:45 PM #4
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Re: Spiritual Emergence
23 Jan 2012 05:44 PM #5
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Re: Spiritual Emergence
It seem's to be another facet of Eastern Mystecism that was lifted and brough into the West. Yet in the East to raise Kundalini may be an event that only occurs once in a person's lifetime.
5 May 2013 03:58 AM #6
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Re: Spiritual Emergence
From what you wrote I can say that I totally lost my identity in a sense that I don't remember myself anymore.
If I wasn't on meds right now I wouldn't be able even to open the browser,find this site and write a reply to this topic.
I can say that I diffidently lost connection to "reality".
when I was without my meds I had serious problems recalling any kind of information like where I'v put my keys from the apartment,or what I did a second ago or even what I said.
Sometimes at night I moved my head from left to right with no real purpose it felt automatic to me and then I got some strange auditory hallucination experience, I heared Eagles and some male voice swinging a sword like he's in a real battle.
Then some time after or before I started to get visual hallucination, I saw physical objects move when actually they were in place but every time I stared at them they moved.
Also I'v felt the crown chakra intensely I even saw its shape and possibly color.\
Well when I was in this state I was very afraid to go outside.
Another thing I want to mention is that when I watched "Tensegrity" by Carlos Castaneda in YouTube I felt something just by watching what they are doing.
Then I had "delusional" thoughts that I have some power that can hurt people but is beyond my control so I had nothing to do but feel guilty for what is happening outside of me including things that happen globally ,like I was somehow directly resposible for them.
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