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Spiritual Emergence as Spiritual Emergency

Spiritual Emergence as Spiritual Emergency

Unlike most, many schizophrenics only experience a single, brief, but very acute psychotic break without any further relapse or reoccurrence of heavy symptoms.  There are still lingering after-effects which resemble mental illness, but many culture accept these after-effects as a positive opening of the psyche.  Shamanic cultures may not consider a hallucination as such, but a vision into other, more subtle worlds, and at the very least a recognition of the mythological aspects of the experience.  The brief psychotic episode then, is a vision quest and a rite of passage into priesthood.

It has come to the attention of some current transpersonal psychologists, such as Stanislav Grof, that this type of experience is not only very normal, but very beneficial for the sufferer.  There are times when having a schizophrenic episode can be slow, gentle, and adventurous as the individual discovers a larger sense of spirituality to himself and the world.  But if this experience happens too suddenly and fiercely, the spiritual emergence can act as a spiritual emergency.

What is a Spiritual Emergency?

Where as a spiritual emergence is relatively a slow-moving realization of the transcendent aspects of reality, a spiritual emergency is a much quicker, jolting realization of the metaphysical and experiences that are beyond the common functioning of the ego.  The result of both an emergence and the spiritual emergency is a healthier psychological, psychosomatic, and emotional experience, a loss of societal influences and previous imprinting, and an increased freedom of choice related to the relaxation of preconceived notions and rigidity in thought.

While a spiritual emergence begins the same and ends the same across the board, it is the speed and intensity of the process which dictates whether or not it is to become a spiritual emergency.  It is spiritual because it leads to an awareness of dimensions of existence that previously were not recognized by the individual, on the personal, biographical level and on the universal level in regards to the cosmos at large.  It is an emergency because the dramatic speed at which these realizations unfold and arise can lead to disorientation and a sense of instability that interferes with normal functioning.

A vast expansion of one’s world view will leave one in a state of groundlessness as new exciting and fear-inducing thoughts arise.  Accommodating these new thoughts can be strange, yet novel, leading to anxiety but a sense of curiosity and wonderment that leads the individual through the process.  These revelations come in waves hard and fast, and each plateau is surpassed quickly as this psychological transformation occurs.  Relationships can suffer, work attendance and performance can halt altogether, and one’s spiritual connections and ideas will be altered forever.  The person’s psychospiritual reality shifts as non-ordinary states of consciousness come and go.  The name of this experience is derived from the rapidity of this transformation, lending to the names of “spiritual emergency” and “evolutionary crisis.”

When do Spiritual Emergencies Occur?

There are situations in life that are more likely to produce a spiritual emergency than other times in life.  The most likely is during a period of time in which an individual is accelerating towards increased maturation and yet internally the person has not gained a sense of satisfaction from the experience.  This growth period has expanded this individual until the normal sensual stimuli and ego gratifications cannot fulfill the vacuum within.  There is a sense of meaninglessness to it all as the person begins to feel an existential angst.  When this person begins to talk about these issues, he or she will find that most either do not understand or are too fearful to discuss it.  A feeling of loneliness, isolation, and a yearning for atonement, wholeness, and unification combine to form a ripe field from which a seed of a spiritual emergency can sprout.

This can also occur during times in which the individual’s spiritual work is intense, in activity and duration.  Examples of certain practices that can reach this level are:

  • Pranayama
  • Kirtan
  • Yoga
  • Prayer
  • Meditation

During times of extreme distress and pain specific to the physical body, a spiritual emergence can begin, such as:

  • Childbirth
  • Surgery
  • Near Death Experiences
  • Extreme Injury
  • Observing These in Others

And of course, times of deep psychological and emotional stress are also conducive to the first stirrings of a spiritual emergence, including:

  • Psychotherapy Sessions
  • Transitional Periods of Life
  • Puberty
  • Identity Fragmentation
  • Psychedelic Substance Use

It is during these times and at these junctures that the evolutionary energies can foster and grow.  If the process is too fast and uncomfortable to the point of interfering with daily activity, then a spiritual emergency is at hand.

Three Internal Conditions for a Spiritual Emergency

There are three more conditions that are usually present when a true spiritual emergency occurs.

  1. The first of these regards a person’s cognitive framework.  If he or she has no prior experiences into which the new spiritual reality can be assimilated, then it must be accommodated.  There is no previous event to which the new revelations can be related, and the person becomes lost in chaos as the mind must begin restructuring and making room in it’s belief system for the new.
  2. Suppose even if it were possible that the experiencer were capable of psychologically apprehending, comprehending, and relaxing through this event, there still remains emotional and physical flexibility required to fully integrate the experience.  If even one of these acts as a bottleneck, there will be a congestion of energies and an eventual discharge.
  3. Finally, there are societies, cultures, and families that are not capable or willing to allow such an experience to fit into their normal conception of life.  The individual will be labeled as ‘crazy’ and the event as psychopathological.  Unfortunately, this interferes with integration and also alters the person’s own views of what is happening.  And we know, perception is everything.  The person may willingly or involuntarily be made to submit to mistreatment from misunderstanding medical professionals.

If these three factors are present, then you can predict with stronger confidence that what is occurring is an “emergency.”

The Types of Spiritual Emergency

There are many types of evolutionary crises that can occur that all concern themselves with specific facets of transpersonal phenomenon.  Although they appear differently, the cluster of symptoms all belong to the same constellation.  For instance, an individual could experience a:

  • Kundalini Awakening
  • Psychic Opening
  • Ego Death
  • Shamanic Breakthrough
  • Transpersonal Consciousness

All of these would create a new sense of mystical knowledge about the person’s higher self and world and alterations in perception that include synchronicities, hallucinations, delusions, and insights.  If the delusions are mythological in nature, they are likely to inclulde themes related to the hero’s journey, martyrdom, messianic references, and archetypes.  These motifs are highly organized and meaningful, which is why it is important for the schizophrenic to have a solid understanding of mythology so that they can gain personal insight into the meanings of these motifs.

The Outcome of a Spiritual Emergency

To put it simply, there are only two options after emerging from an emergence.  The spiritual worker will have increased in his ability to function in the world or will have decreased.  Nobody remains the same after this experience because to some degree, it will have been integrated into his or her world view and self-concept.  The hitherto unknown and unseen are now real.  Ignorance is no longer an option; the individual either expands to accommodate, or shrinks to deny.  A supportive social system and home environment can lead to healing and growth, or institutionalization and over-medication can lead to stagnation and even degradation.

Among the positive results a decrease of psychosomatic symptoms, the removal of emotional blockage, changes in the personality that are favorable to the self and others, increased solution-seeking skills in regards to complex life situations, and a growth towards peace, creativity, and compassionate response.  If the individual functioned well before the episode, he or she is likely to have an increased positive functioning.  If the onset of the symptoms was acute and rapid, then they are likely to leave that way as well without causing permanent damage. If the psychotic break was caused by a stressful precipitant, then it is less likely that there was a medical or genetic predisposition or problem, meaning full recovery and growth is more likely.  Maintaining a social network and quality performance at school or a vocational position is a positive indicator of a good outcome.  Most of all, maintaining a positive and hopeful attitude is a powerful safeguard against lasting negative outcomes.

With this knowledge in hand, it is possible to arrange for a more beneficial outcome and prognosis when the crisis is just beginning.  If the symptoms take longer than three months to grow to full intensity, and then persist for longer than three additional months, than please look into the possibility of other situations, such as a medical or mental health issue, as opposed to a spiritual issue.


The spiritual emergency is a rapid progression into consciousness development.  The world view of the individual will be expanded and previously hidden spiritual realities will be revealed.  An exploration of these dimensions of reality that is too hasty, whether by choice or not, can lead to a spiritual emergency.  Be wary of chasing a breadth of experience, such as in the new age culture. or a depth of experience, such as in the occult culture.  The myth of Icarus is a handbook and manual for this experience.  Do not purposefully fly too close to the sun’s clear light without internally preparing oneself with the knowledge and tools of the mystic.  For if you land in the ocean unprepared, you will drown as a psychotic while the true attainers swim skillfully.


  1. Brilliant stuff!!

    Thank you for highlighting this. My spiritual development group has recently started talking about spiritual emergence. I myself have been diagnosed Bipolar, but have come around to thinking that it is actually a spiritual emergence of some sort. I’ve had lots of help and support from my group with this – they’re fantastic. I really hope the Spiritual Emergence perspective becomes accepted by the mental health profession, as there are so many people that can be given much more appropriate help.

    • Hi Rachel – I have been recently diagnosed with BPD having embarked upon a long and painful awakening. I would love to communicate with you about your experiences.

      I attend a therapeutic community and regular mass to help me integrate all the changes. PHEW.

  2. Thanks, Rachel! I agree, there is certainly a spiritual aspect to much mental illness, whether it is a cause or an effect of the illness depends on the situation, I suppose. Dealing with these types of issues go to the core of who we are and how we deal with the external world. Everyone would benefit from this approach in some fashion! Thanks for your comment.

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