The disorientation, jumble of feelings, and need for time out to re-evaluate that can accompany an intense awakening experience is called a “spiritual emergency.” Like any crisis, it demands a radical and immediate change for the person in crisis that impacts their loved ones and employers. The individual feels an inner urgency for withdrawal from responsibilities which may mean someone else does the cooking, cleaning and childcare, and going to work is not an option. Someone familiar with the territory, trained to be of support and offer guidance, can help transform the disturbing experience into a breakthrough to a higher level of functioning. In contrast, professional providers unfamiliar with the territory may see it as a breakdown or mental illness.
Where to find qualified help in a time of spiritual emergency can be a profound challenge. Afterall, we barely recognize or agree on the language for the experience much less the name of the helper! The good news is: there is qualified help, those resources follow below.
Let’s Compare Spiritual Emergency and Spiritual Emergence
A “spiritual emergency” can last for moments, days, or even years. Intense spiritual experiences, like a psychic opening, e.g., seeing auras or perceiving experiences from past lives, or extraordinary rushes of energy from kundalini that may feel like light rushing through you, can crack open areas of the mind and body that have been previously closed or congested. The crisis can also be compounded by stress due to loss, using psychedelics and empathogens, intensive yoga workshops and retreats—even travel to unfamiliar lands or lack of sleep. Spiritual emergency has been called an indicator of an “evolutionary crisis,” as it rapidly expands consciousness, opening more enhanced perception and insight into life itself, which can promote healing and enrich life, but may be overwhelming.
“Spiritual emergence,” by contrast, is a gradual process of spiritual awakening usually aided by prayer, meditation, yoga, martial arts, study of spiritual texts, and the guidance of qualified spiritual teachers, as well as one’s own desire to grow. The gradual process may involve moments of disorientation and re-evaluation as well as new directions in life; however, it does not cause such a radical upset in life that you cannot attend to your responsibilities. It also promotes healing, enriches life, and enhances intuition, creativity, and insight.
Ideally the outcome of both spiritual emergency and emergence is more peace, wellbeing, more wholeness, and a desire to be in service to others and the planet. Unfortunately, when someone gets scared by the radical changes in body and mind that can occur, they may well end up in an emergency ward with a diagnosis of mania or psychosis. Well-meaning healthcare providers may perceive them as mentally ill because most providers have not been trained in how to recognize or manage spiritual emergency. They don’t know how to respond when someone says something like “I feel light streaming through my body. I’m losing the sense of who I am, who I have been. Who am I really and what’s my real story? I feel one with God.”
Certain websites and social media groups provide some kind of base, where people find others like themselves who feel destabilized by profound spiritual experiences often mixed with anxiety, depression and/or strong physical sensations. But there are deep questions, e.g., “Is this energetic tremor moving up my back a sign of kundalini rising or blocked energy left from trauma?” “Can my yoga instructor help me resolve my problem or do I need a trauma-informed psychotherapist?” “Can I assume all energy workers are skilled in helping me through this?” “Maybe I need a psychiatrist?” I doubt if those can adequately be answered by faceless, untrained peers online.
Ideally, people in spiritual emergency can find their way to those deeply trained in caring for people distraught by the phenomena associated with spiritual awakening. The International Spiritual Emergence Network, ISEN provides contact information for offices throughout the world that can provide contact information for qualified counselors in their regions. ACISTE, the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences, trains professionals and offers a support directory: aciste.org/support-directory. IMHU, Integrative Mental Health for You, trains both healthcare providers and peers to become qualified as “Spiritual Emergence Coaches.” IMHU’s international directory for those who are certified is: imhu.org/coaching/directory. The first part of the two-part training to become a Spiritual Emergence Coach is available online starting March 7, 2022. Go to IMHU.org for more information.