Spiritually Transformative Experiences
As part of my transpersonal psychology study and research, and also as a Buddhist healer and teacher, I have developed experiential insight in the field of spiritual emergence.
One of the distinct strengths of transpersonal psychology is attention to and acceptance of non ordinary states including spiritual crises. Spiritual crises are not only a common experience for meditation practitioners, but also can lead to greater realization. David Lukoff has been a pioneer in redefining spiritual emergency and creatively working with it.
Mental Health professions have a long history of pathologizing spiritual experiences. Freud called religion “obsessional neurosis”. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, considered people who were less religious, more emotionally healthy .At the same time, 1/3 of people in US have had intense religious experiences that lifted them up. Prophets from all faiths, and Socrates ( via the Daemon) have had auditory/visual “hallucinations”. Naturally, all these prophets have been retroactively diagnosed with disorders
There is gradually beginning to be a shift in the approach that psychology takes to spirituality, creating space for the acknowledgement of spiritual crisis, spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency in the clinical setting. The diagnosis of transpersonal experiences can overlap with disassociative disorders in that there is a transcendence of usual boundaries of the self. It is good to bear in mind that in the fields of creativity and spirituality, people commonly try to transcend the self: in fact, this transcending of the self may be considered a basic neuro-biological need. Transpersonal experiences may include visions/ revelations, strong intuitions and insights, and kundalini awakening.
There are many different philosophies of care within transpersonal psychology. Some clinicians take a Jungian approach, and believe something essential is being discovered through regressive states, so that the spiritual emergence is“regression in service of growth”. Psychologist Roberto Assagioli traced a link between transpersonal experience and the healing of trauma, Stan Grof practices holotropic breathwork, to catalyze spiritual emergence as a way of healing perinatal/prenatal experience. Depathologizing spiritual emergence is the best approach: it doesn’t mean that these spiritual problems don't require attention but it is necessary to diagnose correctly, to encourage growth and reduce stigma. The basic direction of spiritual counseling within this situation is to respect the subjective experience, treat resultant trauma, and help the experient to integrate the insight they have received. We can differentiate, as well, between spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency. Spiritual emergence involves a slower integration of spiritual experience, while spiritual emergency is a crisis which can resemble psychosis.
When I meet with someone who is experiencing spiritual emergence, I encourage them
To ground. Exercise, do the spiritual practice of prostrations, eat root vegetables and extra protein, spend time in nature. Keep a healthy day-to-day routine. Ease off of traditional spiritual practice, as this accelerates spiritual emergence.
To work closely with a psychotherapist who is trained in spiritually transformative experience. It is important that they are knowledgeable regarding different paradigms: it is much less important that they share the experient's map. ACISTE, Ancestral Medicine, and the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) are good resources.
On a related note, working in a regular way to release tension and manage stress, to take in whole food nutrition (especially dark leafy greens and protein), to take regular salt baths or salt scrubs, and to sleep regularly-- all these things will help.
To find others who can share from their experience. The group When Lightning Strikes and the support groups and resources offered by ACISTE could be helpful.
To get energy work from someone who has the right gift.
The kundalini awakening I experienced in my early thirties was life-changing in that it taught me that ki (energy) is real, and that consciousness transcends the small "s" self. As Rumi wrote,
Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream.
It will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
(The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks)