Some of us are gifted with an incredible sensitivity to our environment. We might experience “consensus reality” in a different way. Our sensitivity might alternatively manifest through strange dreams, peculiar intuitions, deep seated feelings, or even strange physical symptoms. This kind of sensitivity can present itself in a number of ways. It can be intensely brief and chaotic or persistent and variable, and it can present with different symptoms ranging from unusual sensory experiences, confusion and disorientation, extreme anxiety and vulnerability, to electrical currents throughout the body or apocalyptic visions. Some have decided to call this phenomenon “spiritual emergency.”
Though this sensitivity may have been present for a long time, it can be amplified through precipitating events in one’s life, such as the death of a loved one, a significant trauma, or a change in home, career, or relationship. Drug-induced psychic openings can also cause such a spiritual emergency. Also, people who explore intensive psycho-spiritual practices can be at risk by suddenly immersing themselves in a different and unusual environment and being surprised with dramatic changes in their psyche.
Most psychotherapists are untrained in the proper diagnosis of such spiritual or existential crises, otherwise known under a number of other terms: spiritual emergency, psychic phenomenon, shamanic crisis, Kundalini awakening, psychic opening, episode of unitive consciousness, near-death experience, possession or high-arousal state, and altered state of consciousness, to name a few. Modern psychiatry might diagnose some of these experiences as brief psychotic episode, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression with psychotic features, dissociative disorder, depersonalization, derealization, or panic disorder. The purpose of my dissertation research was to explore these phenomena from a broad and open perspective, with a willingness to learn from the people who have had these experiences. I was especially intrigued with and interested in those who had integrated these experiences in finding meaning and purpose in their lives. This seemed especially useful in helping others who may be undergoing similar experiences find the same kind of rich meaning and purpose for their own experiences.
With patience and persistence, and with the right kind of help and support, these crises can be integrated into a person’s life, enhancing their outlook on themselves and the world.
If you’d like to read more of my writings on the healing process, please see my post on Stigma Fighters here: Finding Myself, Finding Health.