Spiritual “Emergency” or Emergence

William Blake's painting of the soul reuniting with the body, represented by a woman embracing a man in a burning room
– William Blake, highlight from “The Reunion of the Soul and the Body”

Sometimes what brings people to counselling is not something that is easily found in medical journals. Even though people may suffer from terrible symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression, it isn’t always because something is necessarily “wrong” with them. It is sometimes more the case that something is wrong with the lives that they are living.

They may be doing all the “right” things.  They may have the career, home, and family that they have always wanted.  They may have friends, hobbies, and a retirement plan. But somehow it all fails to satisfy them. Somewhere along the line their interest slowly faded, and it all began to feel old and worn and tired.

“My life isn’t working” is always a challenging discovery. Seeking to know why it doesn’t work is always difficult and painful psychological work, for it often requires grieving all that has already seemingly “died” to us. But it also brings a potential for discoveries, especially self discovery. No matter how uncomfortable the work makes us, it’s a chance to begin to find a new way to live, and a life that is more worth living. Jung called this work individuation, for by doing it one becomes the individual one was always meant to be.

A spiritual crisis is a crisis of meaning. Traditionally religions have always played the role establishing meaning and values and for both individuals and communities. But if one stops believing in these external systems and institutions, the task before them is to start to listen to the part of themselves that is causing the exodus.  A term for this inner locus of identity is “soul.”  Our souls do not want us to only lives of adaption.  They also want us to become and be more of who we truly are.

Becoming who we are requires us to begin listening to our “gut,” and not only to our minds and its so called “reason.”  It often entails seeking to know what still holds energy for us, and to try to discover where all our passion went.  This always feels like a “crisis” because it asks us to trade the safety and surety of what’s known for something unknown.

The term “spiritual emergency” is more often used when a spiritual crisis is of truly epic proportions. It can include occurrences knows as “Kundalini awakenings” that do not only bring intense psychological challenges, but also difficult and painful physical symptoms and changes as well. Spiritual emergency is a fitting term because it captures something of the radical life changing nature and the deep anxiety and fear that an individual experiences when she is going through one.

Yet no matter how difficult a spiritual emergency may be, it also always comes with change for a spiritual “emergence.” It indicates that a major transformation is occurring within one’s psyche —that a true, and a completely natural, metamorphosis is already underway.  For those who find themselves in this position, part of their task is to get their ego, the center of their conscious awareness, to ally itself with the changes that are happening within, rather than to fight against them.  Any fighting is only a war with oneself.

In either spiritual crises or emergencies, counsellors and psychotherapists who are able to accept and understand what is occurring, and who have the capacity to follow the specific cues from the client’s experience, can often provide a great deal of support. They can also help with the additional problem of social isolation that can always, unfortunately, attend these occurrences. A good enough counsellor should not only be a supportive guide throughout the process, but also a companion and ally within it.