By Kathy Ryndak and Gord Riddell
The process of spiritual awakening is most often an uncomfortable and painful event. While many people may have an interest in the spiritual realms and the history of world religions and spirituality, true spiritual awakening is usually precipitated by an event in an individual's life. This spiritual crisis involves many levels of ourselves, including the physical, mental, and emotional. As such it can be confusing for many people, including health care providers, as to what is really happening for the individual.
An emotional crisis is most often experienced when emotional energy has been repressed over a number of years. Increasing pressures and stressors in an individual's life, results in the inability to hold in feelings any longer. Now, two things can happen: the energy will be uncontrollably directed outward through cathartic release, such as intense crying and/or anger; or, the individual will experience clinical depression. If this occurs, not only are the emotions locked in further, but the physical self is affected, including such issues as sleep problems, weight loss, loss of appetite, irritability, lethargy, and low interest in daily life, to name but a few. Again, the precipitating factors for this kind of response to emotional crisis are inadequate coping skills, inability to access and express emotion in a constructive manner, and inability to ask for help.
The spiritual crisis, while it may look similar to an emotional crisis, differs in a number of ways. First, the crisis is almost always sparked by a loss in the individual's life. This may be loss of health, job, a loved one, a relationship or even financial loss. To clarify loss of health - this includes not only disease or accidents, but also addiction. The important thing to look for in differentiating between an emotional and a spiritual crisis is the presence of a loss.
It is in the early stages of a spiritual crisis that we can confuse what is happening, because the individual will be experiencing a lot of emotions about the loss. As such, we may simply equate all these feelings with the grieving process. While there is little doubt grief is present, what is important it is how the individual uses grief in their process.
The spiritual crisis forces us to examine our value systems and beliefs. It is an internal drive to seek a deeper meaning for our life. We will question everything in our lives, from jobs, to our relationships, to our friends and activities. Importantly, we will question the loss itself - its meaning and what we can learn from it. Again, the difference between emotional and spiritual crisis is that the emotional is not questioned in the same way. We may ask out loud why certain things happened to us as children, but we don't search for the meaning in the same way as when we experience a spiritual crisis. As a result of this deeper examination, we will hopefully move forward to create a new lifestyle that is more in touch with our evolving sense of values. When the crisis is over, we will have eliminated those aspects, which no longer work for us and incorporated more positive activities and people.
During a spiritual crisis an individual will feel disconnected and cut off from the world. They may even feel like a zombie, going through the motions, but not emotionally experiencing anything. It is during this time that an individual will describe themselves as not knowing "who they are anymore." It is dangerous to confuse a spiritual crisis with an emotional one and then introduce medication to relieve some of the emotional experiences - the spiritual crisis is then into an emotional one. The self-examination of beliefs and values can be all but eliminated by medication. The awakening of the spiritual self to a more conscious awareness is halted (or at least slowed) and will not begin to reawaken until the conditions are once again right in the individual's life.
Another way to remember the difference is an emotional crisis regressive, while a spiritual crisis is progressive. In other words, one takes us back to the old, the other takes us forward through self-examination. If you suspect as individual or yourself to be experiencing a spiritual crisis/awakening, find help in the form of a person who understands the difference between an emotional versus spiritual experience, and allow that person to give you some feedback and direction during this time. it is important to not that we need other knowledgeable people to give us insight and direction during this experience: we do not have to do it alone. The use of spiritual techniques such as meditation, prayer, chanting, movement (yoga, dance), and connecting with nature are all important tools. The less an individual does for themselves during this time, the longer the crisis/phase will last.
Lastly, if you have been given a gift to re-examine your life, don't stop there: implement the changes you are being urged to make from the inside and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Too many people receive the awareness, but don't carry through to make the changes to reap the rewards.