“Spiritual Emergency” refers to a crisis during one’s spiritual transformation. Spiritual emergencies may happen after dramatic STEs and due to challenging unusual states of mind that may happen during a person’s spiritual awakening process (aka spiritual emergence). The terms “spiritual emergence syndrome” and “spiritual emergency” were coined by California psychiatrist Stan Grof MD and his wife Christina Grof.
Spiritual Emergencies are not a mental illness. Traditional psychiatry might misdiagnose and treat spiritual emergencies as a mental illness. However, spiritual emergencies are not mental illness.
Spiritual Emergencies usually resolve on their own, with adequate support for the Experiencer, with the passage of time, and with the Experiencer increasing their grounding activities.
Signs of Spiritual Emergency
STE Experiencers having a Spiritual Emergency may have some of the following signs:
- Challenged. Feel challenged by the intensity or nature of their STE experiences.
- Difficulty functioning fully. Feel challenged to function fully in their daily outer activities. Feel they need time to sit with and process their inner experiences.
- Distracted. May feel very distracted by the STE experiences.
- Unusual ideas. May have temporary inflated or unusual ideas, but otherwise their thought processes and judgement are clear.
- Difficulty separating from inner experiences. May feel challenged at times to separate inner and outer realities. May at times feel overwhelmed by their inner experiences.
- Aware of inner process. Are aware at some level that their STE experiences are part of an inner process.
- Fear of mental illness. May have fear of losing control, or a fear of having or developing a mental illness.
- Unusual behaviors. May have some mildly unusual behaviors.
- Inner visions. May be challenged by distressing inner visions, but is able to tolerate them.
- Inner voices. Can ignore or block out inner voices and inner guidance heard, if they so choose.
- Ethical. Moral and ethical values remain intact.
- Emotional sensitivity. Has fairly appropriate emotional responses, although they may be very emotionally sensitive.
- Slower decisions. Has some difficulty and requires extra time in making discerning judgments.
Grounding strategies help restore balance. Grounding strategies tend to decrease the frequency and intensity of STEs, and help you feel more connected to the outer world, while you are integrating your STEs. If you feel “spacey”, unbalanced, or overwhelmed by the intensity and frequency of your STEs, inner calm and balance can usually be restored by using some of these grounding strategies.
- Moderate the length of time spent in daily meditation. If you meditate regularly, for grounding decrease your meditation time to a maximum of half an hour, twice a day, or for more grounding to 15 minutes twice a day. If you are in a supportive spiritual environment such as at a meditation retreat, meditating several times a day for moderate lengths of time, may be very helpful and grounding. If you do not regularly meditate, strive to sit in silence for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day.
- Pray. Short prayers several times a day are more grounding than long meditations. Anchoring in Spirit regularly, and asking inwardly for spiritual help during your crisis can be very comforting and grounding.
- Increase your daily physical exercise. Do some aerobic physical exercise daily, such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Walking outdoors in a peaceful natural environment is very grounding.
- Slow down, decrease stress in your life.
- Increase your sleep, rest, and relaxation time.
- Do some manual work, such as cooking, housecleaning, or yard work. Manual work where your hands touch the earth, like gardening, is particularly grounding.
- Follow a routine. Try to follow a fixed daily routine. The structure will help ground you.
- Keep your eyes open while awake. Avoid closing your eyes and drifting into your imagination. Focus your attention on the world outside of you.
- Take several deep slow breaths, with your eyes open.
- Decrease all forms of concentration.
- Decrease amounts of reading. Give your mind a rest. Keep your mind grounded on the outer world and worldly tasks, rather than focused on inner thoughts.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of three large ones per day. Eating a light snack or small meal every 3 hours or so often helps those in spiritual emergency feel more balanced and grounded.
- Eat a healthy diet. Strive for a balanced healthy diet. Avoid excessive sugar and junk foods. Note that some people crave sugar after an intense STE, and at those time a small sweet snack can have a positive grounding effect.
- Increase your daily intake of protein, such as cheese, yogurt, other dairy products, nuts, legumes, chicken, and fish, for a natural grounding effect.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Cut down or cut out alcohol. Limit yourself to an occasional glass of beer or wine.
- Stop all recreational drugs, including marijuana, if you haven’t already done so.
- Rub your body. Increase your body awareness by rubbing your body, massaging your legs and feet, or taking a warm bath or shower and vigorously scrubbing your body, massaging your scalp, and washing your hair.
- Have a vigorous massage to increase body awareness.
- Spend time in nature. Regularly spend some time outdoors daily in a park or other quiet natural environment.
- Be exposed to natural light daily.
- Walk or play outdoors with your pets or children. Looking after young children or pets will help to pull you out of your thoughts and keep you grounded.
- Moderate your sex life. Listen to your body. If your sex drive is very high, having sex and orgasm with your partner may release sexual tension and have a grounding effect. However, if your sex drive is very low, it is more grounding to not have sex or masturbate at that time.
- Visualize your energies moving down from your head, moving down to the base of your spine, and staying grounded there.
- Visualize your energies traveling down your legs to your feet, and focus on feeling your feet firmly planted on the ground. Feel your energies linking you to the ground. Stamp your feet on the ground.
- Visualize your energies extending deep into planet earth, radiating down from your feet, then moving down to the center of the earth. Feel your energy connect or hook to the center of the earth.
- Find a creative outlet to express your energy, such as art, dance, music, or writing.
- Journal. Start a daily journal to write down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- Take time off from work if necessary, and spend some time in a peaceful, quiet environment, such as a cottage or a retreat.
- Try to flow with surfacing psychological or spiritual issues rather than trying to resist or struggle against them. Spontaneous surfacing of unresolved memories happens frequently after STEs, and is part of an inner psycho-spiritual housecleaning process. This is a normal, healthy, and important part of the spiritual awakening process.
- Get support. Talk with supportive, understanding friends or family. Go to a local support group. Speak with a supportive counselor, therapist, or doctor knowledgeable about STEs. This will help you feel less alone, and with their validation and support help you feel more grounded.
[Reference: Kason, Yvonne. Touched by the Light. 2019]
Are You in Crisis Now?
Suggested Further Reading on Spiritual Emergency
Bragdon, Emma. A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergency. Los Altos, California: Lightening Up Press, 1988.
Bragdon, Emma. The Call of Spiritual Emergency: From Person Crisis to Personal Transformation. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990.
Grof, Stanislav, and Christina Grof, eds. Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989.
Kason, Yvonne. Touched by the Light: Exploring Spiritually Transformative Experiences. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2019.