Saturday, 3 October 2009

Spiritual Crisis

It has become increasingly evident that many people are experiencing episodes of extra ordinary states of consciousness. These episodes are usually accompanied by emotional stress, anxiety or hyper - aroused states of being.

Spiritual or transpersonal crises, can occur spontaneously. They can be triggered by emotional stress, physical exertion and disease, accidents, intense sexual experiences, childbirth, or exposure to psychedelic drugs. However, in many instances the catalysing factor is meditative practices, which are specifically designed to activate spiritual energies. As spiritual disciplines are gaining in popularity in the West, an increasing number of people are experiencing transpersonal crises that can be traced to their practice of Yoga, Zen, Taoism, Tai Chi, Qigong, Pranayama, Kundalini Awakenings, Tibetan Buddhist psycho-energetic exercises, and other forms of intense and focused self-exploration.

Never was this more apparent than at a funeral I attended this week. It was a friend who succumbed to cancer at a very young age. When advised of her imminent death, she was forced into spiritual crisis. Following advice, meditation and prayer with her chosen faith, she was able to transcend her fear and pain and rose to a higher state of being. At her death many friends testified to her state of grace. During her funeral, it was also evident that many people were also in spiritual crisis as a result of their anxiety and loss. Their beliefs were being severely challenged and they (understandably) were functioning with some difficulty.

Traditional psychiatry would recognise many people's spiritual behaviours as being 'psychotic'. This is because it does not distinguish between mystical and psychotic experience. As a result, it labels spiritual crises as 'wrong' and seeks to suppress them with chemical therapies - and also does not accept the transformational and beneficial effects.

However, not all unusual states of consciousness can be categorised as spiritual. It takes input from doctors and clinical psychologists to ensure that there are no underlying malfunctions of the body and brain. Not everyone is neurologically typical (NT), and there are many psychiatric disorders that can produce similar experiences. The difference with these non-NT cases is that they are not transformative, and severely inhibit normal social activity.

On a broader scale, modern tension and anxiety within society can catalyse into mass spiritual crises. Recent events like Princess Diana's death, the World Trade Centre and the Boxing Day Tsunami place many thousands of people into states of altered consciousness as they seek for meaning to tragic news. The majority of these experiences are shared amongst the neurologically typical with no long-lasting effects, and in many cases, people learn and grow and become higher functioning people as a result.

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