Dark Night of the Soul

How to Survive a Spiritual Emergency

Think you have to be religious to experience a spiritual awakening? Think again. Many people, like me, start out entirely secular. I didn’t believe in anything, was a proud and apparently rational atheist until the rug was pulled from under my feet. All it can take is a little boredom, a little dissatisfaction with the paucity of the material rewards offered by consumerism, a little frustration with daily life, for the searching to start…

Sun barbed wire AA header


Spiritual awakening is another term for the evolution of consciousness. As we seek deeper meaning in our lives, we are pushed beyond our comfort zones and discover there may be more to life than we assumed.

Many people experience spiritual awakening as a gentle emergence. Slowly the wounds of the past are healed, and the Self is discovered to be vast and full of joy. For others, this process of self-discovery is more painful and traumatic. Emergence becomes an emergency.


Spiritual emergency or crisis is what happens when the natural process of spiritual awakening becomes intensified. It moves faster and deeper, becomes enmeshed with earlier wounds yet to heal.

This can be triggered by spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer or yoga; or by drugs, whether psychotropic or otherwise. It can also be accidental, arising from any major turning point in life. The death of a loved one, illness, accident, divorce or the loss of a job, can all trigger a period of profound questioning leading to spiritual awakening.


Everybody experiences awakening in different ways. The restructuring of the psyche as it transcends and heals itself unfolds according to an inner blueprint. The process is impersonal and yet experienced in a unique way.

Positive, inspiring experiences can be mixed with terrifying and debilitating ones, making navigation through the storm complicated at best. Here’s a selection:

  • Mystical experiences of oneness, bliss and awe
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sounds, smells, etc.
  • Confusion caused by the merger of inner and outer worlds
  • Dark Night of the Soul or profound depression and loss of meaning

Resistance is Futile

Awakening is an opportunity to learn to surrender and trust life, to move into freedom and co-creation, and find wholeness. But before you get there you may have to confront the dark side. As consciousness expands, the ego resists. Old ideas and concepts are torn down, but the ego tries to hang on to the reins. Anything unresolved or repressed from the past will resurface and demand attention.

If you find yourself undergoing a spiritual awakening – don’t panic! You’re not going crazy. It’s true there is often regressive, psychotic stuff mixed in with the glorious transpersonal, and it can be hard to tell the difference when it’s all swirling through your head. But there is a way through.

What to do

Seek support: find friends, family, a spiritual community, or sympathetic health care professionals to help you through. You may feel alone, but you don’t have to be. Start with the links below.

Take your time: there’s no rush. Let the process unfold naturally. It’s not a race and you’re already at the finish line, even if you don’t yet realise it.

Write it down: find a way to express what you’re experiencing. Write, paint, dance, plant a window box, anything that gets what’s in your head, out so you can see it more clearly.

Look for the lesson: ask for insight, look for the deeper meaning. Don’t take anything at face value.

Don’t panic: it may look like you’re losing everything. Old structures like jobs, relationships, living arrangements, may change, but new structures will grow from the rubble.

Practise gratitude: be thankful for the opportunity to awaken. It’s a great gift.

Have hope: the sun always rises!

More (better!) Posts

Resources for Surviving a Dark Night of the Soul – tons of links and resources

How to Survive a Dark Night of the Soul

Love’s Ordeal: The Dark Night of the Soul

The Handless Maiden: Healing a Dark Night of the Soul – series

The Hidden Dangers of Mindfulness

Dark Angel: Hecate and the Dark Night

Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic was inspired by my own experience of spiritual emergency and awakening. Find out more here.

6 thoughts on “How to Survive a Spiritual Emergency

  1. Reblogged this on Madhupa Maypop and commented:
    I thought this blog post by a writer in the UK was a great summary of the nature of a Spiritual Emergence(y). She breaks down a rather complex process into digestible bites.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. I went through a fairly long period of intermittent depressions, and I found two of your suggestions to be particularly helpful: find friends and write it out – including dreams. It was an excruciating time, and I did contemplate suicide, but I had children, and didn’t want to do that to them. On the other side, now (and through menopause) I feel quite happy with my life. I haven’t had a depression in over two decades.


    1. Joanne, I’m happy you’re through the other side. It can be extremely rough, especially if you have children. My heart goes out to you and I’m glad you’re depression free now.


  3. Hi
    I’ve recently gone through a 15 year long spiritual emergency. If you know of anyone who needs support going through theirs, please have them contact me at jetanoir@hotmail.com


    1. Hello Jen
      Thanks for commenting and leaving your generous offer of help for others. Do you have a website or business, such as a therapy practice, where people could find out more about your work?


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