Psychology

Evolution of Consciousness: Spiritual Crisis

Life has an uncanny ability to undermine your sense of self-importance and competence. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to make sense of it. You’ll never fully know yourself and life will always surprise you. This is good, but we don’t always see it that way.

When you identify with your ego you live inside a mental construct. You have a set of ideas, or stories, that define who you think you are. But life is bigger than your ideas, so it tends to undermine what you believe. There’s a conflict between the way you want to see yourself (ego) and the way life actually works.

Hang On To Your Ego

The ego wants to keep things safe and secure by making them permanent, solid and real. Life is unpredictable and keeps changing. You do your best to keep the chaos under control, but you’re fighting a losing battle. You can’t stop people dying, getting ill, getting old or leaving. The things that really matter are the things you have the least control over.

This makes you feel powerless which can trigger anxieties from early childhood when you were dependant on your parents for survival. Feeling powerless can bring on a state of panic or rage; even more scary because it’s just another way to lose control. You feel threatened by these feelings because they undermine your sense of self and your feeling of being in the driving seat at the centre of your life. The more you try to defend yourself against all the things in life you don’t understand, the more separate you feel from others, even those closest to you. Your involvement in life retreats to the surface. You can’t risk feeling anything too deeply because you might lose control. So you end up feeling vaguely anxious, alienated and bored.

Whatever!

Outwardly, you may appear to be fine. You bury your panic and fear beneath a false smile and distract yourself with work, booze, TV, and pictures of cats on Facebook.

How long can you last before the façade starts to crumble?

Empty Bench
What does it all mean?

Ultimate Concerns

We need a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives because it helps us to define ourselves. If you find yourself in a situation you can’t control or feel something you don’t understand, it undermines your ability to make sense of your life. When this happens, you’re forced to come to terms with life’s ultimate concerns:

  • Meaninglessness
  • Aloneness
  • Freedom
  • Death

These are all intimately connected and can’t be avoided, at least not forever. We try to ignore them, deny they concern us, and build impressive defences to hold them at bay. But everyone must face death eventually, and you go through it alone. You must choose your definition of meaning and you could be wrong. You alone are responsible for the choices you make. You make your choice, take the consequences, and then you die.

This crisis of meaning is often triggered by a major change or event in your life. It doesn’t even have to be a negative event, the birth of a child or marriage involve just as much upheaval.

Whatever happens, it makes you think about your life in ways you never have before. You start to ask questions to which you don’t know the answers.

Why am I doing this? Where is this heading? What’s going on? Who am I?

The usual superficial answers are no longer enough. Up until this moment you’ve accepted the way you are and the way life seems to be. You had no reason to question anything because it worked. Then the façade starts to crack. You can’t put your finger on what it is, there’s just this horrible dissatisfaction and restlessness. All the usual ways of making sense of your life are failing. You don’t believe in anything anymore. All possibilities are relative and as it all ends in death, what is the point? What difference does anything make in the long run?

Feelings of boredom, unease or emptiness can appear abruptly or come and go in waves. You might try to avoid dealing with the existential vacuum by throwing yourself even more compulsively into your day-to-day routine and distractions. You hang on to what you previously thought was true and try to reinforce your ego at all costs. You can’t afford to let go now, you’ve come so far. It would be madness to lose control now and throw it all away.

You may believe there’s something wrong with you for feeling like this. Everyone else seems to be okay, they don’t have any problems. But then again, on the surface, you don’t appear to have any problems either – not real ones. If you could just stop having these mad thoughts and asking stupid questions that have no answers, you’d be fine. Wouldn’t you?

What has gone wrong?

Nothing.

Remember the house building metaphor: it’s like the roof has been ripped off, shaking the house to its foundations. All the walls are moving, the stuff in the rooms is getting blown about, and the ceiling in the basement has finally given up and caved in.

Congratulations!

You’re beginning to transcend the level of Ego. The mind is transcending itself and discovering that there are no concepts outside of itself so it doesn’t know what to think anymore.

It is possible to avoid this crisis until the moment of your physical death. Many, many people do this and spend their lives on the run from their own fear and doubt. It’s not a fun way to live and I don’t recommend it. If you want to find your way through this spiritual crisis, you’re going to have to pay attention to what’s going on inside of you. So sooner or later you’re going to come slap bang up against that pesky existential crisis again.

The only way through this is to surrender to the process already taking place and evolve to the next level. You’ve survived several stages of development already. You started in primal Unity, then differentiated into an Emotional self as you explored your body and the world. With the development of language came the Membership self, which blossomed finally into the Ego. You discovered that the creation of the ego brought about a split within yourself, and your unacceptable parts were denied consciousness and formed your Shadow.

Once you’ve reached this stage of development, the psyche naturally starts to move to the next level. The archetype representing the next level constellates in your being and you start to dis-identify from the ego. But the ego resists because it’s insecure and scared. It’s not going to allow itself to be transcended. Not without a fight.

Next time we’ll take a closer look at why the ego resists its own demise in: Army of Me

Read the whole series here: Evolution of Consciousness
Visit the Dark Night Resources page for tons of links:resources-dark-night

Image: Empty Bench

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16 thoughts on “Evolution of Consciousness: Spiritual Crisis

  1. My mother was and still is a person who lived in a great deal of fear, anxiety, and anger at herself and the world around her, pretty much anything she could blame for her problems (sometimes ended up being her kids). I was told when I was young that it was because she refused to evolve and it’s been something I’ve pondered for years. This post of yours brought all that back to the forefront of my mind and really made me contemplate that whole idea again. It makes a great deal of sense, the way you put it.

    I also agree with peterj. That is am incredibly interesting concept.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article, Jessica. I can relate to the whole Dark Night of the Soul / Spiritual Crisis thing from experience.
    It is time that we get more honest descriptions about this uncharted terrain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many more people are starting to wake up now, so perhaps that will change. I wasn’t aware how dark things could get in this process until it happened to me. So many of the contemporary (new age) books written about the spiritual path seem to gloss over it or don’t mention it at all – as if you can just jump from being stuck in the ego to being clear, open and free without even breaking a sweat!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Most of the new age books I’ve read don’t seem to promote spiritual development at all. They’re a combination of New Thought miracle cures and positive psychology recipes for self-improvement, wealth and permanent happiness.

        I don’t think they’d sell too well if they said they’d lead you into Stygian darkness and leave you to find your own way out.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was going through my own dark night (or decade) of the soul and everyone – especially me – was telling me I was sick or broken I had one wise friend who kept assuring me I was undergoing a spiritual crisis which she couched in terms similar to yours.

    The problem was I was pathologically incapable of seeing it at the time.

    Despite (or because of?) my self-contempt my ego was probably stronger than it had ever been but had completely lost its power to sustain me. All I could see – with perfect clarity – was my own utter failure and the futility of ever expecting anything else from life.

    Since coming through it I’ve tried to reassure another person who seemed to be undergoing something similar only to see the same disbelief my friend must have seen in me.

    I wonder if that’s universal. Whether the loss of all faith that comes with such a crisis also entails a loss of faith that it can ever end or lead to something positive. Or is it a culture bound problem related to the paradigms of individualism and success promoted by our society? Or is it just me?

    Perhaps the most dangerous mine in the field is the nascent realisation that the only escape from a life of existential despair is death and failure to recognise that the death of the ego isn’t necessarily equivalent to the death of the body.

    How many people have killed themselves while on the brink of their awakening?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t think it’s just you, cabrogal. I’ve experienced a similar feeling – the total loss of faith in myself and in life. There were times when I was convinced there was no way out other than physical death. Thankfully I’d had enough glimpses of my true nature beyond the ego, so I knew death wasn’t the answer.

      It’s an interesting cultural question though – how much is the dark night compounded by our society’s sick obsession with materialism and ego glorification? Perhaps this process would be easier to go through if we were living in a more enlightened culture.

      Great comment – you got me thinking… thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thankfully I’d had enough glimpses of my true nature beyond the ego, so I knew death wasn’t the answer.

        Even that seemed more liability than asset to me.

        When I was in the pit I lost my capacity to escape my own ego, either ‘naturally’ or with the assistance of psychedelic drugs. I easily convinced myself that – along with all my other spiritual striving – it had just been a delusional dead end. If there was such a thing as true transcendence I clearly wasn’t fit for it and any apparent hints of it had been symptoms of my pathology (my bipolar one diagnosis probably contributed to that).

        I still consider the fact that I came through it at all to be dumb luck rather than a product of virtue or effort. If I was trying to write an inspirational text about it I might say it was the power of love that saved me, but really my determination to postpone suicide until my frail, bipolar grandmother had died was just an ego-bound attempt to hang onto the last shreds of my self-image as I slid into the abyss. I was worried about what people might think of me after I was dead.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s possible to have positive, life-affirming reasons for doing something at the same time as being a raging ego maniac – we’re so complex and messed up, who knows what’s really going on underneath? So don’t be too hard on yourself, cabrogal!

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        2. In case it’s any use, Cabrogal, I would recommend a browse through Krishna Prem’s commentary on the Bhagavat Gita. Lots of good stuff about the ego and its transcendence, but also lots of reassuring words about how damn difficult it is to sort out and how to do with minimum stress. A wonderful book.

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        3. Thanks for the tip Peter.

          I think I’m through the rough patch. After nine and a half years of utter despair the whole thing resolved itself in October 2012 in the most wonderful way imaginable (in fact it was unimaginable until it happened).

          Nonetheless your reference sounds interesting and I’ll look it up. I once used to ‘collect’ commentaries on the Gita – mainly to see how the writers interpreted some of Krishna’s more dubious advice to Arjuna. I think the best one I read was Aurobindo’s and one of the most disappointing was Gandhi’s, but I’ve never read Krishna Prem’s. I’ll try to rectify that.

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        4. Aha. A friend argues that Aurobindo’s commentary is better than Prem’s, but my view would be that this will depend on who is reading it. I found Prem’s to be very helpful in all sorts of practical ways and would see it as authoritative. The man himself is fascinating, coming form the background he did and at that time in history. His western and scientific background seem to give him an edge for western readers. .

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