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Lifeline Crisis Support
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Transpersonal and transformative experiences -- those of spiritual awakening – contain both promise and peril, both power and problem. By their very nature, such experiences do not fit our normal conceptions about the nature of reality, the world, and ourselves. Our usual thought patterns – coming from our worldview or paradigm – are not generally large enough to contain other-dimensional experiences. They demand that we change ourselves at a fundamental level. Naturally, this is uncomfortable at least and possibly crazy-making: not only to we who are experiencing such things, but also to friends and family members who have not been party to the experiences. We may seriously wonder if we are losing our minds, descending into some sort of deep pathology, when before we might have enjoyed a high level of mental health.
As the experiences unfold, we try desperately to “stay in control”, keeping old behaviour patterns the same as they were before, but the strategy doesn’t work. Transformative and awakening experiences move us – sometimes forcefully – to a more expansive concept of the potential of our lives. While the conscious pursuit of spiritual growth can be incremental -- fine-tuning aspects of our personalities as we gradually incorporate finer and finer energies and understandings into our being -- transformative experiences, which largely come unbidden, are like a quantum leap. They feel qualitatively different and require the services of a counsellor or therapist with a transpersonal orientation.
The triggers of transformational crises are many, and sometimes can be identified. They can be primarily physical, such as a disease, accident, or operation. They can arise from extreme physical stress, such as a prolonged period of exertion, lack of sleep, or childbirth experience, including birth, miscarriage, and abortion. Experiences of spiritual emergency can also follow powerful emotional experiences, such as the loss through death, divorce, or otherwise of an important relationship. Similarly, failures such as loss of a job, property loss, or failure of a business or personal venture can trigger the evolutionary crisis of transformation. Finally, involvement in various forms of meditation and spiritual practice can activate spiritual experiences much more intense than the meditator expected to have.
It is a complex challenge to address a process as subtle and deep as spiritual awakening. Many psychologists either avoid dealing with such experiences or label them as pathological. Religious organisations believe that they are open to such experiences, but often fail to comprehend or encompass them, resorting to superficial platitudes to explain to or counsel the experiencer. Friends and family who have not experienced anything similar may also delay or even derail the process of integrating the energies by trying to get the person “help” for their sudden “craziness” . Transformational experiences come in many forms, so neither the individual experiencing them nor others in his or her life may understand at first what is happening. To all of these, some aspects of an awakening may seem like a breakdown, an unexplained change in energy level and/or motivation which can be misconstrued as symptoms of psychological malfunctioning. It may very well not be. In order to move through such crises realising the full transformative potential that they contain, you need a counsellor/therapist who is pursuing his or her own spiritual path, and who has had some meaningful transpersonal experience which has experientially validated a transpersonal viewpoint (Young Brown, 1983; Grof & Grof, 1989; Vaughn-Clark, 1977).
Mind Your Head is an initiative of the Australian Counselling Association, a national professional association for qualified Counsellors.