One of the more frequent emails that I get are some basic variation of these:
I have a family member (son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, cousin) or friend who is going through a Spiritual Awakening. How do I help them?
How do I know if my family member/friend is really having a Spiritual Awakening or is just crazy?
How should I know if I should put my family member into counseling/therapy/medication or hospitalization? How do I know if it is the right time for my family member/friend/loved one to get off their medication?
Although different in scope, many of these are really the same sort of question. What you are really asking is if Spiritual Awakenings are real, and if they are, what the hell do we do about them, especially in a world/culture where any sort of mental or emotional deviation from the “norm” is medicated so we can return to the normalcy of what is to be expected of most of our lives.
The biggest issue here is actually not if the person is “crazy” it is if they are functional. This is important to understand. If someone is going through a spiritual experience, no matter how big or mind-blowing or Jesus-talking, Kundalini feeling volcano-ing, seeing stars and communicating with the depths of the universe it is, the person should be reasonably functional in their daily, mundane lives. If they are not, they need help.
Basic Types of Spiritual Awakenings and Functionality
There is then a question of what sort of help they need. Many people have spiritual experiences that can temporarily cause issues in their mundane lives (and by that I mean going to work, going to the grocery store, etc. I certainly do not mean “mundane” as a negative). But even the highest, most intense spiritual issues should be able to be integrated after a period of time. If someone is still reeling from a spiritual experience after a week or two to the point that they are no longer functional, it may be time to take next steps.
Many others have long-term spiritual experiences that are incredibly destabilizing and too overwhelming to process. These are the people that end up hospitalized, medicated, and so forth. Unfortunately what happens in our culture is that once someone is stabilized they are rarely titrated off their medication so they remain medicated and partially stuck in the midst of a spiritual awakening for a good portion of their lives, if not their whole life.
Others have spiritual experiences that are difficult, destabilizing, and are difficult to integrate at times but remain reasonably functional in their lives. This group, if they do not know what is going on, may enter talk therapy, get on medication, or are more likely to seek out a spiritual worker or spiritual counselor, do bodywork or energy work, or seek out a guru who can possibly help them.
Many others are having mild spiritual experiences that they can seek out on weekends, in workshops, through meditation and other means. They are able to go on with their lives and suffer little to no repercussions physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually for having an interest in a spiritual path.
So what to do? What are next steps?
Generally my guidance for this is entirely individualized. But if I were to generalize I would say…
1. If they are reasonably functional in their lives, simply let them be. So they talk about weird stuff, let it go. Support them the best you can even if you do not know what they are talking about. Again, the question isn’t if a psychiatrist in a room with a bunch of ink blots would think that they deviate too far from the “norm” but if they are functional and reasonable in their daily lives. If they are, let them be.
2. If they are reasonably functional typically, but are going through a hard time… consider waiting or other options. This is more individualized. If your loved one is typically a stable, peaceful, and logical individual who is having an intense “wave” of Kundalini, is reliving a trauma in order to process, clear, and heal it, or is dealing with a physical sickness that no doctor can figure out, I would again suggest giving them a bit of time. In spiritual awakenings old events, traumas, and even physical sicknesses come up to release. This can be quite difficult to deal with. In spiritual awakenings an immense amount of energy can get activated and cause a whole range of odd symptoms and behaviors. This can also be difficult to deal with. But if you are dealing with a normally functional, reasonable human being who is having a rough weekend of Kundalini activation, I again would consider letting them be and telling them that you are there for them if they need you. Treat them as if they have the physical flu- ask them if they need anything, make sure they are safe, and offer them some soup or to come over and hang out with them. Suggest that they see an energy worker or spiritual worker familiar with spiritual awakenings so they can develop tools to deal with rough times. If this lack of functioning continues for a period of time (such as over a week or two) or you are in fear for their personal safety, or you cannot get them to see a spiritual worker, you may need to consider next steps.
If your loved one is in the same scenario as above (having a rough week with a lot of symptoms, basically) but they have a background of being emotionally unstable, traumatized, or were not very functional to begin with, you may also need to consider next steps.
3. Medication, Hospitalization, and Psychiatry
I would love if every person experiencing a spiritual awakening could find a spiritual worker or healer that actually knows what they are talking about or doing, or a psychotherapist who wouldn’t judge the person as “abnormal” and tell them to get medication. I would love if every person who was going through a spiritual awakening had loving and available family members to take care of them during the times that they were unable to function (this is, of course, a lot to ask). I would love if every person experiencing a spiritual awakening would take personal responsibility for what is going on and begin learning the tools in order to navigate their experiences, to go to healers to help them through the trauma and issues coming up for processing, and begin meditating, walking, or doing whatever activities were necessary to make them feel whole.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Spiritual awakening is disorienting and it is likely at some points to make the person non-functional. In cases where the person already has a background of trauma or emotional instability it can break them. Many times people undergoing spiritual awakenings need to be able to work, to be a part of their family, or do not have loved ones able to care for them for whatever reason. This is totally understandable.
In mild to moderate cases, or in cases where a normally stable and emotionally sound person is temporarily destabilized, these are always the first steps I suggest. I first suggest bodywork, such as CranioSacral therapy, as well as Spiritual Healing and Counseling to anyone going through a spiritual awakening. I suggest meditation, learning and practicing tools learned through the Spiritual Healer, gentle to moderate exercise, reducing television and Facebook/internet time… but sometimes symptoms are so severe or the person is so traumatized that these “first steps” cannot happen.
In this case I suggest a Transpersonal therapist or a Jungian therapist if you can find one. They are aware of the spiritual dimensions of care but are also part of the typical “Western” allopathic framework- they can suggest medication, hospitalization, and so forth. I would work with them and their suggestions.
In severe cases medication and psychiatric interventions, such as hospitalization, may be necessary. If the person is in danger of hurting themselves, cannot tell where they are, and is completely non-functional they are in need of drastic care, even if it is temporary. In my experience medication (in very few, but still some) cases is necessary- it puts a stop to the spiritual experiences so the person can become more functional. Nobody likes hospitalization, but if it needs to happen it needs to happen.
The “trick” here is even if drastic intervention is necessary, it does not need to be necessary for the rest of their existence. So if someone is destabilized enough that they need hospitalization or medication, allow for that care to save your loved ones life. When they are out of danger, even if they are still in the care of a psychiatrist, even when they are medicated, start working with a bodyworker, Acupuncturist, and a Spiritual Worker so they can process the trauma and experiences they have had and through the Spiritual Worker learn the tools they need.
In some cases, long term medication, or life-long medication needs to happen. In many cases, this does not need to happen. Titration of the medication can occur when the person learns tools and re-stablizes after their experiences. It is up to you, as an advocate for your loved one, as well as your loved on themselves, to express (or unfortunately demand in some cases) a plan for doctor supervised titration of medication, and to make a plan for the side effects of titration (such as acupuncture appointments and herbal medicine) as well as to come to a new sense of normalcy after being medicated for a while.
Spiritual awakening is a healing process. At some points it can get overwhelming, especially for friends and family who have no direct experience or understanding of what is going on. For very few, it is a process that needs to be stopped, medicated, and treated long-term through psychiatry and hospitalization. Although I am not an advocate for allopathic approaches such as medication and hospitalization, I recognize the need for it to happen in some cases, but would like for them in the vast majority of cases to be thought of as temporary and/or life-saving rather than a permanent solution to spiritual awakening issues. The vast majority of people undergoing spiritual awakening may just need the right tools and understandings to navigate their experiences, as well as the right practitioners and loved ones to help them through, before the experiences get to be too intense.
Mary Shutan, L.Ac, CST-D, CZB, ABT offers mini consultations (20 minute phone/Skype calls) and full length consultations (60 minutes) via Phone/Skype to people who wish to find out how to help their loved ones through a spiritual awakening, or wish to have a better understanding of the process. You may contact her here for appointments.