Understanding the Mechanics of Awakening

What happens during the spiritual awakening process is that latent traumas arise into conscious awareness to be processed. Before this time, we were living out these traumas without awareness (looping through them again and again), along with the beliefs that go along with them (trauma creates a shift in beliefs, as well as changes our perceptions of reality. Or I should say, trauma causes for us to focus on specific things in our reality at the expense of others).

This processing is not just spiritual, or even mental, it is also emotional as well as physical. In more holistic understandings, our bodies hold on to the traumas that we were not able to navigate properly at the time. This is typically because we lacked the tools, consciousness (such as being a five year old who cannot feasibly understand her parent’s divorcing), as well as space and time to be able to heal from something traumatic that has occurred.

The show must go on, as the saying goes. And it does, but with the part of ourselves that is still overwhelmed, traumatized, or confused encapsulated (or frozen) within the body, mind, and spirit, resulting in significant belief changes, responses to reality (for example, hyperarousal– being continually on edge), and defense mechanisms being enacted so that said show can go on.

Later processing during awakening may be about spiritual matters that go much deeper than traditional psychotherapy or other methods of viewing reality, such as an understanding that trauma can be passed down; we are living out the stresses and traumatic experiences that our ancestors could not tend to, for example.

Still deeper processing reveals that we are living out our conditioning and modeling ourselves in regards to what society, our family, our culture, etc. want us to be, which has caused for us to lose contact with who we are, and to not be able to see ourselves as well as our reality clearly.

So what is Spiritual Emergency?

Spiritual emergency occurs as a result of a spiritual experience or awakening process in which what is emerging is too difficult for the conscious mind to grapple with, or for the body, spirit, and mind to be able to process in a healthy way (as in, not resulting in overwhelm or more trauma).

Spiritual emergency has two facets to it. The first is understanding what is meant by the term emergency. This term generally means that the individual is experiencing difficulty functioning as a result of their spiritual insights or experiences.

This may be total collapse– such as not being able to function at all, or needing a period of solitude or withdrawal from society. This may also be partial functioning– such as being able to go to work and do basic chores, but not much else, as a result of spiritual experiences.

This can occur for a multitude of reasons. The first is that an ongoing spiritual process on top of life stress, prior trauma, or living in a world that disregards and denies emotional and spiritual reality, can result in a state of burnout or simply an inability to cope with it all.

In some spiritual awakening processes, like kundalini awakenings, what may be coming up is a lot of past trauma and conditioning all at once. So it can be sheer overwhelm just contending with what is arising, let alone attempting to deal with career, school, family, bills, and other life experiences.

The second most common is that a single spiritual experience or insight is so clear, so drastically different, so profound, that it results in a massive “ego death”; basically, everything that you thought you knew about yourself and the world has changed as a result of a sudden moment of clarity; it can be overwhelming to expand beyond what is known, to establish a new identity, a new center, a new way of being, and as a result of such a profound insight, such expansion and change can and do occur, sometimes quite rapidly.

The third most common is that due to our separation from nature, our bodies, from the spirit realms, from our emotions, and our massive amount of time online, we truly believe that we are separate. We are not intended to deal with “larger energies” like realizations, traumas, and other issues alone. Our nervous systems simply are not intended to deal with it all. We are meant to heal in interrelationship: through nature, with one another.

Having lost this to a large degree, we struggle to not only heal (because we are attempting to heal alone, with the belief that we should heal alone) but also with the massive amount of conditioning and confusion and soul loss that has emerged from our collective separation from nature, from one another, and from the spiritual realms.

We lack emotional, energetic, as well as spiritual skills in the modern world that would allow for us to cope with or understand the spiritual awakening process.

In the modern world it may be a task all on its own to even register the reality that something spiritual is going on, let alone to term it a spiritual emergency, and to be willing and able to seek the appropriate assistance for it, as well as to find helpful individuals to guide us through it.

The Second Part of Spiritual Emergency: Emergence

The second aspect of spiritual emergency is the understanding of emergence. Spiritual emergency is a breakdown and re-emergence.

In some cases, that breakdown and re-emergence is a small step. In other cases, it is an ushering in of a totally new phase of being. Basically, we can think of this as you being a book. In some cases, you are moving on to the next sentence or the next word. In other cases, the next paragraph or next chapter. In other cases, you are moving on to a whole new section of the book.

In my books, I talk about how the traumas and emotions that are arising are important to attend to, but that they should be clearly seen as side-effects. 

Instead of focusing on the label (like spiritual awakening, kundalini, “enlightenment”) I suggest focusing on what is preventing you from living a healed, healthy, and connected life. This prevents ego inflation, as well as refocuses the self on what is in the way of that expansion– the traumas, emotions, and other barriers that are preventing that expansion.

It is really easy, and totally understandable, considering the amount of misinformation about any type of spiritual process in the modern world, to become really “hooked in” or immersed in the sheer amount of material (prior traumas and emotions) that arise to be processed in any type of awakening.

But there is a purpose to it: the emergence of a new self. Expansion. Moving beyond limitations, beyond limiting thoughts, beliefs, and realizations, with a new, expanded being emerging as a result of the process.

Basically, as a result of this breakdown and re-emergence, a new, more connected, view of reality emerges (if all goes well). One in which we move beyond our own immediate considerations into noticing ourselves in greater and greater ways connected to and in interrelationship with vaster and vaster webs. Our families, our communities, and gradually even greater webs, like the world, or even the Universe.

What if this re-emergence isn’t happening?

If this re-emergence isn’t happening, there are likely a few reasons.

The first may be that what is happening is overwhelming to the extent that there is a need for assistance. I would highly discourage chat rooms and Internet forums, because although there are positive aspects to such things, often they are populated by people who are confused and seeking answers, or may be confused and offering answers that are not helpful. They can be a place to find community, but part of the initiation of the modern world is to recognize on deeper and deeper levels what information comes from a place of embodied experience. Meaning not just philosophy, or intellectualism, or what someone has decided for themselves in a vacuum (without the education or experience to back it up), but people who authentically have information because they have both educated themselves properly as well as lived through the experience, or have worked with it long enough (for example, with students or clients) to move beyond their individual experiences into understanding what a lot of people have experienced and commonalities in those experiences.

People do tend to get stuck in their trauma, often for good reason. Seeking bodywork, such as CranioSacral therapy, Chinese Medicine (acupuncture and herbal therapy), or Ayurvedic care from a caring professional who is willing to consider sensitive, traumatized, or complex cases (you can often look at their training to see if they have an interest in spiritual matters, as well as simply ask them if they have a specialty working with emotions, trauma, or spiritual concerns) allows for healing of the continuum– mind, body, and spirit, rather than a single facet of it.

As part of the modern world, we tend to separate ourselves and deny our need for tending to our emotional health, or even shame others for seeking care for theirs. While there are difficulties with modern psychotherapy, finding a competent therapist, social worker, or mental health professional who is willing to do talk therapy can be really helpful to work your way through all that is arising, especially if it is emotionally dominant processing that is occurring.

I will mention that an odd thing that happens with any spiritual subject is that people really love labels, and it is easy to turn the concept of spiritual emergency and awakening on its head. Basically, to use terms as a defense mechanism against reality, for egoic needs, to perpetuate ignorance, or to separate and isolate– further consolidating traumatized thinking and a traumatized, fractured way of being in the world.

Awakening happens through the body, and is expressed through our daily lives: our actions, thoughts, and relationships with others. If this is not happening, a more embodied spirituality, one that does not see spirituality as separate from your life, may need to occur.

Also, you may need a break from spiritual study and practices. Meditation, spiritual and shamanic work, and reading are all wonderful tools when you are able to process them. But in cases of overwhelm or emergency, these practices may need to be reduced or stopped until you feel more in balance.

Some people awakening are more in need of mental-emotional healthcare, while others need to work on developing a physical routine (exercising regularly), others may need to develop spiritual and energetic tools to be able to process their experiences, while others may need understanding and insight to know that they are not alone, and that others have gone through just what they are going through. Typically, people need some element of all of the above.

To understand and work with your spiritual awakening, including states of emergency, I recommend my books, The Spiritual Awakening Guide or Working with Kundalini.


Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual teacher and healer as well as author of six books, all having to do with spiritual awakening, sensitivities, and developing spiritual tools to be able to connect to spiritual reality in a healthy, pragmatic way.