What is Spiritual Emergence/Emergency?

Spiritual emergence is a term used to describe a transcendent experience of perceived spiritual connection, unity or oneness, often felt in conjunction with a deep sense of eternal love, and an “unlocking” of human potential (at a transpersonal level of development). Many activities, including spiritual and contemplative practices, contribute to an inner journey which may lead to spiritual emergence (or emergency – see below). Spiritual emergence may also be triggered by a challenging life event such as a near-death experience, illness, or the loss of a loved one – or may occur through no apparent trigger.

Spiritual emergency, also referred to as spiritual crisis, is a period of psychological turmoil which can occur during spiritual growth and awakening. These seem to typically occur during the initial stages of growth or awakening, as an individual experiences profound changes to their world-view and/or meaning system (for example, in their sense of purpose in life, their values, and their beliefs systems). Spiritual emergency may also manifest during the later stages of spiritual growth and awakening, particularly as an individual starts to try and make sense of their experience, challenged by a new sense of self and of the world around them.

There are a number of organizations who provide specialized programs and services with the aims of helping individuals make sense of – and thus more successfully integrate – their experience of spiritual emergence/emergency, and support them in moving forward on their path to wellness and wholeness. Some of these organizations are included here below.

Support Networks

Spiritual Emergence Network

The Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) provides individuals that are experiencing psychospiritual difficulties a specialized mental health referral and support service. In a culture which has not understood issues surrounding spiritual development, the gift of being heard and understood by a knowledgeable and supportive listener can be life-altering. Our referrals are licensed and/or trained mental health care professionals who are preferably in your area (but many also work by phone or encrypted video) who have expertise with many specific psychospiritual issues.

International Spiritual Emergence Network

The International Spiritual Emergence Network (ISEN) is a collaboration of not-for-profit support networks from around the world. Each network is run by volunteers and offers information and referrals at no cost to those experiencing or affected by Spiritual Emergency.

Spiritual Crisis Network UK

Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN) volunteers are experts through personal lived experience of a spiritual crisis and mental health professionals, whilst some volunteers have both personal and professional expertise.

Their vision is to promote understanding and support of those going through profound personal transformation and to act as a resource providing help and information.

American Centre for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences

The American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE) was established in 2009 to support people who have spiritually transformative experiences (STEs). We welcome experiencers of diverse backgrounds and beliefs and address a wide variety of STEs. ACISTE is both a community of experiencers and a non-profit corporation.

Research Groups

The Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium

The Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium (EPRC) is a multidisciplinary, multinational alliance of researchers, clinicians, and patrons who share a vision of bringing scientific methods and clinical sensibilities to the rigorous, ethical, ontologically-agnostic study of emergent phenomena.

Sponsoring Organisations

Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences

The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (AAPS) is a non-profit membership and education organization whose mission is to promote open-minded, rigorous and evidence-based enquiry into postmaterialist consciousness research.

Their vision is to inspire scientists to investigate mind and consciousness as core elements of reality.

Scientific and Medical Network

The Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) is working with full awareness and appreciation of scientific method, but exploring and expanding, in a spirit of open and critical enquiry, frontier issues at the interfaces between science, health, consciousness, wellbeing, love and spirituality, to explore how to rediscover a meaningful spirituality to help rebalance our lives.

The Galileo Commission

The world today is dominated by science and by its underlying assumptions, which are seldom explicitly articulated. The Galileo Commission’s remit is to open public discourse and to find ways to expand science so that it can accommodate and explore important human experiences and questions that science, in its present form, is unable to integrate.

Research Articles

Brewer JA, Worhunsky PD, Gray JR, Tang YY, Weber J, Kober H. Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proc Natl Acad of Sci, 108 (50), 20254-20259. 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22114193

Britton WB, Lindahl JR, Cooper DJ, Canby NK, Palitsky R. Defining and measuring meditation-related adverse effects in mindfulness-based programs. Clin Psychol Sci. 2021 May 18;9(6):1185-1204. doi: 10.1177/2167702621996340. Epub 2021 Nov 1. PMID: 35174010; PMCID: PMC8845498.

Corneille JS, Luke D. Spontaneous Spiritual Awakenings: Phenomenology, Altered States, Individual Differences, and Well-Being. Front Psychol. 2021 Aug 19;12:720579. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.720579. ECollection 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34489825/

Edwards, L., & Woollacott, MH. Analysis of Spiritual Awakening in a Kundalini Tradition: Psychological Change and Spiritual Growth. In press, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2022.

Gallup GH. Religious awakenings bolster Americans’ faith. https://news.gallup.com/poll/7582/religious-awakenings-bolster-americans-faith.aspx 2002; Accessed 10 January 2020.

Goldberg SB, Lam SU, Britton WB, Davidson RJ. Prevalence of meditation-related adverse effects in a population-based sample in the United States. Psychother Res. 2022 Mar;32(3):291-305. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2021.1933646. Epub 2021 Jun 2. PMID: 34074221; PMCID: PMC8636531.

Greyson B. Near-death experiences and the physio-kundalini syndrome. J Relig Health. 1993; 32: 277-290.

Greyson B. Some neurophysiological correlates of the physio-kundalini syndrome. J Transpers Psychol. 2000; 32:123-134.

Kripal J. The Flip. Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge. Bellevue Literary Press, 2019.

Taylor S. Transformation through suffering: a study of individuals who have experienced positive psychological transformation following periods of intense turmoil. J Humanist Psychol, 2012; 52:30-52.

Taylor S, Egeto-Szabo K. Exploring awakening experiences: a study of awakening experiences in terms of their triggers, characteristics, duration and after-effects. J Transpers Psychol, 2017; 49: 45-65.

Taylor S. The peak at the Nadir: Psychological turmoil as the trigger for awakening experiences. Int J Transpers Stud, 2013. 32 (2). http://dx.doi.org/10.24972/ijts.2013.32.2.1

Williams, B., & Woollacott, M.H. Conceptual cognitions and awakening: Insights from non-dual Saivism and neuroscience. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 53, 119-139, 2021.

Woollacott, MH, Kason, Y, Park. RD. Investigation of the phenomenology, physiology and impact of spiritually transformative experiences: Kundalini awakening. Explore (NY). 2020 Jul 25:S1550-8307(20)30223-8. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2020.07.005. Online ahead of print. PMID: 32753262

Woollacott M, Peyton B. Verified account of near-death experience in a physician who survived cardiac arrest. Explore (NY). 2020 Mar 19: S1550-8307(20)30111-7. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2020.03.005. Online ahead of print.PMID: 32245708. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32245708/

Woollacott, M., Shumway-Cook, A. The mystical experience and its neural correlates. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 2020; 38: 3–25. https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1727999/.

Woollacott, M., Shumway-Cook, A. Spiritual awakening and transformation in scientists and academics. Explore. 2022. In press.

Other Resources

Beyond the Brain Conference

Beyond the Brain is the world’s premier conference series exploring mind and consciousness beyond the physical brain. It has been running since 1996. Our speakers this year are all at the cutting edges of their fields. You will gain a vital overview and a deeper understanding of how consciousness research is expanding the horizons of science.

For more information about the upcoming conference and to purchase your tickets directly, please visit the website at beyondthebrain.org.

Imaginal Inspirations Podcast

Imaginal cells are responsible for the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly, the Greek symbol for the soul. These cells are dormant in the caterpillar but at a critical point of development they create the new form and structure which becomes the butterfly.

In the podcast series Imaginal Inspirations, David Lorimer talks to transformational authors and scientists about the experiences, people and books that have shaped their life and work.