Stansilov and Christina Grof coined the term Spiritual Emergency: when a spiritual emergence becomes too intense and becomes an emergency. They founded the Spiritual Emergence Network and their books The Stormy Search for the Self and Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis certainly validated my own spiritual experiences that were diagnosed as ‘psychosis’ by the medical profession.
But is it wishful thinking to say that what psychiatry calls psychosis is actually a spiritual awakening? Perhaps it is psychosis with spiritual features or a spiritual emergence with psychotic features? How can we tell the difference? Is it psychosis or spiritual emergency? And if it is the latter, does every psychosis have the potential to be an emergence process?
Stanislav Grof, M.D. is a psychiatrist with more than 60 years of experience in research of ‘holotropic’ states of consciousness, a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states that have healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential.
Stan draws his conclusions after studying 1000s of people on LSD. He claims that any bad trip is a part of the psyche coming up from the unconscious, to be healed. Medication sedates a person, making the experience easier to manage but it doesn’t help them resolve it. He argues that psychosis is not actually a valid diagnosis because it is not possible to test for it. There are no blood tests that show an inconclusive result, just experiences, like a death, rebirth, destruction and past life recall.
These experiences are non ordinary states of consciousness that cannot be measured. Nor can they be denied. To argue whether they exist or not is to miss the point. To integrate them and heal them is the point.
The problem is that we don’t really have a map of the psyche. Our scientific approach is focussed only on the material world. But other traditional cultures respect these non physical realms. When a shaman travels to the underworld and experiences annihilation, death and destruction and rebirth, he or she returns with the elixir to heal him or herself. These experiences would be seen as psychotic and delusional by our western medicine.
After experiencing thirteen episodes, I conclude that spiritual awakening is not just a process of experiencing love and light. It is essential to shine this light on the darkness. When we reconnect with our true spiritual nature, all of the repressed psychological material rises up from the depths. We need to shine our loving light upon that. This material, if allowed expression and accepted as part of the whole is integrated and welcomed home. And that is true awakening.
So every psychosis has the potential for transformation, even if it doesn’t have any spiritual features. If we see the symptoms as a bad trip and learn from it. We can reclaim our power to heal ourselves.
My debut memoir, My Beautiful Psychosis: Making Sense of Madness describes the process of seven so-called psychotic episodes and how I eventually make sense of them. It is published by Aeon Books.