Spiritual crisis: have you had one?

Spiritual crises can be triggered by a personal life event, such as a death or an illness, the destruction of a marriage, or a financial threat. They also can be triggered by societal events, such as the Vietnam war, the attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001 or the Covid-19 pandemic. These personal and social events are like a chunk of coal that contains a diamond inside of it. The diamond is that they trigger our discontent.

“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.”

Mahatma Gandhi

In times of crisis, the longing for more meaning in life reaches up from the deep, empty cavern in our gut, forcing us to change. Distracting pleasures we’ve used to fill up the void no longer work or appeal to us.

In addition, living in a materialistic society makes us particularly vulnerable to spiritual crisis and discontent. A cultural focus on material success can lead people to great unhappiness and crippled resilience.

My Spiritual Discontent

If I may, I’d like to share with you the story of the pain and suffering of my spiritual crash and burn. It happened in my teens, in the 1960s and early 70s, when it was all about “make love, not war.”

The U.S. was brimming with great social discontent. The music was mind-bending and third-eye-opening. If you weren’t meditating or at least talking about meditating, you weren’t groovy.

George Harrison’s song, “Within You, Without You,” was the mantra of spiritual seekers, and I was deep in the movement. I’d been raised Catholic and began to recognize that what they’d taught me in Catholic school didn’t feel true anymore. After being told by nuns in high school that I should stop asking questions and just have faith, I committed to an exploration of finding the Truth for myself.

“I was told many years ago by my grandmother who raised me: If somebody puts you on a road and you don’t feel comfortable on it and you look ahead and you don’t like the destination and you look behind and you don’t want to return to that place, step off the road.”

Maya Angelou

Symptoms of Spiritual Crisis

I had many “symptoms” of a spiritual crisis. My senses opened up and intensified. I could read people’s emotions so easily, yet I had no tools to maintain my balance. The pain of the world’s suffering crushed me.

I could hold a piece of jewelry in my hand and feel its whole history. This really scared people, and it made me feel just plain weird! My exploration was full of joy, fascination, and exhilaration, and also depression, anger, and pain. I felt lost and alone.

Still living at home and too young to travel with the flower children, I felt imprisoned. I was watching a whole spiritual revolution happen from “behind bars.” Even though I had several friends who also were kind of spiritual seekers, they had no answers for me.

I hated small talk and would want to go deeper in our conversations. Longing to talk with them about “who am I, and why am I here, and what’s life all about?”, my friends told me I was too serious. They were doing fine in their life, having fun, and couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy.

I experimented with hallucinogenic drugs and got glimpses of the answers I longed for—however, my life wasn’t any different after those glimpses. My family didn’t understand me or my dilemma. I truly had no place to go for answers or support.

Yes, I seriously considered suicide, and used unhealthy eating for comfort. However, I was blessed by the grace of God. I avoided being arrested or injured in my sojourns into the deep chambers of my heart, mind, and soul.

Longing for the Divine Within

My pain and suffering pattern also showed up in my relationships with men. I wanted so deeply to connect with a special man, one who’d value me for who I truly was versus what I looked like. A man that was wise, mature, open and a fellow explorer of deep truths.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was a symptom of my longing to connect with the Divine within myself.

“The essence of man is, discontent, divine discontent; a sort of love without a beloved, the ache we feel in a member we no longer have.”

Jose Ortega y Gasset (Spanish philosopher, May 9, 1883 – October 18, 1955)

Even as a very young pre-teen, I knew this was the type of relationship I wanted. However, this was NOT what I was getting as a young woman.

To keep it short, let me just say that I was constantly disappointed, misled, taken advantage of, and ridiculed. Fortunately, I was never physically assaulted in any way.

Painful, Yes . . . But It’s Actually Good News

If you were drawn to read this article, I’m sure you have a story like this, where you experienced spiritual discontent, disappointment, frustration, distress, or restlessness.

What’s your personal “stamp” on spiritual discontent? Was it delayed for you, showing up later in life? Did you go through it more than once?

What about finding that your parent’s religion felt way off from what felt true for you? How often did you ask yourself if this materialistic, day-to-day, sleepwalk was really all there was to life?

You know that your family loves you, but they really don’t give you that deep “ahhh” feeling of meaningful connection. Are you isolating yourself from others because you don’t feel understood?

Oh, and let me tell you, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. I know people who’ve done fabulously with creating financial peace in their life, yet it’s still not fulfilling them—something remains missing. Emptiness isn’t reserved for the “99%.”

Then there’s coming home from the “thank God it’s Friday”—partying with friends, crashing into your bed, alone again. After a fitful night’s sleep, dreaming of some completely different life, you awake in the morning feeling super sad.

It’s like, what’s REALLY going on?

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress.”

Thomas A. Edison

This is the good news. The portal of spiritual awareness is opening.

Change or Die

By the time I hit 18-years-old, I was really pissed off at God. I felt that I didn’t deserve the painful life I was living; that I should be able to understand who I was, how life worked, and why I was here.

Being at least self-aware enough at the time to know that I was missing something—sensing there was a pattern—I didn’t understand what I was doing to create it. So, one day, I demanded that God tell me what was going on. I demanded to know the truth about life and how it worked.

The memory of this connection with God is burnt into my psyche. I can remember what the light was like, where I was standing, what the temperature felt like on my skin. It was a big deal. Within a week, God showed me the portal to the answers I was seeking. That’s a story for another time.

Next: The period of spiritual discontent is one of the phases in the Hermetic Cycle of Change. It’s called the “shuffle phase” and it’s filled with inspiration and fear. It’s the realm of the dark night of the soul. Yet, the phase that follows is all about rebirth, new starts, and hope.

Please connect with me about your experiences with your spiritual discontent. You can use the comment section below, or email me at Info@TreeofLifeSanctuary.org. I’d love to hear from you!

Written by Laura Abernathy