It doesn’t come with a manual, no one prepared you for it in school, and if you’re like many of us in today’s world, mom and dad did their best to avoid the topic. No, not that one. I’m talking about spirituality. In 2021, I was going about my highly pragmatic, atheist, and scientifically-minded business, mostly unaware that any part of me was searching for any kind of greater meaning. There was only one problem: I was completely miserable. To be fair, many of us were at the time – over a year into the rollercoaster of lockdowns and disconnection from family, friends, and everyday life that was COVID-19. Instead of taking up crocheting and watching another terrible reality series on Netflix, my COVID project was to start learning about and eventually try psychedelic therapy. Imagine my surprise when, through that process, I slowly started to become plagued with this nagging sense of something greater and more powerful than myself, weaving together the infinite threads of the cosmos. How inconvenient.
I tried to ignore this irritating pull to expand my worldview and focus on the rational, objective, “neuroscience-y” reasons that I had been interested in learning this mode of healing while my existential questions waited in the corner like a mandala-shaped elephant in the room. As in the classic hero’s journey, however, when something buried deep in the soul wants to go to those places, refusing the call can be more than just challenging. According to shamanic traditions, it can even make us sick. I didn’t know this at the time, at least not consciously, but nonetheless, I allowed myself to follow this nagging curiosity toward the journey that would propel me into an adventure I could scarcely have imagined.
My story makes it sound like spirituality is something that can easily be avoided – certainly, our culture likes to suggest that we are perfectly fine without it – but unbeknownst to those living their blissfully ignorant lives, giving no thought to the great mysteries of our existence, it is not uncommon for a spiritual awakening to happen spontaneously. This can be through a near-death experience, a prolonged illness, caring for a dying person, a stressful life transition, an experience with psychedelic medicines, or even certain types of yoga.
Before you cancel your YYoga membership, let’s back up for a minute. What exactly do I even mean by a spiritual awakening? A spiritual awakening is an event or series of events that prompts us to reflect on our understanding of the universe and our connection to humanity as a whole. We can go relatively quickly from a rational, logic-based system of understanding to becoming fascinated with the sheer abundance of mystery and magic that exists in our world. Sounds nice, right? Well, sort of. While overall considered to be a positive thing by most who experience a spiritual awakening, the first few months to a year of the process can often be very challenging.
It wasn’t until a few months into my exploration of the world of psychedelics that someone else pointed out what should have been obvious to me: that my old paradigm was no longer going to fit this new person I was becoming. In case you’re wondering how the adjustment to the radical shift in my understanding of the universe was going by that time, an excerpt from my journal from that month reads, “If you’d told me 2 months ago that I’d be burning sage and trying to align my chakras, I’d have told you to go f*** yourself.” Truthfully, I don’t think I knew what a chakra was 2 months before that entry. It may sound strange to say, but I was caught off guard. No one had ever really taught me that these types of ideas were being explored in any type of depth outside of organized religion. When I’d heard of people identified as “spiritual, not religious,” it was in a mocking tone, connoting images of long-haired hippies eschewing mainstream society to live in a commune in the forest (not to disparage anyone – I seem to find myself spending a lot of time with long-haired hippies these days and a commune in the forest sounds like a pretty nice place to be right about now). So when I suddenly found myself hungry for answers about what in the heck we all came to this planet to do and why no one had ever mentioned this might become important at some point, I felt really lost.
Google was of little help. It’s hard enough finding information on the internet when what you’re looking for are verifiable facts. When you find yourself typing the question, “How do I know if I’m meditating wrong?” or “Why are my tarot cards mad at me?” or “Where do I find a boyfriend who knows what his rising sign is?” into a search engine, you’re really in trouble. Trying to find a human source of answers was even worse at first. While learning from another person is arguably the best path to familiarity with spirituality, this path is paved with gatekeepers and people trying to make money off of earnest truth seekers, not to mention those whose information is perfectly legitimate but simply doesn’t resonate with your personal brand of spirituality. For myself, there were only a couple of people I knew in the beginning who were both trustworthy and knowledgeable on the subject, and if I’d bothered them any time I had a question, they would pretty quickly have started to ignore me…and then blocked my number…and then probably gotten a restraining order.
What I’m trying to get at is that having a spiritual awakening tends to be a very isolating experience for those of us not among the lucky few to be initiated into these ways of knowing by friends and family early in life. The good news is that, if navigated successfully, it can lead to a much happier life, one that not only includes feeling connected to more people but one that includes feeling connected to people who are more in alignment with the person you want to become. This article is not an all-encompassing guide to spirituality. As I’ve just admitted that spirituality only became important to me within the last 2 years, I’d hardly expect anyone to consider me qualified to write one of those. As someone who has had a recent experience of more or less successfully navigating a sudden and overwhelming spiritual awakening, however, I am able to speak to some of the things that helped me to adjust to a new and very different way of being.
This one takes time, so it will likely require some patience and trust that you will make your way to the right people at the right time. Spiritual circles can feel like a bit of an exclusive club at the beginning. It’s one of the few places in our technology-driven world where a fondness for traditional human connection and word of mouth tend to dominate. While this can feel wonderful and much more personal, it does make it difficult to get a foot in the door and reduce accessibility for those eager to get involved. That said, many publicly advertised gatherings and meetup groups do exist and can be a great way to start meeting like-minded people, some of whom may be your ticket into those lesser-known circles if that is your goal.
Allow your emotions and your intuition to let you know when you’ve found the right group, and don’t be discouraged if this takes a few tries. I can say from experience that it’s worth sitting through a few awkward encounters if it means eventually making your way to a soul family like the one I’ve discovered along this path. Key words to look for if you’re new to the lingo include: integration circles (if psychedelics are your thing), sound healing sessions, ecstatic dance and breathwork workshops.
It may sound counterintuitive to suggest what most of us view as a very rational and science-based discipline as a place to get support with a spiritual awakening. But what many people are not aware of is that there is a longstanding tradition of blending spiritual and psychological ideas in the counselling office. This dates back to therapy’s inception, to the split between Sigmund Freud and his student Carl Jung, due in part to Jung’s insistence on incorporating spiritual ideas into his framework of the human psyche. These days, the popularity of approaches such as Internal Family Systems, Existential psychotherapy and Compassionate Inquiry speaks to the fact that the appetite for these ideas is alive and well in our outwardly rational culture. Deep down, there is something innate in us that calls out for these sides of us to be seen, and this can cause all kinds of problems if not addressed. Finding a therapist who not only accepts but understands and can help you develop your spiritual ideas and practice can be game-changing. If you feel ready to take this step, the therapists at Thrive Counselling are warm, open-minded and spiritually informed.
Looking to the past for answers:
This point in history is rife with discontinuity from the knowledge and traditions of our ancestors. Through globalization, colonization, and various forms of displacement, the threads connecting our individual stories to those of the ones who came before us have been severed. I found it hard coming to terms with the fact that any direct connection to the spiritual traditions of my own ancestors would never materialize. Once I moved through that sense of loss, however, I became fascinated with learning all I could about whatever knowledge was preserved from early spirituality in that part of the world. I lost myself in tales about Celtic gods and goddesses, faery magic, and druidic rituals. No matter your background, it is possible to reconnect to ancestral beliefs through reading and research. Rich spiritual traditions come to us from all over the world, and finding the one that aligns with your own origins can add a new layer of depth to your spirituality.
Nurturing the connection with self:
Our relationships with others are not the only ones that matter while adapting to an emergent spiritual identity. As you go through this process, you may find your sense of self rapidly shifting from one month, week, or even day to the next. Throughout the first year of my spiritual awakening, I found my identity being flipped on its head, shaken, challenged and tested more times than I can count. When I dared to ask myself, “who am I?” the answer might satisfy me for a few days until I heard or read something new that blew up the foundations all over again. Eventually, I was able to slow this process down to the point where my sense of self is generally willing to stay put for at least a few months at a time. This started to happen when I committed to treating my relationship with myself like I would a relationship with a cherished friend. That meant giving it energy and care on a daily basis, carving out time in my day to dedicate to being alone with my thoughts and making ample space for deep introspection. This can look a lot of different ways for different people. Some common ways to connect to the self are meditation, time in nature, journaling, listening to music, inner child work, and movement practices such as yoga, dance, qi gong etc.
According to many spiritual teachers, the number of spiritual awakenings is increasing at a rapid rate during our current era. If you are among those swept up in this new wave of spiritual transformation, you are not alone. What may seem to be inconvenient, jarring, and at times even frightening could just be the thing to lead you to a greater sense of wholeness and meaning. Resist the temptation to turn away and go back to sleep. The world needs the unique gifts that your spiritual awakening can bring forth. Welcome to the most dynamic, adventurous and rewarding club that I’ve ever been privileged to join.
Jess Cumming is a Canadian Certified Counsellor at Thrive Downtown with over 20 years of experience and offers various therapies for overcoming eating disorders, including Individual and Couple Therapy, Trauma-Informed Therapy, and Psychedelic integration. Contact to schedule a session and start healing.