Sinead Fine (MAHA) 

“One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment in life” - Maslow


In a previous article I described the descent into darkness.  A form of spiritual emergency which can strike anyone at any time.  To reach for the hand of the divine is to plummet to the depths itself.  It involves physical, mental, emotional and spiritual crisis and though it has occurred to man since the dawn of existence it is not widely recognised in the modern world. Insomnia, depression, ecstasy, increased creativity, addictions, visions, death and rebirth imagery are all experienced in descent.  Some cultures called it shamanic death or illness, which would involve descending into other worlds in order to be pulled apart. Rebirth would occur if the shaman faced all his fears and would then enter into a new phase of existence. Modern day cultures still go through this, but often these people are put under the titles of ‘mad, delusional, psychotic, eccentric’, and given medication which actually only hinders the problem.

 There are differences however, between mental illness and a spiritual crisis, though symptoms can be similar and there are no sharp boundaries between the two. E.W.McCormick, a well-known therapist, claims about descent that ‘ is not a mental illness….but part of our development as sensitive human beings on the journey’. A person going through a spiritual crisis who has psychotic visions is different than a psychotic person who has spiritual visions. Experience dealing with various mental states can help to differentiate but if one does not have this knowledge past history of the afflicted can indicate which way to turn. The person going through spiritual crisis will usually have had a fairly healthy background and during the trauma will usually hold some tenacious grip on reality. They experience transpersonal, perinatal and biographical events, which can vary in severity. On the other hand the mentally disturbed individual will usually have a history of trauma, severe psychological difficulties and marginal sexual and social adjustments to society, aswell as possible hereditary factors and a history of medication. A therapist should always rule out the latter indications in a client before treating it as a spiritual crisis case.

This Descent into Darkness has to be recognised, because spiritual crisis is accelerating at an amazing rate. I feel it is of the utmost importance to educate the public about spiritual evolution, as something that can happen to the everyday person.  Many believe that spiritual teachers and mystics are the only ones who can experience these phenomenon, but according to Stanislav Grof ‘…many researchers in the field of transpersonal psychology believe that the growing interest in spirituality and the increasing incidence of spontaneous mystical experiences represent an evolutionary trend toward an entirely new level of human consciousness’ and he explains that it occurs in individuals of all walks of life. Mental health professionals have to accept spirituality as a legitimate dimension of existence and take this into account when diagnosing a patient who suffers from visions, depression e.t.c. Then perhaps there will be less people taking MAOI’s, tricyclic antidepressants, lithium and electric shock treatment.  Less patients in mental hospitals, and less suicides, because the process will be recognised for what it is - a form of spiritual evolution that represents breakthrough, not breakdown.  Any therapist whether reflexologist, Reiki healer or medical doctor, should have the knowledge and expertise to aid the patient, and proper education would make this a realisation.

Short - Term: What can help?

There are techniques that a person can use for himself or herself, and I can only briefly describe them in the scope of this article. The below are by no means concrete and can be developed and changed as needed. The idea is to give a general foundation from which to build on, and they can be roughly divided into long and short-term suggestions.

(1)    To challenge the process is to prolong it, so just give in and allow the floodwaters to flow. Easier to say, harder to accomplish, but worth the teachings it will bring. People try constantly to categorise, structure and control their lives, only to learn at the end of lifes journey that it was pointless. They are too busy trying to create a future, that the present is never lived, which leads to the second suggestion.

2) That of living one day at a time. Think of this one-day and what you can do with it - because tomorrow may never     come. We need not burden ourselves with the woes of the past, nor anticipate those that may come in the future. How this helps the spiritual crisis, is that it takes small areas at a time to deal with. Many are overwhelmed with woe of death and the gloomy future, but to bring oneself to the moment and ones breathing, to ask a higher being for help, can help lighten the load.

(3) Education about descent into darkness is very important. Study people, books, music, film, art that examine this theme. Realise that many have gone through similar states. Learn how they coped. The process uses the creative side of the brain so learn how to channel the emotions and energy that arises. Dance to music that relates to the moment, whether it is Goreki, Mozart, Blues or Death Metal! Beat your feet.  Paint boldly what you feel inside, regardless of artistic rules. Slap it out on paper, rock, body, and face. Mould with paper and clay. Write - poetry that is as raw as your pain. Fill journals with your songs, thoughts, and fears - express what comes up. Some people are frightened to really let go, fearing insanity, but there is a freedom in it that can heal and cure.

(4) Be in nature as often as possible - for it allows us to see impermanence, helping us to see the greater scheme of things. Run, swim, and move with the elements. Ground yourself in the earth.

(5) Avoid those things, which no longer support you, whether it is addictions, friends, family or old ways of thinking and behaving. Situations, which trigger unnecessary painful emotions, should be avoided.

(6) Change diet and lifestyle to support this fragile time.

(7) Exercise. Walk, jog, and swim. Take up Tai Chi or another form of active meditation.

(8) Take lots of time out for yourself.

(9) Trust that what your going through is, in the long run, for the best.

Long Term - What can help?

Remember you are not alone on your journey, there are people out there that can help

 (1) Strongly consider going to a therapist for help such as a Psychotherapist - personally I recommend one who has a Jungian, Humanistic or Transpersonal approach.

(2) Treat yourself to body work on a regular basis such as massage, reflexology or simple loving touch from one close to you.

(3)Seek a genuine spiritual teacher in whatever faith works for you, (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan e.t.c.), who can help in the rebirth process.  Be careful who you choose. Not all priests, rabbis e.t.c will under stand what you are going through. Find one who does.


One day you realise you feel a bit better. Nightmares and disturbing dreams are less frequent or dramatic. You may feel raw and fragile and yet more hopeful about life. This is the time of gentle rebuilding. You hopefully will see the past experiences as a valuable lesson. Now is the time to take these on board. Do not see this time as an opportunity to swipe things under the carpet. Mark the end of darkness with a ritual and have something as a reminder of the dark times, such as a poem, painting, sculpture or whatever represents it best for you. Put it in a prominent place where it will be seen each day. This is not a morbid decision, but one in which you will see the object each day and thus give thanks for having come through. Celebrate the new you, for indeed you will feel reborn.

What have you gained from those months/years?…Anew meaning of love, of your spiritual being. You may understand creation, life and it’s meaning. You will be more humble, more wise, thankful and calm. You will be more honest and sincere because you will not be hiding behind a false persona any more. Therefore you will be more true to yourself and your path. The road ahead will be made easier and there will be fewer obstacles in your life. You may wish to give, by means of money, love or time.  You will be grateful for your life and the universe. There may be periodic lows but these will be less as you progress on your path. Overall you will have a new freedom of energy.

The person has discovered his true existential origins, concealed from him/her till now. A.Nataf, a renowned scholar stated ‘…it is truly becoming a microcosm in the image of the macrocosm, that is the universe’. Life is a precious gift and one only understands it fully after rebirth. Further on in life there may be more upheaval, but now the person has a strength to deal with a situation where there was no strength before.

On an archetypal level the person has walked the Heroes Journey and finally found their Grail or Fleece!

Recommended books

Bragdon, E, (1988) A Sourcebook for helping people in Spiritual Emergency California, Lightening Up Press

Campbell, Moyers, (1988) The Power of Myth Doubleday, New York

Grof, Christina & Stanislav (1995) The Stormy Search For the Soul Thorsons, London

Halifix, J, Shaman; (1982) The Wounded Healer Thames & Hudson, London

Harner, M, (1980)  The Way of the Shaman Harper- San Francisco

Maslow, A.H,(ed) (1962) Towards a Psychology of Being D.Van Norstran Co. New York

McCormick, E.W, (1988) Nervous Breakdown Unwin, London

Mindell, A, (1993) The Shamans Body Harper, San Francisco

Mindell, A, (1992)  Dreambody: The Bodys Role in Revealing Itself Sigo Press, San Francisco

Schefer, M, (1990) Bach Flower Therapy - Theory and Practice Thorsons, London