Reactions to the Spiritual Awakening
Articles By Roberto Assagioli
The reactions accompanying this phase are manifold and often occur a certain time after the awakening. As has been said, a harmonious inner wakening is characterized by a sense of joy and mental illumination that brings with it an insight into the meaning and purpose of life; it dispels many doubts, offers the solution of many problems, and gives a sense of security. At the same time there wells up a realization that life is one, and an outpouring of love flows through the awakening individual towards his fellow beings and the whole of creation. The former personality, with its sharp angles and disagreeable traits, seems to have receded into the background and a new loving and loveable individual smiles at us and the whole world, full of eagerness to please, to serve, and to share his newly acquired spiritual riches, the abundance of which seems almost too much for him to contain.
Such an exalted state last for varying periods, but it is bound to cease. The personal self was only temporarily overpowered but not permanently transformed. The inflow of light and love is rhythmical as is everything in the universe. After a while it diminishes or ceases and the flood is followed by the ebb.
Necessarily this is a very painful experience and is apt in some cases to produce strong reactions and cause serious troubles. The personal ego re-awakens and asserts itself with renewed force. All the rocks and rubbish, which had been covered and concealed at high, emerge again. The man, whose moral conscience has now become more refined and exacting, whose thirst for perfection has become more intense, judges with greater severity and condemns his personality with a new vehemence; he is apt to harbor the false belief of having fallen lower than he was before. Sometimes it even happens that lower propensities and drives, hitherto lying dormant in the unconscious, are vitalized by the inrush of higher energy, or stirred into a fury of opposition by the consecration of the awakening man a fact which constitutes a challenge and a menace to their uncontrolled expression.
At times the reaction becomes intensified to the extent of causing the individual even to deny the value and reality of his recent experience. Doubts and criticism enter his mind and he is tempted to regard the whole thing as an illusion, a fantasy or an emotional intoxication. He becomes bitter and sarcastic, ridicules himself and others, and even turns his back on his higher ideals and inspirations. Yet, try as he may, he cannot return to his old state; he has seen the vision, and its beauty and power to attract remain with him in spite of his efforts to suppress it. He cannot accept everyday life as before, or be satisfied with it. A "divine homesickness" haunts him and leaves him no peace. Sometimes the reaction presents a more pathological aspect and produces a state of depression and even despair, with suicidal impulses. The state bears a close resemblance to psychotic depression or "melancholia" which is characterized by an acute sense of unworthiness, a systematic self-depression, and self- accusation; the impression of going through hell, which may become so vivid as to produce the delusion that one is irretrievably damned; a keen and painful sense of intellectual incompetence; a loss of will power and self-control, indecision and a incapacity and distaste for action. But in the case of those who have had an inner awakening or a measure of spiritual realization the troubles should not be considered as a mere pathological condition; they have specific psychological causes. One of these has been indicated by both Plato and St. John of the Cross with the same analogy. Plato, in the famous allegory contained in the Seventh Book of his Republic, compares unenlightened men to prisoners in a dark cave or den, and says:
At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck around and walk towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which, in his former state, he had seen the shadows.
St. John of the cross uses words curiously similar in speaking of the condition called "the dark night of the soul":
The self is in the dark because it is blinded by a light greater than it can bear. The more clear the light, the more does it blind the eyes of the owl, and the stronger the sun's rays, the more it blinds the visual organs, overcoming them by reason of their weakness, depriving them of the power of seeing . . . . As eyes weakened and clouded suffer pain when the clear light beats upon them, so the soul, by reason of its impurity, suffers exceedingly when the Divine Light really shines upon it. And when the rays of this pure Light shine upon the soul in order to expel impurities, the soul perceives itself to be unclean and miserable that it seems as if God has set Himself against it and itself were set against God. (Quoted by Underhill, 26, p.453.)
Before proceeding further it seems appropriate to point out that crises, less total and drastic, but in many ways similar to those taking place before and after the "awakening," occur in two main types of creative individuals artists and scientists.
Artists have often complained of periods of aridity, frustration, inability to work. At such times they feel depresses and restless and may be affected by many of the psychological symptoms mentioned above. They are apt to make vain attempts at escape or evasion of that painful condition by means such as alcohol or drugs. But when they have reached the depth of despondency or desperation there may come a sudden flow of inspiration inaugurating a period of renewed and intense productive activity.
Often the work of art appears as a virtually finished product elaborated without conscious awareness at some unconscious level or region of the artist's inner being. As Murray (21, p. 107) has stated in his brilliant essay, Vicissitudes of Creativity, speaking of the requirements of creation, "there must be sufficient permeability (flexibility) of boundaries, boundaries between categories as well as boundaries between different spheres of interest and most important for certain classes of creation sufficient permeability between conscious and unconscious processes . . . . Too much permeability is insanity, too little us ultraconventional rationality." The "frustration" which harass the scientist at various stages of research and the role they play "in sending the energy inward to richer sources of inspiration" have been ably described by Progoff (22, pp. 223-232).
The proper treatment in this type of crisis consists in conveying to the sufferer an understanding of its true nature and in explaining the only effective way of overcoming it. It should be made clear to him that the exalted state he has experienced could not, by its very nature, last forever and that reaction was inevitable. It is as though he had made a superb flight to the sunlit mountain top, realized its glory and the beauty of the panorama spread below, but had been brought back reluctantly to his starting point with the rueful recognition that the steep path leading to the heights must be climbed step by step. The recognition that this decent or "fall" is a natural happening affords emotional and mental relief and encourages the subject to undertake the arduous task confronting him on the path to Self-realization.
Keywords: Reactions to the Spiritual Awakening, Psychosynthesis, mental illumination, Self-realization, Roberto Assagioli, intuitive, Intuition, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town