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Spontaneous Spiritual Awakenings: Qualities, Causes, and Consequences

It is well established at this point that psychedelics can occasion mystical-type experiences. However, what is less studied and less understood—at least insofar as the modern Western world—are spontaneous mystical experiences. So-called spontaneous spiritual awakenings that have no direct catalyst.

Certainly, that such experiences happen is hard to argue. Even the physicalists and materialists would have a hard time saying that people don’t have what can be a least categorized as mystical-type experiences. Irrespective of the freestanding reality of the content of those experiences or the degree to which they are true or reflect some kind of Truth, those experiences are had by many people, throughout our history. The very foundations of civilization as we know it, for better or worse, are in humanity’s stories of the Mystery and the mystical experienced.

What complicates matters, though, is that in the modern world, we have different terms for, and responses to spontaneous mystical experiences, or spritual awakenings, than our ancestors did. The terms we have are psychosis, schizophrenic episodes, and mania; we have responses like drug them down and/or lock them up.

Now, this isn’t to say that conditions like psychosis, schizophrenia, or bipolar don’t exist; or that they don’t cause harm; or that they don’t warrant medication or hospitalization in certain circumstances. What I am speaking to here is that we lack the capacity to tease out the nuances between things like a schizophrenic episode and a spontaneous mystical experience, and thus we lack the capacity to know how to properly support people in those experiences or episodes.

Be there kundalini awakenings, manic episodes, spiritual emergencies, transient psychosis, or near-death experiences… all we have is biological psychiatry and naturalism (the natural, aka only real, world consists only of what is external and can be measured by science) informing how we respond to people besought by things far beyond what the baseline mind can handle, and the consequences that follow. Different experiences, in different contexts, happening in different brains, have different consequences and need different approaches… and when all you have is a hammer… yada yada yada.

However, although it can be a fine line, there is a growing recognition of there being difference between a transient psychotic episode and a spontaneous mystical experience. Wherein the latter is getting an increasingly nuanced eye for both our capacity to understand what is happening for people, but also a context-sensitive management of their experiences in ways that don’t pathologize a spiritual experience, nor spiritualize a psychopathology.

Our ability to develop this nuanced thinking and approach is emerging from researchers taking a compassionate, discerning, and open-minded look at these experiences. Jessica Corneille is one of those researchers and she is on the show to talk about her findings.

Jessica Corneille, MSc Spontaneous Spiritual Awakenings Jessica Corneille, MSc is a Research Psychologist specialising in spontaneous spiritual awakening experiences. Her main mission in life is to challenge the default pathologisation of awakening experiences by helping to inform and encourage mainstream psychology to look beyond the current designated spectrum of ‘normality’, to encompass the transpersonal as something that is intrinsic to the human experience. Jessica has presented her work at a number of academic conferences, including with the British Psychological Society. She also works for the Scientific and Medical Network, is a member of the Galileo Commission steering committee, and a collaborator of the Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium and Spiritual Crisis Network. Jessica is also dedicated to helping individuals come to the realisation of their highest human potential, and fulfils part of this mission as a Kundalini Yoga teacher, contracted leadership and empowerment facilitator, and by running regular peer-support groups for individuals undergoing spiritual transformation.

On this episode of the podcast we start by presenting a definition of a spontaneous spiritual awakening experience before going on to explore the after-effects of these experiences; how they seem to affect both atheists and strongly religious people; common preceding factors; the neurobiological and psychological factors correlated with spontaneous awakening experiences; as well as negative spiritual experiences, e.g spiritual crisis or spiritual emergencies.

We also deconstruct the exclusive pathologizing of psychosis, bipolar, and schizophrenia and the delegitimization of the mystical states of other cultures as a kind of racism.

And we end with a discussion on integrating spontaneous awakening experiences and how to support people in their integration of spontaneous mystical experiences.


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Episode Breakdown

  • (0:00) Opening
  • (1:13) Overture
  • (8:02) Patreon Thanks
  • (9:54) Interview begins
  • (11:06) A definition of a spontaneous spiritual awakening
  • (12:36) The qualities of a spontaneous spiritual awakening
  • (18:52) Changes in visual and auditory perceptions during/after
  • (21:00) Entity/demon encounters
  • (24:20) Common preceding factors
  • (28:07) The after-effects of spontaneous mystical experiences
  • (30:01) How these experiences seem to affect both atheists and strongly religious people
  • (35:07) Negative mystical experiences, spiritual crisis
  • (41:38) The neurobiological and psychological factors correlated with spontaneous awakening experiences
  • (43:52) Temporal lobe epilepsy and mystical experiences
  • (47:29) Deconstructing the exclusive pathologizing of psychosis, bipolar, and schizophrenia
  • (1:01:14) The delegitimization of the mystical states of other cultures as a kind of racism
  • (1:13:48) Integrating spontaneous spiritual awakening experiences
  • (1:25:06) How to support people in their integration of spontaneous awakening experiences
  • (1:28:41) Links for supportive info for people integrating spontaneous awakening experiences
  • (1:30:33) How to assess when it makes sense to consult a mental health professional
  • (1:33:44) What’s next for Cornnn….. and socials
  • (1:37:54) Outro

Further Resources

International Spiritual Emergence Network: https://www.spiritualemergencenetwork.org

The Spiritual Emergence Network (USA): http://www.spiritualemergence.org

The American Centre for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (USA): https://aciste.org

Spiritual Crisis Network (UK): https://spiritualcrisisnetwork.uk

Contact: jessicacorneille -at- gmail –dot– com

Publication: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.720579


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