Have you ever found yourself in a spiritual crisis? This is often experienced as a loss of faith, or a loss of trust in God or the universe. It can feel like a ‘dark night of the soul‘ – a term which has become well known from the writings of the Christian mystic St. John of the Cross.
This experience can bring a lot of angst, especially if spirituality or religion has been a source of strength or comfort for you in the past. Afraid to admit your anger at God, or your loss of belief, you end up feeling isolated and alone.
I have experienced the fire of spiritual crises, and was very glad to come across a teaching that confirmed and affirmed my personal experience.
Spirituality & Religion Quadrant
It was Dr. Jane Simington who gave me the language and image to simplify and clarify what I’ve seen happen during major life crises. I will briefly outline it here. There are four basic positions regarding one’s relationship to religion and spirituality, creating a quadrant.
Generally speaking, life will cause you to settle at a specific place on this quadrant (according to your upbringing, environment and natural tendencies). You are likely to stay in that quadrant – unless or until a crisis occurs. Crises and traumas will often knock us out of the quadrant that we are in. That is because a crisis often causes us to question our beliefs and values that, up until now, have not been tested.
For example, if you experience the death of a loved one, or a partner leaves you, you may end up losing your trust in God. You may also cease to find any comfort in your religion or spirituality. Questions about the existence or goodness of God may surface – “If there is a God, then why did this happen to me? How could a loving God allow this to happen?” Perhaps you don’t find the support or understanding you expected from your church. Or if you never attended church before, you may begin going out of a desperate need for comfort. You may begin devouring books on spirituality in search of answers.
At first you may try to answer these soul questions with statements like “It was for the best” or “It was meant to be this way”. But eventually those platitudes wear thin, and don’t bring you any comfort. It is then that you really plummet into the dark and turmoil of the unknown.
It’s All Okay!
The important thing to know is that losing your trust in the universe, or your belief in God, is a normal response to trauma and crisis. You see, if life goes on without throwing you any curveballs, the beliefs you have accumulated never get tested – they remain beliefs. When a crisis happens, all your beliefs are given a ‘test drive’ so to speak. Many beliefs are taught to us by people in our life. Some are adopted through early life experiences. Our beliefs may not hold up to the fire of experience.
When our beliefs fail us in tough times, a spiritual crisis ensues. Lost in pain and questioning, we have nothing solid to hang onto, and we find ourselves floundering in the unknown. This period of questioning and feeling lost can last for a seeming eternity. It is a cocooning time in which we can only just survive, and fail to come up with answers to our deep and existential questions.
Belief Transformed into Knowing
“Our time in the cocoon is a time of soul purification, permitting our passage to higher levels of awareness”. (Simington, 2003)
If we have the courage to keep searching and moving through the dark and unknown with our eyes and hearts open, we will come out the other side into the light of knowing. What once was held as a belief has been burned away in the fire of our experience, or has been transformed into inner knowing. A belief can be shaken – a knowing is unshakable and will get us through subsequent dark times. Although the process of transforming beliefs into knowing is usually a painful and difficult one, we come out with a stronger foundation. And a new sense of clarity about the meaning life and death arises.