Enter the Spiritual Crisis

“You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy. You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output — how much you produce — not in terms of the quality of your life experiences. To be a soulful person means to go against all the pervasive, prove-yourself values of our culture and instead treasure what is unique and internal and valuable in yourself and your own personal evolution.”

– Jean Shinoda Bolen

The body has a way of letting us know when we need to slow down. Yet, how well do we listen? Blowing past the sensations and signals typically results in the body getting really loud and clear with us about when it’s time for us to be still and listen. The body will try to get our attention until we heed the call to care for our soul. Then, we can begin striding in tune with our personal evolution, led by what’s calling to, and guiding us from a deeper part of our inner life. 

When the soul comes knocking, we often know it in our body. It shows up as increased anxiety, symptoms and ailments of various kinds, and a series of unfortunate events will find us like a plague as in the case of Dylan Bowman, athlete and guest on the latest podcast conversation with Jerry. Unresolved stresses, pent up or buried emotions, and/or things that need to be said, will surface as stress. This stress shows up in our body, somewhere or another. (At one point in my life when I knew I needed to leave a relationship, all the stress of unspoken feelings, and pent up stress at not saying what I needed to say, showed up as a full-body rash. It was the middle of winter and a co-worker saw it peeking out of my sleeve and asked if I had a really bad sunburn.) It’s as if the soul cries loudly through our very flesh and blood and bones, begging us to turn towards ourselves in a way we haven’t before so that we can dip below the superficial layer of life we’ve known. 

The life that the soul holds for us, and the life that awaits us, may look radically different than the ambitions we’d been eager to follow up until we start picking up what the body and soul are putting down. It may also require that we open up the door to the place where we’ve shoved unresolved feelings, family loyalties, past hurts and all of our fears. It asks us to choose self-care and self-healing over outwardly striving towards goals set by an external locus or need to please or belong to something or someone other than yourself. 

Often, the life that the soul has for us isn’t borne of the same sentiments we have for our ambitions. The part of us that wants to “do” and to “achieve” and to “be something” and to “make something of ourselves” is often fueled by unconscious drivers or ways of being that have been able to get us by. None of which are bad or incorrect, as they got us this far. However, they may not be complete in their strategies. They may not have a holistic vision of who we are in our entirety and what life is flowing in us attuned to what future is calling us into it. Those parts of us are concerned with other things, like survival. There comes a point in our lives when these old maps and ways of being in the world no longer work for us.

The long string of unfortunate events — physical or otherwise — set us back from something, some place, some destination we had in mind, and render us unable to move with the same deft ‘getting through-it-ness’ techniques that worked up until they didn’t work anymore. 

Sometimes, until we hit a rock bottom, all of this feels easy to blip over in pursuit of other things. For example, how often do we power through an impending cold, coffee and cough suppressant in hand, to keep on keepin’ on in the inbox, in the meetings, in the airports, like we’re running on all cylinders? (Who clears their calendar for a day to rest to let the body do what it needs to heal?) Willpower wears out the more exhausted, over-decided (decision-fatigued), spent, and un-self-cared-for you are. It also depends on what sorts of “ghosts in the machine” are running in the background to zap your fullest expression and most vibrant life due to eddying emotions due to old programming. 

But even if we get the message to slow down, or to “sit, stay,” what are we listening for, exactly? What’s happening where soul meets body, where spirit meets bone? Listening to the body and soul can sometimes feel like you’re with a being with no voice who’s expressing something in a language you don’t quite understand, and therefore all your known faculties don’t have the ‘know-how’ on ‘what to do.’ Sometimes, the messages are abundantly clear. Other times you have to look awry catch a fleeting glimpse or rely on other ways of knowing in order to see clearly. Sometimes, you have to drop your old maps and dictionaries and other encoded or learned ways of knowing and surrender to the knowing that stirs in a more full dimension– deeper, larger than just our rationales, and cellularly rooted part– of our whole being. 

In the midst of an unexplainable onslaught of aches and pains and unrelenting rashes, we may find ourselves in what psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera calls a spiritual crisis. She notes that a rock bottom – physically, emotionally, mentally – is a pull to heal. Here, at this juncture, we can open up to the latent wisdom within us, and dig deep into some self-healing. We can track our wiley ego, converse with our future self, reparent our self, learn what we really want and set our intentions accordingly. We learn about our emotional addictions, detox our bodies, get clear about our boundaries, and feel what’s behind our anxieties. We grow up, and grow ourselves. We learn the art of self-care, and learn to shut the door on the outside world so that we can nurture and incubate our inner creative storehouse of life-force, curiosity, fierce and tender love for our very self.

Once you arrive here, there’s no figurin’ this out in the ways you’re used to. There are no hacks. But the good news is: you’ve arrived. The soul has come knocking to show you another way of meeting life such that you are not merely fitting in, but so that you belong in your wholeness. 

In her book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, author Toko-pa Turner, writes:

“The difference between ‘fitting in’ and belonging is that fitting in, by its very definition, is to parcel off our wholeness in exchange for acceptance. Like the original Grimm’s telling of Cinderella, her sisters literally cut off their own toes to fit into her tiny slipper. False belonging prefers that we hold our tongue, keep chaos at bay, and perform a repetitive role that stunts our natural inclination to growth.

“We may live for a while in such places, leaving well enough alone, taking its benefits while ignoring the costs. But the difficulty begins when those hidden contracts begin to show themselves. Maybe we knew it all along and it’s just become impossible to ignore. Maybe it started taking too much of a toll on us. Or maybe we are awakening through conflict, illness or loss.

“But there is always a threshold at which we can no longer compromise ourselves. While false belonging can be useful and instructive for a time, the soul becomes restless when it reaches a glass ceiling, a restriction that prevents us from advancing. We may shrink back from this limitation for a time, but as we grow into our truth, the invisible boundary closes in on us and our devotion to the groupmind weakens.”

Or, as Dylan put it in this recent episode: “The external can’t be your main source of internal satisfaction.” 

When we experience the limitations of our old well-worn strategies, we can assume a new identity with which to move through life–a more whole version of ourselves. We can let our lives speak from there. We can listen to what’s being said in ways that may be entirely new. As Joyce Rupp writes in her poem, When Old Maps No Longer Work, 

“There was a time before maps
when pilgrims traveled by the stars.”

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.