Exploring the Relationship Between Spiritual Awakening and Adversity...

Many people who are going through a difficult and challenging time in life often turn to spirituality. Why is this?  Is it simply an irrational practice which occurs in times of distress? Or does it fulfil a human need for comfort and meaning? Let's explore this a little deeper...

What is a dark night of the soul?

The concept of a dark night of the soul is one which is familiar within spiritual circles. On a basic level, it can be described as a situation where a person goes through great distress and turmoil over a period of time. Eventually this evolves into deeper levels of self-insight plus an increased capacity for inner peace. It is often associated with growth on the deeper level of the soul.

Adversity can show up in many different ways, and is also influenced by our previous experiences in life. So, there is a diverse group of experiences which we may find distressing, and which shake up our ability to maintain our normal functioning in life. These can include: relationship issues, suffering from severe anxiety, living with a chronic illness., loss or bereavement, and experiencing violence or trauma.

How does spiritual awakening evolve from adversity?

So how does spirituality relate to these experiences? Well, there are three main ways;

1 - Adversity involves personal transformation.

Intense states of stress occur when conflict exists between our internal and external experiences of life.

For example, if you find out that a person has betrayed you, or acted in a way that upsets you,  the emotional pain which occurs is because your inner perception of that person does not match with the reality of who they are. It creates internal suffering within you - not the other person.

So the opportunity here is to change your internal perception to match what actually is. This is the process of spiritual growth and wisdom.

2 - Moving to a different state of awareness 

Our human experience is multi-faceted. We exist both on a spiritual or existential level, and also within a physical world simultaneously. Most of the time, we are only aware of the physical nature of our existence. Our society is concerned primarily with the physical.

But when we experience severe distress, we can suddenly become aware of the actual nature of our experience. We realise that we are not only physical beings, but also have a spiritual aspect to who we are. We notice the body existing within consciousness, not the other way around.

Within a Western medical model, this dissociative tendency may be viewed as a disorder because it does not fit within the materialist model of health.  However, within an Eastern or spiritual worldview, this recognition is seen as a valuable insight into the fundamental nature of life and consciousness.

3 - Questioning life at an existential level

The third way in which adversity can create spiritual growth is because it acts as a catalyst for questioning life on an existential level.

Consider a scenario where a person has a long-term disability, or a life-threatening illness. In this situation, the person is forced to focus on the nature of their physical existence. This can often lead to questions about the nature of life and death - a subject matter which most people would never contemplate.

This heightened awareness of the physical body begins a process of serious exploration into the relationship between personal experience, spirituality and physicality.

Using adversity for spiritual growth

Being on a spiritual path means that every experience in life presents an opportunity for personal growth. Whenever you encounter high levels of stress, it is because there is a discrepancy between your personal expectations of life, and the reality of existence.

It must be acknowledged that this can be an extremely difficult process. But it is one which gives deeper meaning and coherence to life, and which can simultaneously help you to develop a greater capacity for presence in the world.