What is Spiritual Emergence?

Spiritual Emergence has been defined as “the movement of an individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of deeper connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos. An important part of this development is an increasing awareness of the spiritual dimension in one’s life and in the universal scheme of things.” (Grof & Grof, 1990)
When Spiritual Emergence is very rapid and dramatic this natural process can become a crisis, and Spiritual Emergence becomes Spiritual Emergency. This has also been called transpersonal crisis, acute psychosis with a positive outcome, positive disintegration and extreme states.

There is no sharp division between Emergence and Emergency, however distinguishing criteria include:-

a) an ‘Emergency’ generally has more depth and intensity
b) an ‘Emergence’ is more fluid and less overwhelming/traumatic
c) during an ‘Emergency’ it is very difficult to function in everyday life

Christina and Stanislav Grof have a more detailed table showing the differences between Spiritual Emergence and Spiritual Emergency, from their book, “The Stormy Search for the Self” (see table below) Spiritual Emergencies could also be defined as critical and experientially difficult stages of a profound psychological transformation that involves one’s entire being. These are crisis points within the transformational process of Emergence.
They take the form of non-ordinary states of consciousness and involve intense emotions, visions and other sensory changes, and unusual thoughts, as well as various physical manifestations. These episodes will often revolve around spiritual themes. The term ‘Spirituality’ should be reserved for situations that involve personal experiences of certain dimensions of reality that give one’s life and existence in general a numinous quality. C.G. Jung used the word ‘numinous’ to describe an experience that feels sacred, holy, or out of the ordinary (Grof & Grof, 1991). The terms ‘Spiritual Emergence’ and ‘Spiritual Emergency’ were coined by Dr Stanislav Grof (psychiatrist) and his wife Christina Grof who have worked for many years as therapists and researchers in the field of non-ordinary awareness and personal transformation. They have written many (books) about Spiritual Emergence containing much more information.
Before making a diagnosis of spiritual emergence, and deciding whether to use strategies of transpersonal psychotherapy, a good medical examination is highly recommended. It is important not to miss or neglect conditions that can be diagnosed by today’s clinical and laboratory techniques and require medical attention, such as infections, tumours, or circulatory diseases of the brain.

Differences between Spiritual Emergence & Spiritual Emergency

From: The Stormy Search for the Self By Christina and Stanislav Grof


  • Inner experiences are fluid, mild, easy to integrate.

  • New spiritual insights are welcome, desirable, expansive

  • Gradual infusion of ideas and insights into life.

  • Experiences of energy that are contained and are easily manageable.

  • Easy differentiation between internal and external experiences and transition from one to other.

  • Ease in incorporating non-ordinary states of consciousness into daily life.

  • Slow gradual change in awareness of self and world.

  • Excitement about inner experiences as they arise, willingness and ability to cooperate with them.

  • Accepting attitude toward change.

  • Ease in giving up control.

  • Trust in the process.

  • Difficult experiences treated as opportunities for change.

  • Positive experiences accepted as gifts.

  • Infrequent need to discuss experiences.

  • Discriminating when communicating about process (when, how, with whom).


  • Inner experiences are dynamic, jarring, difficult to integrate.

  • New spiritual insights may be philosophically challenging and threatening.

  • Overwhelming influx of experiences and insights.

  • Experiences of jolting tremors, shaking, energy disruptive to daily life.

  • Sometimes difficult to distinguish between internal and external experiences, or simultaneous occurrence of both.

  • Inner experiences interrupt and disturb daily life.

  • Abrupt, rapid shift in perception of self and world.

  • Ambivalence toward inner experiences, but willingness and ability to cooperate with them using guidance.

  • Resistance to change.

  • Need to be in control.

  • Dislike, mistrust of process.

  • Difficult experiences are overwhelming, often unwelcome.

  • Positive experiences are difficult to accept, seem undeserved, can be painful.

  • Frequent need to discuss experiences.

  • Indiscriminate communication about process.