You will not find them listed on WebMD, but “Diseases of Discipleship” are nonetheless very real. I have mentioned them in Healing Meaning and Purpose and also here. They are the result of sudden access to spiritual energies that can upset the balance of the body, mind and spirit. The great value of having a teacher is to help you balance and work with these energies without being harmed by them.
Several of my own teachers talked a lot about these diseases of discipleship, but I would particularly like to single out Douglas Baker and the writings of Roberto Assagioli, Del Pe, Torkom Saraydarian, Stan Grof and Alice Bailey.
I have also had a great deal of experience with people undergoing spiritual crises. Many have been referred to me by priests, clergy and intuitives, because many of the individuals thought that they were “going crazy,” and some had ben given psychiatric diagnoses. That extensive experience has helped me and some of my students to describe some of the “symptoms” in more detail.
Roberto Assagioli identified five critical points where problems may arise:
- Just before spiritual awakening begins
- Crises caused by spiritual awakening
- Reactions to spiritual awakening
- Phases of the process of transmutation
- The “Dark Night of the Soul”
Today I am just going to focus on the crises caused by spiritual awakening, because a great many people are experiencing them at the moment.
Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms include:
- Visual disturbances
- Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
- Paradoxically they often also find a raised pain threshold
- Increased metabolic rate, which may cause a slight increase in body temperature and a little weight loss
- Variable libido: some people lose all interest in sex, but most experience an increase in sexual desire, which can take them and any partners by surprise
- Disturbances in circadian rhythms
- Disturbances in thyroid and adrenal function: the thyroid often becomes slightly – or sometimes more than slightly – overactive and the adrenal glands slightly less responsive to stimulation
- Chronic fatigue
- Anxiety and a feeling of “butterflies” in the region of the solar plexus
- Inexplicable sensations roughly corresponding to the channels identified in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine
- Irregular breathing patterns, usually hyperventilation
- Something that feels like electricity under the tongue and under the palate
- Crying for no readily apparent reason
- As peoples’ consciousness rises, it is quite common to experience “Synesthesia” in which senses overlap: people may taste sounds, feel colors and “hear and see” with different parts of the body
- Psychic abilities often begin to appear: clairvoyance, clairaudience, spiritual intuition and the ability to heal
- Many begin to feel and see their own Inner Light and the Inner Light of other people
Not everyone gets all of these symptoms and they may come and go for a while. Some people don't get any at all, but they are unusual. There are two books by Hazel Courteney that detail some of what happened to her, and they are well worth a read.
It is important to emphasize that all of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by illnesses. So although most people who are going through all this want to avoid doctors, it is a very good idea to ensure that everything is okay. I once saw someone who had been told that she was having a kundalini experience, even though she did not have any of the usual features. She became very unwell, but felt much better when an insulin-producing tumor was removed from her pancreas.
The most important thing is to help people remain grounded. I have seen many people become extremely grandiose and even fanatical after going through a rapid spiritual awakening. It is also important to ensure that any physical symptoms - such as thyroid or blood pressure problems - do not continue unchecked.
Helping people who are going through spiritual change or crisis needs the help of a person or persons who understand physical and psychological problems, as well as being some way along the path of spiritual development. By “crisis” I do not mean crisis of faith, but a critical turning point in an individual’s personal development.
There are plenty of good ways of grounding using some physical, psychological and subtle system exercises. I have dozens of excellent techniques that I can publish if you are interested. Sometimes it is also a good idea to eat some heavy food.
It can be very helpful to get away form other people for a while. This doesn’t mean becoming a monk or nun, but just to avoid a bad case of people poisoning. In their overly sensitive state they can pick up a lot of negative things from the people around them. I have known a good many people who would begin to experience all the physical and psychological symptoms of the people around them.
Once we have confirmed that the person does not have all this as a result of thyroid disease or anxiety, it is essential to show them what is going on and the best way to approach and conceptualize it.
Next we help people to control some of the impulses that can otherwise swamp them. One of the many reasons for development of the sophisticated mind control techniques developed by Tibetan Buddhism was to help people watch their spiritual unfoldment without being overwhelmed by it.
We also try to help people to transmute psychological energies so that they can be used constructively.
Everybody is different, but in some people acupuncture, qigong, Reiki and homeopathy have all been helpful. Several of the flower essences can be very useful, in particular:
Every expert that I know in the field of spiritual development agrees with my observation that there are currently more people having major spiritual changes than ever before. It is essential for us all to know how to protect, support and birth them.
“To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance, and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others, by expressing in the world of forms - truth, love, purity and beauty - this is the sole game that has any intrinsic and absolute worth. All other incidents and attainments can, in themselves, have no lasting importance.”
--Meher Baba (Indian Spiritual Teacher who, from July 1925 maintained Silence, 1894-1969)
“You knock at the door of Reality. You shake your thought wings, loosen your shoulders, and open.”
--Jalal al-Din Rumi (Afghan Sufi Poet, 1207-1273)
“Life is a series of awakenings.”
--Sri Swami Sivananda (Indian Physician and Spiritual Teacher, 1887-1963)
“What we usually call human evolution is the awakening of the Divine Nature within us.”
--“Peace Pilgrim” (a.k.a. Mildred Norman, American Peace Activist, 1908-1981)