Is your life crisis really a spiritual calling in disguise?
So many are alive who don’t seem to care. Casual, easy, they move in the world as though untouched. But you take pleasure in the faces of those who know they thirst. You cherish those who grip you for survival. You are not dead yet, it’s not too late to open your depths by plunging into them and drink in the life that reveals itself quietly there. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Rilke’s Book of Hours)
In our journey towards “civilization” we’ve found more and more ways to numb and disconnect ourselves from Spirit. We live and work in gated communities, shopping centers, and office buildings, with air conditioned houses and cars, fences, landscapers, animal controllers, and we spend our leisure time immersed in complex and absorbing technological worlds.
In order to deal with our soul starvation, we drown ourselves in prescription medications, alcohol, recreational drugs, consumerism and other soul-numbing forms of escapism. We even suffocate ourselves in rigid belief systems that moralize and judge others, promising to alleviate our sense of alienation from life and existential turmoil.
But our souls are wiser than all of this. There comes a moment in our lives where we grow out of the collective values and ways of living common to our societies. At a certain point in our lives, we realize that the values, attitudes, relationships and beliefs we’ve held no longer contribute to the development of who we truly are: our authentic selves.
This life crisis, although painful, provides a vital opportunity for us to begin our spiritual journeys towards wholeness.
Quarter-Life, Middle-Life and Deathbed Crisis
In our Western soul-suppressing societies, many of us experience our “true callings” towards the spiritual journey throughout life, but most of us never truly “hear” or answer to them.
This spiritual calling presents itself in many ways throughout our lives such as the death of loved ones, suicidal depressions, illnesses, near-death experiences, divorce, and so forth. But there are three main milestones that call to us the most loudly.
The first calling is what we modernly refer to as the “quarter-life crisis.” The quarter-life crisis happens in the first quarter of life: generally after we finish high school or university. At this time in our lives, we intuitively know that we need to “find” ourselves by leaving behind our family, friends and hometowns. These people and places formed our juvenile identities as children and teenagers.
When I answered this calling, I remembered feeling intense fear and uncertainty. Saying goodbye to everyone and everything you love is a very hard task.
The second great calling presents itself as a “midlife crisis.” This crisis may come in the form of an affair, a divorce, severe job unhappiness, an empty nest, lifeless relationships, endless life dissatisfaction, or disappointment with the way life has gone. Ultimately, in my opinion, the midlife crisis comes at a moment where you’ve gathered enough wisdom to know that you’re not going to live forever.
Most people who experience midlife crises have spent their entire lives raising a family, or working in a career. They haven’t had the time, or capacity, to ask the important questions in life. Eventually, something triggers the question, “Is this all there is?”
The third and final calling often comes as a deathbed crisis if we didn’t answer the previous two callings. The inevitability of an imminent death creates such immense turmoil and ego distress, that the light of consciousness is finally permitted to shine through us. Many hospice workers have confirmed this with me.
Although it’s better late than never, what a shame that so many people wait until their last moments to taste truth, deep insight and peace. Some never even experience it.
We all have to accept our imminent death someday in order to live life more fully. The sooner we come to terms with this, the better. But even if we receive this calling late in life, we are still blessed to receive it.
Surrendering to the Hurricane
Listening to your calling and accepting your spiritual awakening comes like a great hurricane.
Suddenly everything you’ve ever known is ripped away from you and lost in the tempest. The more you struggle, the more you get thrown around mercilessly. But the moment you surrender, you stand in the eye of the hurricane peacefully allowing everything that doesn’t serve you to be swept away.
Surrendering is extremely important in two ways. Firstly, it allows you to let go of your former limiting self, e.g. all of your beliefs, ambitions, roles, and perceptions of how you were suppose to be. And secondly surrendering allows you to embody your Soul, that is, all of your deepest longings, dreams and wildest passions.
It’s natural to experience fear and resistance in the face of the hurricane. You’ll need to deeply explore what parts of you are creating resistance. There are several ways to do this but the simplest way (in my opinion) is to write down how the fear feels in your body. What images and memories arise during your process of surrendering? Writing down what happened when you were “called” to the spiritual journey is also a great exercize, for example: where you were when it happened, what catalyzed it, how your body felt, what emotions arose within you, and other significant life events connected to it.
As you walk into the heart of your life crisis, you will need to confide in others who are going through similar experiences. This can bring a great sense of emotional alleviation and kinship, and you can find many online and local groups dedicated to inner awakenings. (For example, you’ll find a lot of kindred spirits on this website!)
Be prepared to experience immense loneliness as well. After all, surrendering your former worldview essentially separates you from your habitual way of life, including your old anchors, comforts and even friends or family members. Here are some ways to handle this temporary loneliness.
Unfortunately some people that go through life crises handle their previous responsibilities and commitments in unhealthy ways. You don’t necessarily need to quit your job, get divorced, sell your house, abandon your children, and leave your friends to embark on the spiritual path. Instead, starting your journey means becoming more in-tune with your soul, and exploring what is no longer supporting your growth and self-exploration.
I like to think of this period in life as “spiritual simplification.” In other words, what roles, relationships, activities, and possessions are in the way of Spirit flowing through you?
4 Signs You’ve Had a Spiritual Calling
So how do we know if we’re experiencing a deep calling towards spiritual awakening, or just a momentary mood swing or desire to escape from our life responsibilities?
Mythologist Joseph Campbell notes four qualities that accompany the spiritual calling. I’ve found them to be quite accurate and useful:
1) It’s not an avoidance of responsibility. Rather than providing you an opportunity to escape from your problems or burdens, a spiritual calling feels almost ominous. We all have problems we’d rather not face in our daily lives, but if you’re experiencing a spiritual calling, you’ll somehow sense that a difficult and overwhelming journey lies ahead of you. Despite this, there is a profound desire to embark on it.
2) It’s familiar yet frightening. Many describe the sensation as déjà vu or familiarity when listening to the voice of their souls.
3) You feel as though you’ve reached the end of your current journey. Whether you want to realize it or not, you feel as though your current path has reached a dead end. What once made you happy and excited now feels empty.
4) You weren’t looking for your true calling, it found you. Your calling was unexpected and unwanted. But now you face the fork in the road that demands your decision.
Ask yourself, what would happen if you ignored this calling? What emotions arise within you at the thought, and what do they reveal? You might also like to listen to whatever you feel drawn towards, pursue it, and pay attention to whether it feels intuitively right, or has undertones of fear beneath. When it’s a spiritual awakening, a true calling, you’ll feel closer to home with every step.