Do you know what an existential crisis feels like?
As best I can describe it, it feels like an emptiness, an incompleteness of being, as if something is missing. It often manifests as a void and erupts every now and again, seemingly at random times.
The good news is that it eventually subsides harmlessly, falling away like a random thought or dream.
That is until one fateful September morning.
In an instant, I went from being at the peak of my best life to a terrifying knowing that there was no reason, purpose or need for me to live anymore.
And I was not depressed. In fact, I had never been so good at…life!
I was listening to my inner voice, meditating, going to the gym, meeting friends, reading books, learning and growing by executing on all my passions and childhood dreams, and realizing them like clockwork.
But suddenly, I found myself extinguished, bombarded relentlessly by this question.
What’s the point?
And I didn’t have an answer.
The future yawned before me, a fog-filled-abyss.
I tried but couldn’t find refuge in my friends, family, work, activities, pets. Nor in my agnostic faith.
I felt an aching loneliness.
My spirit felt empty.
Everything felt meaningless.
Why Does A Spiritual Awakening Often Cause Loneliness?
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone — the spiritual loneliness that occurs as a result of an awakening is happening to many people from different religious communities on a global scale, at an accelerated rate.
Indeed, feeling lost after a spiritual awakening is something being felt with alarming repercussions everywhere.
According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. is suicide.
Rising in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, what is particularly odd is that more than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.
For behavioral scientist Dr. Clay Routledge, this suicide crisis is in part due to a general crisis of meaninglessness, confirmed by professors of philosophy, Owen Flanagan and Gregg Caruso.
They speak to the possibility that we are losing our main source of meaning, which for centuries was based on tradition, family and the divine, in favor of science.
Worried about my mental state, I spoke to a spiritual friend.
I was having a spiritual awakening.
How To Deal With Spiritual Loneliness And Awakening
When I say a spiritual awakening, I mean that I suddenly saw that the meaning I had given to things before, vanished.
When that happened, I thought it meant that NOTHING could ever have meaning again — I felt a sort of spiritual awakening isolation.
I’ve come to realize that instead, it just meant that those things that I used to give meaning to no longer had meaning for me.
Those were things I had been told by others — the external world of political, social and cultural expectations — had meaning instead of the things that I really loved, like creating, for the sake of creating.
To be able to have meaning in my life again, I knew I would need to figure things out, from scratch.
And so this time, I was going to be intentional and observant, creating new meaning in alignment with my soul as opposed to succumbing to something external.
How To Create New Spiritual Meaning And Not Feel So Alone
So if you are going through something similar, here are some tips that I’ve found really helpful.
- First, understand that what you are perceiving is a collapse of meaning in your life.
This is naturally deeply disturbing because as humans, we need meaning in our lives.
Without meaning, we become vulnerable to dangerous thoughts of self-destruction. This is a strong belief that was touched on by philosopher Viktor Frankl.
So, even though it may seem counterintuitive, be present and alone with yourself. Allow yourself to experience the shock of what you are going through and do it alone, on your own, even if it feels overwhelming.
Go for a run, scream, cry, let whatever needs to come out, come out.
Keep a journal to write down the questions coursing through you. Write down the dreams you had before, and how you feel about them now.
Take a break from the world and social media.
And even though it is incredibly isolating, know that there is something in this experience that is powerful and that will reveal answers to you in due course.
- Next, rekindle meaning in your life.
Although meaning can look different to each person, psychological literature shows that close relationships with other people is extremely important for a meaningful life.
But be careful: you need to connect with only the people who make you feel valued, that your contributions matter, that you belong.
So although I advise you to be alone at first, this doesn’t mean that it should be that way long-term.
When you are ready for answers, you may find it helpful to speak with others on a similar path to yours, who have experienced a similar awakening, rather than people who have not had such an experience and who may say the wrong things, even with the best intention, causing you to feel even more isolated.
- Then, remember that this is a spiritual crisis, and so the only remedy is the journey you have to undertake.
But if you feel that you wish to speak to a therapist, like I did, don’t hold yourself back.
Just know that the therapist may be addressing your concerns based on the laws at play in the modern, arguably spiritually-bankrupt capitalist world, where what you are feeling and sensing is not often taken seriously.
Rather than speaking to a therapist — mine told me that I was suffering from not having a clear goal, which was not exactly what I was going through — I would advise you to create space for new activities that allow you to explore your internal world.
Activities that can be helpful are related to mindfulness and meditation.
Your routine at this point will most probably be disrupted because it has lost its prior meaning. Meditating will provide you with a tool to ground yourself.
This is particularly useful since what you are going through is unique to you.
That is one of the challenges of a spiritual awakening — there are no guides and no one has all the answers. The spiritual awakening you are going through is after all, there to awaken YOU.
But that does not mean that you have to explore all the aspects of it alone.
One option is to join an in-person meditation course to start practicing as much as you need to. Surrounding yourselves with others — whom you don’t have to interact with if you don’t want to — will help remind you that you are not alone.
And it is OK if all of this feels weird, or if meditating makes no difference for days. Give it a month and see how you feel.
That’s what I did when I realized that no one seemed to understand and that I didn’t even know how to begin to explain what I was going through.
I practiced meditation every day and found it very useful because it gave me a sense of control.
I also joined a meditation group and was able to ask questions that helped me understand that everyone is struggling on some level too.
When you feel weird, it’s definitely comforting to have a reminder that you’re not alone!
- And finally, focus on today.
Don’t try to see the future. Don’t try to plan or figure everything out all at once.
Your entire conceptual framework for meaning has collapsed. It will take time for you to find meaning again. Trust that answers will begin to emerge as you go through this process.
My spiritual awakening is not over.
I still sometimes feel lost and doubtful about many things, but in the process, I’ve also had incredible breakthroughs and feel more grounded and powerful than I ever knew myself to be.
And so while it may seem like an impossibly lonely path to be on, know that you are not alone, and that once you emerge from that tunnel, you will create beautiful meaning in the world.
(Editor’s Note: The featured image is courtesy of Brooke Shaden and was used with permission.)