ADRIAN: How can you describe the concept of spiritual emergency through the lens of astrology?
RENN: Well, I can talk a little bit about it, but I don’t know how much astrological insight per se I can offer. Stan and Christina Grof coined this term of spiritual emergency to describe situations where a person’s unconscious contents suddenly begin to emerge with a lot of force, disrupting their ability to function in the everyday world, forcing them to turn inward and focus on those contents. This can often be accompanied by activation of kundalini energy, from the base of the spine which I see as an evolutionary force going into overdrive.
Spiritual emergencies can be precipitated by powerful spiritual practices, such as intense meditation or concentration, through psychedelic experiences, through crises, such as a death in the family, and sometimes just spontaneously with no obvious catalyzing factors. These are tremendous opportunities, however, and the Grofs somes refer to the Chinese characters for crisis which involves two parts: one meaning danger and the other opportunity—that’s a good description of these states. We should be giving people a lot of support. Ideally they would have 24-hour back-up support where they can just go into the process for as long as they need. You always want to keep them from dangerous traffic or windows, things like that, from doing dangerous acrobatic maneuvers like standing on their heads or something where they might damage their necks. People’s judgments on issues around safety may be temporarily impaired. The other one would be that they get enough to eat. People can lose weight extremely rapidly in those situations; their body goes into a kind of overdrive mode. It is important get enough calories so they don’t become dangerously thin.
Sometimes people have trouble sleeping, and then the lack of sleep weakens the ego and allows even more process to come up, which creates a kind of feedback loop, so that’s another issue. But, it’s usually not a problem for at least the first week or two. I’ve seen several examples of this when people get enough support they can come through the other side more integrated than they were before and it’s like basically being in a psychedelic session that lasts for awhile. It’s like you are in and it just keeps going and going. And, you can’t really stop the process. There can be a tremendous release of long-buried inner material.
The problem is that in our current medical model in psychiatry, these states are grossly misunderstood, and if someone’s family took the individual to a hospital, the first thing they would do would be to give them powerful antidepressants or antipsychotics which would then create several new problems for them. One is that it would suppress the energies, it wouldn’t make them go away – which is dissociating the person from their unconscious state which could really have long-term negative results and would preclude the possibility of working through the energies. It would also give them the stigma of having a psychological label, a diagnosis and would create legal problems for them if they want to do Holotropic Breathwork or other types of powerful breathwork techniques in the future, not to mention issues for their self-esteem and self-image. Most people who have been psychiatrically hospitalized end up with increased legal issues for facilitators who might want to work with them. This depends on the situation as there are no absolute contraindications, but it certainly is something that needs to be discussed and can present problems.
So it would be much better if people could get support when it comes to working and facing the material right at the time. The best prognosis would be for people who already function at a fairly high level in their everyday lives, are well-established and are intelligent, whose symptoms come on suddenly, in an acute onset. For persons who have had terrible emotional problems all their lives and have been suffering for a long time, then the spiritual emergency idea is not so clear-cut. With them long-term systematic psychotherapy would certainly be very beneficial.
I was lucky I had a powerful kundalini opening in 1982. I was 22 years old and was doing a lot of focusing at that time—breathing slowly and surrendering with each exhale—for about six months prior to that and I suddenly had a Kundalini experience and ended up quitting University at that time though I did go back and finish later. I went to Esalen and was able to do Holotropic Breathwork sessions that were available in the Esalen community twice a week, for about two or three months. It was a fantastic opportunity for me; I was so lucky to have had access to that. So few people do, I mean almost nobody would have had that perfect situation, so I was really very lucky.
ADRIAN: What were your transits at that moment?
RENN: Pluto’s opposition to the Sun was the driving force behind it. I think these kinds of spiritual emergencies, as the Grofs see them, are more likely under powerful Pluto and Uranus transits, whereas the Neptune and Saturn transits tend to have a different effect. But where there’s a sense of driving energies, pushing someone forward with a sense of a finite amount of suffering that will eventually end if you just keep going to the process. Obviously, Pluto’s opposition to the Sun would be one of the most powerful Pluto transits that a person can have. Uranus was also squaring my natal Pluto, so the Pluto-Uranus combinations are probably the most indicative of something like this sudden kundalini experience. Looking at the 1960s and early 70s with the Uranus-Pluto conjunction and at this present decade with the Uranus-Pluto square, I imagine a lot more people are having those types of experiences.
ADRIAN: Are there different types of spiritual emergencies?
RENN: Sure. Whenever you’re in a spiritual emergency you’re just accessing your own unconscious material, which is unique, to some extent, for each person.
ADRIAN: I mean in connection with the astrological transits…
RENN: As it’s conceived, by definition, I think spiritual emergency would apply more to powerful Pluto and Uranus transits. The various nuances or the specific elements that would occur would then depend on all the different astrological factors: how many BPM III themes might emerge would be dependent on the strength of Pluto and the various aspects to Pluto and so on. There’s no one transit that we can say this is going to happen at this time. We certainly don’t have a large enough sample yet to make that kind of correlation.