Is This Depression Or A Sign Of Spiritual Awakening?

I was teaching a young woman how to meditate and wondered whether her depression was the beginning of a spiritual awakening.

When I asked her why she wanted to learn to meditate, she shared that she’d been experiencing mild anxiety and depression for some time. She wanted to feel more peaceful inside, and her counsellor recommended meditation.

What we uncovered as the session progressed surprised both of us.

This woman was experiencing the inner conflict and turmoil that often accompanies the spiritual awakening process, a transition referred to as a dark night of the soul.

As her story unfolded, she told me she had no idea who she was and felt disconnected. She felt an inner tug of war between following her path and meeting the expectations of others and the societal norms that have given her the message that her happiness would be hinged on material success, getting married, and having children.

She said, “My biggest frustration is feeling like I am not connected within—that I am two separate people, what I think and feel. I truly believe I am not in touch with myself and believe it is the reason for countless poor choices in friendships and relationships.”

Use disconnection as a doorway to awakening.

My client was beginning to feel the pull of her soul and the deeper truths of her true self.

She was experiencing the signs arising from her soul that she wasn’t living in the right relationship with herself. She needed to pause, align with herself, and create the courage to make much-needed changes.

She was confused about the cause of her inner turmoil and wasn’t aware that we have a dual nature. The ancient wisdom teachings point to the idea that there’s a difference between our conditioned self and our true self that our soul energizes.

Her personality, combined with conditioning and messages about what it means to be a “good” woman, had become a prison for her. Her focus on others at the expense of herself and the suppression of her true feelings had diminished her life force energy. She felt depressed and anxious.

After reflection, this young woman had an epiphany—perhaps she wasn’t depressed. Maybe her soul was sending her a message that she wasn’t being true to herself and needed to find the courage to look inward to connect with herself and make some outer changes. She was going through this “dark night of the soul” to become more fully her true self.

Is this depression or signs of a spiritual awakening.

Some believe the soul withdraws energy from things not meant for us. From a spiritual perspective, this is part of the awakening process. From a traditional psychological perspective, this may be diagnosed as depression – a form of mental illness rather than a spiritual impulse and something new that needs to emerge.

Dr. Lisa Miller, the founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, explains, “This form of depression is very often a knock at the door as part of a spiritual quest.” In her book, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and our Quest for an Inspired Life, Dr. Miller explains that there appear to be many different types of “so-called depression” and that developmental depression is a “call from the soul.” It’s a “spiritual invitation to live more fully, love more deeply, and open into dialogue with the sacred universe. Sensed through our inner wisdom, this kind of depression – whether at a ripe life stage such as adolescence or midlife or in response to struggle or trauma – beckons us into a lifetime of awakening” (p. 174).

Dr. Miller explains that amongst middle-aged American women aged forty to fifty-nine, 23 percent take antidepressants. That’s almost one in four women. Why is that number so high? She shares that antidepressants are “used as a palliative for life, and while they improve the symptoms of low mood, they don’t treat the root cause of the distress” (p. 127). The article, 3 Tips To Help Women Navigate Their Midlife Unraveling, may provide some inspiration.

The difference between awakening and depression.

A mental health professional I interviewed about her journey through the dark night of the soul shared the difference between awakening and depression: “I had a history of depression and knew what it felt like. With this new experience, I could still get up in the morning, but it was a feeling of limbo and stuck. I could get out of bed and function, but there was no sense of purpose, no energy behind it. It wasn’t negative energy like depression that sucks you down into a hole.”

Many of the people I interviewed for 7 Truths For Navigating Your Dark Night Of The Soul Journey questioned whether they were depressed. However, it was difficult for them to explain why they knew it was part of a process. Something new needed to emerge, and they were in what one woman called the liminal space. It didn’t feel pointless.

In the book The Dark Night Of The Soul, psychiatrist Gerald G. May, M.D. puts it this way, “There is often a sense that down deep, people really wouldn’t trade their experience of the dark night for more pleasure – it’s as if at some level they sense the rightness of it.”

Are you listening to your soul?

The truth, however, is that most people who receive this invitation have no idea it’s an invitation from their soul.

When we ignore, deny or turn our back on the invitation because we don’t see it for what it is, we often experience symptoms such as emotional issues, physical health problems, relationship challenges, and jobs that don’t feel aligned.

More and more people are being called to shift from our conditioned personality being in the driver’s seat to our soul taking the lead. Awakening is a normal part of the evolution of our consciousness.

Unfortunately, most people, including those we go to for mental health support, do not understand what’s happening. This spiritual awakening process and the accompanying dark night of the soul are often misunderstood. People experiencing awakening react as if there’s something wrong when it’s natural and beautiful, albeit often difficult, the process of growth and change.

As we continued exploring what this awakening felt like for this woman, she experienced relief.

She was curious about spirituality and was drawn to learn more about a creative life force that she intuitively knew played a significant role in her life. She explained that she found herself asking the big questions in life: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? Why am I here? Why do I feel this way when I have so much to be grateful for?

These signs revealed that this woman was being called to awaken and begin the self-discovery journey.

What is awakening?

Awakening is a process whereby we become consciously aware of our dual nature and begin to witness ourselves in the context of our lives. In other words, we’re watching the movie rather than being part of the movie. This gives us perspective and the ability to discern where our thoughts, feelings, gut instincts, and stories are arising from. Are they from our conditioned selves or messages from our souls?

Part of the awakening process involves shifting our worldviews and beginning to see things differently and more clearly. For this woman, it was seeing how focusing too much on others’ needs at her own expense wasn’t healthy for her. She had lost touch with her true self!

Awakening is challenging because it requires us to shed the conditioned beliefs and habits that no longer allow us to fully step into our true selves.

It’s a process of unbecoming and becoming at the same time. We let go of who we are not and ways of being that aren’t serving us any longer to create space for our true selves to emerge.

As our true selves emerge slowly, we develop the right relationship with our personality and soul. We begin to feel more peaceful, energized, courageous, compassionate, and grounded, with a lightness of being that arises when we live in alignment with our souls.

In the following video, I speak with podcast host Yasmin Elzomor about how the summons from her soul that began in her 20s marked the beginning of a spiritual awakening.

If you feel called, please leave a comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!

(Original post, July 19, 2018; Updated June 30, 2021).