When Lightning Strikes: Transforming Perception of Spontaneous Spiritual Awakenings

A Spontaneous Spiritual Awakening (SSA) is defined as a “subjective experience characterized by a sudden sense of direct contact, union, or complete non-dual merging (experience of oneness) with a perceived ultimate reality, the universe, ‘God,’ or the Divine,” according to research psychologist Jessica Cornielle at the University of Greenwich. Despite estimates that about 140 million people globally experience SSAs every year, little research has been conducted on these profound events, which are known to incite extreme and long-term change in the experiencer’s life. While the impact of a Spontaneous Spiritual Awakening may be positive, it can also be debilitating to the person going through it, especially at first—and lack of awareness about SSAs often leads to misdiagnosis of mental illness, resulting in institutionalization and harm.

Enter When Lightning Strikes, a foundation and community created by and for people experiencing SSAs. Founders Kate West, Gordon Curtis and Sameer Patel started the organization in 2017 as a way to support those who—like themselves—have experienced or are currently going through these life-altering events. The organization also seeks to support the friends and family of those affected, as well as enact change on a larger scale to eliminate the misunderstanding and stigma around SSAs.

“In our modern Western world, individuals having [SSAs] are often misdiagnosed with mental issues and institutionalized due to misinformation as well as missing information on the topic. Exacerbated and prolonged symptoms, PTSD, higher tendency toward suicide, and homelessness—not to mention squandered human resource for society—are just some of the implications of such misinformation,” West, Curtis and Patel said. “We, the founders of this organization, are experiencers of profound and initially debilitating SSAs. We have survived the intense struggles those we serve are now facing. Everything we do has been formed out of a dire need to first save ourselves, then address the lack of awareness, misunderstanding and structural support leading to worse outcomes for others. This is what we wish we had during the throes of our experiences.”

When Lightning Strikes aims to educate and spread awareness about Spontaneous Spiritual Awakenings, such that these events are recognized and treated seriously by mental health professionals and embraced as an important part of human development, where the necessary support is given to those experiencing them. When Lighting Strikes also believes that SSAs have the ability to unlock global solutions and equip experiencers with valuable skills and insights that allow them to make significantly positive change on both a small and large scale. To the founders, it is vital to not only enact change, but also to serve as a support system for those experiencing SSAs, who may not find help elsewhere.

“Our foundation aims are to raise awareness across all levels of society and provide education, training and resources into the research of SSAs. On a collective level, we aim to affect a shift in public health policy that recognizes the existence of SSAs. Funding more research into the nature of this phenomena through subjects like physiology and neuroscience, we will develop a better understanding of SSAs, leading to a profound shift in the way that humanity understands and perceives itself. On an individual level, we also aim to foster communities and support for those going through this experience and currently have no support. Many of these people have been pathologized with mental health conditions or have to find ways to support themselves as they go through this process, which all too often happens without any knowledge of what an SSA is, turning what could be a gift into a trauma,” the founders said. 

When Lightning Strikes is working to advance its mission through community-building, film and media, and policy change through advocacy. There are currently more than 10,000 individuals in the foundation’s network, which includes the grassroots organizations Emerging Proud and The Kundalini Collective, in addition to When Lightning Strikes’ own community. Members are able to participate in weekly peer support circles and connect to others through robust online social networks. 

Content and media also plays an important role in the organization’s strategy. When Lightning Strikes is producing an eponymous documentary that will “shed light on the diverse traditions and practices surrounding Kundalini awakening while exploring its profound impact on the nature of human consciousness, the current state of our mental health, and our understanding of spirituality” by following several SSA experiencers from different parts of the world. Currently, the film trailer is complete, and the foundation has released two additional films: the first about individual awakening, and the second about collective awakening. It has also created and released multiple educational videos that feature the expertise of prominent psychologists and neuroscientists.

The third prong of the organization’s approach is policy change through advocacy. When Lightning Strikes partners with experts and researchers, and works to affect policy change with lobbying, campaigns, in-person conferences, global online summits and more. 

“We envision a society that has profound reverence for the natural, life altering process of SSA, where those in process receive the support and resources they need to emerge as the leaders, innovators and change agents that our chaotic times are calling for,” the founders said. 

When Lightning Strikes is raising funding to support its programming. For more information or to support the organization, please contact Humanitarian Social Innovations (https://hsifiscalsponsor.org/).