The purpose of having a human life, according most traditional societies, is to learn about what it means to be human.
We humans occupy a middle ground between unthinking bodies and the world of spirit. We have undergone the trauma of being shoved into a human body – which looks and thinks like it is separate from all the other physical objects, including other human bodies, in the universe…with a sensory apparatus that confirms the delusion of separation.
Our task is to clamber back to the awareness of cosmic oneness – and preferably, if you follow the “embodied” or low road to spiritual evolution (which I do), to bring your body along with you as you progressively re-enter the world of spirit. Psychospiritual disciplines from massage to primal scream therapy to kundalini yoga and tantric sex – and some forms of meditation – all aim to reunite the body with its spiritual essence.
Stanislav Grof, the great, ground-breaking transpersonal psychologist, talks about spiritual evolution: the “true Self” pushes to break through the crusty soil of the human body and ego to re-unite itself with spiritual essence. This is the “one true path”, but is mostly not understood in modern materialistic societies. The person – who is bewildered by the information breaking through from the cosmic unconscious, has no models for what he or she is experiencing, no markers for what to expect, and no role-models or teachers or shamans to guide them along.
This natural “emergent” state of high energy – of spirit emerging from the physical body – can get rougher and rougher, can look pretty untogether. The person may need significantly less sleep and food – which can unnerve the people around them. They may get very big, very expressive. As they get progressively more direction from the world of Spirit (their Inner Pilot, their Self), they may get progressively less concerned with societal or organizational norms, less impressed by rules. They may become impervious to the disapproval of others. They may “fit in” less well at work. They may dance down city streets.
This exact behavior got my “soul friend” Diana, as a budding teen mystic, arrested, put in handcuffs in the back of a police car and – when she resisted – shot up with something that did not wear off for three days, until she woke up in front of a psychiatry class that had been given the task of coming up with the right diagnosis for her. Many of them were laughing at her as she came to.
Thus began a forty year (and counting) relationship with a very socially powerful psychiatric establishment – in the face of which this innocent indigenous peasant girl accepted their labels (which changed over the years) and their powerful psychiatric drugs (which also changed a lot, because all honest psychiatrists admit that they really have no idea which drug is going to help which person and that it is all trial and error).
And each new psychiatrist has their personal preferences, so part of the experience of a “mental patient” is to have their biochemistry violently jerked around by changes in medication. It is almost standard that inpatient psychiatrists – who fancy themselves the “real experts around mental illness” – take the patient off of all the drugs that their body had more-or-less gotten used to and put them on something altogether new, sometimes two or more changes in the course of a one or two week hospitalization.
This is what happened to me during my most recent (last Spring) hospitalization, when I totally lost track of all the meds that had been tried on me. At my discharge, I thought there had been one major change – but my inpatient psychiatrist, who lamented that “we tried everything we could think of” – to no avail, told me of several drugs that had been used on me, of which I had no memory. Along the way, I had no memory of my friend Amanda visiting me for an hour – or of whole days in those two weeks. He very genuinely apologized (a refreshing anomaly for his profession) that over two weeks nothing had helped – and that I was clearly leaving in almost as bad shape as I arrived.
They were letting me go just because they really believed that they couldn’t help me, because I was every day hating it more to be there – and because I promised them I would be “safe” if I went home. I was very consciously and intentionally lying to him. I felt pretty sure that I would within a few days – or maybe a week or two – follow through on my original plan to kill myself.
In so many societies, the person who is experiencing the “heightening” of this re-emergent state – heightened energy, aliveness, expressiveness, happiness, powerful affect and spiritual connection with all of life – is viewed as sacred, crucial to the overall health of the tribe…and sheltered from the onslaughts of daily, dualistic life until they have a chance to integrate all that is going on inside of them.
In our society, this “heightened” state – not understood and not supported – can get more and more ragged, with the person not looking good, not thinking as clearly, maybe not functioning at work. Western medicine, which is all about “being normal” and “functioning well”, is likely to diagnose the person as “manic” or even “psychotic” – and hit them up with powerful drugs that make it impossible for them to function at all, much less integrate all the powerful and confusing forces at work within them.
My dear and very close friend Tom Kilby –
who at one point lived with me for three years – recently said to me, “I know you manic – and this is not that. I’ve been reading your blog and am inclined to believe that you have got it right – that you actually are going through an experience of ‘waking up’. My biggest fear about this comes from watching the experience of another friend who I likewise thought was genuinely having a big spiritual transformation. What happened for him was that he then came to the conclusion that he actually was God. He became totally psychotic. I don’t yet see any sign of this with you, but fear you will go the same way.”
Kim Bella, the clinical psychologist/director of Asheville’s Center for Spiritual Emergence – which provides psychological and drug abuse “treatment” through the lens of “spiritual emergence” and “emergency” – floored me, when I told her of my friend’s concerns, by saying “We’re not intimidated by psychosis around here. It comes with the territory that, when a person is suddenly flooded with all this power and energy and awareness and cosmic connection and powerful emotion, that they would sometimes get confused about the source of all this: is it coming from Spirit, from God – a possibility for which none of their education, spiritual or otherwise, has prepared them?
“Or is this experience- since the ego has been telling us our whole lives that it is all about us – also somehow all about me? If I feel the power and oneness of God flowing through me, then maybe that means that I am God. To psychiatry, this is the worst thing that could happen – the dreaded ‘psychosis’, the king of mental illnesses, the proof that the ego has always been fatally flawed, and probably unfixable.” To Kim Bella, this is a natural and understandable confusion – a misperception that can be pretty reliably rectified with enough support, safety, reassurance and spiritually-oriented coaching and counseling. Someone who understands what is going on and isn’t afraid of it.