Perhaps the foundation point of my own spiritual journey is the area of ‘mental health’, following the psychosis and subsequent suicide of my partner in 2002. Bizarre symptoms of persecutory paranoia, code-breaking behaviour and auditory 'delusions' were the normality of life for him for some time. This experience, alongside my subsequent academic education, spiritual practice, life challenges and deep contemplations have afforded me some valuable insights.
Mental health disorders
The fixed perception of self, the judgemental associations that manifest the rigidity of 'I' can lead to an idea of self or other that causes unnecessary suffering. When this suffering becomes continuously overwhelming for a period of time it is called 'dis-order'.
Because in the West we do not cultivate inner, spiritual connection as part of our cultural habit, we can end up reacting from the insecurities of the ego; which is the matrix of attachments we have built up with our identification with the external, and internal world. Our natural, spiritual life force, our chi, our Prana moves through us with ease yet we attach, through habit, to the mind's interpretation of experience. Anxiety, depression, addiction, delusions, narcissism, psychosis and other experiences flourish as the bodymind’s way of defending and coping with the unpredictable changes to our mental energetic system, affecting us to the extent that our snse of self has become cut off from an inner connection. How long can one live stranded on the outer petal of the Lotus flower? (Zohar & Marshall, 2000). What is disorder? To me, there is clear expansion away from. and thus disruption to, harmony, that may also be considered a natural, harmonic progression in our global evolution of consciousness. But it does not seem to happen without suffering. There are different ways of being in the world, so let these differences flourish without judgement, then perhaps they would not distort in to extremes.
Medication that suppresses symptoms may lead to more severe problems if the energy of the experiences are not allowed to flow/be processed by the bodymind. The body is a filter, a receiver, a tuner and antennae to the external world. Some individuals may be so overwhelmed by their experiences that medication is necessary in order to manage their lives. However, medication is likely to be playing a part in blocking what needs to be dealt with. Arranging under medical supervision, to try a gradual reduction in medication, combining this with regular meditation and transpersonal/integrative life-approaches, is wisdom in practice.
In Western psychiatry it is not standard practice for doctors to be formally trained in spiritual-scientific aspects of the psyche. OMpassion is a community interest company I have set up that delivers training courses, workshops and talks that explains the science of compassion, designed for care staff, mental health service users and the general public (see www.OMpassion.co.uk/courses).
When a person starts to believe they are not normal, disorder is more liikely to unravel. It is self doubt/insecurity/fear that is the root of many mental health disorders, given their roots in the ego. It is my opinion that we are lacking the context for many non-orindary experiences, that are not understood by Western Psychiatry but fully accommodated by other cultures. We lack awareness of a connection to our inner self, because we do not connect with it often enough. Labels are fine for people to feel secure about what they are dealing with, for a course of action to be created in response to the label, but mental health symptoms like any experience, will have a functional role.
People are as we are, we view the world as we do, but if we are not categorisable and predictable to each other, then somehow we are scared by this. Mainstream science is fearful of anything outside of the two white lines.
Psychosis & Delusions
My experience as a personal carer to someone with an acute psychotic disorder afforded me valuable insight in to the nature of this experience.
Psychosis is a broad term that has been used by clinical psychologists to define anything that is considered to be a ‘loss of contact with reality’, illustrated most frequently by delusions and/or visual or auditory hallucinations. Delusions are beliefs that are not agreed upon by the majority of people. Delusions are experienced every time you think someone doesn't like you when they do, or vice versa. It is also not uncommon for people to hear voices. When these experiences become continuously unmanageable to a person however, it is called 'disorder'.
Many delusions follow certain trends that appear again and again. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual used in Western psychiatry categorizes symptoms that include; beliefs that another person is going to harm them; that they think they are better than others, or that their partner is cheating on them are not impossible scenarios. However they appear as symptoms of specific types of psychosis when their prevalence is consistently disruptive to the person’s functioning. The spiralling effect takes a seed that was born from truth, watered by the emotions we feed it. The beauty of life is that it is creation, but we are the ones creating with it in a very real way. By understanding the relationship between the metaphysical realm and our psyche, we can begin to more fully appreciate the function of mind.
More acute delusions might include grandiose beliefs (e.g. that the person is here to save the world, that they are Jesus Christ), and somatic beliefs (e.g. that they are infected with parasites). A delusion is a belief that does not fit the normal, cultural perception. So, what if the culture were missing half the picture? The challenge therefore is with the person having difficulty managing their experiences, combined with a society that has defined the two white lines of normality. This is the challenge we need to overcome.
While traditional therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy attempt to 'correct distorted thinking', mindful 'acceptance' honours the experience without casting judgements of right or wrong and without trying to change the experience. The Buddhists will tell you that 'right view' is essential to the cessation of suffering. This term 'right' refers more to a wholeness or completeness. It is the first of the noble eightfold path. The other seven principles are right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. We must learn to have compassion, understanding, love and wisdom when working with mental health patients in order for them to have any real chance of rehabilitation. Mindfulness is the fundamental practice that enables us to reconnect with our inner self that is required to understand and empathise with another. As human beings we are here to experience and overcome life challenges, not taking them on our shoulders, or suppressing them through fear of the unknown. These challenges are a result of our conditioning. To be truthful to, is to 'acknowledge' the dynamic that exists, rather than feel responsible for it. If we can approach our experiences this way, we find a new mode of being in the world.
The daily practice for anxiety can only be nonjudgemental acceptance, for all our fears can be rooted to a false sense of self. Meditation is almost like ‘exposure’ therapy that clinical psychologists use to treat phobias. Being exposed to what is of greatest fear to you, with support, allows the threat to dissolve. I myself have experienced much anxiety over the years and this had been a result of investing my sense of self in what other people made of me. Granted, this is one sure way of letting more light in to your body, if truth is Light. What seemed to be problematic was what I did with that information. What I made of 'myself'. The truth is distorted by the shadow that you cast upon it. This shadow is fear, or self doubt and for me I feared that the other person was ‘right’. 'Right' is not the opposite of 'false'. 'Truth' is the opposite of 'false'.
Acceptance dissolves fear by the simple act of bringing to light that which was hidden. To allow fear to surface and to work with it rather than react, or suppress it or spiral with it. Welcoming your experiences moves the spotlight of your attention upon them, so that you can be with whatever it is you feel and not die from it. In this way, it is about learning to trust. Like a river that lets the water flow, there is no pressure build up. Only then can the force that drives the body vehicle be fully experienced. Is this acceptance possible without wisdom? Spirit : Science was created to guide the reader, so that the wider context, the wiser context, can be realised and we can truly master ourselves.
Panic attacks on some level are the expression of energy that has built up, either suddenly, or over time and now has nowhere to go. Using the river analogy, the pressure that builds up at the dam must be allowed to release. The process of releasing however, will allow an influx of energy to flow through you and this can feel scary. For me, the panic was ‘what to do with this energy?’, ‘what happens if I let go?’. You must in your own time find a way of keeping calm. Don’t worry about needing to leave a room, your fear of other people’s opinions will only increase the energy, but if you end up worrying then 'ok', worry. This in itself is allowing the energy to disperse and this is all that is needed. With trust you will find the experience is temporary. The more you 'think' you are going to pass out or die or are losing the plot, the more challenging the experience becomes, so relax. Your body is always working to your greatest benefit. For example, when panic attacks arise at the 'wrong time', (e.g. when you cannot leave a room), you are thus forced to manage the experience. Don’t wish it away, but welcome it in. If you can do this you will experience the energy dispersing and leaving you with calm.
For me, panic attacks were not accompanied by any emotion as such. If there is emotion there, perhaps you can use it to create your life as you want it to be. Emotions are a whole new ball game!
For me, depression is the inverse of anxiety. When we have taken in all that information that was meant to flow, but we have become embroiled in it with the mind. We have tried to analyse it, understand it, overcome it, justify it, change it, you name it. Depression is the result of absorption in to the body without letting it flow through you. While anxiety tries to block the energy, depression cannot let go of it. Drinking water is important to flush out old energy. Exercise is important because this allow the body to release past energy from the cells of your body.
Each cell of your body radiates its own memory system, expressed as an energetic field that is maintained by thought. Clinical studies have shown that mindfulness practice eases depression. Yet, anxiety can emerge when we are faced with memories that have been suppressed. Anxiety may indeed form part of the path from depression to wellbeing. The question is, how much easier would it be to experience energy changes, if we didn’t label them so much? The ‘disorder’ can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is the power of creation, the force that is utilized by the mind in our day to day lives. Learn to use your mind effectively.
Mind magnification is a tool that can be utilised. In a negative sense, it happens when we become too attached to a given thought. However it can also happen during Mindfulness meditation which allows previously suppressed memories to rise to the surface. This can be scary. During meditation at least, thoughts and memories that you were not before aware of may suddenly appear. This is the body’s way of healing itself, bringing forward memories and events that need to be released through purely being with the experience, letting it dispers in the ether. The function of air on this level of abstraction, would make for an interesting discussion. The healing process is seeing, allowing/accepting and a letting go. These images, thoughts and sensations are energies that flush through your system to cleanse and rejuvenate the bodymind. ".
Recognise also, that we draw in other people's ailments, life woes and stories and we breathe out our own 'take' on these experiences. Within this ebb and flow of life, we forget that we are all experiencing from the same source. It is not your individual responsibility to fix anything, only to process, learn and let go again. If you do not do this, you may end up creating more challenges, for all life is creation.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
When something very traumatic has happened, or something that we later reflect upon with traumatic feelings, the memories may appear again and again until they are processed. PTSD is the bodymind's way of doing this. Where we have built defenses over long periods of time, been conditioned by the society we live in and feel threatened by events we do not understand, the energy that has been blocked by the defenses can be very powerful indeed and someone can find themselves re-living the event as if it were happening that moment. Trauma however is part of our human experience. Being born is one of the most traumatic experiences a person could encounter and its effects may manifest in patterns of struggles/challenges that emerge in cycles throughout our lives (see the work of Stanislav and Christina Grof). So, what you think is the cause of your problem 'now', may not be so simply analysed. For this reason, it is wise to accept the experience without the need to understand it fully, but relatively (relative to the situation at hand) so that change can finally take place.
Creators draw upon this universal consciousness and make wonderful shapes and expressions of it. While it is not our responsibility to fix the challenges, it is our responsibility to acknowledge them. For very creative or analytical individuals, it may not be so easy to disentangle from their interaction with life perceptions and experiences. For many people in general, it is not always easy to leave an issue alone until there is understanding, or change. We are too fearful of 'accepting' things as they are, because we are too busy identifying with it and if we get past this part, then we think that acceptance means there can be no change!
Acceptance is not the opposite of change, it is the opposite of defense. Acceptance is letting the river flow, which in itself implies change. Although this happens naturally in its own time, with awareness. Acceptance is letting what is already there, be there, because you cannot go back in time. Acceptance therefore becomes a facilitator, a medium for change to be made possible.
Nonjudgemental acceptance is experiencing and letting go, without attaching to any emotional investment with it. It is recognizing that the world is fluid and alive and unearthing compassion in its momentum. It is my experience that depression can be created by the mind that wishes to label everything it encounters. Our moods can change from one moment to the next….but not if we have fixated upon them and decided what we ‘are’ for the day/week/forever! This is not so.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
The obsessive nature of most people’s thoughts in today’s Western culture is not uncommon. The incessant need to experience, think, affirm, reaffirm, check, double check, self loathing, other loathing, is naturally going to emerge from the fast-paced, analytical self-judgemental, self-policing culture that we live in. OCD perhaps is the only disorder we actually have. It is extreme attachment to thought and/or sensation and reacting to it.
Attachment or entanglement to what it is we are experiencing, is the thread woven throughout depression, anxiety and psychosis. If someone is able to accept their delusions, would they not be happy? If we changed the word 'delusion' to 'experience', would it be easier to accept?
Mental health disorders are only disorders if they are problematic. The line between disorder and well being can only be defined by the subjective and functional experience, how it affects our lives day to day. A nonspiritual science is interested only in mechanics, not function. There is purpose to the experience, but it requires trust. If you can trust then you can let go of the experience, without taking some judgement of it on a personal level through fear/insecurity. It is not about shutting off from experience, or pretending it is not your experience, or trying to hold the experience in your body long enough to analyse it and understand it fully, it is about experiencing whatever emerges and letting it flow, appreciating the movement. This movement can be interacted with and abstracted from if you wish, for the purpose of creation and exploration. However, when this interaction becomes a habit, the laws of physics prevail and the entanlgement becomes difficult to disengage from again. Just like neurons that fire together wire together over a period of time.
Zen Buddhist monk, Dogen, says that with truth may come a certain amount of fear, which we may need to experience, but not to be disturbed by it to the extent that it interferes with the normal function of something (Reverend Master Daishin Yalon, 2005). From my own personal struggle with fear, I tried many approaches before using the mindful way. Being mindful of the experience, I began to approach fear as the ‘no thing’ and all things at the same time; the blank canvas of potential within which I could create anew. This worked to an extent, but I found that I was unable to create anew and instead old habits of anxiety kept emerging. I began to see fear as the playground bully, who only hurt others because they felt unworthy about themselves. I began to feel warmth and colour, but it relied upon my own will power.
Daily life & our interconnected nature
The feelings that make up our day may sway from one subtle mood to the next, expressed as the fluidity of life itself. This is somewhat different to the fixed idea of self that the ego likes to maintain. However, the ups and downs are as much to do with other people around you, the town you live in, the country, events in the world. Yet we may spend much time trying to work out what is wrong with ‘me’. The ‘me’ the ‘ego’ is the separateness of mind. The thoughts that emerge may be our extrapolation, reacting or responding to how we are feeling. Yet, what we are experiencing is inside and outside of us at the same time. It is what we do with the information we breathe in, what we do with the experience, that is important for how we breathe out our contribution back in to the field. The nature of extrasensory perception (ESP), parapsychology and how shared states of consciousness emerge are become an integral part of how we can heal ourselves, clearing the path for others to do the same. That all things are 'one' does not necessarily mean we are all feeling connected, it means that because we share a fundamental connection, your problem is my problem and vice versa. This is a double-edged sword, if you like. We must understand our interconnected nature balancing compassion with wisdom, if we are to evolve peacefully.