writings

Essay

Mental Illness Can Be A Profound Spiritual Path

Quotes Gathered By Alice Holstein, Ed.D.

“To be forced to undergo a journey through the wilderness is an archetypal experience. Perhaps everyone who is called upon to a higher psychological development must undergo such a wilderness experience…Looked at purely clinically, the journey through the wilderness appears to be a sickness or breakdown; looked at spiritually, it may be an initiation or rite-of-passage we must undergo in order that a change in consciousness may be brought about. Egocentricity dies hard in most of us. Often only the pain of a wilderness journey can bring about the desired new attitude.”--John Sanford, The Man Who Wrestled with God, p.22

“Suffering provides us with lessons that dispose us more readily to divine union and helps us to consider those things we take for granted. Tough grace puts these things in front of our face. We are pushed to make decisions about our relationship with God. Tough grace brings about a radical simplification of our lives by first purifying our hidden motives with love and compassion. It highlights just what we need for the spiritual journey and counsels us to leave the rest behind. In this way tough grace is itself a gift though it may be the kind of gift we aren’t too anxious to receive, until we witness its profound transformative effects on us. Then we understand.” (Teasdale, 2002)

“I learned that struggle tempers the steel of the soul. It straightens the backbone and purifies the heart. It makes demands on us that change us forever and make us new. It shows us who we are. Then we make choices, maybe for the first time in life, that determine not only what we’ll do with the rest of our life, but what kind of person we’ll be for the rest of it”--Sister Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle p. 85

“This brings us to the next paradox of entering into the kingdom of God; it is those who have recognized that they have been injured or hurt in some way in life who are most apt to come into the kingdom. There is no virtue in our weakness or injury as such, especially if this leads to self-pity, which completely defeats the creative purpose of the kingdom. But only a person who has recognized his or her own need, even despair, is ready for the kingdom; those who feel they are self-sufficient, those whom life has upheld in their one-sided orientation, remain caught in their egocentricity."--John Sanford, The Kingdom Within p.49

“One tries everything (in order to heal) and nothing seems to work; then a level of frustration arises that is so great that it breaks down the entire system. It is at this point that a radical change of meaning can occur. Such a change can never be brought about by an act of will. It involves opening up to something greater.”--David Bohm, interview with Don Factor, Infinite Potential p.319

“Tough grace is a gift from God to the soul in need of growth.”--Wayne Teasdale, A Monk in the World, 166

Psychotherapist Fritz Kunkel, a little known gem in psychology, pointed out a staging process similar to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey (Departure, Initiation, Return). First there is regression and reintegration. He believed it was the same as the “purgation of medieval mysticism’ when the rigid structure of the former life collapses. The second stage of the journey is turning toward the center, but we do so with a still small frame of reference. Here our fears are turned to anxiety. “This is the fire that follows the earthquake, followed by the still small voice.” (1 Kings, 19:11-13). The third stage of the journey is “illumination.” Intellectual insight is a part of our new eyes, but it is also an emotional experience and a change in our beliefs and choices that overthrows the whole system of our values, goals and means. It changes our whole viewpoint. We shift from less conscious and egocentric to a well-centered life pivoting around the Self. “The crisis, if it is complete, means conversion.”-- Kunkel/Sanford, 1984

Marion Woodman, author of Dancing in the Flames suggests that befriending the dark takes on new meaning. Finding a new, more conscious feminine is often accompanied by illness. Only suffering makes us whole, she proclaimed, and most of us are dragged toward wholeness. Aha! I thought; finally someone with her depth sees the positive side rather than judging symptoms as “bad” or “terrible,” easily fixed with pills. I certainly understood what being dragged toward wholeness meant, and I wished, wistfully, that other did too. For years I had suffered with mental illness, an almost 100% negative label. With Woodman’s insights I realized that I was tapping into a crucial reclaiming of the feminine that represents a consciousness level heretofore unknown. The importance of this development is especially important because we are a civilization cut off at the neck, full of intellectual knowledge but disconnected from both ourselves and nature. I did not understand this disembodiment factor until the illness led me to Woodman and Morris Berman who wrote Coming to Our Senses. Without better physical grounding, we remain a schizoid society. Woodman suggests that the feminine energy is identified with soul, the embodied part of the eternal, while masculine is identified with the spirit, the disembodied aspect of each person. Healing the rift between mind and body is what can heal the patriarchy’s ailing unconscious. The fact that it remains unconscious creates the personal, political and social ills around us.--Alice Holstein, paraphrasing fromWoodman, Dancing in the Flames

“So many of us do not know our own story. A story about who we are, not what we have done. About what we have faced to build what we have built, what we have drawn upon and risked to do it, what we have thought felt, feared and discovered through the events of our lives. The real story that belongs to us alone.”--Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom p xxvii