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The shaman, mystic and psychotic
It sounds like the beginning of one of those three person jokes, i.e., the shaman, the mystic and the psychotic walked into a bar. But this isn’t a joke; this is more of a pondering aloud on the line between sanity and insanity, delusion and reason.
What prompted these ponderings was that I had to hospitalize someone this week. As a psychologist with a high functioning caseload, hospitalizations happen infrequently. They are not the norm for me. I always feel like a little part of me has died when the deed is done, and the patient has been admitted into the local psychiatric hospital.
Hospitalizations, while often necessary, can be, like most experiences, both beneficial and detrimental to the patient. They are variables such as medications, staff, hospital population and culture that can influence the experience.
One psychiatrist pal of mine contends that if patients were compliant with their psych meds, there would be a drastic decrease in hospitalizations. I think she voices a common theme among the psychiatric community.
That said, years ago, I heard another psychiatrist allow that hospitalizations were necessary when the patient needed community.
I like that idea. Don’t we all need community, be it family, friends or institutions, to hold us during our vulnerable moments? Not so ironically, that psychiatrist is also a nun. She understood, I believe, from a broader perspective.
This reminds me of shaman story:
There was an adolescent girl who had stopped talking and eating and was generally non-responsive. Her family was very worried and had desperately tried, without avail, to find the right treatment for their daughter. The experts they consulted had no idea what was wrong with the girl, and no one could identify her malady. As a last resort, the family took their daughter to a shaman in an outlying village.
The shaman assessed the situation, undoubtedly by reading the girl’s energy and communicating with his spirit guides.
The shaman told the family to return in one week’s time. He, then, called for some of the women of the village and instructed them to bathe the girl several times a day. While doing the bathing ritual, the women were to sing certain healing songs to the girl. And so they did.
After several days of this loving, holding treatment, the girl moved out of her non-responsive state and returned to her normal self. The unconditionally loving, communal acceptance and nurturing of the women, coupled with the power of the bathing ritual, had allowed the girl to heal and to return from her inner hell, where she had been reliving the rape she had just endured.
What happens when we lose touch with reality? Is there a way to come back beyond the convention of psychotropic drugs?
This week, the young man I had hospitalized, had also lost touch with reality. He heard voices and had found, among other scarier conclusions, a union with the Divine. Was my patient having a mystical moment or was he psychotic? Or could it have been both?
Joan of Arc was considered crazy by some because she admitted that she, too, heard voices; actually, she heard the voice of God.
From writer Lucretia B. Yaghijan, we have this delectable bit:
Captain Robert De Baudercourt: “How do you mean, voices?”
Joan of Arc: “I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.”
De Baudercourt: “They come from your imagination.”
Joan of Arc: “Of course. That is how the messages from God come to us.”
The voices told Joan to enter into battle in order to save her country. For her efforts, Joan of Arc became a national hero of France, and the Catholic Church canonized her and made her St. Joan. Both a hero and a saint, this is not bad for a woman who heard voices and, concomitantly, acted on her guidance.
I have recently worked with another young man, who had served in Iraq. As a result of the intense heat and overnight duty hours and lack of sleep, he had, to my way of thinking, a psychotic break, and psychotic meaning that his reality is distorted and delusional. Now, he wonders if his mind is controlled by aliens, aliens as in extra-terrestrials.
The idea of ET’s does not scare me off. The thought of mind control, however, sends up warning flares.
John Mack, now deceased, was a Harvard University psychiatrist and professor. He made a name for himself by facilitating psychotherapy groups for individuals who had experienced contact with extra-terrestrials. Mack was not ousted from the ivy-clad walls of Harvard. In fact, years ago, I heard him speak on everyday psychiatric diagnostic matters (borderlines, to be exact) at a Harvard conference.
In my shamanic work, I have had contact with Star people, animals, elements in nature and the dead. I hear voices; I see things. Am I nuts, too? I am sure some of you would say yes, but, really, are you so certain that my experiences were impossible? They were very real to me, and served as healing tools in my work with others.
In the 1990s, as a part of a research project, I began a series of pre-screening interviews to find appropriate candidates for a psychospiritual group I was forming. As part of the screening process, I asked each candidate the usual clinical assessment questions, which included inquiries regarding hearing voices and having visions.
From a clinical standpoint, hearing voices and having visions is considered delusional and psychotic. From a shamanic as well as mystical perspective, these are not considered criteria for concern. Clearly, context is everything. It all depends on the lens with which you choose to see.
See the light does get tricky here.
Obviously, I am not saying all psychotic episodes are mystical. But it is possible that someone in an expanded state might truly experience a mystical moment with God? I am not so quick to disallow the possibility.
And by mystical, I mean a direct experience with the god-head, in other words, a union and communion with the divine that can result in ecstasy, illumination and a rarified sense of oneness.
What I am saying is that the line between the clinical and the spiritual is more smudged than we might like to allow.
I like how Carl Jung defined maturity as being able to hold the tension of opposites. Perhaps, that is what is called for here.
Before we are quick to label and judge, maybe we should consider that there might be alternative ways to look at life and healing. There is not always one answer. Joan of Arc would, undoubtedly, concur.
About the author:
Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychologist, empath, and shaman who likes looking at life with the big viewfinder. Her website is www.channeledgrace.com