Culturally, because of Robin Williams and others before him, we are talking about bringing mental illness into the light. But I am reminded by reading Caroline Myss this past week that there is also the possibility of spiritual crisis, an aspect of being human that is even more ignored and taboo than psychological/brain issues.
We don’t only need to talk about and learn how to address chemical imbalances and mood disorders, we need to do the same for spiritual crisis outside of traditional religions. Not all depression or addiction is physiological and/or psychological in nature. Not all that we call madness is actual insanity. There are thousands of years of spiritual traditions in cultures around the world who recognized the difference and had mystics, priestesses or shamans to take people through their dark nights of the soul the same way a therapist takes a patient through the psychological healing of old wounds. But now many of us are without a guide through spiritual crisis because we reject traditional religions and fundamentalism.
Maybe some people can’t find their way out of the darkness and choose to die because we as a culture don’t even recognize the fact that the Dark Night of the Soul exists, let alone hold and guide people through navigating it. I realize today that this is what makes me different from so many other people I know who struggle with mental health and long term physical issues. I’ve always looked at my journey through a spiritual lens. Because I’ve always believed in something bigger than me I’ve always seen the potential for meaning and purpose in the Darkness, even when feeling battered and broken in the midst of it. I overcame a mental illness that “they” say is virtually incurable, with deep behavioral therapy being the only way out. Yet I’ve never had deep behavioral therapy. What I’ve done is deep spiritual and psycho-emotional work, mostly on my own and consciously through my relationships.
This is why despite all I’ve learned about both sides, the argument between science and spirituality doesn’t matter to me. Believing in God – whether the Christian God in the Sky or the Pagan Goddess or the All-is-One of Quantum Consciousness or the God of Life/Universe – believing in something bigger than me has made me sane and whole and led to me to deeper experiences of love and joy. Meds and therapy didn’t do it, a mystical perspective on my experience did. I don’t need any more evidence than that.
And this leads me to understand something about the work I truly desire to be doing with people. I have immense desire to hold space for people going through spiritual crisis, transformations that bring on the Dark Night. Because of my own experiences, I know that not everything big and deep can be addressed through traditional models. Yet when I think about my “work,” what I will get paid to do for the next 20-30 years of my life, I’ve limited myself to more practical options. Non-profit leadership. Coaching. Creating community spaces. These are culturally acceptable versions of what really calls to my heart – working with people in the spiritual dimension. Applying mystical sight and spiritual tools, in addition to practical psychological resources, to people’s lives, most especially their experiences of the Dark Night. Meds and therapy will work for some. Spiritual guidance will work for others. We need to transcend our rational fundamentalism (our belief that only the rational is right) and recognize that there is something deeper going on for some people.