In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born:
And then she linked to an article called The Shamanic View of Mental Illness (featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé) by Stephanie Marohn. The following selection, under the subtitle of What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital, is what is most relevant to my experience.
On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of “beings” hanging around the patients, “entities” that are invisible to most people but that shamans and psychics are able to see. “They were causing the crisis in these people,” he says. It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients’ pain in the process. “The beings were acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of people. They were really fierce about that. The people they were doing that to were just screaming and yelling,” he said. He couldn’t stay in that environment and had to leave.
In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile the energies of both worlds–“the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and community.” That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need. Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer. “The other world’s relationship with our world is one of sponsorship,” Dr. Somé explains. “More often than not, the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other world.”
The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world. The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings’ attempts to merge were thwarted. The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer.
“The Western culture has consistently ignored the birth of the healer,” states Dr. Somé. “Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention. They have to try harder.” The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized. “The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in,” he notes.
It has been a challenging and difficult winter for me. Spring has been no easier. My sensitivity has increased dramatically over the past year, and that has been read as an invitation. Because I had specific, pertinent knowledge prior to my series of ‘spiritual emergencies’ of the past several months, I have managed to stay out of a mental hospital, but it came close a few times. It is tiring and exhausting work to maintain the perception of relative sanity to all but a few people (most of whom have been extremely supportive). This perception must be maintained because of the stigma of mental illness in this culture. Not only is mental illness sometimes caused by spiritual disturbances that need tending to but which are ignored or utterly dismissed as delusion, people who have issues with their mental stability have to go undercover lest they shoulder the exasperating and additionally wearisome burden of discrimination from people who are ill-informed and do not wish to correct that.
When one has the inclination towards becoming a healer and has had that inclination all one’s life, complete with a significant interest in shamanism specifically, but lacks the training necessary to cope with all that is coming one’s way, there is a certain level of naïvety. Things start out a certain way. It’s exciting. It’s very positive. It feels amazing. Not euphoric, mind you. Not mania-levels of amazing, just really good and happy, like things are moving in the right direction, and you’re finally going to make substantial in-roads towards making a lasting, positive difference in the world as a career path. It feels like this:
Everything is shiny! Everything is happy! Look at their innocent faces. There is momentum! Everything is good and you are at peace, taking it all as it comes. But I will tell you this. After months upon months of trying to keep up appearances and not knowing where to turn for the sort of training one needs in order to handle such a confusing onslaught of beings, energies, influences, etc., it becomes wearing, particularly when those beings, energies, influences are hellbent on exploiting any ounce of negativity and emotionality in one’s system — targeting the weak points in order to draw attention to them. The centre cannot hold. Things fall apart in one way or another. It feels like this:
It becomes a lived shamanic dismemberment experience. It is intense, traumatic, and not a process I ever wish to repeat. It has also been extremely useful and productive, and I am deeply grateful that this pain has had purpose. With the help of some supportive friends and a small handful of healers and helpers, I have managed to tend to and to begin in earnest a journey that is healing some of the most wounded parts of myself. It’s not a pretty process. There’s nothing tidy, nice, or pleasant about it. There is a lot of grieving. It is very private. There is a lot of crying involved because of the need to release. I hate crying.
I have been able to take this prolonged situation that, in many ways, could have been construed as being quite negative and very dark and turn it into something productive and useful. I am the sort of person who stubbornly refuses not to use every experience as a learning experience. There is a reason for everything, and no we don’t always get to know what that reason is. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a valid and important reason why any given thing happens. And yes, sometimes that reason is because we are stupid and make bad decisions, but still. Reason. And it’s hellishly painful, at times, too — both to be told there is a reason for bad things when nothing seems reasonable in this world and to actually experience those unreasonably bad things. It might serve us to toy with reframing ‘bad,’ choosing instead to call it ‘hard’. Hard is not necessarily bad. Good is not necessarily easy. There are so many shitty experiences that life has to offer each one of us, but those experiences teach us so much for the rest of our lives if we open ourselves to them rather than shutting them out, abjectly refusing to look at them to see if there’s anything useful there to learn. (There always will be.) We’re afraid of the pain, not realizing that, by avoiding it, we’re making it more painful than it needs to be, whatever “it” is.
And you know what? It’s ok to be afraid of the pain, and it’s ok to avoid. It’s necessary at times. It’s life-saving at times. But avoidance is meant to be temporary because avoidance is not living, it is defense. A life steeped in abject avoidance is a recipe for disease and ill-health. Sometimes, it can become vitally important to reassess your coping mechanisms to see if they’re serving you or if you are now serving them. It is a matter of whether you feel free or whether you feel defensive. Either way, your soul will evolve: It is as the 14th century medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, shares in her vision of what Christ said to her: “Botte alle shalle be wele, and alle manner of thinge shall be wele. [Vis. 13.45, 61]” But all shall be well and everything shall be well. Either way, it’s gonna be ok.
In realizing that I could turn this process that I was enduring into a learning experience, turn it into something positive, I decided to liken this exploitation of the negativity I held in my system to what therapists go through during their training. In order to become therapists, they have to go through therapy of their own. They have to deal with their own shit before they can effectively and safely help others deal with theirs.
I have a lot of shit to deal with. (We all do.)
Right now, however, I am learning that I need more training than I am currently willing to give myself over to. There are no definitive arrows pointing in a particular direction of training in this path, and so I am working to establish a temporary respite from pursuing healing as my vocation. To use the above phrasing of Stephanie Marohn, I am aborting this process of becoming a healer and am doing so consciously. To be sure, I am using this word to mean ‘pausing, setting aside’. Abort in order to retry later because this is an undeniable calling for me. Mostly because I don’t want to deny it! It is simply that I have recognized that I need to train in another area of my life for awhile, in order to learn other, more mundane things. And when the time is right, the birth process will begin again with gusto. It’s in a holding pattern for now, shelved for later. I’m ok with that. Shifting gears and changing directions is sometimes necessary and is sometimes also illusory — it’s all part of the process of getting myself where I need to be.
Alle shalle be wele.
It already is.
In time, it will feel well, too.