A taboo subject in spirituality

Jul 29th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles

By Jez Hughes

One of the taboo subjects in spirituality is its sometimes potential to cause or exacerbate psychotic experiences or other mental illnesses.

When I was in my twenties I did a Vipasana meditation retreat that literally sent me mad. It took at least three years to come back from, and quite honestly, I almost didn’t. I’d already had a propensity towards mental illness that began as a teenager, so it was an underlying problem. But the problem I found with this retreat was there was absolutely no holding or even understanding of the potentially destructive influence that this full on psychic surgery could have on the mentally vulnerable. I have since met many people who had similar experiences, and heard stories, of people who didn’t make it back and end up committing suicide after such experiences, as there is a sad story about a Canadian woman very recently.

Some of the shamanic work I’ve done subsequently has also taken me to that edge, particularly when I was training at the beginning and pushing myself particularly hard. Again, it didn’t always seem the people offering the teaching had any understanding of the depth that such spiritually opening experiences can take you to, and the potential negative consequences of this if you’re relationship with tangible reality has always been fragile. Or, the negative implications of the opening of too much trauma too quickly.

Nowadays, with the many powerful teacher plant and other ceremonies on offer, I know the potential for a damaging fall out is growing. As we are seeing. The problem isn’t with the traditions, or the practices. It’s that they often come from cultures that have no understanding of the level of mental illness and underlying trauma in modern, western society, often propounded by centuries of ancestral wounding. I know the indigenous people who I have worked with often don’t get the western mindset, and the often profound blocks there are to healing. How could they, when they come from traditions that are still connected in a way we can only sometimes dream of? Which is why we have to adapt such traditions to the particular disease of spirit or mind poisons we have in the West and not just swallow them whole.

One of the major problems in the west is that we’re not really embodied and have created a culture centred around disassociation. Therefore, if you are teaching something that is seeking to transcend body limitations, as a lot of spirituality is doing, if a person has yet to embody, to actually come into this plane of existence, the practice of going further out can then lead to massive disassociation or soul loss, which then paves the way for psychosis or other forms of trauma related mental illnesses.

The importance of being grounded, learning healthy boundaries etc can never be overestimated. This is the work that has to happen first, not the spiritually spectacular that so many are seeking. The other problem is that teachers or spiritual writers, don’t often talk about this kind of stuff, even if they may have their own propensity towards mental challenges. There is a taboo in the spiritual arena about mental illness, as people try and present an image of what it means to be ‘spiritual’, which somehow equates to being super sorted.

This is one of the reasons I tried to be as honest as possible in my book about my experiences and the dark places that learning this stuff can take you to. Underlying all of this I think is the fact that too much spirituality can be as damaging to mental health for some people as not enough. We need to have balance. And we need to respect ourselves enough, to know when to pull back, to be gentle and to nurture our emotional and physical well being. New traditions can then arise out of the particular needs of our culture, time and society, inspired by old traditions, but realising we might need to adapt to sometimes survive.

One of the simplest things that might help this is if we stopped trying to appear so sorted and really opened up to and embraced our true vulnerability.

find out more about Jez Hughes’ book The Heart of Life here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/heart-life

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2 Comments to “A taboo subject in spirituality”

  1. Elen Sentier says:

    Good Jez. There are too many teachers out there who don t have a clue about this and carry on regardless. Always check your teacher out. And if they seem tough checking you out that’s probably a plus in their favour.

  2. Thank you for speaking out on this. As a psychotherapist, I often cringe at some of the things I hear about teachers and healers doing. One of the best things they teach you as a clinical social worker is to know when you’re over your head. Unfortunately it takes a lot of education and experience to know this.

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