Notes on Spiritual Emergency

by Bob Manrodt

Everyone has a story. We need the opportunity to tell our stories. What ever we have gone through, according to the way we see it, is our own story. Each is unique. Each is different. Each has value.

In June of 1995 Sally Clay and I facillitated a Spiritual Emergency workshop at the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumer Association annual convention in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I met Sally on the Internet. Over time, as we communicated our stories, I was struck by the similarities that existed between us. Sally was the keynote speaker for the first night of the conference. Over the years Sally has been very active in mental health issues from a consumer standpoint. Aspects of what Sally said during her keynote address were very true for me, a primary aspect being the spirituality of forms of "madness"; my madness has always been spiritual.

I experienced two major forms of spiritual emergency - near-death and "psychosis". I've worked to understand my experiences over many years. My experiences happened for me; they were difficult in their occurrence and difficult in coming to terms with them. There are aspects of these experiences that have been great gifts. One of these gifts is that my experiences enabled a breaking down of certain mental structures, cultural assumptions and conditioning. These breakdowns have constituted a coming to terms with the roots of awareness.

What is spiritual emergency? In recent years there has been some discussion of Spiritual Emergency. Stanislav Grof in his books has developed the view that some forms of radical awareness, at times precipating life crises, are spiritual crises rather than pathologies. We must support such experiences rather than pathologize. Actually, the concept of spiritual emergency has been around for thousands of years in many, if not most cultures. Shamans, mystics, and spiritual explorers have regularly experienced the same states of awareness as have modern "crazy folk". Joseph Campbell speaks of these sorts of radical awarenesses in his mythological work.

Spiritual Emergency is an alternative way of looking at certain states of what psychiatry terms as psychosis. This way of looking at the experience offers positive and beneficial perspectives rather than stigmatization and pathological categorization. Some of the same states experienced in extreme "psychosis" are the same states sought after by spiritual seekers in other times and places.

Other forms of mental illness can also be seen positively. They offer an opportunity to challenge consensus reality. Breakdown can represent opportunity for breakthrough. Ultimately each of us has find her own way but we can support one another. There are many alternatives to psychiatry

I've never forgotten my visions. They have power. They remain as spiritual experiences. The DSM serves as a consensus reality model of "normality"; one that is woefully inadequate. How many think the model of reality that is present in our society is working?

The DSM casts the spiritual traditions of the world as pathology. ie - psychiatric labelling of such states of awareness as "ideas of reference", "religious preoccupation", etc.

What is delusion? This often depends on context and version of reality. Several hundred years ago, everyone knew the earth was flat and was the center of the universe. Those who objected were castigated, abused or worse.

What about our assumptions of reality today? How would aliens arriving from another time/space see our society?

- In our obsession with money, essentially we worship pictures of dead presidents .
- A major cultural preoccupation is the training of people to kill fellow beings with high-tech weaponry.
Those who talk with angels or travel through other worlds are either crazy or experiencing gifts of wonderful spiritual experience, depending on who you talk to.

We must question reality and think for ourselves; we must examine our own beliefs - test reality in the workshop of our own lives.

For many years I operated under the delusion that there was some sort of "larger community consensus" amongst the so-called normal people. I thought that others were more aware, had it more together. I could not understand what my problem was. I was different, I was strange. I thought and felt differently and often voiced my thoughts and feelings. It has taken me 25 years to understand that most "normals" are basically confused and afaid.


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