You can find Part One here
To start, I am going to set up a basic polarity concerning the differences between spiritual awakening and mental fracturing or illness. I will then go into the nuances, or how and why the basic polarity may not always be present, or so straightforward.
The spiritual awakening process is one of expansion. Whatever its source– from a shamanic calling or training, kundalini awakening, or many of the other paths up the “mountain”– what occurs is a perspective shift and relational shift in which someone moves beyond looking at themselves as the protagonist in this world.
This expansion allows for a releasing of beliefs and energies that hold the person separate; this largely means a process of noting what is external (what is creating reaction) and reconciling it inwardly.
It is a process of taking responsibility for oneself– in an adult, mature capacity (this has been greatly convoluted, by the way. We are not responsible and did not “create” our abuse as a child, and the 1 out of 4 children who go hungry in the US on a daily basis do not need to take “responsibility” for themselves). Rather, it is a process of moving past conditioning, past trauma, and primarily beliefs that create restrictions to the extent that there is clarity, and an emotional intelligence that allows for personal chaos and situations to be looked at inwardly.
This awakening process is best described as a series of relational shifts. When we are “asleep” we have only a small dot (our wounded, insular conceptualization of ourselves) and as we awaken we can consider as well as feel compassion for others– not only because we have moved beyond our blind, emotive reactions based on past trauma and rigid belief systems– but because our “dot” has expanded… and we now can recognize that what we are reactive to in others shows us what is unhealed within ourselves.
Awakening is not a personal process in many ways, although it outwardly appears that way. It is about seeing clearly the self in relationship to the world (or the cosmos) and to one another.
If we heal what we are reactive to outwardly, we are no longer reactive and have reconciled that aspect of our “shadow” (the repressed aspect of ourselves that is brought to our attention in the outer world) and begin to understand that we are in a large web of being– we are one– and can relate on a spiritually adult, clear level to one another. This does not mean that every emotional reaction will cease, or that emotions are “bad”– emotional intelligence and maturity allows for the full feeling of those emotions and the ability to have them flow through you without the reactivity of past traumas coloring them.
The awakening process allows for the immense amount of chaos that surrounds us in many ways to lessen. We create so much chaos for ourselves– sometimes out of just the idea that we should have so much chaos– and this can and does release so there is greater clarity and relationship between the self and outer.
There is the ability to sit with even the most disparate of beliefs, and consider the personal illusions and falsehoods created with openness. Someone who is “awake” will have the capacity to consider any belief or instinct that is creating separation (or heightened sense of ego) and understand that it is false, and reconcile what is behind it. There is a moving beyond the mental “rules” and societal constructs, not because there is no balance and grounding in reality or in the body, but because such things have simply been inwardly reconciled.
The need for judgment and outer division ceases, not because people are “all the same” or “all have equal things to offer”, but because you can simply meet them where they are, rather than try to change them or believe yourself superior to them. We all have things to work on, and someone awakening will know this with humility, and will simply work on what arises, knowing that as long as we are in a human body, we all will have struggle and things to work on.
In contrast, mental fracturing and illness creates contraction and separation. There is no capacity to see outside of the self (or expand beyond the “dot”); this is because if the daily experience is a battle there is no room or energy to consider anything else other than the self. In simpler terms, if a lion is currently chasing you, it is not a good time to consider the emotional needs or projections you are creating. It is a time to get away from the lion.
The “purification” process of awakening allows for chaos and fracturing to heal, which means not only less chaos, but less energy expended on the internal battles, or the fractured aspects of us fighting one another. This results in the capacity to actually have the energy to help others, to see outside the self, and to realize that in helping others you are helping yourself– it is a natural outreach of the path to be of assistance to others in some capacity. This does not mean you are completely “healed” by the way– it means that at some point your work will be to reconcile yourself outwardly, or to offer yourself and what you have learned (as well as your presence) to others who are former aspects of you, or who simply may need some guidance on the path you have already partially or fully walked down.
With mental fracturing, there is the idea of being alone, separate, an individual identity… often at war with the world, or endlessly being persecuted or victimized. There will be understanding of Self as the protagonist and the center of the universe– often with illusions and ideologies around being the “chosen one” or having immense power (or being “enlightened” or having nothing left to work on, or being on the eight level when everyone else in history has been at the seventh), while simultaneously creating a reality of being incredibly victimized by the spirit world, by people, and a removal or separation from the physical body and from the Earth as a whole.
In this fractured capacity, the person will either have the eventual clarity and healing to move beyond the needs and projections of the separate self, and to utilize tools to come back to the body and to the earth… or the rigidity and fear that comes from trauma and fracturing (and the need to feel like a separate protagonist), will perceive any outside information that runs contrary to this contracted self, healing, or healing professional as a form of attack– turning the person or information that goes contrary to belief systems into yet another attacker that must be defended against.
There are many reasons for this– the simplest being that the parts of us that are separate or fractured are that way for a reason: they were overwhelmed, traumatized, and deeply afraid. This traumatized “self” then created a reality or overlay, complete with belief systems, to make this separated reality “okay”– often complete with the illusions of the power that has been lost.
Ironically, the call for the modern-day “rugged individualism” comes from illusion and a fractured sense of self. The idea that one must heal themselves, or cannot reach out for support, is an illusion, and a hugely detrimental one at that. We heal relationally, which includes both inner, personal work, as well as reaching out to others and healing within the context of our communities. We are meant to share our burdens, as that allows for transcendence beyond the ideas of the fractured, separated, and illusory self.
In shamanic terms, this separated and traumatized self has experienced power loss and so has created the illusion of power, centered around the self as protagonist. If this power loss is healed, the illusions of power, the needs to be superior, and even the need for solipsistic ideologies lessen or cease, and humility and lessened chaos are a result.
One of the difficulties in creating such a binary is that it is easy to look at this as “spiritual awakening– good; mental fracturing– bad” and although such a framework is necessary, it is also necessary to transcend it. So let’s go ahead and do so…
The difficulty with determining spiritual awakening vs. psychosis or mental illness is that the overall trajectory needs to be understood. This is because there is carry-over between the two, and because the experience of ego death (read the previous blog) and relational shifts in and of themselves can be traumatizing. They can also trigger or bring up latent, or subconscious imbalances. We carry a lot within us that has been subconscious for a reason: it is because we lack the capacity, tools, or support to work our way through it. Such things emerging can be overwhelming.
There has been a lot of illusion about how the spiritual awakening process just creates this concept of “bliss”, or incorrect illusions about how we simply become happier and healthier, in a state of bliss as a result of the process. This is untrue, as what lies dormant within us are things we have difficulty reconciling or are rejecting for a reason.
For example, it was probably my tenth year of meditation that I first came upon the “Destroyer” energy (in the Spiritual Awakening Guide) and the aspects of myself that wanted my destruction, or to no longer be alive. Coming across our inner serial killer, our inner pedophile, our inner (insert something horrific here) and all of our shadow parts is a hard task, and they come up long beyond the time of simply responding to outer chaos and the sort of blind “sleeper” state of simple reactivity to the outer world. Having compassion for those aspects is key, and knowing that these parts of us arise for healing. However, we may still be reactive to them or lack the tools to deal with these aspects of ourselves.
The other difficulty is that there is bliss in the awakening process, there are flows, and waves, and heightened states that allow for an understanding of freedom. This can result in despair, despondency as they “flicker” (or you come out of them), and it is a hard thing to describe to people that you develop (or become aware of, rather) emotional complexity in the awakening process. Basically, you can be both in a state of bliss and depression simultaneously. You can be in pain and experience great stillness. You can be deeply grieving, feel joy, sadness, and love simultaneously. This is emotional intelligence at its most finely tuned.
As mentioned, there is even greater complexity in the fact that the experience of these “ego deaths” or relational shifts are traumatizing and overwhelming themselves. The sudden clarity of realizing a pattern that has shaped your entire reality being untrue is a hard thing to digest. The realization of inner patterns arising that were once held in our subconscious is difficult.
There is also the difficulty of the awakening process happening to someone that is already considerably fractured and unstable. If we picture ourselves as a mirror (with a gleaming, whole surface as being “enlightenment”… which is much rarer than popular culture espouses… and most of us having cracks and chips and severe trauma or biological/physical and etheric issues of the mind creating fractures or portions missing) the awakening process may happen to someone who has a few cracks, and can see through the process reasonably intact.
It also may happen to someone who has no idea what is going on or who has small or large cracks, or sections of their “mirror” missing. In the previous blog, I referred to how my process was so difficult largely because my physical body was out of line– and if we physically, mentally, emotionally, are already significantly out of balance, the process of accepting, surrendering, and working our way through relational shifts and identity shifts is much harder, and in some cases, insurmountable without assistance.
Erich Neumann referred to this concept as “higher” and “lower”– basically the differentiation being the in tact, or healthy “ego” (or the mirror having only a few cracks or scuffs). The “higher” spiritual experience would then be someone who can integrate the trauma of the experience and the subsequent release of beliefs and reformulation of identity. The “lower” experience would be someone who cannot, and who is further traumatized or becomes psychotic due to the overwhelm of the experience.
Similarly, there is the famous Joseph Campbell quote: “the psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight” which describes this as well.
However, while there are many, many people who fit the above… there are people who utilize the awakening experience as a framework for their fracturing or psychosis and who are not undergoing the process. Even people who are undergoing the awakening process may reach for things that reinforce trauma and disassociation (or are a comfort to their illusions and sense of separation).
This is why looking at the overall trajectory– if the person is going through an expansive process and identity shifts, or if they are contracted and fractured, utilizing the framework as a resource to experience relief or control or to feel powerful due to a fractured mirror.
Awakening should allow for ease in living, more freedom, a relationship to the earth and the people in it to develop. It should allow for expansion of beliefs, acceptance of others, release of judgment as a result of inner needs for control, and an increase in functioning if seen through.
It should also allow for understanding that the “transcendence” of the physical body is a way to reconcile inner fears of death, and realization of the temporary nature, and is not an excuse or reasoning for disassociation and tendencies toward isolation that arise due to fracturing and false beliefs.
The “shaman” is in this reality as well as the other– both worlds are equally important. The physical body and its senses are important, and without grounding in the physical body, and an appreciation of the physical body, disassociative states simply create more illusion, or needs arising from the separate and fractured self.
As we are relational beings, it is important for us to relate– to be grounded in this reality, in our bodies, in this world. Our greatest modern pattern is one of separation, of isolation– from one another, from ourselves, and from the world. This is what is not understood about the “what a shaman sees in a mental hospital” thing– it is that we largely nowadays have most of our energy around our heads, and our mental and emotional bodies are clogged (or unhealed) to the extent that we cannot even access the spiritual.
Native and indigenous spiritual workers that I have talked to did not have this separation to such an extent, and do not understand this type of modern, energetic construct. This is why any modern day spiritual worker needs to work on the mental and emotional levels as well because unless we do, much of the spiritual work will be rejected or will not filter through the mental, emotional, and physical layers to be integrated and reconciled fully.
There is a belief that if we just correct the “spiritual” or purify enough, that we will be cured or healed of every struggle, every mental illness. This does not include the understanding that we have many bodies, one of them physical.
There is an energy field, or grid, of the mind. This is largely an “etheric” or blueprint (genetic, biological) field. Separate from any of the discussions above, the correct “body” must be treated. For complex issues– we would need to look at the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical reasonings for the imbalance. What this means is that for some people, medications (either for a short time, or for this physical lifetime) are necessary, just as medications for diabetes and so forth are. This is not a failure, either in short term or in long term. While there are problems with medications that I wish were talked about more (like how difficult it is to come off of them) if one of our “bodies” is out of balance it needs to be brought into balance.
However, something like forty percent of Americans are on anti-depressants – I do believe and have seen great efficacy with spiritual healing, with immersion in nature, microdosing, exercise, nutrition, bodywork, and talk therapy– with impact on the physical body, of course. Connection instead of isolation can do wonderful things. Letting others who have walked the path of “wounded healer” assist us is not an act of weakness, it is an act of strength. The modern myth of the rugged individual, that if only we were “spiritual” enough we would have no burdens, is deeply ignorant and results in people not receiving the help that they need.
There are wonderful things that can happen with awakening, but as it has been treated as a commodity, we have heaped our illusions onto it, and have created a space where there is significant illusion being offered to us concerning the topic. As long as we are human, we will still have struggle and things to work on. If we have clarity, we will be willing to look at our complex issues and imbalances and treat them how they need to be treated, including physically.
At times our burdens are so great that we lose the capacity to take care of them ourselves. We are not intended to heal in isolation– we are relational beings– and there should be absolutely no stigma in healing at whatever level, and through whatever means, are necessary– be that spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical/biological. The purpose of our physical bodies and lives is to be functional, to connect, to love one another. If there is something interfering with that, especially significantly, there is nothing more “spiritual” than taking care of yourself and your “bodies” to come into a clear and integrated view of reality that includes the highest level of personal functioning for you or your loved ones.
If you are struggling, reach out for help. There are a lot of people out there suffering exactly as you are. In our separation and trauma we believe ourselves to be the only one, or in isolation… or the myth of the rugged individual that we must take care of all things ourselves. We do not– we heal relationally, and no matter what you are experiencing, others have as well. Find an in-person bodyworker focused on trauma, sympathetic counselor (Jungian or transpersonal usually means they have a “spiritual” bent or will look at the spiritual path as a way to seek meaning, rather than pathological), or spiritual healer who has at least ten years of experience. Reach out to friends, family, and hotlines if necessary, or in crisis. Due to the amount of emails I receive, I am unable to offer guidance individually, and often an in-person resource to forge connections is critical, especially if you are significantly out of balance or lack functioning. Be safe, and take care of yourself. It is courageous for you to do so.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author. Learn more about this topic in her books, Managing Psychic Abilities: A Real World Guide for the Highly Sensitive Person or The Spiritual Awakening Guide: Kundalini, Psychic Abilities, and the Conditioned Layers of Reality.