I wrote the following letter to the Shades of Awakening community, which supports folks identifying with spiritual emergency. I particularly wanted to address the language around mental illness and spiritual emergency. Check out their work and continued offerings at shadesofawakening.com.
Dear SOA Community,
On the path toward liberation, we start to see more clearly the complexity of our lives. We realize that we have been neither evil nor saintly, that ideas of good and bad are measures of behavior, not people, and that absolutes are not meant for human consumption. Our mental health, or lack thereof, does not exist independent of a body, a family, a society, a world, a cosmos.
I find it important to note that all disease is a mixture of sickness and health. Even terminal cancer exists within a still-living organism, some combination of illness and vitality. To imagine that all organs in our bodies are subject to illness, while the brain is not, is to be fundamentally dogmatic in our views. I can't help but think of this dogmatism through the lens of internalized oppression in a society that brands us, brutalizes us, and leaves many of us for dead.
I hear a lot about how "mental illness doesn't exist." Let's recognize the absurdity of such a statement, while simultaneously owning the reality of spiritual emergence. Because healing is possible, and because sickness goes beyond individual bodies (brains included), does not mean sickness doesn't exist. To subscribe to such a fantasy is to further entrench the sort of dichotomous, absolutist, fundamentalism which births the compensatory crises so many of us experience.
This is not to dismiss that the epidemiology and the prognosis of mental illness is severely lacking. But we are committing an act of violence on ourselves and our world when we deny the very existence of pathology. Our collective spiritual unfolding will not come through ignorance, but through courageous willingness and honest dialogue between all parts within the whole. If we are are too weak to participate in society, we cannot effect the change so many of us are dying for. Be in choice. Don’t trade in the inherited cultural delusions of our times for upgraded versions of the same ancient samsaric propensities in new clothing.
This path of spiritual emergence is not for the faint of heart. We are called to step out and be the lighthouse we could not find, when we ourselves were adrift at sea. We are called to move into empowerment, to testify to the grace and power of the human spirit. Our souls demand the release of egoic dominance, in favor of generosity and community. Arguing within subgroups, while all forms of mental illness and spiritual emergence alike are ostracized, marginalized, and oppressed, weakens the necessary wave of consciousness that will set us free. By joining hands and dropping petty differences, we allow ourselves to ride into the sort of cognitive liberty and social justice we demand.
Anything short of this radical unity in Love will leave many to the same fate we so strongly resist. Let's wake up, together.