What is the difference between psychosis and spiritual emergence? The category 'psychosis', as it is used in the psychiatric paradigm, by definition assumes a pathological origin of the experience of the person. While sometimes there is indeed a pathological cause such as a medical condition, this is not always the case. When there is sufficient evidence of a biomedical cause of an altered state of consciousness, a biomedical response is appropriate. When there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case, then another approach is needed. It is here that the transpersonal concept of spiritual emergence is relevant. The following quote highlights:
“Since traditional psychiatry makes no distinction between psychotic reactions and mystical states,
not only crises of spiritual opening, but also uncomplicated transpersonal experiences often receive
a pathological label” (Christina and Stalinslav Grof 1990)
'Mystical states' and 'spiritual opening' refer here to the spiritual dimension of human experience, and in doing so call to attention to a pitfall inherent to the psychiatric paradigm. How do we define the meaning and significance of life? Who are we and and what is this all about? Approaching a psychological crisis with these questions in mind, and allowing for multiple answers, is to nurture the natural growth and transformation that a 'crisis' can very often typify. Incorrectly diagnosing 'psychosis' will most often result in a cold and limited view of a person and their experience, as well as the administration of suppression medication. While in some cases this is helpful in the short term, it is highly likely to severely hinder the process of the client discovering potentially enriching personal meaning and resources. Allowing for 'spiritual emergence' is an attitude that respects the wonder and mystery of being human, avoids suppression of experiences, and thus greatly increases the potential learning and healing in the person's journey.
If psychosis is a pathological condition, and spiritual emergence is some kind of metamorphosis of the psyche, then knowing what one might expect in an emergence will be very useful in differentiating between the two. Dr Stalinslav Grof's Major Spritual Crisis/Emergence categories outline 11 major common spiritual emergence patterns or themes.
1. The awakening of the kundalini
2. Episodes of intuitive consciousness (peak experiences)
3. Psychological renewal through return to the centre
4. The crisis of psychic opening
5. Past life experience
6. Communications with spirit guides and 'channelling'
7. Neardeath experience
8. Experiences of close encounters with UFO's
9. Possession states
10. Meditation and Spiritual Practice
11.The Shamanic crisis
Ultimately, we must have compassion and humility in the face of another person's experience, if we are to have any understanding. If we do not want to know about the person, then why pretend to be helping them? If that person's experience is unknown to us, we can still offer the respect that we would ourselves like to be accorded.
Humanity must come before materialism and ignorance.
This must be the first step in any therapeutic relationship.
Mystic Arts: The practical synthesis of Art, Embodiment, Meditation and Narrative Medicine.
Mediums and Practices:
Medicine for the future
The performance and demonstration of experience through arts is the sharing of the human story. Art plays many roles in culture. It tells a story, it heals and it translates experience. The artistic practice changes the consciousness of the artist and the witness, it moves us and empowers us.
It is part of the relational infrastructure of the community. In this way art is communication. I am not speaking of art for commercial purposes, I am speaking of art as a practice of living authentically. In this way art is therapy, medicine for future.
The subject matter
There has always been a certain propensity among some people to ask the big questions. The uncertainty of the dark recesses of the emotional and mental realms...the missing patches in our knowledge...have and always will be essential elements of experience. For without that wild dimension of the unknown, into what space would we grow and evolve? It is these edges of consciousness that are the context that the Mystic Arts engage with.
Unity in diversity
As with any endeavour, it is prudent to have a motivation for action (or non-action) that is based on clear intentions; the same goes for the Mystic Arts. Each practitioner will have a personalised or specific approach to their subject matter and method; yet it is clear that they will share a common orientation.
It's not what we think it is
It is easy enough to say that Mysticism is a religious or 'spiritual' attitude towards the unknown in reality. What is more difficult is engaging with discourse on the practices of Mysticism; that are the Mystic Arts. The main barriers, incidentally, to both the discussion around Mysticism, as well as the practice, are to do with the conceptual and symbolic nature of what we call 'understanding'. It is one thing to understand knowledge, it is another to understand experience.
The practice of Mystic Arts is a practice of experiences, in terms of altering the perspective and quality of consciousness of experience, as well as altering the experience itself. Getting stuck on the symbolic or conceptual hierarchies of the mind can lead to missing the glory and gift that is a direct relationship to experience.
The essentials of practice
Contemplation, then, is the main port of call for the practitioner; the practice of contemplation is the act of observing closely and paying attention. Further, the object of contemplation changes with attention; this is to say that the experience of the object changes.
So the mystic arts are practices of both consideration and direction; of listening and expressing; of stillness and movement. Essentially, the way in which we practice contemplation directly affects our experience. This especially true of creative contemplation in visual art, music, dance and storytelling.
The storytelling of art translates the experience of the artist purely and effectively through the medium; demonstrating the mastery of these two foundational halves of the Mystic Arts:
Choice and Surrender...Gentleness and Power, Strength and Softness, Active and Passive.
The harmonic of cultivated balance is the product of diligent practice.
This is the truth hidden on the path of liberation.
Photos: Pakololo - Daintree Valley Queensland 2015
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