One of the first things I learned over the years is that people don’t just change. Something dire, something that shakes up our world completely, has to happen first for us to develop a new perspective on ourselves. That is if all goes well.
Twist of fate, hardship and crisis may lead up to personal change and growth, to a productive inner proess and enable us to find new answers to “Who am I?” and “What do I want?”. They may also cripple and destroy us.
The main reason behind all the success stories on “crisis as an opportunity” is that the narrative of those maimed and killed by their fate, the mere survivors and those in painful desperation and helplessness are not being told.
I know more sad and even fatal tales of agony than happy endings.
I myself haven’t changed without needing to. The cross I had to bear was depression and mania. It was quite a ride, these past 12 years. I went through a barrage of 15 depressions and 9 manic-psychotic experiences. It all started shortly before graduation from university, disrupted my everyday skills and routines to such an extent that I lost three jobs. And while everyone around me grew their lives, traveled, married, had kids and built houses I managed to stay alive. I almost died and the only reason I didn’t is everything but heroic. In part, I was scared to end my life, in part, I was to stubborn to quit. Though I didn’t accept it for the first 8 years or so, I subconsciouly knew that all these experiences had to be good for something, must mean something.
I don’t want to discuss depression or mania right now, neither delve into my personal experiences in great detail. That might come later, maybe. What is important to me right now is to show you how these experiences relate to what I do here. How this motherfucking ride made this blog possible. How it inspired me to meditate and reclaim mastery over my sensations, emotions, thoughts and perceptions.
What really drove me was the deep desire to understand the sometimes doubtful pleasure of these experiences. That led me to meditation. (Bi-)polarity is the greatest fathomable extent of consciousness experiencing itself. It forces you to transcend the confines of the human mind and explore the incredible vastness within and beyond. Communion with oneself is communion with God. It is impossible to explain this to someone, who didn’t experience this. Yet, it remains a fact. Experiencing polarity in its utmost extremes, feeling the tear and stretch of these opposing forces guided me to understand these, in essence seemingly opposing poles, reconcile them and fuse them. That took many many years. In the beginning, I had no basis to interpret what I experienced.
As far as meditation is concerned, I was also dangling my feet in the water for over eight years. I meditated regularly, but mainly for relaxation and easing my mind a little, to let go and better handle stress. I very strongly adopted and advocated the traditional psychiatric view. Both with respect to my experiences and with respect to meditation. I suppressed the deep meaning of my experiences out of fear and what that might imply. My belief was that conventional psychiatry and psychotherapy would do the trick, with meditation and whatnot as an optional add-on.
I was in that inner mode for almost a decade. It all changed in 2010, when my third attempt to restart my life went down the drain. These past 8 years, I have been through all the medication all the behavioral therapy. No joy. Nothing changed. I think it was a the sentence “Benjamin, there is nothing we can do.” that finally made it possible for me to try something new. I began to work with gestalt therapy. Deep inner work: body work, breath, sensation and emotion replaced being drugged down and the “fake it till you make it” approach of conventional psychotherapy. That and an intensified and broadened approach on meditation became the driving force behind a process that began to feel like healing, not survival. That changed everything.
The great thing was that I could use the skills from therapy and combine them with my meditation skills and experiences. And vice versa. The two practices nourished each other and melded into a powerful force of change in my life. That is not to say I was in Happyland after waving a wand. On the contrary, the hardest work was yet to come. However, I now felt that I had tools to work with, raw material to work with. All the emotions, the wealth of my experience, the crazyness, the madness, all the inner abundance from fear to unconditional love transformed. From something I feared and suppressed to something I, step by step, learned to embrace and integrate. After 8 years of helplessness and victimhood I could do something very very productive and beautiful with all that had happened to me. It was that switch in seeing myself that finally gifted me with the permission to leave my old pattern behind. Instead of just dangling my feet in the water, I waded in and began to swim.
The main difference between my process before and after was this: self-trust. Trusting my own sensations, emotions, thoughts and perceptions over any external source. Valuing my experiences as real and pertinent to my growth, however crazy or out of this world. I learned to directly sense and experience what is happening to me, within my body, right here right now. Just acknowledging it. No interpretation, no judgement, no meaning. Just is-ness of oneself. No belief system, no diagnosis, no illness. “Just” that what really is.
This inner trust chaned everything. I was no longer fighting an inner enemy, this alien body of illness within and I no longer capitulated to the genetic-biochemic determinism of conventional psychiatry. I reclaimed my inner power and develop a clear, emancipated and self-confident attitude towards myself. I learned to embrace everything inside of me and work with it. It was quite a liberation and after many years, there was real, tangible hope.
2012 was when the real rocket booster fired. I came across this book “In Search of the Miraculous”. Reading it, I was like “Yeah, that’s what I experienced in mania.” or “I had that idea, too.”. That led me to embrace my experiences as a spiritual process on top of everything else. But that is a long story for another time.
Just this, and I have written about this before, compare the experience of manic-psychosis to descriptions of spiritual awakenings and mystical revelations troughout the ages. There is no difference. Just that the intensity of the experience in mania is much stronger and more direct.
So is it a blessing after all? I leave that for you to ponder on. Just don’t accept for a second that your experiences are meaningless. They are not. And they hold the key to your healing and so much more.