My strange and emerging spirituality

I often wonder what people assume about my spirituality as I post a lot about spirituality in all different forms. I was a religious studies major at university and remain fascinated with all things spiritual. I find that I can understand spiritual language in many forms. Regardless of who is talking and what their belief system is my brain seems to translate stuff in such a way that it has meaning to me. And so I’ve experienced this with born again Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Jews and all sorts of various individual “spiritually” unaffiliated people who use their own language and understanding.

I suppose I must begin by saying that I am mostly agnostic towards much of everything spiritual and philosophical. For me that means I remain potentially open to much thought about the spirit and the mind. It is my opinion that the “numinous” speaks in a multitude of ways including in a completely secular way. I suppose you could say that I am truly ecumenical using the word to go beyond the usual understanding of it being applied mostly to Christianity and instead using the definition, “of world-wide scope or applicability; universal.” (definition from

As I said previously, I majored in religious studies at university. What prompted me to major in it, after going through several majors (I was interested in way too many things: rhetoric, Italian, political science and anthropology all got tested as majors) was that I had a history rich in spiritual experience and I wanted to explore more deeply the roots and history of religious thinking throughout the world.

My most influential professor was Houston Smith, the famous comparative religions scholar. He believed in every religion he taught. From tribal paganism, to the great monotheistic religions. I would venture to say he even believed in atheism. He is a student of the human soul and the human soul is somehow spiritual even when it denies the spiritual. I agree with this myself. (this, of course, may offend some people, particularly atheists, but I speak out of experience with my husband who claims to be an atheist and at the same time he helps me work out my spirituality with an open heart and mind. I’m sure it helps that he practiced Buddhism as a monk in his young adulthood, nonetheless he does say he is an atheist at this point and I also, nonetheless, experience him as very spiritual–full of love and appreciation for my spirit as it unfolds) Also, I use the words soul and spirit loosely as I am agnostic about them! I don’t really know if they exists, it’s just convenient to consider them for my purposes here now. The term psyche can be used just as efficiently and things can be considered psychological rather than spiritual.

Anyway, my spirituality is completely tied up in my experience with extreme states of mind. I understand my  psychosis as “spiritual emergencies” that were rudeIy interrupted by chemical restraint. It was Stanislav Grof who first coined the term Spiritual Emergence for certain unordinary states of mind, that if integrated could be healing. This included many people who would in other contexts be considered mentally ill. I have posted multiple examples of spiritual emergency on this blog now. People who did not stop their psychosis with drugs and came out the other side whole and healthier. (you might try doing a category search for spiritual emergency in the pull down tab for categories on the right)

All of my “psychosis” were spiritual in nature. If pathologized they would be termed as being characterized by hyperreligiousity. My use of hallucinogens was inspired by the notion that I could indeed learn something about the nature of being and the nature of the universe and so my experiences on these drugs took on that shape. Much of what I experienced was simply disturbing and completely outside the realm of consensual reality but had I had someone help me interpret those things and integrate them I think I may have had a radically different outcome. Or even had I simply had a safe place to be left alone undrugged, I may have found my own answers. I did have lovely lucid moments of seeing things simply as they are and love played a large part in that. My story as shared here, about the gun toting man that I disarmed with love is an example. I simply don’t discount that experience as meaningless simply because it took place in the context of my becoming unglued.

I had many many experiences of a spiritual nature but most were internal and in the realm of the ineffable. Houston Smith liked to use that term for religious experience, especially those experiences of a mystical nature. I had an immediate resonance with the word. So much of what the spirit experiences is indeed impossible to describe. I might add I was having spiritual experiences since I was a child and they were not, by any means always outside the norm. When I was in college before my psychosis I experienced religious bliss while studying the wonder of evolution. What a wondrous amazing part of nature. If one understands evolution it’s simply awe-inspiring. It made me delightfully high.

In any case, I seem to be in touch with some of the “ineffable” stuff again after being numbed out for almost two decades on drugs. It’s vague but it’s there in the background. This time it’s grounded. I’m not spinning off into the unknown. I’m not manic with the thought that I alone am in touch with the truth in a special way that will help humanity. Yes I was grandiose…but now the same stuff is coming up, but I know I’m no different from anyone else. I know I have no special powers to communicate my wisdom to the world. I know my “wisdom” is tenuous at most and that it will be a struggle to have any sense of wholeness and oneness with the universe. But the sense of possibility is here. I feel like my energy is moving in a direction that might ultimately become something. That maybe this whole journey will turn into a career and maybe I won’t have to do something that is meaningless to me. Their is a creativity moving inside me….leading me somewhere…I work everyday even when I’m sick as a dog.

In the mean time, I’m still struggling–it just feels like the struggle is taking me somewhere now—at least in my moments of faith. The dark night of the soul is still with me too.

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16 thoughts on “My strange and emerging spirituality

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  1. I’ve always believed we are spiritual beings having a physical experience in order to learn something.

    It’s interesting to me that in centuries past, experiences such as your “psychoses” would have been regarded with awe as profound mysteries.

    Seems like these days, anything out of the ordinary must be a mental illness. It’s such a tragedy.

  2. I just read “Buddha” by Deepak Chopra, a novelized account of the prince’s and holy man’s life. I’d avoided Chopra before, he seemed so New Age, and after all is a MD. Turns out he can write…but anyway. I got a great deal out of this book while reading, and in reflection. Really worth it, and much food for thought about letting go of God/dess in favor of truly living wide awake and full of compassion.

  3. I just thought of something else about this topic. My AA sponsor used to teach various philosophy courses, including zen and comparative religion. One semester he allowed me to sit in on his zen class. He has told me repeatly over the years to look for the good in bad situations. I’ve come across the same idea in my reading. I’m getting better and better at this. For me, I’ve found the good in all the bad in my life.

    Maybe the worst situtaion of my life was being hauled off to a locked ward when a senior in college. Before that I was a big man on campus with excellent grades and a girl whom I loved. After months of sitting in a chair I just about lost my soul–all ambition, joy, enthusiasm, hope disappeared. Years later, I releazed that the experience did give me a zeal to not go back to my hell, so when I stumbled into AA I tried everything they said. Thirty some years later, I’m still sober and trying to give people hope by speaking and writing about alcoholism and mental illness. If I had not been really upset by that psychiatric ward, I would not have put forth much effort. I would have evolved into one of the nameless rabble who just lived for a while on the streets, then died a nameless drunk.

    Jim S

  4. Oh my sweet, I hope this finds you in a better space, softer mood and peaceful mind.

    My Irish father lapsed from Catholicism, my Scottish Mother lost her Presby faith when her lovely mother died. Expelled to a British boarding school I sucked up religion in defense of my horrible life. I wrote countless lettres to my parents, scared witless that they would be burned, burned, burned!

    At a tidy 43 years old, I’ve had my moments. Should I embrace an actual organized faith, I’d have to side on the Gnostics. I loved the Gospel of Judas, where Christ does silly stuff, like laugh. Y’know, like he’s kind of human….I’d go on.

    The only trouble I have with the whole Mortal Coil, is that animals do so not figure into it. See, that’s where the whole reincarnation stuff entres for me. Then again, maybe the beastie keeps coming back until…….

    Achk, who cares? My ultimate belief is that whatever your belief is, that is the right one. As the gallaxies expand, why the heck wouldn’t the rewards beyond?

  5. Very fascinating… interested in what you said about people coming out of psychosis whole and healthier. The medical model always tells us that it results in brain damage. I guess that is another way they handcuff us/scare us into taking their meds…

  6. Funny you should bring this up. I recently found myself questioning these things. In the end I came to the conclusion of: “I believe in what you believe, although I do not believe what you believe”. Make sense? I think we are kind of on the same page 😉 ha ha.

  7. What she (and everyone else above) said.

    Jim, that is such a terrific way to put it.

    I so hope to return to school one day to study comparative religion and philosophy (and history). I read on my own but the focused study and opportunity for live discussion is missing. Besides, I took a course years ago but wasn’t yet secure enough in my perspective to fully pursue it. After a five year loss and reclamation of identity and repressed/recovered spiritual impulse, I’m ready now.

    I started flipping through a book the other night, “Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy.” (Wolf-Dieter Storl) Well written, and it considers Shiva not just in context of Hindi cosmology and tradition, but the human/spiritual experience itself. I was getting a spiritual high just reading it. sigh

    This is my long-winded way of saying “I’m there with you, Gianna.” I’m practicing the academic skill of extending an idea for as long as possible while appearing to add new information. Ha.

  8. “So much of what the spirit experiences is indeed impossible to describe.”

    So true. I like how Eckhart Tolle always refers to what he is saying as pointers. He quotes the Zen saying, “the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”

    Very nice post.

  9. Duane: Never mind! I guess, there is no one single translation that could be regarded superior to others. In the end, it’s not that much a certain wording as it is what meaning a certain wording creates in the readers mind, that counts. And I’m not particularly good at remembering quotations verbatim, me neither. This one just came to mind because of the context.

    Jim S: That hits the nail on the head, IMO.

  10. I really think I understand what you’re talking about here. For me some of these insights finally took hold upon the death of my daughter and for the first time in my life I felt like I was in touch with some deeper truths. I do think tragedy and trauma do have the ability to ground us. Someone, maybe even here, used the phrase post traumatic resilience which is a good antidote to the all too freely bandied about post traumatic stress disorder. Trauma does not have to lead to dysfunction. It can lead to a deeper, richer understanding of life and its meaning too.

  11. Marian,

    I apologize for any mistakes with the quotes….These were as I remembered hearing from a rabbi…..

    Also, “know God” would obviously refer to completely comprehend, understand….

    I believe we can have connection to/and faith in Spirit without full knowledge….In many ways, I’ve come to believe that we don’t really “know” ourselves – not fully….

    The point here was that so much of “faith” (life, love) is a mystery…


  12. I don’t see anything strange about your way of defining spirituality. A lot of people seem to equal spirituality with religion. Spirituality, to me, is part of the human nature. Religion is cultivated spirituality. – And often cultivated also means more or less limited/restricted, to what is accepted according to the at any time respectively valid cultural norms.

    “To Redeem One Person Is to Redeem The World” is the title of Gail Hornstein’s biography of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and it’s a quote from the Kabbalah.

  13. Gianna,

    There are a couple of quotations I love from Judaism –

    “To know God, I would have to be God.” (paraphrased a bit)

    And one that I hope inspires you – with all that you do for so many –

    “If a man/woman saves one life, he/she has saved all of humanity”.

    My best,

  14. Hang in there.

    In the 1890s, Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu spiritual teacher to travel to America, told a group of religious leaders at a conference in Chicago (over and over again), “If one religion is true, then they all must be.” His reasoning was that God/Deity speaks to all peoples, just as S/He created all peoples. The differences in religions are the man-made parts.

    This would be a good post for Bi-polar_pagans Yahoogroup, or a good guest article for, or Witchvox, or…


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