Be sure to visit the Shades of Awakening series page to learn about Dabney’s free series of interviews with many folks who’ve moved through spiritual emergence (which often otherwise gets pathologized by psychiatry) and are now thriving.
UPDATE: The series of interviews that Dabney has put together is truly an exciting development…our voices are getting out there…the truth of what and who we are and can become is being heard. I’m very grateful to be alive right now…that such beautiful work is being manifested by those of us who know what it’s like to transform what is often called psychosis.
By Dabney Alix
Shades of Awakening (where one size does not fit all)
Many years ago I experienced what could be described as a psychotic break or, depending on what lens you’re looking through, a spiritual emergency. I was 22 years old and in a period of life where I felt entirely untethered. My 5 year relationship was ending and I had bought a one way ticket to New Zealand to go “find myself.”
I remember sitting on the long trans-pacific flight and drinking one of those mini bottles of wine to help myself sleep and thinking, “I just want something so big and so expansive to rip me wide open so that I know who I really am.”
As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
What I found there was a 90-year-old Buddhist man who had studied, taught and practiced Vipassana meditation for over 70 years! His presence could’ve stopped a war, no joke!
One night at his home, I sat down after dinner to meditate. I had never meditated before and thought to myself, “Ok, just sit and breathe. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Well, what did happen is I accidentally went into a trance that lasted over 10 hours. When I awoke, the world looked different. What ensued was a 2 week-long roller coaster ride through extreme emotional and visionary states which, unsurprisingly, landed me in The Auckland Psychiatric Hospital on a stiff cocktail of meds.
For the longest time afterward I struggled with the question of what had happened. Am I really crazy? Was it just brought on by the meditation? Are the doctors right? Why didn’t that guru guy save me?
I poured over any texts that discussed spiritual emergency and alternative perspectives to psychosis. Not having any explanations was true agony, or rather, not having any that I could accept. At some point after about 3 years of voraciously seeking, my mind exhausted, I gave up the need to know.
Bingo! Letting go brought clarity.
In the absence of my active search for answers, my own personalized narrative emerged. That there is no one size fits all description and that all of these states of consciousness could be seen on a continuum. There are as many conceptual frameworks for these non-ordinary states as there are individuals who experience them.
In the diverse array of terms now used – extreme states, madness, spiritual crisis, kundalini, psychosis, crazy, shamanic initiation – I see my own experience in all of them. To me, they’re all expressions of what I call Shades of Awakening. Each one with it’s own flavor, meaning and transformational path to recovery.
After over a decade of soul-searching, a new question emerged. How can I support others who are integrating to find their own truths, their own narratives and their own answers?
What emerged from this inquiry is a 3 day online speaker series called Shades of Awakening: Integrate and Claim the Gifts from Spiritual Emergency where I interview 11 experts, thought leaders and those with lived experience on alternative perspectives to the medical model of mental illness.
The conclusion I’ve arrived at is that what serves others the most is to hear enough stories, enough perspectives and enough validation so that they may create their own meaning, their own understanding and therefore, their own inner guidance. My hope is that the Shades of Awakening series will shine the light on the work of others who have come before and do just that.
Register for the Shades of Awakening series
see also on Beyond Meds: Healing psychosis: stories, information and resources