What a Shaman Sees in a Mental Hospital

Linked is an article with a very interesting, and in my view, wonderful, perspective on mental illness.
I especially like these paragraphs:

“In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born”.

“One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness. When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to “nervous depression,” Dr. Somé went to visit him”.

“I was so shocked. That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.” What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop. This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation. As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.”

“Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive. In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé. The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people”.

This resonated with me so much as the approach of Mickel Therapy views chronic illnesses (including anxiety, depression, CFS, fibromyalgia and IBS) similarly. Whilst Mickel Therapy does not focus on spiritual energies or spiritual crises, it does identify that symptoms (and therefore chronic illness), rather than being pathology as such that needs to be eradicated, are messages or signals from the body that that there is an internal stress, or something internally is out of alignment (or is in discord) and it needs to be interpreted and acted upon to rectify it. The Mickel Therapy approach suggests that this internal stress or discord, results from a break down between the harmonious working relationship between the emotional brain centres (our primal internal intelligence that is designed to keep us happy, healthy, safe and comfortable with regard to our environment) and our thinking brain (which, ideally, serves purely as a data control system). The emotional brain, or body mind, sends messages to the body via primary emotional signals that exist prior to thought, which, when working harmoniously, the thinking brain (mind) then interprets and acts upon. Ultimately resolving the stress or discord. And homeostasis or balance is maintained.

When the working relationship between the emotional brain centres and thinking brain breaks down, the original source of the stress is not resolved and the energy of this stress is re-diverted to our hypothalamus, which is a gland in our brains that regulates the function of many, or most of our internal functions – our autonomic nervous system, sleep cycles, cognitive function, all of our endocrine glands, our nervous system, immune system and digestion. Just to name a few.

This causes our hypothalamus to go into overdrive and results in symptoms. And, potentially, if the stress remains unresolved, chronic illness and syndromes.

And what causes this breakdown between our two internal intelligences (the emotional brain centres and the thinking brain)? Just as the article says. It is our fast paced Western culture which overloads the senses, overburdens us with expectations and stereotypes, exposes us to  disproportionate amounts of violence, and dis-encourages emotional awareness or sensitivity.  We have created a mismatch between our modern culture and the way our body’s have adapted to function harmoniously, because technology has advanced over the last few thousand years far more rapidly than the pace at which  we evolve, or our ability to adapt to our environment.

And, again, similar to what is suggested by the article, we find in Mickel Therapy, that it is more often the emotionally sensitive (or intuitive) people who develop chronic illnesses. Perhaps, instead of viewing the symptoms of illness as pathology that needs to be silenced, we could understand that underlying these symptoms are a message from the person’s internal intelligence (beyond the mind) that could further their emotional (and even spiritual) growth. And therefore, perhaps have more to offer the world.

In doing that, we resolve the symptoms anyway. And the person then has a gift to offer the world, rather than becoming dependent on artificial medications designed to mask symptoms and being isolated or institutionalised.