Article written by

Les Mitchell

Consumer Advisor

Palmerston North Hospital

New Zealand


e-mail: lesliem@midcentral.co.nz

other articles at: http://www.nzhealth.co.nz/mentalhealthconsumer.htm



Trying to define spirituality is rather like trying to define yourself. There always seems to be a invisible block on your assessment, until someone or something electrifies your awareness.


It seems to me that the most important things in life are indeed those which we cannot see, or physically hold. Feelings; of love, care, compassion and faith, weave individuals and societies together and shape a sense of our own intrinsic worth.


I have been fortunate to have met some people who seem to emanate a profound sense of spirituality, as if it were an aura surrounding them. These people have come from all walks of life  and they all shared an ability to love and care for others unconditionally.


The notion of spirituality lies within the heart of us and in the land around us. It is about recognising polarities in life, certainty and loss; beauty and pain; laughter and tears - of time passing and of a sense of timelessness and opening up oneself to trust and love unconditional - and treating each of these elements as part of the rich tapestry of life.


Accepting spirituality in your recovery may not always be easy - but you will recognise it when it confronts you.


For the last the last 30 years I have been a 'medical model' consumer. That ceased three years ago and now I have converted to the 'recovery model'. I knew my spiritual needs were not being addressed by the medical model. My recovery plan addresses the holistic approach, which takes on board the need to strengthen my spirit.


I would like to talk about the issue of spirituality and the need to discover the hidden meaning of the holistic formulation necessary for one's own recovery.


Everyone should be acquainted with the notion of 'mind, body and soul' (the holistic idea); the soul being taken from the Ancient Greek 'psyche'; hence the word psychiatry.


The application of spirituality in modern psychiatry is sadly lacking.


For example, do clinicians carry out a spiritual assessment in Crisis Assessment? Do you often see the Chaplains as part of the Treatment team in a ward setting? Are consumers made aware of the existence of spirituality and the need for this for their own recovery?  Is a consumer suffering schizophrenia actually hearing spiritualism, or is it a manifestation of their symptoms?


Perhaps spirituality "does not appear tangible enough for some psychiatrists to bother about and perhaps it is difficult for them to access because it requires a high degree of experientially based understanding, personal development, empathy, spiritual insight, and "talent" to factor in matters of spirituality and soul in a therapy setting." 1


The context of spirituality I talk about in this paper is about your relationship with the Universe; of non materialistic matters of your soul and your personal relationship with a Higher Self; the intelligent non-physical side of you, that is your prevailing mental or moral state.


Perhaps I can talk about my experience of spirituality in my own recovery.


In my view, the person's ability to access their own spirituality, in depth, is proportional to the amount of baggage you were born with (genetic) and the amount your parents burdened you with (environmental) or life's experiences; in the formulating part of your early development in your human journey.


The panic realisation, by yourself, that something 'is rotten in the State of Denmark', triggers a chain reaction of survival techniques which are often negotiated without realising what is unfolding. To me it is apparent that a 'blueprint' exists for your own psyche's evolution and something which you have no control over. I call people who have or are suffering a mental illness, 'the chosen ones'. They have been shocked out of their social comas and are chosen to alter their holistic being for the betterment of their own psyche.


The Church


I was brought up in the High Church of England. The Canon of the Church had married my parents, so I was well known to the priesthood and the local community. In hindsight, my early symptoms of depression allowed me to escape into the world of the Church, Christ, the archangels and those endless processions of battle honours that decorated the walls of the Church, proclaiming Anzac victories in the Desert, et al.

( A voyeur’s delight!)


To me God was the Rector!


My visions of another 'existence' was perhaps triggered by boredom; suffering those endless Sermons from the Pulpit.


At this stage of life I had taken up a senior position in the Choir benches as a Corner Boy. I was directly opposite the stained glass window of Jesus being taken off the Cross after the Crucifixion. At the sun's Zenith, the beams of light through the window allowed me to 'beam up' into another world; one which allowed me to meet with all those lost souls of countless congregations before me and one which filled me with an awesome sense of 'belonging'; at least to something, special, different and heart-warming.


This was the fifties, before the advent of Television and one where a troubled young boy's mind could realise 'daytripping'. My family's environment was one of alcoholic violence with long depressive periods of hangovers suffered by all the family; so the safe environment of the Church was a good spiritual learning ground.


I soon realised that I was different from my peers; having special friends I could conjure up in the beams of light at the Church. Promotion to Head Chorister presented me with a new window; the risen Christ; still bearing the marks of crucifixion; perhaps where I am now at in my present life. This time the concentration of light was focused through the holes in Christ's hands, made by the nails. They were more like ray guns, intensifying my dematerialisation. It was then at this stage in pre-puberty, I was able to escape into my dream world of astro-travel and to fine tune this talent; alone in my slumbertime.


My Partner in "Crime"


Also at this stage I had a mad fascination for the spinster who lived down the road, with her black cats. As the local paper boy I enjoyed the privilege of invites into her parlour (dimly lit and smelling of cat pee and lavender), for a strong cup of tea. I was lucky I was impervious to poisons, as I believed and was told by my older brother she wrote "Arsenic and Old Lace" and basically she liked the taste of young boys’ flesh. The horizontal cupboard under her bay window was to be my prime target if I ever had the urge to burgle her place.


What attracted me to her, although in her eighties, was her enquiring large and baby eyes plus the cloud of 'mysticism' she was catacombed in. I have fond memories of her ability to talk on any subject from putting aspirin in coke to get a high, talking on 'past lives' or simply relating to me in 'my' world, as a kid. She was my engineer of "bunger guns". She also advised me to drink the holy water at the local Roman Catholic Church as a repellent for the evils of Catholicism (she too was C of E).


She indeed launch me into another plane of thinking. She was my "Maude" from the film "Harold and Maude".


If you read this in conjunction with my "Recovery" story, you'll realise how much I was divorced at this stage of my life, from my family and how my genetic illness had been exacerbated  by them, mostly through ignorance and neglect.


Those learning days of transposing myself from 'real' situations into surreal ones helped me throughout my life, coping with mental illness.


My other strength is that I know there is a supreme being, because he has been able to pull me out of a remarkable amount of shit, especially when I have faced financial ruin or have been seriously suicidal.


I once died after the effects of a massive overdose of Dilantine. I remember the vision quite well. I was in Intensive Care in Concord Rehabilitation Hospital in Sydney in the late 70's. The Registrar had told me the vitals recording machine had noted the fact that I was clinically dead. It must have been at this stage my vision occurred. I was walking along the inside running of a paling fence, with a stiff gale trying to unbalance me. If I fell in the direction of the wind, I knew I would die. I kept walking until I saw a bright light with what appeared was a tunnel opening up and a person (non gender) coming to the entrance, dressed in a white gown beckoning me to go back. I did, and that was the last I remember. My vitals resumed on the machine. My dear Psychiatrist (Dr Spragg) freaked at that version and I can now understand why Schizophrenics have such a hard time from the medical model; especially if they have a religious grounding. I stayed in that hospital for 2 years!


Over the years I have been visited by recently departed friends, mainly through a vision of them hovering over my bed, especially during astral time. Alas, with the applications of medications for my recovery (some quite stupefying), I have lost this ability of vision but the presence of spirituality has changed to my hearing facilities. This can be quite confusing, trying to analyse if it is a side effect to the medication or I am really hearing my visions.


In any case, what I am trying to point out is that I think it is important that I have been through my spiritual awakening, as it is my soul saying that I did not have the proper baggage when I landed on this planet; I should check around for more suitable equipment to accompany me on my journey and make a go of things.


Mother Earth


Added to the equation on spiritual awakening is my experience with 'mother earth'. I have travelled Asia extensively in the last 15 years.


My first experience was landing in Bangkok for the first time. On disembarking onto the tarmac, I was welcomed to the largest sunset I have even witnessed. Honest, the Sun's diameter was about half the horizon! Sol was golden, despite the background becoming dark. The whole environment started to buzz with a muted humming and my heart was thumping through my chest. Then suddenly a great air of peace swept through my body and I felt an extremely inner peace; something I have never felt before. For someone who had been born with a genetic illness, I felt complete with the Universe. All my troubles had vanished and I was excited as a kid on their first date. Thailand lay before me, steeped in a rich array of spirituality. My thoughts were that I had to rush to a golden temple and meet Buddha! That first trip into Thailand, although on business, was indeed deeply impressive for me and lasting.


My second meeting with Mother Earth happened in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I can vividly remember this trip up from Lae to Mount Hagen. This was one of a thousand trips I've made through that magnificent country; being part of the 'Panama' brigade (Commodity Trader). Boarding a light plane (Banderante), we were on the milk run through Mendi. Landing at Mendi (local rugby field) the pilot had positioned the plane (uphill), propellers still turning over and jumped out of the cockpit to get the mail. The national attending to the plane forgot to chock the wheels and the plane started to edge back slowly, toward the cliff. Panic set in with the passengers, especially myself and an unfair amount of adrenaline was pumping into my system. Needless to say the pilot caught us in time to power up and take off into an updraft from the sunken valley. This adrenaline was still leaking into my system and I remembered as we approached Mt Hagen, I could hear the beat of jungle drums, sense the delirium of betel nut being vigorously chewed by the national passengers and then suddenly mother earth spoke her message of warmth, contentment and inner peace. I felt a thousand souls present watching me and urging me onto spiritual activity in Mt Hagen. I could visualise the fertility rites of the tribes harmonising the breakdancing in expectation of the 'new arrival'. Welcome the new soul to our village!


My third experience was on a trip back from China and after a long flight from Hong Kong I spotted the Great Barrier Reef, once again with a Golden Sun setting over the left wingspan of the Jumbo. Mother Earth of Australia and the haunting sounds of woomeras drowning the air, brought on, by now, this recognisable warmth and contentment. My Home Country was welcoming my spirit back (by spirits?)!


The above experiences have been very powerful for me. The oneness with a greater being and the ability of mother earth to accept and welcome my psyche has been a great encouragement that I can better my own recovery; that my karma is welcomed on this earth. The recognition that perhaps there was something wrong with my genetics and my ability to accept these things as talents rather than something psychotic has helped in redefining my recovery. The need for my spiritual awareness was necessary for me to be part of existence.


The "Eyes" have it!


My last point on spirituality is the ability of using your eyes in communication to another 'soul'. Indeed the eyes are the mirrors of the soul. I have a problem with new borne babies (new souls). They and myself seem transfixed in a stare campaign and it is more likely myself calling it quits. Again I get this sense of inner peace and contentment. My eyes are telling them I realise that they have just entered this world quite possibly fresh from another existence and in return they beam approval to me of my progress of my journey toward recovery. Normally I call the stare competition quits after a smile of approval flashes over the young person's face. To walk away from this experience leaves you quite stunned for a moment. Rest assured it is enough to put a spring back into my gait. It also prompts me that I am being constantly reminded I am being 'watched' by something; to see how I am going.


My last Corporate job was working with Koreans. They basically were mesmerised by eye communication. To communicate with eyes in the Korean culture, is a sign of spiritual strength. I soon learnt that my eyes could get me out of trouble when I was in the poo. I will stare into a person through their eyes and go deeper; undressing their defence mechanisms and appealing to their inner humanitarism. I know with some people it is very easy to talk to their psyches; with other people the effect can be quite alarming, as most people do not know how to communicate at this level.


Mixed in with the above is my ability to relate to deja vu and also to recognise a hostile environment or imminent danger. Have you ever been tapped on the shoulder when no-one is there, or sometimes can you feel some-one brush past you, again when no-one is there?


I have been lucky that my mental illness started very early and the development of my search of my spirituality  has helped me along my recovery path.


So, you say, I fell ill recently, what can I do?


Perhaps you are new to the mental health services and everything at the moment is under your microscope, including the meaning of life. It was a wise person who once said, 'get thee to a nunnery', because that is where you are now and where you will find most security for your psyche.


In the acute stages of a mental illness and one which necessitates an admission to a unit, it is a good time to accommodate the 'soul' part of your tripartite into your own Recovery plan.


As much as clinicians ask me which recovery model I advocate, I cannot answer which spiritual path you should follow. Each of us has different templates. To put 10 Bi-Polars into a room and expect one recovery model to suit the lot of them is totally out of order. The same can be said about the road to travel down the Spiritual Highway; this is up to you. Alan Pinches in his article on Spirituality also warns about the perils of the Spiritual Supermarkets available today. Beware of the crack-pots, for in your present state you are indeed vulnerable. All I can wish is safe travel and choose wisely.


I would also like to advise you that within our service we have available Chaplains, on call, or Cultural help; especially if you are Maori. At all times please inform your nurse on any of your needs and talk over your spiritual needs with both your GP and your Psychiatrist.


1 Pinches, Alan. "Spirituality: A Missing link in Psychiatry" Australia. 8/12/1999. (html://www.alphalink.com.au/~alpin/spirit.html)