Saturday, 10 December 2011

Just This

It’s not often in our lifetime we get the chance to spend time in the company of an enlightened being. Amma, the hugging Indian spiritual master, came to London for three days in November. Spending time with her is quite literally the equivalent of being around Jesus or the Buddha.

You can read my article about Amma in Cygnus Review.

In preparation for seeing her, I took myself off on solitary retreat to a secluded hut in the woods the week before. The six nights I spent with the owls and the five days with the squirrels included 11.11.11.

Wood burning stove, compost loo and some food was all I needed. The hut has no running water or electricity. Its simplicity aptly supports the simplicity of Mindfulness practice. Virtually everything I ate and drank was out of one white china bowl. Secretly, I schemed to get rid of most of our crockery at home, such is my longing to be able to take this pared down living back to my every day with me.

I spent my time meditating, chanting and walking in the estuary landscape of Devon’s river Dart. The only book I took with me was ‘Messages from Amma in the Language of the Heart’. These are brief quotes and teachings for daily reflection and inspiration. On my last day, as I settled down to meditate, I opened it at random:

            ‘Spiritual practice is crucial.
            As the seed of the plant
            only bears fruit if rightly cultivated,
            the truth of the human being
            only shines brightly through spiritual practice.’

Here is some poetry I wrote. May it help you keep your practice and your life simple!

A Retreat in Five Days
Day 1
Just this
Just this autumn rain falling
Just this leaf pirouetting
Just this

Just this moment
Just this breath
Just this

Day 2
Just this
Just this puddled footpath
Just this sun warming my cheek
Just this
Just these white yachts
Moored in the distance
Swans, with their tall necks
Reaching up
Just this

Day 3
Just this
Just this walking
Just these dried blackberry husks
Gift wrapped in cob webs and dew
Just this

Day 4
Just this
Just this stream gently flowing
Just this breath gently flowing
Just this

Day 5
Just this
Just this stove
Just this laying my nest of kindling
Just delighting in the flames
Just this

This material is copyrighted. I’m happy for you to use it elsewhere, as long as you credit the source. Thanks! And do leave your comments here – I’d love to know how it’s received!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Highly Sensitive Person

Are you coping with your level of sensitivity?

Probably highly sensitive to start with, the process of spiritual emergence and emergency tends to leave us even more so. At times it is an exquisite sensitivity, a wonderful gift, at others it can be overwhelming. The key is learning to look after ourselves; to reap the benefits of being able to pick up on every detail, every subtlety, whilst knowing how to reduce the onslaught of stimulation when we need to.
            Not only are we sensitive emotionally and energetically, but each of our physical senses is also finely tuned, so that bright lights and noise can be too much for us. It is this increased sensitivity which makes us less able to tolerate certain environments, noise levels and so forth. I find the energy of places such as supermarkets and pubs very difficult, which means that I avoid them as much as possible. I opt to do my supermarket shopping on line, delivered to the house. Busy, noisy cafés, tea shops and restaurants are also challenging for me on many different levels. Given the choice, I will always sit outside. If I do have to be in crowded, public places, then a walk in nature afterwards clears my energy again.
 To flourish as highly sensitive people we need to choose supportive environments and activities. To some extent you may find yourself naturally drawn to what is supportive, but you may also need to make conscious decisions to avoid certain things.
I’ve recently been reading ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ by Elaine N Aron. The impact it’s had on me has taken me by surprise… given that the book confirms what I already knew about myself. But as well as confirming it has been hugely affirming. Knowing there are lots of people out there with the same level of sensitivity somehow gives me permission to do what I need to do to look after myself, whilst cherishing this amazing gift we have. She says: ‘When I have to be with a group of people for a whole day or weekend, I often explain that I need plenty of time alone.’ No wonder I enjoy silent retreats or, even better, solitary ones!
The trick is to find the right balance for you individually between being out in the world and retreating to a place where creativity can flow. If coping with your increased sensitivity after spiritual emergency is an issue, you might find helpful the section in my book on the ‘Third Key Phase of Moving Successfully Through Spiritual Emergency: Going back out into the world’. And please do share your coping strategies here by leaving a comment – we can all learn from each other!

P.S. My article ‘Mental Health: the Psyche’s Journey to Wholeness’ in Positive Health Online is available now at

Friday, 14 October 2011

CBS Radio Washington

TODAY 3.15pm PST, 6.15pm EST, 11.15pm UK

I'll be talking with the Business of Wisdom Show host Dr Alvin Jones about 'In Case of Spiritual Emergency'.

Also Wednesday 19 October, 11am PST, 2pm EST, 7pm UK
I'll be talking with VIVID LIFE RADIO host Sharon Quirt. More details to follow...


Monday, 10 October 2011

Following up on Book Launch Webinar

I’d just like to expand a little on some of the topics covered in  today’s Book Launch Webinar. Ted Esser, Operations Manager for the American Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) mentioned Kundalini awakening as one of the key issues raised by those contacting SEN. Just to explain, if you’ve not come across the term before, in Indian teaching Kundalini life-force energy resides at the base of the spine and when released moves up through seven energy centers located along the spine. This can cause a range of difficult symptoms, including sensations of intense heat or burning in parts or all of the body.

Ted also mentioned ‘possession’ when discussing the slides in his presentation. Perhaps a less loaded term is ‘spirit attachment’. In response to Norma’s question asking for advice on spirit attachment, I would recommend the Spirit Release Foundation in the UK.
Kimberley mentioned that when she was in crisis meditation was recommended to her. This will depend on the individual, but on the whole we need to be very careful about meditating when we’re going through spiritual emergency. It has a tendency to open us up even further, to potentially speed the process up, when what we need is to slow it down.

A few questions we didn’t have time to answer
Will asked: Is a person undergoing spiritual emergency and having hallucinations typically able to read the symbology/meaning of their visions and any messages within them, or does it rather seem a chaotic process with no clear meaning?
My response is that it will depend, varying from one experience to another and from one person to another. It may be only much later, when making sense of the experience and integrating it that the meaning becomes clear.
Dinesh asked: Do you have any sense of how common a problem this is? What research has there been? Ted Esser talked a little about research, as does Kaia Nightingale, whose contribution we’ll be adding to the Webinar over the next couple of days. Many of us are feeling that the incidence of spiritual emergency is rising with the global shift in consciousness that is taking place. The evidence for that is mainly anecdotal.
Richard asked: At the point of spiritual emergency or crisis, I believe we are very vulnerable to people with their own agendas  for acquiring ‘converts’, any comment on that? He also sent his very best wishes for a successful event. Thanks for that, Richard. I agree that we are very vulnerable at such times, in many ways. The best we can do maybe is trust our intuition and instincts, which are usually quite strong at these times, and listen to any warnings we may be sensing. This is also why we need the support of family, friends and professionals to help us stay safe.
Do you have any questions you'd like answered? Did you find the webinar helpful? Just use the comment box below.

Blogging for World Mental Health Day

Today, World Mental Health Day, sees the launch of 'In Case of Spiritual Emergency' - a valuable resource for mental health professionals and others. The key tool for coping with crisis that I present in my new book is Mindfulness. So for World Mental Health Day I'd like to share my article that was published in last month's issue of Yoga Magazine.

Ten Top Tips for Bringing Mindfulness into Your Daily Life

Too busy? Too stressed? The benefits of meditation have long been recognised, but not everybody wants or likes to meditate. Mindfulness is meditation’s twin sister. We can incorporate it easily into our existing daily routine, without having to find extra time or do formal sitting meditation on a cushion. Mindfulness helps us to be in the present moment, without dwelling on the past or worrying about something that hasn’t even happened in the future.  And if you do meditate regularly, then Mindfulness will come to you even more easily!

1                    Choose one meal a day that you’re going to eat mindfully. Do you talk, read or even walk about while you’re eating? This will be the one meal when you give yourself permission to simply eat. So choose a mealtime when you know you can be alone and sit down to really savour those flavours. Explore the colours, textures, tastes of each and every mouthful. Enjoy!

2                    When walking, whether to the local shop or from one office building to another, incorporate mindful walking into your day. Drop down into your body. Feel the soles of your feet against the ground with each step you take. Stay focussed on the physical sensations of the movement. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to the soles of your feet. Start with a few minutes and gradually build up to 10-15 minutes.

3                    Introduce 3-minute ‘breathing spaces’ into your day. These are mini-mini-meditations; great little tools with big benefits! So whether you need a break from the computer screen or need to centre yourself after driving somewhere or between clients, try this. Ideally, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and close your eyes. If that’s not possible, don’t worry – these can even be done standing in the queue at the supermarket checkout! Start by checking in with yourself. How are you doing right now, physically, mentally, emotionally? We’re not trying to change anything. We’re just noticing how it is right now, what’s present for us right now. When you’ve had time to do that, take your attention to the breath. Follow it for a few cycles, simply noticing the physical movement and sensations. When you’re ready you can re-engage with the day feeling refreshed.

4                    If, like most of us, your mind tends to be very busy, notice what kind of thinking the mind is engaged in. For example, is it rehearsing a conversation, planning, brooding, catastrophising, daydreaming, drafting an email? Just becoming aware of the kind of activity the mind is busy with can help us to step back a little, cultivate the observer and be more in the present moment.

5                    Does over-work and too much stress leave you feeling tired, dull and flat? Whilst acknowledging how we’re feeling, we can intentionally seek out the pleasurable, the beautiful, the enjoyable. A good question to ask when we’re struggling is ‘what else is in my experience right now?’ There will always be something, no matter how small or subtle, that is positive in our experience right now. Maybe you can feel the breeze on your skin, maybe the cup of tea you’re holding feels warm in your hands ...

6                    Find ways of being kind and gentle with yourself. Notice when comfort eating or flopping in front of the telly is self-defeating and find real treats for yourself. Bring awareness and mindfulness into your self-care and self-nurturing.

7                    If you have a daily yoga practice, you’re probably already practising Mindfulness! The way we bring ourselves into the present moment is through the body and the five senses. So during your practice really focus on the physical sensations. When the mind wanders off simply bring it back patiently, without any sense of judgement.

8                    Choose one routine activity a day to practise Mindfulness. That might be cleaning your teeth, having a shower or washing up. Spend that time really focussing on the physical sensations of the hot water on your skin, the taste of the toothpaste and so on. Involve as many of the five senses as possible to help you be totally in the present moment.

9                    Changing our relationship to what we find difficult lies at the heart of Mindfulness. Our default mode is to resist anything we find painful, physically or emotionally. We don’t want it to be happening; we want it to go away. Unfortunately this only makes our suffering worse. If we can gently turn towards it, say ‘hello’ to it, life will become easier. Start by noticing where you might be resisting aspects of your experience. Be compassionate towards yourself.

10                If stress, whether caused by work, relationships or health, is a major concern for you, consider finding a Mindfulness course to help you learn the tools for a better quality of life. Whatever issue or problem you’re struggling with, Mindfulness can’t and won’t make it go away; what it can and will do is help you to cope and look after yourself.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

10 September, World Suicide Prevention Day

The Dark Night of the Soul

Often associated with depression, the dark night of the soul is perhaps one of the most perilous forms spiritual emergency can take, because of the danger of suicide. Reaching out for support is imperative at such times. In the UK there is an excellent non-medical facility in London for anyone who is feeling suicidal, the MayTree Foundation. You can stay there for up to four nights, with someone available 24 hours, to help you through the worst time ( Alternatively, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or, in America, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255, both 24 hours a day.
       Contrary to popular belief, the dark night of the soul is not only about pain and misery. It is as much about the freshly dawning light that can break through after the totally debilitating times of the dark night. A helpful book on the subject is Gerald May’s The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth. Drawing on his clinical experience, May writes that depression and the 'dark night' often go hand in hand, in the same way that we have seen how other spiritual crises can be accompanied by psychotic-type symptoms. He considers it not helpful to try to separate them out, the important thing being to treat the depression where present and to support the 'dark night'.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Join us for the ‘virtual’ book launch!

World Mental Health Day, Monday 10 October 2011
7.30pm GMT (11.30am PST, 2.30pm EST)
I’m very excited about creating a truly international book launch event! I hope you’ll join me on World Mental Health Day in dialogue with my special guests, all from the comfort of your own home. You’ll need to pre-register for this free webinar event.
I’ll be joined by two people featured in the book, Kimberley Jones and Emma Goude, sharing their experience of spiritual emergence and emergency. We’ll also hear from Kaia Nightingale of the Canadian Spiritual Emergence Service and from Ted Esser, Operations Manager for the Spiritual Emergence Network (USA). I’m delighted that Carol Shaw from publishers Findhorn Press will also be joining us. And of course I’ll say a few words about the book too!
Exclusively, for World Mental Health Day ONLY, you can buy a signed copy of the book from The Academy of Living Wisdom. If you would like me to write a personal message inside the front cover, you can type that in when you make your purchase.
Not joined a webinar before? No need to worry; it’s simple. All you’ll need to do is log on at 7.30pm, follow the link we’ll have already sent you and sit back and enjoy!
I look forward to welcoming you to this exciting international launch event!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Ask the Author…AND…YouTube trailer

My web radio interview with interviewer Sandie Sedgbeer from America's Awakening Zone was a great success...she asked me many pertinent and tough questions, and the interview went on a whole hour followed by another half hour of listener questions.

If you missed it, do try and listen to the archive; you can catch it from the Awakening Zone website.

My book trailer is now up-and-running on on YouTube ... here's the link: YouTube Trailer Film 

Please do leave me comments on both this and the radio interview on my blog.

My book is a book of extremes; the terror and the bliss, the danger and the opportunity, as the psyche moves through its very own Hero’s Journey towards wholeness. Spiritual Emergency can be dangerous yet we can turn the experience into the wonderful opportunity for healing and growth ... my book shows how I achieved that.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Shamanic Healing in the Amzon

Last time you changed your car (assuming that like me you still haven’t quite managed to give the habit up) did you notice that what you had previously thought was a fairly obscure or obsolete model suddenly seemed to be everywhere? It’s like that for me with spiritual emergency. Everywhere I go I seem to meet people who’ve been through the process. The language they use may differ, but the experience is essentially that.
‘Incandescent, exhilarating, sensuous, cocky, magnificent, explosive. A raging oratorio.’ This is how Richard Mabey of The Times describes the book Wild. I recently had the privilege to not only meet its author, Jay Griffiths, but to spend several days in her company. Jay doesn’t use the language of spiritual emergency and emergence, but it seems clear to me that this is indeed what she has been through. Very early on in the book she writes:

‘The first part of this journey began by being lost. I had lost my way in a wasteland of the mind, in a long and dark depression, pathless, bleak and bewildered, not knowing which way to turn. Weeks leaked into months, lank and unlovely as greasy hair. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t write, and it felt as if I couldn’t survive the violence of my unhappiness. I had a repeated image in my mind of a little night-light guttering in the wind and I had to wrap my hand around it to protect the tiny pale flame on the brink of being extinguished. I was protecting something very ancient and unmetropolitan: something shy, naked and elemental – the soul.
One May morning during this long depression I was sitting in my little rented flat in Hackney, in tears. The phone rang. It was an anthropologist ... whose work with Amazonian shamans intrigued me. He asked how I was, in the kind of voice that encourages an open response. I’m drowning, I choked.
He invited me to meet him in Peru the following September, to visit shamans he knew there, and to drink ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a shamanic drug, the Amazon’s most powerful medicine, which is used to treat – among other things – depression.
Yes, I said.
Why don’t you take a few days to think about it? he asked. It would be an expensive flight, a big trip.
No, I said. I knew a lifeline when I was thrown one.
So I learned Spanish, withdrew all the money I had in the world, bought an open return, dubbined my boots and left.’

The remarkable cure that Jay experienced is of course as much to do with the skill of the shaman, which she describes in some detail, as the properties of the ayahuasca. The journey shamans go through to become powerful healers is itself a Hero’s Journey through spiritual emergence and emergency. Whether they are initiated by ritual or experience spontaneous psychosis which acts as their initiation, the process is exacting, a death and a re-birth into their new life as a shaman, as a healer.
Indigenous peoples have so much to teach us about caring for our souls, our psyches, our mental health. Their approaches cannot, however, be used out of context. Ayahuasca used on its own without an expert shamanic guide to accompany your soul on the journey can be highly dangerous. The environment too is essential. I imagine the veils between the realms to be translucent in the wilds of the Amazon. There must be precious few places in Europe where the raw energy of nature is as clear or as clean as in the rain forests.
Many indigenous cultures have shamans, although again the language, the names, may be different. In Case of Spiritual Emergency covers the Brazilian approach of working with the spirit realms to heal mental health. In the book, I also touch on the initiation, in the African jungle, of Malidoma Somé, into life as a medicine man.
Jay Griffiths is an extraordinary woman who has written an extraordinary book. Her courage spills out from the pages. And so it is for every person who goes through the process of birthing the psyche into wholeness, the process of spiritual emergency and emergence. The gift Jay gives us is that she can communicate something of that through her extraordinary writing, capturing something of the process, offering us some clues and helping us to find our way through the jungle.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


In-depth Radio Interview

Here’s your chance to ask me anything you want about my new book ‘In Case of Spiritual Emergency’!

I’m being interviewed by Sandie Sedgbeer of Awakening Zone – live…on Tuesday 26 July at UK time, Noon PDT (USA West Coast). The interview is due to last a whole hour, followed by half an hour for your questions. That’s what I call in-depth!

‘In Case of Spiritual Emergency’ is a book of extremes; the terror and the bliss, the danger and the opportunity, as the psyche moves through its very own Hero’s Journey towards wholeness. I’ll be telling Sandie why spiritual emergency is so dangerous and what we can do to turn the experience into the wonderful opportunity for healing and growth that it can be.

All you have to do to listen in to the show is go to Awakening Zone, click on the episode ‘In Case of Spiritual Emergency’ in Today's Shows and click ‘listen’. It couldn’t be easier!

If you’d like to phone in with a question or comment, you’ll need to dial in on 001 714 364 4353. Awakening Zone is based in California but there are several low cost tariffs for phoning the USA from the UK; for example you can dial 0843 375 0011 (with Planet Talk) before entering the actual telephone number and pay only 0.5p a minute.

The number would like this:

0843 375 0011 - then listen to Planet Talk’s brief intro then dial - 001 714 364 4353

It’ll be lovely to speak with you on web radio. Don’t miss this unique chance!

Friday, 8 July 2011

If you pre-ordered your copy then you’re no doubt already reading it! I’m very impressed with the Speedy Gonzales efficiency of Findhorn Press’s distributor Deep Books. And I’m very much looking forward to hearing your first responses.
This is a momentous and poignant time for me. Almost a year ago my mother died and I was offered the contract by Findhorn Press, the two events happening simultaneously. An ending and a new beginning, a death and a re-birth, which is what spiritual emergence and emergency is all about. Letting go to make way for the new. I’m still astounded by the bizarre timing, though I trust it implicitly.
I find myself marvelling at the process of giving birth. Bringing the book into this world has been such a huge birthing process. Not only have I produced a book, with Findhorn Press the trusty midwife, I’ve also given birth to myself. As a writer.
Delivering the manuscript turned out to be just the beginning of the labour. The final push came with checking the proofs, in what must surely be Guiness-Book-of-Records-time. For every woman going through delivery there’s a whole team working flat out around her. Enter Findhorn Press, centre stage. Once the proofs were signed off, like many mothers who’ve just been through the horrors of labour, I thought, ‘never again!’. But of course that soon fades in the proud moment of holding the baby book (already I’m planning the next!). And now, like all proud parents, I want to give my newborn the best possible start in life. I hope you’ll join me in helping to make that possible. Spread the word! Thank you!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Think Globally, Act Locally - Listen to my interview on Stroud FM from anywhere in the world!

TUESDAY 14 JUNE 4pm GMT, repeated SUNDAY 19 JUNE 3pm GMT
Visit and click Listen Live!

For someone like myself, whose idea of heaven on earth is a desert island, the recent radio interview I did was more than a lot of fun! I got to chose five tracks of my favourite music to play in classic 'Desert Island Disc' style.

Listen out for the Gayatri Mantra, one of the most ancient and most powerful chants, also Kathy Zavada, the unforgettable Argentinian Mercedes Sosa, Eva Cassidy and the Kenyan Ayub Ogada.

In between tracks we talked about my new book 'In Case of Spiritual Emergency', the Spiritual Crisis Network, the local Stroud group of the SCN and so much more... Swithin Fry, the presenter of 'The Art Lot Slot' kept me on my toes!

I have to say, Stroud FM's studio was surprisingly far more spacious (almost palatial in comparison!) than the tiny, but very smart studio in London where my interview with Mark Tully for BBC Radio 4 was recorded.

Stay tuned for more details of upcoming interviews I'm doing...

Happy Listening!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

'The Red Book' – Carl Jung’s Journey Through Spiritual Emergence(y)

Have you ever come across a book that weighs more than a new born baby? At nearly 10 pounds, Carl Jung’s Red Book can only be described as a weighty tome, in every sense of the word.

At a recent NHS conference on Spiritual Care and Mental Health (see post 16 May 2011) the speaker I was most impressed by was Rev. Stephen Bushell, Head of Spiritual and Pastoral Care for Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. A Jungian psychotherapist, we chatted briefly about Jung’s extraordinary Red Book, which was actually only published a couple of years ago. Our conversation reminded me of my quest to access a copy of it and of my first impressions.

Part II of my book ‘In Case of Spiritual Emergency’ looks at spiritual crisis through the ages, exploring the spiritual emergencies of various figures, from mystics to creatives, to well known people alive today. I felt Jung was an obvious choice to include, as I see him as something of a creative genius and he left us the most amazing record of his spiritual emergence(y): his Red Book.

I first tried to get hold of Jung’s Red Book at the British Library, only to be told that it was not available, as it was in high demand. The suggestion was that I re-apply in 54 weeks time (over a year). I then started tracking down copies in other libraries. The Bodleian in Oxford had a copy, but it was ‘in processing’, which I certainly felt I could relate to.

To my delighted astonishment I discovered that the Wellcome Library in London had not one copy, but four, in the Student Collection. I immediately made enquiries about how to join the library, and set off a few days later in eager anticipation.

As someone who has been through spiritual crisis, I was fascinated at the thought of being able to read Jung’s detailed account of his experience of spiritual emergence and emergency . He, of all people, seemed to have managed and integrated it and gone on to live his life from that experience, basing all his subsequent work and theories on that time. The fact that this psychological and spiritual treasure has only recently become available, released by the family and allowed to be published in 2009, somehow made my whole trip to London seem even more thrilling.

I got to the Wellcome Library, went through the very straightforward joining procedure and headed straight for the shelves of the Student Collection. In my excitement I couldn’t immediately make sense of the library’s home grown version of the Dewey cataloguing system. And then I saw it. Absolutely, unmistakably, that was it! Four huge, and I mean HUGE, bright red tomes on the shelf, stacked on their sides, because even though they were the ‘oversize’ shelves, they weren’t big enough to house the copies upright.

I heaved a copy off the shelf. As I put it down on the desk it fell open at a page of the most beautiful fountain pen calligraphy, with decorated capital letters, like medieval illuminated manuscripts. It looked like a sacred book and I guess to Jung it was. It recorded a sacred process and in making The Red Book so beautiful he was giving his spiritual emergency the due honour and respect it deserved.

No sooner had the page fallen open than my heart sank. All that beautiful calligraphy was in German. I wasn’t going to be able to understand a word of it! My sense of anticipation and exhilaration were such that I wasn’t really thinking logically, because, of course, I only had to open the volume at a place further on to see that the English translation followed the original text.

The very next page at which The Red Book fell open left me mesmerized. It was a painting of a sacred geometrical design known as a ‘mandala’. Jung had painted it in such a way that it had a 3D effect, a look of movement. As I gazed at it and watched the shapes moving in and out I immediately felt a shift in my energy, a raising of my vibration. It took me into a slightly altered state. This was sacred art communicating an aspect of the Divine to me. I was in awe. Jung went up in my estimation, that he had produced something so powerfully beautiful, so powerfully transcendent, with such a potent quality of the numinous.

What a privilege to be researching such amazing people and such amazing texts as The Red Book. Have you seen Jung’s Red Book? How did the mandalas impact on you? Share your experience!

Monday, 16 May 2011

In Case of Spiritual Emergency - An NHS Conference Talk

The following is a talk given by Catherine G Lucas at the conference 'Spiritual Care & Mental Health' organized by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London on 17 May 2011.
Well, I’m delighted to be here today. It’s a very auspicious day, as today is Wessak, when millions of Buddhists around the world celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha. I’m also delighted to be here because the relationship between spirituality and mental health is at the very core of my work. So I’m always really pleased to see these issues being explored, especially within a National Health Service (NHS) context. For several years I taught trainee mental health nurses at the University of West of England – I did a part-time input on spirituality – and at the time it felt quite progressive of the programme director to include spirituality in the curriculum, whereas now, I'm pleased to say, spirituality is being taken more and more seriously within mental health care.
So, today I’m wearing three hats! They do in fact all overlap. The first is that I work as a Mindfulness Trainer. For those of you that are not so familiar with Mindfulness, this is what a Mindfulness classroom looks like!
We do a wonderful practice called the Body Scan, which is a body awareness meditation and we do it lying down, hence the mats. I’m not going to say much at all about Mindfulness today, except to say that the work has been an enormous privilege. I’ve had the opportunity to train NHS dialectical behaviour therapists, Mindfulness being at the heart of that therapeutic approach. I’ve also been very privileged to work with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
So why did I become a Mindfulness Trainer? In 2003 I went through a major spiritual crisis and it was my Mindfulness practice that helped me through. So I experienced for myself the sheer power of Mindfulness. The following year I set up the Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN) to offer information and support for people going through spiritual crisis; to help raise awareness and understanding of the phenomenon. And a couple of years ago we gained charitable status. So that’s the second hat I’m wearing today, as Founder of the SCN and you can see that there’s a direct relationship between that and why I teach Mindfulness. In fact I’ve just started offering courses specifically using a Mindfulness-based Approach for Spiritual Emergency.
The third, and most recent, hat I’m wearing today is as author of In Case of Spiritual Emergency and I’m going to draw on material from the book quite a lot in my talk today.
By now you’re probably starting to wonder ‘what is spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency?’. How am I using the term? It comes out of a branch or school of psychology known as transpersonal, that’s to say, beyond the personal or, in other words, spiritual. Transpersonal psychology brings together ancient spiritual wisdom from the various different faiths with the scientific enquiry of psychology. So transpersonal psychology is rooted in both. And we can chart the development of transpersonal psychology right back to the beginning of the 20th Century, to the early 1900s. A chapter in the book does just that, charting the development of the psychology of spiritual experience up to current times.
A key player in what I call the transpersonal lineage was of course Carl Jung. He himself went through spiritual emergency, which he recorded in great detail in his fascinating Red Book, which his family only allowed to be published a couple of years ago. He says that all his subsequent ideas and theories originated in that life-changing experience. Again, he’s covered in the book. A key player in more recent decades has been the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, who coined the term spiritual emergency.
The idea is that as we grow up from childhood into adulthood we develop and mature physically and emotionally and that we also grow, develop and mature spiritually. You might simply experience this as your values and priorities changing as you get older. Sometimes this gradual process of becoming more spiritually aware speeds up. As it does so things can get out of hand and we can find ourselves in crisis, unable to cope. There are many reasons why this might happen and the various triggers and catalysts are outlined in the book. The point is that you don’t have to be consciously on a spiritual path for it to happen to you. I remember one guy, when I was working on an acute psychiatric ward in Liverpool, who had been doing fine in life. Until his son committed suicide. And his life fell apart. When we start to question the meaning of life, the purpose of life, these are deeply spiritual questions, whether we belong to a faith community or not.
So what does spiritual emergency look like? Let’s take a look at some of the key features.
Key Features of Spiritual Emergency
•         The intensity of the experience can consume our whole being
•         We can find it impossible to cope at an everyday level
•         Our inner world can take over and blur confusingly with the outer world
•         We can have unusual physical pains and sensations and find it impossible to sleep
•         We can experience a rollercoaster of powerful emotions
•         There can be a sense of everything falling away, including our sense of self
•         There may be ego-inflation
•         Thinking can become confused as the rational mind desperately tries to make sense   of what is going on
•         Symbolism and mythological themes become very meaningful for us
•         Synchronicity often becomes more frequent
•         We might see unusual things
•         We can experience sudden and strong energies

In the book you’ll find a lot more detail on each of the key features. I’d like to come back to just one of these in particular, by way of illustration. I’d like to look in more depth at ego inflation, because I think this is one of the single most misunderstood aspects of what can happen, especially amongst the broader public. There was a media story a while ago about David Shayler, the ex-MI5 agent who revealed to the newspapers that the secret services held files on Labour Government Ministers. The story that broke more recently, in 2007, was of David Shayler living in a squat and considering himself to be a reincarnation of Jesus. Because the media as a whole has no understanding of spiritual emergency they completely missed the point. Again you can read the full story about Shayler in the book.
In order to explain a very different perspective on ego inflation I’m going to draw on the work of Roberto Assagioli, who founded Psychosynthesis. This is a spiritual approach to psychotherapy that has been very influential. Here in London alone there are at least three Pyschosynthesis training schools.
Assagioli explains very well what happens in ego inflation; that basically there is confusion between the egoic, personal self and the higher, spiritual Self. The ego appropriates to itself the powerful spiritual energies that are coming through during spiritual emergency. As the personal self experiences the spiritual self we have a sense of greatness, of expansion. It’s not that we are Jesus or the Buddha, for example, but that we are experiencing the energy of the Christ consciousness. So, whilst ...
(Roberto Assagioli,Psychosynthesis, Turnstone Books, 1975, pp. 44-5.)

 In Amma’s case (Amma, if you haven’t come across her, is the Indian known as the ‘hugging saint’) it was Krishna. When she was going through spiritual emergency she experienced herself as merging with Krishna. In fact she took the process of spiritual emergence to its ultimate, and very rare, conclusion and became a fully awakened, fully realised being.
To bring this into the more personal, I mentioned that in 2003 I went through a major crisis. It actually only lasted a week but it was phenomenally intense, as spiritual emergency invariably is. It operates on all levels, physically, emotionally, mentally. As we’ve seen it consumes our whole beings. I actually ended up in a wheelchair because I was so overwhelmed that my legs gave way and I couldn’t walk. I don’t want to paint a totally hellish picture because aspects of the experience were incredibly beautiful. And at one point I experienced the energy or the consciousness of the Virgin Mary, in much the same way as I’ve been talking about. I had enough insight not to tell anyone that I was experiencing myself as if I were the Virgin. The energy and the feelings were extraordinarily beautiful. I had an overwhelming sense of peace, gentleness and the deepest compassion I’ve ever felt.
So when somebody temporarily has such an experience, rather than dismissing it, we can know that something very important is happening spiritually. These are very precious experiences. My therapist at the time very wisely encouraged me to explore what that connection with the Virgin Mary meant for me. He certainly didn’t dismiss it as delusions of grandeur. To do so would be to do the person a great disservice. Which is not to deny that the person may well need mental health care. I’m certainly not saying that, but they need mental health care that is sensitive to their spiritual concerns and in particular to their spiritual experience.
So that’s just one of the key features of spiritual crisis. Not everybody experiences that. Rather than what we can call mystical psychosis some experience more a dark night of the soul. Those of you interested in depression might like to explore the literature on that and the relationship between dark nights of the soul and depression. In the book there’s a very powerful story of someone who went through over 30 years, on and off, of crippling depression. What saved her was her sense all along that this was a spiritual process, a dark night of the soul.
That’s pretty much all we’ve got time for and I haven’t even begun to touch on the most important dimension; how do we get through spiritual emergency? How do we cope? Based on my research, our experience through the SCN and my personal experience, I’ve identified Three Key Phases of moving successfully through spiritual emergency. It’s all there, in the book.
Just to say that I think many of you may also be interested in a talk I gave at another NHS conference, which I entitled ‘Psychospiritual Crisis: Where Mysticism and Mental Health Meet’. You can listen to that as a free MP3 audio recording and it’s available on the Academy of Living Wisdom website. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Co-creating in Momentous Times

 by Catherine G Lucas

I recently attended an inspiring week-end put on by the Wrekin Trust at the wonderful Hawkwood College. Why did I feel drawn to Co-creating in Momentous Times? Because I see powerful parallels between individual spiritual emergence and global spiritual emergence. The awakening of consciousness can at times speed up and tip over into crisis. The emergence becomes an emergency. Having been through such a process, I know how terrifying it can be. As we move into global spiritual emergency, we are being offered a wonderful opportunity for transformation. As we move to a whole new level of consciousness, we need to trust the process, to surrender to it and not be overcome by fear.
Here are a few reflections following the week-end, with thanks to Janice Dolley, of the Wrekin Trust, Jude Currivan, whose material I draw on in places, and the whole team.

Fire, Water
We worked with the elements of fire and water. An Egyptian fruit seller, supporting a family of eight, is told by the authorities that he can no longer sell in the street. He pours petrol all over his body and sets light to himself. Fire. The element of fire sparked the Egyptian revolution and the whole domino effect of uprisings across North Africa.
            In Japan, a tsunami leaves 13,500 dead, nearly 17,000 missing, half a million homeless. Water. A society that has become homogenized, a society where a million young men, known as ‘hikikomori’, have simply withdrawn, retired to their rooms, refusing to engage with society on its terms, is engulfed by water. A poignant, moving email from a survivor in Sendai does the rounds and warms hearts the globe over. She writes:

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful. ... If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets. ... I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. ...
            Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

They share water, they share fire. That night I dream of both. I dream of a people living by the sea, from the sea, their simple canoes are their fishing vessels, their transport; a people gradually becoming extinct. I’m shown the scene fast-forwarding and I see their numbers dwindling to the last handful.
In another dream there is a fire. At first it’s only very small and no-one pays attention. Then it spreads, huge flames engulfing the second and third floors of a building. In the bar opposite, still nobody pays any attention. When I ask the bar tender if he has called the fire brigade he looks at me blankly. The people in the bar seem to be a metaphor for the ways in which we numb ourselves, distract ourselves, are lulled by sensory pleasure and craving, a metaphor for those not ready, not willing, not able to wake up.
I urge, repeatedly, ‘What can we do? We must do something!’ Yet ultimately, not having the equipment to tackle the fire, and as there is no sense of anyone in danger in the building, all we can do is edge carefully past to safety. There is a sense of not being able to reach, of not being able to alert those in the bar, the vast numbed mass of humanity.
Fire. The phoenix rising from the ashes is often used as a symbol for spiritual emergency. Whether at the individual level or the global level, spiritual emergency is a death and a rebirth, a rising out of the ashes. As our friend in Japan says, ‘this wave of birthing... is hard, and yet magnificent’. The state of global emergency we have entered brings dangers and it brings blessings, opportunities.

The Call
If you have felt things intensifying, in your own life, or in the news, if you have felt things speeding up, if you have felt things polarising into them and us, good versus evil, then you have felt the vibes of the global spiritual emergence and emergency. If you have been clearing out clutter like never before, if you have started growing your own food for the first time ever, you are responding to the call. The call to prepare, the call to be ready; what for, we do not know. The call seems to be to simplify our lives, to get back to basics, to open our hearts. And, for me, to take responsibility for raising my energy vibration as much as I possibly can each and every day.
The birthing of spiritual emergence and emergency is ‘hard, and yet magnificent’. It offers healing, awakening, a whole new level of consciousness. It requires great trust and even greater surrender. How can we know that we’ll be OK? How can we know that we’ll get through whatever the shift entails, whatever these momentous times bring? We can take our lead from those who’ve been through spiritual emergency personally. From those who have, through the bliss and the nightmare, come to know at a visceral level, in Julian of Norwich’s words, that ‘all will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well’.

Fear? What Fear?
What this global transition calls for, above all, is to let go of fear. Those living in the harsh regimes of North Africa have bravely chosen to let go of fear, to rise up against oppression. In spiritual crisis, at the personal, individual level, the greatest and most frequent fear is of dying. We feel as if we won’t survive. And on one level that’s true. We don’t. The old me, the old you, the old ways, do not survive.
At the global level too, the single greatest fear we need to let go of is that of dying. Is dying OK? Not wishing to sound flippant, ask anybody who’s been through a near-death experience and they will tell you. Most are bitterly disappointed to have to come back to earth. We are so attached to our physical bodies, to our thoughts, our emotions, our personalities and personas. Are we ready to stop seeing death from a limited, egoic perspective? Spiritual emergence and emergency does involve loss, it does involve great pain, and global spiritual emergency does involve death. ‘This wave of birthing... is hard, and yet magnificent.’

One Whole
Where before we’ve worked at an individual level, healing our wounds, now we’re being called to work at the collective level, healing our collective wounds. In Japan a whole society is being given the opportunity to heal its wounds, to open its heart, the Universal Heart. As we make the shift from the personal, so we realize that our individual wound is mirrored in the collective wound. The micro is also the macro. So, for instance, in Ireland, as the rapid economic growth of the late 1990s allowed greedy developers and bankers to cash in, so a nation strove to compensate for the starvation of the potato famine. Truly, we can understand a whole generation’s need never to go hungry again.
For the first time ever, thanks largely to the technology of the worldwide web, we are experiencing ourselves as one whole, as deeply inter-connected. In the run up to the momentous cosmic alignment of 21 December 2012, the whole world will be watching London, attention fixed on the Olympics. If ‘all the world’s a stage’, London, at this pivotal juncture in time, will be the stage of all the world. Let us welcome the world with open arms and open hearts.

© Catherine G Lucas 2011