Note: This is a long and scattered post, on a few different topics.
So-called Shamanism and Soul-sickness
“…if the shaman doesn’t shamanize in his or her way, then the shaman will get soul-sick.”
Ach. Fortunately there are a lot of ways to adapt one’s shamanic energies. Writing, counseling, sitting with, loving, planting, showing, listening, seeing, being…all of these can be shamanic acts, if one’s heart is open in the doing.
I think this relates to my mention of conceptual alchemy, in which a thing becomes transformed by virtue of how it is done.
I can feel it when I’ve done good work. I can also feel when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is being generous in energy and spirit. When I’m being present and keen in my participation, I feel a distinct warmly electric appreciation settle into my body. It feels a lot like gratitude and love. Maybe I am just relieved when I actually seem to be helpful and useful, am thankful that I didn’t fuck up and that I maybe helped out somehow. Maybe it’s just a regular feeling, as opposed to something that indicates a visceral connection to the will of the universe. Maybe our regular feelings are viscerally connected to the will of the universe?
When I was a teenager, the thought occurred to me that “If you see a way that you might help and you do nothing to help…that is like a sin or something!” I really put my ass in a sling with that one, because I can – thanks to my analytically blessed/damned mind – usually figure out a way to do something. It then becomes an issue of actually doing the thing imagined and sometimes I am able and sometimes I turn and, either way, I usually wonder if I’m doing the right thing.
I have limited reserves of energy and spirit or when my ability to access energy and spirit is compromised due to exhaustion or illness or fuckery.
This is why I want to gain more efficacy, get more done with less effort.
I have pretty much accepted that I have to do something or I will be soul-sick.
I don’t want to be soul-sick.
What is fuckery? It’s a force in the world that confuses, distracts and distresses. It is experienced in a highly personal and subjective way, creating turmoil and chaos out of thin air, distorting feeling and perception and priority, obscuring reason and tugging us into despair, doubt, fear, and loathing.
There are different types of fuckery, some forms involve things like a flat tire, a speeding ticket, minor delays, and some mechanical malfunction. Other forms involve things like our friends freaking out and acting in a most unfriendly manner or finding ourselves ensnared and ensnarled in someone else’s personal agenda.
We all get fucked with in different ways.
Is it fuckery when someone loses a home? Is it fuckery when someone loses a loved one?
No, those things are tragedy, which is another type of event entirely.
It seems like this comes up all the time. Seriously, not a day goes by that I don’t say or see the word “trauma.”
Fuck that word.
Inside that word, there are hornet’s nests…actually, they were yellow jackets, underneath the pine tree, in a perfectly regular pile on the ground. There weren’t the geometrics of a wasps’ nest. There was no honey. They just lived in a pile on the ground. That was what I understood later, after they swarmed around my legs and begin flying into me in all directions, their stings like punches and a terrible sound, there in the sun by the river.
I don’t remember how I got them off of me. Strange, I remember so much, but I don’t remember the space between the stings and the time at the edge of the path, with my father explaining, “They just make their nests in a pile on the ground. It wasn’t your fault.”
An odd thing to say, now that I think about it.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Why is it that we feel to blame for the things that hurt us? Maybe it’s not blame, maybe it’s shame. They’re not too terribly different in feeling. They both bring a heat to the chest and a quickening heartbeat.
Then again, so does Love.
I’m not sure how it is that I came to be talking about emotions, when I started off with trauma. I say the word “emotion” a lot, too. Here’s an example:
“Trauma affects our experience of emotions.”
This point isn’t even worth expanding, since a hundred million stories (including this one) have already said so many wretched and lovely things about how the experience of terror can make the world feel like a terrible place.
Oh, I’m tired. It was a long day at work. I don’t talk about my job much here – due to an effort to respect the sanctity of people’s stories. I do sometimes mention the shred of an anecdote or misquoted quote.
I talked a lot about trauma today. It was traumatic, all that talk about trauma.
Urgh, fuck that word.
After I came home, I was thinking about all the different kinds of trauma that a person experiences…I won’t list them here, that would be “triggering.”
(Fuck that word, too.)
The T-word was traditionally thought of as being a medical word, because it involved a threat of loss of life or experiencing great bodily harm that required lots of stitches and special scissors that can cut through blue jeans.
However, the use of the word has been expanded to now include conceptual/psychological threats to one’s life and wellbeing as well as harm such as that sustained in war or severe injury.
“Emotional trauma.” It’s a peculiar phrase.
“Were my emotions hurt? Or did my emotions in response to being hurt hurt me?”
In case anyone was wondering, most people have lots of different types of traumas, all layered together in a stopmotion doomscare that encases their minds and hearts like a shot-through cage.
I experience language in a fairly powerful way. The more exhausted I am, the more I am overwhelmed by it, pulled toward minor utterance and the most bare-boned literalism unimaginable.
I am spending time thinking about the different ways our lives can become fearful so that I can figure out how to be fearless.
I thought I had it figured out, because I have experienced some sustained periods of fearlessness over the past several decades…and each time I think I am finished with fear forever and each time I slowly become scared again. I’m not scared of anything in particular. Mostly I’m just scared that I will have to contend with a never ending parade of bullshit and will never get my act together and that I’ll die decrepit and alone. You know, the usual fears.
Because I almost died when I was a kid, I never took life for granted.
I didn’t relax for a minute.
Instead of relaxing, I read Salinger and listened to The Cure. Fear of death is a human habit, but by and large I’m not scared to die anymore. I worked that out in my theory of “What happens when we die?”
Do you think some ideas are traumatic?
That’s okay, though. They’re still important ideas. If they weren’t important, they wouldn’t be traumatic.
We are only hurt in relation to the things we love and live for and by, be they life or be they limb.
One thing I have been talking about at work lately is the role of social, cultural, and sensory trauma in our experience of struggling to live in the world. I mean, really, I was talking with people today about the effects of poverty – while acknowledging my own privilege, because while I live on less than a thousand dollars a month, I still borrow money from my family in order to sustain my household – and the fact that many communities are economically structured in such a way that people are denied viable participation that is dignified and meaningful…and the infringement upon basic human needs that comes from having to sleep outside involuntarily, and to be harmed by the mere circumstances of your trying to survive…well, it’s just atrocious what some people have to face every single day.
I know because I – as a participant in the healing and survival of their lives – face it with them…or rather, I see it in their faces.
It makes me angry that the world is constructed the way it is, that so many people get hurt in the course of business.
Fuck business. It seems to me like business hurts a lot more people than it helps. That’s just my uninformed observation, however.
Feel free to prove me wrong.
Is there something traumatic about being an American in the 21st century? Or is there something traumatic about being human in the 21st century?
I mean, what other species much watch and be reminded of its own imminent destruction on a regular basis, and to have to reckon with the fact that we’re killing ourselves and wrecking our home.
Oh, the shame of polar bears, in their ice-less world.
Oh, the shame of beaches.
Oh, the shame of children.
Oh, the shame of war.
Terrible, all of it. What’s happened here?
This is usually where the mind shuts off, feeling the edge of an infinite doom and dismay – a great human wailing that falls to a whimper with the thought, “There’s nothing I can do about it. Everything is fine.”
Every day, we dream about death and yet we are fine.
Can a dream be traumatic?
Can being awake be traumatic?
The only way I have found to heal trauma is through gratitude, safety-in-reintegration, forgiveness, acceptance, de-programming, re-learning.
It sounds reductionist, but in my experience thinking about how my mind and heart worked to make meaning in an infinite array of associations, responses and interpretations. I have the sort of mind that this conceptualization of the mechanisms of human experience – a hot-step dance between conscious and subconscious and external world – makes sense to.
After my world became reconfigured one-too-many times, by the forces of brutal folly, fate, and man, I had to ease back into being a walking-talking, participatory human. I could barely go to the grocery store for a period of time, I was so stunned by what had become of my personhood and so appalled at the clarity with which I suddenly saw just how many choices there really are and how we have chosen incorrectly again and again and again.
Ah, the trauma of regret. In my story, I find it to be helpful to remember that my life is fucking awesome and that I am a total triumph in some ways…and that this wouldn’t be that if not for what had been.
This has gotten so long.
I haven’t even mentioned environmental trauma. Like how the grocery store lights look like death rays and the shelves are lined with dead animals that I – for some reason -want to eat, and in the parking lot, the song on the radio is saying they “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” and it’s just all so weird.
Nobody else seems to think it’s so peculiar, this everyday life, but I do, because all the other everyday lives are very close by and they are very different. Worse, better, fair, unfair, sleeping under a bridge, going to the store only to buy beer, having the assistant pick up your gourmet vegan meal and never having to set foot in a parking lot at all, getting your food from boxes filled with odds and ends, rare and exotic, like dented cans of corn from the late 1980s and generic lemon pudding.
I think that the color of lemon pudding is assaultive. Some people might find it lovely. It reminds me of a time I got sick.
And so it goes and so it goes…I suppose this may have been a little traumatic to read, but only because of the word trauma and only because chances are good that you were traumatized when you woke up this morning.
In the way that I dream, my life is not always remembered, there is often a blank space, an ellipsis between asleep and awake that says “…whereamiwhoami…” and then I remember, all very suddenly and it is so hard to hold so much in head and heart.
I think the most overarching insult and injury I have sustained has been the long, slow witnessing of the changing world. When I “lost my mind” it was largely in response to a sudden sharp awareness of the epochal damage we had done in a single century. I felt it in my bones and it felt like a whale or a bird or a tiger or the seafloor splitting open.
I mean, what a dreadful existential state to find oneself in, aghast at species, terrified of kin, grieving the world we lost, the one we are losing.
Oh, I suppose that’s all very dramatic.
I’d certainly say so. I have to empty this out of my head or the feeling will sour, lively outrage twisting and folding into itself in something like disgust or retreat. I have a very difficult time thinking that I might have nothing to show for the time spent in thinking and feeling.
I suppose there are the effects of prayers, whatever those may be, but those aren’t mine to show, except for those that are mine to show.
I wonder why I have to have anything to show for any of it. I suppose the alternative would be just sitting and thinking and whatever would come of that would come of that.
Believe me, in my experience, sitting and thinking can be a very dangerous thing to do, woeful in its consequences, such as the awareness that one is sitting alone and thinking.
I’d like to sit and think with other people sometime. I think that is called meditation, except you’re not thinking, per say, but are arguably – in meditative thought thinking about the only things worth thinking about…peace, healing, etc. etc.
It is my opinion that abstract conceptuals don’t do too much in the way of getting things done. You have to feel peace and picture healing in order to manifest them in abundance.
That sounds all new age fancy.
I don’t study new age topics, not too much.
Some New Age scenes have been socially traumatic to me. Like when people expect you to be all open hearted and expansive and they smile superiorly with their head all cocked as if in sympathy for the waves of anxiety and toxicity rolling off of you and the smell of cigarettes in your hair. Or when they don’t return your emails about “I don’t know if it was some kind of kundalini crisis or what but I have a lot of questions about what the New Age community thinks about experiences of so-called psychosis.”
I mean, who wouldn’t want to answer that question?
Lots of people I suppose. I guess nobody really finds madness and Gaia all too interesting. Or what about Thrive? Spiritual Emergency? A Course in Miracles?
Oh, good, I stopped all that t..i.ger…g talk and shifted over to talking about popular New Age paradigms.
That’s my cue to stop writing.
EXCERPTS FROM A LETTER ABOUT REAL LIFE
Two days a week I work at a state-funded recovery education center. I am lucky that my employer gives me a great deal of latitude in regard to what I teach and how. I have – through offering a multi-modality perspective – debunked the medical model in a lot of people’s minds – not through proselytization, but through offering other approaches and views. People seem to “recover” with aplomb when they are inspired to make their own meaning and are given opportunities to think compassionately about their experiences, to find evidence of their truth and their strengths within that truth.
Work makes me tired and last night I just emailed myself and drew a picture.
Yesterday morning, I drove to work and the songs on the radio were, “you’ve got a secret smile” and “dear god…” and “my shadow days are over.” As I drove, I thought about the letter I might write to you and felt the familiar warmth of encouragement, a strong somatic sense that feels like fire in my belly and hands on my shoulders.
On one lawn beside the four lane road, there were about 3,000 starlings. The ground was black with them and they lifted off the grass and from the trees in a perfectly simultaneous wave.
I considered making a list:
1) I have experienced madness for many years, culminating with my blogging my way through a (loooong) “break” that culminated and continues to culminate with distinct messianic content.
2) I am committed to dismantling the medical model of psychiatry and doing what I am able to safely and reasonably (subjective considerations) do to encourage the dismantling of the military industrial complex. This seems reasonable to me, that someone with an interest in peace and future would want the military industrial complex to cease its warfare activities and deadly commerce.
3) I developed a personal understanding of theories that propose ecosystemic/species sensitivities and – in the midst – of my own psychosis, established that I was not crazy, but that the world works in such a way that some of us are prone to feel it deeply and to sense its oldest stories, to hear its cries and to feel its storms and tranquility.
4) I have proven a commitment to my truth, by being openly mad – that honesty has come with costs, including having my parental rights compromised and making me vulnerable to social and occupational stigma and alienation – though not so much and not that I care, because that’s precisely the bullshit I’d like to change and the more bullshit I have to deal with, the more I learn about how it works and I am able to deal with it more and more effectively. I established a clause by which any judgment against me is actually just an indicator of the mind and heart of the one doing the judging. There are some presumptions in this sort of social litmus experiment. Many times people are nothing like I think they might be and there are great limitations in my interpretations of their motives and interests – due to the fact that I have a lot of bungled impressions about the nuances of social rules and expectations. I don’t like to make assumptions about people, but I also don’t like it when people make assumptions about me and if I sense that someone is making assumptions, I’m apt to assume that the person might be a little bit misinformed, because if they knew me, they’d know not to call me “crazy” and they’d know not to tell me “it’s all in your head” – because those things trigger me and shut me down, because it’s not all in my head and because I’m not crazy.
(Sorry, a little bit of a rant there in reflecting on some things that were said to me the other night.)
4) I am fairly educated and am planning on returning to graduate school in January, studying Psychology/Social Transformation at Saybrook.
5) I am involved in established activist circles and have decent relationships with some of the “major players.” (I recently attend the invited conference at Esalen, on Alternative Views and Approaches to Psychosis. It was a remarkable week, though the messianic/purpose-driven psychosis issue was not brought up. However, people did thank me for my spirit and wisdom. Maybe next year, we’ll talk about messianic madness in the postmodern world.)
(I understand I’m breaking list form now, but I’ll get back to that.)
One of my big questions in the course of my psychosis was, “What do people expect of the ways that God shows itself? Who would Christ be now? What about the saints? What about the all the people who have had visions?”
How would such things play out now? What form would they take? Would Francis, with his love for troubadours and walking in the woods, communing with animals…would he be a young man who travels with the Rainbows, would he be a quiet little girl playing at the edge of the yard, singing songs to herself? Would the musicians who sang to him, caught his ear with a note and a sequence, now be weirdo-sensitive indie folk adventurers?
How did the story get told by the times during which it unfolded and who took the privilege of telling it, and for what purpose?
It seems very reasonable to me that some of us humans would be prone to feeling the world, that’s how the world works and part of our place in it.
When I realized these things, in my bones and in my blood, I felt as if my mind exploded with a new sense of the past 5,000 years and a great unfurling of just how incredibly we have utterly wrecked so much of our human story, and now – with the past several hundred years – we have inflicted epochal damage upon the earth, which is our home and the home to our everything we are connected to, everything that makes God.
I am getting carried away here, remembering that force of feeling and sense. I have written some about gestalt mind, and I am interested in the ways that cognitive/emotional/sensory processing can sometimes work in such a way that some come to understand great truths and to feel meaning from communications that the modern world and its linguistic barriers and convolutions have made all but inaccessible to most humans, the vast majority of which are too busy trying to survive in some way or another.
6) I am well-spoken and acceptably “attractive” – and I acknowledge this as privilege. My tattoos break any pretty façade, as does the scar on my arm.
“I have never seen tattoos on someone’s palms.”
(I got them in late 1999. I have a wing on each hand. In order for the ink to stay in one’s palm, the artist must “drill through the callous, in a single-needle/”prison method” way. A tattoo machine may be used, but too many needles will tear up the hand, leaving the ink to fall out. The hand must be held down, as the human reflex is to make a fist when sharp objects are driven into one’s palm.”)
7) I am a poet and an artist.
These are things that are too painful to talk about: my real life. My home, my lost friends, my children – though I love them and am with them. I have, in so many ways, done so much of this for them. It is acknowledged in my writing that – when I realized I was being written all wrong in my family and in my life – I decided I wanted to leave a record for them, some evidence of who their mother was in the wanderings of her own mind and heart, for better and for worse. My family does not talk much about my “madness” or where it has led me and where I have been led by it. It is good that I have been able to legitimate this work through professional and social means. My parents were proud of me when I went to Esalen. For many who were put into the psychiatric system at age 13, a parent’s pride is a coveted thing. Bah.
I really was fairly frayed at that point, very freaked out and distressed.
These things, given the circumstances, do happen. Mad Shame. Another reason I am committed to this work is because I know – as do many other people – that madness does not have to be a chaotic and ugly/frightening experience, that it can be a supported process of navigation and resolution. Many lives are lost in many ways. I am tired of friends dying and failing to thrive. So many people I have known and cared for have been hurt by the mental health system and the cruel cultures of economy. They’ve lost their place in the world, or they can’t find it and are punished every time they go seeking or grieve over what’s been found and what has happened. Their families hurt them. Their communities hurt them. I’m sick of it. STOP HURTING MY FRIENDS! You’re KILLING my friends!
I want to cry out.
I don’t actually have too many friends, but I do. I have an amazing array of friends and allies. Some of them are more true than others. My closest friends are among the poor.
I am, by default, friends with everybody. I don’t believe in enemies and I’m not scared of “strangers.”
I, like you, refused compulsory education at a young age, as well. It was just too cruel and stupid. I’ve always found my own way, my own scattered cohort. A lot of people love me.
9) I’ve since abandoned the list and have grown suddenly weary of writing. I like the word Mad – because it also means pissed off, and there is plenty to be outraged about in regard to so-called madness and what’s been made of it.
(Ha! I actually have a tertiary theory that digital communication assists in hive mind transmission and that my ability to receive the messages of the world is related to the silent beeping and blooping of this handheld device, right across town from the cellular towers.)
This got long, sorry.