July 9, 2012

Holy Irreverence: A Trilogy Series Exploring the Dark Side of the Sacred.

Part One: My Journey through Madness & Mysticism

The role of the dark, in its many myriad and mysterious forms, has played a formidable role in the unfolding and enfolding development of my life journey from an early age.

At times, my brazen inquiries into the dark side have taken me into seductive energies and consuming obsessions that have pulled me into some of the most bizarre and life-threatening places I’ve ever navigated.

My intimate explorations with the dark have also led me into some of the richest sources of mystery. They have brought me into liminal spaces that have allowed me to integrate inexplicable paradox, unleash unprecedented access to beauty and creativity, as well as unlocking stagnant blocks in my erotic energy that have imprinted my soul in profoundly transformative ways.

My non-linear and imperfect path through the dark has both confused and informed me, desecrated and invigorated me, raped and nursed me with intimacy. It has led me into lunacy and mysticism, as any unguarded inquiry into the mysteries of darkness will do.

For with every authentic step into the unknown, one must be willing to submit a layer of the known, and with that submission of control always comes an element of risk.

I wanted to start part one of this trilogy series by feeling into the subject of madness and it’s intimate connection to mystery and mysticism as it has shown up in my own life.

I choose this topic to begin the series because I myself was conceived in a womb of madness, and madness was the mother that nursed and raised me into this world. Thus, it seemed like the most appropriate starting point.

Before I knew how to speak, before I even had a concept of myself, I was shaped by the gaze of a mother struggling with the unpredictable currents of mystical opening and mind-numbing psychosis.

From the age of 17, my mother had committed herself as a devoted nun to the Catholic Church for 15 years. Her mystical-psychotic episodes began to occur during her time there, eventually leading to her “dismissal” by the church superiors in her early 30s.

She curbed the symptoms for a while and tried to start a normal life by getting married and beginning a family. But the frequency and intensity of her breakdowns returned and grew more severe during the time of my conception and after my birth.

From the womb, my being became shaped like a sensitive somatic tuning fork to the movements of her energy, moods and fluctuation of states. It was a pre-verbal and pre-cognitive decision I made to follow her rhythms, so that I could follow her. Because the world didn’t understand her and I knew she needed me, or I needed her or both.

Growing up, I became sensitive to the ways my mother made people uncomfortable, because no one likes the discomfort that madness brings into a room, nor what a mad person makes them feel within themselves. No one likes the way that a mad person’s unprovoked irrationality and excessive emotion aggressively slaps them in the face with a reminder of all that is uncontrollable within themselves and the world around them.

Opening oneself to the mystical world unleashes a greater potential for psychotic breakdowns, or at least exposure to psychotic elements. This is particularly true if one has unhealed wounds or traumas from there past that have not been properly addressed or metabolized in some form, as was the case with my mother.

Mystical opening, in its more aggressive form, can violently rip the psychic and cognitive protective band-aid off of one’s pre-personal wounds, and this upsurge of unresolved trauma and material from “below,” mixed with the descent of trans-personal material from “above” can lead to the possibility of either spiritual breakthrough, or psychotic breakdown. Whichever way one goes, things are undoubtedly going to feel a little crazy and confusing for a while, thus why most people do everything they can to avoid opening in the first place.

Both psychotics and mystics are also a threat to the very architectural design of modern society. For psychotics, their psychosis, irrationality and emotionality is terrifying to others precisely because they often embody, express and expose collective cultural shadows as much as any personal neurosis. The line between a psychotic’s own craziness and the absurdity of the culture that psychiatrists are attempting to normalize them back into is a blurry and shaky one indeed.

Unfortunately, many modern North American spiritual and New Age approaches with their focus on light and positive thinking, also have few tools and resources available to deal with the dark, irrational, emotional and less pure or beautiful sides of the developmental spiritual process. Thus, those who embody these collective shadows are often left on their own, sent to the confines of psychiatric wards, and at times become convenient scapegoats for a culture unwilling to look at or work through its own darkness.

There have been many great books written by more progressive therapists and spiritual teachers that aim to demarcate the lines between psychosis and mysticism and to carve out legitimate territory for understanding the symptoms of spiritual crisis and spiritual emergency as distinct from the symptoms of psychotic breakdown.

Now, let’s walk into the belly of darkness and try to bring some love and light to the irrational and intangible aspects of both madness and mysticism.

Warning: the following is not for the faint-hearted. Prepare yourself for a deep-dive.

At 25 years old, I was admitted into a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt that was nearly successful. I was at the height of a wave of spiritual crisis/opening that had once again flung the doors open to tremendous mystical insight while at the same time desecrating a protective psychic layer I’d held over my unconscious. The opening of that unconscious material resulted in a whole body and mind numbing depression, as well as upsurges of some psychotic elements.

My body had become weighted down by some inexplicable force of sadness and indefinable pain. I could barely muster the energy to eat or get out of bed. Having been down these roads of consuming depression before, I attempted to fight it with everything I had, but no amount of therapy or comfort from friends seemed to help. The depression only got worse.

I began to feel a terrifying fear and panic, as if I was being sucked into a black hole. I had been through spiritual crisis before, as I’ve written about here, but this time it felt even more consuming, powerful and out of my control.

My ego felt like a fragile branch amidst a hurricane, and I couldn’t see any light anywhere that I could lean towards. There was just pure blackness in every direction and a painful but alluring erotic tension pulling me towards the darkness. The weight on my body became thicker.

I knew deep in my soul that I was fighting a losing battle, and that the darkness would eventually win, thus why I made the decision to try to end my life before the darkness consumed me whole.

Once I was admitted to the psychiatric ward, I started to sense into a longer timeline to my internal struggle with this dark energy. It wasn’t rational, nor did it feel wholly personal. It felt a wounding and evil that cut much deeper than anything that could only be attributed to my trauma with my mother.

There was no way to prove it, but I felt that I had somehow opened the Pandora’s box of perhaps lifetimes of a very deep primal trauma or wound, and that it was wanting release through me, whether I liked it or not.

The energy itself felt ancient, primordial, pre-verbal and archetypal. It felt collective, and yet intimately personal all at once. While in the psychiatric ward, I felt as though I was processing material that was deeply personal to my own traumas, but also material, imagery and content that I had no idea as to its origin. In many ways, I felt my own life experience had become a fertile karmic grounds on which a deeper collective trauma was attempting to work itself out, however imperfectly, through my being.

During the nights in the psychiatric ward, I often felt enveloped by all-encompassing darkness. I entered a kind of in-between or liminal realm, where I no longer felt the boundaries of space and time. I was then surrounded by energy bodies that I experienced as penetrating the sheath of my subtle body, so as to extract or untangle different energetic blocks in my being. It was incredibly painful and erotic all at once.

I had heard of shamanic practices of soul retrieval and extraction processes, but had never researched or practiced any myself, nor had any particular beliefs about them. Whatever was occurring was happening by its own accord, and it felt very much like a kind of forced purification process.

The heavy weight I’d felt within me, which had manifested itself as numbing depression, was slowly being lifted each night through these extraction processes. I felt deep traumas that I’d been unable to unhinge through other forms of therapy being pulled at from their roots, unwound and lifted.

During the days, I felt extremely sensitive due to the energetic surgeries that were occurring during the nights. It left me incredibly vulnerable to every sound and sensation I came in contact with, but also very bright and radiant as I felt lighter and lighter and more at peace with myself and the world.

The implications of these extractions on my energy and presence baffled both the nurses and psychiatrists I was working with.

I also began to intuitively use poetry writing as a way to process and integrate what was flowing through me, and it seemed this avenue through art was one of the most important and potent ways for me to work through the different and at times painful energetic tensions and contradictions I felt within myself, and allowed me to forge deeper connections between my intuition and intellect.

Mind-numbing terror and primal archetypal screams that ran like currents through centuries of repressed cultural shadow, flowed into my body and came out through my pen in poetic explorations. The deeper I was penetrated into these layers of darkness, particularly through my everyday encounters with the energies of psychotics and schizophrenics in my ward, the more I had to find ways to move with their energy, so as not to contract around it.

Any fear or contraction against the energy entering me proved to be lethal and immediately bred pain or pools of neurosis in my body-mind in some form. The more I was able to move with the energy, the more free and erotically open of a container I became.

My capacity to hold contradiction and chaos became increasingly wider, and people around me started commented on how radiant I was becoming. There was a fearless quality to it, and an internal yoga that was occurring that began to source some kind of light through my ability to be with my own darkness and the darkness of others.

The time surrounding my suicide attempt, my descent into madness, and my unexpected interactions with energetic beings while in the psychiatric ward, all deepened and ultimately sobered me.

What deepened and matured in me during this time was a sense of knowing that had been growing within me over many years. My experiences had clarified a sense of commitment I felt to processing these darker, maddening and chaotic energies in a way that could bring more integration, healing and beauty to the world, as well as more compassion to those who suffered a sensitivity to these forces and were not supported by the larger culture.

There was a role and path I was being asked (or forced) to walk that was calling to give the darkness, and these forgotten or repressed aspects of culture and spirit, a voice that was fierce, integrated, discerning and compassionate.

This wasn’t a naïve romantic relationship with the dark that was born out of a reaction to the dominant culture; rather, it was a very deep penetrating inducement into darkness that was calling for me to make love to every aspect of the world through it.

I have in no way perfectly embodied this call or path, nor perfectly found the words to fully articulate it. I feel my life journey has been a continual discovery and refinement of attempting to give words to the ineffable and process these deeper intimations of the dark as they interact with my own path with the divine, so that my presence can in some way serve the larger whole.

It is a journey that has been dangerous, imperfect, holy, and humbling, and one that has confused, concerned, scared and inspired those closest to me, including my family, friends, mentors and teachers.

My radical relationship to the dark side, which started out reckless in my early years, has continually matured over time. It now forms the basis of a very erotic connection I experience with my divine artistic muse of holy irreverence and the spirit of untamable beauty. It is an erotic connection that encompasses the whole of life and offers a continual inflowing of fiery radiance and slicing discernment to my life, as well as a passionate desire and karmic calling to serve those who have been confined to the shadows.

In closing this short reflection on my own descent into madness and mysticism, I wanted to offer a poem that I wrote over a period of two weeks while staying in the psychiatric ward. I share it to give recognition to the more arational nature of my journey, and to the paradoxical progression of my path as it has led me through darkness and madness, as well as the outpourings of beauty and compassion that it has inspired.


fear grips these tender limbs
something unknown moves deep within
a weight that sinks
a cry for something indistinct
an amorphous chaos of forgotten words, seasoned wounds, and silenced screams

they quiver like ripples on a dark unknown sea
an abyss that now dangles beneath my feet
a paved street
a song stuck on repeat

a pitiful sight i am
a branch in a hurricane
attempting to plant roots

an earthworm squirming on pavement
under the sun’s hot admire
my limitations curling and coiling
under the heat of love’s fire

i am stuck again
with no light to guide me
no roadmap beside me
no insight to find me
just this love for truth at the core of my heart
that continues to tear my world apart

i pray every night that i might burn at god’s alter
but not falter
by scorching the lives of those that i love

but like an infant
trying to live by love’s hand
i’m often humbled that i can barely even stand
as the pain of truth feels too immense to bury
yet also too heavy for my human heart to carry

and so i ask:
where was god when eve dove deep
and eden fell from under her feet

and where was god when serpents cried
and beauty died
in the wake of her absence

and i kneel and beg:
please god show me the good within
but i only continue to shed sin’s second skin

because virtue is a composite
composed of its opposite
and the more one seeks and speaks of love
the more one meets their own limitation
and invites false imitation

the more one becomes a bottom dweller
a fearless propeller
piercing the truth of their own confusion
which unfolds in ever subtle layers of delusion
a violent intrusion
on the image of who we once thought ourselves to be

and i ask god:
what is the point of all this pain?
and god does not refrain:

it is through pain that compassion deepens
everything else will eventually weaken.

{For those looking for more resources, feel free to ask me in the comments on this blog, and I can offer some rich references for books that have really supported me through my own times of spiritual and mental crisis.}

Darkness Shining Wild: An Intimate Walk through the Labyrinth of Madness & Mysticism with Robert Augustus Masters

In the following dialogue, Robert Augustus Masters and I engage an intimate discussion on both of our breakdowns into darkness, insanity and mystical states. We explore the differences between psychosis and mystical opening, as well as shining a light on other blind spots and pitfalls that can occur along the spiritual journey.

Robert Augustus Masters is the author of 11 books (including Darkness Shining Wild: An Odyssey into the Heart of Hell and Beyond, Transformation Through Intimacy and Spiritual Bypassing), a relationship expert and spiritual teacher, and a master psychotherapist (and trainer of psychotherapists) with a doctorate in Psychology.

Robert’s uniquely integral, intuitive work (developed over the past 33 years) dynamically blends the psychological and physical with the spiritual, emphasizing full-blooded embodiment, authenticity, emotional openness and literacy, deep shadow work, and the development of relational maturity. You can visit Robert’s websites at: www.robertmasters.com and www.masterscenter.net. You can listen to our dialogue here.

Editor: Mel Squarey

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