“Our body is our temple. We should therefore respect it,
understanding its importance and always return to it; it is our refuge.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Hello, everyone, and welcome back! Today I’m going to tell you about a conversation I had with a client of mine during a Clarity Session that ended just minutes before I started writing this column. I’ll also disclose an open secret about myself.
Call her Lisa. She lives in Florida. I would guess she’s in her late 20s or early 30s. Lisa is smart, charming, and has a good sense of humor. We get along really well because we understand each other in a fundamental way. Besides sharing this teaching, we also share a history of successful, long-term, Twelve Step recovery, which among like-minded people can be a very special sort of bond.
In short, we’ve both been to hell. We’re not there now. Hallelujah! Gratitude is not just a good idea for us, it’s a way of life. We get it.
Lisa came to know her True Nature with me in an Awakening Session about six weeks ago. She had a beautifully clear experience. I still remember the tears that rolled down her cheeks as Truth dawned on her. It was quite moving. I never “get used to it,” and I never want to.
Lisa and I had a Clarity Session about three weeks later, and I found her unsettled. She’d backed up into some reidentification with the body, which almost always happens, but which is prone to occur more quickly and more deeply when we find ourselves in both early awakening and turbulent conditions. Lisa’s situation met that description, as many do. It’s not at all uncommon to find the two paths crossing each other.
Our first Clarity Session went smoothly, but when we said goodbye, I didn’t leave with the feeling that I’d been able to really stabilize her. I had done my part, which is all I can ever do, and I had to be content with that. The fruits of my work are none of my business. The willingness and effort are. I play my role with relish.
A few weeks after our second session, I got rather an urgent email asking if I could meet with her again right away. Lisa’s issue was that she was experiencing anxiety and depression, something she’d brought up before. She thought it must be tied into her awakening. I was not so sure. I was booked up for a couple of weeks, but I managed to sandwich her in within a couple of days, the way my doctor will agree to see me on short notice if I come down with a nasty virus or something.
Let me be crystal clear: I am absolutely not any kind of therapist or dream-state counselor, but I am an insightful guy who–when asked–is willing to tell people the truth quite directly–even if part of them doesn’t want to hear it. That characteristic earns me both great loyalty and occasional enmity. It is what it is. It’s what I do.
When the Skype screen opened, Lisa was sitting in the usual place, with her usual bright white T-shirt, but the bright eyes I’d seen before were missing. Lisa looked wrung out. Tired. Worried. After a quick hello, I immediately said, “Before we start into anything else, I want to ask you a plain, non-spiritual question, because I think it’s pertinent.” She said okay.
I said, “Lisa, I remember you mentioning something about your being in marital discord, perhaps even to the point of a breakup. Is that right?” She hemmed and hawed a little but then agreed that, yes, it was so. She was no longer in love, and the marriage was over, only her husband hadn’t yet grasped that fact. He was still around.
“You know,” I said, “that’s a very stressful situation. It’s one of the most stressful situations that a human being can go through, whether or not they are in the throes of awakening.”
She said she knew that was true. We then talked about the particulars of her situation, which I’ll leave out. What I did as she talked was point out what was apparently true, and question anything that I thought might be inconsistent with other things she’d said. It was not totally unlike the sort investigation we’d undertaken in her initial Awakening Session, and as I probed, a more detailed story began to emerge.
Some years before, prior to the decade she’s spent in addiction recovery, Lisa had been diagnosed as being bipolar. That’s a common theme among alcoholics. She had been prescribed medication–simple antidepressants. This started a long-running conversation with herself, in her head, as to whether medication was necessary, or beneficial, or if it was somehow stymieing her spiritual quest. The “bad angel” on her shoulder had taken the lead over the “good one” lately, and thus for a while now she had not been fully availing herself of the help those foolish professionals thought she needed: she was off her meds.
Truth sometimes emerges slowly, but given enough encouragement it will typically show itself. Both recovery and Nonduality are, at heart, cultures of willingness. In those cultures, we are willing to question the status quo over and over again. We are willing to be honest.
Lisa was afraid that medication might give her some kind of false reading, that it might make her feel better than she was “really” feeling, or it might stifle her. One way or the other, she was afraid it would somehow negatively affect her awakening process. And like most bull-headed seekers and alcoholics, she thought she should be able to work through her life’s present turbulence all on her own, without benefit of medication that is only noticed if there is an absence of it. We do what we do.
I get the reluctance; there’s a real point to be made there. We don’t want to mask things like memories or emotions. When it makes sense, we want to allow them to emerge, bubble to the top, and then with a pop and a ping we’re free of that particular baggage. I have a method that helps people release fear this way on a regular basis. But I’m not going to recommend any kind of ongoing general therapy, or substitute for medication. I’m simply not qualified. That’s not my job.
In the case of those who are clinically out of balance, to go off meds is no small decision. It can be serious, even deadly serious, and neither patient, nor observer can know in advance what the results of such an experiment might be. Let me go on record as saying that this teaching is all about seeing and working with the way things are, right this moment, which includes honoring the unit’s needs. What I’m interested in is what works, not what might look or sound good.
I can tell you from long experience that many people in Twelve Step fellowships think taking medication for good mental health is a decidedly bad idea. This kind of bias is prevalent throughout our society. It can be found anywhere from a well-meaning friend’s kitchen table to a fundamentalist pulpit. Even here, in our spiritual community, in what we sometimes think of as wide-open, all-inclusive Nonduality, this prejudice may arise from a spiritual teacher or a fellow practitioner. It’s important that we realize that these people are not typically educated or trained in medicine–or licensed to practice it. Physician, heal thyself.
Acknowledging that we, as human beings, as awakened beings, and as spiritual teachers and practitioners don’t have all the answers about anything, much less everything, is simply the open admission of what is already glaringly true. It’s one of the reasons I have a disclaimer on this website. I tell people every day, “I don’t have any answers for you. All I have is stories and questions.” What I know is that I don’t know, which puts me one up in the game.
I am what I am, but I’m also not what I’m not.
If I have a client who seems to be stepping into the psychological “wild side,” I don’t hesitate to recommend they see a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or other professional. People in those fields have specialized knowledge and tools that someone who is not in the field will not have. If my client insists on trying to drag me into what I see as conventional therapeutic territory, I will drop them as a client. I’ve done it before and I’m open to doing it again.
Let me share a couple of personal stories with you concerning mental health and medication–or the lack of it.
Back in 2002, before Betsy and I were married, she was in the fine woodworking field, and her business partner was bipolar. His illness, which may well have granted him the spark of artistic genius, eventually turned their business venture into a personal and financial disaster. Ben was hospitalized.
Upon his release, some of his friends in the construction industry advised him to just “pull himself up by his bootstraps.” Ben liked that advice—he didn’t want to take medication anyway. A symptom of bipolar disorder appears to be the belief that one doesn’t need to take medication to curb it.
Our beliefs, opinions, and positions (BOPs) are constantly tripping us up and holding us down. We have to be willing to either constantly question our thoughts–to live in inquiry–or accept the consequences of going through our lives following one blind pattern after another. To live consciously awake requires both alertness and openness.
Ben was far from consciously awake. He was suffering mightily, but he didn’t want to be thought weak or somehow odd in either his friends’ eyes or his own, so one day he quit taking his meds. Again. This time around, however, before an intervention could occur, he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off.
Ben’s wife and Betsy both had their lives shattered. Betsy had to declare bankruptcy. I helped her shut the company down. Clients and creditors were stung. Workers were let go. A whole community mourned the death of this gifted artist–enough so that we all came together ten years later to celebrate what he’d meant to us. He was literally BOPped to death.
It is amazing to me that we are still in the dark ages about mental health. A great many of us have all kinds of chemical imbalances. Diabetics have a chemical imbalance, but I don’t notice anyone either stigmatizing them, or coaching them off their meds. Just about everything that can go wrong with human beings is treated chemically: from high blood pressure to heart diseaseto high cholesterol.. All of these things are treatable conditions. Whether we opt for pharmaceuticals or herbs, it’s chemical balance that we’re after, and their use is both accepted and encouraged in physical illness. Why is mental health the exception?
We just can’t seem to grow up on this subject; we are inherently suspicious and distrustful of any problem involving the organ we call our brain. As a culture we are bigoted toward anything that’s slightly different from “us,” meaning the idealized A-list of humanity that we conveniently pencil ourselves onto, and whose fluid membership requirements we get to change as we change. We are constantly redefining the list’s composition in our own favor. It is both hypocrisy and lunacy.
So, in an effort to calm her fears about medication interfering with her clearing process, I shared something with Lisa that I wrote about here over two years ago. “Lisa,” I said, “years ago, back when the drinking had gotten very heavy, and my life management skills were shot to hell, I was diagnosed as being bipolar, too. I take meds, too.” Her jaw dropped.
It’s well known that I had two stays in a mental hospital in the early 80’s. “We don’t treat alcoholism here,” they said. “Our diagnosis is that you’re bipolar.” I always thought–because it was what I wanted to think–that I was alcoholic, but not bipolar, and that they were just playing footsie with the rules in order to help me. But the two conditions go hand in glove with one anther, and what I see now is that I’m both. I am totally alcoholic, and I seem to have mild case of manic depression.
I don’t have big spikes, and I don’t have deep plunges. We are not talking dark nights of the soul here. That event (which you don’t need to have!) took another form entirely. I know what some of you are thinking: who is it that gets depressed? Nobody. Depression arises. And it is experienced without being personalized.
Depression doesn’t have any more to do with enlightenment than a nervous tic does. It’s a unit-centered condition. Life doesn’t get depressed, but the unit can certainly experience it, and if it does, then at the very least it’s going to lose a lot of efficiency. As I’ve worked out what was right for me, I’ve tried going without medication for several months several times since my initial awakening.
My most recent experiment was about a year ago. Sure enough, there was slow slide that resulted in a loss of energy and a drop in motivation. Betsy noticed a difference and asked me several times if I was okay. I always reported the same thing: “Yes. I am fine, but I do notice that the unit is really tired.” Eventually my work began to suffer even though, I, Awakeness, felt the same. That did it. If this teaching was going to be affected, then the experiment was over.
I took Betsy’s advice, swallowed my foolish pride and my meds, and then proceeded to write The Book of Undoing in three weeks flat. The book was a surprise hit, and with its release my practice immediately began to mushroom. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m so grateful that I was ready for it not just spiritually, but psychologically, and physically. An energy transfer occurs in these sessions, and I need to be in decent shape in order to constantly replenish.
I serve best when I serve from balance. I work like a crazy man, and I can use all the help (and energy!) that I can get. That’s how I feel today. But I can easily hark back to when I had exactly the same fears that Lisa expressed. Let me answer them here for any of you who are wondering the same things.
Will psychotropic medication prevent you from waking up? No. Will they prevent you from clearing up? No. It’s neither the body nor the mind that wakes up. Awakeness itself wakes up. In my experience, Awakeness doesn’t hold a negative view about anything, and that would have to include pharmaceuticals. A dream is a dream is a dream. We do what we do until we do something else.
Will this revelation hurt this teaching? I seriously doubt it, although I guess we’re going to find out! The last time I wrote about it, I probably had fifty regular readers instead of thousands. If this news bothers you, it might be good to ask yourself why that is.
Spiritual teachers, however awake they might be, are still human beings, just like doctors and lawyers and accountants. Just like you. They are still subject to many of the same pulls as anyone else–our duty is to not respond to them.
Lisa was even more relieved than she was surprised. It simply yanked all the hoodoo out of her mind regarding medication. She’s not the first client I’ve had that conversation with, but she is the most grateful. She immediately began to glow. When I saw her reaction I said, “Well, I’m just going to have to write a post about this.”
I’ve been meaning to address this topic for quite some time, but I notice it keeps being put it off. Ego is not gung-ho about this article. For me, that’s a golden opportunity to diminish it further. My rule to that end is to show what you want to hide and hide what you want to show. So here’s more dirty laundry aired in public. Yuck.
Fred Davis 2.27.04
DON’T MISS THE OTHER NEW POST: