"We, as a society, need to recognize the existence of genuine spiritual emergences. It is crucially important for us to do this, for those who pass through this process successfully and become accomplished shamans, healers and teachers, have enormous gifts and blessings to share that will benefit us all. I had been doing Buddhist meditation for a full year before that lightning bolt flashed through my mind."
Contact info: Portland, Oregon, USA
Currently doing: Paul is a healer who facilitates groups using his visionary style of dream-work. He is a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, lecturer, writer, and artist.
Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Solitary Confinement
Psychiatric labels: Bipolar
Recovery methods: Lithium, Haldol, Anti-Depressants
Greatest obstacle: Overcoming emotional abuse by his father.
In the spring of 1981 I was sitting in meditation, when, just for an instant, a lightning bolt flashed through my mind. Though I didn't realize it at the time, this was the start of a spiritual awakening that changed my life forever. I had stepped through the looking glass, never to return to the life I was used to living.
Within a couple of days I was brought by ambulance to a hospital. I had begun acting so unlike my ordinary, conditioned and repressed self that a close friend thought I was going crazy. I felt totally unselfconscious and amazingly free. I felt the creative energy of the universe flowing through me, like I was living on the forefront of the Big Bang itself. It was like my mind had spilled out from inside of my skull and was manifesting and expressing itself through events in the outer environment. What was happening in the seemingly outer world was magically related to what was going on inside of me. The boundary between dreaming and waking, between inner and outer, was dissolving. It was as if I had woken up in a dream. I knew without a doubt that I was going through a deep spiritual experience. The experience was so overwhelming that I had no choice but to surrender and let go.
It was so overwhelming, in fact, that I was hospitalized a number of times during the first year. I was diagnosed as having had a severe psychotic break and was told I was manic-depressive. I was put on lithium, and at times, Haldol. I was told I would have to live with my illness for the rest of my life. Little did the doctors realize that I was taking part in some sort of spiritual emergence/shamanic initiation process, which at times mimicked psychosis but in actuality was an experience of a far different order.
In the very first hospital room, some sort of lounge for psychiatric patients, there was a blind woman. Immediately upon seeing her, without any thought on my part at all, I went up to her and found myself looking at her eyes and saying over and over the following words: "All you have to do to see is open your eyes and look." These words came through me effortlessly. I got closer and closer to her as I repeated these words, staring at her eyes all the while. Her eyes were blind, opaque with no color or radiance at all.
What happened next I will never forget. Her eyes began regaining their color and luminosity, going from the dead, diseased eyes of a blind person to normal, healthy, seeing eyes. She had regained her sight. At that moment a doctor brought me into another room and strapped me on a table. And there I spent the night.
The next morning I was brought to a room and the only other person there, sitting across a table from me, was, coincidentally, that (now seeing) blind woman. She's looking at me and smiling from ear to ear, not having said one word to me as of yet. All of a sudden it was like a closed fist that was in my heart just completely opened. It was perfectly clear to me that this was my heart chakra blossoming. It is described as the opening of a thousand-petaled lotus, and though I had never had this happen to me before it was an experience that I immediately recognized.
I then had the spontaneous realization that explained what had happened with this woman the day before. I intuitively understood that her eyes were physically fine, it was just that she was not letting herself open her (inner) eyes and look. Somehow this had manifested into a perception of blindness.
And yesterday I "saw" this. Not only did I see this, but I somehow knew just what to say and do. It was like I had become a conduit for some deeper, healing forces. It was also clear to me that it was no accident that she and I had come together. It was clearly a synchronistic meeting, one in which we were both playing roles in a deeper drama. At a certain point she said to me "Aren't you going to answer the phone call from Roy (my father)?" These were, literally, the first and only words she ever spoke to me. Moments later, the nurse came into the room and said my father was on the phone.
I was in that particular hospital for three days. On the second day I was in the office of the doctor in charge of me, Dr. Lantz, and was looking at a print of a Van Gogh painting that he had on his wall. I remember an electric current coming out from my eyes and circulating around the print and then returning to my eyes. It was clear to me that this was some sort of "kundalini" phenomena, but at this point there was nothing I could do but merely witness it and marvel.
I needed to convince Dr. Lantz that I wasn't crazy, or he was going to keep me here for a very long time. I decided that I didn't want to hang out in a hospital much longer, so I literally forced myself down and began talking about my problems, my neurosis, my guilt, and my feeling “double-bound.” After awhile he said "Fine, you're normal…you're free to go."
I actually got together with Dr. Lantz the next week over lunch. He explained to me that my being able to step fully into my “normal” state of mind upon demand in the hospital was proof to him that I wasn't insane, as people who are in “true” psychotic episodes aren't capable of doing this.
We, as a society, need to recognize the existence of genuine spiritual emergences. It is crucially important for us to do this, for those who pass through this process successfully and become accomplished shamans, healers and teachers, have enormous gifts and blessings to share that will benefit us all. I had been doing Buddhist meditation for a full year before that lightning bolt flashed through my mind.
I was one of the lucky ones, as I was able to extricate myself from the medical and psychiatric establishment, which is very ignorant of phenomena such as these. After years of incredible suffering where I struggled to contain the experiences, I feel that I've integrated them to the point where I have something very precious to offer. I have recently started to openly talk about my experiences, giving my first public lecture in Portland, Oregon in 1993, which I called "Awakening or Madness?" I have become a teacher, assisting people through their own process of spiritual awakening, and have developed a unique vehicle for waking up that I call "The Dreaming Process: A Path to Awakening." This process is based on the realization that the same dreaming mind that is dreaming our dreams at night is actually dreaming our life.
I wonder how many cases of mental illness are actually spiritual emergences gone sour. Might it be that we're all at different stages of the spiritual emergence process?
Interviewer's Comments: Paul is a deeply spiritual and extremely insightful healer and mystic. He is living proof that what the dominant society currently conceives as “illness,” can in fact have a religious or spiritual basis.