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Spiritual Madness by Caroline Myss

The renowned Hindu mystic, Muktanada, once said that it is far better never to set foot upon the spiritual path. However, once you do, it is far better that you never get off. Many of the great mystics wrote elaborate instructions about the spiritual path and the pursuit of the soul. Included in so many of their writings were precise instructions about the spiritual journey, highlighting most especially that no one should enter the soul unescorted. Such a cautionary note might strike the novice or nonbeliever as preposterous. What does it even mean to "enter the soul"? In their own way, these great teachers warned their students that they would experience a type of "spiritual madness" along their quest to finding what is real about life, about themselves, about the nature of God and the power of perceiving the world without illusion. This was the price the heavens extracted from the student determined to unleash even the partial - much less the full - potential of his/her own illuminated soul.

Nothing about the rigorous journey into the soul has changed since the days of the great mystics like Teresa of Avila or the originator of spiritual direction, Ignatius Loyola, or Francis of Assisi or John of the Cross or Muktananda or Ram Dass. Centuries, after all, are really very short periods of time and their wisdom will outlive all of us. Of that, I have no doubt.

What then is spiritual madness? It is the experience of encountering that which another has not yet realized, yet you know is "real". The "real" that you encounter is of such profound power that it crushes the world of illusion - or a part of it - in which you reside. Madness is the result of encountering the realm of the "original" - a truth or realization that has yet to incarnate. Consider that most people live a life of constant repetition, whether in occupation or lifestyle. They are not called in their life to seek out original thought or to birth original vision. Scientists doing research have such a calling, for example, as do people driven by the possibilities of what can be invented - the potential that lies ahead. They literally pull the rest of humanity forward with their visionary strength. Often this capacity to see what others cannot see, to imagine what others cannot possibly conceive of, drives them into creative madness. They become eccentrics, prone to odd behaviors - at least odd to others, but necessary for themselves.

Unlike inventors or scientists who can feel and touch the consequences of their work (often but not always), the spiritual mystic is a lone wolf. The consequences of a mystical experience are all internal. There are no witnesses to a spiritual experience. No one, save a superb spiritual director, is capable of validating a profound spiritual moment of revelation. Further, spiritual experiences along the inner route crush the exterior life - that is their intent. Though such an experience can be excruciating, the purpose is not - repeat not - to cause a person pain but, paradoxically, to release a person from the cycle of pain that an illusion causes the person. Reflect on the truth of that sentence for a while. Said differently, it is painful, for example, to come into a realization that you have been living a lie and doing harm through using that lie as a basis for life decisions. Realizing that truth is brutal but it liberates you to then act from truth.

What if, however, others cannot see the same truth and continue to "live the lie"? Now you have the ingredients for spiritual madness: You've been shown something with great clarity that others cannot or refuse to recognize at all. Like what? Oh, let's say that one day while staring out the window in a type of quiet reflective mood, you are suddenly immersed in a state of full and active awareness that all animals are "conscious beings". They are not, as most human beings perceive them, just mindless creatures running around without the capacity to "feel", to "bond", to "fear", to sense changes in the Earth environment. They have an active consciousness. They feel gratitude for human kindness and horror at human cruelty. They are terrified to be hunted down and mourn the loss of their young. Birds communicate through bird song messages of fear about the loss of the trees and the trees note through a subtle vibration that their own community is seriously diseased.

Imagine that this awareness pours into you, not intellectually as if you've read it in a magazine article that you then put down while thinking, "Wow, someone really should do something."

This time, the fear of your fellow creatures - their fear - has imprinted into your heart. You have felt it, realized it, become one with it. They have reached out to you in some mystical way. The pain of it nearly crushes the life and breath out of you. Days - no, weeks - are required for you to recover. Your world looks the same, but nothing is the same. You feel as if every tree is looking at you where once it was you looking at the tree. Are you going mad? You cannot help but wonder this. Then you think that you will go mad unless you find a way to respond, to contain a truth so unimaginable but so real. You know it's real, more real than the "living sacred conscious ground" upon which you walk.

You could easily go mad on this path. You realize it now. As Muktanada said, you cannot undo this realization. If you stop, you most certainly will go from madness to insanity. You have to keep going, deeper into the depth of your own soul. There has to be a greater power within the individual soul that can respond to the darkness - and there is. I'll discuss this at length during my Webinar.

That is but one example of spiritual madness. There are so many other examples that I will discuss in this next seminar on Spiritual Madness. Years ago I did an audio series for Sounds True on Spiritual Madness. I felt then as I do now that while people are drawn to a spiritual path, they are equally intimidated by it. I get that. The truth is that whether we consciously turn our attention inward or not, we are on a spiritual path. We are either governed by our superstitions and fears on this path or by a conscious choice not to be controlled by these illusions. Those are the only two paths available to us - the conscious one or the unconscious. That's it. There are no other options. I would go for spiritual madness. The other is insanity - when your life is built upon conscious choices made from fear, acts of betrayal, self-sabotage, and self-destruction. Now I ask you, wouldn't you rather go mad?

Caroline Myss