Mania or Spiritual Awakening?

Is it Mania or Spiritual Awakening? This is a common question, and a complex one.

Is there a difference between a Manic episode and a "Spiritual Awakening", "Spiritual Crisis" or "Spiritual Emergence"?

Rarely acknowledged by traditional psychiatry, the spiritual dimension of mania and what is most often labeled as "psychosis" may often times reflect a deeper spiritual emergence, a dissolution of ego, or higher state of consciousness. This is rarely a pure spiritually realized state, but rather a sudden, intense expansion of consciousness which is a blend of true spiritual insight, intuition, wisdom, and even psychic experiences -- mixed with ego-level fear, anxiety and confusion. Professionals and crisis workers often fail to respect or recognize the spiritual truths that are part of this experience and instead focus on the "delusional" or psychotic process as pathological and meaningless. This is does a terrible disservice to the person in crisis.

Once the manic episode resolves, the person is often left feeling confused, depressed, frightened of their experience and alienated from others because the spiritual element of the experience is never validated and they cannot find meaning or value in the experience.

For a wonderful first-person account of the spiritual dimension of mania,

read this article by Edward Whitney MD:

But first of all, lets define Mania.

According to the Mainstream, DSM-IV, Psychiatric view of Mania -

Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include*:

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, can't concentrate well
  • Little sleep needed (and still feeling energetic)
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
  • Poor judgment
  • Spending sprees
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong

A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present. Of all Bipolar Symptoms, manic symptoms are the most easy to identify by an outside observer.


A Different Perspective: Mania as Spiritual Awakening

Now, without totally disregarding or dismissing the medical model of Bipolar Disorder, which views Bipolar as an illness that needs to be managed, medicated, and kept under control, I'd like to offer a different viewpoint.

I have worked with many people who have the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and in our western society is extremely difficult to find anything outside the mainstream medical perspective to make sense of one's experience. Treatment options are extremely limited, inadequate and pathologizing. That is - you will be quickly labeled as "crazy" or mentally ill. Your symptoms will arouse fear, suspicion mistrust, and perhaps anger among your family, friends and community. And you may even be in danger of being shot, or tazered by your local police department, if they are called out to deal with you while you are in a state of mania. Several people in Sonoma County where I live and work, have met their demise this way in recent years - including a teenage boy. Very sad, and very unnecessary.

Mania as Spiritual Awakening in Traditional Cultures

In many other traditional cultures with a connection to the living spirit of the earth and the unseen world, a person with manic symptoms would be treated quite differently. In some cases, one may be seen as being called by the spirits or ancestors to become a healer, seer, shaman, or prophet. The community would provide a safe environment for this person, while respecting the process they are going through. They would provide a context of value, meaning, and purpose for this person. And they would receive the guidance of the local shaman, spiritual leader, or medicine man, to channel this energy into a transformative experience. In shamanic cultures this is called the "Shamanic Initiatory Experience." It has many elements in common with what psychiatry calls "psychosis" - altered consciousness, hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that others don't), delusions (bizarre beliefs that nobody else shares).

Environment and Culture Provide Meaning and Context for your Manic Experience

The Reality of the Shamanic Culture:

I believe it is the culture in which a person lives, and the collective consciousness of that culture, that determines the experience a person has in such a state. In an environment of safety, acceptance, and respect, this altered state may be illuminating, and even if there are elements of intense fear, there is an awareness that this is part of an ego-death, a deep letting go of the old self and emergence of the new. Symbolic death and rebirth - a vital theme in all traditional cultures. Not in our modern western culture. Here it that ancient theme is lost. And that is one of our biggest problems as a society -- but that's another discussion.



The Reality of the Modern Industrial Culture:

In an environment of fear and "psychiatric illness" - this same altered state may leave a person feeling terrified, vulnerable, paranoid, and unsupported by his family, friends and community. Delusions based around fear and mistrust may rise to the surface. You may find yourself "fighting for your life" as your symbolic journey is all about defending your visionary experience against those that only seek to lock you up and medicate you. Others see you as ill, and as a result, your symptoms take on all the appearances of a dis-order, an illness, a manic episode. If you are experiencing grandiosity - a common feature of mania - thinking you are here to save the world, have special supernatural powers, or you are the president - this may be because the remnants of your ego are getting over-inflated to counteract the deep terror of feeling crazy and out of control, and having no place in this world where you will feel loved, accepted and understood. The question of "Mania or Spiritual Awakening" may never even be considered.

Share Your Mania and Spirituality Story

Have you experienced something spiritual while in a "manic episode?" We'd love to hear your story. Or if you just have some strong opinions about this subject - share them! Your experience and wisdom need to be shared!


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