My experience with spiritual emergency and recovery has taught me the need to grow beyond cultural conditioning, beyond other’s expectations, to discover what ideas and behaviors are truly life-affirming and growthful for me. My recovery was based around the practice of yoga. It gave me validation for the profound changes which I experienced which were pathologized in the mental health system, such as early morning awakening, fasting, and vegetarianism, which lowered my anxiety level; self-esteem which I cultivated through the slow mastery of the yoga postures; peace of mind from the calming effects of the breathing practices; and an expanded view of who I really am, separate from my personality and its constant ups and downs.
I also experienced the healing power of dance; re-experiencing myself moving through the developmental stages as an infant, toddler, playful child; accelerating my feelings of aliveness; feeling energy moving through my body which was more compelling than the thought patterns which I had falsely identified as myself.
I learned about the value of regular exercise, of a daily spiritual practice, wholesome eating, positive relationships, solid emotional support, inspiring thoughts, connection to the natural world, awareness of body sensations and deep relaxation, in building health.
What I was doing, essentially, was creating my own world, keeping what was positive and staying away from what was not. My yoga teacher, Swami Satchidananda, talks about thinking of our body and mind as a country protected by border guards which will not let anything harmful in. For me, that meant staying away from violent movies, from watching TV. indiscriminately, from overeating, from cigarette smoke, and from negative-thinking people. As time went on, it became easier and easier to build this positive world. I began to see my spiritual emergency as an opportunity for transforming my life rather than as a disability and my feelings of inferiority dropped away.
Joann Lutz, L.I.C.S.W., is a psychiatric survivor currently working as a licensed, holistically-trained psychotherapist and stress-reduction teacher in Northampton, MA and Brattleboro Vt. She can be reached at 413-586-6384.