The other day I sat with a colleague who told me a fascinating story of profound spiritual experiences and the near mental chaos which they engendered in a client. It is fairly common to encounter ungrounded spirituality but the manifestations in this case were sufficiently extreme to warrant a deep exploration into the phenomena and their significance for the person’s ability to function.
They were of a type that one would expect to see after many years of certain kinds of meditation or yogic practices, yet they had occurred spontaneously at an early age and again during young adulthood. Occurrences of this kind can be devastating to anyone unprepared for their power and can have profound psychological implications. In this case, the mentee had retreated back into the persona and, in the absence of a frame of reference for the experiences, compartmentalised them while attempting to lead an otherwise “normal” life. This enterprise was less-than-successful and had resulted in distressing physiological symptoms and low-grade depression.
The report of the client’s feelings of confusion and inability to integrate the phenomena caused me to reflect upon the dangers inherent in the absence of a safe container for the spiritual journey.
Much is made of the very evident shortcomings of organised religion, and with good reason, despite the riches to be found within most traditions: riches which are often obscured by emphasis on doctrine over the needs of the people for spiritual sustenance and guidance; consequently, increasing numbers of people are turning to alternative sources in order to find safe passage through the shoals of psycho-spiritual growth or simply attempting the venture alone.
Time and experience have shown me that a vital part of spiritual mentoring is the construction or fortification of a supporting foundation – a touchstone to enable the mentee to negotiate certain profound and possibly frightening experiences, some of which may have the power to trigger the dissolution of the persona.
The mentoring process is never prescriptive, for it is as highly idiosyncratic as the personality in question. Containment may be found within a religious tradition or painstakingly woven from fragments of meaning gleaned from a lifetime of searching. But unless the process can be contextualised and supported in some way that satisfies the spiritual blueprint of the individual, integration is not possible.
The psycho-spiritual path is sometimes dismissed as something divorced from everyday life – as froth-and-bubble on the surface of more serious concerns. But eventually it will manifest in every life as an ontological wound which, if not brought to consciousness and integrated – if not provided with a safe container – may cause much suffering.