A recent conversation has prompted one of those deep and meaning(ful/less – delete as applicable) musings of mine. Oh how lucky for you that I have a vehicle to share such musings with the wider world…
The conversation touched on spiritual awakenings, mental breakdowns and the difference between the two. Now, I’m conscious that not everybody holds much truck with the idea of ‘spirituality’ and in many minds the idea is anathema to the scientific, hard-evidence, Dawkins era we live in, but for me there’s always been some kind of sense that there is something else, a side of me that craves connection with something deeper and greater than myself.
I think it’s fair to say that this is part of the human condition, leading to a sense of searching, of questing that I expect all of us feel in one way or another during our lives. Such questing for connection, fulfilment and a need to find meaning in something greater than us is evident throughout human history, its expression finding form in the development of religions, music, ritual and art.
In this particular conversation the question of whether someone is experiencing a spiritual awakening or mental breakdown was raised and the idea intrigued me. Discussing both of these things can feel socially awkward and can leave us feeling vulnerable and judged by all those saner, more rational people out there; those that are holding their shit together and thriving in this material world of ours, while we wonder whether they think we’re losing the plot, or indeed, wonder it ourselves.
I’ve lost the plot before, publicly and spectacularly, some would say humiliatingly. Having a public breakdown in front of nigh on a hundred respected colleagues is a great leveller, let me tell you. Thing is, I didn’t feel judged – at the time I was utterly incapable of feeling anything other than total mental anguish and a desire for it to end, with no regard for how that end should come about. Blunt, bleak – that’s the reality of mental illness.
Neither too did I feel judged when I’d recovered and had to face my colleagues again; I’d had some very kind messages of support – and not just from close colleagues – and in place of any shame or embarrassment I felt a sense of strength and self assurance that only clawing my way back from the jaws of hell could uncover. And if that sounds overly dramatic, trust me, there is no need for embellishment.
Having lost the plot I am less concerned these days about what people think about me, and when you’ve had to give every ounce of yourself just to be able to live again it can liberate you from the more trifling concerns about what anybody else thinks about how you should live your life.
I expect that when I first began to write and my posts started to appear on friends’ timelines some will have thought I was losing the plot again. Maybe in some ways I was, I was certainly in a bad place at the time. And what did I think? I thought that something was happening to me, that that time of suffering in my life was important; that what was happening to me was significant.
Actually no, I didn’t think that. I knew it. Deep in my bones, I knew it, and wherever it was to take me and whatever people were to think was not my business; my business was to write and to get out of myself whatever it was that needed to find its expression.
So here I am today and people will think what they want to think, that’s not my business; my business is to follow my path in life, to live honestly and true to myself so that I become the best version of me that I can, and in doing so life will offer opportunities for me to thrive, for the best of me to be put to purposeful use to make a difference beyond any self-interest.
How do I know that life will offer such opportunities? Faith. Faith in life; faith that there is a greater purpose to my life, and faith that I will find whatever answers I need to find along the way within me. Faith that somehow, to someone, I will make a difference.
Is this some kind of spiritual awakening? Is there even such a thing? Perhaps, perhaps not.
I think of former heavyweight champion George Foreman, a mean and surly bully of the ring, a brute of a man that delighted in the destruction he wreaked on the powerful, reducing formidable and feared fighters to rubble in the ring. The same George Foreman that ‘died’ in his dressing room following defeat in 1977 and was born again, utterly convinced from that instant to this that he had been anointed by Jesus and that his life had a new meaning that he had to find. The same George Foreman that gave up boxing and its associated fame and fortune to preach on street corners and establish his own church and a community centre for local youths. The same George Foreman that returned to the ring 10 years later reformed, the same devastating punch and immense strength now accompanied by a jocular smile, words to inspire and a deeper purpose – to spread the word of the God that he gave his life to and to raise money to keep his community centre for local youths from closing.
Was his experience real? Did God talk to him in that dressing room in 1977? At the time those around him questioned his sanity; did he experience a breakdown?
What is real? Does it matter?
Mental breakdown? Spiritual awakening? Maybe they are different sides of the same coin. I don’t know what this last year has been about for me but what I do know is this – I have learned to listen more and more to my instincts and more and more I see how accurate they are, how the sense about something unknown turns out to be the truth when I am really prepared to listen.
Is there a greater purpose unfolding for me? In a rational age what are the chances of that being the case? Well, I expect the odds to be very long indeed, but then the very fact that you and I are even here at all is based on biological odds of hundreds of millions to one.
Whatever the ‘literal’ answer to the question of purpose I will find meaning, and maybe that’s the point. In Foreman’s case, regardless of what anybody else thought he took his reality and utterly transformed his life and the lives of many others. He achieved greater success in his second career than anybody ever imagined, driven by a purpose beyond himself.
That is real. That is beyond any dispute. Maybe that is what really matters.
My Sweet Lord – George Harrison