Spiritual Enlightenment: A Cure For Mental Illness?

Many people who are spiritual seekers have mental health issues.

Some are aware of this, have been diagnosed and are either in or out of active treatment. Many more, however, do not know that they have mental health issues. They might be aware that they have an addictive personality, or that they suffer from anxiety, compulsive thinking or a tendency toward depression. They know they have these problems, but they don’t put them together to see the larger picture: they have mental health issues.

Mental illness is savagely stigmatized. Even saying “mentally ill” immediately conjures images of people who are crazy, who are dangerous, who are not like us. But lots of people have mental health issues that do look just like us. They are your child’s teacher, your mechanic, your neighbor, your friend…your doctor.

People who confide in me that they have mental health issues often immediately follow with a list of their accomplishments, as if they need to defend themselves against the world’s instinctive reaction to disqualify or de-legitimize them. The truth is, we are surrounded by people who have mental health issues. We love them. We do business with them. We trust their professional opinions. None of us is removed by more than one degree from this issue.

People who have mental health issues, even if they’ve accomplished a lot in their lives, often feel like they’ve struggled so hard in their lives to keep it together. Get through the depression. Get through the anxiety. Find their way to the other side of compulsive thinking or jacked up emotions. Feeling like they are not in control of themselves. Trying not to let it show too much.

It’s no wonder people with mental health issues gravitate toward spirituality. The Buddha looks so freaking calm! No one can wipe that smug, benign smile off of Tolle’s face. Life is good on the other side, right?

There is a difference between spirituality and spiritual enlightenment, and it is not uncommon for people who have mental health issues to seek enlightenment as a kind of cure. After all, if the disordered thoughts and emotions are all arranged around the central character of the false self, then when one wakes from the dream of self, would not the rest just fall away?

Your mental health issues are like any other physical ailment. Would you forgo seeing a doctor, or seeking some kind of ongoing treatment if you had cancer or diabetes? You would not. I’m not a fan of psychiatry, at least not the way it is practiced by most doctors, so I understand why a person wouldn’t want to get labelled and then be put on a cocktail of psych drugs, presumably for the rest of their lives. I get it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least seek an opinion from a psychiatrist. There is no harm in going for a consult. It is often an eye opening experience. It’s up to you what kind of treatment you seek after that.

It might surprise you to learn that in some cases, spiritual seeking or religiosity is one of the indicators of mental illness, a symptom, if you will. This is very distressing for people to hear.  It’s not the case all the time, but you should be aware that spiritual seeking can be like any other compulsive behavior, such as sex and shopping. One thing to ask yourself: can I stop? Could you take a six month break from all things spiritual? Stop reading spiritual books, cruising spiritual blogs, meditating, doing spiritual practices?

Even if spiritual seeking is compulsive, it doesn’t mean that at the core, you aren’t sincere. You probably are very sincere, but the compulsive mind machine has infiltrated this part of your life and is turning it into a compulsion. If you were able to wrest it back from the machine, you would still have a sincere interest in spirituality, it just wouldn’t be contaminated by compulsion. These disordered mechanisms of the mind can take any “content” and turn it into a path of compulsive behavior and thinking.

I don’t know how frequently people become enlightened, but I’m pretty sure it’s not all that common. Which means you are better off dealing with your mental health issues directly, intelligently and consistently, than chasing enlightenment as a cure.

You can work toward better mental health right now, from where you are. But it’s not easy, and you don’t get any holidays from it. You can’t be on again, off again with it. And this isn’t even limited to people with mental health issues. Everyone needs to take back their mental and emotional bodies, gain sovereignty over their own being, become true adults. Everyone’s mind has been corrupted by programming, mind parasites and the like.

There are only two games in life to be played: mastering the self and transcending the self. Since no one has a reliable system for the later, and it seems to happen so infrequently anyway, why not start where you can actually do something, right now? Know yourself. Master yourself. You are your own vehicle in life, it’s time you learned how to drive it.

It’s not easy. I started taking back my mind in my early teens. I don’t know why or how I understood this so clearly at that time, but it was evident that I could either be controlled by something outside myself, or I could achieve my own agency. I’ve never had mental health issues, but I have been close to many who do. While it is harder to get control, it is in some ways also easier to start on this path because people who have such exaggerated mental patterns can see them more easily. For people with more “normal” programming, it’s difficult for them to even notice.

I’m not a mental health professional, or a medical professional of any kind. This is just my experience and observation. I have had plenty of people contact me through this blog who are certain they are enlightened when they clearly have mental health issues. I’ve known people who were very close and dear to me who were bipolar, and sought enlightenment as a cure. It just doesn’t go well.

So, if I had lifelong bouts of depression, anxiety, compulsive thinking, exaggerated moods or emotions, looping thoughts…I would at least get a consult from a really good psychiatrist, do a lot of research, and make the best decisions I could about what to do next.

Master yourself. Transcend yourself.

What else is there?

image: a Balinese miniature painting of Barong

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3 comments

  1. Shauna says:

    Great post. I think I probably fall into the “seeking spiritual enlightenment as a result of my MH issues”. The point about being controlled by something outside of myself or having my own agency really resonates for me. My default is to sit in the former but I am starting to learn and understand the latter. When I am the latter it’s amazing how much clarity I feel about myself, my life, my surroundings. But it takes work for me at the moment to stay with myself and have my own agency. I’ll get there!

    • Lilith says:

      Hi Shauna…thanks for the comment. It was very moving. It takes courage and love to make this effort, fail sometimes, and make it again.

      The thing to remember is that everyone needs to do this, it’s not just for people with mental health issues. It’s a human thing. We are all subject to control mechanisms. And we are not taught as young people what mental and emotional sovereignty is. So you are in good company, Shauna. You will get there, are getting there.

  2. I had mental health issues. After reading all the self help books, and studying psychology I chose the type of therapy I wanted – Gestalt – and I found one and joined the group. Great progress, great relief. My mind quieted down considerably. Then I spontaneously got into Primal Scream and proceeded with that. The therapist allowed it since it began in the group.

    Needless to say more quiet came. Pretty much a silent mind. After all these internal discoveries the search for truth was on because I knew most of what I had been and what most people are is just a conditioned response mechanism with I at the center.

    Finally I found Vedanta and the final realization dawned. Since it did not dawn spontaneously, there is still actualization to be done. However, that seems to be a spontaneous affair. Nothing I have much to do with because the personal I seems to be in the background. At least there is great peace.

    My major issue is that I live naturally so in the present moment that I have to complete tasks on the spot. I don’t leave bills for later, etc. I complete what I am doing, take care of business first. If I don’t, it’s “out of sight out of mind.”

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