Everybody needs a mental breakdown (again and again)
|Art by Kate Gillett|
There’s no magic markers here, with a white board and smart goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely. I couldn’t be less specific. There’s not a measure in sight. Completely unrealistic, and time hasn’t had a look in for months now.
No post-its here, with inspirational phrases: “This is just a messy period”, “After the dark night of soul comes the rainbow.” “You will evolve from an amoeba into a giraffe.”
I don’t even have a plan. No timeline. Sometimes I have to consider things like visas, to ensure I’m not forcibly deported. And occasionally I wonder just how it is I will pay for this mental breakdown/spiritual awakening (jury still out, perhaps measured by outcome, point of view, or maybe just good day/bad day).
“…I run with joy to the great and imperfect ones, their confusion nourishes me, their stuttering is like divine music to my ears,” says Henry Miller. Of course, he then goes on to vividly describe certain parts of anatomy of his whore for the evening, but ultimately the man is a raving genius so I’ll take his comradery and non-advice when he tells me:
“ The good life is the holy life. (Wholly living, wholly dying.) It is the kind of life in which you do your utmost every day, not for art, not for country, not for family, not for yourself even, but because it’s the only thing to do. Life is being, which includes doing and not doing.”
I’m here, unemployed, homeless (or as my mother would prefer me to report, on sabbatical) because it was the only thing to do. Faced with sudden crumpling of everything I had believed in and built a life around, quite frankly, there’s a bit of a sense of Well, what the hell do I do now? Except, that running through that giant abyss of Question, is this strange, bizarre, inexplicable certainty. An instinct, that knows exactly these steps to take. Some inner DNA that’s simply impressing its imprint on me now, unwinding its strands and taking on over.
“… ones who have heard some deep invitation to ‘something more,’ and set out to find it by both grace and daring. Most get little reassurance from others, or even have full confidence that they are totally right. Setting out is always a leap of faith, a risk in the deepest sense of the term, and yet an adventure too.” That’s Father Richard Rohr. He’s a Franciscan monk. Pretty sure he’d like Henry, assuming he can make peace with the ‘c’ word.
Look, I have no idea what I’m doing. Today I didn’t make it out of the house until midday, and even then, it was to migrate to my favorite pile of cushions in a café over looking a rained out market place.
I’m pretty reassured that lots of myths, religions, stories, and adventures see people answer some mysterious call to leave home, simply to get out of their comfort zone. Also reassuring is the high rate of hero/heroine burn out, mass failure and humiliation, because just quietly to this general internet public, I’ve spent more time in foetal position shaking in terror and wondering if I’m headed to a psych ward then I care to account for. We don’t really want to admit it (its much better to have SMART goals, and a 5 year plan) but ultimately, we don’t get to burst (crawl/drag/beg) our way into a bigger evolved self without some serious burning away, deconstruction, coming (falling) apart.
Why am I sharing this great indignity (humility) with the world?
There’s so many voices in our society that push us to get it right. There’s so much we can do, to engage in “self-improvement”, maps, models, goals, strategies. We can push and pull, strive and build, educate and reframe, and contort ourselves into someone better.
But let us pause for a moment to soothingly pat ourselves (me) on the back, and whisper: It’s okay to unravel.
Its okay to bow your head in respect to mystery and travel “a path you do not know, a path which you have chosen to travel because of the flame burning in your heart” (Paulo Coelho).
It’s okay that you feel like you’re a breath away from the psych ward. It’s okay that you’re in the psych ward. Authentic God experience always burns you, yet does not destroy you (Exodus 3:2-3 according to Richard Rohr).
Its okay that you’ve made some spectacular mistakes on the way. We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right (Richard Rohr).
Its okay that you’re in some kind of standstill, unsure if you’re going forward, backward, or moving at all.
Go where the wind take you
The wind to carry you forward will find you
when you are ready.
When you can bear it. (Margaret Wheatley)
I’ve made some spectacular mistakes. I can’t describe for you articulately just what it is I’m doing, where I’m going, or why I’m doing it. It seems highly possible my steps will lead me in some grand circle back to where I started. And probably, I won’t leave the house tomorrow until midday.
"And the river will answer: I’m not trying to be useful; I’m trying to be a river." (Paulo Coelho)
Apparently I kind of do have affirmations on post-its, or at least a pile of books with folded pages and underlined text. The ones I talk about here are:
Coelho, P. (2013). Manuscript Found in Accra. New York, NY: Vintage International
Miller, H. (1978). Tropic of Cancer. St Albans, UK: Granada Publishing
Miller, H. (1957). Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Rohr, R. (2011). Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Wheatley, M. (2010). Perseverance. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koelher Publishers