This has been a most difficult blog-piece to write. Too close to its hot-topic sibling “religion,” the term “spirituality” suggests a private matter of the deepest heart. How then to encourage mental wellness through spiritual practice without sounding evangelical? How to talk about mysticism without being obtuse? And speaking of ceremony, ritual—is it contraindicated for afflicted minds?

John Weir Perry, a psychologist who wrote The Far Side of Madness in 1974 posited that there was a visionary aspect to psychosis, especially first-time events. I wonder today how he would respond to the rise in synthetic chemicals and toxic metals circulating in our body-minds—our children’s epidemic learning and behavior problems are proof. They are not visionaries, but kids in real physical pain, violent kids, suicidal kids.

But it is uncanny the structure that Perry found in psychotics “visions.” He posited that the chaos of the psychotic’s world contains an ancient structure that if left to unfold—and patiently attended by a truly listening community–will result in bearings regained and a wiser, more settled mind than before.

Perry believed that schizophrenics could heal via the contents of their ramblings and visions if others would but hear deeply and honor the mythological over the pharmacological. Instead of passing over their statements as the flotsam and jetsam of a disordered brain, Perry listened hard for the spirit underpinning. In madness he found the metaphors for a spiritual quest, one that if taken seriously—even when it sounded bizarre, frightening–would lead to renewal and mental health.

John Weir Perry had the case histories to back this up, from a place of residential care he founded and named Diabasis. Where else but in the People’s Republic of San Francisco?

I was very impressed by The Far Side of Madness in the ‘70’s, a confirmed agnostic who secretly yearned for spiritual juice. It wasn’t until the mid ‘80’s, divorcing and depressed, living alone in the Flint Hills of Kansas, that my own spiritual emergency came calling.

Driving home one day I eased up to a stop sign on country roads when a deer leaped out. As it veered to avoid my car the animal ran for the opposite ditch, cleared it and the barbed wired fence atop a rising bank—all in one motion. The leap was so beyond believable in terms of strength and possibility that I sat at that lonely crossroads and said without thinking, “I have just seen God.”

By the time I parked the car a mile away I’d shrugged off the “weak” notion of making up some kind of mystical obsession to get over the pain of my divorce.

But a sense of the numinous in nature kept re-occurring. I’d been an outdoors-type since childhood, but this was different.

Now I believed that when a covey of quail flew right toward me, it meant something. When more deer came to the edge of my yard and stood, making eye contact for the longest time, I felt chosen for a message I couldn’t quite decipher. Then when the moon finally spoke to me, I understood.

I often think of the biblical Saul on the road to Damascus, struck hard by God and suddenly doing a 180-degree turn on matters of faith. Or did he actually fall off his horse from the weight of realizing there is More than the material, the rational, the clearly known and seen?

It was very intense for someone like me, contemptuous of religion even from a young age, finally getting it in one fell swoop. Unlike Saul who became the prolific Christian evangelist Paul, my First Contact contained no directive to spread the good news. In fact, I was so aware of the personal nature of my new “religion” that I figured each person must build their own theology for themselves.

Yes, that night that I got it changed my “mental/emotional” landscape forever. Since then, the refinements have been exhilarating to pursue. Learning to craft personal rites for healing. Building a home altar that changes to reflect my needs. Sharing ceremony with others to celebrate the Earth. And last but not least: exploring the practice of mindfulness meditation.

But nothing compares to the night I finally felt irrevocably acceptable, lovable, and at home. Whenever I play too many of the head-games in Stress Land, or overstay my limit in the complex cities of Doing-For, eventually I’ll remember how to set it right.

Leave the house, regard the moon rising on a clear night—and share the heart’s trials.

Just as an invitation—not a recipe or even a suggestion—I offer that there exists permission for you to try this too. The natural world is wide open to listen and respond.

In my book still looking for a publisher, entitled Lunacy Lost: Mother and Child on the Dark and Shining Road to Find the Roots of Madness, I describe the night the moon spoke, my response and the effect on my mental health. Next week I would like to share a bit of that.

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