The difficulties that occur for the many who carry within themselves severe mental or emotional disturbance are legion, occurring on many levels of experience. This is true for those who are severely depressed, withdrawn, alienated, or involved with an inner reality that is visible to themselves alone that separates them from the world around them. For those challenged in this way, the extreme separation from life causes much pain and suffering, as it does also for family and friends who must find ways of building a bridge to the one who has become separated – who often lives alone, despite the fact that there may be people around.
Up until now, we have looked at mental and emotional disorders as an extreme handicap for those who live through them, a financial burden for a society that maintains those who cannot care for themselves, and a source of concern for families who try to remain in loving relationship even while experiencing hardship. Indeed, we know a great deal today about the impact of mental illness on the self and on others. But what has not been knowable till now is the relationship of the group of conditions we are calling ‘mental illness’ to the realm of the soul. As paradoxical as it may seem to the human heart and mind, this relationship involves a choice that the soul has made to manifest in this way – a choice to create a deep-seated emotional or mental condition for which a great cost is paid in life. This choice, though invisible, is very real. Perceiving it can help us penetrate the mysterious world of the mentally ill. It can also help us look for the hidden value and purpose of conditions that at face value seem anything but positive in their nature or in their effect.
The choice for illness of any kind that shapes the course of a life or a significant portion of it is always the choice of the individual soul, made prior to incarnating into physical life. The soul looks at the various opportunities for learning that could be afforded by different circumstances, and chooses what will be most productive in terms of growth in a particular area. In relation to severe emotional or mental difficulties, especially those in which separation from reality is involved, the soul makes a choice to learn from the very experience of separation, alienation, and distortion that is the handicap itself – to learn in the context of being deeply wounded, deeply immersed in one’s own inner reality, and yet also, simultaneously, separated from oneself. For the separation from external reality, for most, is accompanied by an equally potent separation from one’s true self. As a result, a person can experience a lack of a central core or clear sense of ‘I’ that invisibly limits all of life-experience. This situation, including patterns of withdrawal and difficulties on both mental and emotional levels, displays differently for different individuals. Yet within the variation there is a common thread. It is this:
At the core of the choice to embody in a way that causes severe and painful separation from reality and from the self, is the motivation on a soul-level to find that very center of self, and to re-establish a connection with the rest of the world that has previously been injured or broken.
To put it differently, what we witness as the fundamental condition of deficiency in those who suffer from mental disturbance, is actually promoting healing as the soul seeks to find what is missing and to unite what has come apart. In the course of time, the drive to locate what has become lost or distorted, both on the outside and on the inside, becomes the path of healing.
Today, most of us do not think of symptoms or severely limiting conditions as a path of healing because there is so much suffering and limitation involved. And yet with respect to the mentally ill, the disrupted sense of self and the search for a core self is, in fact, such a path. It creates a great need to find one’s way back to a more solid footing in relation to the external world and also in relationship to the self. With this in mind, we can begin to think of mental and emotional disorders as both a problem, and an answer to a problem. The problem is visible; that it is an answer, most often is not.
At this point we might ask what difference it would make to hold such a spiritual perspective. How would it help us? The answer is twofold. On the level of healing, greater awareness of the choice made for severe mental and emotional conditions can lead more directly to other paths of learning for which this choice has been the main focal point.
Secondly, on the level of everyday reality, experiences of rejection and humiliation are still common for many whom society perceives as different.. The aspect of differentness which manifests in so many ways, often creates a reactiveness on the part of others that does not allow for personal dignity. It does not acknowledge the soul within. Were the emotional or mental disturbance itself perceived to be a positive choice of the soul that has its own purposes in mind, much more in the way of dignity and strength could be seen as we seek to relate to the soul within; greater hope would be possible; and the separation from the rest of life could be lessened.
As we enter a new era of oneness with each other, based on the greater recognition of the Divine nature of each living being, a spiritual perspective such as this is a natural outcome. Such a perspective would help remove the stigma of separation that so persistently follows those who manifest mental or emotional disturbance. In its light, we would come to see each one who has chosen this path as the individual soul that they are. We would see more of their strength, we would see their beauty, and we would feel their kinship to us within the planetary family of which we are each a part.