This week, I was reminded several times how some disorders can be confused with experiences that happen naturally in a spiritual awakening process.
Synaesthesia, for example, is a neurological disorder where distinct senses are blended. It’s a rather ill-defined disorder that mushes together various kinds of things, even sounds that trigger fear.
Some types of subtle perception have become classed this way, like hearing colours and so forth. Yet, closer to their origins, the senses come together and become somewhat interchangeable. This is not a disorder. The key distinguishing feature is the quality of integration. They are together rather than divided. Disorder is characterized by disintegration.
Clearly, we should avoid using the names of disorders for steps of spiritual growth.
Amusingly, a majority of Americans believe in angels but if you tell the average American that you see them, they’ll suggest psychiatric help. Much the same for God. Curious what that says about their beliefs.
There are also psychological disassociative states where someone disengages from their day to day experience or sense of self. This is often a response to trauma, both emotional and physical that needs healing. It may also be related to spiritual addiction. But some relate this to the shift into a detached Witness or observer state which is a healthy development. The main distinction here is that in a true witness, the experience is grounded in an inner continuum and there is increased integration. In a disassociative experience, there is a loss of integration.
Another winner is the related witnessing of sleep. Narcolepsy is a neurological disease where the waking-sleep cycles are disrupted. But I’ve seen people’s early witnessing sleep episodes associated with the disease. It can be quite strange to observe your body fall asleep and turn immovable. It can then be difficult to awaken it. But the key here is understanding. If you realize this is natural and a normal daily process you’re now conscious of, you can relax into it. Then the mind will fall asleep too and not be so hyper-vigilant. But if you’re instead told it’s a disease, you may come to fear the experience or try to control the body and mess up your sleep.
Sleep Apnea is another one, common with heavy snorers and gaspers. If someone undergoes a sleep test and it’s found that the back of their throat is sagging, blocking breathing and disrupting sleep, then treatment is advised. But if an experienced meditator has samadhi during sleep, there will be “non-apnea” breath stoppages with no Oxygen deprivation. Their breath is naturally pausing during sleep and not creating any health issues. But it may be diagnosed as a problem requiring treatment.
Science does not yet have a suitable understanding to incorporate normal spiritual growth. Anything outside the norms is thus pathologized. Yet pathologizing spiritual development is unhealthy for the patient. If instead they are offered an appropriate referral for context and support, the process would become smoother and integrate better. Hopefully we’ll see this sooner rather than later.