On Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences

Naas Siddiqui, BA, CPS, MA
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In a nutshell, I switched coasts and moved from Philadelphia to attend CIIS in San Francisco, because I couldn’t tell my story.  In Philly I was known for my role as Storytelling Training Trainer, in which I facilitated a workshop to help people share their stories of mental health and substance abuse recovery.  But I never felt I could tell my own real story, because the culture there wouldn’t allow it.  The culture allowed me to be a person diagnosed with bipolar with psychotic episodes, who was living a meaningful life, but it did not allow me to be a person who is undergoing a very profound developmental process where my psyche was perceiving and processing my universe in ways that were shifting my paradigm of the potential of what reality can be, which for me, is a very spiritual process, and my true story.

I came to CIIS, which has the reputation for integrating spirituality and psychology, and found to my disappointment that, in my program, my story still was not completely validated.  While spirituality was discussed in classes, pathology overshadowed.  And while CIIS classes do acknowledge and even one class teaches about spiritual emergence, I believe the Board of Behavioral Sciences has had a limiting influence on our ICP curriculum.  We don’t even learn any Jung!  And spiritual emergence, in my experience, in most contexts seems to be brought up by students, only as an alternative perspective, without equal footing to diagnosis like bipolar and schizophrenia.  Also other extraordinary spiritual experiences, sometimes are met with resistance and even hostility or they just can’t breathe in the stale air that chokes deep discussion of personal spirituality, not always, but sometimes, in the CIIS ICP classroom culture.  Other students felt like me, and we started the student group “Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences” to provide a space for another dialogue and inclusion of experiences that have been marginalized by the status quo reality.  Some people communicate with angels.  Some people are labeled as having a psychotic break when their personal narrative says they are experiencing oneness with the universe mixed in the intergenerational trauma.  Some people hear voices.  I could go on.   All of these experiences are valid human experiences, not to be pathologized, marginalized, or stifled.

The group was founded in the Spring Semester of 2014, and has hosted four public events so far, with more talks planned in the fall, and a potential conference in Spring 2015.   Therapist, trainer, and schizophrenia diagnosis survivor Will Hall, MA, DiplPW spoke on “New Visions of Psychosis: From Shamanism to Open Dialogue in a Multicultural World.”  Therapist Ron Unger, LCSW, spoke on “Understanding Psychosis as an Attempt to Solve Problems: Integrating Perspectives on Trauma, Spirituality and Creativity.”  CIIS professor Kirk Templeton, PhD, spoke on “The Academic Dissertation as a Process of Spiritual Emergence: A Case Study.”   Therapist Lane Arye spoke on “A Processwork Approach to Spiritual Emergence and Extraordinary States.”

As future therapists at CIIS I feel we have the responsibility to never stifle our clients’ voices.  I hope our group “Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences” helps more people tell their true story and gives us the capacity as budding therapists to always encourage our clients to share their voice and narrative from a true place.  I hope the group also shifts the culture at CIIS to be more inclusive, accepting, and truly value the breadth of human experience.  Please visit our facebook page for more information and updates on events.

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Naas Siddiqui, BA, CPS, MA
naas has 15 years of experience in the mental health and substance abuse field in various capacities, including in peer support, training, research, clinical work, advocacy and strategic planning. Currently she is an academic writer and researcher with the Temple University Collaborative for Community Inclusion of People with Psychiatric Disabilities and works as the part time Cultural Competence and Linguistics Coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services System of Care federal grant. Recently, as a volunteer, she co-founded and coordinated the group Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences at CIIS from January 2014-June 2016 and produced Holding the Shadow, a community collaborative social commentary theatre project for survivors of the mental health and substance abuse systems. She is especially interested in exposing, resolving, and repairing disparity and discrimination issues- racism, homophobia, sexism, classisism- in mental health and substance abuse services- including power disparities between providers of services and the people receiving services. She holds a BA in Psychology, Neuroscience Track, from Yale University, and a Masters Degree in Integral Counseling Psychology from CIIS. She is a long time psychiatric survivor and is psychiatric drug free (and beyond happy and grateful about this) after 15 years of psychiatric drugging.

19 COMMENTS

  1. glad you’re doing this work!

    yes, you’re quite right, pathology overshadows much of what is taught in most of the more enlightened programs…I’ve found that true in my forays into numerous different professional circles. We have a lot of work to do to help people understand what is going on. I have met individuals everywhere that do get it…I do think that things are changing for the better…as you saw too, you found a group of students who got it…

    One of my dreams and visions is to build bridges between folks who do understand about spiritual emergence (because they’ve actually managed their own and others but without having the misfortune of encountering psychiatry at it’s worst) and so they imagine that they are different from those with psych labels…there are a lot of people like that out there. Basically they simply lack experience with folks with labels who might be treated humanely rather than with the suppressive and oppressive measures of psychiatry.

    They can much more easily be brought about to recognize their bothers and sisters in the ranks of those who’ve been labeled and injured by psychiatry, I’ve found.

    If we can get these folks to recognize us then perhaps they’d be motivated to help others who’ve not been as fortunate as they were to avoid the dangers of psychiatry.

    Glad to see you are doing this work too…very. Thank you again.

  2. I, too, think this is an important subject, and am glad you’re talking about it. My personal experience with psychiatry, and subsequent research, leaves me thinking psychiatry is basically nothing but a state sponsored pseudo scientific religion, that (in my case) coerces and forces people onto drugs, for belief in the Holy Spirit and God. And this is not actually legal in the US.

    After I’d gotten away from psychiatry, I had a likely drug withdrawal induced “psychosis” / awakening to my dreams. But it was absolutely amazing, and like many others who experience a “spiritual emergency,” it was about a collective unconscious. But it was a very hopeful story of people working together, in their dreams, for a better world. Is it true? I don’t know, I hope so. But psychiatry seems to be living within it’s little DSM box, and claiming all normal human emotions and mental states to be mental illnesses. And their psychotropic drugs are what cause altered mental states. I do hope psychiatry can change.

  3. I lost, 3 weeks ago, 10 years of writing.
    Thousands of pages. Everything I had managed to put to words, through the maelstrom.
    Gone.
    Out of 10 years that felt like 1,000,000
    I managed to write down 2%
    That 2% is gone now.
    Into a digital black hole.
    All unheard.
    Unpublished.
    Unshared…
    It doesn’t matter.
    I still have memory.
    The bitch of chaos rules us all.
    I trust that beauty.
    I learned a hard lesson.
    Not to trust irreplaceable thoughts
    To anything but paper.
    That cannot disappear as easily.
    Those writings are lost,
    I cannot get them back,
    Or retrace the states that created them.
    It’s ok.
    I am still here.
    Even in fragments,
    I still remember.
    This memory…
    Is for you

    “Suddenly,
    I fell to my knees,
    A sudden grief,
    That cannot be put into words
    Washed me away
    The ‘me’ that had been obliterated by years of ego defeat
    I saw this dream waking
    I had a vision
    Of a millennia of buried
    Voices
    Buried songs
    Bursting
    Raisins rotting in the sun
    Stacked underneath myself
    Like a ladder
    DNA / RNA
    That reached infinitely far down
    We were all standing
    Feet on each others’s shoulders
    Looking up
    From death
    With love
    At their daughters
    Who would come after
    With blind trust
    Buried alive
    They stood on the back of a huge
    Geodisic
    Radiant
    Turtle
    That was also full of love

    They reach for you
    They stand for you
    I have come to
    Respect
    Deeply
    Masculine energy
    As a child of incest

    But please
    Keep bringing that stack of
    Feminine Buried voices
    Into the phenomenal world

    What you are doing is
    Sacred

    Do it
    For those of us who
    Cannot

    I know this is a burden
    My life is a constant burden
    Bear it gladly.
    With love
    Hope
    Strength
    Grit

    And raw, bloody,
    Determination.

    Speak,
    Be heard.
    Heal.
    With love.
    NEVER FOR PROphet.
    Or her bad sister
    Profit.

  4. Sister Naas,
    What I wrote last night
    might seem incoherent
    All I was trying to say
    Is that I researched your
    Digital signature
    Your previous articles
    Your gut wrenching honesty
    About your life experiences
    Is so rare
    Is so appreciated
    Please continue to be
    Exactly who you are!

    So many of us need
    People like you
    With sterling integrity

    Please, don’t let that
    Integrity
    Be compromised
    You give me so much hope

  5. We don’t even learn any Jung!

    My jaw dropped when I read that.

    Some people communicate with angels. Some people are labeled as having a psychotic break when their personal narrative says they are experiencing oneness with the universe mixed in the intergenerational trauma. Some people hear voices. I could go on. All of these experiences are valid human experiences, not to be pathologized, marginalized, or stifled.

    Beautifully stated.

    Thank you for this, Naas!

  6. “Some people communicate with angels. Some people are labeled as having a psychotic break when their personal narrative says they are experiencing oneness with the universe mixed in the intergenerational trauma. Some people hear voices. I could go on.”
    It is interesting how differently alternative/extreme states of mind are perceived by different individuals and how common patterns are present nonetheless (probably influenced by the culture closest to the individual). It reminds me of another type of alternative state (I have never experienced psychosis) – sleep paralysis. In the “old days” it was believed that these are deamons attacking people in the night and sitting on their chests and that was reflected in the subjective experiences. With the dawn of modern era deamons transformed into UFO and aliens (that was my first experience of sleep paralysis).

  7. Very important post Naas!
    In my experience, the Peer Support Movement is not particularly open to discussing the spiritual dimension of our experiences. And, in some cases, I’ve found people in the peer movement rather hostile towards ANY form of psychology. Often, they see it as just more ‘theorizing’…. more ‘labeling’. In addition, spirituality is often ‘conflated’ (confused) with religious belief. As a result, people tend to avoid the subject, as, ironically, they see speaking of spiritual experiences as pushing a belief system, which they feel goes against the highly held (and extremely silencing) value of ‘diversity’. At last years Alternatives conference, I was the only presenter referring to Spiritual Emergency and/or transpersonal theory. IMO, transpersonal psychology has a very important role to play in our understanding of mental disorders, yet it is rarely discussed in the peer movement, or here on Mad in America.

    In contrast, similar to your experience at CIIS, the transpersonal psychologists (and other people with a strong interest in spirituality) that I know are largely clueless about the link between spiritual experiences and mental disorders. I think, for people who have had powerful, life-changing, spiritual experiences (as I did), it can be difficult for them to imagine that someone who is medicated for life may have gone through something very similar. For many people, I think there is a feeling that a spiritual experience is somehow ‘superior’ to normal daily life, while the experience of a mental disorder is ‘inferior’. However, as you and I know, the reality is more complex than that.

    Next month, October, 2014, my wife and I will be giving a presentation at the EUROTAS Conference in Crete, Greece, for the Association of Transpersonal Psychology in Europe. Dr. David Lukoff will be the keynote speaker. My presentation will largely focus on how transpersonal psychology currently shows little interest in treating people labeled with mental disorders, even when spiritual aspects are part of the experience. I’ll be sure to cite your article here in my presentation!

    Sean Blackwell
    http://www.bipolarORwakingUP.com