A Liberation Journey with Images


I am humbled to share with you my life’s journey, and more importantly to convey a recent experience that has transmuted everything, opening up a new frontier of being more fully alive. I am beginning to see the invisible; or should I say I am beginning to feel it, because it is an inner experience.

First, a little cultural context. When I look at the distribution of wealth and the exploitation of resources on this planet, I am humbled. I was born into privilege, in a working-class/middle-class family where everything looked so pleasant on the outside – I was well-clothed, well-fed, physically safe in a comfortable, stable environment. At least it looked that way on the outside. On the inside, however, I felt like I was living in a war zone. I experienced such a profound lack of safety that it led to my clinging to anyone who offered a safe harbor or anything that could numb the pain.

By the age of 16, I did not grasp the underlying dynamics of the polarizing duality and irrationality of my life and the world. It was beyond my ability to comprehend because I had nowhere to go where I felt safe enough, and supported enough, to ask questions and try to get accurate answers so I could meaningfully put the pieces together. On one hand, I saw such peace and love in my community and the world, and on the other hand I saw and experienced fear, violence and war.

One day the cacophony boiled over into a spiritual emergency.

heart breaking open
Photo credit: 2014 Constantin Chopin

Looking back forty years, I now understand what happened. In a heroic act of integrity, my mind (in a deep way that I had never before experienced) reached for the authentic Lauren in an attempt to find meaning and purpose in my life. I needed support, an anchor, so I could move from monologue (where I was stuck) to dialogue – where I could awaken into a genuine, honest and respectful relationship. I needed someone to be with me on an island of sanity where we could breathe while being immersed in and inescapably surrounded by an insane world.

Instead of getting care that helped, I got locked up in a mental institution, put on increasingly heavy doses of psychopharmaceuticals and labeled with chronic schizophrenia. As you might imagine this made my life a little more confusing. It added layers of hurt, humiliation, misinformation and self-doubt.

Now, let’s transition to the five most important lessons I have learned that helped me transform my consciousness. This story is still unfolding; new pathways of insight are being revealed. What drives me? A wind, a light, a strong desire accompanied by a focused tenacity to find my truth. Who am I? What is my life’s mission, my purpose?

Lesson 1. Someone wise, whom I deeply respected told me there was never anything wrong with me. At the time I found that statement shocking and outrageous. She was firm in her belief, and after a while I realized I had nothing to lose by attempting to take on this perspective. I had tried everything else and nothing was getting me where I wanted to go. I had even worked as a therapist and still could not grasp that elusive thing that was missing in my life and left an emptiness in my soul. It took me years to wrap my mind around that concept. It meant understanding the larger social context of my spiritual emergency, which required that I understand the dynamics of oppression and the impact of trauma on myself and others.

ben tolman art
Photo credit: 2014 Ben Tolman

Lesson 2. Someone very accomplished and admired told me, “I believe in you.” No one had ever told me that before, and it felt really good to hear those words and believe them. I realized, however, that I needed to believe in me. What a contradiction to everything life had taught me – especially my experience in the mental health system which had convinced me to not believe in myself, in the brilliance of my mind and the wisdom of the emotions.

The invitation is for you, the reader, to stop for a moment and ponder – what would your life look like if you believed completely in yourself? If every thought, every experience, every everything in your life was fused with meaning and purpose, wisdom and truth? Can you begin to grasp a different way of perceiving yourself? I find that as my self-perception deepens and my heart opens wider, the way I see others shifts and deepens, synchronistically. It seems to be a spiral path leading to presence and being in tune with the flow of life.

Lesson 3. Letting go & becoming unrecognizable to myself. In truth this process started years ago when a friend told me that to be completely open to change, I had to be willing to be unrecognizable to myself. Like a caterpillar fighting off the imaginal substances that carry the DNA of the butterfly, we don’t recognize who we are becoming (or can become) until we let go of the battle to stay within the confines of who we think we are.

freedom sculpture
Photo credit: 2011 Alice Yoo

After many years of witnessing a friend become more liberated in her thinking and her way of living, I agreed to join her in an international workshop on Healing from War. She had attended them several times. We spent a year planning our trip to Poland where the eight-day workshop took place. There were two conference calls with the 15 people from the US who we would be joining at the workshop. The friend who drove us to the airport told us that others she’d known who attended the workshop had said it was life-changing. I said that preparing for the workshop was life-changing. Little did I know what was to come!

The workshop began with a 2-day tour of Auschwitz. A little more context is helpful here. Months before the workshop, and more intensively at the workshop, we learned about the multi-level dynamics (political, social, economic, etc) that came to be this “perfect storm” called World War II and the Holocaust. All of my adult life I had known that Spiro was a very unusual name. I almost never saw it spelled the way my family spells it, and I don’t know any Spiro relatives other than my father (who died when I was 14) and his parents. During our first day at Auschwitz, there were vertical hanging boards listing every Jew murdered in the Holocaust. Of course, I immediately went to look for Spiros. There were four pages of Spiros, several hundred Spiros with complete name, date of birth, place of birth, and date and place of death. Impressive records the Nazis kept.

Another piece of information that helps illuminate my experience is that the Nazis had a problem – they had a great deal of ash to dispose of. This was important because from time to time the Red Cross did a site visit, and it was important to the Nazis that the camp appear to be a fairly decent place to live, with nothing too surprising to report. So a great deal of ash was dumped into the nearby river and a pond within the camp.

Towards the end of our second day at Auschwitz, I approached a small, beautiful pond.

Photo credit: Lauren Spiro

Without warning, a completely unexpected spiritual blanket came over me and said “something happened here”; meaning right here and somehow it was related to me. Suddenly tears began pouring down my face, and my friend held me. We had been instructed by the workshop leader that we were to be inseparable during our Auschwitz tour, and my friend’s hug at that moment was beyond perfect. I knew that she was there – in body, mind and spirit – while something big was transpiring.

Before this ‘pond’ experience I was not particularly in tune with spirit, vibrations or any of those (what some might term) unusual processes. The exception to that was my spiritual emergency about 40 years ago.

This force of spirit was a wake up call to letting myself become unrecognizable to myself. I spent considerable time pondering the meaning of what happened by the pond. What happened there during the holocaust? What happened as I stood by the pond? What or who was reaching for me? How was all of this related to me? I have no knowledge of anyone else at the workshop – and there were 75 of us – experiencing a spiritual force like I did during our eight days together.

I spent a year doing a lot of emotional release work focused on exploring what happened by the pond. I opened up to inquiring, imagining, expressing whatever came to my mind with trusted allies. I let go of rage and fear, hate and terror. I did a lot of grieving for my people and all people killed by oppression and war. I grieved for those targeted by oppression and for those who were taught to be oppressors.

One year later I returned to the workshop and the pond. I was moved by forces that I wanted to better understand. This is the deepest exploration I have ever done. I knew more would be revealed if I continued on this path. I had no preconceived notions of what more there might be. My work was to be open to everything; to explore. The Lewis and Clark of my mind.

Lesson 4. The wisdom of the heart. Year two – I returned to the pond and the Healing From War workshop. This time at the pond there was no lightning strike or major breakthrough. What I noticed the most was the radiant white light pouring over everything, including the Auschwitz barracks behind the pond. The only word that came to me, and it was soft and gentle, was “forward.” I interpreted this to mean going forward into the light, which was a validation of my journey and my findings so far. I was on the right path.

I did notice a giant rust-colored dragonfly that flew back and forth by the pond for several minutes while I stood (with three allies surrounding me) with my heart open, asking: What happened here? How is it related to me? I later learned that the dragonfly is a phoenix, a symbol of transformation.

I didn’t think much more about my experience by the pond during the remaining days of the workshop. We were immersed, 16 hours a day with 75 amazing people from 20 countries. Some had been prisoners of war; some had parents who had been prisoners of war. All of us had relatives who had fought in a war or resisted the Nazi occupation.

On the last day of the workshop we had our final small Sharing Our Stories support group. I shared some of my story for a few minutes (as each of us did, one at a time), and the support group leader said to me, “You found them.”

I immediately felt some pressure next to my heart, and a few seconds later the tears came. My mind realized what my heart and body already knew – that I had found my family buried in that pond. This had not previously occurred to me.

robyn thompson body art
Photo credit: 2012 RoByn Thompson

This lesson is about the wisdom of the heart. My heart knew before my thinking brain knew that this was true. My family, the Spiros were buried in that pond. It made sense. There was a connection that happened. That spiritual blanket was them, or some force of sorrow of the souls, reaching for me. There is great wisdom in my body, and I am thankful that I now know how to be a better listener. This lesson leaves me feeling profoundly connected to my people and to all people who ever lived, are living and will live.

Lesson 5. Listening to my heart led me home to my soul. What I know to be true is my experience. The process of transforming my consciousness came through my heart and my body as opposed to my thinking brain. Listening deeply taught me that my heart knows what is true before the mind does. When I engage in inner battle with my ego (or my learned identify), and I struggle or perhaps feel suffering, I don’t know where home is. I may feel adrift, unanchored, wandering somewhere but not ‘home.’ However, when I open my heart and mind and embody inner peace, I know that home is everywhere I go. I set sail every day being carried by the light, being one with the wind.

In summary – my spiritual emergency was, in fact, my mind’s attempt to reconnect with my soul.

Photo credit: 2010-2015 karimdell

* * * * *

This post is an expanded version of my original five-minute Ignite presentation.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Lauren Spiro
Lauren’s vision of social justice and mental health liberation focuses on developing our capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human heart and mind, and inspiring compassionate action. Her life’s mission is to embody inner peace to co-create global peace, thus she curates transformative learning experiences. She co-founded two non-profit corporations and Emotional CPR (www.emotional-cpr.org) a public health education program that teaches people how to support others through an emotional crisis. She is a multi-media artist, a 20+ year practitioner of yoga and meditation, the first Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, has been featured on national media, and consulted on numerous federal projects. Her memoir paints a poetic picture of her journey into madness and her pathway home. She has an M.A. in clinical/community psychology. For more information see www.Laurenspiro.com


  1. Whew, I relate to so much of this. I had that same inner world/outer world split you talk about, and it caught up with me, too. Thank GOD! Before I awoke to that, even though I was reasonable successful in life, my life and energy were compromised, and I had no idea, although I knew I was not at peace. I just thought it was the best I/we could do, that life was not about inner peace, but about being ‘successful’ in the eyes of others.

    Indeed, it all led to healing my heart, learning my spirit, and embracing my soul journey, totally transformative. That’s a very humbling and exquisite life path. Far better and way more relaxing than worrying about ‘fitting in,’ which is how we end up living in a split and projecting falsehoods. This is why our society is a confusing network of holographic illusions. It’s also how we become powerless and prisoners of society.

    I find that our soul journey is where we discover our nature, our heart’s truth, and is what leads to healing, inner peace, and desirable manifestations in life. Definitely my preferred path.

    Thanks as always for sharing your light and truth, Lauren.

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  2. I’m hyper-sensitive. My breath quivers so terribly that I nearly suffocate. That’s Spirit. Spirit always knows Truth. You feel it in your heart, I get hit hard in the lungs. Then I start to cry, but I hold it in. My body stiffens and becomes rigid, and I start to shake. If I ever let out my feelings and my emotions, I’d be psych warded in a heartbeat.

    Your choice of pictures is excellent. The final image shows a woman standing on a rock in a body of water that I can only assume is an ocean. Then I thought about it and figured you must have crossed the ocean to get to the pond. Then I thought, pond. Ocean. Hmm. So I played myself a song and spilled some tears and blew my nose. lol, sorry. I’m just giving you my honest reaction to reading your story.

    This might not be what it feels for you, and I hope it doesn’t spoil anything for you, but with this, all of the waters are covered, and there’s just such a feel of accomplishment in this song. And victory. http://youtu.be/aaPRmO87WJQ


    This song always makes me think of a great accomplishment. A victory. A few tears have fallen from my eyes, thinking of all the waters, and your journey.

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  3. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Pharmaceutical psychiatric drugs are usually not the solution to spiritual emergencies. Neither are recreational drugs. Psychiatry markets itself as the solution to these problems. But here we are learning that is pretty much bs. How much more pain and damage must psychiatrists cause?

    How much more corruption will there be? Cover ups?

    Again thank you for sharing and writing so beautifully.

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  4. I, too, can relate to your story, Lauren. I grew up in NY, and many of my best friends were Jewish. When my family later moved to the mid-west, I again befriended some Jewish children. A doctor’s wife told my mother it “unseemly” for the bank president’s daughter to be friends with the Jewish children. I was disgusted when my mother told me this, and I told my mother the woman was an anti-Semite. My mom agreed, and joined the local Jewish Center as a form of protest. Kudos to my mom.

    But the bottom line is, because of my love for my Jewish friends, I have always been heartbroken by the Holocaust. And my spiritual journey began with a dream on the morning of 9.12.2001, a dream I was “moved by the Holy Spirit.” A query to a Lutheran psychologist regarding the meaning of this dream turned into her claims of a “Holy Spirit ‘voice’,” proof of “psychosis,” and a “bipolar” misdiagnosis.

    But, psychiatric stupidity does not cure one from belief in the Holy Spirit and God. I saw 9.11.2001 as the time to start researching eschatology. Others are doing the same, I just found this author, although have yet to read these books. And this YouTube video also indicates others share my concerns about banker’s wars.



    I hope and pray we can help prevent a WWIII by pointing out who the true evil in this world actually is. It’s not the Jews, or the Muslims, or even us Christians who believe in the Holy Spirit, God, and that Jesus’ theology is the one that will bring peace on earth some day. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” I believe we the people should garner some wisdom from the Jews, and take God up on His offer of a worldwide year of Jubilee – take from the corporations and banks, and give to the real people. But instead, the UN nations all seem to be against Isreal. The bankers and world leaders do seem to be playing out biblical prophecy. Those of us with a spiritual side just seem to have felt the true wrongs going on within our world, prior to others.

    I’m glad you have recovered, Lauren, and completely agree, spiritual journeys are not cured with drugs.

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    • “Those of us with a spiritual side just seem to have felt the true wrongs going on within our world, prior to others.”

      I think you hit on something important here, Someone Else. Being connected to our spirits does make a person highly aware of what is brewing, before it actually happens. It is a feeling that occurs before the event, knowing that there is something ‘in the air,’ so to speak. It is a broader perspective that includes feelings and intuition, more so than needing some kind of hard copy evidence to ‘prove’ a reality. Being spiritually inclined brings into focus subtle energies.

      However, try to convince someone who is NOT spiritually inclined, and I can guarantee you there will be some kind of negative projection or conflict or stigma or insult or patronizing or avoidance or distraction or something. The gap in communication between the spiritually inclined and the non-spiritually inclined (academic) is mammoth, like a black hole of communication. I think this may be where society splits off irreconcilably.

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        • re: “Oh yes–and, as I know you know very well, beware the ‘spiritual hypocrites,’ those that do not walk their talk. Many of us have fallen pray to this. I think that’s a whole other category of being.”

          This is because not all spirituality is healthy or safe, or light and love. There’s a dark side to spirituality and there are dangers. Some people who have unhealed sin, or are living in transgression, will contradict themselves because they put the positive state forth instead of the negative. I don’t think it’s always an attempt to deceive (self or other). I think it’s more likely that they know they have a dark side but they’re trying to reach the light (the healed, the whole, the sinless).

          Many spiritual people are not religious, but religion is never without spirituality. If any religion or congregation thereof lacks a spiritual focus, they’re not right.

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          • I think any aspect of ourselves is subject to change and evolution. We’re not static beings, we’re ever growing, changing, and integrating, at least we strive to grow.

            Although it does seem that sometimes, our environments work to keep us stuck, I think that’s what we’re talking about with the mental health industry. That’s the oppression, keeping people stuck–whether intentional or not. But when they won’t hear feedback, one has to wonder.

            To me, being ‘spiritual’ simply means honoring the spirit of what we perceive to be physical–the energy of life, what is behind what we perceive with our five senses. Indeed, it can be light or shadow, good feeling or bad feeling. We are in flux 24/7, I think of ‘spirit’ as the river of energy that runs through everything. It is another dimension of our existence, subtle and powerful, from which we actually can garner quite a bit of control over our life experience. At least, that is what I discovered.

            Religion, to me, is more of a cult of people; whereas spirituality is all that is, it is energy.

            And I agree, when we deny our darkness, we are bound to be reminded of it when we least expect it, one way or another, and yes, it can be very toxic to others.

            Good to see you back here, btw. I’ve missed your voice.

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          • Thanks.

            I won’t go too too far with my response regarding religion, but I would very much like to say that there is a tremendous, heavy cultivation of hatred in the world toward the church and toward all religion (and religious people). The Jews are hated, the Muslims are hated, the Catholic church / religion is hated, and Christians are an endangered species (biblically so, even, according to prophecy). But during my own time of great need, it was the church (various denominations) who did help to take care of me. I’ve slept in church basements, bathed in rectories, and had meals (Holy Day and holiday meals) in churches. It’s quite precious to me. A perspective like mine (a beneficiary) is something most people who aren’t involved with the church don’t know about, and it rarely ever enters discussion. There’s so much more I can say, like how my entire home is furnished by the generous donations of Christ’s congregation. Then there’s the Dorothy Day shelter and soup kitchen, where my very soul both died (by prophecy, in fact) and was born. Dorothy Day is somebody I deeply, deeply admire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Day

            I enjoy reading your comments, Alex. Thank you. 🙂

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      • I agree, Alex, and as you know I ran into some of those “spiritual” hypocrites, it seems the mainstream religions are filled with them. Although I did run into a subsequent church with a wonderfully ethical, Spirit moved pastor, as well. And I am very grateful for his honesty and ethics.

        I think Sean Blackwell does a nice job describing a theory which may help to eliminate this “irreconcilable” divide. (Watch all three parts of this series of his.)


        The psychiatric industry, no doubt, is stuck completely within the material world. But there are millions online now “awakening,” no doubt because we have freedom of speech, and so many can share their research and ideas. And we can hope, some day, the psychiatrists will also awaken, and realize that millions believe their is a higher spiritual dimension to life.

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        • “The psychiatric industry, no doubt, is stuck completely within the material world. But there are millions online now “awakening,” no doubt because we have freedom of speech, and so many can share their research and ideas. And we can hope, some day, the psychiatrists will also awaken, and realize that millions believe their is a higher spiritual dimension to life.”

          Indeed, SE, and I’d also say ‘stuck in the academic world,’ in that it is not real, it is illusion. That’s what makes it ‘academic,’ by definition.

          We are awakening to a new reality, and that will be a shock a lot of people, the ones digging in their heels not wanting change. Although I believe it’s for what the rest of us have been asking–desperately!–for quite a while now. In the meantime, it is good to know spirit at a volatile time like this, isn’t it? Great change is on the horizon, no doubt.

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          • And yes, yes, yes–it is us creating the change, because we have been finding our voices and using them to speak our heart’s truth. I think that is the most powerful agent of change that exists.

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          • “It’s good to know Spirit,” the Holy Spirit provides hope and wisdom, so true. My experience was unexpected, however, since it seemed Spirit chooses you, not the other way around, and then awakens you. And I pray for good to win over the evil that seems to have taken control of this world right now.

            Just an FYI, it’s the ELCA Chicago synod offices that are the problem, and I am communicating with some ELCA pastors now, trying to educate them, I’ve given two Robert’s book. I’m trying to educate the current bishop, who needs to stop denying reality. I had lunch with a forth ELCA pastor recently, who was grateful to hear my perspective because his daughter-in-law is currently dealing with the stupidity fest of a “bipolar” diagnosis.

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    • SomeoneElse-
      Thank you for writing. Your post gives much food for thought. I address what I can in future blogs. My intention these days is to live the best and highest I can possibly be as a spiritual being in a human life span. The deeper I go into peace-building in my mind the more effective I am at peace- building in the world – in all my relationships, my writings.

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  5. Perhaps everyone who has experienced profound grief, loss, or trauma would benefit from the kind of workshop you attended in Poland. Regardless it is getting harder to find individuals who are not impacted by war: OIF/OEF, Vietnam, and WWII vets, death camp survivors and their descendants, political refugees.

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    • madmom
      Thank you for writing. I am just now finding your comment. Everyone is impacted by war whether they are aware of it or not. It destroys so much – as you know – and touches every life form on this planet- including damage to the environment. Working on healing from this damage has profoundly changed my life. The hurts to me personally, my family, friends, community – and our entire world society are deeply embedded in our individual and collective psyche. I think a lot about our current fear-based society which I believe is one outcome of so many wars in the last 3,000 – 5,000 years on this planet.
      Wars began on this planet when we shifted from matrilineal to patrilineal societies and competition became the dominate approach rather than prior to that when cooperation and “getting along” dominated human life on this planet. The more we find peace in our own minds the more we create peace in our relationships and in the world. Outer war is a projection of inner war.

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  6. People impacted by war are on the front lines of trauma; so are people impacted by terrorism, persecution, famine, or other type of group or individual maltreatment. Also their descendants, as Madmom points out.

    Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your spiritual /transformative experience; it resonates deeply with me. I am convinced that you had indeed found your family’s burial place in that pond. I also believe that your story may illustrate epigenetics at work.

    You say:

    “I was well-clothed, well-fed, physically safe in a comfortable, stable environment. At least it looked that way on the outside. On the inside, however, I felt like I was living in a war zone.”

    This is consistent with the data developed by the eminent epigenetist, Rachel Yehuda, about the effect of trauma on trauma’s direct victims and succeeding generations (e.g., Holocaust survivors, U.S. veterans, workers who were in the World Trade Center towers on 9-11). The emerging science of epigenetics may go a long way toward unlocking some of the mysteries of what happened and why. If a short-term adaptation (changes to the trauma victim’s gene expression) is transmitted to future generations, the descendants may inherit coping mechanisms that are out of sync with their actual environment or circumstances, perhaps overreacting to stress that may be much better tolerated to someone without the inheritance of intergenerational trauma. Thank you again, Lauren, for your deeply moving and powerful piece.

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    • GetItRight
      Thanks for sharing your insights. I think we live in a traumatized culture and no one escapes being impacted by it- even if they are not aware of its impact. The new normal and day-to-day culture for most of the world is generally dehumanizing, violent, exploitive due to irrational greed, human & civil rights violations and ignorance. I am dedicating the rest of my life to embodying inner peace to create global peace. As I cleanse and purify my body, mind, spirit, emotions I am discovering deeper and deeper levels of peace and that by itself impacts all of my relationships and the way I live. Its been a huge learning curve. I hope you stay in touch. I would like to hear about your pathway towards healing. Practicing and training in Emotional CPR (www.emotional-cpr.org) has been a tremendous tool in my awakening.

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