I want to write somehow about being labeled.
Last night we watched Crazy Wisdom, a wonderful film about the life of Chogyam Trungpa, who brought Tibetan Buddhism to the West. I first knew him as the teacher of Pema Chodron, whom I have never met, but whose books and tapes taught me how to meditate. Recently my aversion to Trungpa's famous drunkenness and sexual behavior melted away - thank God, my standards are eroding - and I have been studying his talks on my Kindle. So here came this film, through the Tricycle film festival.
Every psychiatrist I've ever known would feel satisfied that Trungpa Rinpoche was Bipolar and Borderline. You could make that Bipolar with schizoaffective overtones, as he had visions, one famous one in the cave of an ancient Buddhist saint. Add to that Dual Diagnosis - his drinking was legendary.
It is not news to me that the very manifestations that are called Bipolar can be seen in religious terms. I once owned a book called Are you Getting Enlightened or Losing Your Mind? In the mid-1970's my own behavior during periods of extreme emotions/sensations was labeled "manic," but if I'd been in a knowledgeable Buddhist community it might have been recognized as the heart chakra opening, as an enlightenment experience. Labels are strictly cultural. Words have no intrinsic truth.
A wise Buddhist teacher might have had me eat beef, which is grounding, and kept me in dim, quiet rooms, with advanced students being with me, encouraging me to sit silent, to fall asleep, helping me come down. Other behavior/feelings that hit later would have been labeled not depression, but despair, a spiritual condition long recognized in the Christian tradition, and prominent in Jesus's story. I would been encouraged to keep doing my daily work, to get outside and contemplate nature, to do physical forms like walking meditation, yoga, or tai chi, to sit with my feelings and recognize how they modulate and pass moment by moment. But I didn't have a religious tradition to help me.
People who are caught by the American mental health system can resist being labeled, or be grateful and hopeful that it will help. In the absence of a good community approach to extreme behavior, medications can help. Equally, they harm. Lithium cost me my kidneys. You don't know what trouble is until your kidneys start failing. I'm sorry that a good residential training program did not exist, and sorry that very few such programs exist now.
Here is the Buddhist understanding of extreme emotions: you never "are" some thing. You are a dance or a traffic jam, a bunch of processes that are active as long as your body is alive. What you call "me" changes all the time. Labels are a convenience, but we need to understand they are not reality.
Here and there are other people like me, for whom religiosity is deep experience, not "symptom". Many other people who have gone through extreme experiences and have learned how to work with their feelings, thoughts, sensations. Who use little or no medication. Who are happy and useful. I am convinced that more of us need to come forth and be willing to be labeled crazy, who know that the truth is, we have crazy wisdom. Some frightened people will avoid us, some sick people will enjoy gossiping and feeling superior. That's life. You can't help what other people think.
Those of us who have found paths that work need to share our own experience, not the long drama of being sick and disrupted, but the important story of how we let that pass and learned to be happy.
|Our Zen garden from kitchen window|