Posted in mental illness

Mysticism vs. Psychosis

It has been said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity.  In the twelve years that I have been sharing alternative wellness practices (Reiki, Christouch, Spiritual Direction), I have learned that this same fine line exists between mysticism and what would medically be diagnosed as psychosis.  Later this week, PhD Psychologist, Tom Altepeter will share his professional thoughts on this subject.  In the meantime, please find excerpt below from a blog posted by Seeds of Unfolding (for entire article, click on LINK.).  Seeds of Unfolding is a blog created by CAFH an intentional spiritual community and center for spiritual formation and development.  In this article, Tomas Agosin makes the clear distinction between mysticism and psychosis – valuable information for those in the helping fields as well as for family members of those who may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with psychosis.  If you believe someone you care about may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with psychosis, contact your local NAMI chapter for help. 


Even though there are many similarities between the phenomenology and subjective experiences of mysticism and psychosis, there are also some major differences. As Ram Dass said in a conference on Buddhism and Psychotherapy: “The psychotic brother thinks he is Jesus Christ and only he. I think I’m Jesus Christ, and everyone else too.”

    • Attachment to the world. The mystic, through practices of self-control, concentration and study, gradually reduces his/her attachment to the world. The mystic sees the material world as transitory and values that which he/she perceives as more permanent, eternal.  The psychotic also detaches from the world in that he/she focuses on inner experiences to the exclusion of socially established rules of behavior. But the psychotic is also highly subjected to profound and intense reactions to whatever is in front of him/her. His/her ego boundaries are easily broken down, and because of the incapacity to control emotions, it is easy for the psychotic to shift from one state to another very quickly, leaving the patient with a disruption of any sense of continuity in his/her sense of self and the world.
    • Self-image. The mystic reduces his/her sense of self to a minimum. The mystic wants to be an infinitesimal point of consciousness, with the smallest possible ego, so that he/she can perceive life in the least distorted way. The personality is seen as a barrier, a filter that does not allow one’s consciousness to perceive life in its truest form. Humility before the enormity of the universe is a common attitude in the mystic. The psychotic sees him/herself as omnipotent and omniscient. There is a great increase in self-centeredness, with a feeling of being all-important. He/she is the center of the world, and only he/she is sufficiently important to matter.
    • Ego-identity is shed by the mystic. He/she works to transcend the smallness of ego and tries to find a more expansive sense of self. The psychotic has never acquired a strong ego identity and often clings to whatever fragments he or she can find of him/herself.
    • Serenity increases in the mystic through detachment to the temporal and transient. The mystic identifies with the eternal, that which is most sacred and valuable. In that deep identification, the mystic finds peace and inner tranquility. The psychotic, however, finds little serenity in his/her life. The emotional and mental life of the psychotic is completely fragmented: fear and lack of control of one’s mind are the predominant states.
    • Change is welcomed by the mystic, who is open to new possibilities. The psychotic person tends to reject change, for anything new brings with it a whole set of circumstances to learn to deal with. This frightens the psychotic patient since he/she has little ego-identity or inner strength with which to meet the new situation.
    • Thought processes are not disrupted in the mystical experience. In the psychotic experience thinking usually becomes fragmented and disordered.
    • Aggressive or paranoid elements are found exclusively in the psychotic experience, sometimes to the point of being impossible to control.
    • Hallucinatory experiences tend to be visual in nature for the mystic. Often these are described as visions of light, superior beings and beautiful panoramic phenomena of a most positive nature. The psychotic tends more often to experience auditory hallucinations, which are usually negative and frightening because they are projected, unacceptable thoughts that person has and can no longer keep buried in the unconscious.
    • Limited in time characterizes the mystical experience. It is usually short-lived, but it always leaves an intense impression upon the memory and has a profound impact on the person who experiences it. It leaves one with a new sense of oneself and the world.
      Psychosis can become a chronic condition.
  • The consequence of the experience is the most important difference between mysticism and psychosis, and I believe that it often is the only way to truly differentiate between the two:

The mystical experience leaves the mystic more connected and involved in the world. He/she expands his/her capacity to love and to serve. The mystic becomes more appreciative of the beauty and the miracle of life. The mystical experience leaves the individual with a feeling of reverence for all life, embracing every aspect of life and death as sacred.

Psychosis unfortunately most often leaves the person more self-centered. It narrows his/her possibilities of connection with the world because the psychotic needs to protect him/herself from the anxiety that such a connection produces. The psychotic reduces his/her capacity to love because he/she cannot forget him/herself. The psychotic spends so much energy on survival that there is little psychic energy left for more.

Mysticism and Psychosis by Dr. Tomas Agosin

The Relationship Between Schizophrenia and Mysticism by Sandra Stahlman

Psychosis and Spirituality – Finding a Language by Isabel Clarke

Posted in Healing, Lessons, temptation

The Voices in Your Head – Part One

In today’s blog, Lauri explores the two voices that compete in our heads for attention.  One voice is destructive, harmful and keeps us small.  The other voice is loving, kind, empowering and helps us to grow.  Which voice do you listen to?


Voices in Our Heads

I can’t tell you how many individuals sit in my office and in a very shy, tentative, almost penitent sort of way confess to me that they have a voice in their head.  Then, it seems they are waiting for me to look astonished, panic at the fact that they must be crazy or tell them that they are crazy.  Guess what????  HARDLY!!!!   Each and EVERY ONE of us has that voice in our head.  And just because you have that voice does not make you insane, schizophrenic or a psychopath.  While a small minority, who can only be diagnosed by a trained professional, do have voices that are not of the norm, the vast majority of us who hear this voice (or voices) are really just hearing the interior battle between our truest self and our ego.   The truest self speaks to us about our gifts, our talents, it speaks to us through our intuition, dreams, daydreamings and it only speaks the truth.  The ego….speaks ONLY lies!  The ego is the part of us that DOES NOT want us to live as our most authentic self.  The ego wants us to stay fearful and small.  The ego does not want us to know our giftedness, neither does it want us to know how amazing we are as peaceful, loving, joyful beings.

Does the Voice in My Head Bother You?

Offering credit again to my muse, Steven Tyler, who writes at length about the voices in his head in his autobiography as titled above, I have to say that no, it is not the voice in another’s head that bothers us, it is the voice in our own head.  That being said, sometimes the hated voice in our head did originate in an outside source – parents, teachers, preachers, spouses, siblings, friends, etc.  The problem is not the origin itself, but what we decide to do with it.  When we embrace the unsupportive, harmful, fearful, hurtful messages that come from outside us (most likely coming out of somebody else’s fear or insecurity), then we are giving strength to the fears and insecurities that already exist within us.  Blech…right?  Regardless of the origin of this negative and harmful voice, it speaks to us in loud and obvious ways and in ways that are subtle and insidious.  Here are some of the louder versions of this voice:

  • You are fat, stupid, ugly, insignificant, worthless, lazy, etc.
  • Who could possibly love you?
  • Who or what made you think you could do that?
  • What were you thinking?
  • You charge too much, what makes you think you deserve a professional fee/living wage for sharing your gifts?
  • You’re such a goodie-goodie (or alternatively, you’re a slut, party girl/boy, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Your words are too big, you intimidate people with your words
  • I hate you
  • You do not deserve to be loved or treated with kindness
  • It is all your fault
  • Ok here’s one from my own life:  “What the Hell is a Spiritual Director (or Reiki Practitioner)?  Why would anyone pay you to do that????”

It is pretty obvious the harmful nature of these words.  What is sadder still is the way it hurts us when we accept these statements as truth and make them part of who we think we are.  Our hearts are broken piece by piece until it feels there is nothing left of who we once hoped we could be.

Not so obvious

Then there is the not so obvious nature of this negative voice.  This is the smooth, subtle, insidious side of this voice that reaches deep into the most tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves and seeks to rip out our soul.  This is the voice that is cloaked in the “shoulds” of our society and in the tribal rules that have been handed down to us.  Here is what this voice sounds like:

  • If you only did XYZ….he/she would be happy, peaceful, safe, kind, loving, non-violent
  • It is your fault that he/she is unhappy and you have the power to make it better
  • You don’t have needs and if you do, everyone else’s needs are more important
  • If you give enough, then maybe they will finally act in a loving, kind way toward you
  • It is your fault that he/she is angry, depressed, raging, acting in a violent manner, and it is your job to go fix it
  • Writers, artists, (any creative endeavor) are a dime a dozen, you can’t do that for a living, why don’t you get a real job?
  • You’re just dreaming!
  • You can’t (sing, write, dance, paint, etc. etc. etc.)
  •  A woman’s place is…
  • A man’s place is…

Got it?  YUK YUK YUK   That feels like a good place to start.  So, for the next day, I invite you to pay attention. Pay attention to the voices in your head.  Are you able to recognize the negative, harmful, destructive voice?  Simply recognizing this voice is the first step toward healing and letting it go.  More on this tomorrow. 

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries