I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder. Probably because, somehow, I had the nous to stay out of the medical system. Nevertheless, I believe my experience would today be classified as a mental/emotional breakdown and burnout. I was walking down the street having arguments with myself – out loud, for Christ’s sake!
When I realised this I got very scared. I certainly did not want it on my medical records jeopardising future employment prospects, loading insurance premiums or producing any other unnecessary challenges in my life.
I was 37 years old, working as an electrical design engineer in a well-paid very rational male-dominated industry. However, that industry was in deep recession and my job would soon disappear with no hope of finding anything similar. My marriage was falling apart. I was completely shut down emotionally. My life was a mess. I was certainly depressed. I was toxic to be around.
Looking back now it’s obvious that I was going through a major spiritual awakening. I’d been living my life inside the boxes prescribed by convention. Outwardly I looked successful, but I hated myself. Those boxes I’d put myself in never did fit me and they’d led me to be very fragmented. I was different people for different aspects of my life, and inauthentic in virtually all of them.
Who I was being had no relevance to my true self. My identity was in meltdown. And I knew this crisis had been brewing for a long time.
I needed to sort myself out. I had no idea how, but I decided that I had to be true to myself, whatever that looked like, or die in the process. If I couldn’t find some real meaning to my existence and integrate that into the way I lived I did not want to be here.
By chance I was in the old St Pancras library one day in my lunchtime and picked up a flyer for a ten-week course about stress and burnout. I read it and ticked all the boxes twice over. It was like someone had left it there especially for me. I signed up immediately.
To the person I was then, it was all weird. There were some basic psychological exercises (Transactional Analysis), story-telling, role-playing, reflexology, massage and meditation. It was the meditation that saved me.
We were taught a version of the Buddhist Metta Bhavana (loving kindness) practice. It saved my life. I embraced it wholeheartedly, as if something in me remembered it from another existence.
My marriage collapsed; my job disappeared. It took about two years to regain some sense of equilibrium after that.
I practised my meditation daily, although I did nothing else metaphysical for about five years. But I was changing.
I found a job that I could manage easily and I enrolled in a part-time degree course at what is now Middlesex University, reading English. I wanted to take a completely different direction. That was where the five years went.
Initially the degree was something to keep me busy and at home, as my fourteen-year-old son chose to live with me instead of his mother. But I evolved; I did well, and I got interested in psychoanalytic literary criticism – something most other students avoided like the plague.
As I got deeper into how we make meaning of things I started to see the meanings I’d made up about my own existence. My interpretations of my experiences had plainly accumulated into a perception of myself and life in general that just had to implode at some point. I was seeing why I’d made such a mess of my life. Coupled with the meditation practice this enabled me to accept and forgive myself for much of the mess I’d created.
I graduated with a good first class honours that allowed me to be accepted directly onto a PhD programme without taking an interim master’s degree. I was researching how we make sense of ourselves through linguistic structures. Ultimately, this was analysing my own process through close examination of the way I made meaning out of various texts, and how I mapped that onto the reality of my life.
And just as I was getting into my PhD I got a shock. What I now know as my healing channels opened spontaneously in meditation. I had no reference points for this, and again I was scared. My body tingled with energy from head to toe. I could visualise it, and turn it on and off.
At this time I was also in a new relationship, with someone who had a passing interest in spirituality. I didn’t tell my partner about my experience for a few days; when I did she encouraged me to explore the realm of spiritual healing. I had nothing to lose, so that was the beginning of a sojourn through New Age spirituality that lasted several years.
It was a lot of fun and sometimes very scary. I found the territory populated with a mixture of sincerity and superficiality, integrity and exploitation. It was a minefield.
There was LOADS of emotional work: buckets full of tears and rage. There was more than one experience of what is known generically as the dark night of the soul, which is more accurately the mind going into a flat spin because nothing it knows can cope with the fractures in its sense of reality.
But I was on a path. There was enough consistency in my spiritual adventures to keep me engaged.
I looked at various forms of energy healing, in an attempt to give myself some kind of label, and I learned a great deal from all of them. The most commonly recognised form I learned was Reiki, which I actually taught for four years. But, I’ve been consistently driven to find my own way.
As a child I could remember being a man in another life – I still can; I saw things – beings, entities that “weren’t there” according to my parents – I still do. However, I went into denial about my inherent spiritual nature for nearly thirty years because of a difficult experience with religion at the age of ten turned me against anything religious, and by implication spiritual.
Since my initial episode of mental instability I’ve gradually been better able to join the dots of my life into a coherent picture. That picture is not static, which is also a challenge to a mind that craves stability, but it gets clearer all the time.
What is crystal clear is that there are few reliable reference points in our culture for the process of spiritual awakening. Hearing voices and seeing visions may not book your ticket to the funny farm, but it will qualify you for some addictive medication to slug your sensitivity – if you tell the wrong people.
These days I support others as they awaken to their spiritual nature. I help them to learn to trust themselves, their intuition and their magic, and find their way to engage with what I call their Spiritual Intelligence. The 37 year-old electrical engineer I was would have said you were mad, had you told him this was where he was headed.