What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital
September 3, 2012 By giannakali
The below is an excerpt of a blog post which is, before that, an excerpt of an email, which is before that an excerpt from a book.
It tells a story about Malidoma Patrice Somé who is a shaman from west Africa, the Dano people from Burkina Faso. I read Malidoma’s book, Of Water and the Spirit many years ago and it remains one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve had it listed in the miscellaneous section of Beyond Meds Bookstore since I created the bookstore, so I’m so happy I get to plug it now, because it truly moved me more deeply than almost any book I’ve ever read. And now, it’s become, perhaps, not so miscellaneous as it’s clear that Malidoma Patrice Somé understands something about those who get labeled mentally ill that the west cannot see.
The blog post is from Jayson Gaddis: Telling the truth about Masculine Journey. This blog is likely a nice place to visit as it seems Jayson shared a lot about his own spiritual emergency a couple of years ago. Perhaps that is ongoing, I’ve not spent enough time there to find out, but intend to visit again.
In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.
What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.” The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm. “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé. These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.
One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness. When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to “nervous depression,” Dr. Somé went to visit him.
“I was so shocked. That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.” What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop. This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation. As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.” (continue reading this really wonderful post!)
When it comes to understanding the psyche it’s often helpful to use many different models. For many other posts on Beyond Meds that look at what gets labeled mental illness from a shamanistic perspective see here: The Shamanic -like nature of consciousness