Updated: Sep 1
Being a lover of a good mindgasm, I really enjoy getting caught up in new ideas and anything that challenges my sense of agency or self. The latest source of this mind satisfaction was quite surprising.
In attendance at a presentation by Dr. John Hunter, Supporting Bipolar Disorder, this post slowly started to materialise. Dr. Hunter gives an incredibly insightful talk, and I can say that I learnt a great deal about bipolar disorder. Assuming that my understanding is enough – I never really investigate until directly impacted. Listening to others in attendance ask questions about family members or themselves, I was alerted to how limited my understanding actually was.
More interesting still, Dr. Hunter is living with bipolar disorder himself. With kind eyes, sincerity, and a sense of humour, he offered a very personal perspective and his own experiences. I couldn’t help wondering if he feels exposed. Knowing how hard that is, I met his presentation with respect and left with a parallel lesson: Here is a man who actively fights for himself every day. My inner monologue: OMG, Stacey you can’t even stick to your diet. Ha ha. 🤣 While I’m sure it was not his intention, I was inspired to be better.
He mentioned an article he wrote, Seeking God’s Presence. Written to demystify religious experiences or ‘God encounters’ during bipolar hypomania. For those living with bipolar disorder it would certainly shed light and I highly recommend that you read it. I, on the other hand, wanted to gain insight into other people. Although I did find that insight, I had no idea that I would relate to its content as much as I did. And before I knew it, I was a woman possessed.
Dr. Hunter first captured my attention by introducing me to the concept of “Seeking”. He writes a great deal about humans going into a state of Seeking. People, when faced with stress, will always seek to remove/solve or appease the stressor. To achieve homeostasis. Seeking comfort, chasing dopamine -the activator of the human reward system. We all do it, no one likes sitting in discomfort. I have recently made some daft decisions on the back of newfound loneliness, the need for control and a desperate need to escape incredible stress. Chasing – like a junkie. We usually find the comfort. Perhaps in familiar places or old habits and sometimes in new and interesting ways. A magic trick of the brain and chemicals, designed to calm us the F#ck down. It’s the human condition I suppose.
Next, the writer had me enthralled as he recounted the results of some highly unethical seminars conducted by corporates in the 70s. It's not that long ago, I can’t help thinking that someone, somewhere along the line must have had misgivings? Still, they went ahead, and although I was uncomfortable as I read about them, I could not stop. The studies of these seminars' results were riveting. To summarise (not as well as Dr. Hunter) three seminars were held. Large groups of people, flocking towards a promise of transformations that boasted qualities like decisiveness, energy, clarity etc. (Much like the social media feeds of today). What was discovered is that these innocent seekers did not know that the entire seminar was well scripted, and it turned out that these orchestrated events fiercely agitated their trauma’s, guilts, fears, sins causing flare up of the ‘shadow self’. Thus, sending them into Seeking.
Still following the script, their hosts then guided the unsuspecting seekers towards the ever-allusive transformation. They offer them replacement feels, swapping out all the negative, they gift them with acceptance, joy, peace and most powerful of all, love. They gift them a cure to their stressors. They gifted them dopamine. Standing happily in seeking arousal, (the feeling that comes when you find the remedy to your anguish) and feeling rewarded for the difficult seminar they had endured, the participants in turn recounted transformation, religious experiences, spiritual clarity, and euphoria. While it’s great that they felt so free and healed, the study gave wind to the notion that the brain and dopamine were the source of their bliss. And the more they rejoiced in the success of the seminar the more they debunked the religiousness or otherworldliness of their own experiences. Fascinating.
This is where I began to question. Are we so malleable that we can be led so easily to a mystical and profound conclusion? Are these seminars, courses, and religious gatherings just dopamine orgies? Of course, the billions of life coaches, religious leaders, spiritual healers, and shamans would argue not. But I have had these experiences. I’ve documented them, in detail for the world to see. They all felt amazing, and I had alllll the symptoms. Positive, enlightened, empowered, feeling connected to the cosmos. This article really left me contemplating my own bat-shit craziness. Wow, I was seduced by vastness of this question. I pondered over and wrestled with it for days.
I often write about fraudulent spirituality. Not because I claim to be any further along than others but because we have to keep ourselves in check and constantly test the validity of our experiences. The spirit and the mind are two parts of the whole. To feed one over the other is a mistake. After reading this article I found myself looking at things from a different perspective.
If I look back on the work I have done on myself – for myself – it is hard and awful and sometimes just exhausting. It is never quick. There are always parts of it that resurface and need more attention. There are still deep-rooted things that govern my actions and tend to trigger patterns. We cannot simply escape them. I wonder what these people did when their demons resurfaced? Rush to another seminar? Pray it all away? Deny, and ignore? Did they actually find real acceptance? I doubt it, but also acknowledge that it is slightly possible. Positivity and feeling powerful is great, I know why people like it. But we are all slaves to homeostasis. It will not last. It can’t. If you find that it does, you need to read Seeking God’s Presence - soon.
To the devout and religious, please do not flood my email with heralds of doom and damnation, I am not proposing that it is all false. What I am saying is that spiritual bypassing is a real phenomenon. No matter how good the shaman, priest, host, or psychic, you will have to do the work – continuously, you have to make changes and live differently.
After much deliberation, I decided that the things I have experienced, seen and heard felt so much in integrity and the benefits are blatantly apparent in my life. I have made so many changes to the way I live, and I would be remiss if I doubted it all. I still feel connected, I still strive to live spiritually. Now I just have more tools with which to check myself.
If you find yourself drawn to a breathwork course or sit yourself in freezing cold water because a foreign bearded man says so. Go for it. But consider the science and the spiritual and check-in with yourself. Honestly and critically. While these things will give you new mechanisms to help yourself, they cannot ‘fix you’ in one session and there will always be more work to be done. Well, that’s my advice. If you like dopamine orgies and instant gratification …. carry on! I’ve done crazier things and won’t judge you. Continuous work on yourself will lead you to oxytocin and serotonin – the chemicals that last! But that is another blog, for another day.
Continue to worship and pray, meditate, and read cards. Whatever avenue you choose. Just remember that:
the rewarded system is a trap. The feeling is fleeting and will need constant replenishing.
you have to work through your muck to get to healing.
most importantly, healing cannot be bestowed upon you by an ‘all knowing’ other.
Huge thanks to Dr. Hunter and the Hand of Gee.
Click to get Seeking God's Presence