The Piano Teacher

Earlier this week, I called up Hem, who identifies himself as a creative film maker/ recordist (!!) After discussing my recording requirements, which are mostly classical music based stuff, I was generally talking to him about a few other things.

Hem is a south Indian, and lives near my parents’ home in Delhi, a place called Kalkaji. He is trying to set up a studio of his own, which I think finally he has found a place for. When I was here in December from Goa, he and another person, who we will call as R, came to meet me. R has been known to me for the last nearly two decades or possibly a little less than that. I have known him to be a musician of a small order, who has not learnt music thoroughly from anyone, yet by learning to play by himself and by dabbling with his keyboards.

He has often come to me for learning music, but more with the intention of ‘getting things out’ rather than really learning classical music. Surprisingly enough we have never clicked as a teacher-student. He always came, once in a couple of years, bowed at my feet (whcih I always resisted and told me not to) and talked about musical ideas and compositions. He never had it in him to learn music with anyone- he was always in a hurry to ‘encash’ things- quickly learn a raga and show if off to others. Even when I invited him to play with me, as I sang, I did not find him competent enough to, because he would be too restless to hear and start playing as I would start singing.

There are many I know like him- who keep playing tunes on the keyboards and then they figure out full melodies and they become musicians. Nothing wrong with that. They are doing things which they wanted to, by dint of sheer persistence.

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So willy nilly, moving in our conversation, Hem informed me that R is ‘out of the market’. I heard him and did not pay heed. He repeated it for me again. I thought ‘what a strange thing to say’. So I asked him what he meant. He repeated himself and said that R was in jail, for the next ten years at that. Oh! I thought, now what was that about.

And then it struck me that I had read about it in the Hindu paper, that  a piano teacher being caught abusing his student in Kalkaji. I asked Hem if he was talking of that incident. At that moment when I read about it, I thought of R- what a coincidence. I of course was not thinking of him as an abuser, but I just thought that he was the only piano teacher that I knew of in Kalkaji. But then I consoled myself thinking that hopefully there would be others, and it is not him. Now what Hem was telling me confirmed that indeed it was R!

It is sad. The world of Hindustani music is rife with teacher-student abuse, which has stifled many a career and many a relationship. ( There have been instances when teachers have married their students, but that is not an instance of abuse) But a man in his forties abusing or exploiting a child. I do not know how quickly the prosecution worked but they gave him ten years in jail. I thought for a moment, what would happen to him after those ten years and what about his family?

And then what about the child who suffered? What would be the consequences of this on her? And what if there would be more children, who could not raise their voices against him? Would there be someone to support her traumatic experience? I am sure it would have taken a lot for her to express her suffering.

The sad thing is that when people known to you do anything, your faith in humanity is shaken for a moemnt and then the whole anger which each of us has against the systemic abuse- finds a target. I feel no sympathy for R. In fact, I feel more for his wife and family. What a suffering they would have to go through socially. Like we always say, letting go of every abuser only emboldens them further- it is about time some were punished. Even if those some be people of our own associations and families. It is about time.

Here is a related post about the same incident, on another blog.

 

Caregiver’s stress or psychiatric emergency

On Saturday, the past week, a woman in her early forties, came with her mother and child to see me. The person who needed a counseling intervention was her mother, who came in with a deeply disturbed state of mind. I felt her inner fabric had been suddenly jolted due to a shock and catapulted her into a state from which she could not recover, with her own means.

According to the description of the daughter initially, and later corroborated by the mother herself, possibly two significant events in her life had lead to that. In the distant past, she had lost her spouse, in 2009, which possibly triggered off a grief which could not be duly addressed, or if it was it was not assimilated properly. However, the lady lived a fairly active life despite that, with one of her other daughters, in Bombay. In the recent past, the daughter who accompanied her to meet me, moved from Bombay to Goa, with her family, in response to her husband’s need for better work prospects. That set off another degree of anxiety in her heart, which remained unarticulated.

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All of a sudden the daughter became unwell (she had a bipolar diagnosis) due to adjustment stress in a new situation, whilst otherwise she had been quite stable for long years and off medication of any sort. The news of her daughter falling sick made the mother panic, and her anxiety took a turn for the worse- pushing her off the brink and rattling her fragile balance significantly.

When she came to meet me, for her daughter thought the next intervention required would be counseling/therapy, her discomfort and constant talk made me immediately decide that this was not someone who needed counseling support but immediate relief from her ‘symptoms’. The talk was ceaseless, she was frantic, tearful, anxious, repetitive, and kept saying that she would not take any medicine. The daughter was trying her level best to seek out any intervention that would work for her. I decided within five- seven minutes of listening to her that she would not have any effect of counseling, and requested her to take homeopathy, which she had been taking earlier as well.  But it had not been effective of late. I even referred my own doctor to them, lest their doctor have a limited repertoire, which is mostly the case with homeopathy. Before coming to meet me they had tried other ‘treatment’ options of reflexology, possibly reiki and other things.

I called up my doctor and also made her talk to him, and requested him to intervene, give a prescription which would be followed here in Goa. This is not something that we do frequently- because every doctor needs to meet their patients face-to-face. Doctor sa’ab was kind enough to relent, seeing the lady hysterical, and reporting lack of interest in anything in life, suicidal ideas, and several other indicators.

However , the catch in the whole picture was that she kept saying, that, if my daughter (indicating to the woman with her) comes back to Bombay I will be fine. This was a peculiar situation, because her deepest attachment seems to be with her daughter who is already married with a child of her own. The mother is so deeply attached to her, that it is almost like a parasitic attachment.

They stayed with me for over an hour, but since I had decided earlier, I did not put a bill on the exercise. What is the point of taking money when the recipient is not ready for what you have to offer- I cannot be a mercenary like a ‘professional’ if I remain untouched by human suffering, and focus just on the money that my practice can bring me. The more I thought about it, the more ethical I thought my decision was. Of course I could have told them to leave quickly, but considering they had come a long way, I just let them stay and talk about how to go about it and of course explaining to the daughter the medicines the doctor  had prescribed, since it was me who had spoken to him not her.

The Next Action

Today is Monday, and according to me today the whole routine would have fallen in place. However the daughter called me up today before noon and said her mother was refusing to take the medicines and had gone back to her earlier prescription of homeopathy. She reported a further hardening in the head and was unstoppable. I felt anguished to hear that. I had seen the mother to be a headstrong lady and I could see she was making it difficult for everyone around her to deal with the situation and only making it worse, in every possible way.

That brought to mind the last resort of psychiatry. I thought there was no option but to sedate her to calm her down. It is a very sad thing when I myself have to recommend psychiatric medication to anyone, because I try the best that nobody should be pushed into it. But if there is no alternative left and the person is adamant, what else can the family do? Her behavior must be causing a great deal of stress to her daughter also, poor girl, who was bravely facing it, both in front of her husband and in front of her mother- keeping a calm exterior.

I thought for the time being the best option was to anyhow medicate the lady and help her calm down. Over time when things stabilize and she has had some sleep due to sedation, possibly she would look for other ways to deal with her stresses and the triggers. For now her franticness would only make others spiral into the same. Her daughter said she was herself thinking of the same, as nothing else seemed to be working for now. In other words, the difficulty a family faces, pushes a person into forcible psychiatric intervention. The only trick is that at a suitable time the person has to be weaned away from psychiatric medication, because psychiatrists themselves will never prescribe it!

On that note we parted over the phone- me with a resignation that only when people are willing to get well and be compliant to recommendation of any sort, does an intervention work. Some people make difficult patients- they resist everything, for they know the better of it. I cannot but feel sorry when people have to be administered psychiatric medication, but I always hope that it would be a short term measure. Of course if the patient is complying, like me myself, homeopathy can work very well.

I do not see any recourse except for a devious manner of giving the medication or per force- which actually amounts to a human rights abuse. So that brings in the ethical dimension, as well as the dilemma- what could have been done alternatively? What can be done now? I am not sure today and I leave this post with this query.

Everyone will have a different response to this situation, but how does one decide. I do not know if they will come back to me, because they need not. But I will be around to support them in future, if they choose to. The mother certainly needs counseling to help her deal with the sense of loss that she is suffering from, and to help her focus on what is present in her life, rather than clinging on to adult children, who need to fly away from the nest, towards greener pastures.

I also hope that the daughter would not be unduly troubled by her mother’s suffering, as it creates a scope for her own suffering to surface once again.

On the last note, I am also wondering whether the mother’s suffering is not another face of the caregiver’s burden of looking after a child with bipolar and being tuned to her needs in an obsessive, fussing manner. But there is no way to find out about that, because I had no time to talk to them about their life together. Only this much could be ascertained within the scope that we had, once I felt it would not be proper to dig further into her psychic matrix. Whether this is an ’empty nest’ syndrome, a psychiatric emergency or another form of caregiver’s hyper-reaction to her daughter’s situation, piercing through her own frame, it is difficult to ascertain at this stage.

Therapy is not common sense- trust me

If everything could be achieved by common sense communication, then people would easily learn a few skills and resolve all their problems. But that rarely happens.  A vast array of problems start from communications, but to solve those problems we cannot often fall back on our own communication skills or abilities only.

People, particularly in India, often have a mistaken notion that someone who is therapist/counselor is talking from common sense and giving advice based on their intelligence. Yes, I agree, it seems like that, but reality is that is never the case. Let me start by saying that whoever has whatever level of intelligence, they have reached there in a complex distillation of ideas, study, immersion and of course years of work in the field.

I am giving this prelude to a recent encounter with a family that I want to talk about. It was the brother who approached me through a social network, upon seeing my work in mental health in some way. He asked me a few things and over time that set the ball rolling. His concern was for his older sister, a woman in her early thirties, who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In due course when I traveled to Delhi, they came nearly 300 kms to meet me, all the way from UP.

The woman, let us call her Sarita, came energetically and seemed charged with ideas, and full of enthusiasm and verve. I could see she was excited, and ‘high’ in some way. I would not want to see this ‘high’ as a psychotic high but there was a case of being sure of one’s self, and a bit of grandiosity- what would be seen as the classical ‘symptoms’ of a disturbance in the psychological wellbeing of a person. However, I never want to look at people through the lens of pathology or illness and therefore despite seeing the ‘symptoms’, which were truly subtle, I noticed her emotional fragility, anger and inner disturbance. After all I am not a peer for nothing, if I cannot discern how subtle the emotional fabric is.

At the end of the dialogue, which lasted a good two hours, I figured that the young lady had come to take a clean chit from me, that she did not have a mental illness and therefore did not require medication. Of course, I do not believe that anyone requires medication. But to move away from that stage where you do not have to take medication, you have to be cognizant  enough to move into the behavioural domain. I mean to say, that certain behaviours of those who are classified ‘mentally ill’ is ‘not normal’ by the standards of those around them. That is why they are taken to a professional- psychiatrist, therapist or counselor, or any other doctor.

Each one of these professionals acts in accordance with their  training. A psychiatrist believes that the ‘symptoms’ are due to a chemical imbalance and if the proper chemical is given, the person will become ‘normal’ or ‘fine’. Psychologists come with various kinds of training but they are mostly informed by the same set of principles as psychiatrists, especially those who go through clinical psychology courses.

I have a diploma in counseling. But more significantly also a lived- illness/recovery experience, to fall back on.  I fall back on my lived experience based knowledge pretty regularly to understand the suffering of others. People, like me, often work in the domain of social psychology and self experience puts my knowledge at an altogether different level. I am not arrogant about it, but trying to capture the difference. Just imagine a dentist who has never known a toothache. How can they understand the pain of a patient? Contrast that with a dentist who has had dental caries, been through root canal treatment, got a tooth extracted in teenage and has two cavities. How much more the latter would know about the suffering of their patient?

The Story I was referring to…

Coming back to Sarita’s story. After one set of dialogues the duo went back. There was a lot of friction with the father and that seemed to be a dominant motif that emerged. The younger brother played the balancing role in the family. Sarita was happy that I was willing to look at her beyond the psychiatric label of schizophrenia. After that assurance, she was sure that she did not need any medication, which in any case, she had been flushing down the commode.

A few days later, she befriended me on the social network, and I noticed a sudden spike in her activity. In a way Facebook serves me very well, especially for watching what is going on in the lives of those I counsel or generally engage with, because it warns me if something is going wrong. (I recently also caught another friend getting into the spiral of PTSD, and warned her, told her to go to sleep calmly for a few days. It seems she tided over that. She her admitted to all the ‘symptoms’ that I had seen, which made me raise the question with her in the first place). I found her trailing me on every forum and posting her own posts there, by joining a whole lot of fora where I was involved. I found this a very unusual behaviour and I asked her brother, if everything was ok.

He informed me that things were not good and Sarita was too excited about a certain new thing in her life. She was going on talking about it to everyone, in a manner which raised suspicion about her. I told him, to tell her to talk to me, if she would like to. She did, through a facebook or WhatsApp message! In what way can a professional help a client via a message?

Few days later, on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day, I sent a message to her brother again, hoping all was well. It wasn’t. Sarita was clearly ‘high’ by now and aggressive, offensive and charging her family, particularly father, with all sorts of things. All my exchange happened with the younger brother alone, via messages only. When it seemed she would not be interested in counseling, I told him to seek recourse to psychiatry, which I inevitably know, would forcefully drug her, sedate her and possibly give her ECT. I shudder to think of that!

The brother understood what the way out was, since the sister was unwilling to talk to me, or seek any insights into her life, or have any other way, but her own. She left a job that I had encouraged her brother to help her hold on to, because she wanted to float her own entrepreneurial venture. I told him how to win her over take up the government job, as she was adamant, that it was beneath her dignity to do so.

Upon my recommendation, the brother took her to the psychiatrist and sure enough, the forcible drugging, the sedation and the ECTs followed suit. Families will never know how they become the chief arm of psychiatric coercion and the biggest reason why people become permanently disable due to mental health conditions, that they can easily recover from. What could I have done in this case, even if the brother trusted me completely to guide them? If the person who needs to talk to me, and understand the situation does not understand it herself, what recourse can the family take?

My advice to any family would come from two options. One is the biomedical way, which is often forcible and therapy/counseling. The latter is difficult, and requires patience. No matter what medication they take, if you do not want to incapacitate your loved one for the rest of their life, they will have to seek therapeutic guidance and support, to deal with their situation/s. If you forcibly medicate them or give them ECT (which should be made illegal immediately), you are actually infringing on their human rights. Yes, you got it right- it is a human rights violation, which you are committing within your own home, with your own loved one. Sorry to say that, if it hurts your sense of justice, but I cannot fool you or me about this.

How could therapeutic work have proceeded after the first meeting with Sarita?

Ideally the first meeting is where anyone assesses a situation. You hear the two points of view or sometimes even one person, if they have come alone. First meeting or even a few meetings should be the ground that people have to understand one another. Entering into therapy is entering into a relationship and both people need to know another. Would you not like to know who your therapist is after all?

In family counseling it is always better to listen to everyone and talk to everyone concerned, because ultimately everyone in the family is impacted by one person’s condition, whatever it is. Narrative therapy goes even a step further to include even the next level of people, and open dialogues mean involving even the kinsmen!

In the subsequent meetings, one sets an agenda for action and a modus operandi. No therapy work cannot get over in one, two or three meetings. Often it takes many a meeting with clients, for someone to truly understand where the roots of suffering lie in their life.

In Sarita’s case, this could have happened-

  1. Sarita could stay in touch with me and talk to me, not more than once in two-three weeks. That would really help us understand what is going on in her life, which causes her frustrations and anguish, and which periodically boils up as temper tantrums and then accusations against her parents.
  2. The way to deal with any behavioural issue is to address the behaviour directly. I increasingly prefer to bring families into dialogues early, so that whatever we are talking with one person, could be known to others who would help in accomplishing the goals of that one person. Often family communications are deeply fractious due to forcible handling of psychiatric crises. Families need help with talking to one another gently, without causing further rifts.
  3. Ultimately, it is Sarita’s journey towards her individuation and she needs to understand that whatever expressions she has to express her anger, frustration and moods is not working with others around. She would have to develop a more reasonable and non-threatening communication which does not make her family and herself a social nuisance and laughing stock. Part of the anguish of her brother stems from this responsibility towards his parents and neighbours.
  4. Any journey towards finding one’s balance takes time. Most will not even attempt it in their lifetime. Only the ones who are deeply fractured seem the most appropriate ones to require a therapeutic dialogue. In reality everyone needs help, support and guidance.
  5. Equally as much as Sarita, her family needs the support, help and collaboration. That is why family therapy is the need of the hour, not individual therapy.
  6. Assuming that a client like Sarita would speak with me once a month, it will easily take her between two -three years to understand her issues in a more clear way. Though it may seem a lot, but what is two/three years compared to a life of psychiatric medication and who knows how much disability due to them? I must add here, that every meeting between a therapist and their client, has long term effects. So though once a month may seem very small a time, in reality it has a long lasting effect, almost like a butterfly effect, which touches many chords in their lives.
  7. In family therapy literature, it is said that within 20 sessions, most outcomes of a long term nature, would emerge. I agree with this. (In due course if we can create reflecting teams, that would be even more empowering and faster). 20 sessions can happen over a couple of years…is that not truly remarkable? I am not sure India is ready for it yet! Sad, but this is what I am seeing from multiple families.

What follows are some general ideas about therapy-

  1. Till those who are given mental illness diagnosis do not feel the need to seek help to change their outcomes, no change can happen with a dialogue between any member of their family and a counselor, like me. I have seen many a person in a family wanting to bring their loved ones for counseling, but find that they do not have enough trust between one another, to accomplish that!  It is truly sad for them.
  2. Therapy is not a day long affair. It is a reflection on our lives and how we have come a long way, with our behaviours. Therapy does not mean I am a therapist and you are a patient. Therapy is your attempt to heal yourself through dialogue and understanding that emerges from it, by learning to look at your life in a more balanced, philosophical and calmer way.
  3. Therapy means someone is helping you change your behaviour and assisting you become what you always wanted to- by holding your hand, while you gain that wisdom. It is not about guiding you at all. It is about letting you become the expert in your own life. But until you want to change your behaviour, nothing about your life can ever change.

Caregivers can change outcomes in mental illnesses

Having seen the outcomes of many recovery stories and even non-recovery ones, the one thing that becomes clear is that if assisted positively and non-intrusively, many people can recover even from serious mental illnesses.

So why does it not happen more often? The one likely thing that comes to mind is that mental illness triggers off due to some contribution from the family environments- like it or not. Perhaps this is the most difficult idea to digest.  But if we can stomach it, and be willing to reflect upon what they could have done or wrongly so, then many things can change.

With this in mind, I work in therapy with people- I mean families, and with the same idea, I decided I ought to reach out to a wider number of people. But instead of choosing to keep the knowledge offered as part of the course, only a function of my own knowledge, why not spread the net wider and bring in many others, who have been working in mental health with a similar or same commitment as me, and trying to diminish the burden of human suffering, wherever possible.

With this idea as a background I decided to do two things- first of all create a framework of ideas and then a resource base of ‘experts’. Honestly speaking, perhaps neither of these ‘experts’ would claim themselves to be as such, and this is not to judge their knowledge and represent it in the same way as the positivist tradition does- for measuring expertise by degrees and professions. My only basis for classifying them as ‘experts’ is the number of years they have been working in the field and the orientation they carry- recovery and rehabilitation from mental illnesses.

As yet this orientation has not gained salience in India, unlike some Western countries- and therefore these people have not been seen as such either. But I hope with this course now in the public domain, more people will recognize the reality that mental illnesses can be a thing of the past, if more people take heart, families change their attitudes and supportive behaviours. This is one of the key advantages of being in relatively poorer countries- that our family systems are quite intact. So why not assist them in augmenting what is already present, rather than aping Western models and walk towards our own annihilation via their pharma enterprises.

Here is the first Caregivers’ Online Course, that I have been referring to as part of this blog post. And I feel relieved at last to have come to this clearing- there is so much water under the bridge, from making the website, to getting the experts to collaborate, structure, and now the next challenge- to ensure its viability and efficacy.

Seeing the Full Elephant- Spirit, Science, Religion and Psychosis  

I am writing this piece in a general way so that even if you do not understand any of the disciplines that I am borrowing ideas from, you would be able to understand what I am talking about. This is my offering to you on these different, seemingly divergent issues- which flummox people on many sides of life (parents, doctors, social scientists, patients, religious followers, lay public, and scores of others), for they are not able to see beyond their disciplinary/experiential boundaries. To comprehend better, what I am about to share, kindly suspend any judgment about who I am or how qualified to write this. Just enjoy the writing, for whatever it is trying to share. (Since I will take several hours in writing it, with a view to shed more light on unconnected areas, I urge you to spend at least a few minutes, reading with some patience). I am annotating this writing with scores of resources, for you to refer- for I am not just writing from self experience, but self experience fortified by ideas and wisdom gleaned from the work of scores of people across the globe. This is not to suggest that I am the wise one here, but in bringing these ideas to you, I hope we will all grow from the possibilities that they open out for dialogues.

Birth Onward

I am going to start with the birth of a child. Recall that the process of birth itself is a dangerous, potentially perilous and fearsome journey, because a living entity from a primitive, borne in water form (just like the start of life on the planet earth, in water) comes into an aerial medium, through a birth canal- it can die in that process, the mother can die, the reasons for threat are many. The birth is a big triumph for so many and for the birthing mother is considered a second life. It is a big trauma- though not for all. So the state of trauma can come early- let us remember that. We know of many women who during the birth process have near death experiences, show signs of PTSD, as well. The same signs will come later in life when suddenly exposed to other traumas- rape, victimization of any sort, violence of a man made nature, natural calamity that threatens life, war, drowning, and etc etc.

Any child soon after being born is a creature of pure instinct- there is no reason,  judgment, or boundary. When there is an instinct for hunger it may cry, when it wants to ease its bowel or bladder, it does not wait for the appropriate location- it just follows its instinct and wants to ease that pressure. So that is the state when the ego, is in a primitive, undifferentiated stage- it does not recognize anyone, anything and so forth. In this state, since it has emerged from an amniotic environment, it can only connect with its mother, in a parasitic (helpless) dependence. Recall here the idea of id-ego-superego, given by Freud.

The next stage is the development of the ego stage- it starts differentiating between it’s self and another, family and outsiders and so forth. If you recall psychology is the discipline that wants to start seeing from an early stage how the mind learns, trains and starts getting ready for a role in society, someday in the future. Most development of the ego remains just that- attachment, connection, identification with self. So if you recall, people who are called egoistic are those who think that they matter the most or what they have to say matters the most, their own knowledge, or sense of self is very heightened. So anyhow the field of psychology is all about studying the path of this development and where it goes off its set path. What is the set path of anyone? If you recall the work of Freud, for him the stages of development of every human are so significant that he reduces everyone to their libidinal instincts only and psychoanalysis comes to center around the early years of a person’s life- and trying to identify the present, using the yardsticks of the past. There is something right about this and something wrong.

Just like they say a mighty oak hides inside a little acorn– the potential of each human lies inside it’s body- but nobody can see where it hides- it has to go through its own maturation, its unique experiences and become a special person, different from everyone, different from the ones who created it. This potential is different for everyone- just like any species. From the birth if someone follows a path of becoming who they are destined to, which is given as potential, this path is called the path of individuation (Jungian terminology). But often it is not easy to follow the path, in a linear manner. Everyone faces hardships of one or another kind, the path is not exactly laid down like a blueprint- it changes in response to external stimuli all the time. On the path many hurdles lie for everyone, and sometimes the hurdles can be extremely painful too, like loss of a mother, accident and loss of a limb, sudden disabling condition, war, calamity, physical violence, abusive family or anything else- the possibilities are innumerable. That changes the path of individuation and a person like a plant has to undergo many a season, many a mishap if it has to survive till an older situation. When these mishaps and traumas do not get addressed at the time when they occur people do not get over their impact, or they may be unable to express them, for they do not understand what happened. For instance take the case of a child who faces an abusive/incestuous adult at home. All these sufferings, these lack of expressions come to lie hidden in a person thereafter, and keep getting added to other suffering, which life necessarily brings.

C.G. Jung and Analytical Psychology

According to Jung, a person’s potential is not a sexual template but a spiritual one- and he tells us that the whole of human history lies coded in every person- called the collective unconscious, with which we have no regular communication, except through dreams and symbols. Those symbols are not such convenient ones like the logo of Coke/Pepsi. They lie hidden mid folds of stories that are handed down in every culture- through its mythology, fables and fairy tales. He also shares that the reason why mythology acquires any significance via gods and goddesses is not because they were real beings, but they were chosen to carry forward the messages that a culture wanted to transmit, about itself for generations ahead, through simple stories. They are patterns of behavior, which are chosen to be identified as desirable or noteworthy and made an example of.  So the power of a story in mythology does not lie in the story itself, but in its interpretation.[1] Joseph Campbell did some remarkable work in the area of mythology by studying the mythology of scores of peoples across the world and then he wrote many a book, for me personally a great book- The Hero with a Thousand Faces (life changing book as I see it). The essence of the book was that he brought together any number of stories from around the world to harbor on the fact that the HERO is not one person (only)- he can have a million forms, faces and voices. But ultimately every ‘hero’ (that potentially lies in every human as his/her unique potential) has to go through a big circle of suffering, losing his way, whiling his time, getting a reminder of who he is and then making the labourious journey of finding a way back into the world, with the learning gathered, and if possible, offer that to others. This pattern in every story of a mythic dimension is what Campbell calls the monomyth. It runs through any mythic story,(or any human’s story) from anywhere in the world.

If, at this juncture, you may be reminded of the story of Siddhartha, who is born a prince- goes on a difficult path because his allure for life has been jolted. He sees the possibility of death, suffering, old age and whatever else it was, to realize that everyone will go that way. If you have read the road he takes, he followed no footprints- his is a search, often a perilous one, for he can even die in the process. But he does not- he survives, become the Buddha, and returns back to civilization- to offer that method to others.

The Underworld

That is the method which all those, who makes a descent into what Jung calls the ‘underworld’ (not the one of gangsters/mafia, but one’s own unconscious mind) have to take by default. Those who have long years of depressions, who have nightmares of gigantic proportions, who see great suffering for one reason or another-  descend into a land which inspires fear, where nobody would want to go out of choice. Descent into this underworld may be a one way road for most, because they do not know how to integrate the experiences of that world with the day-to-day reality of living. Their entry into the underworld may be a result of a suicide attempt, a rape, a war, a family violence, a poor exam performance, a divorce or anything else. They become lost, fearful, worried, confused, anxious and bothered. Seemingly simple things like accidents, family violence, bullying at school, dominating adults in the family , untimely  loss of a parent, or anything else that makes a child insecure can much later in life manifest in a sudden descent of the spirit.

I am now going to bring this descent of the spirit, into a contrast with its ascent, due to sudden equally unexpected situations, in a format possibly unfamiliar to many- the serpent power in the subtle body.

The Game of Consciousness- from self to the transpersonal realm

Let me make this transition via the theme of the collective unconscious lying dormant inside every person. In the yoga tradition there is a similar thing- called the kundalini– lying dormant inside everyone. The important thing is that traditions of antiquity have methods to evoke experiences of kundalini (and kundalini -like experiences, including among the natives, the medicine men/shamans and among those who are not averse to a little intoxication via natural opiates. Also recall in this context the issue of drug induced psychosis) and they are meant to be done under the watchful guidance of those who know. But are such knowing guides really so accessible? I have seen many ‘spiritual masters’ who talk about Shaktipat, or about kundalini yoga and whatnot quite laughable, rest assured. Anyways this is not to lampoon anyone. The idea that I am coming to is that there is something called- kundalini, [2]the serpent power, said to lie dormant in every person, at the base of their spine in a form of a coiled serpent (I am not going to give an explanation but hints about many things- read more if you want to). I am not going to get into the debate about whether there is something like kundalini or not, because it does not matter to me. I really do not care about kundalini, as much as I do not care about the electricity coming into my home. If it is an asset to me, I like to honor its presence, when it goes off, then I have something to worry about.

In some cases, this kundalini ‘wakes up spontaneously’- and it runs through the spine in an upward direction. (Even if you do not believe this, just keep reading.) It is a very powerful energy and can unsettle everything in a person- for there is no explanation what happened, how it happened, where the trigger came from and what it means, how one has to behave now, who to talk to. If, of a powerful enough dimension- it may lead to psychosis- then you see all those ‘symptoms’ called grandiosity, running helter-skelter, flight of imagination, racing thoughts, inability to focus and …(please read DSM if you like). But this term ‘psychosis’ is the terminology of psychiatry- based on the outwardly visible ‘symptoms’.

What happens in reality is this- (okay this is self experience speaking now)- a powerful electrical current becomes present in the body, and it keeps the body in a faint vibration, like a hum; just a little more powerful than the one that you may experience upon being intoxicated. Now what happens with alcohol is that after awhile the intoxication comes down and the person is ‘restored’ to normalcy, whatever it had to be. But in case of kundalini/psychotic upheaval the sensation does not get over- it just stays. It makes a person ‘extroverted’, happy, as though intoxicated, carefree and of course expansive- one wants to share this strange sort of ‘happiness’ with others, but does not know how to say it, in what words and whether they cannot see it as well.

Remember this is the so-called divine potential unleashed in a person who is not ready for it; just like a wire that suddenly has a huge voltage passing through it, but was not expecting it. I must refer you to the writing of Swami Rama here, in particular when he refers to the similarity between the manic and the mystic (Book: Yoga and Psychotherapy, Himalayan Institute)

Religious traditions train their neophytes in various ways and by severe disciplines for any such process to happen- by training their mind, senses, body and thought processes. But awakening the kundalini is not considered necessary by any stretch of imagination, among the truly spiritual. The training of the mind for action without reward is considered more important. (If interested please read Kundalini- by Gopi Krishna). On the other hand, you may be aware that there are several unscrupulous people who want to use the ‘divine’ potential in ‘ugly’ ways- the tantriks etc.

The issue of kundalini that I understood finally is that kundalini is the cosmic consciousness lying inside everyone – a coiled serpent, at the base of the spine. So psychosis is nothing but the spontaneous awakening of the divine potential and a person coming to understand that though s/he is a body , there is also a bigger picture- s/he is also a fragment of the divine. That makes initially (or permanently) people go berserk- because they can see their cosmic potential and believe that –I am god/Jesus/the Saviour etc etc (aham brahmasmi).  We in India know that Aham Brahmasmi comes from the Upanishads, into our traditions. In other words the Upanishads are testimony that though man is a mirror of a cosmic maker, yet there is a path of knowledge and virtue that needs to be followed in order to truly awaken the cosmic potential. Now the Upanishads are the highest knowledge of the Indian civilization that is agnostic or perhaps predates religion. There is no religion in the vedic age- but nature worship. So the human is one with his natural element and through that expresses every aspect of life. Moving away from nature, if you can connect the dots, moves people from their natural and easy selves to their unnatural/cosmetic/dis-eased selves!

The greater issue is that even if the cosmic potential awakens spontaneously, it cannot be utilized unless the person learns to harness it. It is like saying that you have a huge voltage passing through yet you cannot handle the charge- so the body breaks down, the mind breaks down and it causes ‘madness’ . In this case psychiatry enters and says it can handle something that it does not even recognize as such- where are the tools in psychiatry to understand the ‘subtle body’ in which this so-called ‘divine’ potential resides, there is a whole array of nadis, the three dominant ones being ida, pingala and sushamana? I am not accepting anything or rejecting anything. I am simply putting the facts in front, as I have understood in over two decades of my own studies and research.(in fact in Gopi Krishna’s book, there is an explanation about why the wives of Krishna are said to be 16,000 or whatever their number is. That coincides with the number of nadis a person has). I must add that the entire spiritual traditions of India provide subtle and gross references to these things, in different ways. I of course found my anchor in Kabir there, because he was the one master who wrote very clearly about it, without really revealing anything, to those who could not understand. (The more difficult task after the spontaneous awakening is to ‘earth’ the kundalini, otherwise it will make you mad permanently- nobody can handle it. There is a great book in this context- After the ecstasy, the laundry. Please read it in case you have had an experience of this nature. It talks about integrating the knowledge, which is more arduous than one can imagine. It takes years and years, or decades. Even then, there is no guarantee one would learn. In my own case it took me years and repeat incidents of ‘psychosis’ till the time a time came when I would not go into any psychotic breakdowns any more, but simply watch the ‘game’ like a game, and not be ruffled by it, not get hyper in any sense and just accept the polarity of the universe playing within, like the sun and the moon- and carry on my day to day, extremely tough and deliberately solitary life.

Those of you who are aware of the idea that the spiritual traditions recognize that this universe is nothing but consciousness, the human and divine just two aspects of it, will comprehend that there is nothing high or low about it. It simply IS- no judgement. A great amount of work in this realm has been contributed by Stanislav Grof and Cristina Grof- the former being a psychiatrist. What he has done is so remarkable that every psychiatrist needs to at least read it, if not dare to follow. He risked himself by becoming a subject for LSD research and experienced the play of consciousness physically and he writes about that in many books, including The Cosmic Game. Of course the book that I was first introduced to was the Stormy Search for the Self.

Grof could see the continuity in LSD research, the shamanic traditions of the world, psychosis and much else. His wife’s near death experience (NDE) during child birth, brought in the concept of PTSD, and became the reason for her to be involved in the same journey that led in due course to the Holotropic Breathwork technique they created and share internationally.  I also found identical ideas, during years of my own inquiry, in the Sudarshan Kriya, though I found it lacking in depth (which no doubt now it must be gaining due to being investigated in medical departments). There are more such things in every religious practice anywhere, where the focus lies on breath. As we all well know, hatha yoga of course begins there- pranayama is one of the first four tenets; prana- meaning life force energy that is manifest through the breath.

Bringing you back to Psychiatry

If you can see from my writing, the two people who contributed immensely to newer understandings, are Jung and Grof- both psychiatrists by training. Of course both created huge traditions, with thousands following in their ways and me learning from all. The Jungian method lead to the tradition of analytical psychology and Grof- transpersonal psychology.

I am now taking you to a different pole- where you get to see the birth of psychiatry itself! This is a very tricky place, because this is the realm of Charcot and France now- (please read Foucault’s –Madness and Civilization, if interested). Foucault shows how madness is ascribed to people who cannot express their suffering properly by a man, who is a powerful physician, who has a great social standing and prestige, and who has the guile to transform the inability of people to express their suffering coherently. So where they lack language, he puts in his own- he becomes their ‘representative’- his language is his representation of their suffering and in fact nothing but a ‘social representation’[3].

Have you ever noticed how socially marginalized people look up to those who they perceive as having a better social standing/class? They feel helpless and meek in front of them. They dare not oppose what the ‘rich’ say. In such a case if a poor wo/man would go in front of a rich person, and the rich person says, ‘you are an idiot’, the poor wo/man will accept it with resignation that the ‘rich’ man really knows better. (Please put this in the same location as poor and rich countries as well). So a rich man, who has close connect with the nobility goes around telling in his evening parties and soirees all about the patients he saw. (I really recommend you read how he is amused at discovering that ‘hysterial’ women are mostly those who are younger women married to older men. But he does not tell this to anyone- he just knows he has ‘figured out’ the roots of hysteria!!). You may know, like me, that many younger bahus in families, because they are periodically the subject of family oppression, show these signs. I also know this to be true for young girls who are not being allowed to marry the boys of their own choice.  If you marry them with the boys they want to, all ‘symptoms’ will instantly disappear! ( one must listen to Parvez Imam about the film he made in this context- yet another psychiatrist here).

So here we are now- back into real world – where the suffering of someone, coming from a huge history behind it, gets to be given a label of ‘mental illness’. By-the-bye, just in case you do not know, Charcot was also one of the early influences of Freud, who in turn influenced Jung. In other words, they were all looking at human behavior and trying to comprehend the reasons for the so-called ‘abnormal’ behaviours. That is why through psychoanalysis and talk-based interventions their hope was that people would be able to go back into their unconscious mind, where their traumas and suffering lay hidden, and possibly in the presence of a person trained to help, be able to get past those traumas.

Anyways, by the time the DSM came into its third version, this behavior-oriented psychiatry was abandoned in favour of the biomedical view, because now the pharma industry wanted to have a fair share of people’s suffering. So psychiatry became a tool for the pharma industry to ‘sell’ cures that simply were not there- in what manner can psychiatry deal with the suffering of a child whose mother committed suicide at age eight, other than stamp her with a schizophrenia diagnosis at age 17, 19 or 22? I strongly recommend two books[4] at this juncture. Ethan Watters[5] talks about the DSM and how it is ‘sold’ to the world by America and another book called Mad Science- Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis and Drugs. Both are researched and written in the US.

What happens to people in ‘poor’ countries

The fact of lives in poor countries is that their poverty is not just  chance or destiny ordained by the heavens above. They are the unfortunate bearer of the progress of the rich countries- to the extent that now they are so poor in so many ways that even ‘knowledge’ does not reach them. So if the research that I have quoted above were to happen in India (first of all it cannot happen in India, because the sort of data that has been quoted here, would never be available), it would be kept so ‘hidden’ from the public eye that nobody would know.

There is a ‘culture of silence’ at work in poorer countries- anyone who opposes/questions anything (coming from the dominant West) is marginalized or made to look like an idiot or a threat to society. It is very easy to silence someone by making them ‘invisible’ or ‘inaudible’. Most people would not have access to the sort of books it takes to arrive at any real, paradigm shifting knowledge.

The knowledge that is effectively handed out in our universities and institutions, (especially in departments of psychology etc) is all second hand knowledge that is disseminated from the West, repackaged in Indian syllabi and taught to students as though it is the last word. Students memorize theories and ideas and spit them out in exams and become ‘qualified’ to heal others (naturally I am talking in terms of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists etc). If there is any other form of ideas they are derived from quantitative studies that do not examine the differences, diversities and individual realities of people’s subjective experiences.

Where does that leave anyone?

You may have heard of the story of the blind men looking at the elephant. In case you have forgotten here is a great link to remind its metaphor- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant. The symbolism of this story is so significant that it is used in various parts of the world with minor variations.

What my theme from the beginning of this ‘essay’ has been to share with all of you, those ideas which come from such diverse directions that unless you are aware of them, anyone will take a great amount of time to land there unexpectedly. I have spent nearly 23 years of my life to attain this connectivity, coupled with much writing, dabbling in music, encounters with holy men, wise wo/men, sadhus, monks, academics, ‘ill’ people and whatnot to come to this mental and linguistic ‘clearing’ that I can offer you some of these ideas, in this manner. The rest is for you to see, what interests you, makes sense or not, may be it is all nonsense for some.

In the end it is my hope that given the manner in which I have brought all these divergent ideas into a convergent sort of a frame- where the journey of the aggrieved person is not a mental illness but a quest for wholeness, I hope many would be able to help others who they encounter where they do. And I on my part am getting ready for the next phase of my life- in sharing/teaching the path that I have discovered, so that many more heroes will come, in their various faces, voices and contours and each heroes journey will contribute to the overall good of the world.

Thank you for reading till this point. I offer you another linked piece of my writing that I never really wrote fully, but the theme was identical. Kindly click this link for it – https://www.academia.edu/4923393/Madness_as_Search_for_Authenticity

Last, though not the least- I will be thankful for any feedback/comments, but only on blogposts, where they will last longer, and not on email please.

[1] I invite you to read the myth of the churning of the ocean, from the Hindu tradition, as per my interpretation and relevance to the modern time- http://merakabir.blogspot.in/2009/07/mythology-of-churning.html

[3] Social representation is an idea in social psychology, according to which every one who represents himself or another is making a social representation. The representation of someone’s suffering by another, by changing the language of their suffering, into one’s own (medical or specialized) language is nothing but another such act.

[4] In case anyone of you cares to come by to my home, you can see/read them for yourself.

[5] Here is a blog post that shares a few resources as well- https://inprateeksha.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/making-madness-uniform-and-global-the-american-way/

Ordinary Life Therapy

I encountered the work of Carina Hakanson a few months ago via her very beautiful and simple book, simply titled- ordinary life therapy. Upon encountering this video I thought there is no way I cannot share it with those who would not have access to her book.

Help Seeking Behaviour

Just look at the picture that is part of this post- there is a prayer on in someone’s compound, in front of their home. Many people are there- family, friends, neighbours and so forth. These things happen commonly all around the world- people come together for shared occasions, and help one another, organize a whole lot of activities in their homes. Nobody does anything alone. It is a circle of help and everyone helps everyone else- even a small help like informing everyone in the neighbourhood is help for the family that is organizing a prayer meeting of this nature.2014 002

Help Seeking Behaviour

I am trying to illustrate something about help seeking behaviour here- which I intend illustrating with examples from my personal experiences. Help seeking behaviour is considered an important attribute in psychology because it is a form of behaviour which is part of the social nature of a human. Man is not an island so whatever we do, we require other humans around us. Illness is a particularly difficult case because during illness the ability of a person is reduced by a significant amount to do what they would have been able to, had they not been ill. In that case help seeking is even more important.

But often I have noticed people do not seek help- out of shyness, out of a sense of dejection, rejection, hopelessness, helplessness, depression, immaturity or inflated ego. This is the greatest ignorance in my estimation. Or even if they ask for help, they do not want to follow what the other person is saying- they ask for help half-heartedly and even if someone offers suggestions, based on prior experience or knowledge, they are doubtful and suspicious about it.  I also find that people who have a mental illness diagnosis are the most reluctant to take or ask for help. I am going to illustrate this with a few examples.

I received the following letter from a (worried) parent-

Dear  mam,
I came to about u frm …Really hats up for the cause u r helping.Really many are ignorant about the remedies of mental illness.
My daughter, who  is B.tech. and serving in an IT co[mpan]y in …In Sept.`13 it started.Her frnds informed us as we are frm …Immediately i rushed and took her in spite of her unwillingness.She was diagnised as  suffering frm Shizophernia.Then i took her to Mumbai and now she has been under the treatment of …She is taking
one …and one …She is our only child .She was on leave for 6 months.After that i left my job and since her joining i`m staying with her.She is 26 yrs old.So we are searching for her marriage after consultation with Dr. Dr.is telling to stop above medicines after her marriage.But i`m apprehensive if after stopping medicine will she be able to be ok?If not it may affect her mrrg.
Can u guide stopping medicine after mrrg is acceptable?Is there any herbal treatment which i can start before mrrg discontinuing above med.She has become very slow.She is working out and doing yoga.
Can u help a helpless father .Is there any NGO in …on the similar line of activity ,who can guide us .I also want to consult Dr in … without going to Mumbai cause it`s too costly.But effectiveness can`t be comprosied.
I know u must be  very busy. Plz reply to help.

I wrote back the following-

Dear Mr. S
 
I am really happy that your daughter is very young- so she can be totally well and recovered and likely she does not need any medication. So if the doctor is saying so, believe it- often they give medicine as a precaution and then they see it is not required in the least…but do not want to admit that they made a mistake.
 
If you like to talk to me, please feel free to call me. The most important thing is to offer her counseling and strength to deal with day-to-day life issues, as a result she will be just fine. And in any case the single most important thing is there in your case, your commitment to your daughter’s welfare. Let me talk to both you and your daughter and if need be, I do not mind counseling her as well. Once i talk to her, i will know the truth very quickly- about what the root of the ‘illness’ is or was.
Sometimes young people, in particular, women suffer due to setbacks in matters of the heart, or an experience of being raped, molested, incest or a boss who is misbehaving but they do not have the ego strength to deal with it. I find that due to mobility and education though a lot of young women are there as part of the labour force they are quite emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually weak and vulnerable. Their milieu does not permit them any scope for mental growth, though they acquire degrees to fit professional roles.
As a result without a mind which is developed and matured commensurate with age, they just move from one stage to another and when any real challenge of life appears at any stage, they are simply not ready to handle it. This happens due to both marriage, as well as mobility into jobs and for jobs, to new places which may make them move away from the protective yolk of family support. This produces distress of various sorts, and they run to ‘professionals’ of various hues and shades. Now what can so-called professionals do? They have been through [seemingly organized and] long courses of understanding human suffering and putting medical labels on them. They identify a little cluster of symptoms and classify it as a mental illness, without telling anyone how they arrive at that classification.
Parents and families are so baffled by the medical terminology, facades and authoritativeness that they believe doctors are messiahs and they know everything. If only doctors knew the way out of mental illness, many millions of people would have recovered and got well- the way they do in Finland, where they emptied out psychiatric wards because of the sort of communications they had with the people and families.

Again the gentleman of the above communication, wrote the following-

Thanks for your quick response to my mail.I`m happy that you have agreed to counsel her as well as me.
Will u plz tell your suitable time(Indian time) for talk. Latest development , which has made the matter more
serious that yesterday my daughter`s manager  called her and told that she is under tremendous pressure
from the H.R.Deptt. to terminate her.Her manager has been kind enough to tell HR to give 3 months time 
for improvement.She has become very slow.
I had a feeling that her pathology was coming from her work environment somewhere and sure enough the evidence is there already. It may not be that this person calls up because sometimes, in India I find that people feel more comfortable talking face-to-face rather than long distance, without realizing that the best fit for you or the person who can really understand your case, is not always going to be the one next door. the whole reason that I encourage everyone to use modern technology, particularly the phone and internet to bridge distance of time and geography is to find the best matches spiritually and emotionally among professionals who can deal with your story, without affirming what another (psychiatrist) is saying.
This brings to mind the case of another young woman who called me  and said that she suffered from schizophrenia for the last 25 years! I asked her what medicines she took for it, and what the rest of the story was. In the first communication itself I told her we could draw a plan for her recovery and rehabilitation. She is an engineer, single woman, lives alone has several co-morbid conditions and whatnot. The only kin is a sister who lives faraway. She asked me if she could get well.
I always believe that people who seek solutions find one, so I see no reason she would not recover, because she wants to recover.- However, to seek solutions just within yourself is the greatest foolishness. We are social beings, we have to rely on our communications and our potentials for learning that come from our social milieu. Of course one can always run into those fair-minded professionals who do not view you from the lens of your pathology, but want to know what happened in your life, in your past, in your office, in your home, your childhood and whatnot. How people underestimate the power of communication- the only road that really relieves you of all the soul burden you carry. That is why as I put my enterprise on track, I have created a communications based one- Here is the website getting ready.
And I know that those who land up talking to me have really been the full course [of being treated by doctors and counseled by psychologists in many cases too] before they knock at my doors and they soon know the difference. I never coerce or even ask anyone to [even] pay, for often I understand that people cannot. Let them pay out of their own conscience if they feel they have benefited. The above woman (25 years case story) asked me how much I needed to be paid. I just told her, since she is not earning anything yet, we can always defer this. For me it is more important that she reclaims her life. Money that is mine will always come to me, in its own time. But let people live fully in the present- this is my offering to them.
This makes me want to share a little from a letter from another person who I collaborate with via our dialogues from England. He said, Suffice to say i though today’s session was a success. One of the parts that stuck in my mind was that I may be able to streamline my life and focus my interests on some productive areas. After I got off Skype I removed the huge piles of books that have been building around my flat and shelved them. Its not to say that I won’t look at them, I’m still fascinated by foriegn languages but I think I need to get things in their proper place. Later this evening I went out to the supermarket and instead of feeling stressed and anxious I felt calm and clear. I feel I need to discuss with you how and what I am able to pay you. Its hard to say at this stage (early days) but I think this may be just what I need. 
We all get what we want…provided we are looking for it- even the right therapist or collaborator. So why not learn to ask for the right person in the first place?
And then develop the mind to recognize them, for who knows in what form they could materialize? Na jaane kis roop mein narayan mil jaayein. (who knows in what form I may find god/what I am looking for)