In a sense, this new project began long before today. It started while I was interviewing the shaman and living with pre-industrial cultures. These were the experiences and insights that stuck with me, and have now become the catalyst for my current exploration: one that I hope provides a deeper understanding of our inner worlds.

In the more than 20 years I spent with these indigenous cultures, what I observed often challenged my reality.

In the Upper Amazon I was with the Huaranai shaman Mengatohue when he went into trance and asked the spirit of the Jaguar to guide his embattled tribe. In Mongolia, I stayed up all night watching Namid, a 70-year-old Darhat shaman, chant and drum until the mountain spirit helped her with the care of a young pregnant mother. In Siberia, near the Amur River, I visited the last four remaining shaman in the Nanai and Ulchi tribes — all women in their late eighties and early nineties who routinely called upon earth spirits to guide them in their work as healers and clairvoyants. These experiences, which you can read more about here on my blog, opened my mind to other spiritual beliefs.

Lindsa, Nanai Shaman

Lindsa, Nanai Shaman

To further provoke my curiosity, I noticed a fascinating shared experience amongst the shaman who I interviewed: the vast majority had suffered what we, in Western culture, refer to as a psychotic break from reality. This ‘break’ typically occurred in their adolescent or teen years. Their symptoms, including hearing voices, seeing visions, and having seizures, were deemed ‘gifts ’ as opposed to illness. Most were then taken aside by an older shaman or elder who mentored and nurtured them to become healers in their community or give guidance to the community at large.

Fascinated by this difference in cultural framing (psychosis vs gift), I was left with many questions that I’m excited to begin exploring today:

• Are these episodes mental disease or spiritual awakenings? If some are spiritual awakenings how does one make a differential diagnosis?
• In our culture, what are the most effective treatments, or supportive communities that an individual can turn to in order to get help?
• Do these individuals have special healing or predictive talents? If so, how could they use their gifts to contribute to our society?

Throughout this exploration we will be interviewing psychiatrists, depth psychologists, mystics, meditators, cultural anthropologists, neuroscientists, spiritual teachers, and shamanic practitioners working in our culture.

I will also be interviewing individuals who have experienced similar psychotic breaks. Next week you will meet one of these individuals, Adam, who had a psychotic episode right after his 20th birthday.

14 Responses to “Crazywise: Project Introduction”

  1. chris jordan

    Phil, how exciting to see this new place your work has evolved to. Sending you my lifelong love and gratitude for the inspiring depth of your practice as an artist. xo ~cj

    • Phil Borges

      Chris, thank you for your kind and generous words. I know have been working with a Shaman and would love to get together sometime soon to discuss your experiences. Please get in touch when you get a chance.

  2. iain jones

    Hi Phil, this is a fascinating truth pursuit. I look forward to your discoveries. I find our western culture so reductive in its approach to mental illness. A friend of mine has recently reminded me to look for the spiritual dimension in everyday life and not just seek a rational explanation. Happy digging!

  3. Laura Valenti Jelen

    Hi Phil, this is wonderful! I’m also fascinated by this topic. I thought I’d post a message to recommend the book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman. It’s a moving account of a H’mong child’s battle with epilepsy – and the conflicts that arise between her family/culture and the American medical establishment. Differing views on what disease is – and what spiritual awakening is – – very compelling. There has been research about mindfulness meditation and its positive effects on depression that is fascinating, as well. I meditate and have found it profoundly healing. I look forward to new installments in this project! Hope you are well, LVJ

    • Phil Borges

      Thanks Barbara! Please contribute your thoughts as we go along. Thanks for following! I look forward to hearing from you!

  4. Archie

    So glad you’re doing this amazing Thing!
    Planning to visit here often and sharing with you and dear friends

  5. Ava Maginnis

    Hi Phil, I have just watched a TED talk of yours and subsequently found your blog. I haven’t yet had a good read, but am very much looking forward to it. I went on a Vipassana 10 day retreat in the uk in 2011 and as a result had a psychotic episode. I was given medication, which I am still taking. I have had two further episodes at times when I have attempted to be medication free. Each episode has a quality of entering another state of consciousness. I have read about spiritual emergency and feel that my experiences embody some key aspects of a profound, but unmanageable spiritual experience. It is painful to think of the mentoring that I could have to help me in this process that is not readily available in this culture. However, it is inspiring and heart-warming to read of your work. Thank you for looking into this, I’m looking forward to reading on. With deep gratitude, Ava

  6. james

    i have watched your ted talk and have been reviewing your website ( love the photographs ) and i very much wanted to do some shaminc training. I was wondering if you could recommend anybody from your travels that would look at taking students?

    • Phil Borges

      James, Thanks, I’m glad you like my photographs.

      I don’t have contact with any of shaman from my travels. The best I can do is refer you to the CRAZYWISE resource page – there is a link for Shamanic Practitioners in the “Provider Directories” section. Perhaps you’ll be able to find someone that can help you from that list.


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