As a homeless person, Adam joins thousands of individuals on the street who have ended up there because of mental disturbances. It has been estimated that 6% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of severe mental illness and that up to 25% of the homeless population suffers from mental illness. What is it about our culture that makes it so difficult to find effective support for an individual going through an experience like Adam had?
In our last post Rachel mentions how western culture is so focused on a thriving economy that we have a hard time with the idea that we are connected and affected by a universal consciousness. She also made the good point that when someone like Adam has an undeniable urge to explore that idea, our society is not set up to accept the time and resources that journey could require.
I have been interviewing psychiatrists, cultural historians and spiritual leaders who have either had personal experience with or knowledge of episodes similar to Adam’s.
Sadhguru is an Indian yogi and mystic. He founded the Isha Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers yoga programs around the world. At twenty-five he had an experience while sitting on a rock on a hill in India. In his words,
“I was swept away by this completely new phenomenon within myself. All my life I thought that this body and everything that was inside it was me. Suddenly, I did not know which was me and which was not me. The air that I was breathing, the rock on which I was sitting and the very atmosphere around me, everything had become me.
What was happening was indescribable; I was fully conscious and aware, but what I had considered myself to be until that moment had disappeared. I had always been peaceful and happy; that had never been an issue. But here I was, drenched with a completely new kind of blissfulness. I was overflowing with an exuberance I had never known or imagined possible.”
Sadhguru’s description reminded me of something Adam had said in his first interview with me.
“In a weird sense it was like a breaking of my ego. . . It was just this total shattering and my mind just opened. And I started thinking of all these different things and in that sense it was beautiful. I found it was. . . the first time I really felt a connection to the universe. Where I really felt, like, a part of this, that I was this, this was me.”
Sadhguru speaks of the foundation his culture gave him that allowed him to contextualize his experience in a way that didn’t define him as being broken or mentally ill. It makes me wonder, what would be different for Adam if a similar cultural context had been available to him?