Joan Halifax is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, hospice caregiver, and the author of several books on Buddhism and spirituality. Joan mentions that she isn’t against psycho-pharmacology to treat mental distress, but she also believes that its important to not overlook or override the healing process of the psyche which underlies the symptoms.

Joan received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology and psychology and over the years has studied indigenous and tribal cultures in Africa, Asia and the Americas. She currently serves as abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Joan had just gotten back from Asia and in spite of being jetlagged, graciously agreed this interview.

Joan tells us that many people have experienced unsolicited states of non-ordinary reality in our culture, but are afraid to talk about it because it is not socially sanctioned. She adds that even though the experience is typically met with fear, there is usually a narrative that wants to unfold in the psyche that can help the individual reconstruct their life at a higher level. She considers this is a healing process that nurtures our relationship with our psyche, each other and the natural world.

Joan mentioned to us, that she has experienced these episodes and that they are not easy. She said that her meditation practice and having a reference point or context to frame what she was going through made her experience much more manageable. As Joan sees it, there are many opportunities to bring a sort of Shamanic perspective, based on a vision of the natural world and interconnectedness, into our culture.

6 Responses to “Interview with Joan Halifax: Healing is About Relationships”

  1. Michael Szczerbaty

    Hello Roshi Joan, I just want to say that I agree with everything you have said above. I the past I have, as you stated, “experienced unsolicited states of non-ordinary reality.” If it wasn’t for the Zen training I received from 1975 through 1979 from Philip Kapleau in Montreal and the Zen Center in Rochester, New York, I would never know today who and what I am today. Zen, in a word, allowed me to recreate myself. When I recovered from my emotional distress (I do not believe that anyone has a mental illness or that anyone suffers from a brain disease), I began working for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, helping others, as you do, to recover from their own emotional distress. As one Zen Buddhist to another I want to say I admire the work you have done and continue to do helping others. If someday I should happen to be in your area when you are holding a Sesshin I would love to attend. It would be a great way to come to learn from one another. Please allow me to enter you as my friend on Facebook.

    • Joan Halifax

      thanks, michael. zen saved my life too. nearly fifty years of it and it is still a path of discovery…….. hope you join me at upaya one day

  2. katie kozlowski

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU for this work and this truth. As a spiritual person I have greatly struggled through life for fear of what people would tell me if I shared with them what I was feeling and experiencing. To them it could be interpreted as a psychosis or a mental health issue and I often believed it myself. But when I found a teacher to help me understand my self and my journey, I began to see that in truth there was nothing wrong with me at all and I was simply awakening to my own self at a whole new level. Everything you say is true- and what a beautiful thing to know the truth is out there and coming to light.

  3. Shilpi

    Hi Phil,
    I recently came across you talk on “Psycosis or Spiritual awakening” by chance And I am extremely thankful for your research and the perspective because I happened to find it before I succumbed to the pressure of seeing a psychiatrist,just I had started to feel the symptoms confirming depression and secondly because it confirms that all that is happening is not to be judged aa symptom of a mental disorder but endured as in reality it is helping me deal with traumatic experiences I had in life.

    I cannot thank you enough!


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