Balancing competing priorities in this demanding world is not a new concept; it’s commonplace to get wrapped up in work, studies, family, and other community obligations within the societal structures we’ve inherited and accepted as the fabric of our existence. Balancing the spiritual and material realms, however, is a less acknowledged task. The strands we weave together form the fabric of our mental health. Bridging these two worlds is something I have struggled with for the last few years, and while it hasn’t been easy, being in community with others who can relate always nourishes.
In 2013 I had a near-death experience, symptomatic of what is medically termed a manic episode. Though less common, some psychologists call these episodes spiritually transformative experiences, or STEs.* One January morning, after a couple of days of racing thoughts as well as extreme adrenaline, I found myself in a frenzy, walking around my hometown unaccompanied. As the episode escalated, I started to feel a pulling of my spirit up and away from my body. I tried to contain it and somehow stop it, but the pulling intensified to a point where I had no other option but to surrender. Suddenly, I was conscious in an unending darkness and enveloped by a love so expansive that it is truly indescribable. I was told there was nothing to fear: “Todo va a estar bien.” I wasn’t in my body; I wasn’t a body.
While my physical body was chained to a gurney in the back of an ambulance headed toward the county psychiatric hospital, my consciousness was having the most profoundly loving experience of my life. Physical and emotional pain were absent.
When I emerged from my peaceful paradise, I found myself in the stark contrast of a cold and violent psychiatric hospital. My involuntary 24-hour hold was traumatizing to say the least, but what came in the following years proved to be the real test in balance.
Given our society’s fast pace and my socioeconomic status, both of which required that I continue working, there was no stress-free time to heal after my mystical experience. Life continued the same all around me, while I surfaced so drastically changed. My body felt dense and obtrusive, and I recognized that I existed in at least slight discomfort at all times. The old paradigms I accepted before just didn’t fit my new perspective. Religion, cultural customs, and stifled relationships had to go. While the changes felt so abrupt at the time, those changes were only the beginning. There was much more detachment, healing, and grieving I would still need to work through.
My loved ones didn’t understand why I suddenly changed, why I didn’t want to go to church anymore or why I just didn’t care in the same way. They tried to understand, but I felt alone in my journey. Before I was able to begin a new relationship with creator (my word for the sacredness that I experienced), I had to grieve the old ways instilled by my family and culture. More often than not, I was beyond frustrated and didn’t want to be in the material realm anymore. I yearned for the stillness and love unimaginable of the place I traveled to, sometimes I still do. Even so, what I’ve come to understand through time is that my task is to remain embodied, teetering peacefully between both experiences, and weaving them into a new whole.