(Note: This article was written by David McMillin in True Health Newsletter – October, 2001)
Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric illness characterized by mood swings between mania and depression, hence its previous designation as manic-depressive illness. Mania can be thought of as the opposite of depression. Whereas depression typically involves sadness, hopelessness, and despair, mania often manifests as high energy, inflated self-esteem, and increased creativity. As mania becomes more extreme, other less desirable symptoms may be present, including pressured speech (more talkative than usual), racing thoughts or flight of ideas, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high risk for painful consequences.
In her book “Touch With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” Kay Redfield Jamison documents the emotional roller coaster of bipolar disorder in the lives of many of the greatest artists and creative individuals throughout history. Jamison is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. I highly recommend this fascinating book to anyone dealing with this illness, not only because of the remarkable content and style, but also because Jamison has herself struggled with manic-depressive illness. The power of her personal experience shines through the text.
Creative Energies & Mania
Jamison’s theory that bipolar disorder can be linked to increased creativity struck a chord with me. Having worked for several years in a public mental health setting with clients diagnosed with this illness, I was certainly aware of the high creative energy associated with this pattern. Interestingly, during that period, I also provided counseling in a private practice setting to many “new age” clients who were experiencing some bipolar symptoms. The curious difference was that the new age clients appeared to have intentionally precipitated the bipolar symptoms as part of a transformational process involving psychic development or deep meditation. The psychiatric clients were largely unaware of any transpersonal aspects of the condition, and for the most part, wanted to be rid of it. As I worked with these two groups of clients, I became aware of a commonality – the ebb and flow of creative energies.
An Edgar Cayce reading given for a young woman with manic symptoms provided me with important insights into the role of creative energies in this pattern. Reading 2501-6 linked manic symptoms (periods of “wild hilarious reaction”) with certain phases of the moon. Historically, persons with this illness have been called “maniacs” or “lunatics” (moon = luna). Even more fascinating was Cayce’s insistence that the osteopathic physician treating this patient should study the last book of the Bible, the Relevation, for a better understanding of the nature of the problem. This simple suggestion eventually led to numerous readings on the Revelation in which Cayce explained the complex symbology of the mystic vision of John the apostle.
The Revelation & Kundalini
Cayce’s view is that the Revelation is a great psychological study describing the process of enlightenment. According to Cayce, the Revelation uses symbols to describe the flow of creative energies through spiritual centers in the body. In some of the yogic traditions, this creative energy is called “kundalini” and the spiritual centers are known as chakras. Kundalini yoga involves the raising of this powerful energy along the spine through the centers, culminating in enlightenment.
In the case of the young woman with manic-depressive illness, Edgar Cayce wanted the attending osteopathic physician to become aware of the imbalance in creative energies that were causing this woman’s mental and emotional problems. Pressures in the lumbar region of the spine (lower back) were said to be causing a deflection in the natural flow of the creative energies. The osteopath apparently got the message, because the follow-up documentation indicates that the woman recovered and went on to live a healthy, normal life.
As I studied deeper into the phenomenon of bipolar disorder, I noted that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness contained some important clues as to how the condition manifests. I found a correlation between the psychiatric symptoms of the illness and the spiritual centers described by Cayce and the yogic traditions. As I worked with clients with this problem, I became more aware of the role of creative energies manifesting through spiritual centers in the expression of specific symptoms. For example, increased and inappropriate sexual behaviors may be indicative of problems with the first (gonad) center. Anger and aggression may correlate with the third (adrenal) center, and so forth.
From a practical standpoint, these insights provided me with some useful tools for helping clients with this problem. The first step is understanding the nature of the problem. In counseling terms, this initial step is called a “reframe.” In other words, the client comes to a new understanding of the problem that allows for a change in attitudes and emotions. Instead of seeing himself as a victim of an incurable and devastating illness, the client becomes open to the possibility that the condition has a deeper significance. The basic problem may be an imbalance of “creative energies,” a phrase often used by Edgar Cayce as synonymous with the God force or divine energy that is the basis of life and health.
I like to use the book by Jamison as illustrative of the effects of creative energies in the lives of great creative geniuses. To be sure, the effects are not always positive, especially when the energies become extremely out of balance, resulting in suicide or total debilitation. It is important to keep in mind that illness of any sort basically involves imbalance, whether biochemical, psychological, or spiritual. This applies to spiritual seekers as well as psychiatric patients. The reframe process must not encourage the individual to stay sick (out of balance).
The net effect of reframing is that the tremendous burden of stigma and self-condemnation associated with a major mental illness is usually lightened. The individual sees himself and his condition in a new, more positive way. Family and friends may also benefit from such reframing, resulting in a further lessening of stigma. This form of healing can be almost instantaneous.
The writings of mystics such as Gopi Krishna can also be helpful for persons seeking understanding of this form of mental illness. Gopi Krishna practiced deep meditation on his own (without a guru) for years before dramatically awakening the kundalini energy. The mental and emotional imbalances that resulted caused him considerable grief until he was able to maintain a balance of creative energies. Krishna later came to recognize his condition as a form of “divine madness” that is described in various mystical traditions. The numerous books by Krishna are particularly helpful for the new age client seeking to understand and resolve the problem of “kundalini crisis.”
After reframing the problem, the next step is increased awareness and self-regulation of creative energies. Persons experiencing the manic-depressive pattern need to self-monitor the changes in creative energies and how these energies are experienced and expressed as specific emotions and behaviors. This self-monitoring process is essential so that help can be requested if needed, and actions can be taken to keep the creative energies in balance. This step allows for choice with regard to treatment options. If the imbalance becomes too severe, choice of treatment declines as others assume legal responsibility, sometimes resulting in hospitalization and involuntary treatment.
For seekers on the spiritual path, an awareness of the basic concepts of creative energies and spiritual centers is important. The traditional yogic approaches to deep meditation provide certain safeguards in terms of supervision (guru), supportive community (ashram), disciplines (chop wood and carry water), and high purpose (enlightenment). Similarly, Edgar Cayce’s approach to enlightenment also emphasizes attunement to the divine within (for guidance and protection), high purpose (ideals), creating interpersonal support (a study group), and practical application. Either format will help to ensure that the creative energy that is awakened will be constructively expressed rather than being deflected into a destructive expression.
Cayce’s recommendations with regard to the physical body are also important. Maintaining the health and integrity of the spinal nerve centers and endocrine glands is a high priority. These are the physical centers through which the creative energies are channeled. Spinal manipulation and purification via diet and hydrotherapy are reasonable preventive measures to help ensure a positive outcome for those practicing deep meditation and psychic development.
- Mysticism and Madnesss – This video is based on a lecture that discusses various aspects of major mental illness (including bipolar disorder) from the standpoint of the Cayce readings and other sources.
- Revelation – This video segment discusses the Revelation and a possible connection to bipolar disorder.
Edgar Cayce's Psychic Process – This video is based on a lecture that discusses Edgar Cayce's psychic process, including his first psychic reading given in the midst of an acute manic episode.