My Bipolar Visions
As I've been studying and practicing Buddhism I've occasionally had moments where I suddenly and forcefully understood a Buddhist concept with all of my being. Over the past year these moments happened more often, and more deeply.
During the week between Palm Sunday and Easter of this year, an entire complex of Buddhist concepts gang-tackled me at once. The effect was profound. I felt like my entire brain was being hijacked and reprogrammed. I experienced a sensation in which my entire life unzipped into the present, similar to a near-death experience. I saw how every major event in my life had brought me, step by step, to the present moment. I saw the interconnectedness of everything in the universe, and the wheels-within-wheels of conscious matter & energy. I became more empathic than ever. I started to feel like my soul was being invited to pop out of my head, as though I'd graduated to a new level of existence.
Soon these visions began to scare me. My empathy introduced me to some horrible visions -- visions of madness, pain, and death. I realized ways in which I'd mistreated people, especially my now dead parents, and I felt profound guilt. Far worse, I realized that the extensions of human technology during the past 60 years (atomic, biological, and computational) had reached the point where the tools of Armageddon are now in uncontrollably diverse human hands, and that the odds of avoiding it during my lifetime could become impossibly low.
Parts of my brain resisted the new Buddhist meme complex and fought back. My Catholic upbringing clubbed me via psychotic sounds and images of an angry and retributional God who had taken control of my body. I feared that I would go to Hell for all the sins I've commited during my lifetime. I wanted to offer myself as a sacrifice. I never would have taken my own life, but I was willing to accept any punishment for my wrongdoing.
Then I entered a world of paranoid delusions (unless you believe in spiritual warfare -- perhaps I spent a period seeing the angels and demons that populate the spirit world -- why must we assume that these visions were not their own reality?). I worried about a fantastic variety of things. I worried that computers would help to destroy the human race. I worried that I had become nothing more than a Sim inside somebody's computer simulation of human life. I worried that we are truly alone, that love and altruism are shams, that everybody I love will leave me, that I'd become imprisoned inside a pure particle of energy for all time.
Once I entered the mental hospital I believed I had been sent to Hell. I scrambled from moment to moment to figure out the rules of this new place, so that I could find my way back to the place I once called reality. It seemed like every person and every activity that occurred in the mental hospital had a deeper or ambiguous meaning, that demons were trying to pull me deeper and deeper into fear. Even my closest friends appeared animated by forces outside of themselves, as they brought me "gifts" that they could not possibly have understood.
The pajamas one friend brought to me looked like prison garb, white with vertical dark stripes. The books my friends brought to me included The Scarlet Letter and a biography of Galileo detailing his struggle between Truth and Church. Even the magazines and cards my friends brought seemed to have been designed to remind me of my fears.
I was not able to emerge from this landscape of spiritual warfare until I learned to laugh at all the combatants, I physically stuck my middle finger into their midst, I realized that the spirits were trying to scare me, not kill me. I had been so afraid of my fears, so every fear inside of me had multiplied into a supernatural force. Once I laughed at my fears they diminished.
On my way home from the mental hospital my brother drove us into the back of another car. My warning to him allowed him to brake more quickly, otherwise serious damage would have occurred.
Even this manifestation of danger failed to frighten me. I had mastered my fears by allowing them to grow exponentially and then laughing at them. I had learned how to deal with anxiety.
Over the next couple of weeks I returned to a normal life. I confronted many of my fears, one by one. The medications I'd received made me sleepy and hungry, so I returned to my normal weight and sleep patterns. My friends and family convinced themselves that I was OK, and they allowed me to drift to my normal distance from them.
I went through a life-changing experience that has brought unity to many warring factions inside of my head. I am learning to water my roots while stretching my branches. I am learning to accept even those things that appear evil to me. I can not escape the influences of my past, including the influences of my Catholic upbringing, and the conflicts I had with my parents. Every new idea or experience or love affair adds to my life, but does not subtract. There is no subtraction. There is no escape. The only choices are acceptance and denial ...
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