This is a topic that has interested me for many years. I have thought deeply about this ever since I began to consider the Eastern teachings on reincarnation and karma as presented especially in Hinduism and Buddhism. When considering the Bible, a very good discussion about reincarnation can be found by clicking here. The law of karma is also suggested in the famous New Testament quote from St. Paul "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" Gal 6:7. Here we learn that nothing happens to us by accident. Everything in life is a result of the laws of cause and effect, or perhaps better described as the law of action and reaction. This is not to deny the mercy of God, or the mysterious workings of divine grace, but rather to affirm that both karma and grace are contributing to the evolution of our souls. Being born with bipolar disorder —or having a genetic latent tendency towards the disease—is then seen perhaps in a different light. Somehow we have put into operation this law of cause and effect. In other words, we ourselves have created the bipolar personality and now we are faced with the challenge of learning from the intense mood and energy swings how to restore balance in our lives. An excellent introduction to the concept of karma and the power of thought to create or destroy can be found in a short classic written by James Allen called As A Man Thinketh. Here is a short quote:
Mind is the Master-power that molds and makes, And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass: Environment is but his looking-glass.
Click here to see the book in its entirety online. The concept of reincarnation and 'life as a school' was first introduced to me by my mentor and friend Dr. Walter Clarke around 1980 when I was in my late twenties. Walter also taught me how to meditate and practice deep relaxation. I have found Walter's advice to be very true! Periods of deep relaxation help a great deal in bringing my mind and emotions back to my center of peace, my true self as a spiritual being in progress towards God, one who is continuously loved and cared for in many subtle ways. Walter was primarily responsible for stimulating my life long interest in self-managing the mood and energy changes associated with bipolar. He encouraged me to learn yoga and meditation, to exercise regularly, watch my diet and caffeine intake, and other things of that nature. I eventually did learn a few yoga postures which helped me to relax and sleep at night. One of these was the shoulder stand. Another was called the snake. Later I took up the practice of tai chi and found I enjoyed this more than yoga. And I became a daily meditator. To learn more about my personal experiences with bipolar disorder and the holistic healing I have received please see About Jay.
Living holistically with bipolar disorder is like a work in progress. I am constantly refining my efforts to maintain balance, foster creativity and greater joy. Along with that, of course I hope to reduce suffering (for myself and others) or at least learn how to suffer more peacefully! I am constantly learning from my mistakes... not to give up hope but to keep on seeking greater knowledge, better self-control and receptivity to God's grace. Using a holistic approach in living with bipolar disorder takes a good deal of effort and a willingness to keep on through the many challenges! Over the years I have grown in self awareness to the point where I can more easily tell when I am getting 'off the right path' and moving into states of agitation or over-excitement. I have been blessed with many good teachers and guides like Walter most of my adult life. Bipolar disorder itself has been a major karmic teacher for me. I have been free from medications since 1990, although it has been far from easy!
One of the primary purposes of this web site is to share with others what I have learned in the process, and to offer much needed encouragement. I am distressed by what I have read recently that 1 in 7 people who have bipolar disorder commit suicide if left untreated. If we consider the teachings on reincarnation and karma, then it seems clear that the lessons inherent in living with bipolar disorder cannot be skipped over by choosing to tragically end this life. Those problems need to be worked out one way or another. There is hope for a better life! I think it is true that the vast majority of people with bipolar will need medications to help restore balance in their lives. Even so, healing is possible with or without the use of medications.
It may be helpful to think about the possibility that being born wth bipolar tendencies may actually be a path of accelerated soul growth when considering that we live many, many lives on this earth. Our final destination is union with the infinite consciousness or the divine Self within—our true nature as sons or daughters of God. What may be seen as negative karma (since it is often quite painful) is really unlearned soul lessons, that is to say lessons we are now experiencing while in this 'bipolar body' or ego self. These lessons are designed for our growth. We are on an accelerated path due to the intensity of life's experiences! The pain is meant to act as a pointer, giving us direction as to which way to proceed (or not to proceed). The way of moderation and voluntary self control as I am suggesting in this web site allows the inner light to become more pronounced and actually take control of the physical atoms of our brain and nervous system. We become 'en-lightened' by the spirit within. We can then experience more lasting peace and taste an inner joy far superior to the transient pleasures of the high phases of bipolar disorder—which, as we all know, are fleeting and eventually lead to depressed states which can last for days or even weeks. Gradually we discover our true nature which is joyful, loving, sensitive and compasssionate to others.
I think it requires a strong faith to pursue this particular path. Not only to regain health and stabiltiy, but to grow in spiritual awareness. The power and importance of belief cannot be underestimated. We may at times be tested to our very limits, yet our faith in God and in our deepest self (our highest potential) can deliver us over the abyss into the land of peace. Having tasted something of spiritual joy and liberation, we will long for greater freedom and opportunites to be of creative service in the world. God sees our intentions, our efforts and can supply His grace to help us progress along the path. Healers and teachers will come when we are ready and willing to listen. For me, it has been truly an incredible journey! More like a labyrinthian trail rather than a steady upward climb. I suppose that my astrological sign of Capricorn, whose symbol is the goat, is a fitting metaphor for my life story.
I'd like to add a beautiful quote I recently discovered in a book I found while browsing at the public library:
The soul is the seer of all activity of the mind-body complex, and therein ultimately lies the seeds for freedom... We are [in our deepest self] the unseen seer of all phenomenal events. And yet the pain we experience in our more limited perspective paradoxically is to be celebrated, for it is exquisitely instructive, ultimately serving as a 'slingshot' into deeper self-knowledge. In this sense, 'experience' becomes the greatest guru of all, for embedded within it are the conditions not only for suffering but eventual liberation... mundane experience, with its fascinating array of pain and pleasure, tends ultimately toward liberation.
—Christopher Chappel, Chapter One in Gurus in America, edited by Thomas Forsthoefel and Cynthia Humes
Please note I am not suggesting people who have bipolar disorder do not need to take their medications.A medical doctor or health professional should be consulted before making any changes in their current form of treatment. I am suggesting that it is possible that over time, with good health habits, prayer and meditation, combined with the regular use of holistic treatments and consultation from your health care provider, the need for medications can be reduced or even eliminated. For a detailed list of holistic treatment suggestions please see my Treatment page.
I think a swing analogy is a very good one in describing the karma or built-in tendencies of the bipolar person. It is as if we are somehow strapped into a large swing moving through cycles of poetic inspiration and excitement, high energy, glowing self-confidence, then a fading out into despair, disillusionment, a sense of guilt or failure. And then there is the in between times where life may seem more or less normal, like the midrange of the swing. But how did we get on the swing to begin with? Why me, Lord? And how do I get off of it!
Here is a fitting passage from a book called Conversations with Yogananda by Swami Kriyananda:
A certain disciple often suffered from moods. "Why do I have them?" she asked the Master [Yogananda].
"Moods are caused," he replied, "by past overindulgence in sense pleasures. They are the consequence of over-satiety and disgust. Don't give in to them..."
The Master explained...that life manifests the principle of duality. It is like a pendulum—"swinging unceasingly" as he put it, "back and forth between opposite states of awareness. The farther the pendulum swings in one direction, the farther it must swing back in the other."
"...the solution is to preserve a mental non-attachment. When a child wants to get off a swing, he stops it by resisting both the forward and the backward movements."
What does this mean in relation to bipolar karma? I think it means we have developed the habit, in prior lifetimes, of going to extremes. We like excitement, we often test the boundaries! And the pendulum swings back again because the universe says that is the law of life. If you choose extreme pleasure, for example in sensuality, in alcohol or drug abuse, or in any number of manic activities such as going without sleep due to having a non-stop flight of ideas or taking an impulsive shopping sprees, there is definitely a corresponding price to pay. Perhaps one of the biggest struggles in living with bipolar is voluntarily limiting impulsivity. Practicing moderation is difficult when the habit of the mind and body is to go for more sensation, greater pleasure and excitement.
To read a very informative description of some of the tendencies of bipolar sexuality please click here. You may want to do a search on the page on 'bipolar' to find the specific text on this topic. It seems to me that one of the challenges for people struggling with this disease is to recognize that stability in love relationships is far more valuable than short term pleasure seeking! We need to do whatever we can to come to our center, calm down the mind and the body to see things clearly. Love is a most important ingredient in healing for this disorder and in reversing the craving for excitement with its subsequent feelings of guilt along with the pain and disappointment that come with failure to live up to what we know is right. There are definitely karmic factors to consider as well. Irresponsible sexual behaviours create more pain for ourselves and others both in this and in future lives on earth.
All of us as human being experience various cross currents in our spiritual makeup. There is the desire for health and wellness, to do the right thing, to practice greater self discipline and to be patient, loving and kind. But then there is the pull of the lower self and its old pleasure seeking habits and desires. Back and forth we may swing between the two forces. Quite possibly for people with bipolar the intensity is turned up a notch or two! With experience, over time and likely through many feelings of disappointment, the desire for inner peace and harmony in our relationships will win out. We long for rest, seeking our true inner home and grounding in the reality of the present moment, accepting life as it comes to us, trusting we can live more joyfully and simply when we follow God's laws.
Some of the things I have found helpful is regular exercise such as jogging, swimming, walking, tai chi or yoga. Natural supplements such as fish oil capsuls can be a big help in calming the nervous system. Meditation and visualizations have helped me a great deal in keeping to my center and holding my marriage (18 years now) and family life in a sacred light. I believe that sincere and humble prayer can also be a most important factor in receiving God's grace. Forgiveness, and a willingness to get back on the spiritual path again and again if need be will eventually produce the fruits of joy and peace in our individual lives and in our relationships.
According to theories of reincarnation and the laws of karma, fortunately for everyone there is an overall tendency towards balance, refinement and growth of the personality and the soul over many lifetimes. So, in this life in a body and mind with bipolar habits, we are presented with the accumulation of overindulgence in one form or another. We have a karmic tendency to overreact. Our nervous systems are extremely sensitive and prone to vibrate intensely at times, and other times to operate at below normal ranges of energy (during depressed states). Life has a way of pushing us through repeated experiences of pleasure and pain to learn moderation and wisdom. To fine tune the instrument. To gain stablility and —eventually, hopefully—spiritual joy! Paramhansa Yogananda says it takes very good karma even to want to know God. This is how I view my own life's lessons with bipolar disorder, that it has quickened my desire to know and love God. In a very real sense, my struggle with this disease has been my life long karmic teacher. I have been blessed with good people and wise spiritual counsel to help me progress along the way.
How is moderation to be achieved? Taking medications on a regular basis as prescribed by a physician is certainly one way of doing that. Let the medicine do much (or possibly most) of the work for us. Just sticking to the meds takes a certain amount of discipline and this needs to be respected. But then, as everybody knows, there are unwanted side effects to deal with. Are there any other alternatives? Will the future hold more options for people who suffer from this disease? Better medications, quite possibly. Let's not forget or neglect holistic options for gaining stabilty and a healthier, more joyful life without the side effects of medications. What about the role of the mind and a persons beliefs in creating a new and better lifestyle? Meditation, prayer and spiritual healing can be most beneficial in voluntarily limiting impulsivity as discussed above, and even changing one's physiology over time.
For further reading on Creativity and Inspiration and how many people with bipolar disorder have led creative lives please click here. There are also web pages included on this site describing Meditation and Spiritual Healing.
I think the ultimate goal or karmic lesson of bipolar is that we need to live in harmony with natural law, to study and assimilate truth as it relates to optimum health for our minds, bodies and souls. I have found mindfulness meditation practice and principles helpful in this regard. I have also found poetic inspiration and devotion to be most energizing in keeping me going during difficult times, and also uplifting when I am feeling good! Acceptance of the will of God in all circumstances brings calmness of mind, peace to the soul, and joy to the spirit. Here is a short excerpt from Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem Samadhi written on a New York subway: