Our societal world-view tends to interprets new information by categorizing into two poles or extremes. Join Justin Levy, LAc as we learn more about what this behavior may suggest about our adoption of psychedelics as medicine.
What does it mean when I say we live in a bipolar culture? Before I describe what I mean by that, let me just say that I know the word “bipolar” has a specific meaning within the context of psychiatry. In psychiatry, bipolar disorder is applied to people with severe mood swings that oscillate between intense mania and depression. There’s a set of diagnostic criteria that psychiatrists use to diagnose someone with that disorder, and it’s not my goal to discuss the specifics of that here. However, the context of the word within psychiatry does provide a basis for how I’m using it. I’ll explain.
Indigenous “Self” vs Western “Self”
Our society views people with psychiatric disorders as experiencing their illness within the confines of their own individual bodies. This reflects the modern Western notion that individuals exist as distinct, independent and autonomous “selves.” However, many indigenous cultures view the self in a more inter-connected way.
In this paradigm, there exist many layers of the “self”, ranging from the purely personal self to extended “selves” that connect us to our friends/family, the wider human community, the earth, and even to the spirit world and ancestral world. In this way, the interior, personal “self” is a fractal that mirrors the structures from the outer “selves”. If we view sickness in this holistic context, an emotionally or spiritually sick person is also manifesting a cultural or societal illness.
When I say that we live in a bipolar culture, I’m referring to the “sickness” that manifests as an extreme, rigid view of the world and of the people in it. In a bipolar world, we live in a culture that lacks a nuanced understanding of people and our motivations, promotes a feeling of otherness around people of different races or political views, and leads to less compassion for ourselves and others.
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Your Rejected Identity
In the internal self, this bipolarity manifests as the good self/bad self, or what I call in my healing work the “accepted identity” and the “rejected identity”. The accepted identity is the side that we show the world– this is the side we fervently hope represents the truth of who we are at our deepest level. But the effort of maintaining and projecting this “good” side creates a wall around our “bad” side. This “bad” side is the part of us that most of us learned at an early age to repress and cut off.
This repression helps us survive whatever trauma is held underneath, but the bad side eventually “acts out” and then gets suppressed again in a cycle of shame. This process (suppression, acting out, shame) creates the foundation for many types of diseases and relationship issues. I use a type of tracking in my healing work (Kundalini Mediumship) to help people uncover and embody the bad self, and then to integrate it with the “good self”.
This “bipolar sickness” is a form of fundamentalism. In the fundamentalist church I grew up in, we were taught a clear set of rules based on this kind of bipolarity. A popular saying in my church was “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. We were taught to strive for a type of unattainable spiritual perfection, to be like Jesus. This meant we were to deny and even hate our body, because its sinful desires would lead us to hell. This same process is playing out in our culture right now.
But instead of trying to attain spiritual perfection, our culture encourages us to think, say and do say the right thing based on one’s socio/political/cultural identity. When this happens, we suppress the “bad” self that has thoughts or ideas that run counter to the feelings of the “good” self.
The Next Big Thing?
This also relates to our current cultural conversation around psychedelics. Right now, there is a lot of money flowing into psychedelics as “the next big thing”. The corporate media machine is in full swing to promote them as incredible miracle drugs– to prop up their “good side” as it were. And of course they have a “good side”, like we all do. There is a tremendous power in these substances to help us heal and grow.
But I’ll encourage you to view psychedelics as nuanced and complicated beings just like us. There is a potential for them to harm us as well as heal. Psychedelics put us into a state of extreme openness, and that state makes us vulnerable to abuse by those in power. The history of psychedelics is full of this type of abuse. On a purely individual level there is also the potential for harm by cracking into a dark place that we might not be ready for.
Although the corporate media machine right now seems to be in full support of these medicines, at some point that will change. That is the nature of a bipolar society– we can’t stay in one polarity forever because the “bad side” will have to act out. When this happens, the media will take notice of the darker stories of psychedelics that now exist mostly in the shadows. There is plenty of money to be made by selling the narrative of the “bad side” of psychedelics. The media loves to use fear to sell itself.
It will be “discovered” that psychedelics are not the wonder drugs that solve all our problems. They will once again be associated with dark forces that threaten our sanity. But the truth is somewhere in the middle of these extremes, and sometimes encompasses both ends. And until we acknowledge the complicated truths of our human experience, we will not be ready to understand the depths of what psychedelics can teach us.