Here is the full transcript of filmmaker and photographer Phil Borges’ TEDx presentation on Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening at TEDxUMKC conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening by Phil Borges at TEDxUMKC conference
Good evening. One of the things I love about visiting indigenous cultures is it lets me step back in time and see how we all lived centuries ago. And in doing that, I’ve noticed so many things — things that we’ve gained, and things that we’ve lost.
And one of the things I’ve really noticed is the fact that our relationships are much different. And first of all, our relationships to the land. In indigenous cultures, there is no grocery store, in tribal cultures, especially, no utility districts, no water districts, no fast food restaurants. Nothing stands between them and their survival other than their own ingenuity and their own knowledge of the earth. And they have a very intimate knowledge of the Earth. And it’s always astonished me.
This one Hawaiian woman who was at the beach, and I met her. And she saw this crab flipping out of the sand, out of the hole. And she said, “Look, the sand is going to the North. There’ll be coming a storm tomorrow.” And sure enough, there comes the storm, shows up tomorrow. So, their knowledge — they’re more or less the PhDs of their place on the planet.
The other relationship that I’ve noticed that is so tight is their relationships to each other. Again, they don’t have the institutions. They don’t have social security. They don’t have an IRA or 401(k) Plan. They don’t have elder-care facilities. They completely depend on each other for their survival. And that produces a real tightness.
I’ve noticed women at a well in Africa, for instance, they’re sitting around, joking and talking, they are nursing their babies. And the woman that needs to go get the water will take her baby and pass it to another woman, she’ll start nursing it. That woman will see her goat run off and she’ll pass the baby to a third woman and she’ll start nursing it. So those kids are kind of even raised communally. They live in extended families, and that brings a real tightness.
The other relationship that I want to talk about tonight is their relationship to spirit. And it’s a very strong one. So, this is Malick, and her great granddaughter, Jasmina. And they spend all their time together. 14 hours a day working in the garden. And I’ve seen this in Africa, Asia, South America, and I ask, “Why are these two people so different, together all the time? There is this big age difference.” And they said, “No, no. You don’t understand. Jasmina is just about coming out of the spirit-world, and Malick is just about to go back into the spirit-world.” So they really do have the most in common. And they literally pray to the spirits of the forests, the mountains, the rivers; they put spirits in everything. Their ancestors’ spirits are so important to them.
So, in the beginning I sort of looked at this as superstition, uneducated, naive-thinking. And over the last 30 years I’ve slowly changed. And I want to talk you a little bit about how that change came about.
So, about 25 years ago, I was doing a project in Tibet on their human-rights issue there, and I had the opportunity to go and meet the Medium, the channels, the Oracle of Tibet, the Dalai-Lama’s oracle. And it took place in this little monastery. And there were about 16 monks in there, they led Medium in, sat him down, put this big hat on his head, and a very heavy hat, his face turned kind of red, the monks started chanting and beating their drums. And he kind of went into this trance, and he started talking in a real high-pitch voice. And the monks started writing down everything he was saying, and then, after about 5 minutes of that, he fainted, and they literally had to carry him out of the room. And I just watched this, and I was just wondering: is this a performance? Did he have a heart attack?
But two days later, I was able to interview the Medium. His name was Turpin, he was 30 years-old at that time; he is 50 now. And he said that he didn’t remember a thing that he said when he was in this trance. And he felt very weak right afterwards, for a day afterwards.
So I said, “Well, how did you become the Medium? And how did you get this job?”
And he said, “You know, when I was younger, I had started hearing these voices. I started feeling very ill, and I was very confused, and in fact, I thought I was dying at one point. An older monk came to me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a gift’ and he taught me how to go in and out of a trance. He nurtured me, he stayed with me for the whole year.” And he’s now Dalai-Lama’s Oracle, The Oracle of Tibet.
So, two years later, I was doing a project for Amnesty International up in the northern part of Kenya in the Samburu area, and I was taking pictures of these people. And my guide turned to me and said, “You know, their predictor has told them that you were coming to take pictures of them.” And I didn’t think too much about that because there I was taking pictures of them. But he went on to say, he said, “They also said, that she said, that you would hide from them when you took their picture.” And I said, “No, I don’t hide, I use very short lenses. I ‘m usually right in front of the person when I take their portrait.”
And that night I was at home, cleaning my lenses, packing my bags, and I realized, yeah I’ve brought my new camera that I’d never used before, and it’s this Panoramic camera. And this is the way I’ve got a focus of that in total darkness. So, all of a sudden I thought “Well, that’s a coincidence.” My assistant said, “That’s amazing.” So, it was just something we kind of fowled away, but I at that point decided what I wanted to do is start actually seeking out these people that go into alter-states of consciousness in order to heal or predict for their tribes. And that’s what I started doing.
And so, by the way, here is the woman that was the predictor. And I did take her picture with a panoramic camera. Her name is Seculin, she is 37 years old, or was at that time, five kids. And she had the very same story as the Medium of the Dalai-Lama. When she was 12 years old, she started having visual hallucinations. She started feeling sick and dizzy and her grandmother came and said, “You know, you’ve got a talent”. And she nurtured her through it.
So I literally went around the world, and doing my human rights work, and started finding these shamans. And the way we would find them, that they never introduce themselves as a shaman. You’d never know who they were unless you ask their community members, “Who is the healer here?” “Who goes into trance?” And they would tell me and lead me to the person.
So this is Nomage, she is a Mongolian shaman. I’ll just show you some of the 40 — this is Morrigan Yazzie, he is a Navaho medicine man. This is Linza. She is a shaman in Eastern Siberia. Minca-towee, a shaman in the Rawani tribe, in Equador in the Amazon, and Equador — and one of the last shaman I interviewed was right on Pakistan-Afghan border. There is a group of animists there, called the Kalash. And there is only 3,000 of them left, and they are surrounded by Islam. And they hold on to their animistic beliefs. And they are very interesting looking. They are blond hair, blue eyed. They say they are the remnants of Alexander the Great’s army. And they are very fun-loving, they make their own wine, but I went there because I was told that there was a 6-year-old boy that was being initiated to be a shaman, and I wanted to see him. So everybody that I had interviewed up to that point had been a shaman for years. I wanted to find somebody in that process of initiation.
So when I got there, I found — no, he wasn’t 6 years old, he was a 60 year old goatherd up in the mountains. So that is the shaman rumor mill. But anyway I had taken my 16 year-old son with me as an assistant. And we had a hike up for about a day and a half to get up to the top of the mountain where Zanduligans here was herding his goats and he was a shaman for the Kalash people. And again, I asked the same questions: “How did you get into this? What do you do for your tribe?” He had the same story of hallucinations, being mentored by an older shaman.
And the shaman, in different cultures, induce their trance in different ways. By the way, shamanism is a universal practice. It is the world’s oldest spiritual practice. And there is a lot of common denominators. But the way they go into the trance can differ. In Mongolia, they beat up their drum next to their ear; in South America, they take psycho-active plants, like Ayahuasca. In Pakistan, they use something that’s quite unique. They burn juniper blanches, they slaughter an animal, pour the blood over the burning branches. And then the shaman inhales the smoke to go into trance. So here I am to tying to talk him out of doing the ceremony for me, because I don’t want them to kill one of his animals. And he said, “No, I have to do it. My spirits are telling me I have to do it. You have come so far.”
So the next morning, his sons started the fires, started burning the juniper branches. And he started praying to the mountain spirits, the spirits of the forests. And they slaughtered the animal, and he started inhaling the smoke, and then, he went into trance. And he stayed into trance for about 5 or 10 minutes, and when he came out, he was very silent, he hardly said anything. And he was very talkative before he went into trance. And I thought, this is kind of strange, and I asked one of his sons through my interpreter, “What happened to him? What did he say? Did he see anything?” And the son just said, “The only thing he said is, ‘Your journey is going to be extremely difficult, but you are going to be safe.’ That’s all he said.”
So the next day my son and I took off, we left his camp and then walked down the mountain and headed up further into the Hindu Kush Mountains, and we were out in the middle of nowhere, we had a jeep, and my son started getting sick. And he evidently picked up a bug in the water around Zanduligan’s camp. And first day went by, he couldn’t keep anything down, second day, third day. And the fourth day, he couldn’t keep anything down for four days. And he was getting so weak he could hardly walk. And I was totally freaked out. We pulled into this little village and we happened to run into a doctor from Islamabad, who was visiting his mother, and he happened to have a bag of glucose and saline and IV drip, and some oral rehydration salts, and he brought bags around. And to me it was like a miracle that the whole thing happened.
But, so I’ll tell you a little bit about this shaman. First of all, this is the common things with shamanism. It’s not always true, but in general. They typically are identified with what they call the “Call”, And the “Call” – and the ones I interviewed almost all of them, it was a psychological crisis.
Secondly, they almost always have a mentor. Somebody who has been through it, and come out the other end of this psychological crisis and can show them the ropes and show them and tell them and comfort them along the way. And then they have to face what they call the initiation. It’s almost always this death — a death of their old self and the rebirth of a new self. And this rebirth, I don’t know how to explain that. It’s like they take on much more of an elevated consciousness. They expand their consciousness. Their awareness of who they are expands. They expand their circle of compassion, I guess that is the quickest way to say it. And as such, they learn to go into the spirit world where they believe the spirit world informs our world of reality here. So that’s where things really happen.
So they go there, get the information, come back to help people. And then, after they’ve learned their trade, they begin their life of service, either a healer or a seer, a priest, and they typically do this for no money. I mean this is something they just do; it’s just something added to what they do. And in the beginning, many of them resist it, because like Zanduligan, he’s still a goatherd, he still has to do that. But on top of that, he is the healer for the community. Seculin has 5 kids, and she has to be a healer. And on top of that, she is the healer of her community. So it is a lot of extra work.
So it happened — I put that whole project aside, because I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know what to say about it. I felt that was getting in over my head, into the world of consciousness, and spirits and all this. But a year and a half ago, I met a young kid who had one of these psychological breaks. I just wanted to introduce you to him, just a moment here.
[Video clip: “It was just this total shattering, and my mind just opened, and I started thinking of all these different things. And in that sense, it was beautiful. I found that it was, how I found my — the first time I’d ever experienced a real connection to the universe, or I really felt like a part of this that I was this, this was me. It was just like, incredible! And so simple — Yeah I mean, just absolutely amazing. And then I kept going and I went way too far. And then it got scary. It was just kind of like a panic, I don’t know, put some medication in this kid and just hope for the best, but I don’t know if it hurt or helped. At that point where I was being diagnosed, I think for side effects of medications. There was a point I was taking 15 pills in a day. And I felt like a [web rat], and the side effects were just awful, absolutely awful. Vomiting all day, I couldn’t leave my house for so long, from just like these awful anxiety attacks. And the thought of interacting with people would make me sick to my stomach. It was just, so much. And I still don’t know – I don’t know what was the side effect and what was in my mind.” – Concludes]
So Adam was on drugs, on pharmaceuticals for about four years. And he was in a such a hard time that he decided to go cold turkey, cut him off, and did a Vipassana meditation retreat. And for those of you who don’t know what that is, they come in various forms. But this one was 10 days silent meditation 10 hours a day. It’s very rigorous. I did one just to see what it was about. And it was one of the hardest things I did. And he was able to stabilize himself. And he got a job at Whole Foods Market, which he hadn’t been able to do before. And he started having what he calls synchronicity where you’d have a thought and the thing would happen. And by the way, he is very psychic. He has very strong healing potentials. but he has no confidence in what’s happening to him. There is no one that’s been able to conceptualize it for him.
Anyway, he had these, and he decided he needed to go back into another Vipassana. Well, they learned that he had this history of mental illness, and they sent him home. So the one avenue that he could have gotten relieved from, cut him off because of the stigma of his mental illness. So, Adam isn’t alone in this, by the way. There is — in having bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, any of these heavy psychological episodes, here is some statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health. 1 in 5 of us will suffer a psychological crisis in our lifetime. By the way, that’s a rising figure right now. The other thing is, 1 in 20 will become disabled because of it.
Then, another interesting fact about this phenomenon is 50% happens before the age of 14. By the way, the most of the shaman, it happened either in their adolescence or in their teenager years. 75% before the age of 24. So it’s more or less, a phenomenon of young people.
So here is the difference in cultures that I noticed. There’s a shaman’s advantage. One, they have a cultural context. The physiological crisis, although it’s difficult, it’s believed to be — they put it in a positive light. It’s something the person is going to come out of and be stronger in the end and have more abilities in the end.
The other thing that is a big advantage is it’s not stigmatized. I mean, if you have the stamp of mental illness on your forehead, or on your dossier, whatever, you are not going to get a job. It’s not like having diabetes or even cancer. It’s one of the most stigmatized thing that can happen to a person in our culture. And especially, if some kid is having these visions and he’s not knowing what is happening to him, and a doctor comes and says, “You are broken and you are this”, you can imagine how that adds to the problem.
So the other thing they have an advantage of, they have a mentor, they have somebody that’s been through this process, that can take and hold their hands and say, “Listen, I know what this is all about, and this is how you manage it.”
And the third thing that there is a huge advantage is they have a community that buys into what they’ve gone through. Not only that, they have an outlet for their talents. And many of these people have specific talents that the normal person doesn’t have. So, that’s what is an advantage if you are in one of these indigenous communities.
I don’t know if you’ve heard the recent TED talk by a woman by the name of Eleanor Longden. Has anybody heard that one? It went vital. She did it a couple of month ago. This is a young woman. When she went to college she started hearing voices. And she said, “My nightmare began when I told my roommate I was hearing voices”. Her roommate said “You’d better see a doctor.” So she went and saw the doctor, and the doctor said “You’d better see a psychiatrist.” She went to see the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, gave her the label “schizophrenia”, put her on medications. By the way, these medications suppress the symptoms. They don’ t get at the root problem. And she said, from that point on, she just had spiral down. You ought to listen to her video on how she brought herself out of that. And she eventually got to the point where she said, “I realized that those voices were helping me resolve this old childhood trauma of sexual molestation.” But it took her and couple of her friends that believed in her, to get her out of that hole that she had gone down in because of that stigma.
So, if you do have one of these issues, if one of us does have one of these issues, we go to somebody that has common method of treatment that suppress these symptoms with pharmaceuticals. So, with Adam, we’ve been following him and so I’ve been posting this on our blog over last 2 years and a half, how he’s doing and what’s going on. By the way, he is homeless now, like so many end up. And we’ve started interviewing professionals that take a whole different approach to this problem. And in fact, some of the psychiatrists, psychologists we’ve interviewed, and we are posting them as well, claim our — like to label, many of these instances, not all of them, but many of them, as spiritual emergencies. And they believe, just as I do now, if you hold these people, if you don’t stigmatize them, if you don’t scare them with the label, and tell them they are broken, and if you give them a place of support, the psyche itself is self-healing. It will take them and it will eventually work out whatever is going on with them, and they will typically come out at a higher level of awareness and consciousness that they went into a problem in the first place.
There are many people that believe, that we’ve interviewed, the cultural historians, the cultural anthropologists, they believe that our species right now is in crisis. You look at the environment, you look at the economic system, you look at what’s happening with our continual wars, and we are being asked to raise our consciousness to a whole different level.
And so, I just want to end with this statement from one of our most famous scientists, and I love this statement. He says, I’ll just quote; “We human beings tend to experience ourselves as something separate from the whole we call the universe. This is actually enough to call delusion of our consciousness. It’s like a prison for us. Our task is to free ourselves from this prison by our means of circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. This driving for such an achievement is a path to our liberation and the only two foundation of our inner peace and security.” That was Albert Einstein.
So, thank you very much.