Suzanne Segal has been mentioned a few times on Shalom Place, and I've wanted to read Collision with the Infinite for some time. Regrettably for such a widely discussed book, it is now out of print. The original publisher, Blue Dove Press of San Diego, has closed down (and announced such in a brief Youtube video), and Segal's Estate doesn't seem interested in republication. Given the buzz that still exists for the book, used copies have become quite expensive. For whatever reason, I decided now was the time to splash out on one. The copy that arrived by mail order is fortunately in very good condition. It is a first edition dated 1996. (As I turned the pages, out popped a previous owner's lottery ticket from Christmas Eve 1997!) I've seen references to a second edition dated 1998 and also to a Motilal Banarsidass/New Age Books edition dated 2009, the latter marked on the publisher's website as "For Sale in South-East Asia Only."
One of the Library of Congress subject headings for the book is "Depersonalization--Religious aspects." This raises a question I've heard many times before: Is awakening to no-self simply what psychiatrists called depersonalization (renamed in DSM 5 to Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder)? The answer for me is obviously no. From what I've seen on websites (I haven't read the DSM 5), depersonalization is marked by feelings of anxiety, unreality, and distress. None of these occurs in an ordinary awakening. But they were all experienced by Suzanne Segal during her eleven-year "wintertime," as she calls it. During that period, she lived in constant fear and terror.
I speculate that Suzanne Segal's problems were caused by starting spiritual practice far too young. She accidentally discovered powerful methods of meditation when she was only seven or eight years old. As a young woman, she then exacerbated whatever damage this caused by practicing mantra meditation to a ridiculously aggressive extent. I've read that, late in life, she suggested her motivation for all this practice was a desire to repress memories of childhood abuse. That must be in the second edition, as I don't see it in the one I have. In any case, what happened at that Paris bus stop was an awakening gone wrong. This is why it resembled depersonalization, until things eventually righted themselves early in 1994.
Posts: 982 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009
Derek, I read this years ago and had some of the same impressions. It's a truly dangerous thing to de-construct the Ego (as I use the term ) through meditative practices, especially, as you note, at a very young age. Later in life, when an infrastructure of spiritual living skills has been established, it might not be so dangerous. The Christian path of Ego-absorption in love is far safer.
Toward the end of her life, she was beginning to have flashes of a sense of self again. Who knows how that would have played out if she had lived a little longer?
I dont think, in this case or any other, it is either/or. It is possible that someone experiences authentically spiritual awakening and at the same time psychological disorders. First are on the level of the spirit, second on the level of the sensible soul. Brain disease can impair our psychological condition and psychological disorder can impair our spiritual functioning. But they can also co-arise. There are theories that Segal's experience was caused by brain tumor. But again, someone can have a brain tumor AND psychological disorder AND spiritual experience. Discernment is, unfortunately, not so easy.
Personhood and the centre of a perception are related insofar as a requirement of individuality. Deconstructing ones personhood whilst growing would be a response to abuse but no less damaging than deconstructing other peoples personhoods in an abusive and cruel manner. What happened though is a weakening in the anchoring of the centre of perception which we usually like located in our heads or hearts.It often drifts when we sleep and returns to it's position at waking giving rise to flying and falling perceptions
An important thing to note here is that Suzanne was pregnant at the time. During pregnancy at some point there is centred on the unborn child a very rapid series of compressions (like a three dimensional ripple but in reverse) each ripple preceded by and interlaced with 'rain drops' of intent.
Luckily this is a very localized phenomenon. A pregnant women might sense something has happened. A man might only sense something if he was intimately involved at the time. It accounts for some weird psychological changes in some pregnant women and also partially why mothers connect deeply with their offspring. For someone with a centre of perception less anchored than most the event might be enough to knock it awry.
My impression is that her nervous system was on overdrive for eleven years. That's what eventually caused her brain biochemistry to malfunction. But I don't know that medical science will ever prove this one way or the other. Suzanne Segal's condition was so rare that it will never be amenable to scientific investigation.
Posts: 982 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009
It is interesting that in spiritual traditions there was always a requirement that someone who wanted to follow a path should undergo a moral and intellectual purification. In ancient philosophy people should first put their lives in order, acquire knowledge about the principles of philosophy, and only then they were able to be taught spiritual exercises. In yoga there were yamas and niyamas, basic moral rules to obey, before someone could practice asanas and pranayama. In Christianity there was a period of catechumenate, later abandoned for other reasons, before "initation in the Christian mysteries" - both moral and intellectual preparation. That's a pity that nowadays those old, universal precautions are completely ignored and people just start with their meditation, kundalini or whatever, before they are ready. No wonder that if someone lives in grave sins and intellectual illusions and falsehoods, possibly having also physiological disorders due to unhealthy lifestyle or psychological disturbances, and experiences awakening of powerful spiritual energies, it can go wrong this way or another. Of course, only the small minority end up with psychosis, deep depression or brain dysfunctions, but I guess that various milder anxiety and depressive disorders are quite common in "meditators" who didn't put their life and psyche in order before starting their spiritual path.
BTW, Ken Wilber (I was once a fan ;-)) had some sensible ideas about that - for example, encouraged to do some physical exercise or psychotherapy/counselling and discouraged intense meditation without taking into consideration the whole of our existence. He believed that many of so called "crazy wisdom" of various eccentric gurus was just "crazy" without much wisdom...
I read Suzanne's book back in 1996 I think before it was published. I believe it was originally a paper for CIIS in San Francisco. I had met a woman with whom we swapped kundalini stories and became friends. She wanted to be an organizer for a spiritual teacher (that's a profession in California). This woman and some of her friends heard about Suzanne's experiences and encouraged her to start teaching. I was invited to her bday party in I think 1996. I thought she seemed like a nice woman.
I think the premise of her book was that experiences like hers should not be pathologized. However, I found out that a few years later she died of an undiagnosed brain tumor, and thought perhaps she would have been better off if it had been pathologized (and docs gotten to the cause of it).
I'm assuming the tumor has to do with the no-self experiences. But I don't really know that to be the case.
Personally, I've never experienced no-self. And don't really know what they are talking about. Maybe I lack spiritual maturity. I've only experienced being on the brink of realizing oneness with everything. It is not a loss of self, it is an expansion of Love.
Posts: 46 | Location: California | Registered: 14 May 2015