Hi, my name is Jane Alexander. Welcome to my blog. Why ‘Adventures of a rebel Taoist’? I practice Taoist esoterica, I’m a bit of a rebel and I am posting about my adventures.
With Taoism, you have basically three branches. Religious, philosophical and esoteric. Esoteric Taoism is essentially mysticism. My training in the mystic school of Taoism consists of Taoist meditation, yoga, chi kung and nei kung. I am a student and occasionally teacher of Taoist meditation. Although I have practiced some Fire Path methods, I am most experienced with the Water Method of stillness and letting go. What is my experience with Taoist meditation and what qualifies me to teach it much less talk about it?
Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with multiple incurable mental disorders. I was hospitalized for the first of eventually several attempts to kill myself due to depression. While I was undergoing inpatient care I had a psychotic break and became very violent. I was diagnosed with manic depression with psychotic features, also known as bipolar disorder 1 comorbid with schizophrenia. That was in addition to a pretty bad case of PTSD.
If you don’t know what these conditions are, you can certainly familiarize yourself with them using your favorite search engine. I was never given an option of treatments but instead under continual threat of restraints and forced injections, coerced to take the standard protocols of high doses of lithium carbonate and perphenazine. These were horrible drugs the combination of which left me a palsied, overweight mental vegetable with little emotional response and no initiative.
It was like being punished for something that not only was not my fault, but at the time I had no control over. The psych meds were like chemotherapy for my brain. It was basically a chemical mind-wipe. I suffered serious neurological side effects and underneath all that drug-induced misery, disconnection and mental fog inside me, my problems still remained, completely unaffected and unhealed.
Everyone thought I was much better and less threatening when I was sluggish and sedated. I was so chemically restrained mentally that I could barely contemplate my surroundings, much less do something to hurt myself. So I rebelled against the system as soon as the opportunity presented itself. In the process of going AWOL from a facility I came down from the effects of antipsychotics long enough to get some calculative power back.
Eventually I was returned to lockdown and while there I carefully studied the patient’s Mental Health Bill of Rights and got my court appointed guardian ad litem to petition for a writ of habeas corpus on my behalf. At the age of fifteen I battled in court and won my freedom from coercive mental health treatment against the recommendations of my social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist and family. The judge saw fit to uphold my constitutional right to refuse ineffective medical treatment and to choose to suffer from my problems or pursue my own course in healing as I saw fit. From then on I battled my mental health conditions alone without any support from anyone in my family, as I drifted from group homes to residential lockdowns and foster homes until I turned eighteen.
My psychiatrist had told me that without counseling, therapy and psych meds, I would forever live a life of uncontrollable mood swings and psychotic episodes. And that without treatment, mental illness was really a disability, especially for someone who was afflicted as badly as I was so early in life.
It seemed as though she had a crystal ball because I did suffer for the next six years. From the destructive, disparaging inner voices to manic episodes and prolonged, morbid depressions. Then there were the flashbacks, nightmares and hyper-vigilant state of anxiety and paranoia that people suffer from when they have undergone years of recurring trauma they were unable to escape from. Something I experienced personally at the hands of my religious but fanatical and mentally ill parents while growing up.
For several years as an adult I was my own worst enemy and I failed at being a productive member of society in some spectacular ways. I got involved with drugs and criminal behavior and screwed a lot of well-meaning people over because I hated myself, my life and everyone else too.
When you discontinue or refuse psychiatric meds and you’ve seen a dozen counselors and none of them had any therapeutic effect, doctors put you in a neat little box called ‘treatment resistant’. And they don’t express a whole lot of hope about your future. Your family of course, doesn’t understand why you won’t simply comply with the pdocs and help yourself ‘get better’.
Everything started to change after my last overdose. I was in a brief coma and had a near-death experience. While I was recovering, I decided to abandon the usual societal expectations to go to college, get a career, settle down, raise a family, and cut myself a slice of the American Dream. I took up Hatha Yoga, got involved with all manner of New Age healing ideas, from colon cleansing to crystal healing. I tried vegetarianism and became a certified Reiki teacher in the Usui lineage.
At some point I got passionately involved with the internal martial arts of ba gua, tai chi chuan and chi kung healing which led me to studying intermittently with Master Bruce Frantzis in the late 90s. I was very poor at the time and I supported myself by working in a steel factory or warehousing. I saved up my money and I learned everything I could from him about Taoist meditation and the Water Method branch that he teaches. Over a four year period I went to a couple retreats, several workshops and seminars and even a brief three hour lecture that I took a sixteen-hour round-trip bus ride to attend.
Since then, I have put in literally thousands of hours practicing the inner and outer dissolving method of Taoist meditation. And during that four, almost five year period, I cured myself of everything that was bothering me. First, my explosive anger and rampant anxiety began to subside. Then my depression began to lift in stages. As this happened manic episodes became fewer and fewer and less intense. The internal noise of incessant racing thoughts, delusions, paranoias and fixations began to lessen and lessen, gradually, as though meditation had installed a dimmer switch in my mind.
This dimmer switch is a measurable phenomena. Modern studies into meditation using MRI and PET scans show that people who meditate cause their prefrontal cortex to grow in density as it makes more and intricate connections to other structures in the brain like the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex, to quote Hannibal Lector, “Is the seat of good manners.”
But more exactly, the prefrontal cortex is a kind of a referee between our frontal lobes where we do abstract and intellectual thinking, to our more ancient and primitive brain structures that are responsible for our emotional impulses and responses like fear, aggression, sadness, happiness, lust, longing, attraction, aversion etc. The more time I spent installing this dimmer switch through the practice of meditation the less I suffered and happier I became, bit by bit, year after year.
Eventually depression simply failed to make another appearance and mania too, became a thing of the past. Whatever alleged chemical imbalances I might have had once are restored to more optimal functioning, due to the long-term effects on the brain of training the mind in stillness meditation. It’s been over fifteen years since I’ve been even slightly depressed or suffered anxiety attacks. All the PTSD baggage, the emotional triggers, flashbacks, the command voices, all that stuff is gone as though it had never happened.
Towards the end of 2000 I had an incredible spiritual experience that finished my healing process during a two week self-imposed meditation retreat. My entire Being became deliciously, wonderfully stable and still long enough to apprehend the nature of my mind. I fell in love with myself as a spiritual being, and all that years long, awful emptiness inside me was gone. In place of that hollowness sprouted a boundless joy and healthy self-love. The experience recharged my spiritual batteries and infused me with a total acceptance of myself and a genuine love of being alive. I’m hardly enlightened with a capital ‘E’ or a spiritual healer. Nor am I by any means perfect. But since then, I have always been able to maintain a decent equilibrium in my inner world.
As an adult I did not have access to health insurance, counseling, or therapy, and I knew from personal experience that psychiatric drugs were a dead end. They can’t teach you anything about how your thoughts and emotions actually work from the inside. Neuroleptics and other meds like lithium will never teach you how to love yourself or how to enjoy life. Or how to let go of fear, loss, hate, traumatic memories, obsessions and emotional blocks. The cost of using them long-term can be incredible weight gain, diabetes, tardive dyskinesia and sometimes irreversible damage to your glands, organs and nervous system, all of which can severely curtail your quality of life.
So I took personal responsibility for my own mental health recovery, by pursuing a more holistic healing milieu, and I eventually healed myself on my own from the inside out. By some reckoning this would make me something of a modern mental health miracle. I continue to be happy and symptom free, year after year, thanks to the brain changing powers of Taoist meditation.
I was encouraged to write a book about my journey of healing and eventually I did. The book is called “Possessing Me: A Memoir of Healing” and it is for sale online at Amazon.com.