Mick Collins - My Crisis and Transformation
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello, welcome again to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and my guest today is Mick Collins.
How are you?
Mick: Hi, Iain.
Iain: Mick and I actually met at the AGM of the Scientific and Medical Network a few weeks ago and Mick did a presentation about his book, which is called ‘The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis’. And there was a particular part of Mick’s presentation that really interested me, which is more to do with his personal journey and a personal crisis and how he got through that and how it changed his life, so… We’re not going to cover the whole book, but we are going to cover part of it. Chapter 13, funnily enough, is the main chapter.
Mick: It is, yes.
Iain: Unlucky for some but with Mick it was a breakdown and a breakthrough, wasn’t it?
Mick: Breakdown, breakthrough and still going on, you know. I think that’s the beauty of it, it’s a 30 year journey of… ‘awakening’ wouldn’t be out of place. Awakening.
Iain: Yes, yes.
So, let’s just run a little bit, sequentially, through your life and what happened and the challenges you had when things did happen to you.
You were adopted, weren’t you, when you were very young.
Mick: Yeah, at 3 months old I was adopted and there was quite a, you know, traumatic side, I’ve just found out, event that surrounded that. But I was then adopted into an RAF family, so we travelled around the world and moved a lot. I had no brothers and sisters and the family I moved into had very little extended family so, in a way, it was a very rootless existence. You know, going to school would be more about making friends and trying to fit in, education took a back seat. There was no national curriculum so you didn’t know what was going on in the next school you moved to. There was no continuum in terms of educational progression. So it was a very ad hoc existence.
And I think, combined, all the things… an emotionally volatile time as well. And I was a very sensitive and vulnerable young lad, albeit also a little bit of a wild temperament so a bit of a mix there. But, you know, one of the enduring myths I had as a child was having a complete fear that I would be accused and hung for something that I didn’t do.
It, sort of, shows the level of distress that was around in my life at that time. And other things: I remember waking up in a room, getting out of bed – we’d just changed house again – and I’d go to the door but it would be in another place and I thought I’d been bricked in the room because there was no door where I expected it to be, because I was half asleep.
So, underneath, there was some real disturbance but actually, on the surface, I was adapting, like you have to. But, one thing that I’ve reflected on since talking about this experience with you and thinking about it, is that I was set up for a transformational life because change was ever-present.
So in a way it was kind of –
Iain: That’s interesting because your life was changing frequently in terms of your natural mother…
Iain: … gave you away and then, as you say, your parents kept moving. That’s right, there was constant change.
Mike:So constant change and, in a way, you have to reinvent yourself, you have to keep turning up at a new place and thinking, ‘How am I going to play my hand in this place?’ We’re getting a bit older, you’re progressing through your life, maybe an adolescent now. And so it became a real game of adaptation. And, of course, having no siblings, or steady social friends, to check in with, you’re left second-guessing yourself, how you’re doing. And you’re aware, in those days, families didn’t really take a great interest in finding out too much about what was going on with their kids, it was pretty much ‘get on with it’ and ‘get on with your life’. Well, that was certainly, in my social setting, that’s the sort of thing we would have experienced.
Iain: So you left school at 15 and you became a labourer for a time.
Mike:Yep. I left school at 15 with no education – I had a cycling proficiency test was my only qualification upon leaving school. I went and worked as a labourer on a building site, which was a pretty rude awakening to the world of work. And, interestingly, it was at around that time that I got in trouble with the police. I had my first court appearance at 15. And, subsequently, I went to court 3 more times. I had 4 court appearances in my early, formative teenage years. And I was mixing with a group of people that, certainly, were not bad people but they were getting up to some pretty bad things and I was part of that too. So I can’t say, “It was all them and not me”; I was part of that. And I was selling myself short, really, I was going with a group of, sort of, angry young men, if you wish, and, you know, ‘gang’ would be too strong a word, but we got into a lot of trouble and, yeah, I’m not pleased about that when I think about it.
Iain: But then you did something interesting, you joined the military, which is kind of almost the opposite, isn’t it?
Mick: Yeah. My last offence was for an offensive weapon and I got caught with a knife. Thank God I didn’t use it! And I’m very pleased about that, but, you know, it just shows the state that I was in and, when I went to court, I said to the judge, “I’d like to make a change in my life and I’ve thought about it”.
The policeman in the station who took my fingerprints said, “Why are you doing this?” and that question got through because he did it kindly, he said it very nicely and he made me think. And the only option I could think of was joining the army and so I told the judge I wanted to join the army. That, I believe, would have been a prison sentence, borstal, if I hadn’t made that. I got a £60 fine in 1972, which was a lot of money then. Sorry, that was 1973. That’s a lot of money, when you’re on £5 a week.
Mick: So I kind of took that and – the army didn’t want to let me in at first, they said, “You’re too much like a trouble maker,” but a lot of people wrote on my behalf and got me in and that was the beginning of really picking up a credible sense of Self, that ‘you are something’ and ‘you can do something with your life’.
Iain: And were you aware that your Self was changing at that point? Did you see there was a process going on and you were changing in stability or however you related to it?
Mick: Yes, I think so. I mean, what the infantry does for you, because it’s a pretty hard core sort of a wakeup call, you end up, first, getting very fit and you have to be proficient in a lot of drills and a lot of use of, you know, weapons and things like that so you have to be very drilled and methodical, which I wasn’t. So it really did bring about a deep shift in ‘I’m competent, I can do things’. And, of course, my first posting was in Northern Ireland in 1974, at 18, and that was a very rude awakening to the real… I mean, unless anyone saw what it was like in Ireland in the 70s, no pictures will tell that story. It was a very tough environment. And, fortunately, I was only there for a couple of months and I didn’t get in any bother but it had quite a lasting impact on me because, naturally, it’s a war zone.
Iain: Yeah, you could get shot, your friends could get shot and you might have to shoot somebody.
Mick: Yes. Yeah.
So these were real wake up calls and I went through the military and I, sort of, dug deep and I was quite good at it, I think. But I realised in ’77, I got to that point, I think, ‘I’m not going to stay. I’m going to leave.’
So, I left the army and, within weeks, I had £18 and I took a ferry over the channel and just started hitch hiking and I was on the road for 6 years. I came back occasionally. And I just went, you know, India, Nepal, worked in Australia and Switzerland and, you know, just went around the world doing lots of very interesting things and meeting interesting people.
And, I believe, that’s where I really got a taste for the spiritual because I was meeting people that were reading Rabindranath Tagore and Hermann Hesse and all these sorts of great writers, and I hadn’t a clue what they were going on about. But I started to read these books, started to go and have a look in temples and what have you and thought, you know, there’s something really interesting here. Although there was also a part of me that was quite wild and running a slight – you know, all that freedom and it was the 70s! But there was another process running as well, which was just taking a gentle rise throughout that 6-year period.
Iain: So it was like challenging your beliefs, as such, at that time?
Mike:I think that’s a fair way of putting it. So, for instance, I remember popping in to, you know, seeing the Buddhists when I was in Asia and seeing people meditating. That was very different to anything I’d seen before. Certainly that wasn’t normal discourse in the army! So I, kind of, got interested, I gave it a try. I would listen to poetry and I would think ‘Well, I don’t understand this’, you know. I wasn’t a very bright person, but I’d feel things, so I, kind of resonated with that.
Mike:But yes, I think ‘challenging my beliefs’ would be a fair assessment, because it was a quiet challenge, and an intriguing one.
And then you came back after a few years and then there’s a very significant thing happened, that you went to visit a friend, didn’t you, at a Tibetan monastery. Just talk us through that.
Mike:Well, in the north of England there were a few monasteries Samye Ling and Manjushri, both in the Tibetan lineage. One’s in the Kagyu – Samye Ling – and Manjushri’s Galugpa, which is the same tradition as the Dalai Lama. And my dear friend, Russell Thornton, from New Zealand, visited Manjushri Institute, and stayed, and I heard from the grapevine – people that were travelling – that he had gone to this place, in the Lake District – a 200 room Gothic mansion, mock Gothic mansion – and I, kind of, felt myself feeling pulled back to England. There was a significant bit to the story but it’s not really that important. But it happened that I ended up back in England and I went to visit my friend for a 2-day visit and I spent the best part of just under 3 years there, which was extraordinary. So I turned up and I thought ‘What is this place?!’, you know. It really did make me think ‘Wow!’
There was a monastic community, monks and nuns, and there was a lay community and a healthy building project. And, when they heard that I had building skills, they said, “Would you like to stick on and work for the team?” So I thought ‘Why not?’ £12 a month, a clothing allowance – that’s what you got £12 for – all your meals, all your teachings.
Iain: Was it just ‘Why not?’ or was there something else that was pulling you?
Mick: Well I don’t know, if I’m honest, I think the ‘Why not?’ was – well a) my very dear friend was there, and that was always a good pull, there was that sense of, you know, this feels right, and I think you’re right, I think there was a pull but I wasn’t that conscious of it at that time.
Iain: OK, yeah.
Mick: But, if I look back on it now, I’d say, “Yes, I think I was pulled there”. And I had a fantastic time. I built a little chalet in the woods, 70 acres of woods, and I built my own hermitage and lived in it. I was showing my daughter the photos of that the other day. I don’t think she’d seen them before and was quite amazed.
So I kind of, really, went inwards and started to listen to the teachings, feel the teachings, and try to get a sense of them.
Iain: There’s a quote here that I pulled out your book, it says, “In my conventional existence I began reflecting on what a more intimate perspective could mean in the way I lived, began to observe and question how duality was embedded in my thoughts and behaviour”. That was coming out when you were in the monastery.
Mick: It was. Eventually, I led the Manjushri puja every morning, I used to go every morning and eventually they said, “Well, would you like to lead it?” But, within that, you’ve also got the morning meditations on death, impermanence, non-duality, and there’s a real programme of this. And, to be honest, I was thinking about these things quite a lot and, naturally, what happens is you then find out when you see yourself creating dualities in your thinking, judging others, being unkind in your thinking. You start to bring it back and Jung would call that ‘shadow work’. At the time I would think ‘yes, well this is part of your meditation practice’.
And so there was a healthy sense of getting a perspective for the spiritual life based on… I didn’t go for the highbrow teachings, I did low level tantra and I did all the lam rim, the preparation of the path. And so those were my formative spiritual structures, if you wish.
Iain: You also talked about you were fascinated by the interplay between form and emptiness.
Mick: Yeah, the Heart Sutra was something that really spoke to me, Shariputra’s Discourse ‘Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form’, and the two truths that we have a conventional existence and a, sort of, an ultimate existence, and that, sort of, interplay between these realities started to make me really think about ‘well, what world am I in and what is it to be in this world?’ These were, at the time, very thought-provoked questions and I might feel them, because I do feel a lot, but they were a precursor for what eventually became a seismic shift in my consciousness, which…
Iain: Happened very soon. We’ll go into that, yes.
Iain: But did you have other examples you can give me about how you experienced this form and emptiness interplay?
Mick: Mm… I think, when meditating in the mornings, because if you’ve got a regular meditation practice, as I’m sure your viewers will know, if you really are in an environment that encourages you to enter into that stream… and, don’t forget, this was a college but it was also a monastery. And, therefore, whilst on the building team we did have a bit of fun, you know, we weren’t devoid of having a bit of fooling around, nonetheless, every morning, doing your meditation, reading some scriptures, or other inspiring books, and, in the evening, going to the teachings, eating a very, very healthy often vegetarian, macrobiotic, diet. All of a sudden, you get into a flow, I would suggest, and there were times when that sense of… not quite not being there but getting a sense that there was more to our experience. That sense of wholeness might be a good word. And those moments would come upon us, you know, you had an opportunity to walk in 70 acres of woods on the shores of Morecambe Bay – a beautiful natural environment. So it engendered this sense of, really, being in a flow with this form and emptiness. One was in a meditative equipoise, that sense of feeling connected to the teachings. And, of course, that, to me, was part of the lived experience of being in a place like that, was taking advantage of that.
Iain: And you were in a great position because you weren’t shut away praying and praying and doing meditation, or whatever. You were actually in a learning situation. You were doing the meditation and you were very much in the world building, using your hands as well.
Mick: Yes, and that was great because, you know, there are projects, if I go back up there now, I think ‘Oh yeah, we took that down and rebuilt it’ the clock tower, for instance, made it into apartments for people. So it always felt good that we were doing something for a growing and evolving community. So, yes, it felt very grounded in the world, you know. And, if you think, that tradition in particular pays a lot of credence to the Bodhisattva vows – that you relinquish your own enlightenment for the service of others. Now that’s something that has always caught my imagination. Don’t get me wrong I find it hard to practice but I try to keep that one in mind as a guiding principle…
Mick: That it’s not only going full tilt for your own for your own salvation, or whatever you want to call it, awakening. Actually, there is something about doing something for others. And so I quite like that.
Iain: OK. You didn’t leave the monastery much but you went on quite a long train journey and something quite dramatic happened then.
Mick: Yes, I took a train journey to the west of England to visit some friends, old friends from the community that I lived in on a kibbutz, and we’d all got together. And so I went down to Bristol and was visiting some friends and, on the train, I was doing the ‘Om mani padme hum’ mantra, just had my little beads under the table, quietly muttering unto myself… And I had a very strange experience. I looked down the train carriage, and I saw all the people in the train carriage, I’d never had a feeling like this before but I was overcome with the most profound sense of love that was extraordinary. My heart really opened up to all these people sitting on the train and I just thought ‘Wow!’ It makes me feel quite tearful thinking about it because I just thought of all of us, sentient beings, finding our way in life, and here we are… And it was not cerebral, it was here [indicates chest]. I just felt this profound sense of love. That was the beginning of it and it just grew and grew and, by the time I got off the train, everything had a sparkling clarity, almost like a light, and I was just walking down the street feeling… Well the only way to describe it was a whole-body orgasm, constant, and it was radiating and, I must admit, it was a bit too intense at one point, I just thought ‘Phew, I wish this would stop!’ It lasted for the best part of two days, which, I’ve been led to believe, is quite extraordinary. I don’t know, people say these things are fleeting, well, it just went on and on and on… And litter looked like gold, people looked like buddhas, you know, radiant. I just thought ‘Wow!’
I felt so blessed, at one level, I remember thought ‘Don’t get taken by this’ – I remember the Buddhist teacher’s advice ‘Don’t get caught by something like this’.
Iain: That you’re special, yeah, yeah.
Mick: Yeah, just watch, just watch. So I tried to do that and so, yeah, just let it go, let it pass. And, eventually, it subsided and faded, and then it turned, that’s about the only way I can say it! I felt myself slipping down into something really grisly and terrifying. And, if I’d had no preparation for what I’d just experienced – because I’d never thought that that was on our scale of possibilities – what came next was beyond my comprehension. I, kind of, slipped into a state of chaos, panic, terror, disorder, and complete projection, violent impulses. It just went absolutely off the scale. And I was terrified.
So, it was hard to know what to do with that.
Iain: Were you back in the monastery at this time?
Mick: Yeah, I’d made the journey back, got back into the monastery, and this thing happened… It was, as the feeling was subsiding on the journey back, I got back to the monastery and this – what I’ll only call ‘The Grisly Horror’ – emerged, and I was really plagued by some very, very difficult experiences, emotions, whatever you want to call it.
And I went and spoke to the resident Geshe and they advised me to just not get too attached to it and let it pass. That, in terms of a Buddhist approach to meditation, would be reasonable but it lacked, in my estimation, a psychological understanding of what was going on and, in a way, you can’t bypass what gets activated when these things happen, as much as you might just say, “Let it pass”.
Two things happened for me that I’ve understood made that experience in terms of its longevity, because it lasted for the best part of two years, the epicentre of that, because of my early life experiences, I had a very undeveloped ego structure. So there was, really, I had a persona and a very willful personality but nothing of any substance in terms of an ego that could manage things that were coming up.
Iain: This is so interesting this because there’s a lot of spiritual teachings which do talk about getting rid of the ego, the ego is almost like the devil, the ego is your big problem. But, in a way, what you’re hinting at here is actually, because your ego wasn’t that well-formed, that somehow made a very beautiful experience that turned into a nightmare.
Mick: Yeah. Because, once you have an opening, which… the symptoms that were coming up it was what you would say is a kundalini shift, awakening, I was getting the heat [indicates solar plexus], the vibrational tremors that were going on with this. So there was a, very much, something was activated.
Interestingly, the ego, for me, is something that helps to manage that and integrate those sorts of experiences. And what I learned from people like Carl Jung is that, if you’ve got a repressed shadow and the unconscious hasn’t been considered. You’ve got a weak, structureless ego and a, sort of, shaky persona that’s just very willful, when the absent ego, sort of, allows the shadow to just come up in all of its glory you’re left with a very, very raw experience, one that… I can understand how people can go off and commit the most awful things when… you hear about these things… because I experienced it and sensed it in myself.
So, there for the grace of God go I, I met – sorry.
Iain :Because, in a way, let’s say the positive side of the experience, what so many people are seeking, the realization, the oneness, if you like…
Iain: … and we hear this, now and again, on Conscious TV, someone – I’ll use your words – you see a pile of litter and you think it’s like gold, because everything is beautiful and everything is shining and that, in a way, is a pinnacle of a spiritual experience, and it could well be the ultimate realisation. On the other hand, if it’s not held, it can turn and, in your case, it seems to have turned because of your lack of ego. And what I’m interested in now is how – because you didn’t really know about Carl Jung’s work at that time –
Mick: No, I didn’t.
Iain: - how you got through the next stages.
Well, I was very lucky that someone who used to come to the monastery regularly, Arvind Patel (I think it’s Arvinda Patel), who’s now passed away – I only found this out recently and I was very sad because I wanted to give him a copy of my book, because he was pivotal in my survival, if you wish. He was a psychologist who was very interested in the esoteric and psychology, of Jung and Freud, he had read a lot. He had also worked with Krishnamurti, and he was a very close associate of Krishnamurti, and Krishnamurti wanted him to run one of his schools in India – Arvind was obviously an Indian man. A very beautiful man. I think a very spiritual man.
And he, basically, somehow he heard that I was in a state and he got a message to me – I was living in north Wales – he said, “Come to my house for the weekend”. So I did and I told him about all the terrible, violent fantasies that were coming up in me and the sheer terror and the inability – I was hardly functioning. And he said, “You know, you’ve just got to go through this and, if you can tolerate it, with choiceless awareness”, a term that Krishnamurti was very keen on. He said, “If you can just bear that, it will resolve.”
And, do you know, for a human being to say those words, was quite amazing at that point because I wasn’t really reading much in the literature that would have given me indications for that. But a human being, who’d studied and really taken – he’d been a mendicant walking around India years before, a spiritual man. He said, “You’ve just got to get through this.”
Iain: There’s something else that you said in the book, which we should put in there, you tried extra mindfulness and meditation. Didn’t help at all.
Mick: No, it amplified everything. And, interestingly, I just tried to sit and I’d just get more chaos.
Mick :So, interestingly, going out and working in conservation was brilliant.
Mick: Yeah. In the Earth. I’d go out with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Eventually! Not straight away because, first of all, I just shut myself off. Doing work in nature was a great thing. Painting, the cover of my book, was a painting that I did in that extreme state.
Iain: Yes, yeah. So it was done in the extreme state but, my wife, Renate, was saying earlier, it’s very beautiful, it doesn’t show that it’s come from an extreme state, it has a degree of stillness in it.
Mick: That’s what I was praying for!
Mick :But the interesting thing was that the meditation just was bringing it up and, interestingly, Stanislav and Christina Grof, who wrote a lot about spiritual crisis, said – you know, I got their book after I’d been through my experience – but I was so pleased to read that they said, “Don’t do any spiritual practice at this point”. And I thought, ‘Thank God I stopped that’.
Iain: You’ve just got to stop.
Mick: Yes. Get out grounding, you know, eating good food, getting in the Earth, doing some work, and being a bit creative, if you can.
Iain: And you say, again in your book, that you feel like you were on a journey into the unknown without a map. You had no idea where you were going.
Mick: Absolutely! I mean, you know, sort of, eventually I got a sense that… people would say – like I met Richard Hunn in Norwich, who was a Buddhist scholar, and he’d gone out and interviewed Marie Louise von Franz. He lived in Norwich, he’s now passed away. But he really got me onto Jung. I remember I’d tell him about the crisis that I’d been through and he’d say, “Yeah, you know, Jung would really have understood that.”
So, anyway, I started to get a little bit turned on to Jung and, even then, you know, the ‘map’ isn’t necessarily fully formed but you get a sense of some of the points and I thought ‘If only I’d known that some years ago, the shadow, if only I’d known that’. But then that’s the path, that’s the journey that you get so you just have to accept that. But, eventually, I started to get an understanding of what had happened, it took me a long time to get to that point. But, at the time, it felt like I was just… well they call it a ‘night sea journey’, and for good reason.
Iain: Dark soul of the night [sic] as well.
Mick: Yeah, that’s it.
But the ‘night sea journey’ I like because you’re at sea at night, and that’s what it’s like. And you just think, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to deal with this’. And even Jung said, “What do we do with the unconscious?” That’s the question.
Iain: So talk us through a little bit more about how you did the Jung work. Not so much in great detail, but an overview of what helped and what you thought didn’t help and what you learned through that.
Mick: Well, first of all I went to college and got myself a Diploma in Health Studies. I realised I had a vocation. I came through this and I –
Iain: So you were functioning again at this stage, were you?
Mick: I was functioning. In ’89 I was, kind of, back.
Iain: And what did you… when you were functioning how was the experience, the expanded experience? Had that changed your take on reality or did you, kind of, dismiss that as part of the…
Mick: No, no. Actually, it’s a really good question because I was very vulnerable. I’d emerged and was able to start getting out and about again. I had a heavy goods licence so I did a bit of truck driving before I went to City College in Norwich. But it was a very vulnerable time, I felt very vulnerable in terms of I didn’t quite want to just, wholesale, go back into some consensus that I knew wasn’t really where I needed to be but, at the same time, honouring this experience. But where’s the community that can connect with that.
So it felt like a very vulnerable time.
Iain: You felt quite alone with it, in a way.
Mick: Yeah, it was lonely because I didn’t share that experience that I’d had with many people, although any of my close friends, who became my close friends when I moved to Norwich, watching this, will know that I did tell them what had gone on but I swore them to secrecy! I said, “Don’t tell anyone!” because it was out of the consensus. I thought I’d gone mad, I thought I was possessed by evil. But I was possessed by the unconscious, that was the…
So, coming through that journey, I was then trying to think ‘I need to make sense of this now. What on Earth happened?’ So, I went and studied for a Diploma in Health Studies, then I got a place to study to be an Occupational Therapist. I went and worked in a mental health field, that’s where I felt drawn, because I thought ‘I think I’ve got a vocation with helping people here’. It was very driven by a vocation, a real calling.
But, in the interim, whilst working as a mental health practitioner, I got a sense of training in process orientated psychology, which was formed by a Jungian Analyst, Arnold Mindell, and colleagues, and so I entered into a long-term training with a very Jungian slant. And, of course, part of that was doing your own work, so I now had a real opportunity to understand what had a) gone on, and b) picking up that process of individuation, ie, finishing the business, getting it on track, really going for it.
And I remember there was one session I did with one of the therapists I worked with and the violence that I’d experienced, these impulses that had been part of the spiritual crisis, was something I was still shaky about – and still am, if I’m honest, you know? It’s a raw thing when you see that level of violence in you, unmediated by any… it’s quite something to sit with that. And so we processed it and, in the body work that I did in relation to this, these experiences, a cobra came into my mind and I embodied this cobra-like perspective in that experience. And this ‘HISS!!!’ came out and, something about really striking for your individuation, really going for your wholeness and really not holding back. That was what was behind that surge, which could have been expressed violently but came out as this snakey-like transformation. Really going for ‘get behind yourself’, you know, really go for it.
Iain: So, you used the words ‘individuation’ and ‘wholeness’.
Iain: To me they’re different things. Individuation is to do with the self, the wholeness is to do with the bigger picture. Can you just explain what you mean?
So, the individuation is about the self but, of course, Jung did use the ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’. And that Self realisation would connect to a sense of wholeness. And, albeit, well he doesn’t give any, “Well, it looks like this and it’s this or that,” but that Self, with a capital ‘S’, wouldn’t be amiss with that sense of wholeness and really –
It’s interesting, the word ‘individuation’ comes from two words: ‘individual’ and ‘individuus’, non-divided.
Mick: So, actually, it is to do with wholeness.
So, for me, that was a real step and it still is: to live that process and to get behind your Self. (Self with a capital ‘S’.)
Iain: OK. So this all happened, the crisis happened, what 30 years ago, something like that?
Iain: And you mention that you’re still processing to some degree, you’re still evolving from that. What were the main breakthroughs you had during those 30 years? What were the main things that were helpful or the main realisations that happened for you?
Mick: OK. Well, interestingly, as an individuation path will reveal, you don’t go with the prescription, you go with your own sense of where it’s leading you, so I went into writing and exploring papers, scientific written papers that were leaning towards this more… chaotic side. So I wrote, for instance, for the Journal of Occupational Science, I wrote a paper called ‘Who is Occupied?’ And I did a whole exposition on union psychology, Buddhist philosophy, and what we do in our lives and how we bring ourselves forward. Who are we? That, you know?
So I, kind of, played with theoretical ideas like that. I was really getting a voice for what was trying to live within me. So it did take a little academic route, actually. I was still practicing as a clinician and working with people in mental health, psychological therapies and acute admissions. But then I was still on this journey and, eventually, I got a job at a university and I went further with those peer-review papers until, in 2008, I wrote an autobiographical account of my own spiritual crisis.
Now, in mental health, you don’t get much in the way of people doing that level of self-sharing. You might get that in our world, the one we’re talking in now, people talking about the experiences they’ve gone through. In a professional medical context, those sorts of narratives are rare. So, I took a big risk and I started writing and revealing, so I started showing myself. And it was really terrifying because I thought ‘Oh my lord, my colleagues are going to read this! My patients are going to read this! My students are going to read this!’ And it was really quite a shaky time because of all of the investments you’ve got in being a ‘professional’. So I realised the personal and the professional were my path to the transpersonal and I’m really just going to let this out.
And, eventually, I did a Phd, on spiritual crisis, in which I spoke about my journey even further, and that became, eventually, the book. But that level of exposure…!
Iain: And what was people’s responses?
Mick: Well, it’s interesting because the Spiritual Crisis Network picked up the article and they –
Iain: Yeah, we had a programme about them a few years ago on Conscious TV. They do good work, yeah.
Mick: They’re fantastic, and I’m really pleased to say they, kind of, picked up one of the papers, and that was really nice.
A couple of my students read the articles and said, “Oh, I’ve just read a paper you wrote,” and I said, “Which one was that?” and they showed which one it was, the one of my experience, and there was some very heartfelt conversations and it was quite moving, actually, to be seen other than the ‘teacher’ type thing, you know?
So I felt that was a good level of exposure to… Yeah.
Iain: But you see, for me, it’s true because they say that the best people to work with alcoholics are people who used to be alcoholics.
Iain: The best people to work with drug addicts is people who were addicts.
Iain: And, I would think, the best people to work with people who’ve had a breakdown, mental crisis, is someone who’s been through it and come through it, sort of like you did. You came through it on your own!
Iain: To a large degree. You didn’t have a lot of help in terms of – well, you did have your friend that was helping you, but he encouraged you to find your own way.
Mick: Oh, totally. I only saw him three times in that whole period but just knowing that he was there, I mean, you cannot underestimate that.
But you’re right, I mean, ultimately it was a journey of just holding on. I remember doing the I Ching once – well two things: 1) I nearly killed myself, I nearly did it, I was so distressed with what I was getting into because of the…
Iain: So you’re saying – this may be difficult for you – but what did you feel at the time?
Mick: Well, that I was possessed by something really.
Iain: Possessed, really?
Mick: I thought I was evil. Because I was having such raging violent impulses.
Iain: Violent impulses where you wanted to hurt people?
Mick: Yeah. Attack, yeah.
Iain: Really, really?
Mick: I had to sit on that. This was a terrifying thing to be and, you remember, my ego structures were not very good so I was just getting this raw stuff all the time and how I got through it I’ll never know.
Iain: But was there ever a point where you were questioning what was reality and what wasn’t reality? Or were you aware that it was something coming up, as opposed to a real message, or a real thing you had to do?
Mick: Well, I have to say that I don’t know. At the time, I was confused and even the fact that I said that I thought I was possessed by evil would pretty much tag it to something that you’re… you’re lost. I was possessed by the unconscious, it was coming up with such a force. So I didn’t have any way of, what process-orientated psychology calls ‘meta-communicating’, ie having a view of it, I was lost in it.
And the one time – the old-style razor blades, I took one out and I didn’t put it on my neck but it wasn’t far off and I was looking in the mirror…
Mick: …and I just thought, ‘No’, and I put it down. You know I thought that I’d rather take myself out of this life than hurt another person. So there was something of a moral conscience in there, but I was, very much, plagued by this.
I have no idea where it came from, I mean it’s probably repressed stuff from the past, I had been quite violent as a young person, I’d been in the army doing bayonet practice, you know. That must have been part of it, but it felt bigger than that.
John Weir Perry, who’s a Jungian analyst did lots of work with people in the early 70s in spiritual crisis and he said these things are not uncommon, they’re almost archetypal. I can’t say any more than that because I haven’t really - I’m going to be looking at that as a future development.
Iain: What would you say to someone who’s watching this that feels they’re in a spiritual crisis now?
Mick: Well, I think everybody needs to be seen individually for who they are and what they’re path is, so I would never prescribe.
What I would say, first of all, how blessed, now that we’ve got the International Spiritual Emergence Network, ICEN, and Katie Mottram, who’s Director of that is a friend of mine. It’s so brilliant that that is happening now and there’s a really good group of people that have come together. Get in touch with them because, straight away, you’re not alone.
The second thing is: trust that you’re in a process. Give yourself a bit of slack. Do something grounding. Get out and do a bit of digging. It won’t solve it but it’ll help you work your body and feel a bit connected to the Earth, a bit of grounding. And eat a good diet and reduce the amount of stimulants, if you’re on any, you know, coffee and all those sort of things. And a good, wholesome diet, good food.
Those four things would already, at least, cut a little bit of slack. And, if things are coming up then someone like a transpersonal therapist, or a Jungian type therapist would be spot on, to help look at that.
Iain: Yeah, because you mentioned the shadow a couple of times and I didn’t encourage you to follow that. We’ve got about 8 minutes left so talk a bit about the shadow. And also Jung talked about the numinous as well, doesn’t he? Just give us a feel for those.
Mick: Well, to me – yeah, it’s interesting that because I think the two go together and I can almost link them to that awakening and that erupting, which seems like a good way to put it. The awakening was the numinous, which – Rudolf Otto wrote a book called ‘The Idea of the Holy’ and he talks of the numinous as the mysterium fascinens, which is that beatific, almost twinkly… holy… beatific experience, that sense of –
Iain: You’re using words that are beyond me here, you know!
Mick: Seeing the litter that just looks radiant, OK?
Mick: And there’s the mysterium fascinens. And then there’s the mysterium tremendum, which is like a really encounter with the starkness, the terror, of the holy. And, I think, that experience I had of seeing everything as sacred and then descending into something grisly was two sides of the numinous.
The interesting thing is, when you’ve got a shadow that’s not been worked with, you’ve had lots of life experiences and they’re all tucked away and not been let out, well, when the gates are opened, that comes up. So it really adds into the whole terror of that experience.
I think, when we start acting on that and acting it out, like we’ve seen in the past, I mean with people that have committed really terrible things, like Hitler, you’ve got what they call the mysterium horrendum, that it’s really catalysed into something gruesome. But if we can hold the two poles of, first of all, the fascinens and the terror, the tremendum, then you can work with that and then there’s a point for actually getting to that non-dual, that sense of the awakening, in that sense.
Iain: What does ‘awakening’ mean to you now?
Mick: It’s ongoing. I mean, where I’m a fan of Jung, at 81 he said, “I’ve lived for 8 decades and I have no rounded answer to myself, but I feel connected to the trees, the clouds, the rivers, the birds and the Earth”.
Mick: You listen to that and he has no rounded idea of himself, but his Self is very much with… all.
Iain: There’s simplicity in a way.
Mick: There is. I see Jung as really like a Daoist sage. At Bollingen, where he lived, he literally cut wood and carved and did repairs and ate simple foods. And just one thing, can I say my Bollingen reference?
Iain: Yeah, you went there, didn’t you?
Mick: I went on a pilgrimage to Zurich, to see Jung’s grave and to go to the Institute and just to feel – pay my respects to Jung, because he’s been a real… positive light in my life. And I went to Bolligen, which is like a tower that he built, and it’s not open to the public and I went there just to pay homage. There were cars outside the gate and I sat and meditated and I thought ‘I’m not going to knock on the door, it’s wrong. Swiss people are very private and they probably wouldn’t appreciate that’. (I lived in Switzerland for a while.)
But a little bird came out of the inside of the hedge and there was a piece of string on the inside of the gate and it pulled the string – it was obviously looking for nesting material. But, what was interesting was for me, I saw that as a synchronicity, that somehow that was a meaningful coincidence that the gate might open. So I sat and meditated. And out came a builder, who was doing some work in there. I guess if it had been a family member they would have said, “Sorry, this is private,” but the builder said, “Come in. His grandson’s in there”. So I went in and saw Jung’s tower, the door was open – I went into the courtyard, I didn’t go into the house – and I met one of Jung’s grandsons and we had a little chat and he said, “Yes, feel free. Go and have a look around”.
So I felt very blessed. And what that’s given me – it’s just this year that that happened – is to go further and open more doors to find that… Because Bollingen, for Jung, that’s where he found his wholeness, that’s where he expressed himself in the world, spiritually. And, I think, that door opening, from my teacher, if you wish, my ancestor, that’s how I see Jung, is an invitation for me to go further and open more doors hitherto unopened.
Iain: And you were telling us on the way to the studio that there’s another door opening because you recently tracked down your birth mother.
Mick: I have. Yes, I’m 60 this year and, when I was 3 months old, I was adopted, as I said. Two years ago I found my birth mum and we are on a journey together finding ourself and how we’re reconnecting and filling back all those past years, those years that were lost and finding a new way forward.
And she’s meeting my daughter, her granddaughter, my wife. And I haven’t met my half-brother and –sister yet, but I hope that’ll happen soon.
Mick: But it’s amazing. I mean, so I love that idea that the surprise is, yeah, always, ever-present, potentially, in life.
Iain: We’ve got about 3 minutes left for you to tell us what you’re doing now. Apart from… You’re doing a lot. What you’ve said in terms of your work and meeting your birth mother, but in terms of your moving – I think you’re writing a new book, aren’t you, at the moment?
Mick: Yeah, I’m writing a new book and it’s very much a progression from ‘The Unselfish Spirit’ but it’s going to go a lot more underneath. A lot more on some of the stuff that we’ve touched on, actually.
I’m working as a holistic coach, and so I do dream work and I bring in all of the training that I’ve had in the psychotherapy I did and in the occupational therapy, plus the coaching training. And I, sort of, bring in a way of working that just honours dreams, body symptoms, ideas, aspirations, blocks, edges. And I work with people on that kind of journey. So that’s new. Writing a book, doing that sort of work and, yeah, just chilling out a little bit. But I retired from academia last year so I’m now, yeah, trying to find a time for the heart, a time for the… not just being busy thinking.
Iain: And we’re going to, when this programme finishes, people watching on the Internet, we’re going to do a short meditation exercise, which is… I’m just reading it here, it says ‘during the last few years you’ve been consciously doing a life review and trying to ensure that your imaginal energies are being harnessed and focused for your growth’.
Iain: ‘I use the idea of not waiting until I die for the grand life review’.
Iain: So you’re going to take us through that after the…
Mick: Yes, I’ll be delighted because one of the things I’ve really learned from studies around people’s Near Death Experiences is they get a life review at the end of their life. I mean, why not bring it forward?
Mick: That really sharpened up my thinking about doing these periodically and I’m going to write about that in the new book. But it’s about what you do as well. I might give a little lead-in before that meditation, if you wish, just to say that it’s about making sure that we change what we do, as well as what we are in terms of our being. So those two go together very nicely in that meditation.
Iain: We didn’t actually go into detail of your book, which is about doing and being and the relationship between them, isn’t it, yeah.
Mick: Doing and being and that interface of growing, because ‘doing’ has got a bad press, we tend to think that ‘We’re not human doings, we’re human beings’. Actually, if you think about it, doing has a massive impact on our growth and development so I’m putting a little pitch out that it’s not one or the other but both and.
Iain: Yeah, I understand that, yeah. Mick, we need to finish, time is marching on.
Mick: Thank you.
Iain: I really appreciate you coming. You’ve come all the way down from Norwich.
Mick: Norwich, yeah.
Iain: This morning, barely.
I’m going to show your book again ‘The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis’. And there’s a lot in the book we haven’t covered, we just covered a couple of chapters. So, if you’ve been touched by Mick then get a copy of the book and check the rest of it out, it’s good stuff.
Thank you, again.
Iain: And thank you for watching Conscious TV. And, as always, I hope we see you again soon. Good bye.
Life Review Meditation
Mick: Hi, my name’s Mick Collins. I’m here today, a guest, on Conscious TV.
I’m going to do a short reflection, stroke, meditation with you on doing and transformation. I want to make a reference to my book, which is called ‘The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis’. I wrote this book because it’s all about doing as a way of engaging in a transformational life and I feel that the information in here is really important for the kind of work that we’re going to be doing in a minute in the reflective exercise.
The reflective exercise is really based on some readings I’ve done about Near Death Experiences. What the literature seems to show, quite a few times, is that people have a life review in the Near Death Experience. Not all people, but it’s a fairly consistent theme. And one of the things about the life review is people are getting to see the effects of their actions, both positive and negative, and how they’ve rippled in the lives of others. It’s quite a, sort of, salutary reminder that what we do in this world has consequences. We affect others through the way we are, in our being, and we affect others in our doing.
But what I like about what I’ve read about the life review is that it seems to focus on a non-judgemental atmosphere, that people are not being judged for what they’ve done but are being beckoned to wake up to what they could do different. And, many of the people who have the Near Death Experience and the life review then come back to everyday world, or everyday reality, but many people are changed. They change their behaviours, they become more loving and try to be non-judgemental, more compassionate, more empathic.
So, my question is: Why wait until we’re dying, or at death’s door, to have a life review? And what I’m going to suggest we do in the next few minutes is to have a little look at what a life review could look like.
So, based on some of the ideas that we find in the Near Death Experience, that it’s people’s actions, and their ripples and reverberations, that seem to be the thing that resonate into the lives of others, ie, there’s a consequence beyond the self of the person who performed the act. It’s felt, in proximity, in the lives of others.
So, if we were to do a life review today, where might we start, what would we do, how might we, sort of, engage that process? And I think we can look at having a balanced view in what we do and think about those actions in life where we’ve done well. So maybe if you could now just enter into your experience of doing, the things you do in your life, the behaviours, the actions that you perform, every day, and just consider what you do well and those sorts of actions that have a known, positive benefit to others. Could be through the feedback that you get from people, could be your own sense of wellbeing in performing those tasks. So just have a sense of the positive benefits of what you do and how that makes you feel.
And, similarly, think about those behaviours and actions which are more negative, less helpful. They could be configured around selfishness, greed, envy, even ill-will towards others. Those moments when we’re caught by a projection onto another human being. What would it take to reclaim that projection, to reframe that action and to do differently?
Think today about the way that your actions are reverberating in the lives of others. For one thing that we know, more and more, about the world today is that we exist in a field. We’re interconnected. And what we do has an impact. And, thinking about what we do connects to love. For, if we love what we do, then that can translate into the lives of others, who are also in proximity to our doing.
This seems to be the lesson from the life review, as we know it, through Near Death Experiences. Why wait until you’re at death’s door if the meaning of our life is to wake up and be more loving, compassionate and non-judgemental. Your actions, every day, are a sacred revelation, in terms of your journey into wholeness.
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