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Is psychiatric medication bad for spiritual development?

Q: What do you think about taking psychiatric medication to treat mental health issues (especially those that have not responded significantly to other emotional/spiritual/psychological healing techniques)? I’ve tried it all, and finally decided to give SSRIs a try after much hemming and hawing but have been feeling a lot of guilt that I’m somehow “abandoning myself” or am “not as ‘spiritual’” by taking this step to reduce my suffering. Thanks!

A: This is a great and understandable question!

I'm not exactly sure where the belief that "interventions" such as medication will make someone less spiritual or awake came from, but it's quite persistent.

There was a guy in my sangha for many years who was the "pujari," the temple keeper. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and took lithium to manage it. He works as a nurse in a hospital. He's just a regular guy. And yet, he is one of the most spiritually awake people I've ever met, and after many years of dedicated practice, he has been initiated by my guru to begin taking disciples of his own. I have a ton of respect for him, his practice, and the way he moves through the world.

So, his condition and medication are obviously not barriers to spiritual growth.

In this life, we've really got to choose our battles. Mental health issues can be resolved or managed through many means, but sometimes a "bridge" such as medication is needed to make life easier, and there's nothing wrong or deficient about that.

In my tradition, we emphasize the mind and what the mind is dwelling on. If medication makes it easier for you to control your mind and what you are focusing on, that is an obvious advantage. Staying off medication or not treating it through allopathic means in the name of "being spiritual" could leave your mental state in even more disarray. So, for us, it's about what's actually working.

This is one reason why I started taking medication to manage Crohn's disease after years of trying to manage it naturally. Over time, I realized that the amount of mental energy it took to take the natural approach was becoming detrimental to my spiritual process. It actually made me incredibly inflexible in my life, which is NOT a yogic approach.

So, I actually viewed taking medication as a way to prioritize my spiritual focus. This is MY experience, and people can do whatever they want. But it's worth considering.

What we choose to do has repercussions in our consciousness. If being very strict about your diet yields a sanguine, serene mindset, then that's great. If it makes you even more anxious and separate from life, that might not be yielding the spiritual results you're looking for.

So, I would say: experiment with medication and see how it's impacting your ability to engage with life and engage with your own mind. If that's not working, then there's always more stuff to try.

Ultimately, God is experienced through the mind.


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