Spirituality meets Psychiatry- Tracing my Journey
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
My journey into Spirituality began when I was very young. Perhaps, before my teenages began, I remember having this urge to go to the Himalayas to meditate. However, prior to that, I also remember having gone through a phase of understanding my relation with the Divine. It was almost a common ritual to go to the temple, near our school, prior to the exams and pray for a good result. After a couple of years of doing so, I started believing that it was not right on my part to think of god only prior to the exams, and thus, decided not to be transactional anymore. Ever since, I realized that I needed to feel connected to the divine with my heart, to be able to sit down for Pujas or pray in temples. Often a serene temple was attractive, allowing me to naturally go within and feel connected with the divine.
Till I grew into my adulthood, perhaps till my mid-twenties (which was when I started working), I had to deal with several insecurities regarding myself and my relation with society. There were several occasions when I felt I was much too righteous for the liking of the others, or drawn towards classical art forms, unlike others. There were, however, other times when I committed mistake,s having felt unsure and vulnerable. It was around this time that my insecurity and uncertainty had a significant role to play in my decision to move to the UK for furthering my career, although my heart still belonged to India.
I have learnt a lot during my years of living in the UK. The most important learning I had was to believe in myself, that I was actually 'wired right' and should be proud of it. I realized that I should follow my core beliefs and not doing so would be cheating my inner self. Thus started my journey of prioritizing what was important in life with re-prioritizing at different stages of life, keeping the ultimate goals of spiritual growth within and cultural enrichment. After I settled down in my professional career, I quickly moved to learning Sanskrit and then contributed to teaching it. When I moved to Singapore, I had the opportunity to start the Sanskrit movement in its own small way and we saw a significant growth over the next several years. During my stay in Singapore, I taught Telugu for kids in manabadi for 2 years and presented a much appreciated poetic drama in an ancient style in World Telugu Meet. Following on with my idea of setting up a rural health centre, along with my wife, I started 'Arogyarakasha Health Centre' in the rural town of Yelamanchili. In a nutshell, unknowingly, I was leading life on the path of set principles, which, importantly, are centered around the concept of following your heart ,or in other words listening to the Divine within. The effect of it was that I was able to live with little or no regret of not trying ,and could confidently say to myself that it doesn’t matter if I drop dead the next day. I have made good use of my existence in human form.
I was not good at reading books, apart from studying my professional books. While I have been unknowingly practicing principles of spirituality throughput my life, I only later realized that a lot of it was through my experiences of listening to my inner self. Nevertheless, I didn’t realize the impact of these powerful learnings until much later. After several years of my practice in psychiatry, one fine day I came across a patient admitted under my care who had Schizophrenia. While speaking with him, I realised that along with his various psychotic symptoms, he was also describing his own powerful spiritual knowledge. It threw me off balance as I was perhaps trying to tease them apart and not mix them up. In a way, I was seeing two layers of him. One, of depth in spiritual understanding and the other of psychosis. I felt incomplete as a psychiatrist that I didn’t have required awareness of the spiritual side of mind to understand what he was referring to and to ensure his wisdom didn't get entangled and lost amidst the process of psychosis. I decided to present this case before my colleagues and following the presentation, I realized that none of us had the necessary understanding of what we were seeing here. On the contrary, it made me feel that we were missing an opportunity to help those in need of spiritual guidance. Thus began my journey of looking for other patients who discussed spiritual concepts. It wasn’t too infrequent to see such patients, though I had to keep my views to myself for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t still equipped with my own knowledge of how I could help them and secondly, the taboo of mixing anything remotely related to religion with science, though we are talking about spirituality and not religion!
My life-long journey continues in understanding and applying principles of spirituality in psychiatry. Since I quit my job as a senior consultant psychiatrist and moved to private practice in Visakhapatnam, I have been able to spare lot more time to explore spirituality. I also have the necessary freedom to bring in truly holistic care whereby spirituality, along with biological, psychological and social aspects, plays an important role in assessment and management of my clients. Regarding the self-welfare aspect, I have begun conducting personal development workshops based on spiritual principles called "Soham Inner Development". I have also put together a therapy useful in clinical practice called "Soham Therapy". The eternal spiritual journey continues...
Dr. Malladi Srinivasa Sastry