14 Jan

Cleaning for the New Year It’s time to clean the house. I mean really clean the house! Also, to clean your person and everyone who lives with you, including spouse, children, pets, plants and the spirits who share your home. It seems cliché, but have you tried it? We know that the New Year began a few weeks ago, but the new energy is still beginning. It is time to remove anything that no longer serves you, including holiday decorations, piles of paper, old clothes, dust, dying plants, and most of all, limiting and defeatist attitudes and beliefs. 

I read a great book over my vacation written by a woman who suffers from schizophrenia called The Collected Schizophrenias, by Esmé Weijun Wang. As a clinical counselor in training who has been given the serious responsibility of diagnosing those who come into my care, I was interested in this book as it was written by an incredibly gifted and talented woman who is now in remission from one of the most feared and stigmatized of mental illnesses. It is something she acknowledges she must contend with for the rest of her life. As counselors who work under the requirements of insurance companies and for-profit organizations, we are required to diagnose and create a treatment plan very quickly, often after meeting with someone coming to care in the throes of a debilitating mental state after only one session. We use the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-Volume 5), various intake assessments, and the knowledge from our training to provide someone with a diagnosis that has the potential to affect their lives in many, often negative ways. Here was a book that provides first-hand experiences of what it is like to live with one of the schizophrenia diagnoses, her experience with the medical system, insurers, doctors and even well-meaning advocates who contend that the severely and chronically mentally ill should be medicated and hospitalized, even against their will, if they prove a danger to themselves and others. 

I read the book with compassion, while often feeling very conflicted. Isn’t it best practice to provide medical and psychiatric care only with the consent and in collaboration with the client? What if they are homicidal or suicidal or lack any ability to care for themselves? When someone is diagnosed with debilitating mental illness, is culture, life experience and known barriers to care such as institutional racism and economic disparity even considered? Ethically, I am required to consider all this carefully when making a diagnosis. 

That said, in my writings and in my work as an interspiritual minister and counselor, as well as through my undergraduate training in anthropology, I believe that mental illness is stigmatized and feared and those who suffer from it often mistreated and ignored, because Western dominant culture is severely biased against non-rational states of consciousness. In the past, and in some fundamental religions today, these states of mind are demonized, but more often today, they are dismissed as insane and lacking any value, especially those who experience psychotic states, an ability to shift reality with ease. Anyone who lives with this experience is equally feared or devalued. In cultures that place value on this experience, however, someone may be marked early for the work of a medicine worker, shaman, healer or a guide to the otherworld. Most importantly, they might also receive training for how to manage these experiences and validation and esteem for what it is that they may bring to their communities. That said, Ms. Wang goes through great pains to point out that even if there is some truth in this opinion, it comes from those who have not lived with the suffering that someone with schizophrenia or another form of psychosis does; and that pain in this culture is real and can be soul-crushing leading to agony and suicide.

 Which brings me to why I should include this aside into this post about spiritual cleaning. In her book, Ms. Wang goes into great details to discuss how resistant her mental disorder has been to medication and psychiatric care. Near the end, I am left feeling despair and frustration for her, who seemed to have received no sustained aid and comfort for her suffering, only significant trauma and setbacks. Until the end. Here she revealed that in conjunction with being medication compliant, years of therapy, and the loving-support of her husband and his family, she begins working with a spiritual guide. I felt such relief for her that she was finally given some helpful tools! She is taught how to magically tether herself to this version of reality, something that she does now whenever she feels an inkling that she is being subjected to an episode of psychosis and entering a realm she does not wish to remain trapped in. The tethering, as well as other spiritual work she begins to do, empowers her to manage her symptoms and some sense of control over them. 

This is exactly why I feel that ritual, ceremony and honoring seasonal shifts like the beginning of the new year with intentional rituals such as a spiritual clearing is so essential. Many of us in the magical community came to this work either knowingly or unknowingly precisely because we have always had a sensitivity to altered states of consciousness, experiencing things that not everyone can see or hear, and we are sometimes at the mercy of energy vibrations. Many of us consider ourselves empaths because we feel energy so deeply and it can be difficult living in this often chaotic and negative world. Some may have suffered significant trauma in the past and may have a mental health diagnosis that they must manage.  Even for those who don’t, everyone can benefit from taking time for an intentional practice of spiritual hygiene, especially at the threshold of a new year. 

So please do take the time to begin clearing away the old and what no longer serves you. Begin with a spiritual bath and floor wash. You can use items from your magical garden or purchase herbs, flowers, fruit or oils that speak to your soul and your tradition. I like Florida Water, hyssop, lavender, rosemary, and rose petals. Remember to light a candle to your guides and angels to help you release, renew, recharge and revitalize for the new year. I did, and I feel refreshed and ready for the new year. This is a ceremony that can be repeated whenever you feel hampered or spiritually heavy. 

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