Thomas Beck views creative illness as the ultimate opportunity to discover the purpose of one's life. He has considerable experience helping people deal with the realities of living with HIV and AIDS, and has facilitated healing from migraines, chronic pain syndrome and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Beck is a seasoned facilitator of such processes given his management of the physical symptoms of his own Kundalini awakening. Thomas is also an accomplished watercolor/gouache artist. This page features his shamanic series that has its origins in altered states induced by spiritual practices, such as chanting mantras.
Janet and Thomas see symptoms as an invitation to a life-renewing, creative process. Janet excels in dreamwork, and the facilitation of active imagination. Together, these modern-day shamans utilize EMDR and Hypnotherapy as neuro-processing and communication methodologies to bring about positive change.
Individuals emerge within every culture who heal the sick and foretell the future. They are the shamans, the intermediaries or messengers between humanity and other realities. For over 50,000 years, humans have communicated in this way with the energies of the Earth and the heavens. In all parts of the world, shamans use altered states created by rhythmic drumming, trance dancing, psychotropic substances or sensory deprivation — to access the realms and energies that transcend ordinary reality. The knowledge thus gained becomes guidance for the culture. Shamans are the quintessential healers using non-ordinary states for individual and collective healing.
The skills of the shaman are “to travel freely in the spirit world, to negotiate with its inhabitants, and to return to earth equipped to heal the sick, influence the weather, control the movements of animals, and find out the truth of hidden things... Very frequently, supernatural helpers first make their presence felt when the shaman is still a child — particularly during episodes of stress related to his unusual abilities and personality, or during a severe illness or emotional crisis. I'm reminded of John Mack's patient Joe, whose alien abductors told him: ‘We are close. We are with you. We're here to help you. We're here to guide you, to make it through your difficult times.’”
—Graham Hancock, “Supernaturals: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind”
Creative illness still occurs among modern-day shamans, mystics, scientists and artists. A creative illness may follow a period of intense stress, preoccupation or search for a certain truth. Its termination is often rapid and marked by exhilaration. The person emerges from the ordeal with their personality transformed, and the conviction that a great truth or a new world has been discovered. Fundamentally, the metamorphoses undergone by indigenous shamans occur today through physical or psychogenic illness.
Sigmund Freud underwent a creative illness between 1894 and 1900; he emerged with the foundations of psychoanalysis. Carl Jung experienced a creative illness during the period from 1913 to 1919. During these periods, both Freud and Jung restricted their ties with universities, professional and scientific organizations. Both suffered physical and/or emotional symptoms: Freud wrote about his “neurasthenia” or “hysteria”; Jung spent long periods brooding by the lake, building small stone castles. Each utilized his own method of psychological exploration: Freud used free association; Jung used active imagination and dream interpretation. Both emerged transformed.
Shamanic or creative illness is a process by which human consciousness evolves. Joseph Campbell, in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, describes this universal process:
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”
“The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”
“But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again... Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise... No creature. . . can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist.”
Symptoms reflect an effort to be free from traumatic imprints, and to simplify functioning. Creative illness unlocks the discovery of one's true identity and what connects one with the entire cosmos. With support, this process can result in radical spontaneous healing. It is potentially beneficial and should be supported rather than suppressed.
Transpersonal psychotherapy activates the unconscious to unblock the energy bound in symptoms, and to transform it into a life-stream of experience. Therapeutic support facilitates the release of that blocked energy and its full expression.
“A terrifying symptom is usually your greatest dream trying to come true.”
—Dr. Arny Mindell
An activated unconscious results in imagery used for millennia in shamanic healing, rites of passage, and ecstatic religious experience. Imagery is the world's oldest and most powerful healing resource. Through imagery, we can access and unfold the meaningful flow of life that symptoms express. Through imagery, we can communicate with our symptoms.
What do our symptoms communicate?
What is trying to emerge, and complete itself?
How can we support that process?
Minutes after being born underwater at a birthing center: Babies can stay submerged for up to two minutes as the umbilical cord remains attached.
Photographs from “The Power to Heal: Ancient Arts & Modern Medicine,” 1990, Prentice Hall Press.
Janet Colli, Ph.D.
Thomas Beck, Ph.D.
360.678.7737 (Whidbey Island)
The Good Shepherd Center
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Ste. 341
Seattle, Washington 98103, also
Coupeville (Whidbey Island)
The Dark Face of Heaven
Janet's transpersonal cases of modern-day shamans—healing cancer, eating disorders and traumatic brain injury.
Available at Amazon.com
A sangoma (traditional healer) studies a series of objects to diagnose illness—in Swaziland.
"I smoke my pipe every day, and until recently I drank sugar cane liquor every day." Maria Da Silva, Brazil, 103 years old.
"Until I was eighty-four I ran three miles a day. In the winter I ran in the snow with only my underwear on." John Parrish, Medicine Man, Arizona, 104 years old.
Tibetan precious pills made of crushed minerals—treat cancer, high blood pressure and nerve paralysis. The most complex contain 165 ingredients, including gold, silver, diamonds and rubies.
Rolled herbs are burned into bare skin at the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute—in moxibustion treatment.
Complementing modern cancer treatments with traditional herbs in Beijing, China—to strengthen a cancer patient's immune system.
Yogi Iyengar in Pune, India: "Yoga aims for complete awareness in everything you do."