A Spiritual Program for Mental Fitness
by Dennis Gersten MD
A healer in the highest sense of the word, Dr. Gersten has supplemented his medical skills with uncommon wisdom, compassion, and love. Practical and reassuring, this book tells readers how to become comfortable with disturbing or disruptive states of minds – from stress to depression, from paranormal experiences to mystical visions – and how to learn from and find meaning in them all.
Lily Tomlin once asked, “Why is it that it’s called prayer when we talk to God, but when he answers back it’s called schizophrenia?” Almost half of all Americans claim to have had an unusual spiritual experience and as many more have had problems handling stress, anxiety, and depression.
In Are You Getting Enlightened or Losing Mind? Dr. Gersten, a practicing psychiatrist recounts his experiences with his patients and his own spiritual breakthroughs to answer questions about the entire spectrum of human consciousness – the “normal,” “abnormal,” and “supernormal.” This practical, reassuring book of spiritual psychiatry gives readers the solid information they need to deal with the sense of dislocation and uncertainty that often accompanies spiritual experiences – as well as the everyday stresses that affect our states of mind.
Dr. Gersten demonstrates how a spiritual practice can positively influence our mental health and emotional well-being. His unique, step-by-step program of meditations, breathwork, and imagery for psychological-spiritual fitness and integrity will appeal to all seekers on the path with heart.
A doctor of the soul, Gersten clearly differentiates between “getting enlightened” and “losing one’s mind,” between miracles and madness, spiritual emergence and mental emergency. His spiritual practices for mental fitness will enhance your peace of mind; sharpen your focus and alertness; teach you imagery techniques for gaining perspective on your problems; and strengthen your core values.
As Dr. Larry Dossey says in his foreword to the book, “Dr. Dennis Gersten is a healer in the highest sense of the word. He has supplemented his medical skills with uncommon wisdom, compassion and love, which shine through on every page.”
“Dr. Dennis Gersten courageously incorporates spirituality into the practice of medicine, bringing alive the essence of true healing.”
– Judith Orloff M.D., author of Second Sight“I was enthralled with Are You Getting Enlightened or Losing Your Mind? Dr. Gersten’s courageous, heartfelt, and practical look at the interface between enlightenment and mental distress is inspiring, authentic, and life-changing. I couldn’t put it down. The deep understanding and healing that Dr. Gersten brings to his psychiatric patients is available, through this book, to each of us – regardless of our current state of health.”
– Christiane Northrup, M.D., Author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom“A psychiatrist openly and honestly shares his life’s experience. Read what he has lived and learned so that you can liberate yourself and live fully.”
– Bernie Siegel, M.D., Author of Love, Medicine & Miracles“Dr. Gersten masterfully moves readers straight into the day-to-day arena of spiritual transformation. This is a profound guide that spiritual seekers will celebrate.”
– Bradford Keeney, Ph.D., Author of Everyday Soul: Awakening The Spirit In Daily Life“Some very simple truths and techniques from a caring author. Dennis steps in and out of ‘reality’ with ease. A brave, courageous book that challenges our assumptions and teaches in the same breath. Wonderfully cluttered with techniques, anecdotes and stories.”
– Peter Jensen, Author of The Inside Edge: High Performance Through Mental Fitness“In this comprehensive and highly accessible book, Dr. Gersten shares his passion for the healing potential inherent in a spiritual orientation to life. His twenty years of experience . . . have taught him that both mystical experiences and mental illness are real . . . and, most important, discernible even to the average lay person…. His ‘Mental Fitness Techniques’ and program are practical, easily learned tools. They can change your life.”
– Janet Quinn, Ph.D., R.N.“The current medical industry has no models to aid a clinician in distinguishing, assessing, and helping patients with spiritual experiences. By speaking out and providing integrative language, Dr. Gersten is helping to transform the excesses of an exclusive, narrow, biological model.”
– Scott Walker, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of New Mexico
Dr. Larry Dossey writes:
“The deepest passion of the western world is to reunite with the ground of its being,” wrote Richard Tarnas in his 1991 book The Passion of the Western Mind. This unquenchable desire to touch the Divine is universal. It is the source of the most sublime music, art, literature, and architecture of every culture.
But if our most intense drives are toward the transcendent, why do references to “the spiritual” create such emotional and intellectual indigestion in modern medicine and psychiatry? In our century, health care professionals have avoided religion and spirituality like the plague. This has created problems not only for patients but for physicians as well. As a result of this avoidance, medicine has become one of the most spiritually malnourished professions in our culture.
The reasons why the healing profession has avoided spiritual issues is rooted in the history of science. Only through great struggle did science finally escape the constraints and confines of the Church. Scientists discovered early on that a hands-off approach to religion worked best for both sides. They learned to leave “the spiritual” to religion as they claimed “the physical” for themselves.
This separation has been disastrous. It has led to the belief that there are basically two ways in which we can live our lives. We may, on the one hand, choose to be rational, intellectual, analytical, and scientific. On the other hand, we can choose the path of intuition, religion, and spirituality.
These paths are divergent; they cannot possibly be brought together. The failure to harmonize these two vectors in the human psyche has created immense emotional pain for millions of people in our culture, as they have attempted the unhealthy task of dividing their minds. Dr. Dennis Gersten shows that this choice is false and artificial. We can have it both ways; we can honor both our spiritual and intellectual impulses and heal the hurt that so many feel.
There are pitfalls, to be sure, as Gersten points out. Madness is real, and not every vision of God or Goddess is authentic. Self-deception is alive and well, as it has always been. Gersten makes clear that the path toward transcendence is not easy; the spiritual path is not for wimps. But many have gone before us and the path is well described. Through this book, Gersten becomes a guide.
Medicine and psychiatry are changing. We are gradually learning to lighten up where spiritual issues are concerned. The pressure to do so comes not just from patients, who are hungry for a spiritual spark in healing, but from science itself. For example, there are currently over 130 controlled experimental studies examining the effect of prayer and the ability of an empathic, caring, loving person to intervene in the function of a distant, living being; over half of these studies show statistically that prayer works. In addition, more than 250 studies reveal that religious practices, including prayer, are correlated with better health and a lower incidence of a broad variety of diseases. We need to admit what our research shows: that spiritual practice is good for health, both physical and mental. Today we can say that it isn’t just nice or humane to include spiritual concepts in medicine and psychiatry; it’s bad science not to do so.
Gentle rains have begun to fall on some of the spiritual deserts of medicine. The Office of Alternative Medicine, established in 1992 within the National Institutes of Health, has funded a study testing the effectiveness of distant, intercessory prayer in a program of drug and alcohol rehabilitation. A few years ago this study would have been unthinkable.
Not everybody agrees that these developments are a good thing. There are skeptics and cynics who believe that spirituality is ruinous for the human race, and that our best hope is to pull ourselves up by our intellectual bootstraps. While we can honor these opinions, we can observe nonetheless that this is the old-style thinking that creates deep and painful divisions in the lives of human beings. We must honor all we are, not just isolated parts, and we must learn to harmonize, not fragment, our psyche. The fact is, most people do not function well when they are deprived of spiritual experiences. There are spiritual-deficiency syndromes, just like vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Andre Malraux, France’s great novelist and former minister of culture, said, “The twenty-first century will be spiritual or it will not be at all.” There is urgency in the spiritualization of modern life; time may not be on our side. But the movement has begun.
It gives me great personal pleasure that a physician has written this book, because it tells me there still are physicians who deeply sense the spiritual dimension of healing. Dr. Dennis Gersten is a healer in the highest sense of the word. He has supplemented his technical skills with uncommon wisdom, compassion, and love, which shine through on every page. It is an honor to add my endorsement to his vision.
– Larry Dossey, M.D. – Author of Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine