About WillSpirit

Ralphy and WillMy main site is now: MindfulBiology.org.

WillSpirit serves as an archive of my earlier work. The text below offers a brief description of my past, my blogging, and what led me to focus on combining life science with mindfulness meditation, as in Mindful Biology (.org).

(First, some navigation advice: The ACE Essays section contains duplicates of pieces written for Peace, Love, and Childhood Adversity, my blog at PsychCentral that I’ve been writing since mid-2014. The WS Essays section displays the original WillSpirit entries.)

WillSpirit began in May 2009 and remained active for almost five years, during which time I posted c. 500 entries. Over time, the site became a journal of my personal efforts to build better mental health and gain insight into our human experience. Although I sometimes tried to offer guidelines to those wanting to take charge of their states of mind, I found myself best able to write about the ups and downs of my own emotional and intellectual journey without too much emphasis on advising others. Even so, the comments I received over the years suggested that my personal narrative helped a few people suffering from problems traceable to childhood adversity and other hardships.

My background includes struggle with mood instability and especially depression. During the years I wrote actively on WillSpirit, my psychiatric health improved. I built up my ability to sit quietly in meditation, which led to greater understanding of my mind and–by extension–the human condition. Some of the essays on this site present passionate descriptions of emotional agonies, while others offer much cooler musings on metaphysics. Readers responded far more often to the former than the latter, which taught me an important lesson about how I can best serve people grappling with problems like mine.

Informed by my training as a physician and college/graduate education in ecology, neuroscience, and biophysics, the original essays on this site explored psychic healing from biological and medical perspectives. Due to my repeated experiences with transcendent states of consciousness, many pieces also presented a more mystical outlook, usually as interpreted through a scientific lens. As years passed, the blog focused increasingly on our ability to determine what happens inside our skulls: we do not need to feel victimized by thoughts and feelings, because we can learn to both influence and tolerate them without reactivity; we can also shift from mystical to mundane world views according to what best serves a given situation.

My psychiatric history can be traced to genetic predisposition and environmental influences. Both mood instability and susceptibility to extreme mental states run in my family. My mother suffered terrible depression and ultimately killed herself when I was six-years-old, and my sister was hospitalized for a psychotic disorder when I was ten. In addition to inheriting tendencies toward mental illness, I endured a highly traumatic upbringing. Besides my mother’s suicidal depression and my sister’s psychosis, major life traumas included prolonged hospitalization at age three, parental divorce at age four, annual relocations, and severe child abuse. My stepmother and father pursued a chaotic lifestyle that included steady alcoholism and drug abuse along with open sexual parties that they hosted in our home.

Although my own depression began in my late teens, it became a much bigger problem after neck disease curtailed my surgical career when I was forty-one. Shortly after leaving clinical practice, I ended up hospitalized on suicide watch. After discharge, I experienced intense mood fluctuations and escalating euphoria that culminated in a series of profound spiritual openings. Psychiatrists labelled these as ‘hallucinations’ and ‘delusions’ despite the fact that they felt like some of the most positive experiences of my life. The doctors diagnosed me with Type I Bipolar Disorder and started me on a mind-numbing medication regimen. In short order I had deteriorated from fully functioning surgeon to over-sedated mental patient.

After about six years of mental suffering despite five simultaneous psychiatric drugs (plus additional pills for chronic pain), I decided to seek another path. I found a psychiatrist willing to help me taper off the medications, and I began meditating in earnest while exploring several different kinds of therapy. Gradually, I learned to manage my thoughts and tolerate difficult mental and bodily sensations. As I improved, it seemed appropriate to write about my journey. WillSpirit thus began as I climbed my way out of the abyss, and it continued until most of my initial difficulties seemed resolved.

For a time after reaching this level of clarity about my past I thought it would make sense to write about recovering from childhood adversity. But although that is certainly a topic I can speak to, it isn’t one I’m especially drawn to. After all, I’ve been trying to get over my past, but writing about childhood adversity requires me to keep revisiting it. Although that no longer distresses me, it doesn’t uplift me, either.

Then, in late 2014, shortly before my 56th birthday, I finally recognized what is to be my life’s work: combining biology instruction with guided meditations in order to increase our appreciation of living. The new project, MindfulBiology.org, grows out of the teaching I’ve been doing for a yoga institute, where I explain anatomy and physiology to aspiring yoga teachers. As I taught biology to intelligent young people who (for the most part) lacked science backgrounds, I became adept at presenting complex facts in engaging ways. What’s more, the yoga institute became an ideal context in which to root biological knowledge in a sense of the sacred. Having built up a body of PowerPoint slides, and having on many occasions received positive feedback after leading guided meditations that helped participants feel the biology within, I finally woke up to the fact that this line of work feels both satisfying and essential. Hence the new website and focus.

I hope you will visit MindfulBiology.org and offer your suggestions for how it can better serve the cause of helping people feel more affectionate toward their own organic nature.


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