Confessions of a Mind-Body-Spirit Evangelist:

by Carl Blumenthal
Brooklyn Meeting


Writing has saved my life. Writer’s block has almost killed me several times, literally and figuratively. That, in a nutshell, are the highs and lows of someone living with manic-depression or bipolar disorder. (Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis may call 988 for help.)


So, when I spied Anna Quindlen’s Write for Your Life on the New Non-Fiction shelf of my branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, I didn’t hesitate to check it out. As an arts reporter for 50 years, I am often told by my subjects, “You are the only reporter who really understood me and my work.” 


I suppose this gift for empathy, for identifying the creative urges that animate all of us, is what also makes me a peer counselor sensitive to the needs of my clients whose feelings, thoughts, and actions I read like the good books all their lives are. (A peer counselor is someone with lived experience of mental illness, trained to support those with similar challenges). For that is Quindlen’s message: We all have lives not just worth living but also worth writing about.


I have collected my dozens of articles for Friends Journal, Spark, and Brooklyn Monthly Meeting’s newsletter in “A Quaker’s Guide to the Cosmos, Including the Friendliest Places to Eat” (available upon request for free from [email protected]).


The title suggests what Friends are least known for—our sense of humor. Dare I say that when George Fox, founder of Quakerism, descended from Pendle Hill and told his followers to go forth joyfully unto the world with the Good News, he had discovered the antidote for his own depression. 


In fact, Quaker mystic Rufus Jones claimed that, in addition to his famous journal, Fox wrote a now lost Book of Miracles in which desperate (i.e. chronically depressed) souls testified to his healing powers. While Jesus is known for his healing miracles, George Fox may have been the first peer counselor. 


Yet, I imagine that Fox’s spiritual comrade-in-arms and wife, Margaret Fell, was the one with the dark sense of humor, as she paid off bill collectors for the practical needs of early Friends back home in England while George gallivanted around the globe on his soul-saving missions. 


I emphasize the importance of the mind, body, and spirit for healing. While half of my clients don’t have explicit spiritual practices, my task is to help them find meaning and purpose in their lives. A big part of my own recovery consists of seeking these qualities by supporting my peers. The other half of my clients, like me, have at times experienced the merger of physical, psychological, and spiritual states. 


For example, during the last New York Yearly Meeting summer retreat before the Covid pandemic, lack of sleep, the stress of caring for my mentally ill brother, and communion with several hundred Quaker souls produced an epiphany during a Meeting for Healing I participated in. I experienced feeling “held” by the Friends in the Meeting for Healing even though they didn't lay hands on me.


In one of my unpublished humorous skits, “Up the Down Staircase at Friendship House,” I extol the Quaker model of “moral treatment” that derives from practices at England’s York Retreat, established in 1792; it led to the founding of the first private American psychiatric institution in 1817, Philadelphia’s Friends’ Hospital. 


Just as the Thomas Scattergood Foundation carries on the work of the hospital’s founder by supporting mental health care innovations, Friends have contributed mightily to such improvements here and in England.  


Therefore, I identify with the tradition begun by George Fox of saving desperate souls, but not necessarily by miraculous means. Rather, spiritual accompaniment that Friends practice in responding to the varied needs of all kinds of people in all kinds of crises is my brand of therapy because we are all lost souls seeking to be found.