ADHD - disordered minds or old souls?

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I was in India in 1993 to help manage a community for orphans and blind children on behalf of a German charity. During the monsoon season, the week of the big Hyderabad earthquake, I took an all-day train ride almost all the way across the subcontinent (from Bombay through Hyderabad to Rajamundri) to visit an obscure town near the Bay of Bengal. In the train compartment with me were several Indian businessmen and a physician, and we had plenty of time to talk as the countryside flew by from sunrise to sunset.

Curious about how they viewed our children diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I asked, "Are you familiar with those types of people who seem to crave stimulation, yet have a hard time staying with any one focus for a period of time? They may hop from career to career and sometimes even from relationship to relationship, never seeming to settle into one job or into a life with one person — but the whole time they remain incredibly creative and inventive."

"Ah, we know this type well," one of the men said, the other three nodding in agreement.

"What do you call this personality type?" I asked.

"Very holy," he said. "These are old souls, near the end of their karmic cycle."

Again, the other three nodded agreement, perhaps a bit more vigorously in response to my startled look.

"Old souls?" I questioned, thinking that a very odd description for those whom American psychiatrists have diagnosed as having a particular disorder.

"Yes," the physician said. "In our religion, we believe that the purpose of reincarnation is to eventually free oneself from worldly entanglement and desire. In each lifetime we experience certain lessons, until finally we are free of this earth and can merge into the oneness of God. When a soul is very close to the end of those thousands of incarnations, he must take a few lifetimes to do many, many things — to clean up the little threads left over from his previous lives."

"This is a man very close to becoming enlightened," a businessman added. "We have great respect for such individuals, although their lives may be difficult."

Another businessman raised a finger and interjected. "But it is through the difficulties of such lives that the soul is purified."

The others nodded agreement.

"In America they consider this behavior indicative of a psychiatric disorder," I said.

All three looked startled, then laughed.

"In America you consider our most holy men, our yogis and swamis, to be crazy people as well," said the physician with a touch of sadness in his voice. "So it is with different cultures. We live in different worlds."

Read more from the introduction to the "Edison Gene" here.

SueN's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm


I am sure the Indian perception is correct.

Despite the chaos of the ADHD I have always had a very spiritual side- and it is meditation that has fixed my ADHD. I have no ADHD symptoms left.

ADHD scatterbrained-ness is the exact opposite of mindfulness. Trust me- I know.

When one is doing only one thing wrong the whole time- and that one thing is a problem as amenable to training as attention is- then one is in a powerful position to be able to transform oneself.

Can anyone provide any supporting information form other cultural sources? I would be fascinated to know.

I think that this is a truly fascinating question of transcultural perceptions, and I firmly believe that most mental illness is better conceived of as a Spiritual Crisis.

William Johnston's book on Catholicism and Zen discusses what appears to me to be ADHD in his descriptions of "The Dark Night of The Soul" as it manifests in individuals whose path to enlightenment is "The Way of Affect".

Barliman's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

the-medicated-child is a Frontline documentary on ADHD. In the terms of the 50s, I used to throw fits, or tantrums. Medication wasn't an option then, and I question it's use today. My youngest child exhibits some of my 'anal retentive' characteristics, obviously inherited, and it is not a problem.

douglaslee's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

A very good article from a US psychiatrist who is a firm advocate of using medication for ADHD if needed, but critical of overuse, and reliance on medication only approaches:

It is worth observing that my own ADHD sypmtoms did relapse following a period of high stress, requiring resumption of medications as the quickest way to restabilise.

I agree that there are substantial elements of both dietary and psychosocial causation to ADHD, but this does result in real alterations in brain function that can be helped by medication.

Barliman's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Did Leonardo da Vinci have ADHD?

Quote Wikipedia:

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Italian pronunciation: [leoˈnardo da vˈvintʃi] pronunciation (help·info); April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519, Old Style) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination".[1] He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.[2] According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and "his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote".[1] Marco Rosci states that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.[3] [Zenzoe emphasis]

I tend to agree with the Indian perspective. Pity the now and future genius dumped into the American school system: he or she will be drugged from the get-go, all for the sake of control and conformity, and that will be the end of that particular creative spirit's spark. And pity the average kid who's simply bored with tiresome teachers teaching to the test and gets fidgety: She'll be drugged too.

Funny, how kids don't seem to have a problem with attention, when they're doing something that interests and challenges them, such as playing video games. Instead of capitalizing on the lessons there, the school system goes the opposite direction, considering the ability to concentrate on drudgery as a sign of normalcy and maturity.

Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Ganja for ADHD
Dr. Gabor Maté on ADHD, Bullying and the Destruction of American Childhood
A spike in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. We speak with Canadian physician and best-selling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. He argues that these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development. [includes rush transcript]

Ganjawar in Everything

Using Pot To Save Brains!

Addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder 12/31/10

"There are encouraging signs. There’s certainly people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who talks about stress and mindfulness, and Andrew Weil, who talks about the importance of nutrition and a more holistic approach. So there are many people doing great work."
~ Dr. Gabor Maté

DdC's picture
Mar. 22, 2012 12:39 am

Barliman, i'm very interested in doing mindfulness meditation for ADHD but some say that meditation itself help us to rid ourselves of emotional attachments, what is your experience? I don't want to become completely unnattached, more than I am now.

In this sense, as they say, it may be more "spiritual" to be an ADDer but I find no fun in feeling half disconnected to the people around you, all the time.

Still a very interesting point of view from this page.

Hugo Contreras's picture
Hugo Contreras
Jun. 12, 2015 3:15 pm

In handling ADHD, American parents should look to the French

Less ADHD, or different diagnosis standards, or different types fof schooling?

SueN's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

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