Can Madness Save the World?

Paris Williams, PhD
31
196

Over the years of my explorations into psychosis and human evolution a very interesting irony became increasingly apparent. It is well-known that people who fall into those deeply transformative and chaotic states typically referred to as “psychosis” often feel, at different points throughout their journeys, that they have received a special calling to save the world, or at least the human race. Indeed, this experience played a particularly prominent role in my own extreme states, as well as within those of at least two of my own family members. From a pathological perspective, this is often referred to as a kind of “delusion of grandeur,” though in my own research and writing, I have come to feel that the term “heroic (or messianic) striving” is generally more accurate and helpful. The great irony I have come to appreciate is that while I think it’s true that these individuals are often experiencing some degree of confusion, mixing up different realms of experience (for example, mixing up collective or archetypal realms with consensus reality, or confusing unitive consciousness with dualistic/egoic consciousness), I have come to feel that perhaps the key to saving the world, or at least the human species, may in fact actually be revealed within these extreme experiences. To better explain this, let me first go over some key concepts.

Rethinking the Self

First of all, we need to reconsider what we mean by the term “self.” The twentieth century represented a real turning point for Western science in that it began to embrace a more holistic paradigm, in essence taking steps towards a paradigm established much earlier within the nondual traditions of the East (such as Taoism, Buddhism and the Vedic traditions) and even earlier within indigenous society. Quantum physics began to recognize just how deeply interdependent and interconnected the universe really is, capturing this with terms such as entanglement and nonlocality. Contemporary systems theory such as chaos theory and complexity theory similarly began to embrace this more holistic understanding of our world, drawing on important concepts such as Ilya Prigogene’s dissipative structure, which refers to the paradoxical way in which living entities maintain their existence across time while energy and matter continuously flow through them—similar to what we see in those little whirlpools standing above the drain of an emptying sink, in that all of the water that makes up its structure is continuously flowing through it and being replaced. Another term used extensively within these systems theories, and one that is particularly relevant to our discussion here about the “self,” is the term holon.

A holon essentially refers to what we generally think of as a living organism, but more precisely, it can be seen as a dynamic entity with three intrinsic qualities: (1) It is a self organizing system, exhibiting a kind of intrinsic consciousness or intelligence; (2) it is a dissipative structure, in that while it is able to maintain a relatively constant structure across time, it is also highly dynamic as it continuously exchanges matter and energy with the environment; and (3) it is irreducible, in the sense that any attempt to reduce it will simply result in the cessation of its existence. Although irreducible, a holon can merge symbiotically with other holons to emerge (another key concept within this holistic framework) into an altogether new holon of a higher order of complexity. This higher order holon is much more than simply the sum of its parts (the holons that compose it) in that it exhibits altogether new qualities that were simply nonexistent within the lower-order holons.

To put the idea of a holon into more concrete terms, we can say that an atom is a holon, which in turn merges with other atoms to form a molecule, a higher order holon that is much more than simply the sum of the atoms that compose it. Molecules in turn may merge symbiotically to create a living cell, what is generally thought of as the simplest living organism (a bacteria), in that some degree of consciousness and volition have become readily apparent. These in turn have merged to form yet another holon of still a higher order of complexity, the nucleated cell; and from these have emerged a still higher-order holon, the multi-celled organisms—the myriad fungus, plants and animals in our world. Certain kinds of groups of these individuals also self organize in ways that could arguably be thought of as higher order holons in their own right—flocks of birds, herds of deer, human families and tribes, an entire species, etc. Complex mergers of many different kinds of holons form ecosystems, which can be considered still higher-order holons. And finally, we recognize that out of a symbiotic relationship between the many different ecosystems of the Earth has emerged the biosphere. The well known NASA scientist, James Lovelock, has given the biosphere the name Gaia to signify that our entire biosphere can be seen as a single conscious and intelligent living organism in her own right, indeed the highest order holon on our planet.

Reversing this order of complexity is similarly illuminating, demonstrating that any attempt to reduce a holon to its parts merely results in an assemblage of lower-order holons, with the original holon itself having ceased to exist. For example, if a biologist kills a mouse in an attempt to better understand it in some way, all that remains is a collection of individual cells, some of which may continue to exist as individual cells, but which no longer work together symbiotically with the other cells to manifest as the more complex being (the mouse). The mouse as a living being, a holon, with all of its unique qualities, is no more.

So when we consider the concept of a self from this perspective, we find that our universe essentially consists of a hierarchically arranged array of holons arising from and embedded within a unified field. Lao-Tzu, writer of the Taoist text, the Tao-te Ching, said, “Tao [translated literally as ‘the way’] produced the One. The One produced the two. The two produced the three. And the three produced the ten thousand things” (Johanson & Kurtz, 1991, p. 1).

The Pros and Cons of Self Consciousness

By observing the behaviors of any living organism—whether it be a humble bacteria, a mighty redwood, or other members of our own human species—we can see clear signs of consciousness and intelligence, which I’m defining as simply the capacity to be aware of one’s environment, to make some kind of meaningful evaluation of it, and to then respond accordingly. What’s less clear is the degree to which different organisms are self conscious—aware of being aware—although it is quite clear that we humans have developed a significant capacity for self consciousness, and that this attribute brings with it both great rewards and serious risk.

On one hand, such a high degree of self awareness allows us to deeply appreciate the wonder of life and our universe. Indeed, we can recognize that our existence represents the achievement of the universe in having developed the capacity to contemplate itself. I find it difficult to conceive of anything more awesome than this. But on the other hand, such self consciousness brings with it a vulnerability to becoming profoundly confused, especially with regard to selfhood. It becomes all too easy to overly identify with the self only at the level of this particular self-aware holon, what is sometimes referred to as the personal or egoic self—that self that we typically refer to when we use the words “me,” “myself” and “I.” And along with this, we are at risk of losing sight of the fact that this personal self is merely one order of selfhood among many other orders of selfhood, as discussed above: at lower orders of complexity, the community of trillions of cells who have merged their collective wisdom and resources to manifest as this personal self, with each of these cells in turn being composed of a merger of yet simpler selves—the bacteria; and at higher orders of complexity, the communities, ecosystems and ultimately the entire biosphere of which we are part. Losing sight of this broader selfhood is not only extremely limiting, but also potentially extremely destructive.

The Breakdown of a Self

An example of the potential destruction that may occur when one member of a holon “forgets” that it is in fact such a member is in the case of cancer. In cancer, what we essentially find is an individual cell within a multi-celled organism that, for whatever reason, “forgets” it is a member of this more complex organism. We can say that its self identity has constricted radically, and it now identifies only with its personal self. Therefore, it still retains its innate tendency to meet its own needs and maintain its own survival, but it no longer contributes to the survival of the larger organism; and since it continues to be nourished by the larger organism while essentially not giving anything back, it develops a great capacity for autonomous reproduction and growth, but all the while increasingly interfering with the functioning of the larger organism. And as is well known, while cancer represents a period of very successful growth for the self-identified cells, if the organism is unable to either destroy these cells or regain their cooperation, the entire organism is likely to die, along with the cancer cells. Therefore, we can say that by losing sight of their broader selfhood, these cancer cells enthusiastically “thrived” their way all the way to their own demise.

Does this sound familiar? In the very same way that single cells live as symbiotic members of the larger multi-celled organism to which they belong, the human species can itself be seen as a holon living in a symbiotic relationship with other holons to form the higher-order holons of ecosystems and ultimately the entire biosphere, Gaia. And just like the case of the cancer cells, the human species has collectively forgotten about this symbiotic arrangement, this broader order of selfhood, and has become consumed with only its own survival at the species level (and at times this self identity is constricted even further to that of only a particular society, race, family, or even nothing more than the individual human being). And just as in the case of cancer, because now this particular holon is consumed only with its own survival while continuing to be fed by the larger organismic systems in which it is embedded, it initially reproduces and grows radically. However, also just as with the cancer cells, its own rampant growth combined with the underlying ignorance of its broader selfhood will ultimately lead to its own demise, as well as the demise of many of its fellow holons, threatening both those at a similar level within the holon hierarchy (other individual organisms and species), as well as higher-order holons such as ecosystems and perhaps even Gaia herself. This may sound farfetched to some, but it’s well established that Gaia has already had some very close calls within her long life, some of which were brought on by certain living organisms themselves, and of course any living system has its limits.

Breaking Down in the Service of Breaking Through

Ironically, the breakdown of a self can sometimes act as a breakthrough to a more sustainable existence of that self, or even in extreme cases, the emergence of an altogether higher order of selfhood –the emergence of holons of a higher order of complexity.

The contemporary evolution and systems sciences have come to recognize that a key component of evolution is the dance between chaos and order. A certain order is required to maintain the existence of holons over time, but when a significant threat of holon breakdown occurs, this can initiate a process of radical and unpredictable change—chaos—as a kind of desperate attempt to renew order when it has been seriously compromised, or even to break through to altogether new levels of order when necessary. So I think that one particularly useful way to define chaos is “a process that utilizes breaking down as a catalyst for breaking through.”

For example, it’s become widely accepted within the evolution sciences that after a very long and relatively stable period of time in the early history of the Earth during which only bacteria existed, a serious crisis emerged caused by the excessive consumption and waste products of the bacteria themselves. Prior to this, the nutrients the bacteria required for their survival were abundant enough that the bacteria were generally able to nourish themselves without bothering each other too much; but now with the population of bacteria exceeding the availability of many of these naturally occurring resources, a chaotic period ensued in which many of the bacteria were forced to consume each other. It’s speculated that some of the consumed bacteria managed to survive even after having been engulfed by other bacteria, and then went on to develop symbiotic relationships within the larger host. This in turn led to the evolution of a new holon of an altogether higher order—nucleated (eukaryotic) cells living as individuals, also referred to as protists. Then, sometime later, the conditions of the Earth had once again become very precarious for its inhabitants, and these single celled protists were forced to come together and live as symbiotic communities of cells, ultimately merging their collective wisdom and resources to evolve into an altogether new holon of yet a higher order of complexity—multi-celled organisms, which have eventually evolved into the fungus, plants and animals that exist today.

It’s important to acknowledge that this process of higher levels of complexity and order emerging from unsustainable conditions and a subsequent chaotic process is generally very risky. It often fails, not resolving successfully or even resulting in the deaths of the participating organisms. Hence the reason we find that it so often seems to require desperate conditions to precipitate such a desperate strategy. And this is where “madness” or “psychosis” comes into the story.

Can Madness Save Us?

I think it’s helpful to recognize that psychosis has both a destructive and a creative, or a chaotic and an ordered, aspect (I’ll use the term “psychosis” here, as I want to emphasize the idea of a particular kind of process occurring, and I feel that the term “madness,” while very helpful in other contexts, is a bit too generic for this purpose). On one hand, psychosis appears to occur as the result of impending breakdown—an individual’s personal paradigm, their experience and understanding of the self and the world, has for whatever reason reached a point in which it is no longer sustainable. But on the other hand, just as in the process of evolution described above, we see inherent in psychosis the utilization of “breaking down” as a kind of desperate strategy for “breaking through,” the utilization of chaos in the service of renewing order or even breaking through to an altogether different order. Yet as we’ve seen within the process of evolution, this can be a very haphazard and risky strategy that may or may not be successful, depending upon the resources and limitations of the particular organism or holon.

Whereas “psychosis” is often considered to be something occurring within a particular individual, I think we need to reconsider psychosis as occurring within the broader understanding of selfhood discussed above. So when an individual is experiencing what is often called psychosis (having anomalous beliefs, perceptions, impulses, etc., that are often extreme and/or unstable), I think it’s important to recognize that this may be the manifestation of a breakdown occurring not only within the individual, but also within the larger holon(s) within which the individual is embedded (the family, society, species, etc.). And I believe that this perspective offers us some compelling insights into how psychosis can be seen as both a warning of serious breakdown within these higher-order holons as well as the key to breaking through.

I think that anyone applying basic critical thinking skills to what can be observed about the state of the world today would be forced to come to the conclusion that we as a species are in serious trouble. No matter which angle you choose to come at it—accelerating climate change, rampant environmental destruction and mass species extinction, expanding and escalating war with over 17,000 nuclear warheads only a button’s push away from detonation—it’s only too clear that we’re skating on very thin ice. By our own doing, we have set the trajectory of our own species as well as that of the other holons of which we are a part toward great chaos. And yet, astonishingly, we collectively carry on with business as usual—increasing the amounts of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere, accelerating our destruction of species and ecosystems, expanding our wars and building even more nuclear weapons.

It’s as though we have become completely blind; and in many ways, I believe that’s exactly what has happened. Just like the cancer cells that have become blind to the fact that they are a completely dependent member of the larger organism, the human species has become blind to the fact that it is a dependent member of the broader ecosystems and the biosphere to which we belong, having become consumed with the needs of the more limited selves (one’s nation, one’s family, one’s personal self) at the direct expense of the broader selfhood to which we also belong. In other words, you could say that we have become stricken with a kind of disorder—a disorder of “constricted selfhood,” and unfortunately it appears that we have very little collective “insight” into this disorder.

Interestingly enough, it is perhaps those we deem “mad” who may be in the best position to support our species in developing this insight. Arnold Mindell, who offers the unique perspective of a psychologist steeped in depth psychology, systems theory and modern physics, suggested that:

“In a given collective, the schizophrenic patient occupies the part of the system in a family and a culture that is not taken up by anyone else. She occupies the unoccupied seat at the Round Table, so to speak, in order to have every seat filled. She is the collective’s dream, their compensation, secondary process and irritation” (2008, p. 125)

In other words, although a person experiencing psychosis may be experiencing great confusion and fluctuation between different realms of experience, these extreme states of mind often allow the person to act as a kind of conduit bringing forth the shadow—the unacknowledged, the unspoken, the denied—aspect of the particular system(s) or holon(s) to which they belong. Indeed, there is compelling evidence to suggest that someone experiencing psychosis is often able to perceive the world in a more raw and accurate manner than when in more ordinary states (such as, for example, their capacity to see through the illusion of the inverted face), and to bring forth within their anomalous experiences various valid shadow elements, such as with the prominent “paranoid delusion” of being watched over by government agencies experienced by many such individuals long before Edward Snowden revealed the actual truth of this, the long held apocalyptic themes that are uncomfortably close to what we now see actually unfolding within the world, or the voices of voice hearers that often correspond very closely with certain shadow elements within the individual’s family and broader social systems. Although these anomalous perceptions and beliefs are often exaggerated or distorted to some degree, perhaps it’s time we recognize the shadowy truths so often contained within them, and appreciate that such individuals can serve a very important role in our collective survival by acting as our canaries in the coal mine, helping us to develop insight into our impending breakdown.

It appears that nearly ubiquitous among indigenous societies is the appreciation for the potential gifts of such individuals, and the essential role that they play in maintaining the overall health of the tribe and larger social structures. Referring to such individuals as shamans, seers, visionaries, etc., indigenous societies have long recognized that without reserving an honoured place for such individuals within the social structure, the society is vulnerable to falling prey to increasingly narrow and rigid belief systems, which may ultimately undermine the health and adaptability of the society and lead to its demise (see John Weir Perry’s Trials of the Visionary Mind for what I believe is an excellent exploration of these ideas). When we look around at the state of contemporary human society, with its deepening entrenchment into rigid and dogmatic belief systems, we have to ask ourselves how wise it really is to continue invalidating such individuals as simply “crazy” or “brain diseased” and relegating them to a lifetime of mind-numbing drugs and institutionalization.

So if we consider that individuals who experience psychosis can play a very important role in helping the broader human society in developing “insight” into our unresolved shadow issues and especially the problem of our constricted selfhood, the question then arises, So what do we do about it? And again, I believe that the answer to this dilemma may well lie within the process of psychosis itself. If we consider that the human species is essentially struggling with a “disorder or constricted selfhood,” then it becomes clear that our salvation requires that we undergo a species-wide transformation of the self. Interestingly enough, when we inquire into the subjective experiences of individuals experiencing psychosis, what we so often find is a person grappling with exactly this process—a profound transformation of the self.

My own research (Williams, 2011, 2012) as well as numerous anecdotal accounts suggest that initially when a person enters into a psychotic process, their experience of the self and the world becomes highly chaotic and/or fragmented. However, those who manage to move through this process and experience successful resolution very often find that they arrive at an experience of self and the world that is qualitatively very different than that which existed prior to the psychosis. Many such people report significantly greater wellbeing and a more fluid, expansive and integrated experience of the self. For example, the participants of my own research who have experienced such a resolution all share the following common shifts as having occurred within their personal paradigms when comparing their experience now with what existed prior to the onset of their psychosis:

  • A significantly changed spectrum of feelings with more depth and unitive feelings
  • An increased experience of interconnectedness
  • A strong desire to contribute to the wellbeing of others
  • An integration of good and evil (feeling generally more whole and integrated within themselves; and seeing “evil” actions or intentions as simply the result of profound ignorance—especially as problems with constricted selfhood—rather than as anything intrinsic within anyone).
  • Appreciating the limits of consensus reality

And they all share the following lasting benefits (comparing their experience after the resolution of their psychosis to that which existed prior to the onset of the psychosis):

  • Greatly increased wellbeing
  • Greater equanimity
  • Greater resilience
  • Healthier, more rewarding relationships with others
  • Healthier relationship with oneself

In other words, it appears that such an individual often goes through a profound transformation of selfhood in which they emerge with a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness and interdependence of the world, and the inspiration to live in a way that is more in alignment with this shift in their personal paradigm—a way that is likely to be more beneficial for the personal self as well as for the other living organisms and living systems with whom they share the world. It is easy to see that this is exactly the kind of transformation the human species is in desperate need of undertaking—a profound transformative process from a highly constricted experience of the self to an experience of selfhood that is much more fluid, expansive, and humble. But how do we foster such a radical transformation?

To answer this question, I think we first need to look more closely at the state of the human species today. It’s self evident that the human species has collectively become entrenched in an experience of selfhood that is no longer sustainable, a condition very similar to what we see within an individual just prior to the onset of psychosis. It is equally self evident that, generally speaking, chaos and breakdown are rapidly escalating within human society and even within the higher order holons of the world’s ecosystems and biosphere. Again, we find conditions occurring within this higher order holon (the human society and species in general) very similar to that which occurs when an individual is slipping into a psychotic process. So would it not be appropriate, then, to consider that the human species as a whole is sliding into a kind of collective psychosis? And if so, is there some way that we can facilitate the transformation of our paradigm—our collective experience and understanding of the self—towards one that is more flexible, expansive and humble? Or do we simply have to hang on and go for the ride, trusting that a deeper wisdom will somehow see us through?

This is where I believe we may be able to take some guidance from those approaches that have been so effective in supporting individuals going through a psychotic process— residential facilities such as Soteria, Diabasis and I-Ward, the family and social systems approaches such as Open Dialogue, and the shamanic mentoring model we find within indigenous societies. All of these approaches share the belief that in spite of the chaotic and potentially destructive nature of psychosis, there is a deeper wisdom occurring within it that is striving to bring about a deep transformation from an experience of the self and the world that is no longer sustainable to one that is.

The general philosophy of the residential homes such as Soteria, Diabasis and I-Ward is that if a safe and nurturing cocoon is provided to the person—allowing for maximal freedom within a structure that ensures minimal harm and destruction—the psychosis is likely to naturally move through to a full and successful resolution. Applying this approach to the problem of our species-wide psychosis, then, it would make sense that we should strive to create similar conditions within our society at large—maximal freedom (i.e., genuine non-authoritarian democracy) within maximal safety (i.e., strict regulations placed upon harmful industry and excessive greed, while using nonviolent means and effective communication rather than aggression and war to settle our disputes).

The Open Dialogue approach and other family systems approaches directly address the need to create a context of an expanded experience of selfhood, especially in that they generally see psychosis as representing a breakdown occurring within the individual’s immediate social network (the family, close social group, etc.). And they support resolution of the psychosis, and the emergence of a more sustainable order within these various holons, by fostering open and authentic communication between the various members of these holons. In other words, all voices, especially those representing the shadow aspects of these systems, are honoured and brought to the table. This approach draws from the faith in the intrinsic self-organizing capacity of any living system or holon, seeing breakdown as occurring when various members of the system are excluded or ignored, and therefore seeing breakthrough as occurring when all members are included. Applying this approach to the problem of our species-wide psychosis, we again arrive at the conclusion that genuine, all-inclusive, non-authoritarian democracy is likely to be extremely important for our positive transformation. Furthermore, it becomes clear that effective communication and dialogue (both within self connection as well as in connection with others) are essential components of this, and that this dialogical process needs to extend beyond the various political boundaries and divisions we see in the world today to include the entire human species. Following the lead of some indigenous communities today, I would even take this further and suggest that the voices of the other holons within our expanded sphere of selfhood (the other living organisms and ecosystems) also need to be brought to the table.

Finally, indigenous societies generally have a system in which people who go through a psychotic process (sometimes referred to within this context as a shamanic illness) are mentored by others who have already successfully passed through such a process. This is somewhat akin to the various peer support systems we see in place today within contemporary society (peer respites, voice hearing groups, etc.). The potential benefits of this approach are quite obvious—those who have “been there” and have successfully integrated their experiences are often able to provide very effective support and guidance to those who are continuing to struggle with these experiences. Applying this approach to our species-wide psychosis suggests that those who have gone through psychosis and other extreme states themselves may be able to bring a particular kind of wisdom to the table that will be essential for our species-wide transformation. Indigenous societies have long recognized how important such voices are for the health of their communities; isn’t it time that contemporary societies rediscover the wisdom of this?

Anais Nin wrote a short poem that I think captures the essence of our dilemma while proposing a challenge that I think we need to seriously consider: “And then the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  So what will it be? Will we as a species continue to cling to our constricted selfhood until the bitter end, or will we find within us the wisdom and the courage to “blossom” and reclaim our membership within the broader living systems of which we are a part?

* * * * *

Between July 10-12, I and 11 others will be presenting different perspectives on the relationship between extreme states and spiritual awakening during a FREE 3-day online summit—Shades of Awakening. For those who aren’t able to attend, or if you’ve already missed these dates, these interviews will be  to download off of the website. Click HERE for more information or to register or to download the interviews.

References:

Johanson, G., & Kurtz, R. (1991). Grace unfolding: Psychotherapy in the spirit of the Tao-te Ching. New York: Bell Tower.

Koestler, A. (1967). The ghost in the machine. London: Arkana.

Mindell. A. (2008). City shadows: Psychological interventions in psychiatry. New York, NY: Routledge.

Perry, J.W. (1999). Trials of the visionary mind. State University of New York Press.

Prigogine, I., & Strengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature. New York: Bantam.

Williams, P. (2011). A multiple-case study exploring personal paradigm shifts throughout the psychotic process from onset to full recovery. (Doctoral dissertation, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, 2011). Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/34/54/3454336.html

Williams, P. (2012). Rethinking madness: Towards a paradigm shift in our understanding and treatment of psychosis. San Francisco: Sky’s Edge Publishing.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. I share all the common personal paradigm shifts you mentioned. My psychosis was the best experience of my life and it changed everything for the better. Words cannot describe the beauty of my breakdown. I wish it on everyone. =)

    “For example, the participants of my own research who have experienced such a resolution all share the following common shifts as having occurred within their personal paradigms when comparing their experience now with what existed prior to the onset of their psychosis:

    A significantly changed spectrum of feelings with more depth and unitive feelings
    An increased experience of interconnectedness
    A strong desire to contribute to the wellbeing of others
    An integration of good and evil (feeling generally more whole and integrated within themselves; and seeing “evil” actions or intentions as simply the result of profound ignorance—especially as problems with constricted selfhood—rather than as anything intrinsic within anyone).
    Appreciating the limits of consensus reality
    And they all share the following lasting benefits (comparing their experience after the resolution of their psychosis to that which existed prior to the onset of the psychosis):

    Greatly increased wellbeing
    Greater equanimity
    Greater resilience
    Healthier, more rewarding relationships with others
    Healthier relationship with oneself”

  2. Paris,

    Thank you for sharing this powerful and inspiring perspective about the human experience of ‘psychosis.’ My young adult son went through this experience about one year ago. He experienced an altered, extreme state for about 2 weeks, but came through it with 24/7 home respite. He has successfully continued in college this past year. We used an Open Dialogue informed approach, very short term meds for sleep and ongoing dialogic therapy. Your words of wisdom then and now helped us find the strength to trust the process. He has continued to grow and change this past year and I agree that there is deep transformative meaning in what gets called psychosis. In particular, he has been very focused on the concepts of connectedness, finding existential meaning and on developing a way to understand and ease the suffering that is a part of our world.

    Thank you for your wisdom.

    Cindy

  3. My search for meaning in the experience my family and I went through with my son’s psychosis has ultimately led to grappling with the complexities of quantum physics, cellular vibration, scalar energy. I appreciate your attempt at trying to make all of this comprehensible to the average person, ie. the other people at the round table. Scalar energy or “resonance” is the energy from the stars that is communicated by the brain to the cells many times faster than the body carries out other biological processes at the cellular level. People undergoing psychosis pick up this resonance, this ethereal energy from the cosmos, much faster than others, and this can be confusing and terrifying (to self and others), while at the same time being accurate and insightful. I agree that even if one doesn’t understand the physics of it, a lot of the healing comes in finding harmony in calm and respectful environments that resonate with our personal energy field.

  4. I agree, thank you Paris, it’s wonderful people are starting to discuss these type experiences since the mainstream psychiatric industry just wants to ignore and drug them away. My drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychoses were all about a connectivity with many, or all, others – a collective unconscious. And equating my subconscious self with my conscious self.

    They were actually amazingly cool, when I was experiencing them others’ around me would actually comment they could ‘feel the power,’ and perfect strangers would talk to me about my thoughts / ‘psychosis,’ I was not quite certain how they knew about the strange story going on in my mind, however. My pastor finally told me “some people can’t pray in private,” which I’d never heard of before.

    The only difference between my experience and the ones you describe is that I do see an evil within the collective that seemingly does not, can not, or will not ever be able to evolve beyond the material world and greed. Thus, must be removed, much like a cancer needs to be removed. I hope you are right and we can awaken them instead.

    I must confess, I do see some within the psycho / pharmacutical / medical community, and within other fields, who only care about their own members or selves, rather than the welfare of all, as like cancers within our collective humanity. And such narcassistic psychopaths are incapable of love and mutual respect. And since the goal is for our world to evolve into a peaceful, loving world, those unwilling or unable to respectfully work together towards the betterment of all of humanity will ultimately end up no longer existing on this planet. But let’s hope we can awaken as many as possible to the fact humanity is supposed to continue to evolve, rather than going back to some sort of feudal society.

  5. Thanks Paris, for this illuminating article! When the “normal” people are destroying the world, we certainly do need more experimentation with something different, and we certainly also need to get better at supporting people as they go through this wild experimentation so they are less likely to crash or get stuck somewhere nasty.

    I will be a fine day when our society can learn to see “psychosis” as being simply “possibly dangerous exploration” rather than as something unambiguously bad and an “illness.” Then we will really be able to support people in a way that is non-stigmatizing and which helps people access what might be positive in the experience while avoiding hazards.

  6. Hi Paris,

    This was a great article, thanks.

    You’re right about the blindness of our species toward the way environmental resources are being unsustainably consumed. It is disturbing to read today’s “news” headlines while keeping in mind the fact that our industrial economy is sustained by the use of over 1000 barrels of oil per second (plus coal, gas, and many other natural resources at an incredibly unsustainable pace). In a few hundred years, these resources will likely be mostly gone, and it is uncertain if industrial society will survive in anything close to its current state. I remind myself that psychiatric medication will become impossible to produce on a large scale if peak oil, resource depletion, and climate change do cause a decline to preindustrial levels of civilization – that would be one small positive.

    Regarding our “news” headlines, seemingly important issues like guns, gay marriage, abortion, the next election, Big Pharma abuses, etc. don’t matter much at all in the big picture of accelerating resource depletion, declining fossil fuels, and climate change. It’s quite disturbing how unaware most of the public and political leaders are of our dilemma. Sites like ZeroHedge.com, OfTwoMinds, and OurFiniteWorld.com make clear how precarious our position is in the long term (over decades and centuries, not up to the next election).

    I like two optimistic books that take the position that we can survive peak oil, resource depletion, and climate change and come out better in the long run:

    The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas In a Finite World by Naam, and,
    Crossing the Energy Divide by Ayres

    Some great strategies for how to respond creatively to our massive resource/energy/climate challenges are are in these books; there are correlates with your ideas about how radical transcendental thinking is required to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems. They also make it clear what dire outcomes will result if we do commit ecological/environmental/resource suicide over the coming decades, i.e. the deaths from famine and disease of hundreds of millions or even billions of people.

    Also, Harold Searles once wrote similarly to how you did in this article, noting how “schizophrenic” clients he worked with were more aware of the destruction to the environment going on than many other people. I cannot remember the name of this article; it was in either Countertransference and Related Subjects or Schizophrenia and Related Subjects.

    Lastly your discussion of cancer and holons that turn against the self brought to mind The Inner World of Trauma, a book by a Jungian analyst that discusses psychotic and “borderline” states. In these conditions one aspect of a person’s mind cancerously attacks the remaining self. From a psychodynamic view, the person internalizes severe neglect or abuse they experienced in earlier life, and then one aspect of their self takes on the identity of the persecutor or depriving person, becoming “bad” and turning against the main self like a cancer cell. Many people with this dynamic get (mis)labeled schizophrenic and borderline.

  7. Somebody give this man a Pulitzer! This article is beyond brilliant. To answer the question “can madness save the world”, we need only open our minds and our hearts to the deep and frighteningly honest understanding of life expressed by Mad people druing our extreme states.

  8. A few more thoughts about this:

    Usually we think of healthy as what’s “normal.” But if normal in a culture becomes acting in a self centered way that leads to the destruction of countless species and the ecological stability upon which future generations depend, then it’s pretty hard to call that “healthy.” Maybe we should give it a diagnosis, call it a particular mental illness?

    Then we have the people who enter into the kind of turbulence we call psychosis. They might go even further off track, but also new ways may come out of that turbulence that lead toward a less self centered way of being in the world.

    Traditionally, we call that turbulence itself “illness”

    Vomiting is not pleasant, and too much of it for example can lead to death from dehydration or something, but it can also be part of recovery for example from having ingested something poisonous. Simply suppressing vomiting in such cases could be destructive rather than helpful. Could it be that psychosis is kind of like vomiting, a process that has its dangers but can also be useful in coming back toward health?

    We might wish that people would be able to go straight from noticing problems with “normality” into positive creativity and cultural transformation. Sometimes, it happens that way. But often it doesn’t: people initially often make mistakes and flounder, they may even seem to be “drowning” in that ocean that Campbell talked about (the one “psychotics” drown in, while the mystics swim…..”)

    But at that stage, are they sicker than the “normals” or possibly at a risky but possibly productive stage on a journey of recovery from a pathological “normality?”

    In many areas, we want to have the creative accomplishments with none of the mistakes that tend to happen along the way. But if we try to hard to eliminate any mistakes, we end up suppressing the accomplishments we want as well. I think that’s where we are with psychosis.

    So if someone can be just successfully creative or mystical, our culture accepts that, or even appreciates it. But if someone is working out how to be successfully creative or mystical, and is making errors on the way, we call them “ill” and try to shut down the whole process they are engaged in, rather than attempt to help them learn to do it with more finesse, and to not put too much weight on new perspectives till they are tested, etc.

    So I would agree that it isn’t madness that will save the world, but taking a more nuanced perspective on madness, and treating it as part of a process of wild experimentation and/or groping toward what will possibly save the world, could be exactly what we need.

    I think it’s sad that there are very few places in our mental health system where these sorts of questions are asked and discussed. I’m happy that people like Paris are asking the questions.

    • Ron,

      I know that not only are psychiatrists / psychologists claiming things that are not “psychosis” (like odd thoughts and dreams due to adverse effects of a “safe smoking cessation med,” NSAI, and a synthetic opioid [safe “pain killer” given under another name, not opium], coupled with denial of the abuse of one’s child, but a desire to overcome that denial), are “psychosis,” and of course based on lies and gossip from the child abusers.

      But, since such a misdiagnosis happened to me, and based upon my experience with the psych drugs, I also believe there are different kinds of “psychosis.” And some are a little like vomiting, thus trying to prevent them does more harm than good.

      I was initially put on a child’s dose of Risperdal, to cover up the supposedly “complex” iatrogenesis, which had been given (according to my medical records) to cover up “easily recognized” iatrogenesis. This mistreatment resulted in a “psychotic” reaction, “Foul up,” just when the drug was to “kick in.” This “psychosis” was terrifying, it was like a struggle and judgement with and by God.

      This medically confessed “Foul up” with Risperdal was then further covered up with three distinctly different combinations of drugs, that all cause the central symptoms of anticholinergic intoxication syndrome (although drugs.com does not list this medical concern under all these drug combos yet, but it should). These drug cocktails caused me to get the incessant “voices” of the people who abused my children in my head. I understand from my research it’s common for people with “voices” to experience such bullying “voices.” If I recall correctly it was John Read’s research that points this out.

      Thankfully for me, according to my medical records and journals from this time, the three evil “voices” in my head ended up being harassed by decent “voices,” within what I now presume to be the collective unconscious. But this meant I was able to ignore, cope, and function in a fairly high manner, despite having these neuroleptic induced psychotomimetic “voices.” Thus, I was weaned off all but one of the drugs by my psychiatrist. He finally concluded I had tremendous “insight” into the problems going on within humanity as a whole.

      Although, the psych meds do result in what’s known as a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic “psychosis.” And this type of “psychosis” is the one which is cathartic, and therefore ought not be misdiagnosed as a “return” of the initial fictious “mental illness.” But of course is now so commonly being done, since we have the HIPPA laws that doctors can so easily break.

      At least in my case, my drug withdrawal induced manic psychosis functioned like an awakening to my subconscious dreams, my subconscious self. And the story of my dreams helped explain a lot to me, including the meaning behind some of my artwork that I’d done that I hadn’t even known why I’d done. The story of my dreams was of how the collective unconscious was created, and for what purpose. And it’s a good thing.

      Absolutely I agree, in a misguided world, it’s wise to listen to those being claimed to be “mad.”

      • By the way, not only can I tell my story in the lyrics of thousands of songs, but there are lots of people on line now putting out videos about being awakened to the evil behind / within our current society. This blogger was awakened to the evil within, just like I. Check out not only this YouTube blog by EyezOpenWyde, but numerous other ones by him/her.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzmz61ZXUoM

        Of course, the child molester I dealt with has ties to Bohemian Grove, and has recently published a book about this. But there are tons of people now pointing out the fraud of the Federal Reserve system, too. What if there is a collective unconscious that awakens many to the evil within our society all at once? And some people are muses working towards the betterment, not destruction, of all instead?

  9. Ron,

    I completely agree. When we define normal within a culture that is destroying its own planet, we have a big problem. The canary in the coal mine is the first to pick up on problems there just as those of us with a history of mental anguish are this first to notice that something is amiss in our lives, our families and our societies…it would be great to value this feedback rather than dismiss it as an illness!

  10. It seems we are a creature like a caterpillar that not only has for so many , no safe place to build a cocoon and further more unlike a caterpillar needs perhaps honest friendly friendship and dialog from others who already built one and emerged , at times while we build our own. And then if we somehow,successfully , we run through the gauntlet of the normal maddening polite and so ruthless brainwashed society and their behavior control police and eugenic pushers and mange to emerge, our label diagnosis still waits for us as well as the behavior controlist specialists, especially if we have not procured new approved letters after our names that tell of approved educations. And the emerged butterfly is not listened to or believed about what they have retrieved as a gift for themselves ,humanity, and all life and the planet earth. As the profit makers continue to build their mansions and summer mansions and ………….

  11. Hi Paris, thanks for writing this wonderful article. When I would enter I-Ward everyday for over 3 years, the hair on my neck would stand up because I was walking into a palpable force field of un-medicated madness where up to 20 residents were in extreme states of emotional chaos and creative genius- it was a crucible where the collapsing myth forms of our western civilization were consumed in the fire of visionary and messianic zeal- where wild eyed prophets male and female shouted baleful warnings or paraded in full ecstatic rapture, at times naked bodies full of unbridled sexuality would be running down a hallway, high risks for impulsive self-destruction/suicide and unprovoked violent attacks were ever present.
    Unseen spiritual, archetypal and psychic forces were uncannily at work. They were driving the level of emotional and numinous intensity.
    It was a sacred space where the personal and the cultural norms were blown up and the transformations you describe took place.
    We staff were basically midwives providing food clothing and shelter and love to those in mad convulsions of death and rebirth of old selves and old ways and old belief systems.
    I wish I could have been with you when your eyes were seeing your unfolding vision.
    That mad vision is now bearing it’s edible fruit in this article, your great book and your ongoing work.

    We as a species are in a life and death zone- at a crossroads where the narrow values and barren vision of the past several thousand years of male dominance are either going to be radically altered by the emergence of a new myth form or Gaia will die at our hands.

    But there isn’t enough latuda, zyprexia, lithium or haldol in the world to stop the visionary madness that is erupting, that will provide the emotional rocket fuel and irresistible images and spirit infused words that have always poured forth like mana when an aeon is dying and another is being birthed.
    Love you, Michael

  12. Dear Paris, Madness will save the world and the cosmos, imo. Because I believe we are all mad and that consensus reality is a perception based on the survival need of initially negative perception. While throughout human history individuals have committed treason against the fearful majority view, to uncover reality which is always before our eyes, yet veiled by a negative bias.

    To put such a view in context, we have been driven by a sense of curiosity towards external reality which has often overridden our survival instinct. One only has to envision sailors of a bygone era who set out to seek new horizons when census reality viewed the world as flat. While in this era, thousands registered to be on-board the first one way trip to Mars, in a clear manifestation of our subconscious, Cosmic agenda. Our Messiah mission, as children of light matter energy, we might say?

    Such is the survival context that my own “delusion of grandeur” during heightened episodes of innate intuition, beyond consensus reality’s, middle class survival illusion, that the world is made of words. While, even though “systems theory” has been with us since the discovery of light matter’s non-linear behaviour, the consensus illusion of cause & effect separation, still dogs our rather unholy communion.

    I suspect though, that during the course of this century our consensus taboo on knowing what we are, and that taboo’s generational Paternal injunction will give way to a realization of life’s true purpose and the “presence of the past,” as Sheldrake puts it, will reveal itself in very clever green narrative stories of our ancestors. I suspect that there will be a period of shock or fall, as we begin to understand the “consequential” nature of our solar emergence, as the cosmos manifest sentience.

    You write: in my own research and writing, I have come to feel that the term “heroic (or messianic) striving” is generally more accurate and helpful. The great irony I have come to appreciate is that while I think it’s true that these individuals are often experiencing some degree of confusion, mixing up different realms of experience (for example, mixing up collective or archetypal realms with consensus reality, or confusing unitive consciousness with dualistic/egoic consciousness), I have come to feel that perhaps the key to saving the world, or at least the human species, may in fact actually be revealed within these extreme experiences.”

    While in my heretical defiance of the consensus norm’s I have been willing to accept the scorn of people who only know themselves as words, to articulate my “esoteric” sense of our divine nature and cosmic responsibility. A responsibility that will see our children’s children’s children, populate the stars in the security of Einstein’s understanding that the Universe is a friendly place, once we have transcended our unconscious projection of our own nature onto external reality. In accord with my intuitive sense of reality I wrote this blog post back in January 2013:

    “A messiah is a saviour or liberator of a people in the Abrahamic religions. Or a metaphor for our species? Does Metaphor & Mythology, express innate Intuition?

    “Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and/or the use of reason. “The word ‘intuition’ comes from the Latin word ‘intueri’ which is usually translated as ‘to look inside’ or ‘to contemplate’.” Intuition provides us with beliefs that we cannot justify in every case. For this reason, it has been the subject of study in psychology, as well as a topic of interest in the supernatural. The “right brain” is popularly associated with intuitive processes such as aesthetic abilities. Some scientists have contended that intuition is associated with innovation in scientific discovery. Intuition is also a common subject of New Age writings.

    Intuition in Jungian psychology:
    In Carl Jung’s theory of the ego, described in 1921 in Psychological Types, intuition was an “irrational function”, opposed most directly by sensation, and opposed less strongly by the “rational functions” of thinking and feeling. Jung defined intuition as “perception via the unconscious”: using sense-perception only as a starting point, to bring forth ideas, images, possibilities, ways out of a blocked situation, by a process that is mostly unconscious.

    Jung said that a person in whom intuition was dominant, an “intuitive type”, acted not on the basis of rational judgment but on sheer intensity of perception. An extraverted intuitive type, “the natural champion of all minorities with a future”, orients to new and promising but unproven possibilities, often leaving to chase after a new possibility before old ventures have borne fruit, oblivious to his or her own welfare in the constant pursuit of change.” More of this post can be read here: http://www.bipolarbatesy.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/a-messiah-species-existential-meaning.html

    Beyond the mental health focus on non-consensus awareness, here on MIA and in the survivor community, I am personally encouraged by books like: The Illusion of Separation: Exploring the Cause of Our Current Crises Paperback. by Giles Hutchins

    Which expresses a mainstream business concern for a sustainable future and our current need to embrace systems theory, at both a local and non-local level of being. Which imo, expresses the reality of the presence of the past, in that our anatomy has not changed in the last 5000 years, even though we fall for the delusion that our projective identification with external objects, invokes a sense of a new time and place, within the space – time continuum of an eternal NOW. The realization of this reality, within this century, will be the Biblical prophecy of the Fall, imo.

    Or as Jean Houston suggests, (mother of the human potential movement) we will give birth the the first generation of truly human beings. The first generation not possessed by non-conscious fearfully biased judgement of any sense of otherness.

  13. This post is so, so amazing. And so true. Why on earth were they so hellbent on dumbing us down? And so determined to silence us? Does anyone care to comment on the following link:

    http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10462

    Because just about everyone I knew in the nuthouses fit this description. At least from the outside, looking in, we were all too smart for them. No, none of that was “chemical imbalance.” Funny, some people said the chemicals “evened them out.” Ah, what a crime that was.

    Let our light shine, because MLK was spot on, it is only through creative malajustment that we will see change and growth.

    Julie

    • I think is that everyone has the potential for madness and everyone has the potential for greatness. Often, they go hand in hand. Where we fall on this continuum at any given time depends more on our courage than anything. Our society makes it really challenging to be our unique selves—whether genius or mad or both–and not like everyone else. That is where shaming and marginalizing begin, which is tragic. Uniqueness should be celebrated, it is our gift.

      When society throws away people, they throw away gifts that will bring solutions to social ills, so, in essence, society is screwing itself. I see society right now as self-sabotaging, a sinking ship, which is why I stay far away from the mainstream. I believe change is happening now, because of people like us, and countless others, who don’t shy away from truth. And yes, many of us come from this crazy-ass “mental health” world, so there does seem to be a powerful connection between madness and social transformation.

      I think when we each go by our own blueprint (our most natural tendencies), rather what others or what society expects from us, then we are being true to ourselves and on our rightful path. How it looks to others is irrelevant, if life is working for us, on our terms. I believe life will reflect that for us, if we are really in our own skin, comfortably, honestly, and humbly—humble, in that we respect the choices of others and simply focus on our own path. To me, that is where we find clarity, ease, grounding, self-respect, self-care, and good manifestations.