Beginning to get very frustrated with the way the mental health system was dealing with “consumers” of mental health services, I started writing. From a letter I sent to about 100 professionals in mental health around the country:
February 10, 1988
A former consumer of mental health services in the state of Oregon, I am currently involved in various activities directly involving the welfare of present and future consumers. I am presently on the Board of Directors of the Mental Health Association of Oregon, on the organizing committee for the 1988 NARPA national conference, involved in the review of a federal grant proposal, was part of a group that met with the new head of the State Department of Human Services plus miscellaneous activities and future commitments.
I welcome the beginning acknowledgment that consumers have the right to have a voice in their lives, a basic that too many have never had in the first place. From the above involvements, however, something is becoming very clear to me. With a planned agenda at all of these meetings, the parameters of discussion are well established which means the input of consumers is limited by decisions made before they got there. A basic philosophical position has been established FOR us; we have had no voice in that arbitrary decision and there has been no “appropriate” time or place for epistemological discussion.
Some of “us” are standing up in meetings with professionals saying, “We have found something that worked for us,” yet not one professional has approached us to ask, “What worked for you?” Nobody cares that I did NOT blow my brains out in front of Clackamas County Courthouse, that I did NOT burn my father’s flag on the steps of this nation’s capitol, that I did NOT cut my husband up into little bitty pieces! Some of “us” do adjust, get better and even recover, in spite of the odds. I propose a meeting in which “we” tell what works -WE establish the purpose of the meeting; we make an appropriate time and place.
In 1976 I wrote: “An outsider could not study my family, only an insider. An outsider would not know which questions to ask.” From Nobel winner Ilya Prigogine’s Order Out of Chaos:
“In hundreds of different ways, scientists have expressed their
amazement when, on determining the right question, they
discover they can see how the puzzle fits together.” ******
My oldest daughter’s 28 year old boyfriend had developed cancer in 1987 that
had metastasized. I was there the day he died. After he had been placed in the
body bag and zipped up to his chest in preparation for leaving, the Hospice nurse
was encouraging the family to say their goodbyes. Everyone was standing against
the wall; no one was moving. I decided to step up to get it started. I walked over and
stood by the gurney on which he lay. I looked down at his face and was instantly
struck by the thought, “He’s not in that!” Reacting, I looked up and over him
as my being became instantaneously overwhelmed with the vivid sensation that his
presence filled the total volume of the room, every molecule of space! I managed
to say a few words of comfort and goodbye, but not to that thing on the gurney!
And 30 years later I am still just as moved by that moment as I was then.
Something happened in that room beyond our known senses.
April 1, 1988
I read the statement at the beginning of this book to the panel appointed by the Governor of Oregon to investigate mental hospitals in Oregon.
I wrote an article for the psychiatric survivor’s group, Oregonians Advocating for Empowerment. From that:
… Indeed, WE have to advocate for empowerment. (One must be a little empowered to advocate.) Too many psychiatrists are advocating for society, for the family, for the popular world view. I was lucky. My therapist was advocating for ME. Over and over he said, “You are the only one who can know how you feel.” What does that mean? It means I can’t ask other people, whether it’s psychiatrist, mother or husband, if what I feel is REAL, OR if it’s OK to feel the way I do. It means there is NO WAY for them to know when they say, “You don’t really feel that,” “It’s just your imagination,” “There’s something wrong with you if you feel that because there’s no reason (I can’t see a reason) for it.” It means I can’t simply move from my family telling me what I feel to the security of the experts telling me.
Empowerment means I make my own decisions. In 1976 I made the critical decision that there might be a valid reason for my feelings, feelings that made no sense to others and sometimes made no sense to me. My therapist was probably the only person in the world who didn’t believe my feelings were just “crazy.” What followed was that I had to feel the lifetime of repressed pain; I had to experience the loss of the security of the world as I had known it while not knowing if I would ever find any security again. Like being born and dying, NO ONE ELSE COULD DO IT FOR ME. Like the child who saw the emperor wore no clothes in spite of what everyone said, I had to learn to trust MY senses, to accept and assimilate ALL the experiences I had in spite of what everyone else said.
Science has a long history of ignoring certain data and phenomena if it doesn’t fit into the popular theory being used to explain things. Then one day an idea comes along whose time has come. It’s more comprehensive; it helps explain all those left-overs that wouldn’t fit into the popular idea. The most highly educated people in the world in 1200 knew it to be fact that the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat. The most highly educated doctors in the world in 1865 knew it to be preposterous to suggest they were spreading infection among their patients simply by not washing their hands.
Only by totally ignoring certain aspects of my experience can psychiatrists make the last 16 years of my life fit into what they believe are the facts. Putting on those blinders that allow them to focus on chemical imbalance and genetics, they can make the rest of my experience fit into THEIR belief system, THEIR world view, and that’s not advocating for ME.
Through the years I became “inner” directed instead of my direction coming from what other people said. I no longer have to try to ignore or repress my feelings or try to CONTROL my inner experiences and feelings; I became real enough to allow it. My inner world just kept rearing it’s stubborn head reminding me of its existence till I started paying attention. I could not continue to cling to the world I had known and be free of Stelazine.
Another person had to first believe in the INNER ME before I could start to believe in myself.
Try to build a complex structure without blueprints and what have you got? Chaos. That’s what we’re trying to do by listening to OTHERS instead of our own feelings. We think we can take a piece from the blueprint over there, some from that one back there, one from there, that someone else drew up. Yes, you may have a building but it might look like Picasso built it whereas a building built from ONE blueprint is more integrated, more harmonious. Calvin and Freud had their chance. The impact of their belief that man is inherently only evil has been a significant factor in leading the world to the brink of destruction on which it now stands.
A friend and I were sent to Columbia, South Carolina, to another conference.
Sometime that Spring, 1988
Another woman and I went to the IAPSRS convention at Miami. From the 9th floor balcony on the south side of the hotel, I was looking at a full moon that seemed almost close enough to touch and I certainly understood why someone had written the song “Moon Over Miami.” We went out on a catamaran late one day. When we reached open seas, they cut the engines and hoisted the sail. As we slipped silently and effortlessly over the water, tranquility slowly began to engulf me erasing the boundary between earth and heaven.
As a result of my activist letter, I was contacted by a doctor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and worked with him by mail and phone on a funded project.
The first of October I went to work at an insurance company in downtown Portland. That month I spoke at the annual meeting of the Oregon Mental Health Association at Coos Bay (also entertained) where it became quite clear to me that not only am I a threat to the mental health system, but I’m also a threat to other consumers and family members when I start talking about personal responsibility and CHOICES.
A woman at work brought in Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By and when I read Chapter 10, “Schizophrenia: The Inward Journey,” I knew why three people had recently asked if I’d read Joseph Campbell. (I’d never heard of him.) Then she brought in a book on psychological transformation. These were my first reading that matched and clarified some of my own experience.
I made my first contact with Jess in 8 months. Though I was experiencing something different internally, it wasn’t at a level that I felt a necessity to tell him. However, it gradually intensified. By the first of April there was no way of avoiding what was happening; I didn’t understand it at all.
April 11, 1988 Tuesday
There was so much in what I said on the phone yesterday that perhaps I should write it down.
Starting maybe six weeks ago, I began experiencing something different from what I’d ever experienced, a chronic pain/agony? You volunteered the word “longing” during our conversation but it was way beyond longing. It did not interfere with my functioning at any time. Before it was only certain things that made me think about you but it began to be anything, especially very beautiful things.
For example, at the traveling Smithsonian rain forest exhibit, I was watching a magnificent slide show on five gigantic vertical panels across a wall when I was unexpectedly inundated with your presence; you were permeating that room, as if you were in every molecule of air. It was all I could do to stay in that crushing, apocalyptic beauty. Many things were having the same effect on me and I was suffering. However, I had decided I had to allow it; I had no idea why I was doing it. I had never done this before and I was confused as to what it was all about; it was continuing on and on. I had had the dream a few weeks before of having a baby; I could see it but it wouldn’t come out. I was going to have to DO something to assist the process.
Again, there’s a specific physical locale where I experience the most intense agony. February of last year it was most acutely gut wrenching; in the fall concentrated in my heart area and this seems to be about halfway between my heart and neck. I hope it means something is finally coming out.
Week before last I had the dream about the director of the graduate program I was in, died in the 70’s, and Toni Wolf, my best friend in grad school, killed in a car wreck in the 70’s. I’m telling Jo about my book and she says, “You’re going to be another Helen Traubel.” Toni comes in, absolutely radiant, has just married a man in New York City. End. I woke feeling very troubled, like the dream had a message I couldn’t grasp.
The next night as I was going to sleep I concentrated on wanting a clarification of that dream. That was the first of three nights I dreamed about you; I have never dreamed about you that much, and, one more dream about a very important dead person from my past. We’re in southern Oklahoma; you’re there. I have to go to my high school music teacher’s house out in the country by Ryan. In reality she lived IN Ryan. (The only time I’ve gone somewhere out in the country outside Ryan was when we went to my uncle’s house to borrow his car to go to my father’s funeral.) I don’t ask you to go along; I leave. Since I’ve been there once before I know how to get there. It’s very hard to find and the maps we have really don’t show how to get there. After I leave my kids ask you if you want to go and meet me there. Somehow I know you’re on your way but worried about you finding it since you’ve never been there before and the maps are so bad. I finally decide you’re an intelligent man; you’ll find it.
Next, you and I on some kind of public conveyance, maybe a bus. You have on tights or pantyhose with a run in the front on YOUR right leg. Wearing a tunic, your “masculinity” is quite exposed. We sit down side by side, you next to the window. The clearest things are the pantyhose/tights, the run and your “masculinity.”
The next night I had the most confusing dream of all. Total confusion. I had asked for clarification and all I was getting was more confused – between the dreams and your presence totally permeating so much of my waking consciousness Yet I still felt I had to allow it. Don’t take Stelazine to control it; just go with it. And it has been pure hell – like my subconscious is playing games with my conscious mind, teasing me, tormenting me…
Going inside in active imagination in an effort to get clarification of what was going on I go down a hallway as veil after veil parts in front of me. I come out in a room; you are in the room. The only other thing in it is a small platform on which there is a throne. A few steps lead up to the throne; no one is sitting on it; I’m more confused than ever. I don’t know why I’m here; I don’t know why you’re here; I don’t know what any of this means. I see the throne and experience a sense of awe. I know how to make stage props and this is not a stage prop. THIS IS THE REAL THING.
I went to the coast for the meetings last weekend and attended a workshop for pros, open to “consumers.” Everyone was doing an exercise to get in touch with their inner child. I had told you about my contacting an inner child, a little girl, last summer. She’s maybe 7 or 8, plain, communicates with me without words. She had shown me a “futuristic” city, a “dream” city.
Going inside looking for some explanation for what was still happening in me, the little girl was right there. She leads me to a cave, down and around underground, deeper and deeper, coming out into a cavern. The first thing I see is a statue of the Madonna in a well defined niche in the wall, a light shining down on it. I sit on my father’s army footlocker, wondering why the Madonna, it has no meaning to me whatsoever, and why my father’s trunk is there – I thought I was finished with my father. It’s a place of deepest sorrow, but also of deepest peace and stillness. No other people here, there may never be any other people here….
The little girl leads the way out – come out in what we call a wash back home – walk up out of that, we’re in desert, she points to the left. I turn to see a city of this time. She suddenly has a rolled up “healing carpet,” how I first think of it, in her hands. She spreads it out, then it’s rolled back up and now I see the ends of a magic wand sticking out on both ends of the carpet; she gives these to me. End, I’m left standing outside a city with a magic carpet and a magic wand. And, I’m not sure I like being given a magic wand. Why couldn’t she have kept the magic wand in her hand and given me a wish or something? If I have a magic wand in MY hand, that’s a whole different matter: that’s to use for OTHER PEOPLE. And there seems to be the implication of something in that, I don’t know if it’s power or responsibility or both that I’m not sure I like. It scares the hell out of me when I get right down to it.
Since I didn’t understand most of this, it didn’t explain anything.
I know why some people kill themselves, become alcoholics, drug addicts – to kill the pain. I’m finding out how deep and strong my connection is to the universe, where there is no one, no thing – just me. I have to fall back on “floating,” like in water, do that with my mind. All this confusion can exist all around me without my having to understand – just keep floating…
April 16, 1988 Sunday
Some weeks ago I read a book on creative visualization and recognized I wasn’t turning loose after visualizing what I wanted. I knew I didn’t know how to turn loose in spite of my knowing intellectually my finding love doesn’t hinge on your existence. And don’t kid yourself, I’ve been looking! Then the feelings of your presence started to build, becoming unbearable, reaching the point finally that ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN THIS! Like I told you on the phone I was sick to death of it! It’s as if it had to crescendo to some kind of climactic peak before it stopped. Such a release, such a relief!
I don’t think I’ve ever told you how embarrassing this has all been for me; it’s terribly embarrassing. Here it is, I’m probably one of the most strong-willed people who ever lived but I’ve been helpless to make you get the hell out of my mind.
It helps me not be so hard on myself, helps me not be quite so embarrassed about the stubborn persistence of my “transference” when I realize the enormity of what I’ve had to do, in some sense re-living the experience with my father – all over again. No one should have to do this twice in one lifetime.
I was encouraged to be more of me because it seemed to give you pleasure, like with my father. When I was incongruously funny, I got to hear your laugh; when I was uniquely me, I got to see the twinkle in your eyes, to see your smile. When I was the me that nobody else could ever be was when I felt loved the most. And I basically knew how to relax into that. How could I cut that off??? AGAIN…
Yes, I’ve tried invoking the powers of the universe, year after year, not for me but for all the suffering people. I think I can safely say the only selfish thing I’ve done is trying to invoke those powers to have an effect on you – in my moments of weakness.
For many years I’ve known I had to experience my pain, go through it, that there is no going around it, under it or over it. No talking ABOUT it will allow me to EXPERIENCE it. You’ve never seen me experience my pain. The only “professionals” who’ve seen me experience my pain threw me in the quiet room and gave me sedatives for it. All the “psycho-active” drugs keep one from experiencing their pain. It scares the hell out of people. For some time I’ve been thinking about making a videotape of me experiencing my pain, to be used for educating, to show people what it looks and sounds like. IT HAS TO COME OUT.
Wednesday (continuing letter)
I had gone to the meetings at the coast already burdened down with my feelings about losing $100 by taking a day off since I had gone on overtime the day before, about all the meetings consumers can go to being conducted during regular working hours. Only those on SSI, or who have a husband supporting them are able to participate thus reinforcing the professionals’ ideas about “incurable” and that THEY have to do something to US. Those of us doing for ourselves don’t fit. The workshop I attended with about 70 or 80 professionals was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Right there in that room was the whole continent between us. As I watched the women my feelings became more and more unbearable. They think they know everything but know nothing, yet they can know you as I never shall. As I watched one particular woman participating in the exercises I became overwhelmed with negative feelings as I realized I was releasing all my feelings toward our situation onto her. Since I had not been identified, wearing my silk shirtwaist dress, with a professional haircut and a discreet flash of diamonds, I could withdraw into myself and pull off an aloof professional act; no one had to know how much I was suffering. I also knew as I stood there that if I’d had on the typical hand-me-down polyester pants, non-entity top and didn’t walk like I knew who I was and where I was going, they would chalk up any “anti-social” behavior on my part to bio-chemical imbalance and/or bad genes; I would be living proof that “we” needed “them” to instruct us in “socialization skills.” (Yes, there’s an Eliza Doolittle element in this.) They would not have been able to even suspect the reality, the thinking patterns in their brains being reinforced with concrete in graduate school. Not until that concrete is blasted out will they be able to even begin to see what IS instead of WHAT THEY THINK IS – THEIR PROJECTIONS.
With a nudge from the tub of hot water I’m sitting in, the rum and flat Pepsi, I suddenly collapse into my hate before I have a chance to put on ZZ Top at full volume.
Why me? Why did MY father have to die? Why couldn’t it have been THEIRS? Why did all this have to happen to ME? Why was I the one always trying to put the pieces back together? Why couldn’t they get a taste of it just once? I hate them! I hate them! I hate them! With their pretty little worlds with their perfect little “We’re going to fix you” smiles below their “Don’t come any closer” eyes. And there seems to be no end to my hate – or is it pain? I can’t tell anymore. I recognize a consuming, ferocious hate and frustration and pain that wants to totally destroy their neat, compartmentalized, pretty little world that helps perpetuate our pain; jump in the middle of that world with both feet, chew it up and spit it out, wreak havoc. I have given MY LIFE, and the bottom line is, I have given my life for PSYCHOLOGY. They have given nothing! They’ve only taken what has been handed to them on a silver platter. I’m the only one who lost money by being there; I’m the only one who drove up in a Grapes of Wrath II car; I’m the only one there in a $1 Goodwill dress. And I’m fully aware that someday there is a possibility THEY will benefit from MY SACRIFICE! They will stand around discussing my book in the same tone of voice they use to discuss their new hot tubs, IRA’s and latest sports cars; they may even make money off it! I have pain – and hate – and pain..I know I have to live through this hate. I’ve seen you surrounded by those women; they can be your friend but I can’t. And waves of hate wash through me, from me and around me…I also know I could be killed in a car wreck tomorrow and since I would pose no threat to you, you could do anything you wanted with my manuscript. You could make a million dollars from it AND my children would not see one cent for all the suffering they’ve gone through BECAUSE of my writing it. Every Ph.D. in the country could write an interpretation of my blood and guts and shit and my children would still not get one cent; they would still be only more specimens under your microscope and they’d have to pay for your services, services that someday will include what YOU have learned from ME.
If some of this is hard to take, that’s the way I intend it. I want to rip your guts out, the way mine have been. No, I’m not a “nice” person. I go for the throat and I play for keeps. And I don’t bat an eyelash while I’m doing it. There’s something harder than tungsten steel in me. You’re out here walking around in people’s souls. Who’s walking around in yours?
It’s experience and write – write and experience – type, type, type. I realize no one is making me do this; it seems to be my choice. Why have I done this; why am I still doing it? Is my soul not my own that I would go year after year like this? And I think, “Yes, this must be what it is for my soul to be my own.” And I know I’m going to keep working my way out of the pigeonholes and boxes and cages and slots people keep trying to stick me in for their convenience, so they can make order of THEIR world without having to work at it. This torment I’m experiencing right now is nothing compared to the torment of not being WHO I AM.
Saturday (continuing letter)
Found a candelabra, though not crystal, it’s the same design I drew, from my dream the day you “pushed the button” in ’75. Now I’m sitting here in the candlelight alternately contemplating, feeling “full,” feeling “finished” and feeling nothing and everything at the same time.
I don’t need your sensitivity to make me complete; I have my own. I don’t need your strength to make me complete; I have my own. I see my strength reflected in your strength; my sensitivity reflected in your own sensitivity. I see my uniqueness reflected in your delight. I see my god-ness reflected in your god-ness. And the “GOD” that IS smiles, to see “ITS” reflection; “GOD” is made manifest.
April 30, 1988
It’s not over but I’m so much better, being very intense till about Thursday a week ago when survival started kicking in. I began to want you to suffer – mentally and emotionally and I wanted to CAUSE it. I began to see fiendish images, symbolic of what I wanted to do to you emotionally, laughing out loud as in my head I could see: My words were real daggers I was throwing into your heart; my words were shot I loaded into a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun and emptied both barrels with a gut shot into you. I was swinging a Samurai sword a few inches above the ground, slicing through your legs and as you plunked down on the stubs I’d swing again. I was at the control of a rotating boom that knocked you down and every time you got back up, it knocked you down again; I tied your arms and legs into individual knots; I twisted you into a corkscrew shape, screwed you into the ground and backed you out. (I can’t even type this without laughing.) By Thursday of this week I knew I was deadly gut level serious about it and found myself at moments in total cold-blooded bodymind “concentration” for that goal.
Now I suppose there is absolutely no reason at all for you to be suffering emotionally since this is all business for you but you should not be able to walk away without a scratch; that’s back to prostitution. It’s infuriating to think you might know more about what’s happening with me than I do! Maybe that’s part of why I want you to experience something that is totally confusing to you, totally out of your control. You’re so damned “knowledgeable,” so “learned. If you tell me one more time “It’s a process,” I’m going to scream! I want YOU “processed,” just like processed meat, ground up and stuck back together.
After I told the woman I work with (who had brought me the books) what was happening emotionally with me, she asked, “Were you ever angry at your father for leaving you?”
I thought about that. No, I had no conscious memory of ever having been angry at him. I started wondering. Maybe you were getting a double dose of it. It seems to me there’s more satisfaction in being angry at one who’s still around to know just how angry I am than at someone who’s already gone and will never know about it. I am glad it’s subsiding.
Some of the things in The Symbolic Quest, on therapy, have been of inestimable value to me. I think I may have had some guilt feelings, about what I might have done to you, that were eased by it since it helped clarify the position and “nature” of the therapist considerably.
I want to tell you something for your further enlightenment as to your role in contributing to confusion in our relationship. Something had to change inside for me to be able to tell you. I’ve become aware of the absence of some kind of “compelling intensity” where you’re concerned.
When I visited you there, before I left we were standing in embrace. Your eyes were not their natural color. They were so dark I wondered if you were wearing black contacts. Though I was looking at your eyes, I could see your mouth. You had no lips; your mouth was a thin, severe tight line, with no hint of a smile. You were not looking at my eyes, you were looking at my mouth; you looked at my mouth for some moments. Unexpectedly, I thought you were going to kiss me but at that instant I saw a slight muscular spasm on your face as you abruptly jerked your head slightly off to your right, released me and stepped back.
Now, I’m not saying that was any more than a transitory attraction, if that. What I am saying is – it was confusing. I want you to know that.
Part of a dream 9/10/87 just after I saw you: I’m in New York; a man stranger is with you. You give me fabric to make a Kleenex box cover for you; I make it. Top in red, white and blue floral with ruffle around edge; body of cover is white. I take it to your apartment; you’ve given me a key to get in. My 8 year old grandson is with me. Stand around, no snooping, just looking, not aware of time, spend hour or so, realize I must leave. I notice a bedroom and look through door…On the east side of the room is a closet with a door that opens to the north. I can’t see into it but the light is on; it’s shining out. The closet is a big mess; someone is in it cleaning it out. There’s stuff out on floor where they’ve thrown it; a pair of dirty socks is thrown out as I’m watching. Whoever is in there has been there the whole time but stayed quiet; they didn’t want me to know they were in there. I respect their privacy and don’t let on I know they’re there. I lay the key to the apartment down, lock door before I go out and close it behind me; I can’t get back in.
Well, you’re going to have a birthday pretty soon. I guess the least I can do is wish you a happy birthday. I want to give you a gift, a fantasy. I don’t experience being IN it as much as standing back and SEEING it. The feelings I experienced during it are too much to be contained in one small soul; they’re to be shared. I hope you can receive it in the spirit I mean it; it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever imagined.
We’re standing facing each other, two or three feet apart, looking into each other’s eyes. As we stand transfixed, our “spirits” leave our bodies in the foreground and start to dance in the background. We aren’t holding each other, we’re apart. A candelabra can be seen between us, behind us in the background, with only one lit candle. Slowly, we move, total grace, controlled, most of the time looking into each other’s eyes. Sometimes our movements are the same, sometimes they are complementary; there is never anything sexually suggestive. As the dance progresses, more candles are slowly lit, one by one. My right hand approaches your left hand, at just below shoulder height, to within 4 or 5 inches where they stop, then like a spark, we touch, palms together for a second, then, just as suddenly back. The dance continues. With agonizing intensity, both palms come so close to touching, but at last, don’t. After a moment my left palm and your right calmly touch and remain touching as I slowly and purposefully move completely round you as you pivot, the gaze never being broken. At the end of the dance, we’re facing, both palms touching, completing the circuit. Totally sensual, totally spiritual, there is no separation. The light from the now all lit candles seen between us in the background is intensifying as we bow our heads ever so slightly and close our eyes breaking the gaze, as if to acknowledge the presence of the sacred in the other. As we lift our heads, open our eyes, the light becomes blindingly brilliant, obliterating our images in the brilliance. We can be seen then moving out of the light to re-enter our bodies in the foreground, while the brilliant light transforms into a perfectly balanced 4 point star that slowly ascends to take its place in the heavens above us.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu
Funds became available for a group of us to go by train to Salt Lake City for the national mental health consumer conference.
Though my writing may appear orderly and purposeful, let me emphasize that living through it all those years, it seemed anything but orderly or purposeful. To my rational ego in a “quick fix” society, it was pure chaos. It has only been since 1984 that it begins to “make sense,” like the pieces of the puzzle falling into place at last. Like so much of nature, the leaf skeleton of a poplar, the honeycomb of a bee and the Colorado River Delta show connections, a pattern, the “purpose” TOWARD WHICH it was being formed over some period of time. Even though we have egotistic “dominion over the earth” we can only sit back and watch it BECOMING. If we’ve never seen one before and see it in PROCESS, or we see it at only one point in time in process, it appears total “nonsense,” we see “no reason,” it doesn’t “make sense.”
IT IS ONLY AFTER IT IS FINISHED THAT THE PATTERN IS APPARENT AND SUDDENLY IT MAKES THE MOST PERFECTLY BEAUTIFUL AWE INSPIRING KIND OF SENSE… SO IT IS WITH THIS 18 YEAR PERIOD OF MY LIFE.
July 31, 1989
Dr. Samuel J. Keith
Chief, Schizophrenia Research Branch
National Institute of Mental Health
Dear Dr. Keith,
It’s been some time since I contacted you about sharing my story of my experience with “mental illness” with your department. It seemed to me that as a member of a family of which 3 out of 4 have been diagnosed schizophrenic, that the people doing research on schizophrenia might be interested in what I had to say. Your response indicated more interest in genetic aspects than experiential testimony and I made it quite clear that I would contribute nothing to help you prove the need for genetic engineering. There are two reasons for this present communication. There is a new development in the family and my thinking has been evolving to a point of being able to explain why I agree there is a biological basis for our experience.
Before I try to explain that biological, indeed genetic base, I want to tell you what my sister is now saying about her experience in 1976 labeled an “acute schizophrenic episode.” She has read absolutely nothing I have written, has read absolutely nothing anyone has written, has heard no one talking about their experiences, and I have never told her what I think about my own experiences. No one is more surprised than me to hear my sister trying to describe experiences that in many basic ways sound like my descriptions of my experiences. (No one can be more surprised than ME at my conclusions about MY OWN experience!)
In simple language my sister told me her story: “I haven’t talked to anyone about their experiences; I haven’t read anything about anyone else’s experiences; I don’t want to get it confused with mine. I know what I felt and that’s the way I want to keep it. It’s very hard to try to tell what it was like; it’s taken me a long time to start trying to put it into words. Words just aren’t enough.” (The acute phase of my sister’s experience began as she started to change a light bulb in a ceiling fixture.) “As I reached up it was like I saw the brightest light, a blinding light. I knew it wasn’t in the room but I still saw it. I felt such an overwhelming joy and what I really felt was LIKE ‘I’m going to see the face of the Lord.’ Now at no time did I see the face of the Lord; I didn’t see God; I didn’t hear any voices but,” and though I didn’t recall having seen my sister cry, tears welled up in her eyes, she seemed to be overcome with emotion and it seemed it was difficult for her to speak, “but I was WITH God. I know I was with God.” (Her experience follows traditional literature describing religious experience.) (One of her sons has become very involved with a church.) “I can’t make him understand that what I have inside me has nothing to do with church. I enjoy church when I go but what I’m talking about has nothing to do with church. Somehow, it wasn’t a matter of things just being ‘right or wrong;’ it wasn’t that simple..And I knew things. I don’t know how I knew them, I just did. And it’s hard to try to describe how I am now. It’s like I’m different from everybody I’m around, like I see more, like I see things from maybe a higher level, from a broader viewpoint, like I live in a different world almost. If I tried to talk about it to anybody, they couldn’t understand what I was talking about. No one understands; some people just think it’s crazy. I don’t talk to anybody about it anymore..I learned right away that my psychiatrist didn’t hear what I said. For instance, when I told him it was AS IF I were going to see the face of the Lord, he didn’t hear the AS IF. No one ever hears the AS IF. He tried to tell me how I thought; he even argued with me about it. He tried to fit me into the way he thought everything was but he couldn’t make me think like he wanted me to; no one can. So I just stopped telling him what I felt or thought and started telling him things like, ‘The dog killed a duck,’ ‘The boys went fishing,’ ‘I papered the kitchen,’ things he could understand.”
I’ve been going to conferences all over this country, just got back from the IAPSRS Conference in Miami, and am hearing more and more people who, like my sister and me, describe their experiences as “positive,” “redemptive,” “spiritual.”
I’ve finally gotten to the place of being able to relate these experiences to the essential biological concept of “protoplasmic goal seeking” as explained by biologists such as Edmund Sinnott. Protoplasm – the “basic stuff” of life – not a substance but a system containing not only the underlying principles of all existence but also the specific goals and meanings of individual lives – the personal and transpersonal elements of existence, with the inner experience of “mind” resting on this protoplasmic base.
The “spiritual” aspects of these experiences we’re trying to describe are not “other worldly” in the sense of having nothing to do with “this world.” They have everything to do with this world for we are simply becoming experientially aware of our biological protoplasmic connections with this world, this universe. If, as the biologists say, all protoplasm is the same with the immanent “goals” making the difference, then at some very deep level, we are indeed the same as the universe. Thus we say things like “Becoming one with the universe.” We FEEL our biological identification with the universe. It has ceased to be “thought,” “thinking about,” living outside the universe. We EXPERIENCE our protoplasmic link and we know/feel we are part of something so unfathomably bigger than we are, (“with God”?) so incomprehensibly whole, and begin to lose the clinging dependence on the collectives of family, society, institutions for validation of our existence. In other words, becoming more ontologically secure – of supreme survival value for the species since it mitigates the urge to destroy everything and everybody that refuses to supply us with validation. We also don’t have to die for a collective because of it being the only thing supplying us with death defying “reflection” and identity.
We describe “spiritual heights” that are reached, paradoxically, by an abrupt, unprepared for “descent” into this protoplasmic confluence of mind and matter, accessing the transpersonal biological base of the human psyche for a transformative personal experience of unity, recovering the wholeness lost due to trauma and the hostility of fragmented cultural programming, wholeness being the essential biological goal. The survival of the species, perhaps of this planet, may depend on the individuals in the human species becoming whole. We cannot live outside the underlying fundamental protoplasmic principles of this world without destroying it.
In a way, what I’m trying to describe is like life becoming aware of itself. Some might say like “God” becoming aware of itself. Some might say that we already have “consciousness” saying in effect, that our evolution is complete. But we have only aspects of consciousness. As a species we do not yet have consciousness of the world the physicists are now describing. You cannot make a “model” of that universe, a universe not of “things” but of dynamic process, of “flow,” of non-linear patterns, of interconnectedness so fundamental it cannot be disconnected, of WHOLENESS. So also we cannot make a “model” of our acute EXPERIENCE OF that universe. EXPERIENCING this universe can indeed be chaotic, confusing and frighteningly incomprehensible if one is unable to relinquish the safe, restrictive containment of our programmed linear language based thought, “things,” “cause and effect,” and meaninglessness – chains of containment that keep the human mind locked out of its own world, a world we were born a part of. Many of us describe our experience as “going home,” “coming home.”
We don’t come out of the experience or get over it by going back to the way we were before. The only way out is by ACCEPTING that we are now different in some positive way than we were before, that somehow we are more than we were before, that the world is not what we thought it was before. Trying to stay the same, trying to keep the world the same as it was before blocks the exit. Like a growing child, once the process is started, THERE IS NO GOING BACK.
Up to this point science has been breaking the organism down into parts and studying the parts. The experiences that some of us have confronted that have been labeled “mental illness” do indeed follow biological principles of “goal seeking,” with survival value not only for the individual but also for the species. The “goals” being “sought” in these experiences are standard biological goals of restoration of missing parts, becoming whole, synthesis and integration and therefore not amenable to the present reductionist scientific approach.
We are INSIDE the room; you are standing on the outside. Some of us are telling it from the INSIDE and what some of us are saying does not agree with what those of you on the outside are saying. We are trying to describe a WAY OF BEING that is not material, measurable or quantifiable. Those of you who are uncomfortable with the ESSENCE OF BEING are uncomfortable with us.
I am acutely aware that we live in a society that does not validate subjective experience yet without subjective experience the world no longer exists for one. Science is based on verifiability; an item is a fact only if it can be verified by someone else (preferably an “authority”). In other words, science is collective. But then what is “individuality?” William James said, ‘Individuality is based on feeling.’ But is “feeling” verifiable? There is no way that another person can ever know for sure how I feel – or what I perceive. It takes a great degree of naivete to even assume that the “red” I see is the same “red” you see, that the word “father” arouses the same feelings in me that it does in you. Does that mean that science does not recognize the validity of the individual? The intangible but very real things that make an individual are not verifiable by anyone. The only one who will ever hear/know/feel the inherent “goals” of the protoplasmic system is the individual in whom it is present. So as an individual I stand in complete and total negation and invalidation by science. In other words, the “scientific” programming is a hindrance to individuation. Whether we like it or not, the individual stands totally alone with the inside of himself. We live in a “democracy” that in theory confirms the individual. What we have in reality is quite a different matter. We have a conflict of the greatest magnitude when we have a “scientific” society demanding collective verification and a”democracy” of unverifiable INDIVIDUALS.
My sister told me something else. “I saw a program on TV about schizophrenia, supposed to be about the latest information on schizophrenia, and I wondered where in the world they got all that! What they were talking about didn’t have anything to do with what I’d gone through; it wasn’t like what I experienced.”
How many more people have similar experiences, have psychiatrists who can’t hear, learn to keep their mouth shut and do their own thing, knowing what they know but having learned to keep it to themselves? How many other people watched that program and wondered the same thing my sister did?
You people don’t know because too many of you, like my sister’s psychiatrist, CANNOT HEAR what we have so gropingly tried to say. I have to wonder from time to time why I keep “shouting from the housetops” while all the time feeling like simply another voice crying in the wilderness. Then I remember.
I know there really are some people out there somewhere who CAN HEAR, for you see, unlike my sister, I had a therapist who could HEAR, who wasn’t afraid of listening to the silence I was trying to explain.
From Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, June 13, 1978
Excerpt from remarks made to Harvard U. Graduating class
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major
turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle
Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual
upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new
level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in
the Middle Ages but, even more important, our spiritual being will
not be trampled upon as in the modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next
anthropologic state. No one on earth has any other way left
but – upward.”