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 to be 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; we reach the essence of the hologram. 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 wholeness of 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.” 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, outside the possibility of ever achieving satisfactory security from collective confirmation. 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.
July 31, 1989