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The danger threatening modern man is that instead of being a complete person at any given moment, he will be split into unrelated fragments . . .
(From The Artist as Citizen Thomas Lysaght – page 143 in The Creative Circle edited by Michael Fitzergerald)

hollis-on-thomas

My recently reactivated interest in the disturbingly wide impact of trauma in various forms on our lives leads me to republish this sequence on Edward Thomas. I feel I underestimated the influence of his childhood on his struggles as an adult.  Most of the texts I explored for this review drew a veil over any of the details of his early life. Only Andrew Motion’s book about his poetry gave any real hint. His depression, I speculate briefly in this first post, may have had its roots in his problematic relationship with his father: to describe this relationship Andrew Motion uses the word ‘tyrannise’ in his account of Thomas’s poetry. A brief trawl of the web has so far produced nothing else, so I am stressing here the importance of this hint as a key to his later life. I need to follow this up more deeply when I have the time. 

I have just finished reading Matthew Hollis’s absorbing account of the last years of Edward Thomas’s life. I was particularly struck by certain parts of the arc of his life’s trajectory at that period. When the book begins we are watching a man fighting with himself and with his perceived lot in life. He is seemingly trapped in a dead end – no sign of any exit short of death, in fact. We watch his emerging realisation that he is a poet, an epiphany facilitated by his warm friendship with Robert Frost. The ice bound wilderness of his previous inner existence melts into a creative springtime. At the same time as he begins to move towards and get to grips with his true vocation, he is debating whether to enlist in the so-called Great War. Hollis’s description of these various stages in the unfolding drama is compassionate and gripping, even when, as I did, you know the bare bones of the story already.

I hope I won’t be spoiling anyone’s enjoyment of this wonderful book if I look at these three stages of Thomas’s life in more detail using Hollis’s account as a springboard. I’ll be focusing on some of their implications for my obsessions with character, creativity, compassion and mental health. I can’t cram it all into one post so I’ve split this set of reflections into three. (For those who are interested there is a moving November 2013 interview with Hollis on the BBC website at this link.)

His hack work and the maintenance of his depression

Much of Edward Thomas’s bitterness in the opening years of this account stems from his having to slave away at what he experienced as hack work in order to feed his family. He had married young and had his wife and three children to provide for.

To see this as alone responsible for his depression would be to simplify things rather, in that the depression predated his hack work and also his marriage as an undergraduate (page 20):

Thomas had been plagued by depression from before his university days at Oxford. There, he fought to shake it out of himself. He tried drink and opium, took up rowing and rowdiness, but could not hold the bleak moods back. When the dark thoughts overran him, he told himself that he valued life too much to take it away or that he was too sedentary to go through with ending it; but in recent years he had become harder to console. In advertising his sorrows, as he put it, he had punished his family, decimated his friends and broken down his self-respect. ‘Things have been very wrong,’ he told his old friend Jesse Berridge in February 1913. ‘Health is now definitely bad – not mere depression – and I don’t know how it will develop. . . .’

It may have had its roots in his problematic relationship with his father: to describe this relationship Andrew Motion uses the word ‘tyrannise’ in his account of Thomas’s poetry. Thomas at least once came terrifyingly close to suicide but was unable to carry through his plan (ibid).

He hated [his wife Helen’s] fussing and her pretence that all was well, but the loathing he felt toward his own cowardice was stronger. Unable to do what he believed he should and put an end to his suffering, he was left to berate himself bitterly: ‘I’m the man who always comes home to his supper.’

Some of the prose work he did contained clues to his future greatness as a poet. He was a discerning and courageous critic of the work of other poets. He also wrote with deep feeling and great skill of the English countryside and those who lived close to it. He was completely blind to the potential planted in what to him seemed such unpromising soil.

The impact of his depression on his family

He comes across from all accounts as a fundamentally decent man whose dark moods poisoned his relationships with others, and there is no real hint of a constructive link between his depression and his creativity. He was completely trapped in a demoralising vicious circle (page 17):

The relentless, ungratifying work left him exhausted and bitter, while the din of family life served only to worsen his mood. In poor spirits he treated his family cruelly, scolding the children and reprimanding his wife, and the more he did so, the worse his spirits became.

He recognised how much his wife and children suffered from his moods but seemed powerless to protect them from himself if he stayed (page 19):

. . . . the family had joined Edward for Christmas, cared for by Helen, the woman he had married thirteen years ago, who loved him with a passion that he could no longer return.

And he also seemed powerless to leave them for good and set them free from him on a permanent basis either, not that they would have welcomed that idea at all (page 27):

‘What I really ought to do is live alone,’ he told Jesse Berridge. ‘But I can’t find the courage to do the many things necessary for taking that step. It is really the kind Helen and the children who make life almost impossible.’ Somehow they adapted to the outbursts and the absences.

The cost of keeping the family together was cruelly high (page 28):

The absences were crippling to Helen. She was warm and impulsive, a product of her father’s free‑thinking influence, but her untidy spontaneity made her a hopeless housekeeper and a poor cook to Edward’s irritation. . . . . It was her bohemianism that allowed her to ‘manage’ his disappearances emotionally but it was these same unconventional attitudes that left her isolated and wounded when he left.

There is an interesting clue we are given late in the book to what might have been going on within him at this time and beyond (page 230):

He longed for someone to break through the edifice that he had put around himself, an edifice designed, he said, to protect his humility.

The chances of finding anyone in England at the time with the necessary expertise was remote in the extreme (page 29):

Psychology in England was in its primitive stages before the war, with psychosomatic disorders little understood.

Hollis seems to feel with Thomas that the depression which dogged him was positively related to his creativity (ibid):

Thomas himself was not uncritical of his own condition, nor was he unappreciative of the energies that it produced within him. Aware that the depression was also a source of creativity, he had in the past been ambivalent about attempts to purge it. ‘I wonder whether for a person like myself whose most intense moments were those of depression a cure that destroys the depression may not destroy the intensity,’ he wrote in 1908, adding, – a desperate remedy?’

Robert Frost

His later history, which I will be dealing with in the other two posts on this subject, calls this view into question. An easing of his depression did not seem to diminish the strength of his experiences or his capacity to translate them into words – but more of that later.

He did feel at one point ‘in 1912 [that] he had finally met an individual [Godwyn Baynes, later a follower of Jung] who could help with a subtler understanding of his suffering.’ Initially Thomas was Baynes’s only ‘client.’ His optimism was relatively short lived and the gains temporary. As Baynes widened his clientele Thomas’s belief in him shrank.

As we will see, his decision to enlist and his realisation that he was writing real poetry eventually combined to decrease his susceptibility to depression. This had a significant positive effect on his relationship with his family (page 308):

. . . then he sympathised with [Helen’s] visit to town to have a bad tooth taken out. ‘I hope you don’t dislike the dentist who took it away.’ It was a care and kindness that Thomas would show more of in the weeks ahead.

Not that the weeks ahead were without intensely painful moments as the time for his final departure to the front drew closer (page 310):

. . . . to ease the tension [he] took out his prismatic compass and showed her how to take a bearing from it; when she cried he closed the casing and put the instrument away. Helen could no longer rein back her desperation and felt engulfed by an uncontrollable grief of a kind that would plague her in the years ahead. She would recount his tenderness in that moment. She wrote of his gentle ability to soothe and steady her, to give her both the emotional and the physical reassurance for which she so longed. He read to her and carried her to the bedroom in his greatcoat. ‘Helen, Helen, Helen,’ he had said, ‘Remember that, whatever happens, all is well between us for ever and ever.’ When the morning came, she stood at the gate and watched him disappear into the mist and snow. Edward for his part recorded nothing of the details, only this entry in his diary: ‘Said goodbye to Helen, Mervyn and Baba.’

Such intense tenderness would have been impossible to him before he became a poet and a soldier. But consideration of those developments will have to wait until next time.

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focus-of-exploration

In a previous post, lamenting the death of my cafetière, I spoke of my strange elation as pennies dropped in my head when I realised more fully the significance of death in my life and appreciated better its relationship with mental health issues, especially psychosis.

I ended by saying that I felt as though all the pennies still had not dropped. Even so, I had no idea of the cascade of currency that was to follow.

cafe-exploration-v2

I was on my usual walk. At this time of year the hill through the wooded park near our home is every shade of brown, crimson and gold. As I was striding to the top at a pace brisk enough to get my heart beating faster, three words leapt to mind: trauma (including terror of death), transliminality (thresholds of consciousness and such) and transcendence (including spirituality in general). My subliminal mind had done it again. Not only had it grasped firm hold of the three things preoccupying me most strongly right now, but it had given me a mnemonic with which to hold onto them more easily. It’s so smart at doing this my left-brain gets quite envious.

churchill-gardens

As I walked, the trees, even with all their gold, faded into the background. I felt the three words jockeying for a position that made some kind of sense.

It was then I sensed there were dancing partners. When trauma paired up with transliminality the offspring could be psychosis. I’d need to explore how that might happen. Transliminality was not a faithful partner though and, as soon as the music changed beat, it eloped with transcendence and they gave birth to mysticism. Something else I needed to explore.

As soon as I got home, I dashed upstairs to my desk and notebook to catch these ideas on the wing before they migrated to Neverland.

I knew there were some gaps in my thinking. I wrote, at the same time as I drafted the diagram in Word: ‘Trauma is clearly an external event. The permeability of our threshold is probably a composite of experience, including the impact of trauma, and genetics. The transcendent will be hard to distinguish from illusion. Also I am not claiming that any of these factors explain all there is to know about the others, nor that psychosis is the only destructive consequence of trauma, or creativity the only positive consequence of transliminality, or transliminality its only precondition. All I am saying is that theirs is the interrelationship that fascinates me.’

Even so, I thought I’d nailed the essence of what I wanted to research more deeply.

img_3275No such luck. Thee days later, as I was getting the lawn mower out of the garage to give the front lawn its last trim of the year, I found myself wondering where my other obsessions – creativity, interconnectedness and compassion – fitted in. (Actually, it was more like a meadow – I don’t believe in cutting the grass, the wild flowers and the mushrooms more than is absolutely necessary: I was only mowing it now because the neighbour’s gardener had been wrily wondering whether all the sycamore leaves on our patch would blow over to the driveway he’d just cleared.)

I could see that reflection, my idée fixe, was necessary as a means of keeping me on the alert during every experience for any hint that would shed light on any aspect of these preoccupations, but I remembered my more muddled diagram of more than a year ago now, outlining what I wanted to investigate.

Interconnectedness

Clearly that wasn’t exactly on target anymore, but I didn’t want to lose anything of real importance that it contained.

As I walked the mower up and down the leaf-strewn grass, I could not escape the implications of the season; not so much ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ in my case – more leaf-death and cut greenery as potential compost and food for next year’s growth.

The beauty of the colours spread across the lawn drew me into the rhythms of the earth. I felt rather than thought that I am as much a part of nature as nature is a part of me. That’s why, as I have explored elsewhere, I prefer to be called Pete, with its echo of peat, rather than Peter, with its connections with rocks and popes. I loved dancing to the rhythms of rock music when I was younger, but geo-theological rhythms of that kind never have appealed to me in the same way.

I abandoned my mowing for the moment and went back in-doors for my iPhone. I needed to take some pictures even though most of the greenery and leaves were gone from our meadow by now. There was enough left though to capture what was stirring me into other perspectives on death.

Leaves die for a purpose as Shelley understood and as I have explored elsewhere.

According to Holmes in his biography (page 546):

Shelley went for walks along the banks of the Arno thinking of . . . . his own exile, his ‘passion for reforming the world,’ his apparent impotence to help the downtrodden people of England, the disasters of his private life and inevitably, at 27, the beginning of the end of his youth.

His hair was already becoming streaked with grey, according to Anne Wroe a possible symptom of syphilis. It is perhaps not surprising then to see the appeal of autumn as a symbol of his declining condition and his deep need for a powerful force to lift him out of his despondency. The climax of the The Ode to West Wind fuses these two aspects:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

img_3279Once I had finished the lawn and transferred all I had gathered to the compost bin with my wife’s help, I rushed again indoors to capture what my subliminal mind had garnered as I mowed.

The only way I can describe the feeling of these moments is to say it was as though connecting with the earth had lifted my mind up to the sky. Possible ways of making the abstract elements of my quest grounded in reality had floated across my mind’s sky as I focused on guiding the mower over the leaf-strewn surface, sucking up the gold and green together.

microsoft-word-focus-of-exploration-v2

Suddenly I could see how creativity, connectedness and compassion might fit into the pattern, and how the terror of existence for some might narrow rather than widen their horizons, so that defending themselves against the darkness could made them dark instead. I also could consider the possibility that, without transliminality, transcendence and trauma would never dance together to create a child. From my recent reading of Waking, Dreaming, Being, Evan Thompson’s richly rewarding, though for me somewhat flawed, analysis of the interface between Buddhism and neuroscience, I remembered that the pollen and nectar for the hive of my current enterprise can be gathered from almost anywhere. He weaves academic, monastic, literary and his own personal experience into a tapestry rich in implications for the nature of the relationship between the mind and the brain.

Incidentally, how I found his book was a beautiful example of serendipity – something else I need to be on the alert for at all times.

Sorry to digress again – well, not really.

thompsonI went to Waterstones in Birmingham because I knew they had a copy of Boarding School Syndrome. As I followed the shop assistant with the skull-head rings (would I never escape reminders of death?) across the shop to look for Schaverian’s book my eyes were caught by the cover of Thompson’s book. Even that glance was enough to convince me I needed to give it a more careful look.

Once we’d located Boarding School Syndrome and I’d got it firmly in my grasp after a bit of a search, I made a beeline (and I’m using that expression in full knowledge of what it means in terms of pollen and nectar, as my earlier post indicates at length) for Waking, Dreaming, Being, grabbed it off the display shelf and headed for the nearest chair. Reading a few pages made me feel it might be too good to be true so I Googled some reviews. No, it was the real Macoy. You will hear more about it later.  

I don’t think I will be able to produce, twice a week, posts with anything like that degree of disparate experience integrated into them. I may have to make myself slow down even further than I have done so far to get anywhere close.

Let’s see how it goes!

Winter v2

sky-lawn-fusion

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‘In Leeds, a cafe run by the Real Junk Food Project (pictured) addresses not only the waste of food but also the waste of social opportunity.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

‘In Leeds, a cafe run by the Real Junk Food Project (pictured) addresses not only the waste of food but also the waste of social opportunity.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

There is a moving and and insightful piece by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian. It suggests that there is more hope out there in our society than generally hits the headlines. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

If there is an irrepressible human trait it’s the determination, against all odds, to reconnect. Though governments seek to atomise and rule, we will keep finding ways to come together. Our social brains forbid any other outcome. They urge us to reach out, even when the world seems hostile.

This is the conclusion I draw from touring England over the past few weeks, talking about loneliness and mental health. Everywhere I have been so far, I’ve come across the same, double-sided story: stark failures of government offset in part by the extraordinary force of human kindness.

First the bad news: reminders of the shocking state of our mental health services. I met people who had waited a year for treatment, only to be given the wrong therapy. I heard how the thresholds for treatment are repeatedly being raised, to ration services. I met one practitioner who had been told, as a result of the cuts, to recommend computerised cognitive behaviour therapy to her patients. In other words, instead of working with a therapist, people must sit at a screen, using a programme to try to address disorders likely to have been caused or exacerbated by social isolation. Why not just write these patients a prescription instructing them to bog off and die?At least then they wouldn’t have to wait a year to be told to consult their laptops. I heard of children profoundly damaged by abuse and neglect being sent to secure accommodation – imprisoned in other words – not for their own safety, or other people’s, but because there is nowhere else for them to go.

These are not isolated cases. It is a systemic problem. There has been no child and adolescent mental health survey in this country since 2004 (though one is now planned). Snapshot studies suggest something is going badly wrong: figures published last week, for example, suggest a near quadrupling in the past 10 years of girls admitted to hospital after cutting themselves. But there are no comprehensive figures. Imagine the outcry if the government had published no national figures on childhood cancer for 12 years, and was unable to tell you whether it was rising or falling. . . . .

But amid the rubble of a collapsing state, I kept stumbling into something wonderful. Performing with the musician Ewan McLennan, using music and the spoken word to explore these subjects, has brought me into contact with groups that restore my faith in the human spirit.

In Leeds we ate in a cafe run by the Real Junk Food Project, whose meals are made from waste or donated food. Seeing people of all ages, from all stations of life, who had never come together before, yakking away over dinner like old friends, I realised that the project is addressing not only the waste of food but also the waste of social opportunity. Breaking bread together: this is still the best and simplest way of reconnecting.

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What is the dust which obscures the mirror? It is attachment to the world, avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire; this is the dust which prevents reflection of the rays of the Sun of Reality in the mirror. The natural emotions are blameworthy and are like rust which deprives the heart of the bounties of God.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace – page 244)

assagioli

Because my current sequence of posts refers to the Kellys and their thought-provoking text Irreducible Mind, it seemed a good idea to republish this sequence from March 2013. This is the last of the three parts.

In the previous two posts I’ve been moaning about how I was robbed when my training in psychology steered me away from the work of thinkers such as FWH Myers as though they had the plague. What I probably need to do to redress the balance is mention how much I was influenced by thinkers who were deeply influenced by Myers. In one case I know that for certain because I still have Roberto Assagioli‘s introductory text on psychosynthesis, which I read in 1976 and which cites Myers in the list of references at the end of Chapter I. Another was a seminal book I borrowed but never bought, so it is impossible to say whether the influence was direct and acknowledged: this was Peter Koestenbaum’s New Images of the Person.

Assagioli explained in his book the importance of what he calls a ‘disidentification exercise’ (page 22):

After having discovered [various elements of our personality], we have to take possession of them and acquire control over them. The most effective method by which we can achieve this is that of disidentification. This is based on a fundamental psychological principle which may be formulated as follows:

We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.

(For the psychosynthesis disidentification exercise see the following link.)

Then, in another exciting moment, I came upon Koestenbaum’s ideas about reflection six years after I had read Assagioli. Reflection is the ‘capacity to separate consciousness from its contents’ (Koestenbaum: 1979). We can step back, inspect and think about our experiences. We become capable of changing our relationship with them and altering their meanings for us. It is like a mirror learning to see that it is not the same as what is reflected in it. So here was a writer in the existentialist tradition speaking in almost the same terms as psychosynthesis. I had practised Assagioli’s exercise for a long period after reading his book. Now I was triggered into resuming the practice again by what Koestenbaum had written.

I came across Koestenbaum’s book just before I discovered the existence of the Bahá’í Faith (for a fuller account see link). It helped me take what I had found in Assagioli and fuse it with what I had found in the Faith and create an experiential exercise to express that understanding in action in a way that helped me immensely to adjust to spiritual concepts which until that point had been completely alien to me for decades – all my adult life in fact. The Baha’i Writings talk about certain key powers of the soul: loving, knowing and willing as well as introducing me to the idea of the heart, the core of our being, as a mirror. I pulled this into my version of the exercise (see below). What I didn’t realise until later was that Assagioli had corresponded with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and had therefore to some degree been influenced by Bahá’í thought. (See Disidentification exercise for the final version that I used myself rather than this one I revised to share for the use of others).

Separating the Mirror from its Reflections

How amazing then to find Emily Kelly, in the book Irreducible Mind, quoting Myers quoting Thomas Reid, an 18th century philosopher (page 74):

The conviction which every man has of his identity . . . needs no aid of philosophy to strengthen it; and no philosophy can weaken it.… I am not thought, I am not action, I am not feeling; I am something that thinks, and acts, and suffers. My thoughts and actions and feelings change every moment…; But that Self or I, to which they belong, is permanent…

What I regret therefore now is that the usefulness of this exercise did not make me trace it back to its source and find out more of what Myers thought about this and many other things of great importance to me. So, better late than never, that is what I am about to do now.

Myers’s the self and the Self

The disidentification exercise rattled the cage of my previous ideas about who I was in essence. While I didn’t quite buy into Assagioli’s other ideas about consciousness at that time I felt, both intuitively and from the experiences I was having, that his idea was completely right that there is some form of pure consciousness underpinning our identity.

So, as good a place as any to pick up the thread of Myers’s thinking again is with his ideas of the self and the Self. There are some problems to grapple with before we can move on. Emily Kelly writes (page 83):

These ‘concepts central to his theory’ are undoubtedly difficult, but despite some inconsistency in his usage or spelling Myers was quite clear in his intent to distinguish between a subliminal ‘self’ (a personality alternate or in addition to the normal waking one) and a Subliminal ‘Self’ or ‘Individuality’ (which is his real ‘unifying theoretical principle’). In this book we will try to keep this distinction clear in our readers minds by using the term ‘subliminal consciousness’ to refer to any conscious psychological processes occurring outside ordinary awareness; the term “subliminal self” (lower case) to refer to ‘any chain of memory sufficiently continuous, and embracing sufficient particulars, to acquire what is popularly called a “character” of its own;’ and the term ‘Individuality’ or “’Subliminal Self” (upper case) to refer to the underlying larger Self.

Myers believed that the evidence in favour of supraliminal experiences, used here by me in the sense of things that leak through the membrane from above, is strong enough to warrant serious consideration and he distinguishes between that and subliminal experiences that come, as it were, from underneath (page 87):

Supernormal processes such as telepathy do seem to occur more frequently while either the recipient or the agent (or both) is asleep, in the states between sleeping and waking, in a state of ill health, or dying; and subliminal functioning in general emerges more readily during altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, hysteria, or even ordinary distraction.

He felt that we needed to find some way of reliably tapping into these levels of consciousness (page 91)

The primary methodological challenge to psychology, therefore, lies in developing methods, or ‘artifices,’ for extending observations of the contents or capacities of mind beyond the visible portion of the psychological spectrum, just as the physical sciences have developed artificial means of extending sensory perception beyond ordinary limits.

titania-l

Midsummer Night’s Dream

Thin Partitions

He also has much that is interesting and valuable to say about the implications of a proper understanding of these upper and lower thresholds, especially when they are too porous, for both genius and mental health (page 98):

When there is ‘a lack of liminal stability, an excessive permeability, if I may say so, of the psychical diaphragm that separates the empirical [conscious] from the latent [subliminal: unconscious] faculties and man,’ then there may be either an expansion of consciousness (an ‘uprush’ of latent material from the subliminal into the supraliminal) or, conversely, a narrowing of consciousness (a ‘downdraught’ from the supraliminal into the subliminal). The former is genius, the latter is hysteria.

His use of supra- and subliminal is slightly confusing here but the main point is that genius expands what we are aware of, and more comes above the threshold, whereas hysteria narrows our experience so that less comes into consciousness. This is partly clarified by Kelly explaining (page 99):

In short, Myers believed that hysteria, when viewed as a psychological phenomenon, gives ‘striking’ support to ‘my own principal thesis’, namely, that all personality is a filtering or narrowing of the field of consciousness from a larger Self, the rest of which remains latent and capable of emerging only under the appropriate conditions.

Even the expanded consciousness of genius, in this view, is still filtering a lot out – in fact, it still leaves most of potential consciousness untapped.

There is in addition a common quality of excessive porousness which explains why, in Shakespeare’s phrase, the ‘lunatic . . . . . and the poet are of imagination all compact.’ Myers’s view is that (page 100):

Because genius and madness both involve similar psychological mechanisms – namely, a permeability of the psychological boundary – it is to be expected that they might frequently occur in the same person; but any nervous disorders that accompany genius signal, not dissolution, but a ‘perturbation which masks evolution.’

For Myers dreams, though they may indeed be common and frequently discounted, they are nonetheless important sources of data (pages 102-103):

Myers argued [that] dreams provide a readily available means of studying the ‘language’ of the subliminal, a language that may underlie other, less common forms of automatism or subliminal processes. . . . Myers’s model of mind predicts that that if sleep is a state of consciousness in which subliminal processes take over from supraliminal ones, then sleep should facilitate subliminal functioning, not only in the organic or ‘infrared’ region, but also in the “ultraviolet” range of the psychological spectrum, such as the emergence of telepathic impressions in dreams.

This has certainly been my own experience. A post I wrote two years ago will perhaps serve to illustrate that for those who are interested. My dream of the hearth, recounted there, was, incidentally, the only dream I have ever had in which I experienced the presence of God, another reason for my attaching such great importance to it.

An important related topic he also addresses is that of ‘hallucinations.’ People tend to be quite closed minded on this topic, seeing visions and voices as the sign of a mind gone wrong. This is quite unhelpful. There is a mass of evidence that I may come back to some time to indicate that ‘hallucinations’ range from the darkly destructive to the life enhancing and it important to pay close attention to the details of them and the circumstances under which they occur before coming to any conclusion about them. Our society’s default position, the result of exactly the backward step under discussion here that both psychology and psychiatry took in the name of pseudo-science, is harmful rather than helpful quite often (I have explored a more positive approach on this blog – see the six links to An Approach to Psychosis). Pim van Lommel’s research into NDEs replicates the same kind of pattern in that patients whose families and friends were unsympathetic took much longer to integrate their experiences and found it a more painful process than those who were met with support and understanding. He summarises this (page 51):

When someone first tries to disclose the NDE, the other person’s reaction is absolutely crucial. If this initial reaction is negative or skeptical, the process of accepting and integrating the NDE typically presents far greater problems than if this initial reaction is positive, sympathetic, or neutral. Evidence has shown that positive responses facilitate and accelerate the integration process. In fact, without the possibility of communication, the process of coming to terms with the NDE often fails to get under way at all.

We tend to underestimate the frequency of ‘hallucinations’ in the ‘normal’ population, something the Myers was already aware of (page 108):

One of the most important accomplishments of Myers, Guerney, and their colleagues in psychical research was in demonstrating the previously suspected, but as it turns out not infrequent, occurrence of hallucinations in normal, healthy individuals.

Not all them should be dismissed as fantasy (page 109):

These studies and surveys also demonstrated that such hallucinations are not always purely subjective in origin. Some, in fact, are veridical – that is, they involve seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing some event happening at a physically remote location. . . . . Using their own figures for the frequency with which people recall having hallucinations in a waking, healthy state, together with statistics regarding the incidence of death in the United Kingdom, they concluded that hallucinations coinciding with a death happened too frequently to be attributable to chance.

All in all, Myers’s mould-breaking approach to the mind and to the problems of consciousness is refreshing to say the least, and maps onto my own long-standing interests in spirituality, creativity and ‘psychosis.’ It was icing on the cake to find what he said about science and religion, a point to savour and a good note to end this post on (page 113) :

On the one hand, . . . he believed that science could ‘prove the preamble of all religions’ – namely, that the universe extends far beyond the perceptible material world. On the other hand., religion could contribute to ‘the expansion of Science herself until she can satisfy those questions which the human heart will rightly ask, but to which Religion alone has thus far attempted an answer.’

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Given my current exploration of mental health issues it seems appropriate to publish this sequence from 2012.

Inquest 1Inquest 2

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Given my current exploration of mental health issues it seems appropriate to publish this sequence from 2012.

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Given my current exploration of mental health issues it seems appropriate to publish this sequence from 2012.

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