The Three Kinds of Madness

For me, there are three main kinds of madness (I won’t elaborate on the many different, subtle strands of each). I call them Cuckoo Madness, Divine Madness – these two sometimes link up together – and Normal Madness, and the most dangerous and the most toxic of all is Normal Madness. Why? Because all those millions of us who suffer from this debilitation, operate out of the illusion that we are utterly sane and that those who see the world differently from us, are insane. So let me say a few words about each:

Cuckoo madness

Cuckoo Madness is the rather silly term I use for psychosis, which is actually a very serious and debilitating state, especially if one does not possess either the wherewithal to stand back and understand it and, as it were, learn to ‘ride its storms’, or conversely, have access to the right kind of medication to control it. When under the grip of a serious psychosis, much of life becomes distorted and we can experience great terror where, for example, we may believe certain people are out to murder us. In her fascinating new book Into the Woods and Out Again which is about her journey into psychosis, Dina Glouberman tells us that:

We go mad when the personal unconscious floods the conscious mind. Mad states have a paranoid quality when you believe some people are okay and some are not, or that you personally have a heroic role to save the world. This period of my own madness was one of the most magnificent, intense, illuminating experiences I have ever had…I was in hell but I was also blessed. Not only did I not die of it, but I moved through from neurosis into psychosis, that state of mind otherwise called insanity or madness, and back into a kind of health that I had not known before…

Experiencing psychotic states, therefore, far from being ‘bad’, would seem to be an integral part of our journey into becoming more fully human. I had a similar, if short-lived journey into this realm in the summer of 1975, when I was living in California training in Transpersonal psychology and exploring Shamanic states of consciousness through sacred mushrooms. By mistake, I gave myself a twenty hour intensive ‘free seminar’ on psychosis when I grossly overdosed and went into an utterly suicidal and despairing state that I thought I would never recover from. Luckily, I did.

Basically, what had occurred was that huge amounts of shadow material stored away in my unconscious, suddenly found doors of perception in my psyche temporarily opening up and so felt liberated to rush through them utterly overwhelming my conscious mind. And in those days, I in no way possessed the wherewithal to protect myself from this onslaught from my nether worlds. It was a terrible and painful excursion into utter madness, but I am happy to say that I recovered and the experience was in essence a gift as I not only learned about how certain dimensions of our psyche can operate in certain instances, but also how to work with other people in similar states.

Divine Madness

Divine Madness exists at the complete other end of the spectrum. Here, our internal doors of perception are also opened, but this time into our ‘higher unconscious’, into the more elevated domains of our psyche. It has been beautifully written about by Plato in Phaedrus:

The greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven sent. It was when they were mad that the prophetess at Delphi and the priestess at Dodona achieved so much for which states and individuals in Greece are thankful; when sane (that is, when they were in a ‘normal state’) they did little or nothing… Madness is a divine gift when due to divine dispensation.

I fully agree and I regard Divine Madness as the highest form of sanity and to be aspired to by all of us, for when we touch these dimensions inside ourselves, we link up with our deeper humanity; we start realising our sacred interconnectedness and our belongingness with the cosmos and as such have access to a much deeper knowing and a much deeper love, joy, wisdom and truth. Divine Madness makes us yearn for justice in the world. We want wars to end and evil to dissolve. Above all, we touch into that domain which ‘normal man’ is most terrified of and defended against, namely ecstasy! In my own, personal quest for ecstasy, I have constantly sought the company of divinely mad people as they inspire me and their presence lifts me. It is so wonderfully refreshing to be with people who are fully and wholly themselves, who are divinely inspired and who are not remotely interested in pleasing you or letting you know how rich or clever or important or superior to you they are.

But beware, my dear friends. Divine Madness can be dangerous. If politicians were to get afflicted, they might dedicate their lives to working for peace and give up serving their own personal interests. If multi-millionaires get struck down – and I’ve observed this happen – they can feel moved to give up their yachts and share their resources with the poor. But this I say to you: even if you’re not a politician or a multi-millionaire, take the risk and go looking for this madness and in so doing you might discover that it may also be stalking you!

I think this quest is the sanest thing any of us can be embarking on in these times of such crises in the world. There are many areas inside ourselves where gateways into divine madness exist and also many catalysts out in the external world and I suggest you go looking for them. It’s more fun than hunting fame or fortune and the rewards will be much greater. So if this affliction ever finds you, I ask you fully to surrender to it. If you like singing, then sing it, if you like politics, then take it into your political life; if you like dancing, then dance it. If you like loving, then share it with all those you love as the beautiful thing about this madness is that it is highly contagious.

A small footnote. Sometimes our inner doors of perception can open to many worlds at different levels at the same time. This was certainly Dina’s experience and is currently the experience of an old friend of mine who though institutionalised and kept on strong anti-psychotic drugs, tells me he is able to channel the spirit of William Blake, and as a great aficionado of Blake’s poetry, I never doubt his genius.

Normal madness

We now come to the truly dangerous and perilously insane realm, one that far too many of us are far too addicted to and where we insist on seeing anyone or anything that does not abide by its beliefs and constructs, as ‘barking’! And this is the domain of ‘normal man’, who Abraham Maslow once described (rather over politely I think) as living in a state of mild and chronic psychopathology and crippling immaturity.

It is this madness, my dear friends, that if our planet is to have a hope in hell of surviving, that you and I are challenged to move away from, to let go our attachments to. I say this as normal, ‘conventional’ reality is truly a toxic reality, one that far too many of us have become far too embedded in, convincing ourselves that it is sane and that we are sane, yet it is not only full of lies but also lies behind every serious problem we face in the world. Our dear Donald Trump is currently its High Priest and we need to be grateful to him for consenting daily to embodying this madness for us in its most extreme and distorted forms. So thank you, Donald, for your unceasing displays of daily psychopathology where you continue to model for us all that is worst about us. We need you as our reflector for unless things become extreme, we tend not to learn from them!

To the extent, then, that we only operate out of ‘normal reality’, we exist in a very closed-off world, walled off from all that is best and most fully human about us, and at the same time, also denying and projecting outside of ourselves, what is worst, and consequently only utilising the minutest part of our true potential. People thus afflicted, hover constantly on the borderline between stupidity, unconsciousness and downright evil. One of normal man’s maddest attributes is that we always think we are right, and that those who disagree with us are wrong.

For example, to this day, Tony Blair still defends his going into the Iraq War, still abides by his terror operation ‘Shock and Awe’ despite the fact that nearly half a million Iraqis lost their lives as a result – in fact, he says he’d do the same thing again! This is the kind of pathology that can take us over when we live with a closed heart and only bow to the gods of reason and logic leading us to create an economy that in its current form, would fall apart were we overnight to stop manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. From this mad mindset, poverty, war and scarcity are seen as inevitable and there is no chance that inequality could ever not exist.

I promise you that if suddenly a legion of divinely mad people took over the governing of our countries, even if they had never received any training, we would probably have a system that after time, would start to work for all. And what for me is very, very exciting is that I see a whole new legion of divinely mad people beginning to emerge out of the woodwork in countries all over the world – people who love celebration and ecstasy and who at the same time, are well grounded in true common sense which has nothing remotely to do with the kind of ersatz ‘common sense’ we associate with normal reality. These divinely mad people believe, along with Krishnamurti, that it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society, and that a new and healthier society needs to be brought into expression.

So, my dear friends, just for a moment stop and ask yourselves: what would it take for you to decide to start being truly sane? And what might you accomplish for your society in the process?

The “Enshadowing” of Tony Blair

SA Tony Blair

One of the reasons why the press has had such a field day with Tony Blair following the publication of the Chilcot report, is that we love to find fault with people, especially if they are wealthy and famous and have committed some indiscretion. And Blair, who took our country into an illegal war that should never have been fought, features on all three counts. He exaggerated the threat of the WMDs, he went to war even though peaceful options had not been exhausted, and he made no preparations for peace. He tried too hard to please the Americans. He sent men and women into battle ill-equipped. Nearly 250,000 Iraqis got killed and ISIS emerged out of the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Blair also refused to heed the greatest anti-war march our country has ever seen, and as is now well-known, the war was engaged in solely for geopolitical reasons and of course, for Iraq’s oil. If you read Naomi Klein’s extraordinary book The Shock Doctrine, you will see that the real aim was to pummel Iraq to smithereens – to shock the country so badly so that there would be no resistance to the large corporate interests in America taking over.

So of course Blair has a huge amount to answer for. However, this does not explain why he is being so demonised, on top of, a few months ago, also getting pummelled for possessing a multi-million pound real estate portfolio? Why is he so, so reviled?

The main reason is that we really love to have someone to hate, as it makes us feel so much better about ourselves. Our tendency to demonise used to be focused on Saddam Hussein, then it shifted to Osama bin Laden, then the late Jimmy Saville took over the mantle and now it’s old Blair. And it works like this. We all have a dark side, a dimension to us that we don’t know about and don’t like to see and which Carl Jung called “our Shadow”, and it is the opposite to what we primarily identify with about ourselves. In other words, if you and I like to believe we are only generous and selfless, then we’ll probably have a dark, Shadow side to us that is also mean and selfish which we will probably refuse to accept about ourselves.

Thus, in order to stay in the dark about this aspect of ourselves, we look around for people to use as objects onto whom we can project it onto, for then we don’t have to look at what is unpleasant to face inside ourselves. So in Blair’s case, if we don’t want to own the fact that we may be materialistic or greedy (perhaps we think we are only “spiritual” and generous!) then he is a jolly good hook to dump our “stuff” onto! He’s also a great hook for our greed, for our inauthenticity (“Teflon Tony”), our tendency to be fawning (his relationship with Bush), our abuse of power and our grandiosity. And if we can make Blair into the baddie, then it follows that we become the goodie. In other words, when we project what we don’t want to look at in ourselves, onto another – in this case, onto Blair – we can feel purified and self-righteous.

Indeed, I think that Blair probably felt the same vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein who carried his shadow. I think he saw his own dark side in the power-hungry and ruthless dictator and unaware of this, felt that he would be feted as a world saviour if he were only to rid the world of this tyrant. Actually, by waging war against Saddam, he was simply trying to rid himself of his own inner tyrant!

Certainly, I admit that I initially took part in the demonising of Blair. However, if I look closely at myself, I also ask myself how I would have operated if I were in his shoes, and my answer is that if I had no self-knowledge of the inner demons driving me – which Blair obviously didn’t – I might well have made some of his mistakes, for power, we remember, is incredibly corrupting and great power even more so!

Put simply, is there some aspect of a Blair inside me? The answer is yes and I want to start owning this instead of continuing to project what I refuse to look at in myself, onto him. I choose to stop saying “Oh that dreadful Blair and by default, that wonderfully virtuous me!” I wish to do this because I know that the more I can be aware of my own dark side, the more I can work to transform it and in the process become more whole as a person. Blair’s presence helps me do this.

The point I want to make, then, is that those people who reflect aspects of our own dark sides, give us a gift in that they ask us to view the mote in our own eye and so help us stop playing the game of being a pot calling the kettle black. When as a psychotherapist, I work with people to help them become more aware of their Shadow side (repressing it takes up a lot of energy and in extreme cases, can lead to a very delusory self-image) I often ask them to think of someone of their own sex with whom they have a big charge with and see what that charge really is, and then to look back at themselves and ask themselves if what they have been making that person carry, is something that they are denying or don’t want to own. It mostly is.

My point is simply that if we can see what our shadow sides are, then we can do something about them – we can work at integrating them. If we don’t, then we let them control us as was the case with Blair. In other words, had he seen where he was inflated, greedy, distorted by power, narcissistic and messianic, and, deep down, felt impoverished (he had a difficult childhood and was very poor), we would not be in the state we are in today. A hundred and ninety-seven servicemen and women would still be alive and we would not, as a nation, have so disgraced ourselves on the world stage.

Evolve Through Struggle

SA Europe Flag

There is a character in a Thomas Mann novel who says: ‘If a way to the better there be, it lies in our taking a full look at the worst’. In other words, we need, all of us personally, and nations nationally, to confront our dark side or our shadow. In America, one is seeing this via Trump – maybe he is a gift, as he embodies one aspect of thy country’s very dark face – and only if we can see and then confront the dragon, can we properly transform it, and maybe over here with this referendum, we have to confront our egos. I believe we need to become more international, more global (viz ‘Think globally, act locally’). But I don’t want to be fanatical about my opinions. I think we need a new kind of democracy whereby the opinions of EVERYONE can be included. I don’t know how this can come into being, but maybe it could be a new political ‘next step’. Again, my little opinion on this referendum issue is that I agree that there is something wrong with most of our institutions, ie the UN (it was pretty shabby in its trying to deal with Syria) and the EU. But that is because they need to evolve. There gets to be something ‘wrong’ with you and I, when in our lives, we stay put and don’t evolve to the next step. And I think there is the wisdom in the EU to self evolve. For me, the ship doesn’t need abandoning nor having its holes patched. A wholly new kind of EU ship needs to be born out of the gradual demise of what we have at present. But I am not a) pretending I am right – it is just an idea, and am not b) demonising those of you who disagree. Wars continue ‘out there’ – out in the world- folks, because you and I haven’t yet healed the conflicts inside us. I.e. We externalise our inner capacity to demonise. We gotta explore this. Put some energy into healing ourselves, i.e. we need to put some energy into earning our inner living as well as our outer. Big challenge, n’es ce pas? Politicians ain’t too great at that. They’re too busy doing their outer stuff…

Written 23rd of June 2016

How do we Deal with Depression?

SA How do we deal with depression

Depression is a terribly debilitating condition and in this chaotic world of ours with its topsy-turvy values, lifestyles that have become increasingly inorganic and artificial and a media constantly feeding us doses of gloom and doom, it is, very sadly, on the increase.  How does it affect us? It drains us of our life force. It makes us feel bad about ourselves and dislike ourselves. When depression comes over us, we live in a world where the glass is always half empty. If severe, it can compel us to hide away from life and many depressed people drink or take drugs to try to numb the pain.

We need to know that there are many different kinds of depression and they occupy many different levels on the spectrum. For me, they fall into five main categories:

The first category is what we call a ‘clinical depression’, which is the result of some faulty wiring somewhere in our brain (often due to something having gone wrong in our early childhood). This can verge from our experiencing continual low grade despair, to feeling especially ‘sad’ when the sunlight goes, to having a serious depressive illness such as bipolar disorder.

The second kind is the result of tragic things happening to us in our lives, such as a big financial loss, being made redundant or losing a loved one.

The third kind is how we feel if we never bother to do anything remotely meaningful in our lives, that is, if we just live on benefits and never try to find work and live like the Royle family, a sitcom formed around a family that has never asked serious questions about life but spends all day gawping mindlessly at the television.

The fourth kind is how we feel if we live a totally topsy-turvy and destructive and violent kind of life, where we treat others disdainfully and earn our living dishonestly!  I would imagine there is a very high incidence of depression among ISIS members.

My last category of depression is a natural part of what happens to us at certain phases of our spiritual journey and is the result of a more spiritual part of ourselves beginning to awaken. If we go into a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ crisis, for example, we may enter a very despairing and bereft place inside ourselves, where we come face to face with our many shortcomings as they parade themselves before our eyes and we get to see all those negative parts of ourselves which, up until now, we  might not have wanted to see and have suppressed (and may well have projected out onto others.) However, it is only when we can see what kinds of dragons exist within us, that we can do something about confronting them.

I have written a long article about this  kind of depression – which is essentially about despair – called ‘The spiritual path as a tough and beautiful journey‘. It is on my website. My point is that we  cannot transform our lives if we do not at times go through phases of despairing of our current lot, as this despair gives us the impetus to  do something to try to change it. Sometimes, these different depressions  all collude together and  therefore the reason why we spend all day doing nothing is not because we are necessarily lazy but because we are too clinically depressed to do anything. Conversely, sometimes, loafing  lazily around all day  without any meaning to our lives or living a violent kind of life or being in a relationship with a violent person, conspires to upset the brain chemistry, and this makes us clinically depressed. However, it can  also be that a serious life tragedy becomes an integral part of how we begin opening up spiritually, where, in reaching  ‘rock bottom’,  we experience certain key insights and we emerge once more into the light having learned to see the world  from a whole new perspective.

If we  feel depressed, we might ask ourselves what category or categories we feel we  fit into. Certainly, if we constantly feel  very debilitated, we should go to our GP and  if we feel that deep-rooted issues may be at stake, perhaps ask him to refer us to a psychiatrist. I say this because many GPs, who are not experts in this field,  and only have a few minutes per patient, tend to be over fond for writing out prescriptions for anti-depressants, which not only may not be required – our society is  all too fond of pill pushing – but  merely addresses the symptoms while covering up the cause. And all depressions have a cause, which when unlocked, often diminish greatly.

There is often a strong connection between depression and creativity and many of the greatest artists, scientists and writers have gone through long periods of being very depressed. Churchill’s ‘black dog’ did not prevent him  being an effective war leader or living a highly creative life where he also received the Nobel prize for literature. So our depression may have much to teach us. Indeed, many very eminent people who have bipolar disorder, are able to live good and productive lives. If we feel depressed, what can be very helpful is that we try to surround ourselves with loving and supportive friends, try to make an effort to do things that we love doing, and, yes, even try and help others, as this gets us out of the unhealthy place of morbid self-introspection which is so easy to get locked into and yet emotionally is so counter-productive.

If you think your depression is severe enough to see a psychiatrist, make sure your psychiatrist is a human being kind of psychiatrist and not the type who pathologies everyone and is only interested in seeing what is ‘wrong’ with you. A good psychiatrist will assess the seriousness of your condition and  unless he feels it absolutely essential, will probably not put you on medication. He may suggest you do Cognitive Behaviour therapy or  EMDR or may even send you to someone like me.

 How do I support people who come to me feeling depressed? Firstly, I try to assess what kind of depression they are experiencing and how deep rooted it is and I will explore with them what it is that  so saddens them. Maybe it is a belief that they should be something they are not. Maybe it a sense they have  that they are not ‘good enough’ or are able to live up  to the many false images society tells us we should live up to! Maybe, it is due to some deep unresolved trauma in our early childhood. If we have experienced living in a war zone or have been in a battle as a soldier, we may suffer from traumatic stress disorder and this can make us very depressed. There are many, many reasons why we get depressed, all of which relate to our general ‘character’, our family background and our life experiences. I also believe depression can be the result of some unresolved ‘past-life’ trauma, the hidden memories of which, are carried over into our current incarnation.

Whatever kind of depression or whatever its cause, I will do my best to help a depressed person reconnect to what has truth and beauty for them in their lives – if they are an artist,  to their painting, if a sports person, their sport. Some people I will take for long walks in nature and I will do processes with them to help them open up to its healing embrace as I believe nature is a great healer and so much of our pain in life is because we have learned to become disconnected from our own nature with the result that the artificiality, separation or alienation we experience, comes and ‘presses down’ on us. I may teach a person  mindfulness meditation and suggest they  make an effort to listen to uplifting music. As my style of psychotherapy is very connected with helping people open and heal and gradually evolve their hearts, all this is very relevant. Three things for me are  most important. First, a person has to look at and explore their hidden or their shadow side. ( ‘Going on is going back’ Lao Tzu tells is in the Tao te Ching.)Secondly, they need to learn to open up more to the good things of life –  life’s abundant or  ‘light’ side – and realise life’s essential blessedness, and lastly, they need to learn to live in a more balanced and holistic way. Taking regular exercise, finding a work that is fulfilling and choosing healthy relationships and a healthy diet  can work miracles.

Linking being a psychotherapist with being an activist

A few years ago, I used to feel there was a dichotomy between my roles as psychotherapist and social activist. Increasingly, I am coming to see where they converge, as many of our personal difficulties mirror social problems and many social and economic problems are reflected in our emotional symptoms.

Interestingly, what I have also found with my clients, is that those people heal their emotional wounds much more quickly to the extent that they are willing to stand up for social values they believe in and see their lives not solely from a personal viewpoint – what do I want; what’s in it for me? – but who also experience being part of a larger whole and needing in some way, to live in a way that contributes to this larger whole of life. In other words, if many of our personal problems revolve around our not experiencing enough “meaning” in our lives (as when we subscribe to society’s diminishing description of us as mere “consumers” (Yuk!)), I have found that the more we commit ourselves to, as Gandhi would put it, being “the change we want to see happen”, i.e., trying to actually embody the values we believe in in how we live our daily lives, the happier we feel.

Why? Because it gets us out of being so overly identified with our little egos, where true meaning is not to be felt. I’m not saying ego is bad. We all need some ego. The problem emerges when we think that the ego viewpoint is all of us and that we are nothing more than the images our egos tell us we are. This is why if we wish to heal ourselves, we need to find ways to embrace higher states of consciousness or, as I argued in my recent book, open our hearts. Too much traditional psychotherapy is simply about re-arranging the furniture in our prison cells and this gets us nowhere. The name of the therapy game has to be to lift ourselves out of our prisons, so we can become more who we really are. My favourite quote of the moment is one by Jean Huston, namely, “We are all born Stradivariuses but raised to believe we are plastic fiddles”. When we stop believing this, our world will change. Most of those men – because , let’s face it, they are mainly men – who are into power and fame and disrupting our ecosystem in the name of making more and more and more money – are basically men who deep down, feel plastic fiddle like. If we don’t know how to be – how to celebrate the beauty and richness all around us – we need to possess and have more and more things.

If a man doesn’t know how to love a woman, that is, unite with her, he’s gonna try and possess her… The chains that incarcerate our world are both outer – political, economic and social – and inner, the beliefs we have about ourselves. Our challenge is to free ourselves at many levels…

Thoughts on Addiction

Thoughts on Addiction:

We need more imaginative ways to look at the whole issue of addictions and how addicts are to be healed, for as I see it, the addict embodies an aspect of the sickness of our society, which is why I think that the whole idea of a ‘war against drugs’ and the criminalising of the addict is sopernicious. We must understand that the addict suffers from a spiritual malady, a wound to the soul which only the injection of soul can truly heal. I believe we all have a need to bond intimately with someone or something – it makes us feel whole – and our not having a society around us enabling us to do this with or conversely, being ourselves wounded in this capacity and so not able to do so, makes us feel empty and therefore liable to fall prey to something we can more easily bond with. Framed another way, many of us have chains encircling our hearts that make it hard for us to connect with the essence of things or to go deep into something or someone, to break through certain barriers and so be intimate in some way with our world, and because this desire is so great, we will bond with something that is easier for us to be close with, such as a bottle of wine or a syringe or sex or whatever (For example, we talk of someone being ‘married’ to their drug habit!).

Hence, an addiction is born. In other words, what we all really want is to experience the ecstasy and joy of genuine bonding – be it with others, nature, ideas, the universe, or whatever – and so allow the spiritual or more unitive dimension of ourselves to come alive, to be born inside us. Being unable to do this makes us feel empty. So we look for substitute forms of bonding, stepped down approximations of the real thing. For example, the drug MDMA or Ecstasy, mimics how the mystic feels when his or her heart is open to the cosmos, in the same way that the sozzled alcoholic who drinks spirit from the bottle because he cannot savour his true spiritual nature also experiences some degree of diminishing of many of the boundaries separating him or herself from the rest of the world. Thus the addict is really after a mystical experience, the blurring of the boundaries between self and other or self and the cosmos. Our ‘habit’ (whatever it is) is in essence a ‘substitute behaviour’, an approximation or a ‘stepped down’ version of the real thing, a kind of false intimacy and while it may temporarily alleviate our emptiness and so appear to ‘fill the gap’, in practice this is never the case and often creates conditions or habit patterns that we become habituated to and make us feel even worse or more cut off.

While many treatment programmes may help the addict kick their habit, ultimately the only true healing is to find our own way back to our source, to bond with our soul and live out of this identification. When we can savour the real nectar, there is no longer the desire for ersatz versions of it.


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The Power of Spiritual Intensives

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