Philosopher/author Douglas Lockhart adds his thoughts on the subject of “Are Mystics Psychotic?”
This is the question that divided Freud and Jung.
Freud saw all anomalous psychic/mystic experience in psychotic terms (he was, after all, dealing mostly with actual psychotics), whereas Jung saw the same experiences as indicative of a mental territory not in itself psychotic, but experienced in psychotic terms due to mental/physical breakdown.
Mental illness allowed both men to see into this ‘other’ territory, but each interpreted what they saw in alignment with their personal traits of mind.
Freud hated anything that smacked of religion; Jung realised he was looking into an area of mental experience not available to psychiatric scrutiny except in the mentally disturbed.
It wasn’t that the territory was in itself psychotic, but that a territory about which we knew next to nothing except through the pronouncements of mystics became partially visible in psychotic experience.
The barrier between psychic levels slipped open for psychotics, their incapacity to bear its contents and demands revealing a further aspect of their descent towards possible madness.
A further complication in all of this is ‘religious projection’ in alignment with the fixed canon of beliefs that the deeply religious carry.
Through contemplative activity, however, that too can open the door between psychic territories, but it is one fraught with the problem of theological notions reshaping the experience to conform to expectations. (Link to “Gnostic” post).
Mix all of this together and you end up with reductionist science’s quite understandable, but quite mistaken, view of what is actually taking place.
I’ve argued this point at numerous junctures in my work due to the seriousness of the accusation.
In relation to all of this I recommend “The Pearl Beyond Price” by A.H. Almaas. (Diamond Books, Berkeley, California, 1988).
Almaas turned up recently with a key paper – “Experience, Self, and Individual Consciousness” – in volume 23, No. 1-2 of The Journal of Consciousness Studies, and is worth taking a look at.
Almaas’s book deals with the Integration of Personality into Being, follows an Object Relations Approach, and is probably one of the most advanced texts dealing with mysticism and its psychological variables that I’ve stumbled across. I think he’s Sufi in orientation, but he’s Sufi with a difference.
The papers in response to his paper were deadly serious and full of surprises. The book is a bit of a read, but this guy knows what he’s talking about, and it has led to an open discussion on mysticism and the nature of the self among the most unlikely bunch of professionals one could ever imagine.
As far as science’s take on mysticism and psychosis is concerned, it’s to be expected that some scientists will automatically interpret anything experientially anomalous in psychotic terms.
It started with LSD experience being interpreted as a psychosis-producing substance, and that led to mysticism being put in the same box due to an inability to tell the difference between religious projection and mysticism proper. LSD does not automatically produce mystical experiences, but it does open the door to a territory where mystical experience can occur.
My books are concerned with all of this; they’re an attempt to straighten out the field’s distortions and add to the growing realisation that a whole new paradigm is in the offing.
We may of course destroy the planet before it can take root, but that’s not for me to determine.
There again, this straightening out process doesn’t only apply to the sciences; it applies equally to the religious area and to those under the thrall of mysticism either negatively perceived, or not fully appreciated as to its subtleties.
Detection of the subtle differences between Indian, Tibetan and Christian mysticism are quite stark in places, and we have to find out why that is.
It’s my opinion that the human mind developed as a direct result of anomalous experiences, and at the end of his life even Freud had concluded that he ought to have been paying attention to such experiences.
Douglas Lockhart writes extensively on the dilemmas facing modern Christians, and on the philosophical dilemmas Christians and non-Christrians face in their daily lives. He is the author of Jesus the Heretic (1997) The Dark Side of God (1999) and Going Beyond the Jesus Story (2011), books dealing with the historical origins and development of Christianity (and much else). He has also just completed a three volume work titled The Perennial Philosophy Revisited in memory of Aldous Huxley’s paradigm-changing contribution to an understanding of the spiritual evolution of humankind.