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Schizophrenia and My Mystical Journey

by Ricky Gee

As a young man in my twenties I spent 10 years wandering the world in search of "inner knowledge". This was 1965-1975 and it wasn't such a strange thing to do then, although it was still fairly unusual to take it as seriously as I did. It might sound paradoxical to wander abroad in search of something that you believe is to be found inside yourself but it actually makes good sense when you practice it. This is because a solitary wanderer can pass time in solitude and self reflection without raising anger or anxiety in relatives or acquaintances. As a traveler you can always appear to be enroute somewhere, and therefore purposeful.

After about 10 years on the road I thought that it was about time I tested some of the theories I'd developed. So I returned to my hometown, found a cheap room and set to work.

My basic theory was simple. I'd arrived at the insight that fear is what animates humans and that most of the things they do are fear-inspired foolishness. The competitive status seeking, the manic economic activity, the compulsive procreation, war, the desperate clinging to life against the odds, all irrational fear-driven foolishness. If all life ends in the inevitable disaster of personal death, I reasoned with myself, what does it matter what happens to you while you're alive? What can possibly go wrong that in any way compares in severity with the ultimate, inevitable disaster? So, why not take it easy and enjoy life while you can? The answer to this being that everybody, including myself, seemed to be programmed with irrational fear that compels us, whether we like it or not, like a goad up the behind, to rush forward and scramble through life in a most undignified way. If only a person could be free of this implanted fear, I thought, he or she would be able to choose how to live life in a much more relaxed and rational manner. Not only that, but in my naiveté I thought that anybody who overcame, who transcended, this fear would be popular company and a sought-after dinner guest.

So, my method was as simple as the theory. I would sit for long periods with my consciousness turned inwards and watch the flow of my thoughts. Looking inward I had a sense of sitting somewhere above the source of my thoughts where I could watch them rise up, as if out of a well. As they came up I would divide them into good thoughts and bad thoughts. Bad thoughts had some identifiable content of fear or compulsion. Good thoughts were all the rest. The good thoughts were embraced, bad thoughts were discarded.

That's all there was to it. I had some vague notion that after sufficient practice at sorting my thoughts in this way I would either develop a technique to instantly recognize and discard fear-inspired thoughts or, alternatively, perhaps I might find that the source of fear in me would just give up and leave me alone. Whatever the outcome I expected that with enough perseverance I would make a smooth transition into a different kind of person who was no longer bothered by fears and anxieties.

Foolish boy!

I was in my thirtieth year by then, I had a very strong sense of myself, I had never sought any counsel from mental health professionals and, after ten years on the road, I was very confident in my own ability to survive and think my way through difficult circumstances. I'd read all the books I could find on yogis of the mind and philosophies of the east and west, I'd talked to all sorts of weird people in out of the way places with strange ideas,... but I was totally unprepared for what happened.

The first really strange thing occurred when some friends took me to listen to a visiting Tibetan Lama. In my arrogance I went along to see how well he could "handle his fear". A lot better than I could, I soon found out. The theater was full, he was late ... then very late, and I began to wonder whether he would grovel in apology to the audience when he finally arrived. Not a bit of it. When he arrived he simply mounted the platform, sat on a little throne that had been set up for him, ignored the audience, and began to rock slowly back and forth, breathing rhythmically. I was a bit amused and thought he was cheeky. I noticed that as he rocked backwards he flicked his eyes up and scanned the audience. Looking around I discovered that most of the audience had downcast eyes and were avoiding looking at him. It occurred to me that he intended not to begin talking until everyone had demonstrated submission to him. Cheeky fellow I thought again, I'm going to grin at him just to spoil the effect. So I started grinning, and pretty soon he began to focus on me every time he flicked up his eyes. Then something genuinely weird happened. My mind was clear, I was playing what I thought was a harmless little game, when I had this perception that all my skin - on my arms, shoulders, chest and legs - was lifting off and being drawn towards him. After a minute or two of this I became quite frightened and realized I was a long way out of my depth, and I cast down my eyes too. Nothing special happened after that, at least not that night. He soon started talking and seemed one of those happy, jolly gurus that abounded in those days.

Not long after that my mind began to slip sideways. The slide sideways took a full afternoon. When it had finished my mind seemed to fall apart. But this might just have been an initial illusion. Perhaps what really happened was that the barriers between the different layers of mind dissolved so that the various parts were actually unified into a whole. If this was the case it was a whole in which the parts remained autonomous. And these autonomous parts declared war on each other and began to contest for dominance of the ground.

I had induced this experience, and entered into it, by poising my consciousness in that part of my mind that is the observer-of-the-mind. And that's where I tried to keep my consciousness. Intuitively, I think, I understood that if I could keep my consciousness located there, and observe the battle going on below, rather than participate by allowing my consciousness to shift into any of the contesting parts, then eventually I would get through the experience.

But that wasn't easy to do because the battling parts were essentially competing to attract and hold my consciousness. In doing this they played many tricks. These tricks alternated between seductions of various kinds and the generation of the most intense levels of fear; sheer terror even. My essential technique of survival was to try to poise my consciousness above in a detached way and to simply observe this cacophony of extreme thoughts and emotions. Any slippage of consciousness from the observer's position resulted in wild confusion and an immediate risk of unpredictable outcomes. The only secure position to locate my consciousness was in the position of observer.

But it was actually a lot more complicated than that. The experience went on for about eight weeks in total. Two weeks of intense experience, four weeks of relative calm, then another two weeks of intense experience. During this time, from the observer's position, my consciousness had to deal with three levels of reality simultaneously, all of which were in crisis. The first was the psychological aspect, the second was the psychic aspect, and the third was the outward physical realm. All of these aspects had interactions with each other of various kinds and each presented a variety of critical threats and dangers.

From the psychological aspect all the mythological hullabaloo burst out into consciousness. Rituals to perform, fragments of religious symbolism to comprehend, voices with messages about secret knowledge. But there were other more insistent voices, too, that seemed to come psychically from without. And all of them insisting that I be obedient and go to certain locations in the physical realm, if I wanted the inner knowledge. "Follow your feet", "follow your feet", and I'd have to walk along the pavement at a prescribed pace, following my feet. "Stop, look down!" and there would be a surveyor's mark or something on the pavement; a triangle perhaps with a circle in it. And then a voice would give me a fragment of interpretation about the meaning of the eye in the pyramid, or some such. I had to constantly rush from one location to the next. During 8 weeks I hitch-hiked twice up and down the coast, perhaps several thousand miles in all.

These three aspects: the psychological, the psychical and the physical, all had malignant entities, as well, that put me through dangerous tests. One voice led me up to the roof of a city tower building and had me lean over a low rail and look down thirty floors to the street. It told me that if I had enough faith I could fly. I understood this kind of thing as a test. I had to have enough faith, or sometimes courage, to go a certain distance with the voices, in this case up to the roof, and then enough common sense to stop before I got into trouble. I found that if I didn't go along with them at least to the location for the test, then I wouldn't get any fragments of knowledge and instead they would generate intense fear.

The shrinks became a hazard after the first couple of days. I don't know exactly why but a relative who I hadn't seen for several months turned up in the company of two ambulance attendants. I was living in a sort of boarding house and I'd been in the outside shower. They caught me in the court-yard with just a towel wrapped around me. Two husky fellows grabbed me and frog-marched me out to their ambulance and bundled me in the back. Luckily, someone threw in my shirt and trousers after me. On the way to the hospital I tried to find out what was going on. Who had called them and why? The attendant in the back just said they were responding to a call to pick up someone who was disturbed. Apparently it was this relative. I found out later that no one in the boarding house was concerned about me. I still don't know how the relative knew. The person would never talk to me about it later.

We got to the hospital and I was frog marched into the emergency room waiting area. We were waiting for a shrink and the ambulance men lost concentration. That was it. I was off. I easily out ran them. They didn't have their hearts in the chase.

Three more times this same relative pursued me with shrinks as I moved to different addresses. The last time they almost got me. After that I hid out from my family for a year or more. As far as I know no one else was ever bothered by my behavior because I didn't talk to people about what was going on in my head. And I wasn't doing weird or dangerous things in ways that anybody else would notice. How this one relative knew about my mental state, I still don't know.

A lot more happened during this eight week experience that I won't to try to relate here. Let me just say that since the eight weeks of what I call mystical experience, 26 years ago, in my own opinion I have been quite sane, although perhaps others might disagree. I spent the first ten years afterwards researching religions, mystical traditions and ancient history to make proper sense of all the fragments of mystical knowledge I had learned during the experience. I worked during this time only when I needed money to survive. The next eight years I spent as a fairly successful environmental campaigner, and the last eight years as a student, writer and researcher. The reason I ended up researching schizophrenia was because I had been vaguely wondering over the time since the experience why I never encountered, or even heard about, contemporary mystics. As far as I was concerned my experience had been of a quite natural mystical nature, not a mental health problem, and the brush with the mental health system had just been a minor irrelevancy. So it was the company of other mystics that I sometimes thought was missing in my life. But it finally dawned on me that the most likely explanation for the lack of people around with mystical experience similar to my own was that the psychiatric catchment system actually targeted people undergoing mystical experience. And this psychiatric catchment system had become so efficient that very few mystics manage to slip past the shrinks. And those that do are compelled to keep a very low profile.

For what its worth I think my own experience was probably much the same in content as a classic schizophrenia psychosis. The essential difference being, however, that I had induced the experience by applying a meditation technique. The entry to most schizophrenic experience seems to differ from this in that the person falls into it, so to speak, accidentally. I can't be sure why this might happen except that it seems to be the result of the person's self-identity spontaneously collapsing. In my own case, my self-identity was deliberately collapsed by the meditation technique.

Of myself I can say that I definitely wasn't on drugs. I had only ever smoked dope a few times, years before, and been drunk perhaps a dozen times in my life. I'd never taken any speed, narcotics or psychedelics. I didn't, and don't, appear to have a brain disease, and, in my own opinion, I didn't have any serious psychological problems beforehand. I was perhaps just a bit shy and self-conscious. My belief is that what I experienced, and what other people experience when they are said to be psychotic, was an extreme but temporary psychological crisis that marks a quite natural expansion of consciousness. The experience is basically the same for anyone who enters into it and, although conventionally understood psychological problems may explain why a person's identity might collapse, i.e. how a person might arrive at the threshold, these conventionally understood problems do not in any way explain the content of the experience itself. The experience itself is right out of the realm of ordinary psychological understanding.

Finally, assuming I'm right and the psychological crisis is part of a natural extension of consciousness, the extension seems to involve the opening up of an additional mental faculty that allows a person to observe their own mind as it is functioning. This faculty could be suitably called "mind self-consciousness", or "reflective consciousness". It is the ability to monitor and control the mind as it is functioning and is simply another small step away from the compulsions of instinctual thinking and behavior that we assume animates animals.

If this is so then there is a paradox in that the transition phase, the crisis, involves experiencing the most forcefully presented compulsions. These forcefully presented compulsions are a kind of built in test of nature where passing or failing determines whether the individual is ready or not to live life with less instinctual/unconscious direction than was formerly necessary. I think most people who enter psychosis accidentally are not properly prepared and they must find the experience extremely challenging. Certainly those who fall into the hands of drug treating psychiatrists haven't got much hope at all, since the drug treatment is deliberately intended to abort the experience, and to drag the person out backwards rather than to assist them to pass on through to the other side. To observers of a person who is in the act of demonstrably failing, by acting out bizarre compulsions, the experience might easily appear to be a reversion to infantilism or animalism, whereas I think it is actually the gateway to a passage in the opposite direction. It is as if this experience is a critical test that is presented to a person who attempts to pass into a final stage of maturity. One thing that I'm fairly certain about is that the older and more mature a person is, and the more experience they have already accumulated in life, the more chance they have of success.

Reading over this I'm not at all sure that it makes a useful contribution to the discussion about therapeutic techniques for paranoid states. Therapists undoubtedly look upon these matters from an entirely different perspective. Handling my own mind is one thing. But if I had to handle somebody else who was undergoing this type of experience, and who didn't have any sort of intuitive understanding of their own about how to proceed, despite having been through it all myself, I might not have a clue what to do.


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