When I last wrote about schizophrenia, I made a small case for a transpersonal element. (Of course I’m not alone in having found that.)What I didn’t get to was the actual psychosis part. Looking into it opened up a very interesting area of enquiry.
An Amazon review of Jackson’s fascinating old anthology on The Etiology of Schizophrenia (1960) is a great starting point. The reviewer once again is Rodger Garrett alias Sigh.Ko.Blah.Grr. He gives a neat one-stop summary of what we used to know about the origins of schizophrenia in the family — before we chose to pretend we didn’t know it, as he writes:
“Schizophrenia (and autism),” they said (again and again and again… until most believed it) “is caused by bad genes.” The essence of that assumption was based upon the monozygotic twin studies of a single researcher which have been disconfirmed by more than 20 later studies. […]
I understand the utility of the myth. But it =is= a myth.
And it survived until the advent of computer-aided gene mapping… and tomographic mapping of brain function. Both provided repeated demonstrations that there are no specific genes for schizophrenia or autism.
Rupert Sheldrake -- he has himself been attacked by a delusional schizophrenic, click image for details
There may of course be genetic risk factors, but there is no ‘genetic cause’ of schizophrenia. Space prevents more on that but I recommend the wonderful Rupert Sheldrake’s new book
(or else the lecture here
he’s given on it) to help see through the hype. It takes a professional who knows science and the transpersonal to skewer the ‘genetic key of life’ brigade properly.
Meanwhile there are many other ways to understand schizophrenics, a very various group of people who can behave awfully strangely even when they’re not paranoid, violent, or wired into the cosmos in unpredictable ways.
For those with no idea, here’s a description of the patient Emil Dolfuss, from the excellent Lidz/Fleck/Cornelison (1965), to which I’ll refer throughout, pp. 164-6:
Overt psychotic behaviour first appeared when Emil was twenty-one… Although Emil was highly intelligent, his school record had been so poor that he could not gain admission to college… While abroad, he developed ideas of saving the world, and was returned to the United States by consular authorities after he persistently attempted to contact the President… Emil was then hospitalized… He declared his only sibling, Adele, a goddess, and knelt and prayed in front of her before speaking to her…
In our hospital the patient’s behaviour gradually deteriorated… other patients… resented in particular his attempts to enforce his belief that all rooms must be fully illuminated around the clock… At first he was immaculately overdressed… but then his dress became increasingly slovenly… later he wore only shorts even in winter while insisting that his windows be open… it was clear that the absence of light caused him to panic and become combative. He communicated with the staff in signs, charades, or in a foreign language…
A vignette of Emil’s life in our hospital follows: a tall, bearded young man with hair to his shoulders, dressed only in shorts, stands in a room stacked with magazines and fruit, or sits on the toilet in the adjacent bathroom reading the Wall Street Journal. The doors and windows are open; he motions to a passer-by in the hall to come into his room. There he forces a sticky fig into the visitor’s hand and makes a request in sign language. When he is refused, he listens carefully, then shoves the visitor out and shoots him with mock gestures.
Redolent of a world of internal symbols and strange communications pursued with dogged persistence, yet strangely cut off from rational sense or social reality by those very communications. The feeling that real significance is cut off from expression, yet emphatically present somewhere — in fact hyped out of all normal proportion — always leaps hauntingly out of these descriptions. Yet there is no real impairment of higher brain function and cognitive ability, and it’s quite clear that in their ‘ravings’, schizophrenics do often hit upon some of the same realisations that mystics convey without losing grip — for (I think) convincing examples see the earlier post.
No surprise, I’m going to use Kundalini here, and if I’m not the first, that’s because it makes so much sense. All the ‘flyaway mind’ of schizophrenia, the confusion, hallucination, fear of loss of control of sexual and violent impulses, inability to establish independent identity, grandiosity and transpersonal aspects — all of this rings out as skewed Kundalini.
But there’s a new element which ties it into the family, and that’s where that Jackson volume and others of the time (the 60s and 70s), like Lidz et al., come in. Researchers in ante-genetic times found a lot in the families of schizophrenia sufferers. The difficulty establishing identity has plenty to do with family. (On examination, the themes in Emil Dolfuss’s strangeness come directly from his family.) Actualisation seems often deliberately impeded by parents — usually the mothers, who may live their lives through their children as puppets.
Relations are, in a hidden and energetic way, sometimes so boundaryless that people seem to be sharing a single lifestream and vitality:
What we hear from these patients… goes like this: “I could not leave mother and mother could not do without me; when I knew she was going to die the world came to an end.” While at another time the patient said: “If I had died then, mother would have died; I was all she lived for.”… But after mother suicided, living was directed towards awaiting the appearance of another person who would care for her and for whom she would be essential. Sometimes it seems delusional… Thus, the insistence of a schizophrenic woman that she could not leave her homosexual partner, an aggressive masculine type, because the partner would die, seemed a defensive rationalization. However, when the patient attempted to break the relationship, the partner became suicidally despondent and stopped eating until the patient resumed the relationship in attenuated form.
– Lidz et al. pp. 62-3
Injection of Kundalini energy into familial and love relationships would explain much of the life-or-death quality of the confused mentations and behaviours afflicting the “schizophrenogenic” (schizophrenia-inducing) family, who sometimes seem to have partly melted together into a consciousness recognising no separation even in the matter of life force. What might happen if, for example:
1. Kundalini is awakened during the birth process;
2. Mother and child are in strong transpersonal contact, but she doesn’t let this consciousness into her ordinary persona;
3. Symptoms like transpersonal impressions, paranoia, sexual arousal, mood swings, strong vividness in interior life, SNS engagement etc. exaggerate responses to the awakening, turning it traumatic and spreading it throughout the family via energetic resonance, breaking down inner walls, stoking obsessions etc.; and
4. The family has no way of dealing with the resulting consciousness and refuses it, insisting on remaining “normal” and “in control”, and pretending that nothing is happening even whilst arousal remains strong.
I think you’d have something like the schizophrenogenic family. Garrett relates consistently exhibited features like bizarre parenting with dominating mothers who can be seductive, and indifferent dads, (although those two roles are sometimes reversed) along with groupthink and scapegoating, catching kids in double binds, forcing them to accept false selves that to an observer are obviously false, confused or paralogical thinking, and generally strong elements of secret-keeping or ability to deny reality — “habitual distortion of the patient’s perceptions” is the way he puts it.
First thing to bring into these observations is the transpersonal nature of the bond between mother and child. Here again is an excerpt from Stanislav Grof and Hal Zina Bennett’s The Holotropic Mind (1993), in which a (healthy) woman experiences her younger self merged with her mother during breathwork:
At one point, as she was experiencing this dual unity, symbiotically merging with her mother, she opened her eyes. As she looked at me she seemed very surprised. She explained that she felt she could read my thoughts and know what I was feeling, as if all boundaries between us had been dissolved. When she in fact described my thoughts she proved to be quite accurate. (p. 92)
This has occurred ‘hundreds of times’ in Grof’s sessions. Empathic/telepathic states may be prevalent for young kids and their mothers, over long periods and/or continuously. Schizophrenia researchers themselves are often taken aback by how ‘uncannily sensitive’ schizophrenics are to the moods of others. So often in schizophrenia boundaries of identity seem eroded, which could be the result of infusing this link with the bigger power of Kundalini arousal:
It has often been apparent that to the schizophrenic as to the very young child the boundaries between the self and the mother are vague. It seems equally clear that to the mothers of some schizophrenics there seems to be little boundary between themselves and the patient. Sometimes the mother has no other reason for living and needs to have the child remain with her and in her; another type of mother feels incomplete as a woman and can accept the child conditionally only as long as he remains an appendage that completes her…
– Lidz et al. p. 63
Given all that, the birth process is a strong — although not the sole — candidate trigger for Kundalini in a family history. Again Grof repeatedly shows this is a sexual event whose trauma and strong emotion make deep impressions on the psyche. Those are Kundalini ingredients and they became fundamental to his whole take. Even an easy birth process in a trained woman has been shown to kick off Kundalini — for one, it occurred to none other than Christina Grof, later to become Stanislav’s wife:
… my son was suddenly and rapidly making his way into the world as I enthusiastically co-operated… “push… push… nice and hard, remember to breathe…” I felt an abrupt snap somewhere inside of me as powerful and unfamiliar energies were released and began streaming through my body. I started to shake uncontrollably. Enormous electrical tremors coursed from my toes up my legs and spine to the top of my head. Brilliant mosaics of white light exploded in my head… I felt strange, involuntary breathing rhythms take over. It was as if I had just been hit by some miraculous but frightening force, and I was both excited and terrified…
– Grof & Grof, The Stormy Search for the Self (1990), p. 10
If this happened to a different kind of woman, one with no understanding or training at all, perhaps one whose grasp of reality was not as secure, or with previous trauma in her nervous system, and so forth — what then? She’s going to experience a lot of tension with no way to integrate, and she would force any illuminations and energy experiences out of awareness, developing some pretty strange ideas in the process. Having repressed she’d get stuck in adrenal arousal, have a permanently buzzing nervous and sexual system, and have to repress even more.
And underneath, the bonds and transpersonal co-identifying with the child might be running amok — at times there might literally be no differences between the two identities and mental experiences. The birth and intensity of linkage could have impressed her as near-‘miraculous’, something surpassing ordinary life. Associating that extraordinariness with the child, grandiosity might beckon, seen again and again in descriptions. The child, or bond therewith, might experience, or be experienced in, the golden light of inner illumination, which would probably remain subconscious because there would be no way to acknowledge superconscious light. (Holding consciously to the light of the superconscious self is hard even for the peaceful, experienced, trained, and grounded.) At other times the child would likely have the mother’s shadow projected on it, resulting in alienation.
Kundalini tends to spread itself into webs of closely related people by resonance, so mood swings and outbursts for no reason, paranoia and moments of enhanced consciousness without any grounding could become standard for the whole family — bringing all sorts of tricky experiences.
That brings us to the ‘cult-like’ desperate regime of not talking about strong feelings and experiences. Dysfunctional families often don’t anyhow, of course, but Kundalini might set off feelings which violate social mores, common sense and ego alike — bearing in mind its sexual element particularly. The cult-think element may appear when the parents make the decision to ignore it all as just too inexplicable, destabilising, or in some way revealing, to deal with. The true transpersonal often has an automatic ‘psychic censorship’ sitting over it anyway.
Christina Grof herself mentions after the first birth experience:
… I became embarrassed and fearful. I was a restrained, well-mannered woman who had a strong sense of authority over my life, and now I had completely lost control. Very quickly, I pulled myself together… — (p. 10)
Tranquilisers were used to help. Certainly a different woman with no openness to these things would almost certainly decide to keep herself “pulled together” and never allow certain energies any conscious awareness. Complete refusal to acknowledge will drive the vivid reality into the underground of the psyche, but as Glenn Morris puts it, “once startled out of business as usual the subconscious continuously seeks to awaken” (Path Notes, p. xvi).
And the child still feels everything. Amid the sense of this stuff ‘being around’, there will be no vocabulary in which to talk about it, and the child will be warned off approaches to it by the adults’ blank denials and projection of their own unresolved issues. A thick quilt of family talk may descend, producing an alienated surface over the joined core. Hence situations like this:
The Ubanques impressed the hospital and research staff as strange people… The younger of two daughters was severely hebephrenic [A form of disorganised schizophrenia]. Mrs Ubanque sought to blame the sex talk of the girl’s college roommates. [Why would she seek to blame that?] However, both parents could convince themselves to an amazing degree that the daughter was not really ill but merely being contrary and refusing to behave normally… after some months of intensive therapy, the patient improved considerably. She repeatedly expressed her hopelessness that her parents would ever listen and understand her unhappiness… a therapeutic experiment was undertaken with great trepidation. The patient and the parents would meet together and… would try to speak frankly to one another. The daughter carefully prepared in advance… [and] to the surprise of her psychiatrist, freely poured out her feelings to her parents and in heart-rending fashion told them of her bewilderment and pleaded for their understanding and help. During the height of her daughter’s pleas, Mrs. Ubanque offhandedly turned to one of the psychiatrists, tugged at the waist of her dress and blandly remarked, “My dress is getting tight. I suppose I should go on a diet.”
— Lidz et al., pp. 181-2
That was the closest the mother could get to acknowledgement of uncomfortable strong bodily feelings. The child’s truth “must not exist”, even though the triggerings may be felt at a deep level by all. Classic ‘double bind’ schizophrenia territory, and cult ex-members may also relate.
Then there is psychosis. That Kundalini effects naturally bring people closer to psychosis is a known fact. Why not? ‘Psychosis’ is simply a break with sensory reality — as is transpersonal experience. Since psychosis can also be transcendence, depending on how it’s handled, the question is how safely everything is done, how easy, gentle and positive are the feelings and states associated, and how well the process is understood and moved to completion.
Kason -- Table of Kundalini and Psychosis, click for larger version
) includes a table (p. 248) with kundalini on the left and actual psychosis on the right for comparison… the line can be thin. :) Difficulty telling apart inner and outer realities is common in awakenings — if it becomes complete inability, that’s psychosis. Similarly, from mildly unusual emotions and behaviours to definitely inappropriate ones, or from transient grandiose ideas to ingrained grandiose delusions, the jaunt across the line may not be a long one especially if
the process is being blocked and associated with negativity etc.
Imagine the impressions on the child, who won’t have much defence, nor any ‘normal’ to compare the delusions and strangenesses with. The inner reality will be overwhelming in its vividness and connectedness with the parents, but will have little to do with ordinary life, rationality, or personal actualisation, and will be denied in normal conversation at every turn. The child will be taught to ignore it yet will be able to see its effects everywhere. The truth will be both officially untrue and also in a way the actual source of delusion at least until the child is old enough to start dealing with the shadow — and when it is, the establishment of a personal sexual identity, as we know will be fraught with difficulty, and blocked by the parents.
In the meanwhile, knowing what impressions to trust, whether inner or outer, and how to take them, would be a monumental challenge… if the child is in touch with transcendent beauty too, which is certainly possible, it wouldn’t be much comfort because it would be so alienated from reality and probably would have strong delusional elements.
Then there’s the unfortunate schizophrenic quoted by Sass who says, “I have never existed, people only thought I did.” Most kundalini-ites also report erosion of idea-based social identity, related to the phenomenon of ‘ego death’, or death of the “social masks” described by Glenn Morris on page 20 of Path Notes. This is a natural by-product of a bioenergetic process, not the result of being screamed at by Andrew Cohen. ^_^ St Romain (2010), puts it very well, p. 33:
There is still very much an “I” that is the subject of attention, but no longer any “Idea” of myself through which attention is filtered.
Dissolution of limiting self-concept is a feature of spiritual awakening. But stuck in the uncomfortable boundaryless family energy, the denial of meaning, delusion and irrationality, this removal of identity could profoundly alienate the schizophrenic. Hope of being a significant or normal person in a meaningful world, on any comprehensible terms, could easily disappear. Recall Emil Dolfuss’ communication in ‘signs, charades and foreign languages’ — English was useless at conveying any meaning, a dead language.
If you don’t know who you are or where you end and your family begins, have no rational mental map for making sense of your experiences, are constantly SNS-aroused and thus have PTSD symptoms, don’t in some sense feel your energy is your own, are being told your most significant feelings don’t exist or have any meaning and fear desperately it might be true, are surrounded by a sense of enormous illuminating meaning from which you are inexplicably cut off at every turn, can see no way of establishing worthwhile relations with the adult world, are afflicted by the darkness and obsessions of adults with no understanding they are not yours, are getting the message that they cannot allow you to succeed in establishing yourself, and you have no way to reality-test any of your conclusions, the experience must be off the scale of excruciating bizarreness.
There are all sorts of things still to discuss sometime — implications for sexual identity and expression for one, or the very interesting similarities between the cult stuff and the mechanisms that hide consciousness of transpersonal and paranormal reality in our culture. But I’m out of space for now. I do feel the transpersonal elements of schizophrenia could help its treatment though, and there are those who agree. This may not be the last I write on this, so let’s see where it goes.
Meanwhile readers will probably be pleased to hear that I have a completely different subject lined up next week, which will also be my first multimedia post and a bit of a special treat. See you then! :)