Some advice on a wild mindstate, from experience and observation
" —though I nearly drowned as I learned to swim."
To my mind this watery metaphor is the meaning of the myth of Atlantis, Noah's Ark, the Deluge etc.. The Deluge may have been literal, but seems the point is to have 'built an ark' before the first lightning bolt brings on the chaotic storm (there's even an arc...uate nucleus in the brain).
(And I liked this enough to steal/repurpose your Campbell quote too btw. Yoink and thanx!)
I had a friend who used to tell me I had delusions of grandeur (late teens. Last week I heard 80+% of teens want to be famous). A few months before the Big Jump (2022) I'd told my husband I'd be happy to do the budget routine for the rest of my life. Life was small, quiet and so good.
During the kundalini trip (like a week of hardcore LSD every day) I was ordered (by "God") to accept I was to die as nothing and it felt utterly fantastic, like a get-out-of-jail-free card.
"Active inference" or "free energy principle" models of the brain treat your utility function as just a weird special case of probabilistic belief.
under these models the organism is mostly just trying to minimize prediction error -- if it assigns high probability to events, it should observe those events happening. if this is not happening, change may require acting in the world, or adjusting beliefs.
then your "utility function" is just a very fixed belief that certain things will happen. Minimizing prediction error then leaves you no choice but to try to bring reality into agreement with that fixed belief.
It is in principle a problem with these models that your fixed belief that preferable things will happen, may also influence your beliefs about the rest of the world, the usual Bayesian way that beliefs influence each other.
i'm not an expert on this topic by any means. maybe the connection is of interest if you're already thinking about this in terms of priors and probabilities.
Thank you for this piece and making it public. This is an important topic. Not only because things like psychedelics are increasing in popularity, but so are things like meditation, which as you mention here, and elsewhere, are not neutral to the psyche. It seems also that more and more people are feeling a state of meaninglessness in the world and so are starting to turn towards spiritual practices that can have these effects you describe, as well as others not discussed here. Yet, people are invited by our society, without any preparation into these kinds of potentially transformative states and experiences, without so much as a discussion of what can happen, the profound changes to your psyche and the bad (and even sometimes good) consequences that can result from engaging such practices or experiences. Instead, they are simply treated as another commodity on the marketplace to be consumed. Just go check your community for yoga classes, kundalini classes, meditations, circling, etc.
These practices have been in many ways irresponsibly extracted from long, living traditions, in which the practitioners are embedded in the traditions and held inside structures and communities that prepare people for the practices, walk them into it, help them navigate it, help them process it, and help them pull themselves out of the darkness when they venture too far. I think this is likely a result of the commodification of everything by our society, an emphasis on having mode over being mode, our too rigid of a scientific “objective” materialist approach to reality,and many other factors that make up this meta-poly-meaning-crisis thing that is all the rage these days.
Yet, these very practices and tools, I suspect are also one part of our way out of the mess we find ourselves in as I suspect humans may need to fundamentally alter their relationship with themselves that requires a certain amount of transcendence. It is quite the quagmire and beyond my feeble brain’s ability to try and solve this issue of how do we take these things and put them into a safe community of practice? I don’t suspect that the western “secularized” man is going to start going back to the churches, Sufi orders, zen orders, and different mystical traditions, such that they can find themselves in a responsible sapiential community with elders and teachers and peers that can help people navigate these experiences and states. Nor do I suspect that it is wise to turn people to traditional scientific communities or laboratories to engage in these experiences as they are missing key pieces of the puzzle, i.e., wisdom that our mystical traditions have accreted through the ages, hell we don’t even have a scientific agreement as to what a healthy psyche is from which to make normative statements about what that is. Maybe some combination of science and sapiential communities needs to be developed?
I also worry about how people who may have these experiences will be stigmatized and pathologized inappropriately by our medical scientific complex and may have their lives ruined as a result of it. Even in these alternative spaces where people are engaging in the use of psychedelics or even just spiritual practices, I have personally seen how this very topic you speak about in this article is ignored as if it isn’t a real and dangerous issue for people, and I have also reached out to people in these communities to seek guidance on these topics you address, just to be ignored by those people. Then, I have seen when they see these issues arise, they try and avoid addressing it or quietly shuffle the people off the stages, maybe because it would get in the way of their work for there to be an acknowledgment that bad things can happen to people when they are not prepared or located in an appropriate community setting where others can help others.
So, first and foremost, thank you for this article. And second, I would love to eventually hear more of your thoughts on how these issues can best be addressed, so that more than just the lucky few, like yourself, and Carl Jung, can navigate these experiences and continue to function without breaking down.
I’m also curious if you have come across in your research, Pierre Grimes, his philosophical midwifery, and specifically his thoughts about what he calls pathologos? It seems to me that he has some good insights into what happens when you start to poke around your psyche with meditative and spiritual practices that are intended to help you unfold yourself further and develop. I have heard his students talk about experiences like the psychosis described in your article as a result of engaging in spiritual practices, and how Pierre responds to them, discussing this as an issue of pathologos. I am not him and have not spoken with him, so I can’t confirm my understanding of it is correct, but it seems that these manic and psychotic responses or even sometimes panic attacks or that result from these practices (or substances) are the pathologos fighting against your development. The pathologos (according to my limited understanding) seems to be the constructs our parents and societies bake into us until about adolescence about how we are supposed to be as people, what our roles and cultures expect of us, and that these help us to fit in to our society and culture, but at the same time, they are artificial limitations that prevent us from actually developing ourselves. When you engage in activities or substances that allow you to break free from these, your ego structures (part of the pathologos) respond as if there is a foreign invader threatening them which causes the psyche to respond. I suspect that those grandiose ideas that are had during these experiences are one way the “ego” and pathologos try and keep to the old ways of being, by making it about “you” and how “special” you are, thus reinforcing the artificial Cartesian self in an attempt to keep you from developing.
But I somewhat digress. Thanks for this article and I hope to see many more discussing this important issue.
As always, your crystal-clear writing gives me the feeling of having a more navigable mind. Thanks for writing about this
Thank you for writing this. It's a wonderful combination of personal experience and education.
I'm curious about your social life before, during and after this period of your life. Did you keep the same friends throughout?
Good stuff: I posted my own manic symptoms here, I'm curious how many you identify with: https://liamrosen.com/2022/11/15/too-much-of-a-good-thing-what-mania-feels-like/
Wow, thank you for this. What candour and clarity of expression. I've learned a lot here. It definitely ties in with what Huxley talks about in Heaven and Hell, the companion to Doors of Perception - well worth reading if you haven't, and very short.
Discernment is a word taken directly from the bible. Proverbs 119:66. And much more than a medieval concept of telling good spirits from bad. It is the skill needed to tell the truth from a lie.
From the age of 12 to 15 I took LSD and mescaline around three times a week. It was very mind opening though some areas opened I later wished had remained closed. To this day I'm not convinced all of what I experienced was "me". There seemed to be much more sophisticated influences than those I had known by that young age.
Thank for relating yours.
Thank you a lot for this post. It is a very deep analysis of the human spirit, it tells a lot about us all. I have to admit I haven't read anything as useful and interesting in a long time.
Keep up the good work!
Also, if possible, please turn of the display of full first names and last names in the comment section, it feels too exposing.
Have you taken any medication to escape mania/psychosis?
Thanks for sharing! I think this is more common than people imagine.
This is so relatable.
I strongly feel this is your best work.
Cheers from the sauna
Glad to hear from you again! Definitely thinking "I'm special" is a pernicious prior, but so is "I'm not special", because if you dwell on that one, why, you would never try anything ambitious, such as having a blog for example. Zen points to the right approach: drop both thoughts, stop thinking of yourself entirely and just do, or be, whichever you prefer.
My psychiatrist, back when I still saw her, said that if there were a pill that gave hypomania, she would take it, which is something to contrast with all this. It is interesting that you never got interned over any of this: I ended up thinking I was both the Messiah and the Antichrist and was warded as a result.
We did end up in different places: you concluded there is no such thing as enlightenment, and I got enlightened (or at least, that is what I believe) without even looking for it. I know I'm not hypomanic because I can doubt my own enlightenment, but then, doubt (and really, all negative emotion) just arises and passes away like anything else, accomplishing nothing.
In this book about the Dragon that you had mentioned before, do they take on the view that the big religion founders, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, were basically draconic in nature? I can definitely believe that, but it is a disturbing thought.
You write matter-of-factly: "After an intense LSD-experience...". Do you have any opinions on LSD after going through that mental state?
It is amazing how many articles I read per week extolling the superiority of normative cognition, and dunking on weirdos.
Meanwhile, how many wars do The Expert Normatives have us in at the moment, and what do we do in response: about the same as we always do.
Sorry, I will bet my money on the Freaks, Dreamers, and Psychotics, because the Normies have demonstrated themselves to be out of ideas for generations.