“The years … when I pursued the inner images were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life…. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then. – CG Jung
What exactly is insanity—and what does it mean for a person to “lose their mind?” Is it a classification of ideas that makes a person sane, or could it perhaps be something deeper? Surely, the neurons in the brain do not consider the nature of the stimulus they receive before processing the information. The physical domain, in this sense, is entirely impersonal—it seems quite evident that what takes place in the mind of a human being so that they may further disassociate from the world around them, is clearly not primarily because of the stimuli around them, nor is it entirely a matter of neurological mechanisms either.
If it were simply one of these two things, this would be a simple A-to-B process of examination, and psychotherapy would’ve been a resolved field of study for the last hundred years or so. Since this is not the case, examinations of psychosis consequently have reached an impasse. Psychology as an overarching field has stagnated and is proud of it, because they have the offices and pensions to “prove” their “efficacy.” This is no condemnation of the psychologist, for it is not very hard to come across a story where regular sessions with an open-minded therapist can catalyze great healing within an individual. Again, this is not due entirely to psychology as a field of study, but more so to do with the psychosomatic interaction between two minds, towards a greater and single goal. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is teamwork more than it is anything to do with textbook studies.
Even still, however, there is a gap. It can be noted that there remains some sort of psychological gap that is required to be the intermediate between a person and their ambient stimuli, but this also produces a somewhat natural dysfunction of interaction. This intermediary between the individual’s inner world and their outer world is the unconscious level of the mind, and the functional properties of this unconscious level in the life of the individual has been considered by ancient man as “karma.” As a recap, let it be stated that karma is not as simple as two accumulative pots of good and bad luck that a person bets into for their future, but rather the ability (the limitations or lack thereof) of an individual to engage with themselves and their environment. The lack of a person’s ability to see the benefits and joy of their own life is their karma, it is not a god smiting someone (not in the literal sense, at least.)
After considering the properties and functions of the unconscious mind, the individual is left with a vast depth of unknown. They soon begin to understand that the puzzles of their mind that plague them have answers awaiting around the corner—but no one is sure how to even conceptualize what they might be looking for, let alone how to go looking for it. The individual is entirely in the dark, and left to float or drown, which is a decision that is ultimately decided by instinct alone in this scenario (fight-or-flight).
Alone, confused, unsure if one can trust their own thoughts–this is where psychosis begins. Consider Robert Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is not a lack of something in the environment (although this does play a part) so much as it is the inability for a human to incorporate themselves into the world around them in a way that they feel is coherent and even worthy. Every individual, as Viktor Frankl described with logotherapy and the “will to meaning,” has a stake to claim at birth. However, it is up to each person to seek out that stake and claim it as their birthright.
Everyone experiences this to a degree in their lives. This psychoanalytic notion of karma seems to be the only thing inescapable in life, for it follows a man wherever he should go, into whatever situation he should run to. This haunting sense of karma is what ancient man called a “demon.” If a man’s karma should be fruitful, it was considered that he was gifted by the “angels.” Surely, a person could argue that angels and demons may have some sort of metaphysical property beyond the realm of psychoanalysis, but in any case, this interpretation remains an undeniable viewpoint.
If a person’s mental state of affairs has reached a point where dissociation of this variety has begun and is slowly increasing by a marked degree, they can be assured that they are in trouble and that no one will have a way out for them. The steps have already been taken down this path, and there is no turning back—for after all, the neurological mechanisms are entirely impersonal. If there is one thing that can be taken away from Carl Jung’s material without any doubt of efficacy, it is that sometimes a person must lose their mind to find their soul. Sometimes, to find a greater sense of context and syntax in life, a person must first lose all previous context and syntax, et cetera.
This is why eastern metaphysics, such as Taoism, has always heavily emphasized a state of “child-like wonder/bliss” when investigating the aspects of life. Certainly, this is not a suggested state of ignorance, but more a state of impracticality. The child, ever-growing and learning, finds quickly that the world around him is entirely impractical, and that he must adapt and learn accordingly to achieve. It is in this state of impracticality, devoid of overall context, that the child begins to adopt and develop their context. An adult who has already developed such a context, will do nothing aside from further develop this context, until they abandon it entirely and start over.
But what are they abandoning in their retreat from psychosis? What exactly does one lose when they “lose their mind”?
They lose the sense of their individualized diachronic narrative; diachronic meaning: “concerned with the way in which something, especially language, has developed and evolved through time.” The example of language is not intrinsic to the definition of the word, but helps illustrate quite a picture when considering ideas such as “symbolic literacy” and “mental projection.” The aforementioned “teamwork” between a therapist and the patient is beneficial because it helps provide a reference point of focus for this mental projection principle, so that the patient may gauge themselves with a sense of trust. Here, however, a strange feedback loop occurs, and progress can only go so far. For how can the therapist truly help the patient when they, themselves, have this monkey-on-the-back of their own jostled unconscious mind? Yet another impasse is reached, and the patient is not left back at square one, per se, but has merely succeeded in buying himself some more time at best. If a weed or even a cancer for that matter is not uprooted entirely, it will be stifled but continue all the same, and it is no different when considering psychological complexes both good and bad.
Surprisingly, this is (more or less) the position Carl Jung found himself in after parting ways with his mentor of sorts, Sigmund Freud, over what was essentially a divergence in their interpretations of the unconscious mind. Freud saw this as a center of repressed animalistic desires, whereas Jung theorized that each man chose a type of archetypal symbolic literacy with which he engaged his own mind and the environment. Jung theorized that every human brain functioned on the same basis, but their “minds” (i.e. the effect of the brain) were entirely subjective and could only be gauged on a case-by-case basis.
The Red Book is brought to attention from this point forward. A bit ironic perhaps, this work is considered both the magnum opus of his career, and his brush with insanity in the form of a “mid-life crisis” breakdown. Described as the point at which Jung had achieved all his life’s checklist of goals—career, wife, family, esteem, leisure—he found that his dramatic diversion from the Freudian ideology left him highly ostracized by the psychoanalytic community. This state of affairs brought him to a seemingly bottomless state of hopelessness and lack of self-worth that made his achievements seem to amount to nothing more than checkmarks. He had lost his own gauge, his diachronic narrative with which he used to explain the world to himself and vice versa. Withdrawing from his variety of organizational positions and struggling to maintain his office practice, Jung began pouring out his apocalyptically symbolic visions. Plagued with intense, vivid, and frequent dreams, Jung was also experiencing what he termed as “synchronicities” (where the conscious mind and the environment take on a deeper, unified context as a “message” from the environment to the person through the form of the unconscious mind’s symbolic literacy), and even visions during his waking everyday life that steadily chipped away at his composure.
Contents of The Red Book aside, the most important details in this case are the mechanisms with which it arose. For those unfamiliar, Jung’s theory of archetypal symbolism in the unconscious mind is actually an ancient known truth to groups such as the Gnostic Mysteries and even their surviving secret societies today. Jung knew this through studying anything to do with ancient symbolism (even having the opportunity to borrow from Manly P. Hall’s library) and it is a very clean-cut, empirical, and reproducible explanation for the crude mechanisms that ancient man termed “magick.”
In reality, archetypal symbols are glyphs of the unconscious mind, and the symbol is the quantification of this notion on the unconscious mind, serving as a bridge to bubble this notion from the back of the brain to the front. In the same way that a number is meant to symbolize quantity, one could say that symbols are meant to quantify quality—and in this case, a quality of a person’s own neurophenomenology.
Esoterist RA Schwaller de Lubicz put it best when he wrote, in Esoterism and Symbol,
“Every natural object in the universe is a hieroglyph of divine science. Each animal each species of plant, each mineral group, is a stage in the process of ‘becoming aware’ of the cosmic Case, culminating in the complete organism of the human, the microcosm, or ‘man in His image’… Obviously, therefore, we must be able to transcribe what is in us into our mental and objective consciousness, by establishing a relationship between the life in us and observation of that life in Nature.”
An inability to perform the functions that de Lubicz describes is the breakdown of the diachronic narrative, and the onset of psychosis.
He might as well have taken the words straight from Jung’s mouth, because these indeed are the fundamental mechanisms behind Jung’s flirtation with psychosis and what became his own transmutation through The Red Book. Dr. Stansilav Grof has gone even further with this type of research and elaborated on psychoanalysis that deals with the syntax of these archetypal symbols in the brain—meaning to say that if numbers create an equation of quantity, can archetypal symbols create an equation for quality within an individual? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes, and Carl Jung’s Red Book is the best case-study that a person can find on the matter.
The conceptual bridge from this point forward is auto(self)-hypnosis. Surely a patient-practitioner form of hypnosis would be useful for uncovering and elaborating the symbolism of the brain, but the objective here is to determine how this state of archetypal symbolism is empirically related to psychosis. Right off the bat, schizophrenia can be considered as a field of examination worth studying, and even dissociative personality disorder and borderline personality disorder on a bit more subtle level (both throwaway terms in the grand scheme of things, but still interesting for case study). Updates in modern scientific understanding of hypnosis have demonstrated the mechanisms of the brain that psychologically induce states of auto-hypnosis for a variety of reasons such as: pain management, anxiety, depression, and basically what can be considered as the ability to more easily manage the imbalanced aspects of a person’s life. Under no uncertain terms is meditation anything but auto-hypnosis, and consequently, what ancient man considered to be “spell-casting” literally originally stemmed from the knowledge of symbolic cues to induce hypnotic states of consciousness. To quote a modern scientific study on the matter:
“Individuals highly responsive to hypnosis can quickly and effortlessly manifest atypical conscious experiences as well as override deeply entrenched processes. These capacities open new avenues for suspending habitual modes of attention and achieving refined states of meta-awareness.”
While some of the details are still waiting to be surfaced on this, it appears that certain states of hypnosis (like where a person undergoes surgery using only a hypnotic trance and no sedation—something that has proven itself effective) must be enacted by a person other than the patient being hypnotized. This, under a folklore definition, would be considered something more like spell-casting. Auto-hypnosis and even the average hypnotist cannot bring about these results, and hypnosis cannot subvert the will of an individual and create “mind control,” although post-hypnotic suggestion is a very real thing. But for the record, there is something to be said for ancient folklore of the witch doctor, et cetera, and it would appear that these “mind control” spells would be a mixture of hypnosis and some highly potent herbal concoctions.
Consider this collage of quotes, taken only from scientific studies published within the last couple decades:
“It is proposed that hypnosis is a state of enhanced attention that activates an interplay between cortical and subcortical brain dynamics during hypnotic phenomena, such as both attentional and disattentional processes, among others, are important in the experiencing of hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena. Findings from studies of electrocortical activity, event-related potentials, and regional cerebral blood flow during waking and hypnosis are presented to suggest that these attentional differences are reflected in underlying neurophysiological differences in the far fronto-limbic attentional system.” (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207149408409352)
“Moreover, converging findings intimate that hypnotic suggestions seem to induce specific neural patterns. These observations propose that suggestions may have the ability to target focal brain networks. Drawing on evidence spanning several technological modalities, neuroimaging studies of hypnosis pave the road to a more scientific understanding of a dramatic, yet largely evasive, domain of human behavior.” (http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/25928680)
“Brain oscillations represent the combined electrical activity of neuronal assemblies, and are usually measured as specific frequencies representing slower (delta, theta, alpha) and faster (beta, gamma) oscillations. Hypnosis has been most closely linked to power in the theta band and changes in gamma activity. These oscillations are thought to play a critical role in both the recording and recall of declarative memory and emotional limbic circuits. Here we propose that it is this role that may be the mechanistic link between theta (and perhaps gamma) oscillations and hypnosis; specifically that theta oscillations may facilitate, and that changes in gamma activity observed with hypnosis may underlie, some hypnotic responses. If these hypotheses are supported, they have important implications for both understanding the effects of hypnosis, and for enhancing response to hypnotic treatments.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25792761)
“There is, in effect, a psycho-physiological dimension of hypnosis. It lies at the crossroads between the instrumental and the relational. But we know nothing about what unconscious processes hide at the psycho-physiological level. Psychoanalysis has brought to light the laws governing the functioning of unconscious representations. But the realm of the affect, the non-verbal, the corporal still remains beyond our knowledge. This is a hidden side of the unconscious, in relation to which hypnosis may serve as another ‘royal way’.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7001980)
“Whilst there are potentially informative similarities between hypnotic suggestion and placebos, their differences, particularly with regard to the differential contributions of regions of the prefrontal cortex, are also potentially informative as to the nature of suggestion more generally.” (http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00415/full)
What is brought to attention here, in short summary, is enough scientific data to understand that hypnotic mechanisms and placebo mechanisms have different but connected neurophenomenology, and recent studies have even shown that a patient curiously can feel the effects of a placebo even when they know it should have no real effect. Beyond this, there is enough data to suggest that the neurophenomenology that creates a hypnotic state of mind is a fundamental regulating function of the unconscious mind’s connection to the conscious.
The elaboration of this connection can be seen through brain wave phenomena analysis during hypnosis, as well as specified emotional circuitry in the brain. To bring this all back full-circle, hypnotic neurophenomenology is fundamental for developing what is considered the “diachronic narrative” of each person’s own archetypal “hero’s journey,” because it has already been demonstrated that hypnosis is critical in regulating emotional and physical pain overall, which is asserted here to all ultimately stem from a dysfunctional “will to meaning” on the “hero’s journey.” As Lewis Carroll described in Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (both works making use of ancient Gnostic symbolism), the white rabbit is the symbol of a person who is late for their appointment with destiny—they have been procrastinating their own hero’s journey, and now a certain sense of panic has begun to sink in. They know something is wrong—they know they are late for something, and opportunities are passing them by, yet they feel frozen and helpless, sinking in the sands of time’s hourglass.
As described earlier, once a person has met the white rabbit, there is no turning back. They are now in Wonderland, and as the old Taoist saying goes: a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. In literal terms, the white rabbit is the onset of psychosis through a frustrated sense of a person’s diachronic narrative which results in a subsequent outpouring of unconscious mental mechanisms. Tapping into the unconscious through traditional hypnosis and the use of archetypal symbolism is a radical way (yet likely the most effective) to not only achieving a sense of peace and well-being, but to understanding many deeper and greater hidden truths of the individual’s own mind. This is the way of the alchemist, and the path of transmutation.
“I took the red pill—now I’m eating rabbit.
I’d like to tell you that I want it, but I need to have it,
I’d like to that I got it, but I’m working on it,
I placed the paper on the table with the Durban Poison.”
-Rothstein, “Red Tops“
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