5.9 Summary of the Mystical Problem in Schizophrenia

Putting together a coherent account of the mystical problem associated with schizophrenia begins with the existential proposition that the consciousness of self presents all individual humans with a paradox. This paradox concerns the self’s knowledge that because personal extinction is a foreseeable inevitability, and is unavoidable, the fear of it is therefore irrational. Yet despite the knowledge of this irrationality, the fear of death remains the foundation stone in the architecture of self identity. The existential dilemma that confronts people who grow into an awareness of this problem concerns the difficulty in finding a purposeful form of self-expression in these circumstances.

The mystical quest is an attempt to transcend the self and uncover a separate reality that is connected to a higher, deeper or expanded level of consciousness. Everyone has the potential to reach this improved level of consciousness, which involves the replacement of the self’s emotional dichotomy of fear-of-death/desire-for-life with a love/courage polarity focussed on transpersonal objectives. Mystical traditions, some of which have been in existence for more than two thousand years, teach their adherents a variety of techniques which are designed to induce this transition.

The transition phase itself involves a psychological crisis during which the person's mind is flooded with mythological images, putting it temporarily out of balance. The vast majority of people in modern industrial societies do not comprehend the meaning of mystical experience and they mistakenly believe that people who display signs of this crisis are suffering from a mental disease and require urgent medical attention. This cultural belief in the existence of mental disease creates social conditions that are particularly dangerous for the many accidental mystics who  stumble inadvertently into the mystical experience without protection or guidance from an organised discipline. These unfortunate people usually come to the attention of medical psychiatrists who diagnose them with schizophrenia and routinely abort their mystical experience by the forced application of neuroleptic drugs.

Despite being handicapped with inappropriate training a small number of psychiatrists have had the insight to see mystical experience rather than mental illness in the schizophrenic symptoms of their patients. Some of these psychiatrists, like Laing and Perry, have realised that the crisis phase is only temporary and that what the patients really need is a supportive and protective environment so they can complete the psychological transition.

When this psychological transition is successful the benefits extend beyond the individual to the whole society. But these benefits are endangered by current psychiatric practices. Perry warns: ‘If this way of viewing psychic turmoils is on target, then there is a grave danger in psychiatry’s zeal to suppress them, and instead there is an urgent need to safeguard visionary experience for the benefit of the culture’.[81]

[81]  Perry, Trials of a Visionary Mind, p. 139.