JOSEPH CAMPBELL TALKS OF PSYCHIC EXPERIENCES
I don't want to sound self-important here, but I see my own journeys and inner struggles in a couple of the passages, which Campbell delineates in the following paragraphs, through which I traveled in getting sober and after my third marriage ended disastrously. After three divorces, a man tends to finally blame himself and to take some responsibility for what is happening to him with the opposite sex. I have, and still do at times, seen myself as the joker and clown, making a role for myself while inside feeling that I have ideas and insights to share of some importance with others.
[Open quote.] And so, with that challenge before us, let us try to become acquainted with some of the tides and undertows of our inward sea [psyche, soul or etcetera]. Let me tell you something of what I have recently heard about the wonders of the inward schizophrenic plunge.
The first experience is of a sense of splitting. The person sees the world going in two: one part of it moving away; himself in the other part. This is the beginning of the regressus, the crack-off and backward flow. He may see himself, for a time, in two roles. One is the role of the clown, the ghost, the witch, the queer one, the outsider. That is the outer role that he plays, making little of himself as the fool, a joke, the one kicked around, the patsy. Inside, however, he is the savior, and he knows it. He is the hero chosen for a destiny. Recently one such savior did me the honor of paying me three visits: a tall, beautiful young man with the beard and gentle eyes and manner of a Christ; LSD was his sacrament—LSD and sex. "I have seen my Father," he told me on the second occasion. "He is old now and has told me just to wait. I shall know when the time comes for me to take over."
The second stage has been described in many clinical accounts. It is of a terrific drop-off and regression, backward in time and biologically as well. Falling back into his own past, the psychotic becomes an infant, a fetus in the womb. One has the frightening experience of slipping back to animal consciousness, into animal forms, sub-animal forms, even plantlike. I think of the legend here of Daphne, the nymph who was turned into a laurel tree. Such an image, read in psychological terms, would be the image of a psychosis. Approached in love by the god Apollo, the virgin was terrified, cried for help to her father, the river-god Peneus, and he turned her into a tree.
"Show me the face you had before your father and mother were born!" We have had occasion before to refer to this meditation theme of the Japanese Zen masters. In the course of a schizophrenic retreat, the psychotic too may come to know the exaltation of a union with the universe, transcending personal bounds: the "oceanic feeling," Freud called it. Feelings arise then, too, of a new knowledge. Things that before had been mysterious are now fully understood. Ineffable realizations are experienced; and in fact, as we read about them, we can only be amazed. I have now read dozens of accounts; and they correspond, often amazingly, to the insights of the mystics and to the images of Hindu, Buddhist, Egyptian, and classical myth.
For example, a person who has never believed in, or even heard of, reincarnation will begin to feel that he has lived forever; that he has lived through many lifetimes, yet was never born and will never die. It is as though he had come to know himself as that Self (a~nan) of which we read in the Bhagavad Gita: "Never is it born, never does it die.... Unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval, it is not slain when the body is slain." The patient (let us now call him that) has united what remains of his consciousness with the consciousness of all things, the rocks, the trees, the whole world of nature, out of which we all have come. He is in accord with that which has indeed existed forever: as we all are, actually, at root, and therein at peace—once again, as stated in the Gita: "When one completely withdraws the senses from their objects, like a tortoise drawing in its limbs, then is one's wisdom firmly fixed. In that serenity is surcease of all sorrow."
In short, my friends, what I find that I am saying is that our schizophrenic patient is actually experiencing inadvertently that same beatific ocean deep which the yogi and saint are ever striving to enjoy: except that, whereas they are swimming in it, he is drowning.
There may come next, according to a number of accounts, the sense of a terrific task ahead with dangers to be met and mastered; but also a presentiment of invisible helpful presences that may guide and help one through. These are the gods, the guardian daemons or angels: innate powers of the psyche, fit to meet and to master the torturing, swallowing, or shattering negative forces. And if one has the courage to press on, there will be experienced, finally, in a terrible rapture, a culminating overwhelming crisis—or even a series of such culminations, more than can be borne.
These crises are mainly of four typical sorts, according to the kinds of difficulty that will have conduced to the regressus in the first place. For instance, a person who in childhood has been deprived of essential love, brought up in a home of little or no care, but only authority, rigor, and commands, or in a house of tumult and wrath, a drunken father raging about, or the like, will have been seeking in his backward voyage a reorientation and centering of his life in love. Accordingly, the culmination (when he will have broken back to the start of his biography and even beyond, to a sense of the erotic first impulse to life) will be a discovery of a center in his own heart of tenderness and of love in which he can rest. That will have been the aim and meaning of his entire backward quest. And its realization will be represented through an experience, one way or another, of some sort of visionary fulfillment of a "sacred union" with a wifely mothering (or simply a mothering) presence.
Or if it had been a household in which the father had been nobody, a nothing, of no force in the home at all; where there had been no sense of paternal authority, no one of masculine presence who could be honored and respected, but only a clutter of domestic details and disordered feminine concerns, the quest will have been for a decent father image, and that is what will have to be found: some sort of symbolic realization of supernatural daughterhood or sonship to a father.
A third domestic situation of significant emotional deprivation is that of the child who feels itself to have been excluded from its family circle, treated as though not wanted; or with no family at all. In cases, for example, of a second marriage, where a second family has come along, a child of the first may feel and actually find itself excluded, thrown away, or left behind. The old fairy-tale theme of the wicked stepmother and stepsisters is relevant here. What such an excluded one will be striving for in his inward lonely journey will be the finding or the fashioning of a center—not a family center, but a world center—of which he will be the pivotal being. Dr. Perry told me of the case of a schizophrenic patient who was so completely and profoundly cut off that no one could establish any communication with him at all. One day, this poor mute person, in the doctor's presence, drew a crude circle, and then just placed the point of his pencil in the middle of it. Dr. Perry stooped and said to him, "You are in the center, aren't you! Aren't you!" And that message got through, initiating the course of a return.
There is a perfectly fascinating inside report of a schizophrenic breakdown in the next-to-last chapter of Dr. R. D. Laing's book The Politics of Experience. This is an account given by a former Royal Navy commodore, now a sculptor, of a schizophrenic adventure of his own, at the culmination of which he experienced a fourth type of realization: a sense of sheer light, the sense of a terribly dangerous, overpowering light to be encountered and endured. His account suggests very strongly the Buddha-light described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is supposed to be experienced immediately upon death, and which, if endured, yields release from rebirth but is for most too great to bear. [Close quote.]
(MYTHS TO LIVE BY, Joseph Campbell, pp. 224-228)