‘Not made of wood’ – 2001
onthe power of medical maya
Key-note addressfor Critical Psychiatry Network at the Conference "Reducing the biomedical dominance of psychiatry
27th April 2001
University of Sheffield, U.K.
Your invitation to speak at this conference came as a surprise to me. Somebody must have done some research to find out where I lived and whether I was still alive. I have not spoken to gatherings of psychiatrists, critical or otherwise, for many years. The book Not made of wood, published in 1971, became such an explosive bestseller – 200,000 copies were sold in the Netherlands – that establishment medical psychiatry decided to ignore me. After the storm of publicity was over I was labeled an ‘anti-psychiatrist’ because of my criticism of the medical model and that criticism was total. Not made of wood was a very personal book, kind of a naive adventure-story, but the horror of the way people are being treated, especially those who are psychotic, was clearly shining through.
In 1978, I went to Poona in India and became a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh – he was called Osho a few years before his death in 1990. After a short stay I returned to the Netherlands in orange clothes and even with a new Sanskrit name.
For my psychiatric colleagues and the journalists who were jubilant about Not made of wood that was intolerable. Reforming society, that was acceptable, but an individual seeking a radical reform of himself – that was too threatening. I lost whatever remaining credit I had and some may have even thought I had gone more or less insane. I went to Poona every year, remained working as a psychotherapist in the Netherlands and kept writing books, mostly on the vision of Osho, Krishnamurti and other mystics of the last century. Recently another book on psychotherapy and the sad state of affairs of biological psychiatry was published and it became another bestseller. By that time I had become too old for steps to be taken against me by those who are in power in University psychiatry, though there was a suggestion that my so-called licence as a medical specialist-psychiatrist should be taken away. Official psychiatry simply tolerated me as a nuisance and left it at that.
You all know and have observed that psychiatry has strengthened its medical model and with all kinds of so-called ‘scientific’ arguments has swung in the direction of what is now called biological psychiatry. The biomedical view has indeed become dominant. Suffering human beings are given all kinds of names provided by the DSM classification system, names that are then called ‘medical diagnosis’ and the various ‘diseases’ are generally treated by chemicals which are called ‘medicines’, leading to forms of chemical lobotomy. Thousands of people are now diagnosed as carrying ‘the schizophrenic handicap’ with which they have to live – so they are told – and all kinds of pharmaceuticals are given to them to prevent an outbreak of the psychosis. The pharmaceutical industry is sending me, almost daily, their propaganda material, they are subsidising conferences in luxurious hotels in Switzerland where psychiatrist can attend refresher courses in ‘the treatment of schizophrenia’, and even part of mental hospitals are now being financially supported by the same pharmaceutical industry. One of the leading professors in biological psychiatry once proudly declared on television that he had always preferred to be a neurologist and as far as psychotherapy was concerned he said he did not have any patience for such an undertaking. Besides it wasn’t scientific anyway.
This is the way the pendulum has swung as a logical outcome of the medical model. As a matter of fact the pendulum has already started to swing in the opposite direction and one day so-called psychosocial factors may regain prominence again. Enlarged ventricles in the brain, faulty genes, or biochemical imbalances in the brain and all the rest of it will then be given less importance.
But you want to change things and changing what-is is a problem. It is your problem.
I am reminded of a story a friend of mine told me. One day he listened to a conversation between Krishnamurti and a man who did not want to be enlisted as a soldier and sent to Vietnam. He did not want to kill people. After explaining all this Krishnamurti interrupted him and said, "Yes sir, I understand all this. But what is your problem?" Again the man, being an American, explained that he probably would be sent back to the States as a conscientious objector and he might be put in jail. "Yes sir," said Krishnamurti, "but what is your problem?" "Well," said the man, "the judges may not accept my arguments and then I will have to desert because this is a filthy war!" Once again, Krishnamurti said, "Yes sir, I know, but what is your problem?" Whereupon the man said, "Listen, they might shoot me, as a deserter!" "Yes," Krishnamurti said, "they probably will, but what is your problem?"
This sounds cruel, hard, but Krishnamurti wanted to point out and lift into Consciousness that the belief in a ‘me’ as a separate entity which considers itself ‘the doer’, ‘the experiencer’, yes even ‘the seeker’ seeking Truth, that firm belief in the ‘me’ is the real problem underlying and structuring all of our problems.
I have been wondering for many years why relatively unbiased people like psychiatrists and psychologists have not become more interested in this primary problem. Ronald Laing certainly was. He may have flirted with it, he may have taken it up and then dropping it again, but at least he was interested in that fundamental question of the ‘me’.
Therefore, instead of contributing to the mess psychiatry is creating today by fighting it, rebelling against it or reducing whatever dominance – being the delusion of the day – and basically the outcome of thought in the sense of the thinking proces, I decided to offer you something else. Whatever new balance may arise in psychiatry, it remains a medical type of enterprise with a medical conceptual framework. It will go on talking about ‘mental health’ – which simply does not exist –, about mental hospitals where ‘illnesses’ are being treated and ‘cured’ and where the medical game of doctor and patient continues to be played. It’s a stubborn game.
I would like on this occasion to lead you in a different direction and present to you a totally different perspective. I hope this will interest you.
First some of the insights that I gained from the success of the book that I once wrote.
I had returned to the Netherlands after working for five years at ‘Chestnut Lodge’ and receiving psychoanalytic training at the ‘Washington Psychoanalytic Institute’. I wanted at that time recognition and an opportunity to spread what I had learned in the course of my psychotherapeutic work with so-called ‘schizophrenics’ and the richness of my experiences in ‘Chestnut Lodge’, which was for me the place of the psychoanalytic Gods. But having returned to the Netherlands I did not receive any welcome at all. Nobody was waiting for me. The jobs at the University were all taken and so my dreams to be a professor one day went down the drain. I became clinical director of a psychotherapeutic centre and started to prepare the writing of the book that would change my life.
Later, while starting private psychotherapeutic practice, I really got into writing, almost in a trance and certainly still motivated by this urge to get recognition. I wanted, just like everyone else, to be seen, heard and recognised. I had, so it felt, my hands full of diamonds and pearls. Why did nobody want to receive what I had to offer?
During this writing process a neighbour looked down from his balcony and asked me what the hell I was doing. "I’m writing a book," I said and apparently he telephoned a publisher who turned up the next day. I gave him part of the manuscript, he got in the train, started reading and forgot to get out! And so it happened that in May 1971, when the book was published, it became a bestseller. There were even seven translations and I was completely alone. I had no group-support, didn’t have a family and very few friends. Being thrown into the role of a cultural reformer, at least in the field of psychiatry, invited to speak in many countries, I suddenly found myself in the role of some sort of Jesus Christ of psychiatry. I had to face the hostility of many of my psychiatric colleagues, convinced that they were medical specialists supporting a medical type of psychiatry. The book was indeed a full-blown attack on their cherished medical identity and the medical model in general. In the midst of this success and all of the publicity, I felt very lonely and started to drink too much. I listened to Peggy Lee singing ‘Is that all there is’ and I realised, ‘Nothing fails like success.’ I saw through the emptiness of my life, there was absolutely no escape, no consolation. I observed that this whole humanity looked to me very much like one big insane asylum – it still does – and my despair deepened during the next seven years since 1971. I had lost my remaining sense of belonging to a professional group. That is how it felt. I could not philosophise my way out of this despair, embracing a political ideology in an effort to reform society – for me that was totally impossible. I was not made out of that type of revolutionary material.
So I received plenty of recognition. More then I could dream of. But it was not making me any happier. It made me more miserable instead.
It was then that something happened and that will soon become clear to you. I first want to return to the content of Not made of wood.
The essence of the book is contained in a small chapter of approximately seventeen pages. There you will find the core of my argument as it had developed at the time and as it was elaborated upon in much of the rest of the book.
As some of you may recall, I worked as a psychotherapist and administrator on a ward, a small bungalow inhabited by women who were called ‘chronic schizophrenic’. They regularly went to their psychoanalyst – there were 21 psychoanalysts working at the sanatorium called ‘Chestnut Lodge’ – and as an administrator I was given much freedom to create a new type of therapeutic environment for my schizophrenic ladies and their nursing staff.
One day I decided to call this ward ‘a school for living’, the nursing staff I called ‘educational staff’, my twelve so-called chronic schizophrenic ladies were called, much to their surprise, ‘students’ instead of ‘patients’ and I called myself the chief teacher or educator. If you wish I became a guru with his disciples.
Then all hell broke loose, at times with a lot of humor. Let me give you an excerpt of this small chapter.
One woman, who was labeled as ‘autistic’, apparently deeply committed to the ‘medical patient role’, reacted with great force, and was adamantly opposed to the idea of being called a ‘student’. When she was called a ‘student’ she became very angry, threatened to throw a temper tantrum, and exclaimed, "I do not want to be called a student...I do not like that word...I would rather be called a patient, if you please...this is supposed to be a mental hospital, is it not?...a hospital for the mentally sick..." Constantly calling her student and explaining my reasons for it gave rise to verbalisations such as, "But I am supposed to be mentally ill! I have a disease of the nerves. I want a brain operation. I have a disease of the mind." Challenging her further about this idea of a diseased mind made her more and more angry. "But the mind is up there," knocking on her head. After I began to call her ‘student’ she sometimes burst out with sentences like, "This is becoming a regular hell-hole around here. I do not like the tone of voice you are using." Walking with her to my office (I became her therapist and called her hours with me ‘educational hours’) I engaged with her in the following manner.
During our walk I said nonchalantly, "Hello, student, how are you?" Whereupon she whispered, "Patient." To this I responded by whispering, "Student" – whereupon she again whispered, "Patient"...and we went on whispering stubbornly, each of us, the words of our choice.
Another woman, who held everybody at arm’s length by producing medical and body language in limitless quantities, once stated, "How can I ever be a student? Then I cannot feel anymore like a hospital patient. For how can one say, ‘a state hospital student’?"
Another statement was, "To me to be called student means failure. It means I was a failure getting along and getting friends. I would like to be called a patient. It is a more restful term! Then I don’t have to work and to exert myself. I just have to be here. Then I am here to be in bed and cured by a nurse and a doctor."
During an interview conducted by a male aide, the following dialogue took place.
The interviewer said, "If you had to be labeled, would you prefer to be called sick or ignorant?"
Patient: "Well, I would rather have somebody know I was ill than ignorant about a subject. I would be embarrassed if they called me ignorant."
Interviewer: "I asked whether you would prefer to be called sick or ignorant. But ‘sick’ is a pretty mild word; would you prefer to be called crazy or ignorant?"
Interviewer: "Do you think this place should become more like a school?"
Patient: "No, I hope they don’t start classes and all those things. They only annoy me."
Interviewer: "Do you feel that this ward has changed?"
Patient (laughing): "Yes, it is much more like a school; it is going downhill rapidly."
So from one day to the next I replaced the medical-illness-concepts with educational concepts. Those latter concepts were, as I saw it in my naivete, much closer to the reality of the learning – and unlearning – process of intensive psychotherapy. Then there was the discovery of the truth, once expressed by Kurt Lewin, who said, "If you want to know how things really are, try to change them." What I discovered was the power of concepts and I made this discovery – it really was a formidable one, at least for me – not because I was so critical, let alone that I wanted to become an ‘anti-psychiatrist’. I had never heard of that nonsense. (I had been, of course, inspired by Harry Stack Sullivan, Ronald Laing and especially by Thomas Szasz.)
My poor students had been brainwashed for a very long time with medical concepts. Their semantic ‘map’ being medical, they went by it and the effort at linguistic change brought out clearly how much they adhered to it. They seemed to say: If I am addressed as ‘patient’ and am asked to name others ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’, receiving ‘medical treatment’ and finding myself in a ‘hospital’, I am of course ‘mentally ill’.
The problem at ‘Chestnut Lodge’, which embraced the philosophy that the problems of the psychotic persons were only quantatively different from the problems of men in general, was more complicated because on the same stage another set of roles was being played; namely, the educational roles, and a different language was being used. On this simultaneously operating educational stage the psychoanalysts were trying to involve persons in a learning process, and were aiming at personal maturation and a gradual unfolding of potentialities for living. This educational context and culture asked for role performances of educators and students and it was obvious that the role of the ‘medical patient’ with its expected passivity and helplessness was in sharp contrast to the expected role performance of the ‘student’ with its expectancies of initiative, responsability and active cooperation. All this happened at ‘Chestnut Lodge’ which was called a sanatorium and a private mental hospital. My conclusion was that the primary medical culture and language might produce so much medical background ‘noise’ that the main educational message did not get through.
I expressed this in the following analogy. If I enter a hardware store and the salesman comes up to me and says, "What kind of chocolate can I sell you?", I would undoubtedly be confused and I would resist the salesman’s efforts to sell me chocolate in such an environment. I might not even trust the chocolate he shows me, lying there among the lawn mowers.
What hit me was that we were selling psychoanalytic-psychotherapeutic and reeducational chocolate in a medical hardware store. But that is what we keep doing all the time and all over the place! When somebody thinks that two and two makes five and applies this in daily life, that person is ignorant. He is getting into difficulty, not because he is ‘ill’ but because he is stupid.
Contemplating the power of words, I am reminded of a joke Osho once told. He loved telling jokes.
A large Mexican entered a Tijuana whorehouse. The madam greeted him cordially and directed him to the first room on the right. The man returned shortly, explaining that he couldn’t do it. The madam asked what the problem was. With some embarrassment the Mexican explained, "Because sheez my seester."
Understandingly the madam directed him to the second door on the left. Soon he returned. Again he was shaking his head and saying, "I cood not do eet – sheez my seester."
A little embarrassed too this time, the madam directed the man to the last room on the right. He returned within a few minutes, eyes downcast, saying, "Theez lady too eez my seester!"
Amazed and perplexed the madam now directed the man to the room of a fair-skinned, blond Swedish girl on the top floor, knowing well that this could not possibly be his ‘seester’.
As soon as the man had disappeared into the room, she rushed to a secret peephole in the room’s wall to watch. After a time and with more than a little hesitation, the man finally dropped his pants. Seeing his huge penis unfold to his knees, the girl exclaimed, "Oh brother!"
So that was the whole problem – the word ‘brother’! Just the word!
There is more to the experiment I described. The most important thing, as I look at it today, is that I showed a certain sensitivity, an awareness of the power of words, concepts and thus the thinking or conceptualising process. That was the most important thing. There was an intuition, however vague, that the conceptualising process, in this case being medical, could put a blindfold on the eyes of the psychiatrist who preferred, by tradition, to be a medical specialist. It could obliterate his capacity to see what was actually going on. I was not only struck by the blindness that the prevailing medical concepts were creating with my newly-born ‘students’, but it also confirmed my view and growing conviction that this blindness would create a process in those who were giving their so-called medical treatments. This process – so I felt – would slowly become more and more overwhelming, and this is precisely what has happened in later years. Unique human beings with a unique conditioning are being looked at more and more as ‘bodies-with-an-illness’ to be repaired in the doctor-patient relationship, preferably by chemical means. It is a dehumanising process which would, so I foresaw, irrevocably lead to a progressive alienation of psychological and existential problems of human beings. Even the professional friendliness in the doctor-patient relationship cannot hide the fact that a human being is made into an object and this must obstruct the investigation of various aspects of his or her subjectivity and the revelation of subjectivity in growing trust.
But there is even much more. While playing around with concepts during this experiment at ‘Chestnut Lodge’ I was at that time totally unaware of the fact that I was touching a more fundamental issue. I was actually dealing with the autohypnosis as a result of concepts and conceptualising. I was confronting the thinking mind. We are all perpetually caught in that traffic jam of conceptual thinking and the blindness or darkness it creates is called ‘maya’ by Eastern mystics. When looking at it retrospectively, there was even something quite logical in my desire, much later, in 1978, to meet a revolutionary mystic then called Bhagwan, who made very clear to me that my life and my definition of what I called ‘reality’ was indeed totally determined by concepts drifting and moving in consciousness. This collection of concepts which is called ‘mind’ even has the power to convince me of the factual existence of a ‘me’ as a separate entity, which is the ‘core’ of maya. It convinces me that ‘I’ have been born and that ‘I’ will die, that I am ‘a person’, an individual. Many years later I listened to Krishnamurti who said, "What are you now? You are nothing but thought!"
So you see, that is what happened as a later result of Not made of wood, its bestselling success and the despair and loneliness it created. I became ripe to meet a mystic, an Enlightened Being. When the disciple is ready, the Master appears, as the saying goes. It sure happened in my case. He, the Master, pointed out to me that this ‘me’ for which I had wanted all that recognition, that ‘me’ that wanted to become a professor one day and wanted to become famous, that ‘me’ simply did not exist! It was a complete fiction. It was this ‘me’ that brought about all the despair, the sense of isolation, and in general the sense of separation. What could be realised was a consciousness without any concepts, without any definitions. ‘I’ – who was at that time already ‘a seeker’ and asking, "Who am I?" – was exactly That. It is called ‘the Self’ in the Hindu tradition and Gautama the Buddha referred to it using the word anatta, meaning no-self. This Self-realisation (or no-self realisation) – is the realisation of one’s total nothingness called pure and absolute consciousness. This realisation means the final awakening from the dream, the autohypnosis resulting from the conceptualising process, whatever those concepts are.
I would like to enter this conceptualising process a bit more deeply by quoting from the Dhammapada, a series of statements of Gautama the Buddha who, two thousand five hundred years ago, was willing to speak about his realisation, his Awakening called, as you all know, Enlightenment of Nirvana.
The statement is, "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." What is the meaning of those words, "With our thoughts we make the world"?
It means that the world that we are perceiving is not just an extension of our senses. The re-cognisable world of names and forms as it is being observed, as it appears, is the result of concepts (thoughts or words) drifting in consciousness. We ‘think’ the world, we are ‘dreaming’ the world. We are seeing and hearing the world not through our eyes and ears but through the mind. All that we see is ‘mind’ and we do not perceive what-is. We clearly do not see ‘a tree’. What is being seen is a trembling movement in consciousness and made of consciousness, and we stick very rapidly the label (or word) ‘tree’ onto this movement. We snatch that label out of our reservoir of concepts and that reservoir is the accumulated past. So we are all mind-dominated and thus past-dominated. We are, as it is said, sleeping, like Lazarus, in our grave and that grave is the past. How about that for a definition of our general, and shared insanity!
Are we then actually living in a world of words? I had to ask myself that question. The answer is clear. Of course we are! But we are capable of a fundamental insight, once expressed by the semanticist Korzybski. He said, "The word is not the thing" and this expression was also frequently used by Jiddhu Krishnamurti, a Buddha of this century. Strip the word of the thing – and what have you got? Only awareness and...the unknown and ultimately the unknowable.
I am reminded of a story a friend recently told me. He once knew a woman who had visited many psychiatrists. Apparently she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. This woman had the courage to go to Ronald Laing and she said to him, "Dr. Laing, I am a schizophrenic. Can you help me?" Whereupon Laing said, "Madam, schizophrenia does not exist. It is only a word!" The woman – my friend told me she wrote beautiful poems – then said, "Thank you very much," left the room, never to return.
What we are doing is continuously interpreting what the senses are offering us. If there would not be any concept in our consciousness, if there would be complete silence in a thought-less awareness, then there would be no ‘world’. At least not a world as we know and recognise it. The quality of the familiar is simply the result of concepts. This continuous interpreting and labeling process also goes for our inner world of feelings and emotions. It is all mind.
I have been asked to make a contribution to your congress ‘Breaking down the biomedical dominance of psychiatry’. Certainly, this biomedical model brings about a tremendous narrowing in our vision regarding the complexities of man and the unfolding of his potential.
A few examples.
A psychiatrist recently published an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry in which he proudly exclaimed that with his brain-imaging techniques he could observe ‘restless activity’ in the temporal lobes of the brain, yes of course, with ‘schizophrenics’, and how this could also be seen in the prodromal phase, prior to the outbreak of psychosis. He said that young people can now be screened, just like we screen people for breast cancer, and preventative psychiatry – as he states – "is now and for the first time a realistic possibility." Just spot the restless activity, define it as ‘the schizophrenic handicap’, part of an inherited brain disease, and give young people chemical stuff which the pharmaceutical industry will amply provide! Or what about that young woman bursting into tears in the office of her family physician because her friend had left her and is then given Prozac ‘for her depression’.
In the book DSM is making us crazy there is the story how a social worker listened to a man who was very anxious and could not sleep, and revealed to her that he had been a witness to the slaughter in the village My Lai in Vietnam. The leader of the platoon of soldiers had told him that they would go after him and that he would be killed because there should be no living witness to this massacre. When the social worker wanted to report her findings she saw to her amazement that the psychiatrist of the community mental health centre had given her client the diagnosis ‘paranoid schizophrenia’. When she protested she was told that he had to be given such a medical diagnosis, for otherwise there would be no insurance-money forthcoming for ‘the medical treatment’.
You know all this, I am sure you can give hundreds of examples of the present-day medicalisation of human suffering.
But I want to talk about something much more fundamental, something I was forced to discover as a result of Not made of wood and its many consequences in my life. It is the discovery of darkness, or ignorance, the way I live my life, dreaming with open eyes, being in a state of autohypnosis as a result of the conceptualising process, the dominance – not so much of the traditional medical model, but of the belief in the ‘me’ as a separate entity, the belief – as I said – that ‘I’ am the doer of my deeds, the ‘enjoyer’ of my experiences and much, much more.
If one would lose all concepts, if one would realise what the Zen-master calls the state of no-mind, then there would be only perceiving by the senses and consciousness. This is perceiving – as I said – not only of the unknown but ultimately of the unknowable. Then there is an in-seeing without ‘the seer’, a hearing without ‘the listener’. Then there is a perceiving of overwhelming mystery. The expression that Osho Rajneesh frequently used was, "Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived." Whatever is then perceived is called sacred, inspiring to a sense of wonder and awe. The universe is then no longer meaningful, but it is a world full of ‘significance’ and apart from the word ‘sacred’ there are not many other words to describe it. Dropping out of our symbolic, conceptual reality, seemingly registered by the senses but really projected by the mind, one drops straight into paradise, into the ‘incredibly breathtaking magnificence of the ordinary’, which, as an open secret, is apparently right in front of our eyes. Tony Parsons, who published a small book called As it is, the open secret to an awakened life, describes this ultimate realisation – or the realisation of the ultimate – in simple words and expresses this total liberation from the conceptual and conceptualising process, and thereby of ‘himself’.
What it all comes down to is that whatever is now perceived is a reflection of Light, a modification of Consciousness. "Consciousness is all there is. All there is is Consciousness," according to Ramesh Balsekar, who uses this as the basic statement of his teaching. In the late thirteenth century an English mystic called it ‘the cloud of unknowing’ and much earlier Dionysius of Athens called it, instead of Light, ‘translucent darkness’.
In this state the past – therefore the collection of accumulated concepts – does not rule any longer and it is important to, even intellectually, see that this conceptless consciousness happens to all of us every night when asleep. It is called the phase of deep, dreamless sleep. The world, the body and the feeling of ‘I’ or ‘me, apart’ are totally gone. There is indeed a peace that passeth all understanding, therefore transcending all concepts, but we cannot remember this state of timelessness (the stream of concepts also creates the experience of inner psychological time) because memory, thus thought and the movement of linear, horizontal conceptualising, cannot touch or reach this state.
Then there is the dream-phase during sleep, filled with concepts and when we wake up in the morning, we assume that we have really woken up and that the dream-phase of our sleep is now over. It is quite a blow to us to be told by those who have really awakened, that this is a total illusion. We are told that during our waking consciousness during the day we continue dreaming, indeed now with open eyes. There is no essential difference between our waking consciousness and our dreaming during sleep.
It is clear that such an observation about the actual state of affairs is met by many with strong resistance. Very few are prepared to admit that such is the case. Eastern mystics have told us that the world indeed is ‘maya’, illusory. They don’t believe it, they know it.
What I discovered - or touched upon - during the experiment in ‘Chestnut Lodge’ was simply a medical version of maya.
Breaking down the dominance of that, or any other type of ‘maya’, is simply impossible! Maya cannot remove maya. You cannot wash away blood with blood! The medical model as a stubborn assumption, with its language: patient, treatment, cure, hospital, recovery, medicine (instead of chemicals) is creating, as an hypnotic-conceptual suggestion, our present medical world of psychiatry, together with its roles and forms of organisation.
Instead of fighting this medical model I became much more interested in ‘maya’ or the prison of conceptualising, and the core of ‘maya’ being the belief in a separate ‘me’.
Before we go on I would like to give you an example of how concepts actually work. A friend of mine once listened to a talk given by Krishnamurti. He was part of a small group gathered in Krishnamurti’s chalet in Gstaad. In the highly charged atmosphere my friend was suddenly ‘gone’. He lost all waking consciousness. He entered a state of ‘samadhi’, not unlike deep, dreamless sleep, but this time fully conscious. How long this state lasted he could not say. The first thing he remembered was a tiny moving red spot somewhere out there. For the rest there was nothing. No Krishnamurti talking, no people, no room, nothing. Apparently he had been looking through a large window. Then the burning question came to him, "What is this?" With this question the mind entered in. At that moment the thought - or the word or concept – ‘gondola’ entered his mind, which, until that moment, presumably had been completely silent. At that very same instant he saw a red gondola, he saw the cable, the mountains covered with snow, the village in the distance, Krishnamurti, the people in the room, everything. In one instant there was the crystallisation of ‘the world’. He told me, "At that moment I was witnessing the birth of the world!"
And this is exactly what is happening to us every morning when we wake up! There is an infinitely small moment of pure awareness or consciousness – whatever you want to call it – and then ‘the world’ rushes in as a result of our thinking activity.
I want to give you another example of the power of concepts. There is this story of a young man who wanted to spend the night in a compartment of a freight train. The door got locked and he discovered that it was a refrigerator compartment. He could not get out. Convinced that he would freeze to death he decided to write his experiences on the wall. When workers opened that part of the train they found indeed the frozen body of the young man. But the tragedy was that this compartment was not connected. It did not freeze there at all. There was a normal temperature. Only the conviction that the temperature was far below zero was causing his death.
I am giving you these examples in order to convince you of the power of concepts. They guide and shape our lives from moment to moment, lives that have all the characteristics of a dream. And for many this dream has the quality of a long nightmare. This, by the way, is the only thing we can do in the process of intensive psychotherapy: to change a nightmare into a more ordinary type of dream. Or as Freud used to say, "We can change neurotic misery into real misery." But in that ‘real misery’ Freud was never interested!
It will be clear to you that I have lost all interest in a psychiatry that has always wanted to define itself as a medical profession. I remained during the past years functioning as a psychotherapist in relation to individuals, living as partners or working with families. And I noticed, because of deepening of my meditative practice and some understanding as a result of listening to Enlightened or Self-realised Beings, that my looking and listening seem to be without much conceptual prejudice. When there is no labeling in consciousness, one sees and hears much, much more. All kinds of nuances of what-is are then revealing themselves.
I am convinced that if there is an unfolding, or better a realisation, of a looking and a listening with nothingness behind the eyes and ears, therefore without ‘the looker’ or ‘the listener’, one would see infinitely more. It is a looking and a listening without any identity, not just the identity of being a medical doctor or being a psychotherapist, but looking as undifferentiated consciousness, which is without any tendency of striving to change, to judge or to evaluate what-is. After all, that is total acceptance, isn’t it. It is love.
My friends, instead of spending the past years ‘breaking the dominance of the medical model in psychiatry’, I went to India in 1978. I met Osho Rajneesh, Jiddhu Krishnamurti, contemplated the words of Ramana Maharshi, Krishna Menon, Nisargadatta Maharaj and his Self-realised disciple Ramesh Balsekar. I listened for years to a man called Alexander in the Netherlands – another realised disciple of Nisargadatta – he died a few years ago – and recently to Vijai Shankar and other mystics. I have been very fortunate and received many blessings.
Enlightenment may not have happened to this body-mind mechanism, but who cares? What we call ‘Enlightenment’ means the very absence or total annihilation of the person, the ‘me’ who wants to become Enlightened!
Just a few months ago I was sitting in a small room, together with fifty people. A man came in, sat down in a chair opposite us, and, looking at the group this man said, lightly and very relaxed, "There is nobody here. There is only awareness and that is what you all are. Apart from that you are consciousness shining through an instrument, a projector. In that projector there is a colour film running, and that is your so-called personality, the fears, anxiety, emotions and the subjective, so-called ‘my’ world it creates." I am sure he meant that this projector-psychosomatic organism was indeed simply an instrument, an object, and consciousness was shining through it. Nothing needed therefore to be changed. What was needed was a total change in perspective. My identity, so he suggested, is not this psychosomatic organism, its genetic basis and its conditioning, or what we call ‘programming’. That is just an object with sentience in the ocean of awareness and what it assumes as its ‘subjectivity’ is really the eternal Subject. Call it Tao, the Source, the Absolute, Noumenon or what you want. And I am That! And...That can be realised.
After I received your invitation I thought of Ronald Laing. He was interested in the possibility of metanoia and called it the transformation of the mind. I would have wished him to sit there beside me and listen to an Awakened One, this time with the name Tony Parsons, instead of going in despair and confusion to Shri Lanka and to a monastry, studying Buddhist literature. Or sitting in a cave in India with what he called ‘a wise old man’ who told him to drop all attachment to the world. Which he could not do anyway. Besides, this dropping is unnecessary, because there can be a realisation that one can be in the world but not of the world. That man I listened to was British by the way. He was born and raised in England!
Once Laing wrote in his diary, "It would be a blessing were I to find the right man for me. Maybe there is not such a man, maybe I cannot recognise him." A very honest and intelligent statement. If he had been sitting there beside me I would, at the end of that evening, have walked with him through the streets of Amsterdam and might have said, "Maybe that is the man for you. You have been listenening to a man who is really re-born, a man who is ‘nothing’ and therefore everything." I might even have said, "Why go on with those re-birthing practices? The fundamental cause of all our insanity was clearly stated this evening. It is identification with the body-mind mechanism and the creation of the belief in a separate ‘me’ which is then the doer of my actions and making this ‘me’ the centre of the universe – that is after all the cause of our suffering."
But that meeting and conversation never took place.
Instead, I would now like to suggest to you: don’t try to reduce this biomedical dominance. It is – as I said – the outcome of a traditional medical model that has been spreading like oil from a broken tanker. In our materialistic society this model may well medicalise the whole field of human experience and the pharmaceutical industry will give a helping hand.
But let me as a variation on Martin Luther King’s speech, tell you that I have had a dream. A silly dream that one day psychotherapists would unite instead of promoting their particular method, for love is not a method. I had a dream that the field of psychotherapy will one day fuse with the social sciences, with sociology and social psychology. Harry Stack Sullivan once wrote a book, The fusion of psychiatry with the social sciences. But that fusion never came about. I had a dream that modern psychotherapists will get a good training in psychodynamic psychology, interpersonal and communicative processes which will create a basis for the true art of psychotherapy. I had a dream that intensive psychotherapy would be defined as the meeting of two unique human beings in a unique phase of their lives, gradually clarifying, in the sense of lifting into consciousness, their mutual avoidance of relationship so that deep trust at least can be restored. I had a dream that they, therapist and student, both see that the belief in a ‘separate me’ is really the only real problem. Or better, it is not a problem – let alone a disease – it is an illusion. I had a dream that the psychotherapist and his student both admit that they are living in utter darkness, that they are enveloped in ‘the cloud of forgetting’ as that English mystic in the late thirteenth century would describe it. And above all I had a dream that the modern psychotherapist will get more interested in what the mystics of the past and the present have had to say about the human predicament. How they have communicated the perennial principle. I had a dream that the psychotherapist would add a spiritual dimension to his work and when I say ‘spiritual’ I don’t mean any type of belief, philosophy or religious ideology, for all that consists of concepts. The dream was that the psychotherapist, apart from going through his own learning psychotherapy, will develop a deep interest in what alive Self-realised Beings are now communicating. I don’t mean that all psychotherapists and their clients have to become Enlightened! That would be silly.
But the psychotherapist can visit their workshops and read and contemplate their words which are now of unusual clarity. The psychotherapist can deepen his insight in the essential cause of mental suffering, for all of our suffering is mental! But then the psychotherapist will have to be willing to listen, attentively, with love and trust and affection. "Truth, when heard, is bound to be understood," as the mystic Pythagoras once said.
All the information is now available and it used to be completely secret. Now one can find it in every bookstore, together with tape-recordings and videos.
I had a dream that medical psychiatrists will one day confess that they really belong to a branch of medicine called neuropsychiatry. They will go on investigating the brain, the genes, and declare that they are the only real scientists. (Though in the service of politicians of course unable to cope with the ocean of human suffering. Just drug them and have it over with.) But for that ocean we desparately need many psychotherapists. Why should those psychotherapists go on wasting their energy fighting, convincing or cajoling medical psychiatrists who have always had a phobia for the depth and the power of the psyche? Freud and Jung and so many others have always been ridiculed, let alone the present-day psychoanalyst, and this certainly will be the case when such an analyst starts talking about ‘Self-realisation’ and that the expression "The Kingdom of God is within you" is literally true. He will most certainly lose the little credit he has. That is what happened to me! Well, I survived.
My dream was and still is that psychotherapists will honour once again the genius of Harry Stack Sullivan and that lady of the Lodge called Frieda Fromm Reichmann, Ronald Laing, Ryman Wynne, Gregory Bateson, Stephen Fleck, Theodore Lidz, Harold Searles and so many others, names that should not be forgotten.
I remember a young woman, Peggy, who had been completely mute for many years. I was assigned to her, being her third psychotherapist at Chestnut Lodge, and I started writing letters and singing to her. Then one day she wrote, "I’ve got an illness of the vocal chords because of my mother’s verbal forcing." When later I played the recording of our singing together I remember Harold Searles at the end of the presentation standing up and saying, "Jan, we’ve got a real therapist at Chestnut Lodge." Ah, those were the days!
For you – I am addressing you now as relatively unbiased and devoted psychotherapists – those days will come again. But now you must forget at least a part of my dream. For the question before you is: can psychotherapy ever be organised? Can a form of art and expression of love ever be organised? Can there ever be an organisation of painters, musicians and composers who are given a licence and official (and scientific!) status in society? Can we organise empathy and the way we have looked into the depth of our own suffering?
There is a story of two friends who walked along a road. One of them suddenly picks up a piece of stone and puts it in his pocket. He looks delighted. The other fellow says, "What did you put in your pocket just now? Why do you have such a radiant smile on your face?" And the other said, "I just picked up a piece of Truth." The two walk on and then the other fellow suddenly says, "Let’s organise it!"
Psychotherapy cannot be organised.
When you as psychiatrists-psychotherapists leave the fold of medical psychiatry, where are you? Many have done so. What about your status and financial security? Those are the real issues. Because of that security you are understandably clinging to your professional identity as psychiatrists. Otherwise you will be a marginal figure and your art will probably continue to be ridiculed, called misty, wishy-washy, not cost-efficient, unscientific in this no-nonsense materialistic society. Who cares? You all have a strong sense of identity. It is called the Heart. It is love. You may be searching for love, everybody does that. But I am convinced that one can realise that one is love. And when you work with integrity and sincerity, existence will take care of you. Your not-belonging to any group, any organisation will be a great blessing. Someone will come along and ask you, "Why don’t you belong to yourself?" And if that ‘yourself’ is not the thinking self, or the feeling self or the desiring self, if it isn’t the bodily self – that conglomerate of impressions held together by memory and crystallising into the ‘I-am-the-body’ idea or concept, then the door automatically opens to that real and burning question: "Who and what am I?"
May I leave you with that question.