by Brent Dean Robbins, Duquesne University

The nafs is a sea of calm until it roars.
The nafs is a Hell that radiates little heat.
The nafs is an ankle-deep river you drown in.
Better to be ignorant of worldly concerns,
better to be mad and flee from self-interest,
better to drink poison and spill the water of life,
better to revile those who praise you,
and lend both the capital and the interest to
the poor, forgo safety and make a home in danger.
Sacrifice your reputation and become notorious.
I have tried caution and forethought;
from now on I will make myself mad.


He who would gain his life must lose it.

- Jesus Christ

In Sufi mysticism, the "nafs" is the word for the "ego-self," that awareness of oneself as separate from others and God. Rumi, as presented by Helminski (1998), writes as if there are two kinds of madness which should be distinguished. When Rumi writes that he will, from now on, make himself "mad," he means that his madness will take the form of "the freedom from all self-seeking pursuits" (Helminski, 1998, p. 10). Yet, this type of madness is different from our Western conception of madness as a form of psychopathology; that is, as a form of suffering. What are we to make of this? Why would anyone want to go mad? In this paper, I hope to dialogue with various mystical traditions in order to explore this issue. I seek no answers, but, rather, will endeavor to approach this topic with the attitude of play -- it is a play with language, the concealing-revealing advent of Being -- which, for me, seems the only genuine way to go about writing on this topic. By its very nature, the madness of which Rumi speaks is an existential mode which defies categorization. The only way to catch sight of the phenomenon, in a sense, is to dance around it, point toward it, play with it, just be open to it. Any description in language will inevitably be inadequate -- yet, certainly worth the effort regardless.

What is my method? Very simply: Play. I have written no outline at the outset of this writing. I have gathered texts around me which I will dialogue with; among them, R. D. Laing, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, van den Berg, and others. I don't know which one I will gather along the way -- some will call to be dialogued with, others will be set aside, no longer seeming pertinent. I am attempting to write this paper with a sense of spontaneity which, I am guessing, will lend itself to the topic of madness and liberation. Ultimately, this is less a paper about madness, per se, than it is a paper about liberation from madness. Madness, perhaps, is one form of liberation. Yet, this "madness" seems so different from the "madness" from which we suffer. There seems to be a madness of liberation and a madness of bondage (suffering) -- ultimately, it may turn out that the two are not so different after all. I can't say. Rather, I must allow the phenomenon to unfold. For the sake of the reader, of course, I will be editing this paper upon completion, being careful to maintain the spontaneity of the unfolding process. Should this method turn out to be a disastrous mess, so be it. Madness can certainly be a disastrous mess, and it may be, after all, the inevitable consequence of attempting such an audacious project.

Rumi writes that, entering madness, he abandons "cautiousness and forethought," but, to me, another way to talk about that is "play." It is no surprise to me that madness is seen as a form of "regression" to childhood. Childhood is that period in development prior to the establishment of identity -- of that separate self or "nafs" to which, in time, we come to feel so protective. Rather, the child exists in a syncretic union with the world and others. There is, as yet, no separate self. On the other hand, our inability to distinguish the child from the madman and the madman from the mystic, to me, speaks to the noetic quality of all these experiences which exist in a world beyond convention. On a deeper level, we intuitively realize that these experiences are not identical, yet they share similar qualities. From the perspective of the rational, "post-operational," Western adult, they bleed together into one common experience which resists classification.

In my own work, I have attempted an endeavor, bold as it may be, to distinguish between these states of being human. Again, this is a form of classification which these experiences resist, but I think it is a worthy endeavor nonetheless -- so long as I continue to maintain the humility to realize that the project is not so much about an attempt to discover the "essence" of these experiences as much as an attempt to point toward what, to be understood, can only be directly experienced. Thus far, my work in this area has taken three forms: explorations of a) fairy tales, b) Freud's case study of Dr. Schreber, and c) research on joy. This paper is an effort to combine my research on these topics in a spontaneous manner in order to address the topic of madness and liberation. Ultimately, this excursion will require a stop at Cader Idris.


In my research on fairy tales, I discovered that fairy tales found their origin in oral folk tales as a means for communities to develop common understandings of natural occurrences and to serve as ways to structure the meaning of communal events. Fairy tales were born with the invention of the printing press, such that the oral tradition of these tales took the form of the literary tradition of fairy tales. What we consider today as fairy tales, however, evolved from one type of folk tale tradition known as the Zaubermarchen or the "magic tales" (Zipes, 1993, p. 11). These tales, in particular, were co-opted by French writers of the late 17th century, and, thereby, transformed into literary tales that "addressed the concerns, tastes, and functions of court society" (Zipes, p. 11).

The institutionalization of the fairy tale as a literary genre was intended, first, interestingly enough, for educated adult audiences and only later for children. Prior to the 1700s, there was no literary fairy tale for children (Zipes, p. 22). The question immediately arises: What occurred in the 1700s which suddenly motivated society to develop fairy tales specifically geared toward children? Following Zipes' thought, the literary fairy tale for children emerged with "the rise of a 'state of childhood'" by the end of the 17th century due to the "rise of a greater discrepancy between adult and child as the civilizing process became geared more instrumentally to dominate nature" (p. 22). Placed in the context of French society in the late 17th century, the fairy tale began to be used as a tool to socialize the child by cultivating "feelings of shame" and by arousing anxiety in children "when they did not conform to more inhibiting ways of social conduct" (p. 22).

If one compares Zipes' (1983, 1993) theory with van den Berg's (1961) train of thought, there is an unmistakable agreement in their conclusions. "Fairy tales," wrote van den Berg, "came into existence when adult and child parted" (p. 79). In order to understand this phenomenon further, it would serve well to follow other historical trends which mark the period in which the "state of childhood" arose.

At about the time when oral folk tales, particularly the "magic tales" of the Zaubermarchen genre, were being institutionalized into the literary tales of French court society, momentous changes were occurring within the intellectual communities of the age. Hillman (1975) marks a trend beginning in the Christian and Cartesian views in the 15th century which eventually led toward the relegation of imagination (what he calls "personifying") to children, primitives, and the mad. For Hillman, the incarnation of this movement was embodied by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) (p. 3). In a similar discussion, Berman (1989) includes Mersenne with thinkers such as Kepler, Galileo, Steven, Cardano, Bacon, Descartes, and Gessendi as "leading figures of the first stage of the Scientific Revolution (say, from 1580 to 1650)" (p. 237). Mersenne was an avid campaigner for Descartes and Galileo, as well as a veracious campaigner against anything having to do with magic and the occult, including alchemy and any form of animism or Hermeticism. Berman (1989) sums up Mersenne's thought as a general tendency "to resolve miraculous, occult and religious issues in mechanico-mathematical terms" (p. 240).

Mersenne's vision has been realized in our age, although probably much different than how he had intended. We live the legacy in which Church Aristotelianism shifted toward modern science -- not as "a shift to an age of reason, as has so often been said, but from an age of one faith to an age of another faith" (Berman, p. 249). Yet, "modernity" retains the ascent structure of the Church, though in a secularized version. No longer inclined to believe in a "spiritual ascent," the modern world resorts to "the modern equivalents of the equations and methodology developed by Newton and Galileo to make the ascent to the heavens in a direct, material way" (Berman, p. 249). This insight is echoed in Romanyshyn's (1989) brilliant interpretation of modern humankind as Homo astronauticas seeking to escape death by simultaneously escaping earth by penetrating into space and escaping the corpse-like body of modern science through technology.

Van den Berg (1961) discovers a similar phenomenon in his discussion of miracles. In the understanding of Mersenne's vision, one can see that it appears to conform to van den Berg's discussion of the belief in miracles as "spoiled nature" (p. 201). Miracles as "spoiled nature" occur when miracles are explained in terms of natural science. Descartes exiled God to a position in which He is understood as the first cause, thereby relegating God to a distant past, removed from the world of everyday human beings. For van den Berg, if God is to reappear within the Cartesian view of reality, "Which has become foreign to him, in the shape of an 'objective' fact among other "objective facts', then this means that God dies" (p. 201).

The Cartesian worldview understands a world in which miracles can no longer occur. God has been removed to a distant past in which "distance" pervades the world. "Truth" is that which is held at a distance - the "objective" view, which Romanyshyn (1989) traces back to the emergence of linear perspective in painting as early as 1435 with Leon Battista Alberti (p. 35). All of the changes which have occurred and, in turn, coalesced in "modernity" as we know it, comes down to increased distance. As van den Berg (1961) writes:

    Future and past have become invisible; the present is in a tremendous hurry to pass us. The child today is far away from adults;
    adults have less real mutual contact. But all these increased distances are reflections of but one single one: the increased
    distance of God (p. 190-191).

Now, what has all this to do with fairy tales? Recall that "fairy tales" emerged from the "magic tales" of the oral folk tradition. It is these tales which Zipes (1983), in his socio-historical analysis, follows in a direct line from the French fairy tale of court society to the Walt Disney cinematic fairy tale of, what he calls, the "culture industry" (p. 23). If contemporary fairy tales have been greatly informed by the aesthetics and ideology of the 17th and 18th century French fairy tales "which have become part and parcel of the general civilizing process in the West," one must ask: Why, of all genres of oral folk tales, did the French writers co-opt the "magic tale"? (Zipes, p. 16).

As we've seen, the "general civilizing process" of which Zipes speaks involves the modern Cartesian worldview embodied in the figure of Mersenne and his contemporaries. Mersenne's crusade to rid the world of paganism results, as Hillman argues, in the casting of the soul-making of personifying as animistic in a pejorative sense, legitimate only for "primitive" people, children or the insane. It was at precisely this time in history when the fairy tale, once intended for adults, began its transition into a genre merely suited for children. Yet, even prior to this, the French fairy tales had already begun to transform the magic tales into a form better suited to the worldview of the rising bourgeosie. It is here, therefore, that I set forth the argument that the French fairy tales of court society specifically co-opted the Zaubermarchen oral tradition as a means to harness the dangerous power of the magical world view contained therein. In doing so, the tales were transformed to conform to the arising social standards of the French elite. In time, however, as the world was systematically "de-souled", the fairy tales remained, and the Disney animators continue in handing down the now classic tales to the youth of our day. Yet, transformed through the ages, there remains at the core of these tales the slightest glimmer of the magical worldview from which they arose.

Despite van den Berg's (1961) claim that fairy tales are "cruel" and foster the child's distance from the mature, "rational" adult, the tales do appear to thoroughly engage children the world over. As Zipes (1983) notes, children between the ages of five and ten are the prime audience of fairy tales of all kinds. What is it about these particular youngsters which makes the fairy tale so appealing to them? From Piaget (1955, 1967), we know that children, during this phase of development ("preoperational" and "concrete operations"), believe in the magical relationship between thought and things, regard inanimate objects as animate, respect authority in the form of retributive justice and expiatory punishment, see causality as paratactic, do not distinguish the self from the external world, and believe that objects can be moved in continual response to their desires. So, based on Piaget's observations, it appears that the child's conception of the world is generally affirmed by the fairy tale. Furthermore, in setting the stage for "formal operations", the animism and egocentricism of children give way to socialization and greater conscious interaction in society and, as a consequence, there is a general rejection of the fairy tale by age ten.

If one goes a step further and examines Piaget's description of the world of the child, there is an unmistakable similarity between his understanding of the "preoperational" stage and what is often regarded as "primitive" thinking. In fact, Johnson (1996) also noticed this tendency in Piaget. She argues that Piaget's conception of the "child-as-primitive" fosters the separation between adult and child. As a consequence, the relationship between adult and child is impaired, resulting in, for example, "patronizing conversations" and the reliance of parents on "the assistance of psychological experts" to interpret their children (p.37). As Johnson notes:

    The child-as-primitive analogy rests on an implicit teleological
    assumption that what we know as adult, Western consciousness is the
    natural, inevitable, and most desirable end to development (p. 37).

According to the Piagetian model, "adult" thinking is characterized as "formal operations." As Rybash, Hoyer, and Roodin (1986) note, there is are implicit weaknesses in "formal operational" thinking. Most importantly: Formal thinking is only suited for the problems that call for scientific thinking and logical mathematical analysis. In other words, "formal" thinking conforms to the rational worldview of the Cartesian espoused by Mersenne and exemplified by Newtonian physics.

Formal thinking is the rational thought which places itself at a distance from the lived world, a second order abstraction which, in "Western consciousness", becomes the "real world." It follows, then, that the child, initiated into the "real world" of the Western adult, loses interest in the fairy tale which had once enchanted him or her. One must then reconceptualize the notion that the "state of childhood" arose with the emergence of the Cartesian worldview. It would be more accurate to say that the "state of adulthood" arose at this time -- for it is in the world of the child that the Western adult has relegated his or her lived world in order to be a "rational" adult. And it was at this very same time that the "magic tales", once belonging to the community as a means to explain natural occurrences, were also relegated to the world of the child.


Bettelheim argues that the fairy tale estranges the child from the "real world" and allows him or her to deal with deep-rooted psychological problems and anxiety-provoking incidents to achieve autonomy. As Bettelheim explains: "The form and structure of fairy tales suggest images to the child by which he (or she) can structure his (or her) daydreams and with them give better direction to his (or her) life" (p. 7).

According to Bettelheim's theory, the fairy tale structures the imagination of children by confronting the child with the darker aspects of life, such as death, aging, the limits of existence, and the wish for eternal life. Furthermore, the fairy does so by presenting the child with these existential dilemmas in a simplified form. The mechanism of this confrontation involves presenting the child with a hero figure who encounters these dilemmas, yet, in the end, emerges victorious. "It is not the fact that virtue wins out at the end which promotes morality," explains Bettelheim, "but the hero is most attractive to the child, who identifies with the hero in all his (or her) struggles" (p. 9).

Bettelheim recognizes that the adult is often tempted to answer a child's questions from the perspective of adult rationality. Furthermore, many parents might be prone to view fairy tales as harmful since they do not describe the "external world" and "reality." Yet, as Bettelheim adeptly points out, "the 'truth' of fairy stories is the truth of our imagination, not that of normal causality" (p. 117). Bettelheim is aware that children cannot relate to the worldview of the adult. When the adult gives answers to the child which the child cannot understand, this merely adds to the child's confusion. He or she becomes even more terrified of a world which he or she is only beginning to move into. The fairy tale, on the other hand, speaks in the language of the child's world, and, in turn, assists the child in coming to grips with his or her ambivalent feelings toward his or her parents. Moreover, the fairy tale, in promising victory, provides the child with the needed security to risk the move into the alien world beyond the front door.

In her essay, "The Child Meets the World," Wenkart (1973) writes:

    The child's vehicles for expanding into the world, besides his
    senses, are his voice, his thoughts, his feelings, and his fantasies. From
    the other direction, the sociocultural order exerts a drawing-out power;
    inviting the child to come join in the living that surrounds him"
    (p. 192).

From this understanding, one could view fairy tales as arising from a 'netherworld' in which the sociocultural order meets the world of the child's fantasy, thereby shaping the child's fantasies in such a way that the child is prepared to meet the struggles of the world. For Bettelheim, the fairy tale also assures the child that his need to engage in fantasy, or his inability to stop doing so, is not a deficiency (p. 111). Interestingly, this appears to echo the very history of the fairy tale itself. The literary fairy tale of French court society appeared within the period of history in which the "magical" explanations of events, set forth in the oral tales of the Zaubermarchen, were to be replaced by the Cartesian worldview of modern science. Therefore, the legacy of the fairy tale itself appears to occupy just such a 'netherworld.'

Bettelheim's understanding of fantasy can be clarified by Knowles' (1986) distinction between imagination and fantasy. Knowles persuades the reader that "imagining" is the existential aspect of Erikson's third stage of development, which involves the crisis of initiation vs. guilt and is resolved by the development of "purpose." According to Knowles, "imagining," as the existential aspect of "purpose," involves "the experience in which one forms an image of the possible" (p. 75). In contrast, fantasy "stems from fear and is in the service of evasion" (p. 75). Fantasy must overcome its evasiveness by becoming "integrated in the act of imagination" (p. 76). This stage, corresponding to Freud's phallic stage, involves the child's movement into the world, and, in turn, the constrictions imposed by the forces which civilize the child.

In light of Knowles' reading of Erikson in the light of Heidegger, the fairy tale can be understood as taking part in molding the child's fantasy into an imagining. In so doing, the child may move from a position of mere fantasy to active engagement with the circumspective, instrumental world. According to Bettelheim's understanding of the fairy tale, the child's identification with the hero is the impetus for this move from fantasy to imagining.

Based on my own research with children and fairy tales (Robbins, 1997), Zipes' (1983, 1993) claim that fairy tales appear to arouse feelings of shame and anxiety appears to be problematic. Rather, I found that children brought their own anxieties to the stories. The stories the children made up on their own were full of dangers, particularly animals devouring each other or hurting/killing human beings. Based on these findings, it seems more accurate to say the child brings his or her own anxiety about the dangers of the world to the context of the tales, not vice versa.

Knowles' (1986) distinction between "fantasy" and "imagining" helps explain the way these children take up these stories. The child is already engaged in fantasy. These fantasies fill the gaps in the child's understanding of the world. When the child talks about insects, for example, he fantasizes about the dangers of the insects that sting, bite and claw. In resolving these thoughts, he warns about going near beehives and dogs that bite, but these are negative, disengaged approaches which imply a fearful disengagement from a world filled with danger. The fairy tales, on the other hand, depict heroes moving out into the dangers of the world, facing such dangers, and emerging victorious. This is not a terrified disengagement from the world (fantasy), but, rather, a move which implies industrious action, through imagining, to protect oneself while moving through the potentially dangerous world. Such a move opens up a whole array of new possibilities for the child.

There seems to be more to these animals than their capacity to devour, however. Berman's (1989) elaboration on Lacan and Winnicott may help to understand this phenomenon. The five and six-year-old child, based on Lacanian theory, has not yet developed a stable sense of the "I", differentiating the Self from the Not Self. Berman takes this a step further. According to his elaboration on Lacan, the study of the historical relationship between human beings and animals is a "more reliable mirror than the mirror, per se -- because the nonhuman living world is the most obvious Other around" (p. 66). Berman argues that how we relate to animals is emotionally and cognitively "isomorphic" to how we relate to our own bodies. Furthermore, this knowledge takes us directly into the Self/Other relationship which is "packed" in the culture or historical period studied. For Berman, animals and cave art were, in some sense, the first Transitional Objects. If I understand Berman's position correctly, this appears to be somewhat preserved in children. Children find animals irresistable, "not because they regard them as simplified human beings, but because they find them radically foreign" (p. 67).

Further, in my study of the spontaneous stories of children, I found that their stories do not contain hero figures. Yet, the stories are full of animals. Yet, if we are to take Bettelheim on his word, the child is to identify with the hero and this is how the child's fantasy life is structured through the tale. Does the child identify with the hero? When seeing children act out their stories together, the answer is certainly "yes." The children both identified with hero figures and proceeded to act out a story as these characters, although they sometimes fell out of character. Based on these findings, Bettelheim must be credited with the insight that the child's fantasy does seem to be molded by identifying with the hero. When telling their own stories, the children were unable to imagine a central, hero figure in which to build a plot around. However, through identifying with a hero figure in a story, the children may then begin to develop a sense of story.

In terms of "content", the children's stories do not contain hero figures. This appears to be related to the finding, in terms of the "structure," that the children's stories were not organized by a traditional narrative structure with a beginning, middle and end built around a theme. A traditional narrative structure implies a central hero figure with which to develop a plot around. Without a central hero figure, a story merely unfolds randomly with little sense of a unified whole. This is an insight which Bettelheim implies, yet never fully explicates.

This makes sense if we consider that the child is not as fully differentiated from the Other. In turn, the child can be said to lack a fully differentiated "I" or "ego." Such a differentiated "I" involves one's sense of identity over time. From the "I", it can be argued, one develops the sense of continuity in which to organized the events of one's life into a meaningful whole -- that is, a narrative. If the child has not yet developed a stable "I" or "ego," it follows that the stories the child tells will not contain a hero, the archetype of the "ego." Moreover, as Ricoeur (1991) has stated, narrative structure is essentially temporal.

Ricoeur (1991) has spoken of life as "an activity and a passion in search of a narrative" (p. 29). Human experience is mediated by the stories we have heard, which we incorporate into our own stories. In this sense, one's identity can be understood as a "narrative identity" (Ricoeur, p. 32). As Ricoeur elaborates:

    ...we never cease to reinterpret the narrative identity that
    constitutes us, in light of the narratives proposed by our culture.
    In this sense, our self-understanding presents the same features of
    traditionality as the understanding of a literary work. It is in this
    way that we learn to become the narrator and the hero of our own
    story, without actually becoming the author of our own life. (p. 32).

From this perspective, one can do a Heideggerian reading of the child's engagement with stories, including fairy tales. From a Heideggerian perspective, the child is not "socialized" in the sense in which sociality is somehow added on to the child. The child, as a human being, is fundamentally a being-with-others. Yet, the child must learn to move in the world as "everybody" does. "Fallenness" as the existential care structure, explicated by Heidegger (1926), is that fundamental structure of the human kind of being (Dasein) which constitutes being as everyone else is (das Man). From this Heideggerian ontology of Dasein, the child can be understood to be "socialized" into "everydayness" (publicness) via the stories which give meaning to the everyday events of the world. The "authentic self" becomes covered over in one's "fallenness" when one understands themselves as everyone else does. Yet, "fallenness" is an equiprimordial existential of the care structure, without which the person (in this case, the child) has no ready-made answer to the question of the meaning of being. As a result, the person comes to understand themselves via the meanings given to them from their cultural heritage; that is, the person understands themselves via the stories of their particular culture.

As Ricouer (1991) explains:
"...the self does not know itself immediately, but only indirectly by the detour of the cultural signs of all sorts which are articulated on the symbolic mediations which always already articulate action and, among them, the narratives of everyday life" (p. 198).

The human being is motivated to understand him- or herself as a being of primary value. As Becker (1973) understood, culture involves a "symbolic action system" involving customs and roles to guide behavior. From Ricouer, it is possible to elaborate on this notion by saying that it is through narrative (and the language which constitutes narrative) that such a "symbolic action system" is manifested. Yet, for Becker (1973), this boils down to a "vital lie" which assists the child in developing a "mature" character which is merely a "practiced deceit," which masks the terror at the realization of one's radically contingent existence. Similarly, Heidegger understands that, fundamentally, Dasein (the human kind of being) is a being whose being is at issue. It is das Man via the "cultural action system" which supplies the child with a provisional answer to the question: "Who am I?" Fairy tales, from this perspective, may be included as part of our narrative heritage

I must concur with Johnson's (1973) critique of the "child-as-primitive." The child cannot be understood as "primitive" if that which is "primitive" is merely a Non-Western "cultural action system." After all, the oral "magic tales" which have been passed down to us as the literary fairy tale has a narrative structure and involves heroes. The "magic tales" were the narrative by which a culture of the past answered their own questions regarding the meaning of existence. The child, on the other hand, must learn the stories of his or her age, so he or she may move in the world as everybody else does. The child is a being whose being is at issue. And, if the child is not to shrink back in terror at the mystery of creation, he or she will "mature" into the "practiced self deceit" necessary to move into the world with a sense of indestructibility, without which he or she could not move into the world at all. The fairy tale, as we've discussed, is one medium which assists the child in doing so.

In conclusion, the appearance of the 'state of childhood' can be understood in a new light. In the days when "magic tales" were spun to explain the mysteries of existence, these tales were spoken in a language in which all ages could comprehend. With the onset of modern science, we continue to find explanations for the mystery of existence. Yet, these explanations are so distant that the child, so close to the lived world, cannot comprehend them. In this sense, the fairy tale, as the 'netherworld' in which the "cultural action system" may speak in the language of the child, can be understood as a provisional form of narrative for the child. At about the age of ten, when the child begins to think in accordance with Piaget's "operational" stage, the child will have learned to see the world from the distant gaze of our technological age, for better or worse. At this time, the child will have no more need for fairy tales. It is only later, as an adult, that the person will re-read these tales in wonder at what the costs may have been in leaving such an understanding of the world behind.

From the research on fairy tales, one can draw the conclusion that childhood departs with the formation of the ego-self, when the person takes on the "practiced self-deceit" of one's "cultural action system." If madness is a regression to childhood, then it is also a return to an existence which is not bound by an ego-self. The madness of which Rumi seeks is the madness which breaks through the bondage of the ego-self in order to discover the liberated existence which exists "beyond" convention. Madness as "psychopathology" can go either way -- it can be an exaggeration of the ego-self at its extreme or it can be a loss of ego. In this sense, "psychopathology" is understood as the "logos" of the "pathos," the "structures of suffering" (Barton, 1998). Tentatively, we can say that the child is a pre-storied, pre-ego existence; the madness of 'regression' is a return to a pre-storied, pre-ego existence in such a way that one suffers; the madness of an 'exaggeration' of the self is the grasping of the ego of the "cultural action system" such that one suffers; and the madness of liberation is a kind of freedom from the grasping of the ego-self or "nafs" which Rumi seeks. The madness of liberation, therefore, is the existence which corresponds to the mystic, shaman, saint, prophet, artistic genius, etc. -- all those apparently mad forms of existence which are an urge toward liberation and creation rather than suffering and destruction. The "primitive" can be distinguished from both childhood and madness, for the world of the "primitve" is simply a different "cultural action system" than the white European's "cultural action system." From the perspective of Western rationality, the "cultural action system" of the "primitive" seems just as "irrational" as the child and the madman. Yet, the "primitve" has guiding narratives which are taken up by the children as they mature into adulthood and take on the ways of their culture, similar to children in our culture. Already, I'm in trouble, because as soon as I make these distinctions, I am already within the confines of convention. But, never mind that: These are merely signposts. It will serve well to elaborate on these distinctions in light of the idea of "magic" -- that supposed "power" which still shines forth in the fairy tales of our childhood.


As elaborated above, "magical thinking" is often used to describe the thinking of the child. "Magical thinking" is defined by Ward (1989) as "the reification of the subjective, confusion of self with non-self, and the attribution of causation to phenomenon linked only by similarity and continuity" (p. 248). Two laws are operative in "magical thinking': the law of similarity and the law of contagion. Under the law of similarity, or 'like produces like', similarity is confused with identity, and "all subjects with similar predicates appear identical and thus can be perfectly interchanged" (Wilbur, 1981, p. 49). Under the law of contagion, proximity is confused with identity, and things or entities once in contact are always associated, or 'cross-contaminated' (Wilbur, 1981, p. 49). Any part of the entity contains the whole essence of the entity. Traditionally, this phase of childhood is considered to be a lack of adult rationality rather than as a legitimate world-view in its own right. For Freud, the existence of such "magical thinking" in adulthood is a sign of regression, a mark of madness. Freud argued that "the ability to accurately perceive and respond appropriately to external reality as opposed to relying on the belief in magical wish fulfillment is a central concept in distinguishing normal from abnormal conditions" (Zusne & Jones, 1990, p. 322). One finds a similar perspective in Piaget, who also understood "magical thinking" to be a departure from reality. "Magic and autism," writes Piaget (1977), "are...two different sides of one and the same phenomenon - that confusion between self and the world which destroys both logical truth and objective existence" (p. 152).

Ironically, Piaget (1977) refers to the "magical" world of the child as "egocentric." He observes that the child, prior to the emergence of the awareness of a separation between self and other, assumes that others already know her thoughts and that the world revolves around her needs and desires. When the child first begins to ask questions, the "whys" so characteristic of the child when she begins to differentiate herself from others, the world has already begun to frustrate the child's desires and, thus, penetrate her "egocentric" world. This is the world of the pre-narrative, pre-storied self, prior to the emergence of the "specular I." It is also pre-ego, so the term "egocentric," as used by Piaget, is misleading and wrongly conceived. Yet, along with the limitations of this phase of life as elaborated by Piaget, the child also has the incredible capacity to play. It is interesting that when Piaget talks about play, he always mentions the absence of objective observation: "No objective observation or reasoning is possible," he writes: "There is only a perpetual play which transforms percpetions and creates situations in accordance with the subject's pleasure" (p. 151). It almost seems as if play and awareness of objective awareness are mutually exclusive phenomenon, and a child (or an adult) cannot do both at the same time.

What are we to make of this? What Piaget terms "objective" can also be understood as "convention" -- the "social action system" of our culture. As soon as one takes for granted the "social action system," play becomes a difficult state of being to achieve, for play involves a departure from the already differentiated state of things as defined by the culture. Rather, it is an entry into a world far less differentiated, if differentiated at all (Langeveld, 1983). The child views the world in ways which are lost to the rest of us, yet which can be regained through a return to play. Through play, we return to a world which holds possibilities closed off by the conventional acceptance of the is-ness of things. Here, the world can again become "magical." Yet, as Freud and Piaget assert, this is tantamount to insanity. Play is madness.

Clearly, this needs some clarification. I mean, play is madness?! Yet, this is what Rumi seeks: the world "beyond" the differentiated world of convention. When the child learns the "objective facts" of adult rationality, she enters into what the Hindus called maya, that is, delusion or "magic" (Watts, 1974). Maya is the world of duality, which is delusion in the sense that it blinds us to the essential unity of all that exists as part of Brahman, the godhead. Campbell (1968) elaborates: an illusion of the sphere of space and time (maya): both our fear of
    death (mara) and our yearning for the pleasures of this world (kama) derive from, and
    attach us to, this manifold delusion...All individuation is a mere appearance, an effect of
    space and time, which are themselves nothing more than the forms of my cerebral
    capacity for knowledge and the conditioning factors, consequently, of all objects of
    that knowledge (p. 79).

The mystic experiences a world beyond duality -- an experience which resists description in language, yet has the character of a feeling of oneness with the universe, a merging of self and other, which is powerfully transformative. For Piaget and Freud, this is a mere regression to childhood, and, thus, a form of madness. If this is the case, then sanity is delusion, according to the mystic tradition. Play is freedom from delusion, from maya.


If madness is a freedom from delusion and allows for the possibility of play, why do so many people suffer from madness? Why is madness today equivalent to a horrible existence which we must find ways to 'cure?' To answer these questions, we must make a trip to Cader Idris, the high mountain of North Wales. According to Celtic tradition, those who traveled there and spent the night were destined either to die, go mad, or to become a visionary poet (Freeman, 1998, p. 29).

Those Celts who survived the trip to Cader Idris became known as filidh, a title which means both "seer" and "poet" (Freeman, 1998, p. 29). The word derives from the root, "to see," and, to the Celts, vision and poetry go hand in hand. He served as "a mediator between the supernatural powers and the human race," and, thus, served as a kind of shaman . The job of the filidh was to see beyond the world of convention, to bring back imbas, the "knowledge which enlightens" as a gift from "the god that kindles fire in the head" (OhOgain, 1979).

If we recall that the child is pre-storied, the child must emerge into the narratives of her culture. Once these stories are owned as the "ego" is formed, these stories are taken for granted. The filidh, as both poet and seer, travels to Cader Idris in order to shed the traditional narratives of the culture. There, shed of the "practiced self-deceit" which answers the question of existence, he may go insane, die or become the visionary who will return to his people with a new narrative -- thus, he is simultaneously a "poet." The risk of prophecy is that one must go mad, and, so doing, shed one's former identity and roles, one's cultural signposts, and find one's way back with a new vision.

This tradition in Celtic lore is not by any means unique to their culture. The seer, poet, shaman, mystic appears in almost all cultures. Interestingly, the concept of the mountain, as Cader Idris, is also a common motif. In Judaism, for example, Zion is the mountain upon which salvation is found. This mountain, as it appears in world mythology, represents the "world axis," upon which turns the universe. In Kundalini yoga, this axis is not found in the external world, not outside of oneself, but rather the spine in meditation, when straightened to become parallel with the center of the earth, becomes the "world axis" which exists in each of us (Campbell, 1988). The idea of this "world axis" is best illuminated in light of Black Elk's vision from childhood, recounted in Neihardt's (1968) Black Elk Speaks. Black Elk, the Keeper of the Sacred Pipe of the Sioux, imagined himself standing on a mountain in the center of the world. Of this experience, he said:

    I was seeing in a sacred manner, the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the
    shape of all things as they must live together, like one being. And I saw the sacred hoop
    of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as
    starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children
    of one mother and one father. (p. 20)

For Black Elk, he envisioned the center of the world as Harney Peak in South Dakota, yet, when questioned, remarked that "anywhere is the center of the world" (p. 20). Campbell (1988) finds in this statement a sentiment with The Book of the Twenty-Four Philosophers (Liber XXIV philosorum) which states, "God is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere" (Oppert, 1877, p. 201). At each moment, we stand at the "world axis," and, thus, at anytime, we too can 'climb' Cader Idris, whether this deed should lead to madness, visionary poetry or death.

One German juror by the name of Daniel Paul Schreber climbed his own Cader Idris, and unlike the filidh, he was seen as a madman. But was he also a visionary?


Dr. Schreber's (1903) Memoirs of My Nervous Illness provides the discipline of psychology with the unique opportunity to peer into the mind of a madman and to listen to his words on his own terms. A "paranoid schizophrenic," Schreber lead a life of prestige and success, only to spend the latter part of his life in various asylums defending his right to freedom.

Before embarking on a description and critique of Freud's interpretation of Schreber's memoirs, it is necessary to provide a brief summary of Schreber's story of his "nervous illness." The memoirs are lengthy and as tedious as they are fascinating to read. In the end, it is truly worthy material for an analysis, and certainly in line with at least one of Schreber's intentions for writing the memoirs. Schreber felt that "expert examination" of his "body" and observation of his "personal fate" would be "of value for science and the knowledge of religious truths" (Schreber, 1900, p. iii). In the course of this essay, I hope to show how it may, indeed, be of value to both science (psychology, in particular) and religion -- though perhaps in a different sense than Schreber anticipated.

Prior to the development of his "nervous illness" as described in his memoirs, Schreber had been admitted to an asylum for severe hypochondria. Eight years later, he first developed the symptoms of schizophrenia, the experience of which he accounts in the memoirs. Schreber's age at the time of his "nervous illness" is not revealed in the memoirs. However, Freud (1911), based on information provided by a physician in Dresden, placed the year of his birth at 1842. It has been reported that Schreber never fully recovered from his "illness" and was admitted to an Asylum for the third time in 1907 where he died in 1911. The antecedent of the onset of this third "illness" has been reported to be the death of his wife (Macalpine & Hunter, 1955). However, this information remains unconfirmed.

Below, I have developed a time line which marks the major events in Schreber's life from the time of the onset of his "hypochondriasis" to his reported death:

1884 (Autumn): Onset of "hypochondriasis," for which Schreber was admitted to the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Leipzig, the patient of Professor Paul Emil Flechsig.

1885 (June): Full recovery from "hypochondriasis." Released from Asylum.

1885 (Winter): Resumed position as Judge at the Country Court of Leipzig, one of five Governmental Districts into which Saxony was divided.

1886-1893: Reported as being "happy" with his wife, although disappointed that he and his wife are unable to bear children. That is, his wife suffered from "six spontaneous miscarriages" (Chabot, 1982, p. 17).

1893 (June): Notified of his prospective appointment as Senatsprasident of Dresden.

1893 (Late summer): Has several dreams in which he dreamt that his
"hypochondriasis" had returned. On one of these occasions, he is revolted by the thought which occurred to him, between a state of being awake and asleep, "that after all it really must very nice to be a woman submitting to the act of copulation" (Schreber, 1900, p. 36).

1893 (Early October): Takes up duties as Senatsprasident.

1893 (Late October): Suffers a severe onset of insomnia. Voluntarily returns to Flechsig's Asylum, where he subsequently develops a return of the "hypochondriasis" and a displays the first signs of ideas of "persecution" (Schreber, 1900).

1894 (perhaps March or April): According to Schreber, "a plot was laid against me,...the purpose of which was to hand me over to another human being after my nervous illness had been recognized as, or assumed to be, incurable, in such a way that my soul was handed to him, but my body -- transformed into a female body and, misconstruing the...fundamental tendency of the Order of the World -- was left to that human being for sexual misuse and simply 'forsaken,' in other words left to rot" (Schreber, 1900, p. 75).

1894 (June): Schreber transferred from Flechsig's Clinic to Lindenhof, Dr. Pierson's Private Asylum, a.k.a. "Devil's Kitchen," in Coswig near Dresden.

Shortly thereafter, he is again transferred to Sonnenstein Asylum in Pirna, near Dresden, "the first German Public Mental Hospital (Schreber, 1903, p. 3).

1895 (November): Schreber makes a profound change in regard to his feelings that he is going through a process of "unmanning," in which he is "maliciously" being transformed into a woman. During this time, writes Schreber (1900): "the signs of transformation into a woman became so marked on my body, that I could no longer ignore the imminent goal at which the whole development was aiming...Soul-voluptuousness had become so strong that I myself received the impression of a female body, first on my arms and hands, later on my legs, bosom, buttocks, and other parts of my body." (p. 148). In turn, Schreber felt that "nothing was left" to him but to "reconcile" himself "to the thought of being transformed into a woman." (p. 148). Therefore, rather than resist the process of "unmanning," Schreber begins the attempt to speed up this process by for example, "picturing" his body as being of female form (p. 180).

1899: Dr. Weber, Schreber's physician at the time, reports that Schreber's condition had significantly improved, such that "an observer who was uninstructed upon his general condition would scarcely notice anything peculiar..." Yet, continued Weber, he remains "full of ideas of a pathological origin" (Schreber, 1900, p. 386). Also, Schreber reportedly first learns that he had been temporarily placed under tutelage as early as 1895. In turn, he "approached the authorities demanding a decision as to whether the temporary tutelage was to be made permanent or whether it could be rescinded" (Schreber, 1903, p. 5).

1900: Schreber's "whole body" is "filled with nerves of "voluptuousness" which, he claims, is visibly apparent to observers. Takes to wearing female adornments to assist in his achievement of "voluptuousness." Schreber begins to write his memoirs and begins the process of achieving legal independence from tutelage. A formal order for his tutelage is made by the district court of Dresden.

1901 (July): Schreber appears to be further along in his recovery by admitting that the people around him are "real" rather than "cursory contraptions" (Schreber, 1903, p. 409). Also, tutelage confirmed by the Court. In response, Schreber appealed to the Superior Court in Dresden, the highest Appeal Court in Saxony.

1902 (September): Schreber succeeded in having his tutelage rescinded in the Court of Appeal.

1903 (March): Schreber had left the Asylum. Writes "Open Letter" to Professor Flechsig, which is contained in the preface of the memoirs. The memoirs are published later this year.

1902 (December): Writes preface to memoirs. States his intention to leave the Asylum by 1903.

1907: Schreber reportedly returned to an Asylum for the third time following the death of his wife.

1911: Schreber's reported year of death, at the age of 69. Cause of death unknown.

I find it convenient to view Schreber's life according to three phases of temporal development. First, there is the time prior to the onset of his second "nervous illness," prior to 1893. Since the impetus for Schreber's "nervous illness" appears to have been his appointment as Senatsprasident of Dresden, the summer of 1893 marks the beginning of his second phase. Schreber's experience of his "nervous illness" profoundly changed in November of 1895. The beginnings of these changes seems to have been facilitated by his transfer to Sonnenstein, where he was placed under the care of Dr. Weber. Therefore, I mark the beginning of Schreber's third phase in the summer of 1894, when he was transferred from Dr. Pierson's Asylum.

Prior to the onset of his second "nervous illness," Schreber lead a life filled with successes and career triumphs, offset by the inability of he and his wife to bear children. Shortly after his appointment as Judge of the County Court of Dresden, Schreber suffered his first attack of "hypochondriasis." As the patient of Professor Paul Emil Flechsig, Schreber was admitted to the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Leipzig. Flechsig would later care for Schreber during the first 2 years of his second "nervous illness," and would, in turn, came to play a primary role in Schreber's belief that a conspiracy to commit "soul murder" had been laid against him.

Although, according to Schreber, his "first illness passed without any occurrences bordering on the supernatural," his experiences at this time set the stage for his later "illness" (Schreber, 1903, p. 62). On the one hand, Schreber said he had developed "favorable impressions of Professor Flechsig's methods of treatment." However, he felt strongly that Flechsig had committed, perhaps "indispensable," "white lies" against him, specifically by attributing his illness "sorely to poisoning with potassium bromide" (Schreber, 1903, p. 62).  Schreber felt his cure could have been hastened, and attributed this to his belief that Flechsig had not adequately concerned himself over his loss of weight. Nevertheless, writes Schreber, he "had at the time no reason to be other than most grateful" to Flechsig for ultimately curing him of his ailments, at least for the time being (Schreber, 1903, p. 63). Schreber's wife, however, appeared to be less ambivalent about Flechsig's care for her husband, owing to the fact that "she kept his picture on her desk for many years" (Schreber, 1903, p. 63).

Between the time of his first and second "illness" (1884-1893), Schreber's wife suffered from "six spontaneous miscarriages," no doubt leading to Schreber's eventual resignation to the fact that he and his wife would be unable to bear children (Chabot, 1982, p. 17). This "repeated disappointment" for Schreber was paralled by eight relatively "happy" years with his wife, "rich also in outward honors" -- which culminated in his eventual appointment as Senatsprasident of Dresden, the zenith of Schreber's meteoric rise through the Saxony judicial system (Schreber, 1903, p. 63). Ironically, Schreber's career peak would also lead to the conditions which would shortly thereafter result in his second "illness," for which he would be institutionalized for the majority of his remaining years.

Between the time of his appointment to Senatsprasident and the taking up of the duties of this office, Schreber was disturbed by the recurring dream that his "hypochondriasis" had returned. On one of these occasions, in a state of consciousness between wake and sleep, Schreber was struck by an idea which he deemed "highly peculiar" -- "the idea that it really must be rather pleasant to be a woman succumbing to intercourse" (Schreber, 1903, p. 63). This thought of Schreber's, which erupted between the netherworld of dream and waking consciousness, would prove to be a premonition of sorts, for he would later become convinced that a conspiracy had been arranged to turn his body into a woman's through a process called "unmanning." Even at this early stage, Schreber did not "exclude the possibility that some external influences were at work to implant" the idea "in" him (Schreber, 1903, p. 63).

2-3 months after possessing this "peculiar idea," Schreber took office as Senatsprasident on October 1st of 1893. Schreber immediately found himself overcome by a "heavy burden of work" even as he was " achieve...the necessary respect" of his colleagues, many of whom were older and more experienced than him (Schreber, 1903, p. 63-64). Even as he was faced with this daunting task, Schreber succumbed to a severe bout of insomnia "at the very moment" when he "was able to feel that (he) had largely mastered the difficulties" of his new position (Schreber, 1903, p. 63). Schreber's debilitating sleeplessness lead him again to seek the care of Flechsig. Even before his admission to Flechsig's clinic, he had already begun to develop the suspicion that "miracles" were at work in his suffering. That is, he felt that "right from the beginning the more or less definite intention existed to prevent (his) sleep" (p. 64). Precisely who was behind these "miracles" became the subject of Schreber's laborious thought process throughout his second "illness" in his effort to discover the responsible parties for his torments. As a result of this process, Schreber finally developed an elaborately designed theological framework with which to justify his beliefs. As time wore on, these ideas evolved throughout the rest of his life and were eventually chronicled in detail in his memoirs. Throughout his memoirs, Flechsig remained a prominent figure as a responsible party in the
conspiracy to commit "soul murder" against Schreber -- although, in the evolution of his thoughts, his role remained dynamic, changing according to Schreber's latest collection of "evidence."

From the beginning, Schreber admits to a difficulty in translating his experiences to language, as well as the irrefutability of all that he presents,  in the memoirs:

    I cannot of course count upon being fully understood because
    these things are dealt with which cannot be expressed in human
    language; they exceed human understanding. Nor can I maintain that
    everything is irrefutably certain even for me: much remains only
    presumption and probability. After all I too am only a human being and
    therefore limited by the confines of human understanding; but one thing
    I am certain of, namely that I have come infinitely closer to the truth
    than human beings who have not received divine revelation. (Schreber,
    1903, p. 41).

In turn, Schreber warns the reader that, in order to make his "supernatural" experiences comprehensible, he must use "images and similes, which may at times perhaps be only approximately correct" (p. 41). Throughout the memoirs, Schreber points to Biblical texts and natural science to support the "evidence" of his "supernatural" experiences, often amending current theories and beliefs according to his own experiences.

During the second phase of Schreber's story, while he resided as Flechsig's Asylum, Flechsig plays the central role in the conspiracy against Schreber to "murder" his "soul." Schreber's concept of "soul murder" remains vague throughout his memoirs, but he exerts much effort in making this intelligible to the reader. In the beginning, Schreber explains that Flechsig and Schreber's relationship must have begun with their ancestors dating back to the 18th century, in which one of Flechsig's ancestors attempted "soul murder" against a distant relative of Schreber's. Schreber, therefore, feels that his relationship to Flechsig carries on a legacy which culminates in his
persecution by Flechsig's "soul." Throughout his memoirs, Schreber remains undecided as to whether the "actual" Flechsig is or was ever intentionally involved in his persecution. However, he conjectures that Flechsig may have lost a portion of his "soul" which, in turn, haunts Schreber. In any case, Schreber contends that the idea of "soul murder" is "widespread in the folk-lore and poetry of all peoples that it is somehow possible to take possession of another's soul in order to prolong one's life at another soul's expense, or to secure some advantages which outlast death" (p. 55). That a portion of Flechsig's soul could torment Schreber's person without the "actual" Flechsig knowing owes its intelligibility to Schreber's elaborate theological explanations.

Schreber contends that the "human soul" is "contained in the nerves of the body" (p. 45). While a person is living, these "nerves" provide the connection between his or her body and soul, and enable the person to "retain the memory of impressions received" and gives him or her the "power to move muscles" through "exertion of their will power" (p. 45). Schreber also concludes that God is "only nerve" or all soul and, therefore, has no body, and that He is "infinite" while human beings have "limited" nerves. The "essence of creation," therefore, involves God's ability to transform His "nerves" into living beings through "rays" (p. 46). Further, Schreber comes to believe that God finished his creation of the world when He succeeded in creating human beings. Therefore, upon His creation of human beings, God withdrew from the world so that "as a rule" He "did not interfere directly in the fate of peoples or individuals" (p. 48). This sustains Schreber's belief that human beings have "free will" and that, therefore, their souls can be "blackened" by bad deeds or "sins." Therefore, concludes Schreber, God and human beings have no contact until a human being dies, at which time a person's "nerves" or soul re-unites with God's "infinite" "nerves." The exception to this rule are those souls which are too "blackened" and are, therefore, rejected by God. Since Schreber does not believe there is such a thing as "hell" or eternal damnation, he believes that "blackened" souls are purified by unknown means. Souls which are in the process of being purified in such a way are called "tested souls." Therefore, Schreber concludes that Flechsig's "soul" is actually a "tested soul" which intends to transform Schreber into a woman. Doing so, Schreber believes, will cause his soul to experience "high-grade excitation" with which "tested souls" may experience a feeling of "bliss" similar to those souls which have already united with God's soul in a "state of Blessedness" ("uninterrupted enjoyment combined with the contemplation of God") (p. 49). Thereby, Schreber confirms his belief that Flechsig commits "soul murder" against him by using his soul for his own purposes, and, in turn, providing Flechsig with a motive behind his alleged conspiracy against him.

Schreber theorizes that Flechsig's ancestors had somehow been granted "contact with divine nerves," as he explains:

    It seems very probable that contact with divine nerves was
    granted to a person who specialized in nervous illnesses, partly because
    he would be expected to be a highly intellectual person, partly because
    everything concerning human nerves must be of particular interest to
    God, starting with his instinctive knowledge that an increase in
    nervousness among men could endanger his realms. (Schreber, 1903, p. 56)

Schreber goes on to conclude that a Flechsig ancestor had, upon receiving such "contact," abused this privilege, thereby placing the universe in jeopardy by offending the "Order of the World" (p. 56). For Schreber comes to believe that, upon God's withdrawal from the human state of affairs, that there had developed, apart from God, the "Order of the World" with its own laws and systems of justice. Schreber comes to believe that there is "no clash of interests between God and human beings as long as" their relationship is in "accordance with the Order of the World" (p. 60). Since this relationship had been violated, according to Schreber, "all creation" is thereby at risk (p. 60).

Even from the beginning, Schreber does not place the fault of the conspiracy against him squarely upon the shoulders of Flechsig or his ancestors. He suspects from the start that God Himself was a co-conspirator, if not the instigator of the entire affair (p. 77). Towards the latter half of his "illness," after he was moved to Sonnenstein, Schreber does finally come to the conclusion that God was the instigator of his persecution. Schreber felt that God had seen him as a threat due to his "nervousness." Such "high-grade nervousness" as experienced by Schreber, he decided, has a compelling nature to God, who is attracted by the "soul-voluptuousness" which Schreber begins to experience. Being so, God draws nearer to the world, which He interprets as a threat to his existence, for the possibility of being absorbed into Schreber's "nerves"!

Originally, God and the co-conspirators had attempted to "unman" him by transforming him into a woman. As Schreber explains:

    Always the main idea...was to "forsake" me, that is to say abandon
    me; at the time I am now discussing it was thought that this could be
    achieved by unmanning me and allowing my body to be prostituted like
    that of a female harlot, sometimes also by killing me and later by
    destroying my reason (making me demented). (Schreber, 1903, p. 99)

Unfortunately for God, the "unmanning" procedure has the opposite effect He intended! That it, God, through "divine rays," began "the gradual filling of (Schreber's) body with nerves of voluptuousness (female nerves)" which had the "reverse effect" (p. 99). Instead of Schreber being "abandoned" through this process, his resulting "soul-voluptuousness" actually developed an "increased power of attraction" for God (p. 99)! In turn, God was forced to develop other means to protect Himself, through either killing Schreber or destroying his reason. Therefore, through various "miracles" via "divine rays," Schreber experiences a whole host of physical and mental torments. In particular, the "rays" develop a variety of means to prevent Schreber from either sleeping or defecating/urinating, which increase Schreber's "soul-voluptuousness." Throughout the memoirs, Schreber supports this notion with the documentation of many actual incidents which happened to him along the way. He documents these experiences in painstaking detail, and they are incredibly fascinating to read.

In June of 1894, Schreber was transferred from Flechsig's clinic to Lindenhof, Dr. Pierson's Asylum, which he came to call "Devil's Kitchen." At this time, the senior attendent of the Asylum, by the name of "von W.," became, like Flechsig, a primary character in his story. According to Schreber, the "tested souls" of Flechsig and von W. were mutually involved in the organization of a larger party of "tested souls" who systematically tortured him by attacking various regions of his body, particularly attacking his head in order to destroy his reason. Also, at this time, Schreber had become convinced that, due to the violation against the "Order of the World," the world had actually come to an end, so that no actual persons remained alive. Instead, those people who Schreber saw he came to understand as "fleeting-improvised-men" who were manifestations of "divine rays" sent to torment him. Schreber describes his experience in "Devil's Kitchen" as involving the most "extravagant" display of "miracles" of all. Throughout his brief stay at this Asylum, Schreber's body was systematically destroyed piece by piece in order to fill his body with female "nerves."

After his brief stay in "Devil's Kitchen," Schreber was again transferred; this time, to Sonnenstein Asylum in Pirna, near Dresden, where he was placed under the care of Dr. Weber. Schreber divides his experience at Sonnenstein into two periods; the first of which, he describes as "holy" and "awesome" and the second, as "more and more ordinary" (p. 114). It was also here, at Sonnenstein, where Schreber's experience of his "nervous illness" took a radical turn, for which I understand it as a third phase in Schreber's history.

In the memoirs, this turn of events is preceded by a visit from Schreber's wife, who brought him a poem she had written, ending with the verse: "Then comes to you a faithful guest/God's still and silent peace" (p. 116). Schreber interpreted the words "God's peace" as "the expression used in the basic language for sleep produced by divine rays," and, for which, Schreber understood his wife to be expressing the words "let me" in the "basic language," meaning: "Let me- you rays that are turning me back - do let me follow the power of attraction of my husband's nerves: I am preparing to dissolve in my husband's body" (p. 116).

Following this experience, Schreber came to develop the notion that he could save the world by reconciling God and the "Order of the World" through the process of "unmanning." In essence, he felt that his transformation into a woman, thereby eliciting extreme "soul- voluptuousness," would attract all those "blackened," "tested" souls into his own "nerves," thereby eliminating them "from their position of so-called middle instances" between himself and "God's omnipotence" (p. 117). Upon ridding these "tested souls" from their position, he could become impregnated by God "with the purpose of creating new human beings" (p. 117). In turn, "a solution of the conflict in consonance with the Order of the World would follow automatically," thereby leading to his "cure by a complete calming of (his) nerves through sleep" (p. 117). As a result, Schreber now began to see the process of "unmanning" as a duty to God. He writes:

    ...the Order of the World imperiously demanded my unmanning,
    whether I personally liked it or not, and that therefore it was common
    sense that nothing was left to me but reconcile myself to the thought
    of being transformed into a woman. (Schreber, 1903, p. 148)

Schreber, therefore, begins to believe that the "Order of the World" is on his side, and, therefore, he cannot lose! Therefore, Schreber concludes that, ultimately, he will win the favor of God, who will come to understand the inevitability of his triumph. Further, due to the violation of the "Order of the World," the "divine rays" had not been used for their "essential purpose," which is not "to fight an individual human being and to work destruction on his body" but, instead, "to create" (p. 184).

Schreber divides God into two personages, an "upper God (Ormuzd)" and a "lower God (Ariman)" (p. 53). The lower God, who is closer to the world, first begins to understand Schreber's value, and, as a result, welcomes the "bliss" of Schreber's "soul-voluptuousness." In time, as the upper God also draws nearer to the world, He too comes to understand the power of Schreber's "unmanning" to restore the "Order of the World." As a result Schreber testifies to his experience of "spontaneous generation" all around him. Schreber understands "spontaneous generation" to be "creation through divine miracles," which had begin to occur again for the first time in thousands of years (p. 191). For when God had, at first, withdrawn to "an enormous distance," He left the "Order of the World" of human beings with "free will" to fend for itself (p. 191). Yet, as God draws closer, according to Schreber, the world is again filled with "miracles" (p. 196).

As Schreber's "soul-voluptuousness" attracts all of the "tested souls" into his ever-more- sensuous body, he experiences this as "little men" who, for a time, dance among his body parts, only to eventually absorb into him. Flechsig and von W. also become "little men." In order to preserve themselves, these "tested souls" resort to a process Schreber calls "mechanical fastening" or "tying-to-celestial-bodies" in which they cling to "celestial bodies" in order to prevent their absorption into Schreber. By the end of 1897, "von W's soul eventually disappeared altogether unnoticed" by Schreber (p. 157). Flechsig's "soul" remained a "meager remnant (tied on to somewhere)," but which had:

     ...long ago lost its intelligence, that is to say it is now also
     totally devoid of thoughts, so that it can hardly even enjoy with
     satisfaction its own heavenly existence, which it had unlawfully achieved
     against God's omnipotence - and this once again represents one of the
     most glowing confirmations of the Order of the World, according to
     which nothing can maintain itself permanently which contradicts it.
     (Schreber, 1903, p. 158)

Thus, Schreber, a man of justice, found in his story an understanding of a friendly universe with its own built-in sense of justice, the "Order of the World." Thus, he found a meaning in his suffering: Nothing less than the salvation of the universe. In the meantime, Schreber took to various devices to speed up the process of "unmanning," such as "picturing" himself as a female in his "mind's eye" and wearing "female adornments" (p. 180).

By 1899, Dr. Weber reported that Schreber's condition had significantly improved, such that "an observer who was uninstructed upon his general condition would scarcely notice anything peculiar." Yet, continued Weber, he remains "full of ideas of a pathological origin" (p. 386). It was at this time, incidently, that Schreber first learned that he had been temporarily placed under tutelage as early as 1895, and, in turn, "approached the authorities demanding a decision as to whether the temporary tutelage was to be made permanent or whether it could be rescinded" (p. 5). In 1900, Schreber began to write his memoirs while beginning the process of achieving his legal independence. In 1902, Schreber succeeded in having his tutelage rescinded in the Court of Appeal, and, subsequently in March of 1903, he left the Asylum to be with his wife until her death. So, according to his memoirs, goes the story of one Daniel Paul Schreber's "nervous illness."


As I read Schreber's memoirs, I was immediately struck by the similarity between the form which his "illness" took and the many mythological forms which crop up across cultures. For example, Schreber talks of his body being destroyed piece by piece, as he is simultaneously resurrected in the body of a woman. Schreber's "end of the world" does, as Freud (1909) adeptly discovers, parallel with the dissolution of his physical and mental being, which occurs in his story at the time of catatonic withdrawal. Schreber's effort throughout the rest of his stay at Sonnenstein, and even after his release from this asylum, involves a restoration of his world. At first, however, Schreber takes this literally. He believes there are only "fleeting-improvised-men" since, for him, the world has ended. He speaks the truth of his world. Later in his memoirs, Schreber does come to the conclusion that there had been "real" people existing all along, but never truly discovers a way to fit this odd-fitting piece of the puzzle into his story.

Does Schreber's story not find a parallel, for example, in the mythological of Ancient Egypt? Osiris was killed by his brother, Seth. Iris, lamenting over the death of Osiris, gave birth to Horus, who, avenging his uncle, restores justice in the land by defeating Seth in battle. Regaining the "Eye" from Seth, which he had stolen, he lays it down upon the place of Osiris' grave, upon which he is reborn (Anthes, 1961). Like the story of Osiris, Schreber's story is also a story of death and resurrection -- and it is also a story about justice, for Schreber, like Horus, seeks to restore the "Order of the World." Osiris' "cosmic character" refers to "the vegetation which arises out of the inundation of the Nile" (Anthes, 1961, p. 71). Do we not see the physiognomy of Osiris, if not something like him, in the re-birth which accompanies spring each year, and do we not re-live his story in the cycles of the seasons, which echo his birth and death? Or is it Christ's face we see in the bursting forth of the crocus during the spring thaw? For, in the Christian myth, Jesus also dies and resurrects to restore the balance of the universe.

Freud (1909) argues that the "Redeemer" myth is secondary to Schreber's story. He wishes to argue that Freud's role as "Redeemer" follows from his desire to be a woman; that to bear children with God masks his desire to make love to his father. Yet, it is also true that, as "Redeemer," Schreber seeks re-birth, a return to the world. For, does Freud not admit that, for Schreber, his world has indeed ended?

More importantly, Freud's attention to the possibility of repressed homosexual desire in Schreber, which supports his theory of paranoia, closes off another possible interpretation. I would argue that even more central is Schreber's desire for justice, for that is the central theme of his life. Schreber, appointed to the highest judicial position in Saxony, had dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice: the "Order of the World." Directly following his appointment to the position of Senatsprasident of Dresden, Schreber suffers his second attack of "nervous illness." Bearing the weight of responsibility for this task, Schreber cracked. Enacting the archetypal role of judge, Schreber is the "Order of the World." Therefore, the restoration of this order is simultaneously a restoration of his world, of his very being. Yet, to further understand this possibility, it would serve well to further explore the motifs of Schreber's story.

Campbell (1972) wrote that "the imagery of schizophrenic fantasy perfectly matches that of the mythological hero journey" (p. 208). He continues:

    The usual pattern is, first, of a break away or departure from the
    local social order and context; next, a long, deep retreat inward and
    backward, as it were, in time, and inward, deep into the psyche; a
    chaotic series of encounters there, darkly terrifying experiences, and
    presently (if the victim is fortunate) encounters of a centering kind,
    fulfilling, harmonizing, giving new courage; and then finally, in such
    fortunate cases, a return journey of rebirth to life. And that is the
    universal formula also of the mythological hero journey, which I, in
    my own published work, had described as: 1) separation, 2) initiation,
    and 3) return. (Campbell, 1972, pp. 208-209)

In my research, I was quite astonished to find that Campbell, too, had recognized the pattern of the "heroic ego" archetype in the schizophrenic, which I'd noticed in the story of Schreber. Further, Campbell's 'map' of the hero's journey of separation, initiation, and return matches Schreber's story in an uncanny way. Schreber's "journey" involves many kinds of separation. Schreber becomes separated from his world of his homelife and powerful position as Senatsprasident. Further, he separates from the world in his catatonic retreat from those around him, who become as "fleeting-improvised-men." Schreber is, then, initiated upon the quest to restore balance to the slighted "Order of the World," which he feels will be accomplished when he is transformed into a woman. This moment, when Schreber comes to recognize the meaning of his suffering as a function of his personal quest, his condition takes a vital turn. He sees the goal at the end of his mission, and he is, therefore, able to plot his return.

As Silverman (1967) has pointed out, the schizophrenic experience finds parallels in the experience of shaman in primitive hunting peoples. In early adolescence, the young shaman undergoes a crisis experience in which he or she undergoes an experience of being physically torn to shreds, and, retreating into a world of frightening visions, returns to the world with a message for his or her community. Yet, as Silverman writes: "In primitive cultures in which such a unique life crisis resolution is tolerated, the abnormal experience (shamanism) is typically beneficial to the individual, cognitively and affectively; he (or she) is regarded as one with expanded consciousness" (p. 210). In modern culture, there is no place for such an experience. The person undergoing such an experience is provided no cultural signposts to guide him or her along the way. Unlike the shaman, who is prepared for his or her "journey" via the ritualized songs, dances, and stories of his or her culture, the modern schizophrenic is ostracized, often drugged, and left to his or her own devices -- often with the result that the schizophrenic, in a sense, is left to drown in the "collective unconscious."

Yet, what else is the shamanic experience but the experience of the mystic? For, as James (1961) shows, the "mystic," too, is left by the wayside in modernism; the "mystical" now a term used for "mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without base in either facts or logic" (James, 1961, p. 299). Like with Campbell's 'map' of the hero's journey, James' "four marks" of the mystic also sheds light on Schreber's experience. And, why shouldn't it, if, as James writes (1961), "personal religious experience has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness" (p. 299)? Schreber's experience bears the mark of "ineffability," for he must struggle to find a way to express his experience in the limited language of his culture. Further, Schreber's experience expresses the "noetic quality" of the mystic, for his story is full of "illuminations" and "revelations, full of significance, all inarticulate though they remain" (James, 1961, p. 300). Next, Schreber's experience meets the criteria of "transiency," for he cannot sustain his "soul-voluptuousness" for long, and, unless compelled to think compulsively, his God withdraws. Finally, Schreber experiences the mystic's "passivity" in which the he "feels as if his own will" is "in abeyance."

Does Schreber's experience sound so different, for example, from that of Saint Symeon the Younger (949-1022 A.D.)?

    For the One who has becomes many, remains the One
    undivided, but each part is all of Christ...I saw him in my house, among
    all those everyday things He appeared unexpectedly and became
    unutterably united and merged with me, and leaped over to me
    without anything in between, as fire to iron, as the light to glass.
    And He made me like fire and like light. And I became that which I
    saw before and beheld from afar. I do not know how to relate this
    miracle to you...I am a man by nature, and God by the grace of God.
    (Nelson, D., Trans., 1944, p. 303)

Yet, I do not wish to romanticize the experience of Schreber or anyone who has or will have the experience of the schizophrenic. For, Schreber suffers, like all shamans and mystics suffer, but he suffers doubly so, for his people do not have the ears to hear his message, nor does he have the cultural support to provide an intelligibility to his own experience. Schreber's experience, in the context of modern culture, is an experience of a madman. Schreber is blazingly mad! For, as Laing (1967) recognizes, one cannot separate the person labeled with the "condition" of "schizophrenia" from the context of his or her culture: The "label is a social fact and the social fact a political event" (p. 121).

The social context which enables a person to be "labeled" schizophrenia alludes Freud. It has been a task of those who have followed in his footsteps. Yet, if one takes Heidegger seriously, one can perform a genuine act of history with the work of Freud to wrest from his work a past which opens up future possibilities. In this case, Freud traces paranoid schizophrenia back to a point of "fixation" at the stage of "narcissism," an actual historical event in the person's history. Yet, I think we can take up Freud's theory in a different light, and, thereby, further our understanding of Schreber and his quest for justice in the restoration of the "Order of the World."

The stage of "narcissism" is not, I would argue, a matter of a shift in direction of 'libidinal energy.' The child has yet to differentiate herself from the world of the mother. She is fused with the world around her, as Freud would later allude to with his recognition of the "oceanic" feeling. It is not that the child thinks and feels only for herself. Instead, it is she who sees herself reflected in her world. This is the world prior to the emergence of the "specular I" of which Lacan (1949) has spoken. That Freud sees a connection between this "narcissism" of the infant-child and the schizophrenic is significant, though not for the explication of the adult schizophrenic's repression of homosexual libido. As discussed previously, the world of the madman, mystic and child are all similar in that there exists a break with convention and a fusion of self/world/other; in other words, "magical thinking."

Magical thinking disappears within the Cartesian world-view of modern, adult rationality. As van den Berg explained, this is a world where miracles are no longer possible. It is a world characterized by distance -- a distance which, above all, is synchronous with the distance of God from our world. It is Schreber's experience of this distant God which provides the context for his task. Schreber sees his body as brimming with "soul-voluptuousness." He is, all at once, experiencing the eruption of the "spiritual unconscious" of the sensuous, lived world exiled with the imaginal via the Cartesian worldview. And he experiences this as God's presence moving closer to the world! Schreber's experience is the "narcissistic" experience of the infant-child -- for it is in the experience of the infant-child that the imaginal has been exiled from the rational, modern adult. Seen in this light, Schreber's message becomes clear. The restoration of the "Order of the World" requires a renewal of the world. For the first time in thousands of years, he claims, "miracles" are again possible, for God has returned to the world! And it is with this revelation that Schreber begins his return from his "journey" with his message for the world.

What truly makes Schreber mad is that he does not have the intelligibility to bring his message to the world. Instead, he translates his experience into rational, Cartesian language and seeks his proof in natural science. As a result, his "miracles" become "spoiled nature," the product of a dead God who is purely a product of his "delusions." Moreover, his madness also lies in his identification with the hero archetype. This is the source of his belief in which "everything that happens is in reference to me" (Schreber, 1903, p. 197). That is, Schreber identifies with the hero archetype of the "encapsulated ego" (Boss, 1979), "self-contained individual" (Sampson, 1988), or "heroic ego" (Hillman, 1975), call it what you will. Yet, ironically, it is this very notion of the "ego" which renders "what does not fit in" as "inhuman, psychopathic, or evil," and provides the possibility for his insanity. Instead of a recognition of the "Anima Mundi," the soul-full world that he comes to experience through "miracles," Schreber instead envisions the absorption of all the world into him, and, thus, becomes an inflated stereotype of the "heroic ego" at its extreme. He becomes an embodiment of the shadow-side of the "self-contained individual," like the exaggerated painted-on expression of a clown that marks him as a joke calling attention to his own ridiculousness.

But, what of Schreber's sense of justice? Is not Schreber suffering a grave injustice? He offers the world the gems of his experience, and the world turns its head in disgust. Schreber is not a shaman. He is a madman. He does not exist in a world which can guide him through the imaginal realm in which he finds himself. Instead, he is placed in Asylums. It is Flechsig and von W., his physicians, who he marks as his "only true enemies" (p. 55). And why shouldn't they be? For do they not indeed commit "soul murder" against Schreber? Flechsig and von W. do not intend to help Schreber along the way -- to assist his pass through the "dark night of the soul" in order to find his way back to the world -- they seek to cure him and, thereby, prevent Schreber from his task. It is Flechsig who orders Schreber to be placed in a rubber room in the dark, and later denies it ever happened. And it is Flechsig who orders Schreber's windows to be boarded up so that he cannot search the stars for his God and "tested souls." It was von W. who gave "false evidence" about Schreber "in some State enquiry, either on purpose or through carelessness, and particularly to have (him) accused of masturbation" (Schreber, 1903, p. 107). It was these men who set the attendants of the Asylum against Schreber to "take control of (his) body" (Schreber, 1903, p. 110). Are these mere "delusions" of "persecution," as well? Or does Schreber tell the truth of his world? What to all outward appearances must have seemed the best intentions from Flechsig and von W. to heal Schreber of his suffering, to Schreber himself it is the work of evil, a plan to undermine the "Order of the World". And, now that we've peered into Schreber's world, can we deny him this truth?

Most importantly, Schreber's quest for a restoration of the "Order of the Word" is, in the final analysis, a quest for justice. He suffers, and he comes to believe that he will be justly rewarded for his pain. In the end, Schreber is indeed the Senatsprasident, yet no longer of Dresden, but of the "Order of the World," who deems that nothing which usurps that "order" can survive in his universe.


Heidegger (1971) writes in the spirit in which I have tried to approach the world of "the psychotic" Dr. Schreber:

    ...the madman. Does the word mean someone who is mentally ill?
    No. Madness [Wahnsinn] here does not mean a mind filled with senseless
    delusions. "Whan" belongs to the old high German wana and means:
    without. The madman's mind senses - senses in fact as no one else
    does. Even so, he does not have the senses of others. He is of another
    mind. "Sinnan" signifies originally: to travel, to strive for...., to drive in
    a direction; indogermanic root sent and set means way. The departed
    one is a man apart, a madman, because he is on the way in another
    way. From that other direction, his madness may be called "gentle,"
    for his mind pursues a greater stillness. (Heidegger, 1971, p. 173).

What is this "greater stillness" of which Heidegger speaks? Perhaps this "greater stillness" is what, metaphorically, lies beyond Cader Idris: liberation. The madman has taken the road to the "world axis," but is unable to return to the world of his or her people to speak the poetry with which to give his or her message of that world "beyond" convention. Unable to connect with others, the one who is mad is alienated and cut off from his or her people. The people do not hear, do not listen, do not care to heed the message of the madman. The way of the madman is a lonely path; a road so lonely that, for van den Berg (1972), it is this very loneliness which accounts for the suffering of psychopathology:

    The psychiatric patient is alone. He has few relationships or perhaps no
    relationships at all. He lives in isolation. He feels lonely. He may dread an interview
    with another person. At times, a conversation with him is impossible. He is somewhat
    strange; sometimes he is enigmatic and he may, on rare occasions, be even
    unfathomable. The variations are endless, but the essence is always the same. The
    psychiatric patient stands apart from the rest of the world...Loneliness is the central core
    of his illness, no matter what his illness may be. (p. 105)

Look at Schreber: After all these years, no one bothered to see his experience as fundamentally a religious experience. Rather, his religion is seen as a mere symptom of his psychopathology. But, to me, the two are not mutually exclusive. Schreber is both visionary and madman. I would not have seen this if I had merely viewed Schreber through the lens of modern day psychiatry. Schreber's vision would be clouded by the "psychiatric jargon" which fails to see the human in madness.

Laing (1960) is highly critical of such "psychiatric jargon," the language of psychiatry which, he explains: "is the effort to avoid thinking in terms of freedom, choice and responsibility" (p. 27). This language, according to Laing, consistently describes madness as some form of lack or mal-adaptation. This idea is similar to van den Berg's (1972) criticism of psychiatry's "vocabulary of denigration" which makes the patient a victim of the "closer look" in which the phenomenon of the patient's existential condition are missed "as they are" (p. 63). According to Laing, the attempt to view the patient's behavior as "signs of disease" is not neutral: One can just as easily "see the behavior as expressive of a (person's) existence" (Laing, 1960, p. 31). Again, van den Berg (1972) concurs by arguing that the patient "tells the truth of his mental illness (p. 47). For Laing, the job of the therapist is to arrive at an understanding of the patients' "existential position," the manner in which he or she experiences the world, themselves, and others from his or her own perspective (p. 34).

In the case of a psychotic and/or delusional person, the difficulty the therapist has in interpreting the patient should not be mistaken to mean the patient is totally unintelligible and unable to be understood at all. To use Laing's metaphor: the physician can at least "wave at him across the abyss" (Kirsner, 1966, p. 59). In Laing's example of Kraepelin in The Divided Self, Kraepelin's failure to understand the patient is his primary mistake. Kraepelin was so busy analyzing the patient's behavior as "signs of disease" that he forgot the patient was, first and foremost, a human being like himself. Laing explains: "If someone is on the other side of an abyss, he doesn't cease to be a human being" (Kirsner, 1996, p. 59).

Laing's metaphor of the abyss, in describing the disjunction between the experience of the mad and the sane, alludes to his criteria for determining whether someone is existentially mad or insane. Laing bases his criteria for insanity on his concept of "mutual recognition." This idea reveals Laing's indebtedness to Buber. Buber has proclaimed: "All real living is meeting" (Buber, 1958, p. 11). For Buber, the "I" is never wholly disengaged from others. One is either in relationship as "I-Thou" or as "I-It." On the other hand, the experience of the "I" is separate for, as Buber explained:

    The man who experiences has not part in the world. For it is
    "in him" and not between him and the world that the experience arises.
    The world has no part in the experience. It permits itself to be
    experienced, but has no concern in the matter. For it does nothing to
    the experience, and the experience does nothing to it. (Buber, 1958, p. 5).

Buber's conception of the human being as both separate and related is presupposed in Laing's concept of "mutual recognition." In Laing's psychology, as in Buber's philosophy, the emphasis is placed neither on individualism nor collectivism. While one is always engaged in a relatedness to others, there is always an aspect of oneself which is profoundly separate and isolated from others. In the same sense, the experience of others is never totally available to oneself either (Burston, 1996, p. 178-179). .

In our experience of others and their experience of us ("interexperience"), there always exists some degree of discrepancy in how, as Laing explains: "I recognize the other to be the person he takes himself to be" and "he recognizes me to be the person I take myself to be" (Laing, 1960, p. 35). In the context of this mutual recognition, a "wide margin of disjunction" may exist. If, however, there are radical discrepancies in the "interexperience" between persons, one of these persons "must be insane," according to Laing (Laing, 1960, p. 36). In short, Laing's criteria for insanity or psychosis: "is tested by the degree of conjunction between where one is sane by common consent" (Laing, 1960, p. 36).

Laing's concept of madness as evidenced in a radical disjunction of mutual recognition is far removed from the criteria as specified by the medical model. In his or her diagnosis of the patient, the psychiatrist observes the patients for symptoms or "signs" of the disorder or "disease"(i.e., in accordance with DSM-IV criteria) in which the experience of the psychiatrist him- or herself is not taken into consideration. Instead, the patient is viewed in isolation, outside of his or her context in relation to others and the world -- including the context in which the patient and psychiatrist are involved in an "interexperience." In a very real sense, the psychiatrist labels the patient insane (i.e., psychotic, delusional) because the psychiatrist cannot understand the patient. As Laing pointed out in an interview: the psychiatrist will "never diagnose anyone who they felt was essentially the same as them as schizophrenic" (Kirsner, 1996, p. 59).

However, Laing has also made it clear that someone is truly existentially mad if their identity is constructed in such a way that they become radically detached from other people's experience of them (Burston, 1996, p. 185). From this perspective, Laing appears to have a similar understanding to van den Berg's association of insanity and loneliness (van den Berg, 1972, p. 105). In his or her detachment from the experience of others, the individual is profoundly alone -- whether or not the individual is in close proximity to others.

Although Laing's psychology differs from his in many ways, Laing's criteria for insanity reveals affinities to Szasz (1994). In Szasz' analysis, the mental patient, as an "Unwanted Other," is always seen as suffering from a "disease" when they are exhibiting "bad behavior," whereas, as long as the person displays "good behavior," they are understood as "free agents" (Szasz, 1994, p. 108). As in Szasz' analysis of "bad behavior" as "disease," the medical model views the insane person as a victim of neurological impairment which causes maladaptive behavior. Laing argues that psychotic disorder may involve existential, spiritual, or social crises as much as brain mechanisms (Burston, 1996, p. 167).

For Laing, the psychiatrist must reach an understanding of the patient's experience as existential truth through empathy/sympathy in order to maintain the sense in which the patient is free in his or her choices (Laing, 1960, p. 61). As soon as the mental patient becomes inspected according to the "closer look," his or her freedom is denied as his or her behavior is understood as caused by mechanical processes in the brain (or various other types of "it-processes"). In the language of Buber, the psychiatrist must engage the patient as I-Thou rather than in an I-It relationship. It is only then that the patient may be engaged directly in a reciprocal, open and personalized involvement as opposed to a relatedness which seeks instead to study, measure or manipulate the person as governed by causal forces.

In contrast to the medical model, Laing's approach allows him to "wave across the abyss" in order to see the patient as a human being and, thereby, understand him or her. In The Divided Self, Laing's description of the ontologically insecure (schizoid) person as a "disembodied self" serves as a fine example of Laing's sincere attempt to understand the schizoid patient as the patient experiences him- or herself. In his analysis, Laing practices what he has preached.

In my interpretation of Schreber's case, I am deeply indebted to Laing, for I tried to approach Schreber's memoirs in the way Laing approaches his patients. I attempted to "wave accross the abyss" to understand the world of Schreber as a religious man, rather than as a mere madman. The main "abyss," I found, was language; an "abyss" which Schreber himself was well aware of. From the beginning, Schreber admits to a difficulty in translating his experiences to language, as well as the irrefutability of all that he presents, in the memoirs:

    I cannot of course count upon being fully understood because
    these things are dealt with which cannot be expressed in human
    language; they exceed human understanding. Nor can I maintain that
    everything is irrefutably certain even for me: much remains only
    presumption and probability. After all I too am only a human being and
    therefore limited by the confines of human understanding; but one thing
    I am certain of, namely that I have come infinitely closer to the truth
    than human beings who have not received divine revelation. (Schreber,
    1903, p. 41).

In turn, Schreber warns the reader that, in order to make his "supernatural" experiences comprehensible, he must use "images and similes, which may at times perhaps be only approximately correct" (p. 41). Throughout the memoirs, Schreber points to Biblical texts and natural science to support the "evidence" of his "supernatural" experiences, often amending current theories and beliefs according to his own experiences.

Schreber was indeed alone. In countless examples, Schreber showed how the attendants in his various asylums refused to listen to him. At one point, as he gazed at the stars to find his God, the attendants forced Schreber into further solitude by boarding up his windows. Schreber, taking his own journey to Cader Idris, was given no direction back home. He was not mirrored by the presence of the other who, by listening to him, could aid him in his return. Although clothed and fed, Schreber lacked a fully present other to help him rediscover his "interexperience" with an Other.

Interestingly, Schreber began his recovery from psychosis with a visit from his wife: the first person in years who, with her love, gave Schreber the presence of the Other he needed to make his return to conventional reality. In the memoirs, Schreber's recovery is preceded by a visit from Schreber's wife, who brought him a poem she had written, ending with the verse: "Then comes to you a faithful guest/God's still and silent peace" (p. 116). Schreber interpreted the words "God's peace" as "the expression used in the basic language for sleep produced by divine rays," and, for which, Schreber understood his wife to be expressing the words "let me" in the "basic language," meaning: "Let me- you rays that are turning me back - do let me follow the power of attraction of my husband's nerves: I am preparing to dissolve in my husband's body" (p. 116). Schreber, at this point, was no longer alone. Within a year, he had almost fully recovered, and had already begun to write his memoirs, as well as to fight for his right to freedom.

Schreber's experience is echoed by the legend of Merlin, known as 'Wyllt' (the Wild) in early Welsh literature (Freeman, 1998). Merlin, according to this legend, was a king who went mad after viewing the horrors of battle. He ran off into the wild, where he isolated himself from his community. Upon drinking from a healing spring, Merlin recovered his sanity. In praise of God for a return to peace, he prayed:

    I was taken out of my true self, I was as a spirit and knew the history of people long past
    and could foretell the future. I knew then the  secrets of nature, bird flight, star wanderings,
    and the way fish glide. This distressed me and, by a hard law, deprived me of the rest that is
    natural to the human mind. Now I am myself again, and I feel strong in me that life with which
    my spirit had always filled my limbs. (Clarke, 1979).

Schreber and Merlin ('Wyllt') both experience their madness as an alienation from self and from others. Rather than an affirmation of life and one's existence as an embodied human being in the world with others, madness, in these two cases, consists of a destructive power which disavowals life and leads to an experience of terror and loneliness. In the language of Laing (1960), their madness lacks the joy of liberation due to the "ontological insecurity" which accompanies their break with convention.


According to Laing, the person who is ontologically secure is centered in his or her own body in which he or she understands themselves as "real," "alive," "whole," "substantial," and, "in a temporal sense, as a continuous person" (Laing, 1960, p. 41). In contrast, the ontologically insecure person may feel "more unreal than real" and/or "more dead than alive" and experience themselves as lacking a sense of themselves as substantial and/or constant (Laing, 1960, p. 42). Whereas the ontologically secure person feels at one or in synch with their body, the ontologically insecure person may feel separated from their body to a certain extent. Further, while the ontologically secure person never questions their sense of identity and autonomy, the ontologically insecure person does so constantly.

Unlike the ontologically secure person, the individual who is ontologically insecure has difficulty experiencing the world as "real," "alive," "whole," and continuous, as well. In turn, he or she feels disconnected from the world and others. In the experience of the ontologically insecure, the world and others thereby serve as a constant threat (Laing, 1960, p. 42).

Laing describes three forms of anxiety encountered by the ontologically insecure person: 1) Engulfment, 2) implosion, and 3) petrification and depersonalization. Since the ontologically insecure person lacks a sense of autonomy, he or she dreads relating to others in fear that his or her identity will be lost as it is engulfed by the other. In an effort to preserve his or her identity, he or she seeks isolation. In his or her isolation, the person begins to feel a sense of emptiness. In turn, reality takes on an implosive quality in that it threatens to cave in on the vacuum his or her impoverished experience has become (Laing, 1960, pp. 43-46).

Petrification can be understood according to three different meanings. Petrification can mean: 1) a "form of terror" experienced by a person, 2) the dread of being subjected to such "terror" in which the person becomes an "it" without subjectivity, or 3) the endeavor to turn someone else into such an "it" to prevent them from doing the same to oneself (Laing, 1960, p. 46).

Depersonalization is the technique used in which one depersonalizes someone who has become, as Laing puts it: "too tiresome or disturbing" (Laing, 1960, p. 46). Such depersonalization is not necessarily "abnormal" in itself since all people do this to a certain degree. However, in the case of the ontologically insecure, such depersonalization of others is substantially more pervasive (Laing, 1960, p. 47).

As subjected to these three forms of anxiety, the ontologically insecure person finds themselves constantly torn between the experience of either complete isolation from others or complete merging of identity with others. In reaction to this dilemma -- in which the person feels their autonomy and identity are constantly threatened -- the person creates an existence in which they become "disembodied." Their "true self" becomes differentiated from their body and outward behavior ("false self") as this self "looks" upon his or her own actions as if they belonged to someone else.

The ontologically insecure person who experiences themselves as "disembodied" becomes engaged in a vicious circle. They need to be with others in order to fill up the vacuum of their isolated experience, yet they see others as a threat. The alternative becomes the presentation of a "false self" to others which is identified with his or her body and behavior. In turn, the "true self," as identified with "mental activity," engages in what Laing describes as: a "pseudo-interpersonal self-relationship" whereby he or she "treats the false selves as though they were other people whom it depersonalizes" (Laing, 1960, pp. 73-74).

Through this process, the person attempts to achieve omnipotence by engaging in the freedoms of his or her fantasy world. In time, the disembodied person realizes this is an impossible task. Eventually, the world of fantasy becomes unable to sustain itself since it is, as Laing describes: "unable to be enriched by outer experience" (Laing, 1960, p. 75). The experience of the person's "false self system" begins to deteriorate and becomes impoverished.

According to van den Berg: "Even by saying that he has a body (as opposed to being a body), a person withdraws himself to a certain extent from existence" (van den Berg, 1972, p. 50, italics added).

As Laing points out, even the "normal" person sometimes experiences their actions as that of a "false self." Typically, human beings may sometimes view their actions as mechanical. However, under these circumstances, the "false self" does not begin to take on a life of their own to the point of blocking all spontaneity. Similarly, the "false self" of the hysteric may be differentiated from the "false self" of the schizoid. In the case of the hysteric, the "false self" is similar to Sartre's (1956) concept of "bad faith" in which the person disassociates him- or herself from his or her actions. In contrast, the schizoid develops a "false self" in order to uphold "outward compliance" with the real or imagined expectations of others while simultaneously maintaining an "inner withholding of compliance" (Laing, 1960, pp. 94-99).

Laing goes as far as to develop an etiology of psychosis as, in his words: "the removal of the veil of the false self" (Laing, 1960, p. 105). The "false self," explains Laing, typically begins to take the form of a caricature of that which its creation was meant to comply. Eventually, this exaggerated "exterior" begins to crumble, and, in doing so, reveals the "true self" to others. The "true self," in its isolation from the world and others, has lost much of its ability to communicateand relate to others, and, therefore, presents itself in such a way which is viewed as "psychotic." As Laing has mentioned in The Politics of Experience: the psychotic experience "entails a loss of the usual foundations of the 'sense' of the world that we share with one another" (Laing, 1967, p. 132).

This understanding of psychosis is evident, for example, in Laing's description of Julie in The Divided Self. How did Julie develop so quickly from a "good, normal, healthy, child," to a "bad child," and, finally, into madness? For Laing, the "good" Julie represented the "outward compliance" of her "false self," the "bad" Julie involved the transition of the "false self" into a caricature of her compliance, and, finally, Julie's eruption into psychosis involved the "unveiling" of her "false self" which revealed her "true self" beneath (Laing, 1960, pp. 181-198).

In this sense, Laing is showing how the madness of psychosis is both a horrible existence in which the self deteriorates, and, yet, seems also to be a method of liberation from a, perhaps, even more horrible existence. Julie's psychosis, in a sense, can be seen as her path to liberation. This is not to say that Julie does not suffer, nor is it to romanticize Julie's madness as a structure of suffering.


As discussed previously, maya is the Hindu term for the world of duality; that is, delusion. Laing's follow-up to The Divided Self, titled Self and Others, is in all respects an exploration of the emergence of maya. For me, it is Laing's crowning achievement, for this reason. For me, Laing (1969), in this forum, comes much closer to showing how, in a matter of degrees, we are all a little bit mad.

For Laing (1969), maya (he doesn't use that term) is the "unconscious phantasy systems" which "we take to be our realities" (p. 40). Moreover, it entails that the phantasy as such remains unrecognized. The web of delusion arises from what Laing calls "elusion": "a relation in which one pretends oneself away from one's original self; then pretends oneself back from this pretence so as to appear to have arrived back at the starting point" (p. 45). This is not mere imagination, but the result of imagining that what one imagines is "real" (p. 48). The result is an estrangement from presence, "the present is never realized," as well as an estrangement from others, who is "related to as the embodiment of phantasy" (p. 48).

How does this web of delusion arise? For Laing (1969), the "self" can never be understood in isolation, but, rather, the "self" emerges "in and through relationship whereby the other fulfils or completes self" (p. 82). In the "inter-relationships" between self and other, "identity" emerges. In turn, the web of delusion is woven as we attempt to defend the phantasies which sustain this "identity." In fact, the more "phantasy" is involved in the creation of "identity," for Laing, "the more intensely (it) is defended" (p. 86). In fantasy, I am either imagining the future or lost in the past. I cannot be present to the other, nor can the other be present to me. As a result, the "total confirmation of one man by another is an ideal possibility seldom realized" (p. 98). For the most part, we are involved in 'acting' out these 'false' identities with "a frantic desire to make pretences real" (p. 52).

Laing 'illuminates' the convoluted web of maya in a way which, I believe, is true to the original intention of the Hindu/Buddhist term. In this context, the term is less a metaphysical idea than it is descriptive of experience. Maya does not mean mere "illusion" or "delusion," but "the entire world-conception of a culture, considered as illusion in the strict etymological sense of a play (Latin, ludere)" (Watts, 1961, p. 9). Maya is the result of taking one's role too seriously in the 'play' of life -- when, due to 'elusion,' one loses sight of where the one role begins and another ends, and, caught up in these roles, one desperately attempts to hold onto the 'identity' which arises from this "inter-relational" web. In a way, it means that one loses the ability to "play" in the child's sense, since one takes the socially defined "play" too seriously. Watts (1961) writes:

    The aim of a way of liberation is not the destruction of maya but seeing it
    for what it is, or seeing through it. Play is not to be taken seriously, or, in other words,
    ideas of the world and of oneself which are social conventions and institutions are not
    to be confused with reality. The rules of communication are not necessarily the rules
    of the universe, and man is not the role or identity which society thrusts upon him.
    For when a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others
    have given him, he is at once universal and unique...(C)onfusion of oneself with a
    limiting and impoverished view of one's role or identity creates feelings of isolation,
    loneliness, and alienation. (p. 9)

When I originally encountered the concept of maya, I thought it was something one could do away with. I had the silly idea that one could achieve a pure state of being, with my reading of the Buddhist "nirvana," in which one could live constantly in a state of enlightenment or satori. Some Buddhists claim this is possible, and, I don't know, I suppose it could be possible. But, when reading Laing, it seems clear to me that maya, in a sense, is always with us. It is part of the human kind of being -- in a similar sense that, in Heidegger's (1927) terms, das Man (the they) is part of the ontological structure of Dasein.

Laing calls one to be fully present to one's self and others. I recognize how damn hard it is to go about doing such a thing. To be fully present, in the moment, to "be here now," as Ram Dass would say, seems to be the easiest thing imaginable. Yet, it is exceedingly difficult. Laing illustrates this beautifully in his description of the tea ceremony. I mean, have I ever really given another person -- I mean, really given another person -- a cup of tea? "It is the simplest and most difficult thing in the world for one person, genuinely being his or her self, to give, in fact and not just in appearance, another person, realized in his or her own being by the giver, a cup of tea, really, and not in appearance" (Laing, 1969, p. 106).

The lesson Laing and Watts teach us is that we need not go anywhere special to visit Cader Idris. The "world axis" is always here, right now, where I stand, sit, walk, lie...or serve a cup of tea. When we are caught up in the grasping of our identity, "madness may be sought as a way out" (Laing, 1969, p. 53). There are, perhaps, other ways to return from the trip to Cader Idris. I can die. That would end it all right there -- no more maya. Or I could become a visionary and a seer. But what does it mean to "see" in this way?


To illustrate the idea of "presence," I would like to recount the Greek myth of Semele, a young woman who was the daughter of the king of Thebes. A true beauty, Semele was visited by a mysterious lover in the night as she laid down to bed. She had suspected all along that this visitor was a god, and this filled her with delight and wonder. At the urging of her nurse, Beroe, Semele put her love to the test one night. Semele wanted most of all to see her lover in all his glory, as he truly was. When her lover came to her, once again, in the night, Semele asked him if he, as a pledge of his love, would do anything for her. "Yes," he replied, his love was so strong for her. With this pledge, Semele demanded: "I want to see you in your true form! I want to know your name. I want you to appear without masks or disguises, but instead as you truly are!"

Saddened by his lover's request, he complied nonetheless. Bowing his head, his presence began to glow with ever-increasing brilliance, like hot, searing sun light. "I have had many names," he spoke as he lifted his guise, "but you may know me as Zeus." His luminosity grew to such intensity that Semele was burnt to ashes, her flesh melting away at the sight of the god before her in all his glory. From the dust which had been her body, arose their son, Dionysius the twice-born, "god of the savagery and rapturous glory given by the vine" (Baan, 1998, p. 38).

The birth of Dionysius occurs when Semele sees the true nature of her lover -- a luminosity which disintegrates her "self." Here is a myth, then, which describes what occurs when one is truly present to the other. To truly be present to the other, in a sense, one's separate identity is rendered to ash -- we must die to our fantasies of "identity" which wraps us in a web of delusion. And from the ashes, rises the god of ecstasy and intoxication, Dionysius.

As Nietzsche (1990) described, Apollo, in distinction from Dionysius, is "man caught in the veil of Maya" (p. 22). This veil is lifted with the onset of "Dionyiac rapture, whose closest analogy is furnished by physical intoxication" (p. 22). One is penetrated with joy, and, "so stirred, ...forgets himself completely" (p. 22). Man and man, man and nature, once separated by categories of fantasy, are brought together again in one, rapturous moment. "Now that the gospel of universal harmony is sounded, each individual becomes not only reconciled to his fellow but actually at one with him - as though the veil of Maya has been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness" (p. 23). In this ecstatic state, one realizes that the "world axis," what I have been referring to as Cader Idris, is everywhere and nowhere. The "self" as separate dies, and the New Adam is born. As Christ said, "He who would gain his life must lose it."

In the beginning of this paper, I asked the question: Why would anyone want to go "mad"? The Sufi, such as Rumi, is one who seeks that ecstatic, Dionysian moment which lifts the veil of Maya. The Sufi teaches this practice in "The Tavern of Ruin," the Sufi dergah, where seekers learn "to lose the passions of the self and to experience the ecstasy of selflessness. This education (is) in every respect a dismantling of the false self" (Helminski, 1998, p. 10). The culmination of this learning results in what the Sufis call wajd, derived from the root meaning of "to find," which consists of "a state formerly hidden from the heart that now confronts perception" ('Arabi, 1992, p. 10). This discovery, as the experience of ecstacy, is the realization of wujud, or "true being" (Helminski, 1998, p. 10). It is a spontaneous awaking to an undifferentiated world in which self and other, self and world, merge. To grasp for such an experience is fruitless, for the grasping itself is a clinging to the 'identity' which sustains the alienation of self, other and world. To grasp for wujud is not wujud, but tawajud, which "signifies pretensing ecstacy, or attempting to summon ecstasy without ecstasy itself" (p. 12).

Ultimately, however, the ecstacy of the Sufi is not an escape to some 'otherworldly' existence. The living out of "ecstacy" for the Sufi, rather, is "servanthood," in which one pursues "dauntless friendship and generosity" while maintaining an 'ordinary' existence, "an invisibility within society" (Helminski, 1998, p. 13-14). As Helminski (1998) writes: "The ecstacy that is sought for the purposes of escaping the burden of egoism cannot emancipate us from that egoism because the one is a direct expression of the other" (p. 14). Thus, the Sufi realizes a "functional non-existence" which is grounded in the world. It is a "grounded selflessness, a practical enlightenment" (p. 14). Thus, the "madness" of the Sufi is not the madness of one who is unable to live within convention; instead, the Sufi lives in convention, yet learns, through experiencing "ecstacy," to see through it.

With this insight, it is possible to distinguish, for example, the experience of Schreber from the madness of which Rumi speaks. Schreber, too, experiences ecstacy as the "soul voluptuousness" takes over his body. But his experience is twinged with agony. He is simultaneously torn to shreds. As Schreber's "false self" disintegrates, he is unable to bear the other as revealed to him in all its Dionysian glory. Schreber, falling out of conventional reality, is unable to find his way back -- that is, until his wife, as the other, becomes present to him. With the presence of the other, Schreber is able to be re-born as self. While the Sufi mystic embraces all of existence, Schreber recoils from existence. The Sufi's "ecstacy" is grounded in "ontological security," while Schreber's "ecstacy" is grounded in "ontological insecurity." The Sufi experiences joy and bliss, while Schreber's madness consists of sheer terror and agony.

In Hindu mythology, this destruction of the "ego," whether as joy or terror, is represented by the image of Kali, the goddess-mother who "prepares us for the oneness. Kali is she who swallows the universe. She consumes smallness, your pain, your guilt, and finally your ego...Kali is the Black Mother, the dark mother of the night. It is she who kills the ego dead. (Bhagavati, 1998, p. 18). Kali, seen through the veil of maya, is a terrifying presence. She is depicted as surrounded by cremation grounds, dripping blood, wearing a garland of skulls, a belt of severed hands, holding a skull cup and a sword. "She devours pain, devours truth, devours falseness, devours all that is and leaves just the purity of the heart" (Bhagavati, 1998, p. 18). In being devoured by Kali, we experience the ecstacy, both agony and joy, which we've seen in the stories of the Sufi and of Schreber in his madness. For Schreber, Kali takes on a dark and terrifying presence, while the Sufi and the Hindu welcome her destruction of the self, and, in being devoured, are overcome by rapturous splendor. Kali assumes a dark and terrifying form, such as with Schreber, since she represents one's own darkness, which she consumes. When one succumbs to her power, one instead experiences her as a presence of love and compassion who, by stripping one's flesh, leaves one free. In melting away the "ego flesh," Kali allows our "true flesh to become bright" (Bhagavati, 1998, p. 21).


If we recall van den Berg (1961), a world prevaded by "distance" -- from God, others, the lived world-- is a world where "miracles" are no longer possible. Yet, in the moment of ecstacy, there is no separate "I," no separate other, no separate separate God. In Ekstasis, "the soul is drawn out of itself and stands outside of itself," and it "overcomes and transcends its limitations, and begins to see the beauty and value of others on their own terms, for their own sakes" (Kwasniewski, 1998, p. 28). In Ekstasis, "miracles" are again possible, since it is a world no longer pervaded by "distance." In being present, one not only experiences "ecstacy," but love becomes possible -- something truly miraculous.

When I become estranged from love, as being present to the other, I am a man divided -- divided both against myself and others. Clinging to "ego," I cannot love, for I am clinging to what cleaves and separates -- what categorizes -- as opposed to what brings self and other together. When a human being is estranged in such a way, as Bamford (1985) writes: "human beings begin to feel themselves at first distinct; later, isolated; and, finally, opposed to each other in fear, greed, envy, lust, etc." (P. 67). This estrangement is the beginning of "the divided self," characterized by the delusions which Laing (1960; 1969) so adeptly describes. Fundamentally, the world of the schizoid, as Laing portrays it, is a world where love becomes impossible. It is a world where "distinction precedes isolation, and isolation fosters opposition" (Kwasniewski, 1998, p.22). In love, like Seleme, we become mortally wounded -- our separate, isolated existence dies, so that we may be reborn as an undivided self. When I become "one-with-another," I die to my "self" or "ego." As Kwasniewski (1998) writes: seeks to annihilate the ego's so-called undividedness, replacing it with
    the division or wounding brought about by love...Finally, love brings about the
    reunification of two as one, the lover and the beloved aspiring to true individuality
    (which means 'undividedness') because of the eternal and infinite foundation of their
    love in the unchanging and perfectly simple God. (p. 23)

It is no mistake that the incarnation of evil in Christian mythology, Satan, is evil by virtue of his estrangement from God's presence. The "opposition" of self and other, which characterizes the worst "evil," results from "the division of soul from self, and self from other and from God" (p. 23). It is maya which characterizes this lonely distance which pervades such an existence. For Eckhart, this division results from the "veil of images" which clouds the vision of the infinite and divine beauty of the soul of self, other, and God. Kierkegaard, too, talks of these images or imaginary worlds -- what we have thus far called maya -- which become an impediment to love, to see the other and to see God with clear vision (Bamford, 1985).

Kwasniewski (1998) charts a liberatory path towards a closing of this distance which allows for the realization of love, in which "the soul is borne to God" through "diremption and reunification" (p. 26). "Diremption" is exemplified by the story of Seleme, in which, viewing the other in all his glory, dies to her "ego." "Diremption" is "the divorcement of the self, the new man, from the ego, the old man" (p. 26). The death to the "identity" to which we desperately cling opens the veil to the vision of "God." As Schuon (1990) writes:

    Love: God is love, infinite life. The ego on the contrary is a stable death,
    comparable, in its congenital self-centeredness, to a stone, and also, in its paltriness,
    to a sterile and shifting sand. The hardened heart must be liquified; its indifference
    toward God must turn into fervor. (p. 121-122)

With "diremption," one is torn apart, broken, cleaved from the old self: This is the work of Kali who, in her terrifying form, destroys the "ego." Yet, from out of these ashes, arises the "New Adam." Upon the destruction of the "ego," the "new self" emerges through "reunification," which "takes place when the distance between man and God is overcome, first by grace, then by glory" (Kwasniewski, 1998, p. 26). One comes to recognize one's "true nature" as imago Dei and awakens to the recognition that, in the participation in "uncreated Being," one "only becomes himself when he returns to what he is" (p. 26).

Like with the Sufi, this process does not lead one to 'otherworldly' realms, but leads one to where one always has been -- to the "world axis," to Cader Idris -- within which, without ever needing to travel a yard, one had been so desperately lost. One returns to the "servanthood" of a communal self who brings this vision of love to the community to share it with others. One does not move away from the world, but rather comes much more deeply attuned to the world and others: "Faith and love are ecstatic activities," writes Kwasniewski (1998), "by which the solitary and divided ego matures into a communal self, unified in its being and able to be united to others in a life of service and sharing" (p. 28).

In Mahayana Buddhism, the person who returns from Cader Idris to unite with others as a communal self is known as "the Boddhisattva." The Boddhisattva is one "who returns to society and adopts its conventions without 'attachment', who in other words plays the social game instead of taking it seriously" (Watts, 1961, p. 53). The Boddhisattva, having passed through the flame of "diremption" and re-born through "reunification," is able to see through the social conventions, yet, unlike the madman, is still able to play the game. In turn, as he returns to the world of convention, he does so with the intention of liberating others. As "guru," he teaches others to follow their own path to liberation. The Boddhisattva, in one sense, is not different from anyone else:

    His advantage, his liberation, lies in the fact that he is not in conflict with
    himself; he is not in the double-bind of pretending that he is an independent agent
    without knowing that he is pretending, of imagining that he is an ego or subject which
    can somehow manage to be permanently 'one up' on its correlative object - the changing
    panorama of experiences, sensations, feelings, and thought. (Watts, 1961, p. 55)

In Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayana, the Diamond Way, the emphasis on enlightenment is, from the very beginning, viewed as an enlightenment which takes place in the world. The Tantric Buddhist seeks to cultivate passion and bliss in the experience of one's "palaces of sense organs" which, when attuned, may taste the spiritual ecstasy which is at hand in this very world (Shaw, 1994). The Tantric Buddhist seeks to be rooted in an "ontological security" which is able to "cultivate the ability to recognize the intrinsic ecstasy of being at every moment" (Shaw, 1998, p. 39). In the return to who one is, one recognizes the ever-present divine ecstasy "at the core of every sense experience, mind-state, and emotion" which, as our birthright, has been lost to us due to our inability to fully surrender to the moment, to presence (Shaw, 1998, p. 39).

While this experience of the Tantric practitioner may sound remote to Western ears, it turns out not to be so remote when we look to our own experiences of joy. In my own research of being joyful, I found there an experience which closely matches that of the "mystical" traditions I have outlined above.


While the beautiful language of Western and Eastern mysticism is poetic and illustrates the concept of the "visionary" who returns from Cader Idris, the language of mysticism is often taken to be a transcendent, otherworldly state of existence. When turning to the common experience of joy, we are less likely to get caught up in a romanticized notion of the liberation which I am attempting to outline. In my research on joy, I was both surprised and very pleased to find, at the heart of it, a glimpse at the "divine ecstasy" of which I speak, yet found in the common experience of joy we seem to know so well (Robbins, 1998).

When I initially began researching joy, I was coming out of an understanding in which, as Sartre (1993) asserted, the emotion of joy is "bad faith." For Sartre, joy is "bad faith," like all other emotion, since "it is a magical behavior which tends by incantation to realize the possession of the desired object as instantaneous totality" (p. 69). That is, the joyful person sees the world as undifferentially positive, and, thus, blinds him- or herself from the fact that he or she will only temporarily escape the drudgery of the workaday, instrumental world. With the joy of receiving a desired object, the subject momentarily and 'magically' fools him- or herself into believing that possession of the desired object will also involve "difficult behavior." As Lee (1979) writes, Sartre understands joy as "a magical attempt to instantaneously possess the totality of what one desires, rather than engaging in the prudent, often difficult process which would actually bring about such possession" (p. 68).

Lee (1979), critiquing Sartre (1993), argues that, if one does chose to be joyful, as Sartre asserts, this does not necessarily imply the person is in "bad faith." The choice of joy, on the contrary, could also be seen as an "acceptance of the world" rather than a "denial of the world" (p. 70). For Lee, Sartre seems to ignore that, for many people, the goal is emotion, not some instrumental end. She writes:

    It would seem that the greatest weakness of Sartre's theory is his failure to realize that
    a great many goals consciousness sets for itself are in fact emotional ones...He speaks as
    though the only goals consciousness sets for itself are pragmatic ones having to do with
    bringing about transformations in the structure of the world through instrumental
    techniques which are in accordance with the deterministic processes of the world. (P. 71)

If, indeed, emotions in and of themselves are a goal for which people strive, this essentially turns much of the research on emotion on its head. How can emotion be an evaluation of a situation based on goals, such as with appraisal theories, if emotion itself is the goal? Further, if emotion is the goal of behavior, then what is the interpersonal "movement" of an emotion which aims to move closer towards emotion? Yet, in a sense, Lee (1979) makes an excellent point. How many times have we wished for joy itself? Is not the capacity to feel joy one of the implicit goals of any psychologist working with a person with this or that psychopathology? Isn't the capacity for joy one of the criteria for mental health, if not explicitly, then implicitly? And if so, how are we motivated to be joyful? And can we, in fact, choose to be joyful? Yet, if we look hard at the phenomena of joy, part of its nature seems to be its slipperiness, its inability to be willed into being by the conscious subject.

As William Blake (1994) wrote:

    He who bends to himself a Joy
    Doth the winged life destroy;
    But he who kisses the Joy as it flies
    Lives in Eternity's sunrise (p. 143

Indeed, it seems to be the very character of joy that it is elusive. It seems to come when it is not called, and it hides when it is beckoned. The more one strives for joy, it seems, the more one is driven into despair, unable to catch hold of its elusive 'wings.' What then is the nature of joy?

Strasser (1977) argued that "joy" should be distinguished from "enjoyment." Joy, for Strasser, "in its most general sense is the felt affirmation of attaining possession after a previous uncertainty" (p. 337). Enjoyment, however, involves "the state of untroubled and painless possession of the good itself" (p. 336). Further, while enjoyment requires an object or subject to be enjoyed, joy requires no such thing, for joy can be had in the "discovery of a way, a means, an instrument" for the means of which to attain enjoyment. Joy rests in the certitude that what is desired will be attained. As with Sartre's conception of joy, Strasser's joy emerges in anticipation of things to come. It is an openness toward what is coming-towards such that one exults in the coming. Joy may take the form of rapture, delight, and ecstacy, or it may found in the "poetic journey" itself (p. 339). In either case, joy is an anticipatory emotion for Strasser. Lastly, Strasser distinguishes joy from serenity. Whereas joy bursts forth in a momentary fullness, serenity "is a basic disposition of life and not a moment in the course of experience" (p. 341).

Yet, what does joy bring closer to it in anticipation? Life itself? A loved other? A desired object? Perhaps, joy may emerge in anticipation of all of these things. In fact, as Lee points out, joy may even emerge in anticipation of itself! Yet, Buytendijk (1988) finds "the joy of being in the world," in the course of development, as primarily a social event which emerges with "the first smile of the child" (p. 90). Joy, after all, brings with it a jubilant smile. And the smile, in part, accounts for the immediate recognition of joy in the other. It is an emotional expression more easily recognized in the other compared to any other emotion (Argyle, 1987). In the smile, the other is welcomed to partake in the delight in possibility. "The smile," writes Buytendijk (1988), "externalizes a sunny, silent surrender by a broadening of the face, by the expression of the eyes, and by the closed lips - everything that the encounter (with the other) contains as possibility" (p. 19). Like play, the "smile" uncovers the essential sociality of joy, in which "a reciprocity in the anticipation of mirrored in the smile" (p. 19). For these reasons, Buytendijk sees the first smile of the child as the sign of the infant's first emergence into "self-being" as a movement toward the other who smiles in return (p. 23). Similarly, for Jagr (1971), "the child's original access to the world" can be thought of "in terms of the loving illumination which is the mother's face" (p. 213). Thus, joy, like the other emotions, is a "movement" into the world which, ultimately, is a world with others. The smiling face of the mother invites the child to participate in this very world, and, in response, the child smiles in return, signifying she is already there.

In De Rivera's (1988) conception of emotion, his conception of joy shares the notion that joy is experienced as a movement toward the world, self and other:

    In joy, the self is realized or actualized. The person experience his existence as
    meaningful, as coming closer to the self that he 'really' is. While this real self is
    different from the ideal self that is the concern of the recognition emotions, the being
    of the real self still has a social component in the sense that the other is implicit...
    When joy occurs, the person experiences the self as 'meeting' an other. That is,
    an other person or object becomes present for the person, acquiring significance that
    is filled with meaning in an almost magical way. (p. 64-65)

For De Rivera, joy is the "me emotion," involving the instruction to "let it be" and in which the self "gains existence," which corresponds to the "it emotion" of wonder, in which the other gains meaning as we grasp its meaning (p. 65). In contrast to joy is dread, which denies the reality of the other, therefore rendering the other non-existent. The corresponding "me emotion" is "panic" in which the "self loses meaning" and begins to crumble into potential non-existence (p. 65). For De Rivera, it seems that the capacity for joy lies at the very heart of the capacity to feel real, alive, and significant.

When I conducted a pilot study of joy, using a method combining protocol analysis and the imagery in movement method, I began to catch a glimpse of joy as a kind of "mystical experience," which sustained many of the queries described above (Robbins, 1998). The subjects I studied experienced joy as a centering, expansive, time-altering, unbounded, intense experience of freedom -- of a safety in being present in the moment -- which involved a sense of completeness and wholeness and, in which, self, other, and world where experienced in unity and harmony.

All of the subjects in the study described their experience of joy as originating in the center of his or her being. Using drawings to illustrate their experience, each subject was compelled to start with the center of the drawing. Further, each subject located this center in the lived body as originating in the region of the torso in the area of the chest and stomach. In turn, the movement of joy, for these subjects, found its meaningful origin in a centered self. Further, the subject felt joy as a movement up and out from the center of her being. This powerful, warm feeling welled up from the center of the person's being and moved out toward the world with a sense of expansiveness. The person felt as if the feeling of joy began as contained, but, as the subject connected to the world and the other(s), became diffused, such that self, other, world and things all participate in the joy.

In locating their experience in the center of their being, the subjects locates joy as originating in the "world axis" -- joy emerges from the Cader Idris which exists 'in' each of us. With the movement up and out, the subjects describe the experience of Ekstasis, in which, as stated above, the soul is drawn out of the person to meet the other. Each of the subjects experienced joy as moving toward a state of fulfillment which took the form of an other or others who represented what the individual felt to be lacking in herself -- thus, exemplifying a movement of reunification with the other upon the dissolution of the self which has already disintegrated in Ekstasis. The moment of "diremption" occurred with the onset of an experience of awe -- a sense of veneration and wonder of a power behind the experience of self, other and world. The subjects felt the presence of the world as a power which was greater than herself. It was felt as a power which was beyond control of the self as the subject moved in joy toward the other and the state of fulfillment. It would be no stretch of the imagination to view this "presence" as that of Kali, the archetypal dark mother, who tears the person from their "egoic" isolation. Yet, at the peak experience of joy, as characteristic of "reunification," the subject loses the sense of separation between self, other and world. Whereas this experience could be terrifying, it is rather felt by the subjects as a harmony and concordance with self, other and world. The metaphors used by the subjects to explain their experience, both electricity and water, are substances which have force and power when contained, but which can become diffused, giving way to its boundaries. Electricity and water are both described as "currents." A current evokes a force, a sense of direction and power, so long as it is contained, but which, once transversing its containment, flows into its surroundings. Consequently, joy involves a movement from self-consciousness to an immersion in the activity, the other, and the world. The diffusion and loss of boundaries is an ecstatic, self-transcendent state of being.

All of the subjects described joy as a powerful and moving emotion of extreme intensity, marked by earnest enthusiasm and fervor. Yet, this was an intensity which was tinged by a softness, a feeling of peace, tranquility and harmony. Joy was experienced as a feeling of "highness," which stems from numerous associations. With joy, the subject feels elevated and lofty. Further, the emotion of joy is a peak experience, in which the subject experiences a fullness of being, as if reaching the acme of her existence. The quality of highness also speaks to the exalted and sublime character of joy for the subject, which leaves her with a feeling of awe; also, the profundity of the experience, as well as to its power, such as with "high winds" or "high speed," speaking to the extreme quality of joy. All of these qualities of joy speak to the Dionysian quality of the experience, but, most of all, the Dionysian quality shows through in the description of "highness" as an intoxicating quality in joy. Paradoxically, the vertical move of 'being high' is simultaneously a horizontal movement toward the other. Unlike the 'high' one acquires from drug intoxication (i.e., amphetamines), the 'high' is not a liberation from the other, but, rather, a liberation with the other.

The subjects experienced a transformation of everyday, mundane clock time. One subject described this as a feeling of "eternity" or "infinity." Yet, all of the subjects felt joy as a sense of completeness, a world in which, temporarily, worries of the future and the remembrance of painful past experiences are no longer included in the present moment. It follows that, like the experience of the "mystics" described above, the experience of joy is a profound feeling of presence in the moment.

The unboundedness of the joyful moment is felt by the subject as a freedom. Yet, this is not a freedom to do whatever one pleases. Rather, it is a freedom in the moment; a moment which, for the time, takes on a feeling of completeness and wholeness. The freedom is a connection to one possibility offered by a welcoming and benevolent world, which affirms the choice of the subject. Freedom, in this sense, is a freedom to be -- a safety in being -- in the moment.

Further, each of the subjects found that the experience of joy was a life-affirming experience. One of the subjects chose green as a color in her drawing of joy because it symbolized the verdant quality of joy . The Latin root of verdant, viridis, literally means "green," though the French derivative, verdoyer, is to be verdant, grow green. The verdant quality of joy, therefore, follows from the quality of aliveness evoked by the feeling of joy. That which is verdant is green with growing plants or grass and/or covered with fresh vegetation. From this vision of organic growth, the colloquial use of "verdant" refers to the unsophistication of youth. This opens up another general meaning of joy: Its youthful quality. Each subject associated the experience of joy with youth, whether by remembering joy from a youthful period of their lives or by experiencing joy when participating in being youthful with children. Youth is both associated with a vibrancy and growth, as well as with being naive and innocent. It speaks to the "playful" quality of joy, as well; perhaps a return to the "magical" world of the child so often pathologized in psychology. In short, the nurturing, life-affirming, life-sustaining quality of joy was a dominant theme.

Not one of the subjects felt that joy can be willed. Rather, joy results from an openness to the possibility of a connection to the world out of which joy erupts. One subject felt joy as finding its source in the "well" in the center of her being, which can only be triggered by the right external event -- although she finds comfort knowing that joy exists within her as a possibility. For another subject, joy requires a sympathy from the world, which, once established, permits the subject to take up one possibility of connecting to this sympathy. For still another subject, joy is more elusive, but, when it occurs, it is not willed. Rather, it sweeps over one with the force of a whirlwind, pushing away the complications of daily life. With all these subjects, joy requires a reciprocal openness to the experience from self, other and world, which, in the right moment, come together in harmonious agreement and affirmation of the experience.

Contrary to much of the research on joy, joy was not experienced by the subject as the result of the accomplishment of an instrumental aim. Rather, joy for these subjects was felt as completely spontaneous; it comes over them in such a way that they are surprised to find themselves in the emotion. While each of the subjects described being in a pleasurable situation -- whether by receiving Christmas presents, playing with cousins, or watching one's horse win an important race -- the joyful experience is not the direct result of the subject's expectation of being in the pleasant circumstance. In the moment of joy, the subject does not experience herself as accomplishing an instrumental aim, but instead experiences an immersion in the activity. Joy, therefore, is a self-transcendent state as opposed to a self-actualization or self-inflation in which one recognizes that one has made some instrumental gain.

Joy, emerging as a movement toward an other symbolizing a state of fulfilled being, culminates in a peak experience in which the subject, for a moment, achieves the realization of this fulfillment. For the moment, the subject attains an exemplary experience of perfection, beauty or excellence. There is a feeling of harmony, wholeness, completeness, and perfection in which the daily imperfections of life are momentary forgotten and placed aside as the subject becomes immersed in the experience of joy. The world takes on the character of an undifferentially good place, which is safe and life-affirming, and in which there are no impinging complications and nothing is lacking.


As Sartre (1993) asserts, the subjects in this study do experience the world as undifferentially positive. For Sartre, this is a self-deceptive escape from freedom, thus "bad faith." Yet, the subjects reported that, in joy, they felt truly free and emancipated! What are we to make of this? It seems that the subjects report a different kind of freedom, a freedom which emerges from a shift in the subject's temporal mode of being. All of the subjects experienced a transformation of everyday, mundane clock time. Specifically, the subject felt the peak experience of joy as a sense of completeness -- a world in which, temporarily, worries of the future and the remembrance of painful past experiences are no longer included in the present moment. On the one hand, this seems to support Sartre's view of joy as "bad faith." But the key seems to be that the subject is able to attain this state of being by experiencing joy as a profound feeling of presence in the moment. And the subject is able to do this when the instrumental aim of everydayness is allowed to drop to the side -- the subject is no longer instrumentally geared toward future accomplishments, but is affirmed, wholly, in the present moment. And it is within this temporal mode, it seems to me, that the subject becomes truly free. Yet, this is not a freedom to do whatever one pleases. Rather, it is a freedom in the moment; a moment, which, for the time, takes on the feeling of completeness and wholeness. The freedom is a connection to one possibility offered by a welcoming and benevolent world, which affirms the subject. Freedom, in this sense, is a freedom to be -- a safety in being -- in the moment. In contrast, it seems, Sartre's freedom is a freedom to be miserable by constantly seeking future gratification -- seems like another kind of "bad faith" to me. This supports Lee's argument that joy is truly an "acceptance of the world" -- for the world, other and self are all affirmed; life itself is affirmed. It seems safe to say, in this respect, that the urge toward joy, expressed by each subject, is truly a desire to affirm life in all its manifestations. Joy becomes possible in the moment when the person ceases to grasp at one's "fantasy" of what one should or should not be.

This has major clinical implications. The client in psychotherapy who is incapable of feeling joy can be viewed as one who is incapable of affirming his or her own life, as well as others and the world. At the core of this deficit, it can be argued, the person has not gained the feeling of safety necessary to affirm self, other and world. The world remains for the client an unsafe place. It seems vital to explore this insight in light of the role of therapy itself. This seems to affirm the power of therapy when the therapist, by creating a holding environment for the client, provides the client with a place to feel safe, and, perhaps, to find a place where the affirmation of self, other and world can be fostered and nurtured -- as well as the capacity for joy. In madness, one's "ontological insecurity" will not allow for such a feeling of freedom; instead, the person is engulfed and terrorized by the experience. What is so similar to joy turns out to be agony -- a feeling of dread that one's very existence is at stake.

Strasser (1977) distinguishes between "joy" and "enjoyment" as follows: "joy" is a "felt affirmation of attaining possession after a previous uncertainty," while "enjoyment" is a "state of untroubled and painless possession of the good itself" (p. 336-337). Based on this research, I fail to see an affirmation of Strasser's understanding of joy as "possession." It is possible that it is an artifact of the research method, yet none of the subjects perceived their experience of joy as a result of an instrumental aim. In my assessment, it seems that joy is a relinquishing of the desire to grasp at and yearn for possession, which, for me, seems to be supported by the temporal mode of joy as a profound feeling of presence in the moment. To be freely in the moment, one would have to cease looking forward toward that which can be possessed. Further, to "possess" something, I must first understand the object which I wish to possess as somehow separate from myself -- I have to feel a sense of lack in myself. Yet, in joy, the subject experiences a moment of fulfillment in which such a feeling of lack is no longer present, at least momentarily. This makes sense in light of the subject's experience of merging with the other and the world with the unboundedness of joy.

On the other hand, Strasser's distinction between "joy" and "serenity" appears to be upheld by this study. For Strasser, "serenity" is a "basic disposition of life," whereas joy is a bursting forth in a momentary fullness (p. 341). In reflecting on this distinction in light of the protocols, joy for these subjects does indeed manifest itself as a moment -- one subject even estimating it to last about 30 seconds! Perhaps, serenity is a more subtle feeling of the affirmation of life which pervades the subjects existence -- which, in a sense, is carried with the person always when he or she gains a basic sense of security as a being-in-the-world. It can be argued that serenity is a diffuse feeling of affirmation which pervades the subject's existence, whereas joy is a momentary bursting forth of this affirmation which, as soon as it emerges, just as quickly disappears.

As stated above, I've wondered at the possibility of finding "the first smile of the child" in these protocols of joy. I may be making a rash interpretive leap by saying that I think this speculation was affirmed by this research -- but why not? Buytendijk (1988) reflects on the first smile of the child as a response to the smiling mother figure who welcomes the child into the world -- who, in effect, affirms the child's existence. I compared this to Jagr's (1971) reflection that "the child's original access to the world" can be thought of "in terms of the loving illumination which is the mother's face" (p. 213). While this may be mere speculation as to the actual experience of the infant, it seems to me to hold much archetypal power. The joy protocols were filled with maternal images of a benevolent world which held the subject in her experience of joy and which opened up the subject to a world which is pregnant with possibility. The world affirms the existence of the subject -- the face of the world is not unlike a "smile" which welcomes the subject into its many possibilities, and, in return, the subject smiles in joy, bursting forth from her center with the urge to join with this nurturing face of the world in a dance of affirmation. I found this to be quite beautiful and touching as I read the protocols. In terms of development, this has some far-reaching implications, as well. It is the mother who first affirms the child's existence and who welcomes the child into the world. The ontological safety which lies at the ground of joy can be said to begin with this initial relationship to the mother figure. At least on a symbolic level, the maternal, benevolent presence can also be seen as the archetypal presence of Kali who, when the person is stripped of "ego," appears nurturing and compassionate, thus, affirming one's existence, no longer appearing as the dark, terrifying aspect of her presence which appears when one sees in her face the reflection of one's own darkness.

De Rivera's (1988) theory of emotion is a powerful hermeneutic tool which helped me to conceptualize the nature of joy. I was quite impressed with the way the protocols affirmed De Rivera's theory of joy. Clearly, as De Rivera's theory predicted, the subjects all felt the movement of joy as a movement toward world, self and other. Further, as De Rivera's theory predicted, the self was "realized or actualized" in the moment of fulfillment in joy, in which the person, in various ways, relates to self, world and other in the mode of "let it be." The sense of wonder and awe is powerfully felt in the protocols, and, as De Rivera suggests, led the subject to grasp the meaning of self, other and world, albeit in a pre-thematic manner, in the spirit of the joyful moment. Finally, the subjects all experienced joy as a powerful feeling of being "real, alive and significant," as De Rivera's theory articulates.

De Rivera's structural theory of emotion also offers a unique way to distinguish the experience of madness from the "visionary's" experience of joy. In madness, the emotion is experienced as dread, rather than as joy. With dread, the reality of the other is denied and rendered non-existent. The corresponding "me emotion" of dread is "panic" in which the "self loses meaning" and begins to crumble into potential non-existence (p. 65). Following this distinction in light of De Rivera, the break with convention in the journey to Cader Idris is experienced as madness when one lacks "ontological security" -- when one, at root, is not grounded in one's embodied existence such that one can feel real and alive. On the contrary, the one who returns from Cader Idris as the visionary poet is the one who, despite the ecstatic break with convention, sustains the "ontological security" necessary to re-enter the world of "convention" where the other can be met, and where the other, too, can be taught the way of liberation discovered by the visionary. In other words, the visionary passes through the fire of madness and, as a result, has experienced the "reunification" in which love becomes possible. The madman, however, loses his way on Cader Idris, lost in the torn and tattered "self" of "diremption," unable to return. Rather than experiencing the beautific vision of the other through the vision of love, the madman is left isolated and bitterly alone. He is left as the ashes which could not bear the brilliance of the other in all his glory, and, thus, he is yet to be re-born as the New Adam in Dionysian rapture. The madman, perhaps, can still return from Cader Idris, like Schreber, if he can be held in the presence of a loving other who can substantiate his existence and support the mode of joy in which he can "let it be" by being able to be. Perhaps, in this manner, the bitter loneliness of madness, experienced as dread, can be transfigured by providing the madman with the holding, nurturing presence which can begin to build the capacity for joy.


In this journey to Cader Idris, I have attempted to draw a provisional 'map' or 'way' to distinguish between the experiences of the primitive, the child, the madman, and the visionary poet. The error, of course, would be to mistake the 'map' for the 'territory' itself. In a sense, such categories are a form of maya. But, as many seers of the past have showed, it is possible, from within the veil of maya, to point a 'finger' -- symbolic or otherwise -- towards liberation. This poses no problem so long as the reader does not mistake the 'finger' for what it points toward.

The child, as we saw, has not yet developed the "ego" which separates self from other; thus, the child is pre-egoic. In this sense, the child is pre-storied. When the child emerges into a separate 'identity,' she will identify with a particular narrative or narratives as she emerges into the larger narrative of the cultural action system in which she is born. This is true of the child in a primitive society as much as the child in modern society. The difference is that, for the primitive, the world of the adult is less distanced from the lived world of childhood, and, thus, still retains some of the "magic" of the child's experience. The modern adult, on the other hand, is much more distant from the world of the child, and, perhaps, this accounts for our modern inability to distinguish between the child and the primitive, as well as the madman and visionary. All "magical thinking" in our culture is viewed as a regression to childhood and, further, as pathological.

Both the madman and the visionary poet experience a destruction of the 'ego' which separates self and other. In this sense, they resemble the pre-egoic child; however, while the child is pre-egoic, the madman and visionary poet are post-egoic. Also, with the child, the madman and visionary poet experiences a return of the "magical" world in which, through a collapse of the distance between self, other, world and God, "miracles" are again possible. The sedimented view of convention is set loose as things become more and more undifferentiated; the categories propped up by convention begin to disintegrate, and things change.

Ultimately, what distinguishes the madman from the visionary poet is the emotional quality of the experience. For the visionary, the disintegration of the self is felt as ecstatic joy, whereas, for the madman, this disintegration is felt as ecstatic terror and agony. One way to view this is to say that the visionary poet maintains a basic sense of "ontological security" which permits her to return to the world of convention, although with the added ability to see through it, or "play" within it. The madman, however, is not grounded in such "ontological security" and, thus, experiences this as being on the verge of non-existence. Rather than experience the harmony and unity of "reunification," one might say, the madman becomes trapped in "diremption," suspended in the torturous rapture of ego destruction. Further, while the visionary poet becomes attuned to a love which unites her with the other, the madman is fundamentally cut off from the other, thus suffering from bitter loneliness and isolation.

In conclusion, it is important for me to point out that we are all mad to a certain extent. The madmen are not "them," but, rather, are "us." We all spin the web of maya, and we are all caught up in the grasping of that culturally constructed identity which we have come to know as "I." To cease this grasping, as simple as it seems, is the most difficult task of all. To strive to achieve it is in itself to grasp. But, rather, it seems possible have a lived experience in which one can "let it be," which is so evident in those fleeting moments of joy we experience from time to time. The difference between the "madman" who we pathologize and the madman which lurks at our own "world axis" is a matter of degrees. Those of us who are generally considered "normal" are able to assimilate into the general narrative structure of our culture -- in a sense, fitting our narrative identity into the larger narrative of our cultural action system. When we suffer in this sense, we suffer a common form of suffering. The madman, who breaks from convention, experiences, instead, an uncommon form of suffering, and, thus, experiences his form of suffering in a very lonely place. In this sense, one could, perhaps, make a distinction between the psychotic and the neurotic. The psychotic is the "madman" who suffers in an estranged way, having been engulfed upon the destruction of the "ego." The neurotic, on the other hand, suffers from an exaggeration of the "ego" self -- that is, she suffers from an excessive clinging to the "identity" which separates her from the other. On the contrary, the psychotic has nothing to cling to at all.


As the Hindus point out, maya is not separate from Brahman, but is one manifestation of the godhead. It is the manifestation of the godhead as differentiated into the multitude as opposed to the one -- it is the many which is also the one. In this sense, liberation is not an escape from maya, but the ability to dance with it, to see through, to "play" at the "play" of delusion of maya. To call maya a "veil," in retrospect, is somewhat misleading. There is no veil. Maya is Brahman.

As Thich Nhat Hahn writes in his translation of the Buddhist doctrine, "The Fifiy Verses on the Manifestation of Consciousness":

    A flower is already present in the garbage.
    Garbage is already in the flower.
    Flower and garbage are not two.
    Delusion and enlightenment inter-are.

In closing, I will illustrate this important point with a story. One time, a student went to study with his guru. The Hindu guru, on that very day, told the student that the student was Brahman, the godhead! The guru made it a point to tell the student that, like him, all things are Brahman. Upon hearing this, the student welled up with pride. He walked from the house of his guru with a proud stride, strutting along the middle of the street, thinking how nice it was to be God. As the student walked along, erect and glowing, he noticed an elephant walking towards him, directly in his path. Upon the head of the elephant rode a man who shouted, "Get out of the way! You'll be crushed!"

Nevertheless, not to be shoved aside, the student continued walking along the same path. "I am God," he thought to himself. "The elephant is God. Why should God move out of the way of God." And so the student continued his proud strut straight toward the towering elephant moving ever closer.

As the elephant grew near, the student was not afraid. He looked the elephant in the eye and continued undaunted. However, as the elephant came within a foot of crushing the student to death, the elephant, instead, lifted the student with his massive trunk and cast the boy aside. The student was thrashed upon the roadside, but his body was not as injured as his pride.

The next day, the student returned to his guru. He told his story to the guru, and asked, "Why should god move out of the way of God?"

The guru sat quietly for a moment, shaking his head, and, with a smile, he replied: "But, my son, why didn't you listen to the voice of God telling you to get out of the way!"


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Copyright 1999, Brent Dean Robbins

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