Let me state first of all that I do not have a degree in psychology. I nonetheless hope that more than a decade of experiences as a mental patient with schizophrenia are sufficient to qualify me to make a few observations. What I have concluded does accord with the outlook of some (certainly not all) of the professionals with whom I have spoken.
Schizophrenia may be a form of Shamanism. It is not my intention to argue that it resembles traditional Shamanism as practiced in Brazil, Siberia, or Hungary. It would be surprising if it did. I contend that the patient who has just been brought into the hospital is suffering from an immersion in a Shamanic trance resulting from a trauma or traumas. The barrier between the conscious and unconscious minds has suddenly ceased to function. The patient does not know what is happening and is frightened and confused. This state, we must say, is bad Shamanism. What the patient concludes about the nature of the persons and events encountered in this trance is usually not very useful. Good Shamanism requires careful preparation and inner and outer discipline. Most mental patients will not be able to become good Shamans and it is probably wise to give them psychotropic medications. But the therapy that they receive should be better than it is; it could be better if therapists used a Shamanic model for understanding their patients’ experiences.
If I have any knowledge of the inner life, other than that which comes to me from my raw experience, I may be thankful to Carl Jung. I left my university after one year---but in the year that followed I read the complete Bollingen series of Carl Jung’s works. I would recommend him to anyone who wishes to understand dreams. I have observed since then that I sometimes continue to dream after I get out of bed in the morning. Fortunately these waking dreams do not produce hallucinations, only voices. I say “fortunately” because hallucinatory experiences would make ordinary life hopelessly difficult. This then, is my first observation: while most people are trying to open the door between the conscious and the unconscious minds by remembering their dreams, my task is to close the door that would otherwise be open.
My knowledge of dream interpretation has given me a method of understanding the experiences of other mental patients. I remember talking with a woman who sat in front of a 7-11 Store asking people for “a dollar for cigarettes”. I decided to listen to her. She began by telling me that she had given birth to innumerable black babies. Then she talked about her apartment---how the face of the landlady changed into a guerrilla's face, and how crocodiles came up out of the floor when she was trying to sleep. After about fifteen minutes it suddenly occurred to me that she had been raped by a black man. The crocodiles were a symbol of her fear of the unconscious mind, which had become overly active because of the trauma she suffered. It may be that she had a very truthful idea about the personality of her landlady. I had a further insight: she spoke to me about the black babies because she was afraid to tell me about the rape. Many people with schizophrenia wrongly believe that they are hearing the voices of real people---in other words, they believe that they have a telepathic contact with others. This woman probably feared that if she mentioned the rape her rapist would know what she said and would come and kill her. If I were this woman’s therapist I would probably treat her by persuading her that she had nothing to fear. If she began to feel that it was safe to tell me the truth in plain language I would eventually learn what had actually happened to her.
I had many experiences in the mental hospitals but the most interesting ones involved the Astral Controller. Soon after I arrived in a hospital for the first time I heard the voice of a man who introduced himself to me as the Astral Controller. He said that the hospital ward was hell and that he owned it and owned everyone who was in it. I could not help but agree that it was hellish, and I wondered if he was Satan. Then he played a cruel little trick on me. He said that there were many spiritual masters who were mediating in order to preserve peace in the world, and that a war would break out if they were disturbed. He told me that my thoughts would disturb them and that if I allowed myself to think there would be a war somewhere in the world. I was supposed to sit down and control my mind so that I would not think anything. I tried as best I could (with a great deal of anxiety) to not think anything for about ten minutes, but eventually became tired. Suddenly a sensible idea came to me and I stood up and told him that I hoped that only a small war would break out because of me. Then I walked away.
Next door to my room a man lay in bed chanting “Om” continuously. He explained to me that he was preparing himself for an encounter with “a man” with a threatening nature. I wondered if it was the Astral Controller.
The Astral Controller once again told me that I had to stop thinking or a war would break out. I said that I would try to have a silent mind but first I had to use the restroom. I said that while I was using the restroom he should be careful not to have any thoughts or there would be a war. Then I walked away. I was still afraid but felt a slight elation.
Below: The sterile environment of the mental ward, in which there is nothing to do but think, inevitably became the setting for many intense internal experiences. Unfortunately a 72-hour stay in the hospital was itself traumatic to some degree.