Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our fate: turning gray, overripe, fading...

CC Jean Stimmell: 9/23/14
September 23, 2014: Thoughts while photographing milkweed along the Merrimack in the last light of a perfect fall day.

Looking at Milkweed from afar, we can clearly see her destiny, writ large in the ever-changing cycles of life: Turning gray, overripe, fading, soon to fertilize the ground – yet transcendently beautiful.

Clearly She has a larger fate: With the seeds of future generations already visible within her, poised to fly off and pollinate the Earth, isn’t she really merging with ALL?

If we look at ourselves from afar, isn't our fate the same?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sacred Spaces & New Myths

CC Jean Stimmell: 9/18/14 Pawtuckaway Park
Can Mythology Save Us? In an interview on this subject, Arthur George points out how humans have moved from fantasy thinking to more linear, rational thinking through language only very recently, just in the last two to three thousand years of our long evolutionary history.

This rapid psychic development, he says, has resulted in a major imbalance, allowing our rational ego consciousness to almost totally repress our vital unconscious processes, “which among other things has rendered our culture too masculine, warlike, and out of touch with nature.”

I believe that Arthur George has put his finger on the root cause of the dementia that haunts our modern world. It’s not what the conservatives have done or the liberals; it’s not what the Christians have done or the Muslims; it’s over-dominance by our rational minds that is the problem.

For the sake of our mother earth and all her precious inhabitants, we need to find a way to a higher level of existence, one where our conscious self is integrated with the full contents of our unconscious.

George says the way to do this is by creating new myths.”[i]  But to do so, he says, certain criteria must be followed:

For a new myth to work, it has to reconnect us to what in the ancient world was called the center of the world: “a sacred spot where the divine, in the heavens and the underworld, connected with the earthly…it is where the three planes of the cosmos meet and thus lies at the heart of reality. Archetypically, it was also thought of as the place of creation.”

In simpler language the sacred spot is a temple or sanctuary where we can interact with our deities and experience transcendence: “Sacred space is existential for humans, and can exist anywhere on earth.”

My sacred spot is the Boulder Field in Pawtuckaway State Park, but it wasn’t always so. When I was younger and more rational, it was just a nest of giant rocks. However, over time as I age, I have become increasingly mesmerized by the magic of this spot.

It has become a sacred space.

Something changes as soon as I pass up over the last ridge and descend down into the valley of the boulders. I enter a more-than-human space: I feel the temperature drop and sounds fade, like being ushered into the cool stillness of a great cathedral. Surprises abound as I come across giant stone figures in a truly mythical world, one that Gaia built.

As I have tried to show with these two photographs, great hulking beings inhabit this sacred place, sad and reflective, two-stories high.
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/18/14 Pawtuckaway Park

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Dream: Moment of Reckoning

Moment of Reckoning
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/13/14*
A Dream I Had Last Night

I am walking along the shore trying to find access to the ocean
until, after hours pass, I come across a run-down state park. 
I pass through an overgrown field of rubble and old tires
and come to a gate in an old rusty, chain link fence:
Passing through, I finally arrive at my destination,
a sandy beach shelving off into swirling surf,
blood red in the glow of the setting sun.

Large luminous waves crest and break as they near shore
which would normally attract me to jump in and body surf
but this whole scene seems ominous and treacherous 
so i gingerly wade out in the surf just to my ankles 
when I am grabbed by an immense undertow,
terrifyingly swift, feeling like certain death
which I am barely able to escape
falling back to the beach
a puddle of fear.

* This image is a collage made by combining a photo I took of a sunset over Jenness Pond on 7/1/12 and a photo I took on 9/12/13 of a surfer braving the elements south of Cannon Beach in Oregon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coyote, the Trickster

The Trickster
Squam Lake Natural Science Center
Holderness, NH: 5/29/14
CC Jean Stimmell

I hear Coyote outside, yelping, yipping,
 insistently calling out to me
as I fall asleep.

Coyote is the trickster, not only in Native American lore
but enduring archetype in many cultures worldwide. 
Coyote is a troublemaker,  breaking the straight-jacket rules 
of gods, nature, and establishment society – 
sometimes for good and sometimes not.

I wonder what it is
 Coyote wants of me?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Going Crazy: Part II

Are you crazy?
Take Nature's Rorshach Test
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/4/14 
Drift wood @ Ft. Foster ME
In Part I:
I traced the pendulum swing on how ‘going crazy’ is viewed in the USA: from the 1960s when schizophrenia was viewed as a complex phenomenon with genetic, social, cultural, and spiritual components to today’s dominant view that
Since then [the 1960s], the advent of antipsychotic medication, advanced brain imaging, and molecular genetic studies has confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain.⁠1

Part II:
 I hope to show that the pendulum has started to swing back in the other direction, based on a recent surge of dissenting voices, three of which I will discuss today.

The first is Tanya Marie Luhrman, Professor at Stanford University. In a recent journal article, she convincingly shows that schizophrenia is much more than undesirable random noise generated by a "malfunctioning (and mindless) brain."⁠2 ; instead it a complex outcome of many unrelated causes: not just the genes you inherit,but also whether your mother fell ill during her pregnancy, whether you got beaten up as a child or were stressed as an adolescent, even how much sun your skin has seen.⁠3

Luhrman reasserts the importance of social factors. If schizophrenia were solely a medical pathology, the “disease” would manifest in the same manner all over the world. But it doesn’t: her review of cross cultural research studies show the opposite:

“Schizophrenia has a more benign course and outcome in the developing world. Researchers in India found that patients scored significantly better on most outcome measures than a comparable group in the West. They had fewer symptoms, took less medication, and were more likely to be employed and married. The results were dissected, reanalyzed, then replicated—not in a tranquil Hindu village, but in the chaotic urban tangle of modern Chennai. No one really knows why Indian patients did so well, but increasingly, psychiatric scientists are willing to attribute the better outcomes to social factors.⁠4

Cultural practices affect not only the course and outcome of schizophrenia but the type of delusions the patient experiences, as Joel and Ian Gold demonstrate in their new book Suspicious Minds.

Following in the footsteps of medical historian Roy Porter, who believed “every age gets the lunatics it deserves,” the Golds poise the question:
what can we learn about ourselves and our times from examining the content of madness?

The Golds move beyond biological psychiatry to show us how the environment is a major causal factor in mental breakdown. And how our particular environment shapes the delusions our citizens have today:

“[T]hey point out, Internet-enabled cameras and cellphones, not to mention National Security Agency snooping, have turned the entire world into a single, if virtual, city and “a bizarre delusion about being watched into a sober worry…”⁠5 

 “People… for whatever reason, who are uniquely sensitive to such a loss of privacy become “the canaries in the data mines of the surveillance society.”⁠6

However, without a doubt, the biggest cultural factor predisposing madness is societal violence. This is a particular concern in the USA, which is, according to many, the most violent nation on earth.⁠7

Luhrman’s excellent piece makes this crystal clear:

“Your level of risk [for schizophrenia  also rises if you were beaten, taunted, bullied, sexually abused, or neglected when you were a child. In fact, how badly a child is treated may predict how severe the case of an adult person with schizophrenia becomes—and particularly, whether the adult hears harsh, hallucinatory voices that comment or command. The psychiatrist Jean-Paul Selten was the first to call this collection of risk factors an experience of “social defeat,” a term commonly used to describe the actual physical besting of one animal by another. Selten argued that the chronic sense of feeling beaten down by other people could activate someone’s underlying genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia.⁠8

But I want to get back to discussing the sensitivity question because I think its crucial to understanding schizophrenia. Yes, certain genes undoubtedly predispose people to what is called schizophrenia but, at root, this is best understood not as a brain pathology but a brain sensitivity, something which can be an asset, not a liability – particularly in a peaceful, spiritual society.

Dr. Some has this to say about sensitivity in a remarkable piece entitled The Shamanic View of Mental Illness:

“Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive. In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé. The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people.⁠9
To test his belief that the shamanic view of mental illness holds true in the Western world as well as in indigenous cultures, Dr. Somé took a mental patient back to Africa with him, to his village.
The patient, Alex, was an 18 year-old American who had suffered a psychotic break when he was 14. He was suicidal with hallucinations, and went through cycles of dangerously severe depression. He was institutionalized and given every type of psychotropic drugs, but nothing helped.
His parents had exhausted all treatment modalities; they didn’t know what else to do:
“With their permission, Dr. Somé took their son to Africa. “After eight months there, Alex had become quite normal, Dr. Somé reports. He was even able to participate with healers in the business of healing; sitting with them all day long and helping them, assisting them in what they were doing with their clients . . . . He spent about four years in my village.” Alex stayed by choice, not because he needed more healing. He felt, “much safer in the village than in America.”⁠10
After 4 years, Alex returned to the USA because “he discovered that all the things that he needed to do had been done, and he could then move on with his life.” The last that Dr. Some heard about Alex was that he was attending graduate school at Harvard studying psychology.
I’m delighted to be able to present these “dissenting voices,” particularly because they richly confirm my own clinical experience working with “crazy people.” 
I have had sweet, innocent patients who were connected to a higher spiritual dimension who had much to teach us but, because of their vulnerability, were cruelly preyed upon in our dog-eat-dog world. I’ve had patients who, after a sudden epiphany, confused being in the presence of the divine with being the divine. And I have also had patients with vengeful, violent command hallucinations which, I discovered – in every case – if I were able to see them long term, were always connected to early childhood trauma, usually sexual abuse.
1 A Brief History of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia through the ages.
Published on September 8, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D.
2 The Delusions We Serve by Gary Greenbergaug. NYT 8/28/14
3 The Social Causes of and Treatments for Schizophrenia by tanya marie luhrman
4 The Social Causes of and Treatments for Schizophrenia by tanya marie luhrman
The Wilson Quarterly: Jan/Feb 2013
5 The Delusions We Deserve by Gary Green Bergergaug: NYT 8/28/14 A Review of new book,Suspicious Minds,’ by Joel Gold and Ian Gold
6 Ibid.
8 The Social Causes of and Treatments for Schizophrenia by tanya marie luhrman
9 What a Shaman Sees in A Mental HospitalTHE MIND UNLEASHED on 25 August, 2014 at 00:48
10 Ibid.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Going Crazy: Part I

Truth or Delusion
Vision or Graffiti

CC Jean Stimmell: 8/10/14
According to a vast majority of psychiatrists today, schizophrenia is a medical disease like diabetes. The delusions the patient exhibits are considered to be strictly biological: undesirable random noise generated by a "malfunctioning (and mindless) brain."⁠1

It wasn’t always so.

As recently as the second half of the twentieth century, a majority of psychiatrists in the USA, largely due to the influence of Sigmund Freud, believed that schizophrenia resulted from the unconscious conflicts originating in childhood.⁠2

Growing up in the 1950s I cut my teeth on Freud. Then with the blossoming of the counterculture in the 1960s, our generation found a soulmate in Carl Jung who ideas fell well outside of medical pathology. “Through careful analysis of his own dream life, the dreams of his clients, and the hallucinations, fantasies, and delusions of psychotics, Jung discovered that the human psyche has access to images and motifs that are truly universal. They can be found in the mythology, folklore, and art of cultures widely distributed…throughout the history of humanity.”⁠3

Thus, Jung did not consider people who had visions that made no sense in terms of the biographical events in their lives to be “crazy:” He understood that the deities and demons his patients saw were not “spurious noise in their brain” but meaningful messages emerging from the collective unconscious.

Another of my 1960s idols, Stanislav Grof, delved further into the spiritual dimensions of this phenomenon:  “many episodes of unusual states of mind, even those that are dramatic and reach psychotic proportions, are not necessarily symptoms of disease in the medical sense. We view them as crises of the evolution of consciousness, or “spiritual emergencies,” comparable to the states described by the various mystical traditions of the world.⁠4

Grof goes beyond psychology to put the “problem” of spiritual emergency into the context of the crisis modern humanity is facing. “We firmly believe that spiritual emergence – transformation of the consciousness of humanity on a large scale – is one of the few truly promising tends in today’s world.”⁠5

Ah, the promise of the 1960s, the electric excitement in the air, the abiding hope that we could transcend the rigid orthodoxies of the past, escape from those confining cages suffocating us and fly free, liberating not only ourselves but all sentient beings everywhere. The whole spirit of those times is encapsulated in the opening line of the rock musical Hair: This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to believe that it all disappeared in a poof of air, collapsing like the World Trade Centers in 2001. 

How could we have regressed so far from the mind expanding possibilities of the 1960s– liberating schizophrenia from the straight jacket of medical pathology and rigid biological determinism – to the stark reality of today as personified in this 2012 pronouncement in Psychology Today:

Since then, the advent of antipsychotic medication, advanced brain imaging, and molecular genetic studies has confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain.6
It is an unbelievable swing. If nothing else, it proves my thesis that mainstream psychology is absolutely not an independent science investigating “reality” but merely a weak reflection of the surrounding culture.
I’m actually optimistic, however, because I think this trend toward biological determination has already hit rock bottom.  In Part II, I will present evidence that the pendulum has already started to swing in the other direction.
1 The Delusions We Serve by Gary Greenbergaug. NYT 8/28/14
2 A Brief History of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia through the ages.
Published on September 8, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D.
3 Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. Edited by Stanislav Grof, M.D., and Christina Grof. p. 5
4 Ibid., pp. 2-3
5 Ibid., p. xvii
A Brief History of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia through the ages.
Published on September 8, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D.