CHAPTER 2: A CONVERSATION WITH DR. JOHN WEIR PERRY
The idea that the inner Apocalypse experience might be the
guardian of the gate to a sustainable future has a metaphorical ring of
truth which I find appealing. To explore this further, I went to
California in the early 1980s to visit Dr. John Weir Perry, a man who
was especially knowledgeable on the subject. I had first met him a few
years before in Boston at the first conference of the International
Transpersonal Association (ITA), (45) and was impressed by his compassion, wisdom, and humility.
This corroborated the results of R. D. Laing's famous Kingsley Hall
experiment in London in the 1960s, in which only nine out of sixty-five
"certified psychotics" who were tracked afterwards were re-admitted to
hospitals again. Those who insist that "schizophrenia" is a disease
will have to admit that it is curable! The principal differences
between Kingsley Hall and Diabasis were the deliberately anarchic
organisation of the former and its rather dismal location in a London
slum, and the more organised approach of the latter in a more pleasant
location in Berkeley on San Francisco Bay.
How does one define so-called schizophrenia?
Did Jung really see this as a healing process?
The thing that I'm particularly interested in here is the
clash of opposites. The individual usually has a feeling of intense
fear, as he contemplates what seem to him to be the forces of
disruption, of chaos, of the Antichrist, of the Communists – whatever
the ideology happens to portray as "evil." In any case, these forces
are seen as tending to destroy the world, and the "good guys" are those
who would try to preserve it. This is the element I try in particular
to explore, because it connects to all kinds of other general cultural
and political phenomena that we could talk about!
So if the person experiences himself as God, might he then feel the Devil is out to get him?
So yes, the therapeutic goal is to achieve that attitude which
perceives the symbolic nature of the ideation which belongs to the
inner reality. Now the inner reality is real! It's very important to
grant it that reality, but not to get the two realities mixed up.
That's the trick! Actually, for most people it's surprisingly easy.
Certainly, the more paranoid a person is, the more difficult. There is
a certain paranoid makeup, a style of personality which tends to focus
on the objective world around. It's what we call an attention style. It
is difficult for such people to see the inner meaning of their visions.
On the other hand, the average person tends to go along with the inner
journey and to realise – well, they do need to be reminded – but once
they're reminded, they tend to quickly perceive that it is a spiritual
test, or a symbolic test, and not the actual end of the actual world.
Bringing the whole supercharged process into a relationship seems to
make it bearable, containable, manageable. Of course, some people go
through it alone. They tell me this is highly painful, very
frightening. But if one has a therapist or counsellor to whom one can
relate the experience, one need not suffer a whole lot once the process
gets underway. There will always be some tough moments, nightmarish
times, bewilderment. One wonders what the dangers are, whether there
are evil forces out there. But through these weeks, somehow, the
prevailing mood is actually one of buoyancy. At Diabasis, there was a
general atmosphere of jocularity. People would be joking around, having
fun, playing music and dancing and humming tunes and painting...
So this whole approach is essentially one of releasing, rather than
suppression. We allowed everything and encouraged its expression – not
toward chaos, but toward communication! Communication tends to order.
This is a most important point in psychiatry, but the common opinion is
that it is very dangerous... When you actually do it, however, you find
exactly the opposite is true: people get over their preoccupations very
Here's a broader question which I've been thinking
about for years. If nature's self-organising way of healing an
alienated individual is for one's psyche to go through a world view
transformation process involving a spontaneous temporary non-ordinary
state of consciousness, do you think it possible that an entire
society, or perhaps even the whole of Humankind – which is undoubtedly
alienated and obviously having a hard time adapting to its new global
environment – could conceivably have to pass through some kind of
collective non-ordinary state, on the way to greater wisdom? And if so,
would not such a process also take the form of either a horrible mass
psychosis, if suppressed, or a creative breakthrough, if we were
culturally prepared to understand its inner meaning?