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Mental health


The delusional thought-space and cosmic consciousness


A clinical dilemma

In a world torn by religious dissonance, communal hatred and internecine conflicts, the delusional space in the psychotic thought-world appears to be an exception. Of course, the delusional space is a forbidden zone and mental health professionals actually know very little of it. The schizophrenic who exhibits social withdrawal and is not comfortable with inter-personal relationships can nevertheless continue to love someone in fantasy without the object of the love ever being aware of it. It would be impossible to explain such an anomaly.

One very interesting clinical dilemma that Indian psychiatrists experience at times is that a psychotic subject belonging to a particular religion can suddenly get into a state of frenzy with another religion, which in a normal state would have appeared blasphemous. Muslim subjects suffering from psychotic spells can start extolling Hindu religious icons while certain Hindu subjects in psychotic states can get attracted to Islamic rituals. A subject diagnosed to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and hailing from a very conservative Jain background suddenly had the bright idea of getting baptised to Christianity.

What is interesting that in the psyche of the delusional state, there is no contradiction between one’s religion of origin and the other eulogised religion. The Muslim did not become a Hindu, the Hindu remained a Hindu while the Jain subject after baptism readily remained with his Jain family who were vegetarians.

Reason and delusion

Clifford Beers, a recovered psychotic and pioneer of the mental hygiene movement in USA explained in his treatise, A Mind that found itself, that during his mental illness, he suffered not from a loss of reason but reasoning from wrong premises (1). Yet the premises on which the psychotic subjects could afford to eulogise a religion, considered to be a rival by one’s own immediate socio-cultural group, cannot be labelled either as unreasonable or as wrong. In fact, the problem gets accentuated if we try to analyse the delusional thought-process from the dichotomy of reasonableness and unreasonableness. One is reminded of Foucault’s anguish that the language of modern psychiatry is a monologue of reason about madness (2). One could indeed agree with Roy Porter’s assertion that a delusional thought-process could often be an antithesis of the so-called civilised, holding a mirror to hypocrisy. (3)

Cultural commonality

The social anthropologist would consider that it is the culture that matters. All religions present in a particular culture could as well have a cultural commonality facilitating an understandable shift from one religion to another in the realm of fantasy. Moreover, very often people in the same culture get converted from one religion to the other. The question then is, how does that commonality express itself in the delusional thought-space? It would have been much more beneficial if the commonality was expressed in the non-delusional mind-space of the mass for that would have averted much of the unwanted hatred and acrimony around us.

One could also guess if the delusional thought-space that gives equal credence to a rival religion is demonstrating some sort of empathy. It is doubtful if a psychotic subject can be capable of projection of the self into the feelings of others — the classical yardstick of empathy. One thing however is certain that the delusional space does not facilitate a ‘structured empathy’ (4) — such as exhibited by religious scholars who seem to enter other religions from an assumed vantage point of cultural superiority. In contrast, the psychotic experience develops spontaneously without any inhibition or ostensible motivation in a movement of unbridled fantasy.

Depth psychology

Depth psychology unravels perspectives that do not depend on the analytical reason. Some psychoanalysts would term this phenomenon of delusional subjects eulogising rival religions as a regressive experience. It would be a regression to either paganism or to an infantile state of consciousness where religious differences are meaningless. In a non-psychotic perspective, Jungian analysts would view a similar phenomenon as a synthetic experience — a sort of integration of one’s nearness to God with one’s doubts and faithlessness. It is doubtful whether such an explanation would be relevant in the delusional thought-space.

The Consciousness world-view

The emergent consciousness-based psychology that arises from the Aurobindonian perspective would evaluate this phenomenon from a different world-view. The cosmic consciousness which is a tangible reality holds all the thought-currents of the universe. Some of them may be contradictory, some of them are complementary. Giant waves of positive energy dwell along with giant waves of negative energy. These cosmic forces enter the inner being of the individual and from there trickle down through the cakras to the outer being or surface personality. Usually, even a little of the positive energy that trickles in is responsible for our great artistic and literary outputs.

In the case of the delusional subject, there is a disharmony between the different levels of the being. One is overwhelmed by the varying cosmic forces that invade the inner being and thence penetrate the surface personality. At the surface personality it is the ego which organises all our functionings. As the ego is disturbed in psychosis, it cannot handle the onrush of different religious forces that captivate the being, resulting in a situation that would be labelled as abnormal in society. Cosmic forces are not dependent on societal norms.

In this world-view, the mix-up of religious expressions are considered neither as regressive nor as synthetic but just endorses the fact that the delusional thought-space might find it difficult to handle an inrush of diverse cosmic forces. Of course, cosmic forces are of different qualities and subjects could get affected by one or other constellation of cosmic forces depending on their susceptibility. Excessive religiosity can be a symptom of schizophrenia and get aligned with cosmic forces that could use religious icons to produce a confusing state. Bipolar subjects in manic phase could have an expansive mood to draw in different religious icons from the cosmic consciousness. There could be numerous variations of the alignment of the delusional thought-space with the cosmic space. What is important is that a mix-up of religious expressions in the delusional thought-space does not indicate a synthetic spiritual perspective but a novel situation where it is difficult to handle overwhelming cosmic forces.

It is all the more important that psychology should seriously start to understand the significance of cosmic consciousness. We are still to take cognisance of what Sri Aurobindo wrote a century back:

“The possibility of a cosmic consciousness in humanity is coming slowly to be admitted in modern Psychology, like the possibility of more elastic instruments of knowledge, although still classified, even when its value and power are admitted, as a hallucination. In the psychology of the East it has always been recognised as a reality and the aim of our subjective progress. The essence of the passage over to this goal is the exceeding of the limits imposed on us by the ego-sense and at least a partaking, at most an identification with the self-knowledge which broods secret in all life and in all that seems to us inanimate (5).”

References

1. Beers CA. Mind that found itself: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, Page and Co; 1923.

2. Foucault M. Madness and Civilisation. London: Routledge; 2001, p. xii.

3. Porter R (ed). The Faber Book of Madness. London: Faber & Faber; 1993, p. 13.

4. Bryant MD. To hear the stars speak: ontology in the study of religion(s) in Sharma A (ed). Fragments of Infinity – Essays in Religion and Philosophy. USA: Prism Press; 1991, p. 47.

5. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 21. 7th ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2009, p. 24.


Dr. Soumitra Basu






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Sri Aurobindo