By: Kelli Collins
Someone once told me that holiness is really wholeness – I think it was Carl Jung – but it does not matter who. If you look at the brain for long enough, you realize that neuroscience is really the study of God, and that psychotherapy and holy water seek to cure the same ailments. In discovering these things, if you’re truly committed to understanding the mind, you’ll have no choice but to accept that where modern science meets true humanity in all its glory, there are no solutions but only more questions. And with any luck, you’ll also find that mental health “problems” are not really such problems as they are incongruencies between the norms of behavior currently accepted within a society, and those of someone who’s invested not in maintaining society’s status quo, but in discovering their own.
If you witness someone experiencing a manic episode, chances are you’ll hear them exclaim “I get it now! I get it!” In their mind, the whole universe has just revealed itself to them, and their claims of being Jesus come from a glimpse into what Christ consciousness feels like (not necessarily what it is) – the flash of pure intelligence bestowed upon them that perhaps their mind, or their heart, or both, are not quite equipped to deal with. A year after I experienced my first manic episode, to be met with friends’ shy disgust masked as concern, I made a sincere and loyal friend who was truly fascinated by my mind. Instead of shutting me up and calling me crazy, this friend would try to piece together what was happening in my mind, in between the cryptic and seemingly unrelated blurbs I would produce. She came to the conclusion that during my manic episodes, my mind would move so fast that language couldn’t keep up, and that the chunks of thought I did articulate seemed unrelated, but really weren’t. She noticed that in the course of five minutes, I could speak nonstop in terms that sounded crazy, but that what I was actually trying to express was not crazy at all- just complicated and dense, and could easily take up fifteen single spaced pages if I had the focus to write it all out.
This person’s interest in my mind made me consider for the first time that perhaps my ‘illness’ wasn’t something to be ashamed of and hide from just because it made other people uncomfortable. Maybe, I thought, it was a real and true part of me that wasn’t fair to my human dignity to discredit. Over the next five years I set out to reconcile this part of myself, make sense of it, and maybe even make friends with it. This quest led me to a profound relationship with God, in which I one day asked the divine, “What is your highest wish for me?” And in turn I saw an image of myself looking very unhappy. I then received the answer that bipolar is caused by an imbalance between the mind and the heart, and that when the heart gets closed off, unable to process emotion in a healthy way, it puts the mind into overdrive- a hyper intellectual mode. But the heart cannot be planned- it cannot be contained- so, I found out that when my emotions burst through, because of grief or trauma or excitement, all that emotional energy comes flooding through my mind causing the mania to occur. I saw that the goal of my experience is to find balance between my mind and my heart, and this balance will come through pursuing the creative arts.
All this made me ask- what’s the difference between hearing voices and receiving an answer from God? What’s the difference between someone having a spiritual revelation and a manic person proclaiming “I get it now!”? Could it be that there is a realm of higher intelligence waiting for humans to tap into, one that fundamentally contradicts the individualistic view of intelligence that says we make our own thoughts by having big and strong brains? Modern psychology says that a major symptom of Schizophrenia is believing that your thoughts are not your own, but what if they really aren’t? What if intelligence is the ability to access knowledge, not produce it? And finally, could God be at work in the psychotic episodes we experience, revealing more knowledge to us than we are set up to handle? Would believing this as true make one delusional, or simply religious?
People argue about what God is, or what God isn’t, but I think we can all agree that if there were a singular God, it would be omniscient. And the issue of omniscience is an interesting one to consider, especially if you pair with this consideration an inquiry into the human mind, and how one’s mind may relate to some greater, universal Truth. We can argue over how to define ‘truth,’ or which category of ‘truth’ to consider, but ultimately I find these distinctions to be silly. When you talk about the ultimate, capital-T ‘Truth,’ there is nothing that is off limits. Because what’s true of one thing is true of all things, otherwise it’s a selective truth, in which case it does not reveal the utmost underlying meaning, but rather one of many. For I am not concerned with differentiating one truth from the next, but in finding out what is true of all things. It’s the difference between saying “This candle is red, molded into an imperfect sphere, versus that one which is green, scented like pine trees,” and asking questions about all candles, tangible and imaginary. Because when you fixate on differences between one candle to the next, you enter the lower, baser realm of intellectual exploration.
I do not want to know which is the bigger candle or better candle, but which is the highest and brightest truth, because you really do need light to see reality (and this applies even when you are blind), but I would argue that the light you need to see reality rarely, if ever, comes from a lightbulb. So that is why the highest truth, the brightest truth, will apply to all candles, and every part of each candle, including the wax and wick and phenomenon that occurs when the wick is lit on fire to cause the wax to melt, which I think speaks to the very nature of reciprocality. When we’re talking about candles, one might fixate on their various scents while another will jump into the simultaneous permanence and impermanence of fire, as we certainly know that fire will always exist, though it will not always be within our ability to control, since fire is a quite delicate substance. The person who jumps to the concept of impermanence when prompted to speak on the subject of candles, however, may be viewed as a little abnormal, or a little not right in the head because the person who initiated this conversation was just trying to make small talk. Really, though, he is considering a more abstract, metaphysical aspect of candles, and not one that is irrelevant to the objects themselves.
Herein lies the problem with cultural standards limiting the intellectual realms which one is socially permitted to discover: this limiting prevents many from exploring concepts which they are inclined to explore, and it punishes those who choose to embark on this intellectual exploration anyway. In spheres like academia and some religious circles, this abstract type of conversation (the one which considers a flame’s impermanence with regard to candles in general) is encouraged. In other circles, it is not, and perhaps the girl who wants to speak about more abstract concepts does not have access to the social circles in which this conversation is permitted. Perhaps in some circles her thoughts are seen as crazy, and in another they’re lauded as intelligent. Beyond that, women have historically been less welcome than men in the intellectual sphere, and you will see this if you look at the demographics of most university philosophy departments. Unless the girl who wishes to speak on a flame’s impermanence is truly determined and able to fight through social barriers and gain access to academic, religious, or another intellectually welcoming sphere, she will have to choose between one of two paths: repressing her intellectual inclinations in pursuit of something more socially standard like interior design, or becoming a social outcast with virtually no support network or community within which to explore her passion. In either case, her uncomfortable plight could have been avoided if it were originally more commonplace to take our conversations into uncomfortable and unpredictable realms.
It is not more true to talk about a candle wick, or more false to talk about a flame’s impermanence, (when discussing candles in general), but it is short-sighted to prioritize one over the other, just as silly as trying to separate silence from noise. Intelligence is not the expert knowledge of chemistry which can define the precise formulas involved in a candle’s formation and physical destruction, nor is intelligence the ability to philosophize about flames and heat exchange using big, fancy language. Intelligence is instead the ability to accept both approaches as equally interesting and important, equally worthy of merit and consideration, that is, if you are truly interested in understanding the candle itself. So if you choose to embrace this intelligence (as anyone can embody it in any moment), then you will have no choice but to find that the candle’s chemical constitution is really inseparable from those abstract ideas tied to flame and impermanence, because you cannot have impermanence without the flame or the wax (because then the wick would just be a long, floppy match), and you also cannot have the flame without impermanence, because as much as the term “plasma” may be used to describe the flame’s chemical composition, and research on flames may be used to create things like instant-lighting fireplace logs, the fact is that fire existed well before we were created as a species, and it will exist after we are destroyed, and simultaneously human beings both evolved and were created, because in evolving through nature you’re being created and transformed by nature, but that’s something that human beings like to forget.
Similarly, a person who experiences psychotic breaks cannot be fully human–fully aware- unless they account for all of themselves, even the parts that society doesn’t approve of. You cannot be truly developed as an entirely actualized human being unless you embrace this wholeness internally. Because real intelligence is in wholeness- the wholeness of yourself as both animalistic and highly intellectual- of yourself as containing remnants of both egg and sperm- of yourself as a person who does both good and bad things- of yourself as both sane and insane, and so on. Upon finding this wholeness and embracing it as intelligence, you will then naturally consider the Truth of a candle from a chemist’s perspective and philosopher’s perspective. You will realize that neither the chemist nor the philosopher is solely correct, but either is only correct if you consider them in conjunction with each other.
Any truly religious person will tell you that the kingdom of God, or Nirvana, or whatever word you use to describe a spiritually idyllic society, cannot manifest without this wholeness, because harmony comes about through balance. An enlightened society cannot be selectively profound, just like an enlightened person cannot pick and choose the parts of himself to regard as legitimate. The intelligence that says you must be normal to be smart, or that says intelligence cannot reside in a mind that produces language which does not make sense, is therefore a subpar and inadequate intelligence. Because if the Western paradigm of logic that has rendered us dependent on war and consumerism for survival is objectively superior to all other standards of thought, then apparently this world is the best we can possibly create — in which case, I’d ask, what is the point of living?