“Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” Carl Jung
The developmental goal of youth and early adulthood is the maturation of the ego and its adaptation to the demands of outer life. During the “first half” of life family, peers, and society play a significant role in the molding of our identity and worldview. Generally speaking, society wants law-abiding citizens who will uphold the established social, economic and value systems. Likewise, most families are oriented towards raising children that will become “productive members of society.”
Because societies and cultures differ, the word “sane” is relative in meaning. Practically, it describes someone who shares and abides by the general worldview of the community or society within which he/she lives. Those who think and behave outside of this consensus reality, or who have psychological experiences outside of what is considered “normal,” may be labeled insane, crazy, or mentally ill depending upon the frequency and degree of their unusual behavior, experiences, or beliefs. We say to ourselves, “That guy’s lost touch with reality.” However, in fairness and objectivity we might more accurately say, “That guy’s lost touch with my reality,” or, “He’s in a different reality,” or most simply, “I don’t understand him.”
In the field of psychology, projective tests such as the Rorschach (the inkblot test) and the Thematic Apperception Test show how our personal psychology influences our perception and interpretation of outer events. Specifically, they demonstrate the ways in which our inner life is projected onto the outer world. For example, two people looking at the same inkblot may perceive very different things, e.g., one sees a tree, and the other sees a mushroom cloud. The person who perceived a tree may have projected upon the inkblot image an inner process of growth and ordered development. On the other hand, the person who saw the mushroom cloud may have been experiencing an inner process of destruction. (Such an image might herald the beginning of a period of personal transformation.)
All perceptions and interpretations are filtered in accordance with the conceptual and emotional structure of our personality at the time. None of us knows the world “as it is,” nor can we, for the outer world is always colored and refracted by the lens of our own psychological process. Indeed, “the world as it is” is a misleading phrase, for what “is” depends upon, and reflects, the psychology of the observer. (Incidentally, modern physics not only confirms this idea but takes it a step further, showing that the very act of observation influences the measured properties of the object observed.)
Especially through education and language, family and society create a more or less homogeneous worldview for defining who we are, what is real, and what is important. What we call “reality” is a communally supported and reinforced lens of perception and interpretation. Because our own psychology is embedded in all that we perceive and do, waking life possesses qualities of a hypnotic trance, or dream. Both our dreams and “waking life” are experienced as genuinely real when we are in the midst of them. In fact, sometimes dreams, visions, and hallucinations seem more real than waking life and may have an equally profound impact on the course of our lives. Conversely, we sometimes go through waking life as if we are asleep.
In truth, we are always asleep and awake to different aspects of our being and “reality” at all times. For example, in our nighttime dreams we are asleep to the outer world, and in our waking hours we are often asleep to our unconscious world and the dreaming foundation of consciousness. What we call “reality” is a kind of shared dream, but an unspoken and unacknowledged one. It is the shared dream that we do not call a dream and, typically, have difficulty seeing as a dream. It is like wearing glasses, and then forgetting that you’re wearing glasses. When we forget the dreamlike background of waking consciousness, when we forget that everything we see, hear, feel, etc., is to some extent filtered through the lens of our own psychology, the world is divided into the “real” and the “not real,” waking versus dreaming. What we call wakefulness and “the real world” is a state in which the dreamlike and symbolic nature of life recedes into the unconscious, replaced by the lens of a mutually supported, literalistic perspective.
Both the individual personality and society embrace certain aspects of their larger nature and reject, ignore, and/or marginalize others. We embrace one dream, but turn our back to another. The ego, like society, tends to be conservative, and sometimes defensive, in its response to input and changes that threaten the status quo. The ego tries to fit new information, impulses, and ideas into already-established categories so as to maintain its worldview and uphold its position within the psyche. In this way, the ego turns the world into a mirror image of itself. Especially when egocentric, the ego tends to resist new lenses of perception. Without a change or broadening of the ego’s perspective, the dream that guides our life doesn’t change and the personality does not evolve. This is the danger of being a “sane man.” The person who fits too comfortably–and unconsciously–into the collective reality/dream of society, may be dangerously estranged from the more individual dream of his own soul. As Jung once noted, “psychological insecurity…increases in proportion to social security.”
Once a particular lens of perception has been established and the ego—or society—has grown comfortable and secure in its identity and worldview, the creative and healing force in life (i.e., God) must sometimes use disruptive events to communicate hidden and/or forgotten realities. Within society, wars, rebellions, environmental disasters, and seemingly unsolvable social problems create dis-ease and thereby provoke new perspectives and opportunities for change. For the individual, frustrations and illnesses, conflicts and loss are sometimes the only available means by which the deeper psyche can create windows of new awareness. The things which cause us dis-ease (such as disease) are, ironically, the very events which might open our eyes to new levels of reality. As a humorous saying goes, “Blessed are the cracked, for they are the ones that let in the light.” Although we might wish it otherwise, growth of the personality and deepened relationship with the soul often comes only through the disruptive events and symptoms that shatter one lens of perception so that a new dream can be uncovered and lived.
1. Mindell, Arnold. Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing the Self, 2nd ed. Lao Tse Press: Portland, OR 1998.
2. Mindell, Arnold. The Shaman’s Body. Harper: San Francisco 1993.
3. Mindell, Arnold. The Quantum Mind and Healing. Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Inc.: Charlottesville, VA 2004.