“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.” —Psychologist R. D. Laing.
If by defining someone as crazy, we mean they’re cracked, the cracks might well be openings to an awareness of things most of us can’t see or hear. But does our Western culture’s inability to value the mysteriously ineffable prove the experiences are a form of madness? Whatever “crazy” is, it’s relative to the culture’s expectation of normal, primarily based on a measure of one’s functionality within the marketplace.
Most paranoid schizophrenia is diagnosed in late teens or 20’s, as breakdowns result in noticeable dysfunction. They are so defined against a set of cultural expectations of functionality required to get along.
Why though do breakdowns appear at the time of blossoming into an adult? Perhaps we’re less likely to notice a child’s delusional behavior because we expect and appreciate both imagination and dependence in children.
“Jung, in one of his more extensive explorations of psychosis, described the compensatory role of delusions in attempting to rescue the personality from a pathological one-sidedness; also he saw in delusions the attempt of the pathological complex to destroy itself.” —John Weir Perry, The Far Side of Madness 2
Franklin Russell is the son of author and environmental journalist, Dick Russell. Dick was a friend of James Hillman and authored The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist. Hillman and Russell became friends around four years after Franklin had experienced his first breakdown. Dick’s recently published book, My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism, is the story of his son Franklin, his illness and the long journey of rebuilding their relationship. After James gets to know more of Dick’s struggles with his son, he offers some advice:
“Well, again, you probably have to re-constellate the relationship. Not in terms of where you’re trying to help him.
You let go of his being a ‘sick man.’ Then you may find he tells you things that he doesn’t talk about otherwise. You don’t know what is going to come out, but it’s almost as if you’ve abandoned being the responsible father.”
It’s important then, to focus less on looking for normality, and more on meeting Franklin wherever he happens to be at the moment. Go with it. Join him in his world. Sage advice, I think, for all of us. Quantifying the illness with a check list of acceptable or unacceptable behaviors misses the qualitative aspects, and creates an antagonistic tug of war placing the normal person in a position of power. Perhaps the more one measures another’s behavior for its craziness, the more necessary it becomes for the other to retreat into unseen realms.
The book recalls in detail the long journey between father and son where both are transformed through deepening trust and acceptance of each other. They travel to Africa, experiencing animal migration in the Serengeti, consult with African shaman Malidoma Some, and travel to New Mexico to work with ex-football star and author, Pat Toomay. The book recounts in detail how each step changes Dick and Franklin through encounters with the ancestors, beings in other dimensions, revealing the depths of Franklin’s ability to move between worlds and beings whose existence he takes for granted and some might call “unreal.”
“How could you simply explain a life. Laughing and carrying on. That is too simple. Working and sleeping. Far too surface. Satisfying and full. That would be a dream. Dreary and worrisome . That is more like it. Then you need to add in the quality of time. That is what it really amounts to. Time and energy. It is all up to an individual how to spend their time. How to use their mind. How to mix and mingle. How to stand alone.” —Franklin’s Journal
Dick quotes often from Franklin’s vast supply of writing, which I find remarkably coherent. Frank is bi-racial, something that he frequently struggles with.
“What is it like to be black? What is it like to be half black and half white? No matter how much we don’t want it to matter it does matter. It is like one half of you is dancing to the drums of mother Africa, and the other singing in the choirs of classical European music. That’s a lot of rhythm in one person. What is it like to live in a tribe? All of the people share common ancestry, and common skin color. Wouldn’t there be less competition.”
During the trip to Africa, much healing takes place. Franklin feels great kinship to the animals. Perhaps they are easier in a way to understand than humans, for they are not guarded, but readily display their nature, for better or worse. 🙂
Dick readily admits that the journey of his son’s healing necessarily includes his own breakthrough.
“But the breakthrough occurred when my code cracked. It was not about being protected, but allowing myself to be cracked. My son needed entry into me . . . needed to know, too, that I felt him. The snake was the archetype, winding, finding our way to the root of one another.”
Scholar and shaman, Malidoma Some figures greatly in the story.
“If your psyche is disordered or deficient or overcharged, blocks are created in you that prevent comprehension and remembering. To open up the channels in you so that whatever energy you need can flow freely is not the task of the teacher; it is the task of the shaman.” —Malidoma Patrice Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa.
The book is so rich, sensitive, disturbing and satisfying to me. Reading about Franklin has me reconsidering my own definition of crazy, suggesting to me that the way we treat each other often reveals a serious lack of sensitivity for the wide spectrum of human experience. We leave a trail of tragic lives behind us the more we lose touch with ancient wisdom, and the more harm we do to some of our most beautiful and sensitive souls.
“My love is like an eagle’s bones set to dry in the sun. Once flying high trying to reach the sky something happened and the eagle died. The flesh disappeared revealing the magnificent skeleton. Large and standing still, the vultures assumed positions staking claims on the flesh. The spirit left the bones. Now it flies high and free amongst the transient clouds that mark the emotions.” —Franklin’s Journal
If this is crazy, I say, bring it on.
“When you were a young child, you dreamed of climbing. Experiences of euphoria you couldn’t explain. Events unfolded in your life. Things hurt you and things held you back. Moments brought you to the epitome of emotions. What was it that made you evacuate from your soul, anyway there is a direction home. Do not be shocked when I say it isn’t necessarily death. It is work. I once heard that if you can’t find something to live for, find something to die for. And some days you’ll feel like a pin cushion filled with sorrow. Or a voodoo victim. Pick it up. Maybe try a dinner invitation. —Franklin’s Journal,
All quotes from: Russell, Dick (2014-11-18). My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.