Blog # 72: Mysticism and Madness

  To state it bluntly, there is a fine line between mysticism and madness. And it is not always easy to figure out which is which. They are not, however, the same thing at all. Mysticism is healthy for the mind, the body and the soul; madness, obviously, is a shattering experience on every level.
This posting will examine both the similarities and the differences between these two states of consciousness. The similarities, frankly, can be quite frightening, since the two seem at first glance to be perilously close to one another. Let us examine the similarities in a rapid fire manner.
1. Both are intensely subjective experiences. They are real to the people experiencing them, but there is no way for anyone else to fully appreciate what is taking place.
2. There is a deep sense of inner knowing that pervades the experience. No one can convince the person that the experience has not taken place.
3. The experiences are ineffable. There are no words to adequately describe to another what has transpired.
4.There is a sense of loss of ego boundaries.   
5. There is a distortion of sense of time.
6. There are perceptual changes. Both experiences may have people seeing visions, hearing voices, and perhaps hallucinating.
7. The experiences can be intensely emotional.
8. Ones consciousness is altered, at least for the time being.
9. There is always an attempt at the psyche for healing, for that is what the psyche is oriented to do. In mysticism, healing inevitably happens; with madness the process goes awry.
Now let us examine some of the crucial differences between mysticism and madness.
1. Mysticism humbles the personality; madness expands it toward feelings of grandiosity and omnipotence.
2. The mystic sheds ego-centrism; the mad person never had a stable ego structure to begin with.
3. The mystic is serene; the mad person not so.
4. The mystic welcomes the changes that have been brought about. The psychotic is afraid of meaningful change.
5. The mystic becomes more gentle and loving. The psychotic person may manifest aggressive, paranoid behavior.
6. The mystic is capable of logical thinking, while the psychotic person cannot reason in a normal way.
7. The mystic may, indeed, have visions and hear voices, but the visions and voices are perceived as an intra psychic event. For the psychotic, it is all happening externally.
8. For the mystic, time may be altered, but one is generally aware of sequential time. This is not the case for an individual caught in psychosis.
9. Perhaps the most important difference deals with what happens afterwards. The mystic is filled with love and wishes to serve the world. Psychosis leaves one self-absorbed.
  When one studies the mystics of the world’s religions, one can find plenty of neurotic, maladapted individuals. But neurosis is not the same thing as psychosis. All of us, I guess, are a little bit neurotic about one thing or another. Sanctity can and has co-existed with neurosis. But it is completely incompatible with psychosis.
  Loving and serving God is an intensely humanizing and healthy experience. Sometimes, however, as in the case of the mystic, it may seem to push against the borders of human consciousness. But it always, always leaves the individual-and the world- better off because of the experience. please check your Spam folder. 
Next posting: Well Adjusted
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7 responses to “ Blog # 72: Mysticism and Madness

  1. You have a great gift in identifying the two sides, pros and cons thanks for sharing this with us !


    • We used to have an old philosophy professor who would say, whenever presenting an unorthodox position, “But there is a grain of truth to the position.”


  2. My first reaction after reading this post was to say, “Thank God, someone finally understands.” I wrote a book called Reluctant Mystic, in which I tried to explain it, but you did so much better in a much shorter space. Thank you!


    • j.E.
      So did Jung understand. He wrote: “My work will be continued by those who suffer.” This “breakdown”, however, leads to “breakthrough”!


  3. Very interesting- I never really reflected on just how similar and different the two are. Thanks!




  4. Love will be our North Star…. the best way to keep things balanced. Love takes us out of ourselves as it gives ourselves back to us!


  5. As always your blogs are exceptional. Although they are well written, I have terrible understanding. These differences between madness and mysticism seem like something from mind altering LSD drip which I have never experienced. Thank you Tom for making me think on a different level. Dennis


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