I just finished reading a book called “Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God” by Isabel Clarke.
Isabel Clarke is a psychological therapist, at home in her work with the experience of people diagnosed with psychosis and other severe mental health problems. Familiarity with their experience, together with a knowledge of the spiritual literature and of research into the processing capacity of the brain, led to her central conclusion:that psychosis and spiritual experience both inhabit that other reality – a reality that is integral and vital for all humans.
While our culture tends to value both creativity and spirituality, at least the forms of it that have “made it” into acceptability, it tends to deny that either are risky or that less valued experiences, such as psychosis, might be very closely related to the more valued states. But Clarke makes a good argument that the relationship is very close indeed: spirituality and creativity result from what might be seen as successful forays into, or opening up to, the “transliminal,” while “madness” results from getting lost in it or overwhelmed by it.
As for what the “transliminal” is, she sees it as just the way the world looks when we view it in a way dominated by one of our two primary “cognitive subsystems.” Normally, we draw from both the propositional subsystem – that dominated by either/or logic – and from the implicational subsystem, which uses a “both/and” logic, and is more involved in affect, association, and the “unconscious.” Normally, we synchronize the operation of both these two subsystems in a way that leaves us not even aware there are two different systems. But when they become desynchronized, the implicational system dominates without a sense of containment or interpretation from the propositional.
Some know how to visit the transliminal, then come back enriched by the experience, while others get lost in the experience and are seen as “mad.” Of course, some have both experiences – sometimes being successfully creative or spiritual, at other times being lost.
I would add that when people appear “lost” it is partly the deficit of those around the person and of the culture, that doesn’t know how to relate to them, to contain and define their experience.
Clarke works as a therapist in an inpatient setting, and she finds it helpful to teach her model to the people there, even though the time is just brief. She finds that it really helps reduce stigma, it avoids battles about whether or not someone is really “mentally ill,” it acknowledges that there is something potentially valid in people’s experience while also challenging them to find better ways to contain and communicate about it.