Two nights ago, I woke up at around 2 A.M. That in itself is not unusual. But what happened next left me wondering, for hours.
With a strange purposefulness, I arose, got up, walked into the kitchen, which was surprisingly cool, and detected a faint trace of of the odor of gas. Still in the dark, as if it knew exactly what it was doing, my right hand reached out to the largest burner, on the far right of the stove, and turned it in a clockwise direction, to OFF.
I was shocked. That I had left the stove on. That the smell of gas wasn’t more powerful. That my hand knew which burner and calmly turned it off.
But really, did I leave the stove on? I find that hard to believe.
Then I noticed one of the nearby windows was wide open. I had left it that way, I did remember that, the one with the fan in it, open to the greenhouse only. However, when I opened the back door into the greenhouse, I realized that I had left the window to the outside open there, too. So that’s why I didn’t die.
I opened more doors and windows for a few minutes, then closed them and went back to bed.
As I said, I pondered this amazing incident for awhile.
The next morning, I was in the kitchen, near the same place on the stove, when a light bulb, which had been on the counter, rolled off and shattered. How did it fall? Did I move it? I don’t think so. Oops! Was this the kind with mercury in it, escaping to the air? Once again, in the dead of winter, I opened windows and doors while I carefully swept up the shards.
Later, I wondered, “Is something trying to get me?” Like an archon or something weird like that? If so, clearly, it wasn’t working, as my intuition, or my soul, or whatever you want to call that other part of me that knows what’s real and what’s needed now, is plenty protective.
A little while later I noticed an article on “divine schizophrenia” by Ken Wilbur —
— and marveled. For this article synchronizes with an old essay of mine that I had been thinking about posting here. It’s the Introduction to a manuscript that I’m thinking about turning into an e-book: “Ten Tools for Transformation” (the ones I’ve used: none of them cost money or equipment, just one’s own presence to the inner life, and various practices to tease out hidden aspects of the self for integration over time). Here’s how it starts:
What Is Sanity and What, Madness?
In the spring of 1974 I was attending a cocktail party, talking with a man who had been visiting the Mendocino commune where I then lived. I remember the moment clearly because suddenly, with no warning, he blurted out: “You are the first continuously splitting schizophrenic I have ever met!” Dramatically bowing low, I responded, in genuine, if shocked, gratitude, “Thank you!” He looked surprised.
He thought I would take offense at his remark. To call a person “schizophrenic” is to brand her or him as at least odd, and more likely “crazy.” Instead, I thanked that man for recognizing me. For if I was the first “continuously splitting schizophrenic” he had ever met, then he was the first to see me in a way which resonated with how I felt myself to be. I doubt I would be classified clinically as schizophrenic, but I am (at least) two people, and I do tend to “split,” moment by moment, ego from essence, over and over again.
Schizophrenics, like others whom we call “mad,” supposedly exist in their “own little worlds.” And for the first few years after “the-illness-that-almost-killed-me-but-instead-left-me-changed” (more on this later), I did feel unbearably, unspeakably, alone. This is probably why I remember being struck by Gertrude Stein’s remark: “I write for myself and one other stranger.” Exactly. For if that stranger exists, then I am not mad.
It used to bother me that I felt so alone. At one point I did wonder if I was indeed “crazy.” But if sanity is defined as common sense, our sense of the world as created by common agreement, then once I was not alone I was no longer crazy. So that stranger at the cocktail party, in recognizing me, announced that we shared a common world.
One of the hallmarks of what those who share a certain culture call “sanity” is that its (hidden) rules, when followed, seem to be “common-sense.” And yet, if common-sense is truly a sensing in common, then the so-called “sanity” of our western mainstream culture — where each of us senses the world alone, through the poverty of the five external senses — is literally, by definition, mad! What could be more isolated than billions of lonely egos?
Back in 1968, when I was in the throes of a breakdown that was also a breakthrough — and the question of whether or not I was indeed, mad, was whispered in the halls of the philosophy department at Boston University where I was pursuing a Ph.D. degree while pondering the inner life of Wittgenstein — I used to keep a little book under my pillow, Jung’s autobiography, Memories, dreams and Reflections.
Synchronicity was one of Jung’s preoccupations, in fact he invented the term. Here’s how he talks about it in a Forward to that marvelous Wilhelm translation of the I Ching (which also ended up under my pillow, but not until the late-’70s):
In other words, whoever invented the I Ching was convinced that the hexagram worked out in a certain moment coincided with the latter in quality no less than in time. To him the hexagram was the exponent of the moment in which it was cast — even more so than the hours of the clock or the divisions of the calendar could be — inasmuch as the hexagram was understood to be an indicator of the essential situation prevailing in the moment of its origin.
This assumption involves a certain curious principle that I have termed synchronicity, a concept that formulates a point of view diametrically opposed to that of causality. Since the latter is a merely statistical truth and not absolute, it is a sort of working hypothesis of how events evolve one out of another, whereas synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.
The ancient Chinese mind contemplates the cosmos in a way comparable to that of the modern physicist, who cannot deny that his model of the world is a decidedly psychophysical structure. The microphysical event includes the observer just as much as the reality underlying the I Ching comprises subjective, i.e., psychic conditions in the totality of the momentary situation. Just as causality describes the sequence of events, so synchronicity to the Chinese mind deals with the coincidence of events. The causal point of view tells us a dramatic story about how D came into existence: it took its origin from C, which existed before D, and C in its turn had a father, B, etc. The synchronistic view on the other hand tries to produce an equally meaningful picture of coincidence. How does it happen that A’, B’, C’, D’, etc., appear all in the same moment and in the same place? It happens in the first place because the physical events A’ and B’ are of the same quality as the psychic events C’ and D’, and further because all are the exponents of one and the same momentary situation. The situation is assumed to represent a legible or understandable picture.
Later, during the ’80s and ’90s when I lived in a yurt in the mountains of Wyoming, I used to spend early mornings before dawn in winter dipping into Jung’s works and that of other writers who had delved into the waters of the collective unconscious. I wanted to understand the vagaries of my own nature. I wanted to see/feel how the outside and the inside were not only connected, but unified. I’m still on the hunt. But at least, by this time, I do know what “projection” is, and am likely not to do it. Instead, my soul watches what’s going on, and catches my personality before it acts out, before it creates some kind of drama.
That is, until last night, with the “gas attack,” (Neptune) and this morning’s shattered bulb (Uranus). Both planets are active in my chart right now . . . But then, of course! the miracle! — the synchronicity that brought my little drama into high relief: divine schizophrenia. Divine!
Here’s Alan Watts, talking about Jung, his remarkable wholeness and openness to the contradictory depths of his own vast being. Would that the human race would learn from his example!