Posts Tagged ‘mental health’


there’s no escaping
— I want to go back and change
the whole of my life —
how absurd! — as if now I’m
any wiser than I was then!

Yesterday evening I worked late on my talk on Spirituality and Mental Health. Mulling over my teenage sexuality and the reasons for my incredible loneliness, for the purposes of the talk, seems to have provoked a dream in which I was given complete licence to express my sexual feelings — with great tenderness and love — and in great detail — towards the first girl I ever slept with in reality at the age of 22. In reality, I was completely overwhelmed and did not know what to do and ended up doing nothing. So it was a one-off with this particular girl. And for the next 20 years my sexual experience amounted to half a dozen one-night stands. Looking back, it does feel as though I missed out on the best years of my life. Both sexually and, perhaps more important, socially. This isn’t a new realisation. But the vivid feelings of regret provoked by last night’s dream are much more immediate than anything I normally allow myself to feel. And it turns out that it makes quite a nice, neat, simple poem.



there’s no need to prove
sanity or madness — truth
is the faculty
of compassion, discovered
in myself — of all places

I quite like this poem. It just manages, by the skin of its teeth, to avoid pretentious moralising. I dreamed of my maternal grandfather, who sang bass for many years in Carlisle Cathedral Choir. He was a working class lad who left school at fourteen, had a wonderful singing voice, but was also perhaps too fundamentally scared of life to make good. In my dream, I saw him going off somewhere to practice his singing, and prove himself, and I felt sad because I knew his efforts were doomed. He would fail to break through the barrier of his own neurosis. Apart from that, I also dreamed of my mother’s Jungian analyst, Fred Plaut. Yesterday evening I worked quite late on a talk I will be giving this week, on spirituality and mental health. Central to the talk, is my own ‘mental illness’, and also the experience of hallucinating a flood of gold light pouring from Fred Plaut’s eyes when I first met him. I’ve analysed this experience quite successfully I think, in the talk. But unless I can talk with compassion (towards myself) it will end up with me hiding my vulnerability behind the analysis.


enough privacy
— what is enough? — a curtain
to hide — to reveal
the intimate, mythical,
tender core of the apple

My mother nearly died on a the Acute Assessment Ward at A&E last summer. She was delirious and thrashing around in the bed — impossible to tell how much consciousness she possessed, if any — though her eyes were open some of the time. The curtained-off cubicle of her hospital bed was a world ruled by the medical staff, in which I felt like an interloper. I felt stupidly inhibited and at a loss how to behave, or how to reach out to her in her delirium. A spectator rather than participant, while the nurses did their job. Without the medical care, she would have died. But then also, without the medical care, I would have been forced to find a way through my own reserve and maybe to cradle her in my arms as she died — a very different and perhaps better emotional scenario. I dreamed last night of trying to use a curtain for making sure I wasn’t overheard. I was dimly aware how useless the curtain was for the purpose: it was just one of those ordinary hospital bed curtains. I was talking about mental health issues, feeling unsure of myself in terms of whether I was fighting a losing battle to assert the importance of the ‘user-survivor’ perspective, against the massed forces of collective prejudice in the opposite (medical) camp. Modern medicine is a very odd phenomenon. It has a lot in common with Christianity, in being so well-meaning and in doing so much harm.


aspects of myself
remaining hidden for no
good reason at all
except that I cannot risk
entering the black darkness

It must be a couple of years now, since I re-read Dostoevsky’s novel The Devils.  It had been the 3rd Dostoevksy novel I ever read, back in 1987, and, unlike the first two, I’d found it quite inaccessible at that time. So I’d always wanted to revisit it, and happily now in my late fifties, I discovered a new translation which made all the difference. The translator was Robert Maguire and he translated the title as Demons rather than The Devils. My poem this morning is a very organic creation which for me has a quality of inevitability — I could almost believe the title was waiting for me at the end having already been decided without my knowledge. It arose from a dream in which a young man in his early twenties, who apparently belonged to some esoteric sect, was indicating in a decisive manner that I would not be granted access to the Mysteries (whatever they were: in the poem, I have interpreted them as representing the fact that I am a mystery to myself). In the dream, faced with this rebuff, I was behaving very mildly and humbly, and letting go quite successfully of my own spiritual ambition. I wonder now whether this might relate to a project I have on the go at the moment, of writing a talk to be delivered to one of the Hearing Voices Groups in London, on the subject of Spirituality and Mental Health. It’s a very exciting subject and I have found it difficult to approach without getting tangled up in my own spiritual pretensions. The temptation seems to be to use it as an opportunity to prove or demonstrate my own spirituality. Nice that the dream depicts me in a humbler frame of mind.


the words I love you
— involuntary sobbing —
parenthood is raw

Plenty of striking dreams last night, but I have stuck with the most emotional image. I’ve forgotten the context, but I found myself embracing a small boy as the words ‘I love you’ came from my lips without the slightest forethought. It was just like being sick or ejaculating or any involuntary process where the body itself takes over and decides what’s happening. At the same time, there was also no dissociation so I believed the words and the emotion of love. It was an inescapable conclusion that the small boy was my son, although in real life I have (as far as I know) no offspring at all. I am preparing currently in waking life, a talk on the subject of spirituality and mental health. My own personal understanding of the word spirituality has been strongly influenced by Jung’s Septem Sermones at Mortuos, where spirituality and sexuality are paired. But why would I want to turn my talk into a Jung lecture? So yesterday it struck me that I could say something much simpler and more universal. Surely it’s universal, the same for everyone, that Love has both a spiritual and a sexual aspect? I suspect my dream last night expresses the impossibility of knowing whether love comes from the body or from the spirit. It obviously can come from both at once. And yet the distinction seems to be one that we are all predisposed to find.


words like ownership
and empowerment — words like
laptop — make me wish
with all my heart for a state
of utter destitution

I dreamed my laptop was buried under a pile of other laptops. I felt very attached to MY laptop as I hunted for it. Awake, I realised how much my laptop means to me, both in the abstract (a focus for my sense of ‘ownership’) and practically speaking (e.g. no laptop, no pornography). Ownership and empowerment are supposed to be positive things in the context of mental health. I do go along with that, and yet to another part of me these words sound like drivel. That part of me is sick of my current life, and my job in mental health, and my leisure time spent on emails and iPlayer and blogging and pornography — and believes I was better off spiritually in the eighties and nineties when I had nothing. There’s another part of me again however, thinks literal poverty is no escape. There would still be issues of ownership and empowerment to grapple with even if I had no laptop, even if I had nothing. Even if we lived in a society without money. The disjunct is between my current life and my previous life: I have never reconciled them and still feel like two people.


it’s challenging, to
come down safely from a high —
meet that challenge — learn
doing by doing nothing
— what the Taoist calls wu wei

Eastern wisdom gets a bad press in all sorts of ways. From Jung’s dire warnings against trying to mimic a foreign spiritual tradition, to one’s own suspicion that maybe there’s a kind of inverted racism in believing (as I do tend to believe) that Eastern cultures really might be superior, spiritually, to Western ones. I dreamed I was climbing a ladder or gym wall bars, and when I reached the top, had to climb down the other side. ‘Coming down from a high’ describes more or less the problem I had yesterday coming back into the office after most of the day spent delivering a talk about my experiences as a mental health service user, homeless person, and talking about my life and outlook in general. My poem draws a parallel between ‘coming down’ and wu wei, and that was probably suggested by the classic metaphor for wu wei which is ‘the watercourse way’ — in other words, to practice wu wei is to follow the line of least resistance, exactly the way water follows gravity. The title of this poem is probably much too loaded with a ton of personal, idiosyncratic philosophising. It’s meant to touch on the irony of how any feeling of empowerment, enablement or positivity — as for instance ‘I can understand wu wei‘ or ‘I can put it into practice’ — is already the very worst starting point for understanding wu wei or putting it into practice.