Further, while Law’s dad was articulate and courageous when confronting obvious corruption, he was not adept at talking about deeper contradictions of the conventional society that he was part of and which he encouraged his son to join. So there really wasn’t a forum within his family or with anyone else he knew at the time for talking about the contradictory pressures he was experiencing. Unfortunately, a bind becomes a double bind when one can’t talk about it. There is no longer any conscious way out of the mess: instead, the existing order has to break down if there is going to be any relief.
For Law, this meant entering “hell.” From the point of view of psychiatry, the problem was that he thought he was in hell when he wasn’t, but from a more humanistic point of view, the problem was that his life was indeed turning into hell. To get out, he first needed to experience that consciously, then he needed to let the fixed beliefs about his life that he had previously identified with “burn away” so that he could resolve the contradictions and find a new path.
From the point of view of many traditional cultures, this is all very understandable. Shamans routinely understood they would have to go through things like experiences of dismemberment and destruction in order to explore new forms of existence and experience. But psychiatry focuses only on the suffering involved in “breakdown” and ignores the possibility of “breakthrough” and renewal that can follow, if only people get the support they need to allow their psyche to reorganize into something new.
When I think of Law’s story, I find the image of the “pygmy rebellion” to be especially interesting. One reason madness can be so terrifying is that parts of our mind with which we were previously barely familiar can be suddenly doing things that throw our whole system out of control. This “rebellion” of the less conscious parts of our mind can be understood to happen as an attempt to free us from the ways we are stuck, but if we then feel too threatened by its actions and just focus on attempts to “put down the rebellion and restore order” then the end result can be getting stuck in struggle, or what Eleanor Longden called a “psychic civil war.”
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