The Natural Depth In Being Human

"The Natural Depth in Man" is the clinical psychologist and (self-confessed) mystic's, Wilson Van Dusen's phenomenological account of aspects of human experience, suggesting that though the unexamined life, according to Socrates, is not worth living, most of us, much of the time settle for worthlessness (my words not his)!

He sets out quietly, but with glowing conviction,  to convince us otherwise. He begins with the simplest of experiences - sitting in his office chair thinking about what to write (and how mysterious this is) through to the equally simple, but profounder, experience of satori (or enlightenment). On the way, we consider what it might look like to genuinely consider another person, engage in periodic self-reflection, understand the hypnagogic and our dreams and grapple with the complex phenomena of hallucination. Quietly too, we are invited to pay attention to that great Western student of human experience, Emmanuel Swedenborg, as a suggestive companion, prodding us always to understand more deeply and necessarily put our experience to work, making it work for ourselves and especially for others. Nothing, for Swedenborg, should be without use.

The book delightfully balances accounts of experience with theoretical speculation and practical application. Van Dusen has an underlying wager that everything we call 'unconscious' - whether disruptive, constructive or revelatory - is fundamentally for our good. The world is us, made with us, and rests in a deep communion. All disturbance and failure arise out of our insufficiency to recognise this and in our artlessness in making of it right use.

I especially liked the chapter on hallucinations - on which, as a clinical psychologist, Van Dusen had much experience. He estimated that the ratio of lower to higher hallucinations was four to one. The lower knew less than the recipient of their attentions and the higher knew more. Both reflected aspects of the person that were being evaded, ignored, neglected or repressed. We not only impart our perceived weaknesses to the shadowlands but also our feared strengths, gifts, potentials. Finding a root to stilling (or integrating) our visions or voices is in understanding what they carry of our imbalanced selves' usefulness; and, finding a new accommodation with our failings and hopes.

In passing, but importantly, this chapter reminds us of how the boundary between normality and eccentricity is thin, socially constructed, and can catch us all potentially on the wrong side of acceptability. It, also, deconstructs the polite language of mental illness, preferring the direct language of madness recognising that this is both how the mad see themselves (to which I can attest) and how that language's earthy, concreteness is directly valuable.

The book also carries a compelling account of the balance between 'outer' and 'inner'. The outer can effectively give rise to the right container for inner experience. The best approach to addressing madness is restoring a felt sense and practiced usefulness to the one deemed mad - sweep the floor, water the plants, serve the other patients' meals. The best test of the inner's authenticity and direction is in external fruitfulness. A mystical experience grounds you in humility and opens you, in acceptance, to the other. What issue is being addressed  will determine the starting point but inner and outer must always meet in a conducive harmony. There must always be a correspondence (to quote Swedenborg) betwixt outer, inner and higher, lower.

Only in openness and communion is there truth, never in the enclosed or separate.


Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the roots of and the routes to empathy

Climate: A new and regenerating story

Learning to meditate