Even though most of my work currently is as a coach and a trainer, I do have a psychotherapy practice. I see clients experiencing a wide range of mental health challenges. One of the experiences I have learned an incredible amount from is psychosis. I think there is a lesson in it for all of us.
The mainstream understanding when someone is experiencing psychosis is that they have lost touch with reality. This is because they are experiencing hallucinations or delusional beliefs such as grandiosity, pronoia, or paranoia that do not conform with “normal” human experience. Believing you are an important historical figure such as Jesus, feeling the universe is conspiring for you by giving you messages through the airwaves, or being convinced the CIA has installed monitoring devices in your teeth fillings are unusual beliefs (random examples used as an illustration). However, what I have learned is they are all part of the continuum of human experience that results from the same mechanism. We all create our experience via thought.
Rather than someone who is experiencing psychosis having lost touch with reality, they are simply demonstrating in a very clear and obvious way how powerful thought is, and how thought creates our experience of reality. Everyone I have spoken to when they are not in a psychotic state recognizes that they were giving meaning to the content of their thinking and that was what was creating their experience at the time. It was not “the” reality. It was their self-created reality.
On the tail end of a psychotic episode, clients often experience a low mood. This may be related to side effects of psychiatric medications or the brain needing to rebalance itself. During this time, clients frequently feel ashamed and embarrassed. They can judge themselves as damaged, worthless, and not good enough. These, however, are seen as “normal” experiences rather than simply another subjective reality created by thought. Nonetheless, these low mood feelings and experiences are also created from giving meaning to arbitrary thoughts. Each reality we live in is constantly being recreated moment to moment via thought. It doesn’t matter where we are on the continuum of human experience, it is always created the same way. When this is understood, we become less afraid of our experience. Thoughts are transitory. They are designed to pass, and we are designed to move toward health and well-being.
When someone is creating their experience from thought in a way that would have them labeled as psychotic, it is understood that they need to wake up from their hallucinations or delusions, but when they create a negative reality for themselves based on thoughts of unworthiness and not being good enough, they are taught techniques to deal with their experience rather educated that they are creating just another self-generated delusion.
Ironically when clients are manic and delusional, they do not see themselves as broken or needing to be fixed which I would say is true, but when they are “normal”, they can see themselves as broken and damaged which to me is clearly untrue. It seems on a feeling level there is more truth available to them about who they really are in the psychotic state than in a “normal” state. I am not advocating for psychosis. I am not meaning to minimize the severity of the experience that can put people and others in harms way. I intend to point to the inconsistency in mental health treatment that does not collude with psychotic symptoms, but does collude with low mood symptoms. If I am giving someone strategies to deal with their negative feelings, I am agreeing with their negative reality rather than pointing them in the direction of seeing that they are innocently creating and buying into erroneous conclusions.
We all live in thought bubbles, our own subjective realities that are recreated from scratch each moment. There is nothing that says the way we think and feel in this moment has to be the way we think and feel in the next moment. The possibility for new, fresh thinking to arise inside of us is always available. We create our reality in the here and now. Seeing this points us in the direction of freedom. Not the type of freedom that means we control how we create our reality. The freedom that comes from being okay with whatever reality we create because we know it is transitory and, therefore, don’t need to take it too seriously.
It is not just psychotic clients that live in their own separate reality. It is all of us. We can all wake up to the understanding of the role thought plays in creating our experience. From a spiritual perspective we are not our thoughts or our feeling. They move through us, but they are not us. Our true nature is far greater than the thin layer of personal thinking and experience we have.
Our true nature is a formless, loving essence that lies inside of each one of us, and is the innate mental and emotional wellbeing that is our true potential. It is us. That is who we really are beyond the personal illusions we create.
What I see as helping people in general, is when we see that our reality, whatever the contents is, is made up from thought. Everything comes through the filter of our perceptions. Seeing this seems to naturally clear the lens of our perception and helps to open ourselves to experience more deeply the beautiful feelings of our true nature. The qualities that exist beyond duality such as love, peace, and compassion. Some people refer to them as deeper feelings. Others call them the hallmarks of the Authentic Self.
These feelings go beyond the content of our thinking. They are there, like the sun behind the clouds, independent of our personal thoughts. We can lose touch with them, and we do when we get consumed with making meaning from the content of our thoughts. I can make meaning of having the thought, “I am unworthy.” As soon as I believe that thought and see it as true and not just a thought, I bring it to life, multiply it, and live in that experience. Conversely, I can run with the thought, “I am special.” That might even be fun, but no matter what I get into trouble when I think any of it is true. The good, the bad, and ugly thoughts are only ever going to be thoughts. They are useful to navigate and experience this physical world reality, but they are not the truth. They are subjective, transitory, and arbitrary. There is a truth behind our personal thinking that is the source of it.
As a human, I may have to experience the feeling of my loving essence via thought, but I can feel how my personal experience of it is the doorway to the impersonal nature of who I am. Accepting the limitations of my human form helps me to experience more fully what is available to me. All thoughts and feelings are part of the illusion. Some illusions are more socially acceptable than others. Our experience of peace, wellbeing, and love start before the illusion of thought, but we experience them via thought. However, it is looking in the direction beyond thought, to our true nature that is outside of space and time, that we experience the deepest level of who we are. We do not need to find copying mechanisms for our humanness. We can simply accept our humanness and see it in the context of our divinity.
Rohini Ross is a psychotherapist, a leadership consultant, and an executive coach. Rohini facilitates personalized three-day retreats to help individuals, couples, and professionals connect more fully with their true nature and experience greater levels of wellbeing, resiliency, and success. You can find out more about Rohini’s work on her website, rohiniross.com.