I would shut myself up in my apartment, turn on the stereo, and play every record in my collection at top volume. Inevitably I would get in trouble with my neighbors, who found it difficult to cope with rock and roll blaring at 3:00 a.m. Sooner or later, somebody would turn me in, and the police would arrive. I would then fight with the police, refusing to open my door and sometimes throwing ashtrays and books through the window panes. At the emergency room the psychiatrist would pronounce me manic and force me to take a drug to control my mental state. This drug was usually Thorazine, and it usually worked.
That, in a nutshell, is what happened to me on a regular basis for nearly 25 years. At least, that is what it looked like from the outside. What my friends and psychiatrists did not know was that there was a lot more happening on the inside than appeared outwardly. When I became manic, I entered another world. It was a world of several dimensions that included myth, magic, and spirit.
My extreme mental states started at age 20. When I was 20 I wanted to clean my spirit of doubt and find my identity. I did not feel like I was a part of the world I was about to enter. At the same time I yearned to explore my consciousness. I believed that by seeking inner truth I would find God.
Creating an altered mental state was very easy for me. For some years I had practiced an informal mediation that opened me to spirit, to the silence of the inner mind. Recently I had found that rapid drinking relaxed mental barriers. Now I used whiskey, music and concentrated effort to turn my awareness inward. Lo and behold, as I sat there, a new world unfolded, a domain of brilliant light and color.
I felt I had traveled back in time to ancient levels of meaning. The present became a moment of eternity. The room seemed to grow ever brighter, and my red bedspread, along with the blue, and the green, and the orange covers of my books–all glowed sharp and distinct. I looked through my books of poems and myths, and their words assumed multiple layers of meaning. All were messages directed to me personally.
Exhilaration replaced the vacancy in my heart. Yes! This was it! This was the leap of faith in which time present and time past came together in the truth of a moment. Each new sensation was beautiful and precious beyond description. This was not the peace of meditation. This was a light whose quality was joy.
Long after midnight I was still listening to records. I allowed the music to bypass my ears altogether, to permeate my body as I remained for hours at the still point. I was utterly happy. By morning my body was beyond physical discomfort of any kind.
Each new revelation was marvelously funny, yet not absurd. The joke was that the wildest dualities were equally valid and equally good. I perceived a bright energy, like the light of the sun. It was a light that illuminated all reality. All questions were answered, all dichotomies resolved.
Although I did not know it, this was the apex of my journey. Giddy with beauty of my spectacular perceptions, I rode my chariot of light, like Phaeton of the Greek myth, and urged my winged horses forward.
I sat crossed-legged on my bed and began playing an Al Jolson album. His lyrics were laden with the icons of popular American culture. In my heightened state of awareness I heard and appreciated nuances of sound and lyrics I never had before. And now, listening to American music, I realized the importance of civil rights, not just for African Americans, but for all of us. Freedom would mean the fulfillment of our common dreams that are now unacknowledged except in music and in movies. Music would be the key to the coming revolution.
The songs that I heard also seemed to foretell the importance of a certain kind of woman, one who did not conform to standard definitions of femininity but who stood for a kind of friendship. I thought here especially if the song “My Gal Sal.” These perceptions frightened me, because I suddenly felt singled out as the “new woman” invoked in the music. Was I the “Sal” that appeared so frequently in the old songs- And what did that mean- Was I the Christ-
I did not like this notion at all. How could I be the Christ- If I were Christ I would heal people and I had never done that. If I were the Messiah, I would be talking to God, yet my current experiences scarcely included the idea of God at all.
I began listening to a Charlie Mingus recording, hearing the pain and spiritual potential expressed in the “blues” of jazz and the “roots” of gospel music. I faced my irresolvable conflicts, and through the welling up of my own pain I felt and understood the suffering of humanity itself.
At this point, insights started coming to me as unspoken messages. I heard no voices and identified no messenger; nevertheless information came to me as if from an outside source. Toward dawn I sat on the floor near my bed, listening to the messages. I understood then that the end of the world was at hand. The light that I experienced would soon become manifest in everyday reality. The ordinary would become magical and we would be living in a new world.
Now it seemed that my messages were coming not from a single source but instead from a group of patriarchs just above my bed. “This is the way the prophets in the Bible received their messages,” they told me wordlessly. “The prophets and others were persecute for what they believed. But they talked to us, too. They went through just what you are going through.”
I went to bed, but I was unable to sleep for long. I awoke after a few hours, excited about the end of the world, which I assumed was to take place momentarily. I jumped out of bed, not bothering to change the clothes that I had slept in and that I had now been wearing for several days. I called a taxi and caught the train to New York City. I studied all the faces around me in the streets of New York, looking for Christ and finding it in a face here and there. My heart swelled with love all these people. I think I probably spoke to a number of them. But the truth was that I had not had enough sleep, and I was becoming exhausted and overwhelmed. I was becoming more and more agitated about the imminent end of the world, and was also becoming very confused.
Something was wrong because I had not been able to communicate with my best friends. I needed to know that the miracle was taking place, but despite my encouraging day in the city I had seen no headlines announcing it. The thin thread of honesty that I had maintained between myself and my perceptions had slipped imperceptibly away. In the frantic sequence of messages and revelations, I now accepted everything as instantaneously and literally true. I stayed awake all night listening for news on the radio. My mood vacillated between wild hope and black foreboding, as I interpreted rock and roll in archetypal terms.
The infirmary nurse was sent to my room to persuade me to see the school psychiatrist. I had seen him before and found him to be a cold fish ignorant of the needs and passions of young women. The nurse was even less sophisticated and she was consumed with terror at having to confront a student who had “gone off the deep end.” A well-groomed middle-aged woman, she could not understand the combination of despair and conviction that ruled my mind and body.
We regarded each other with mutual horror, she like a Christian fed to the lions, and I like a frightened but noble animal caught in a trap. All the primordial energy that I had been playing with concentrated itself in the center of my body, and I lashed out. Swiftly, I kicked the nurse across the room, throwing her against my bureau. She stumbled to her feet and left, and it was only months later that I learned I had broken her arm.
Finally, I could no longer maintain the tight pitch of energy that had kept me going for days with little sleep. Something in me let go, and the weight of the entire black universe collapsed on top of me. The leaden darkness pressed on my back until I could not move, and I felt an unbearable grief and horror. Under this dark, pervasive weight, I was speechless. Somehow my miraculous vision of the “new world” was incomplete and premature. Before the end of the world I would be called upon to suffer a great deal, and for a long time. The misery and pain would be so persistent that my spiritual experience, so impulsively welcomed, would hardly make up for the suffering that followed it.
I saw incomprehensible images of spiritual and social awakening in America and the world cut short by abortive deaths and senseless conflict. Larger images of war, and deaths in war, appeared. I gradually sank deeper and deeper into misery and abasement. I lay prone and immobile, finally unable not only to move but to think.
A few nights later, I heard a rude knocking on my door. After scarcely a pause, several people burst loudly into the room, talking to each other. I caught only bits and snatches of their conversation:
“Is this the girl-”
“You take the arms, I’ll get the feet.”
“Watch out for that chair.”
“Okay, you ready-”
There was a lot of shuffling, then I felt rough hands on my arms and legs, and I was pulled sharply to my feet. Now one man held each of my arms; and the man holding my left arm twisted backwards until I cried with pain. There was more shuffling and tugging and I realized they were forcing something over both my arms. It was a strait jacket. I tried to scream, to protest, to tell them that I was not going to hurt anyone. But they were too busy shuffling, grunting, and struggling with the ties of the restraint. The front of the jacket pressed too tightly against my chest, and my arms crossed each other painfully, tautly. I was again a trapped animal, and this time the trap was real.
To me, being forcefully brought down from mania was a kind of death. I always grieved for the vision of clear light, for the loss of something I knew was important. I well knew that my experiences were spiritual, and today I realize they also included much that was psychic or prophetic. I realize I foresaw many events of the sixties. In later experiences I foresaw world change starting from the heart of Russia before communism fell, and communicated with extraterrestrials.
What does all this mean- For one thing it is clear that madness is not meaningless. An extreme mental state opens realms of consciousness that are not usually accessible. More often than not, this event is like opening Pandora’s box, or taking Phaeton’s ride–the result is frightening. Still, the experience contains mines of treasure as well as destruction. After all, if Phaeton had succeeded, he would have learned to drive the wild horses of the sun. He would have gained the wisdom of Apollo–the gift of prophecy and the glory of light. He would have learned the mysteries of music and poetry. He would know the art of healing.