One’s Own World

Dean Blehert

One of the great half‑truths of psychiatry is the idea that an insane person is “off in his own world”. The insane person is insane to the degree that he is cut off from his own world.

The psychiatric view (and, perhaps, the “common‑sense” view in this century) is that any departure from the real (agreed‑upon) world is a move toward insanity. Thus, artists, imaginative people, any who create new worlds are suspect. Dreamers are dangerous or eccentric. Who lives in his own world is out of communication with others.

This is all backwards: We are as alive (and as able to communicate) as we can dream. This “real” world is the world we agree to and is, therefore, what is in common to all our worlds (to the extent that it IS real to all). Thus it is a small part of my world ‑ and of your world. It is not the SAME part to each of our worlds.

If you and I each had our own symphonies, “our” world would be the tempi and themes in common to both symphonies. These themes and tempi might play a very different role in each symphony, and so “reality” is understood differently by each of us, to the extent that we align it with the rest of our self‑created universe ‑ all that we each know and feel and remember and imagine and plan and hope and orchestrate.

With billions of vastly complex symphonies, only a small part of each is agreed upon by all. What is agreed upon so thoroughly acquires a radiance. It is solid. It is real. In its brilliance, the rest of our separate worlds grow dim unless we continue to create them with ceaseless vigor. Many see only the agreed‑upon universe and, to that extent, cannot dream and, to that extent, are dead, though their bodies yet breathe, talk, eat, go through the motions of life, feeding off old dreams that they feel have nothing to do with them.

Often one finds another person with whom one can share a great part of one’s universe ‑ someone, perhaps, like an old friend with whom one has a great deal in common. Love seems an opening up of one’s own universe, become, suddenly, visible in the radiance of agreement ‑ the agreement of one other person.

This blinding brilliance by which agreement dims what is outside of the agreement is enforced by the psychiatric distortion: It is dangerous to have your own world. You are in danger of being alone, out of communication. You need to AGREE. You need, in every respect, to be part of EVERYONE’S world, or you will be left out of the game. The shared reality shines with the desperate fawning interest in which we invest it ‑ as the celebrity of the moment glows in tabloid admiration.

Thus love itself can be seen as a threat. One must, after all, be able to dream to be able to love. Love opens up the possibility of new worlds, as lovers become aware of a shared world that dwarfs the physical (for what is in common to two intersecting universes far exceeds what is in common to billions) and even, in lightning glances, extrapolate to visions of their entire individual worlds. Thus love threatens the stability of everyone’s agreement. It makes physical barriers seem flimsy.

I speak here of a love not based on fear. One clinging to agreement will seek to restrict a lover’s world to what can be shared. A lover’s fear (or parent’s or teacher’s or buddy’s) is often the source of denial that pushes toward madness. Possessive love insists: You can’t have your world, lest I be left out.

If one sees what others cannot see, he is judged insane and locked away in a cell or left to mumble in the gutter ‑ unless he is able to disguise his visions as socially acceptable art.

In fact, it is only an awareness of one’s own universe (which makes sense, because it is one’s own creation, and is the basis of what we call sense) that allows us to make sense of the “real” world. The random themes held in common by all our symphonies make sense to me when I see how they fit into my creation. When I abdicate my world, the universe becomes a random chaos. How, then, can I communicate, having no understandable medium, no language of shared perceptions? How can I play, having no comprehensible playing field? And what does it mean to play, to have a game, in the absence of dreams?

Many dispute the truth or falsehood of astrology, palmistry and other ways of understanding the universe by establishing correspondences within it. What is seldom discussed is the reversal of responsibility, whether predictions are accurate or not, implicit in trying to understand one’s own universe by tracking the stars or skin wrinkles of the agreed‑ upon world.

Perhaps, indeed, the universe makes sense that can be traced in correspondences, but only because we have each imbued it with our own sense, our own aesthetic and ethical creations of which it partakes. It is backwards ‑ almost a Rube‑Goldberg complexity ‑ to learn about ourselves by finding messages we have left for ourselves in star patterns and old bottles washed up on the beach. We reach, perhaps, some truths, but only at the expense of a greater truth, that this universe is made up of bits of our universes, not the reverse.

One listens to music. The music happens. One is affected by it. Then one begins to detect patterns, begins to be able to predict notes and sequences of notes and harmonies. Then one begins to co‑create the music and make new music of one’s own. In the move from effect to cause, one of the steps is prediction. A paralyzed man, regaining the motion of his big toe, or a baby kicking his legs up and learning to control them, will first be able to predict the motion, then to control it. Whatever seems to come from without must first be correlated with one’s own intentions before one can become the cause of it. During that time of correlation (which could be a split second or many years), one doesn’t cause; one predicts.

Similarly, as we, long lost in the physical, become increasingly aware of our own universes, we begin to hear the greater music, so that the small part of it called the physical universe becomes comprehensible and moving. At first it is a sense of the universe as aesthetically right. Then comes an ability to predict, a sense of knowing the fitness of things. Then comes the ability to create ‑ in the physical universe as well as in the rest of your world. Those who are at home in their own dreams can create them and that means they can modify their whole universe, including the small part of it that is the “real” world.

How is this possible? How is it that artists, for example, create images which become part of all our lives? The real world is a strong agreement. Everyone agrees to it. No one causes any of it. It just is. That’s part of the agreement. And, after all, what is part of everyone’s universe is owned in common, so that it’s hard to attribute responsibility for anything. Did that molecule come from my universe? Who made it?

That is the chaos of quantum mechanics that makes matter persist, particles in random motion that averages out to the persistent form of a table or rock. That is the persistence of this agreement: What we all own no one owns. What none can take responsibility for, none can change: A nice stable playing field that no angry player can overturn.

Only one able to disagree can become aware of his own universe and, through knowledge of it, divine his own contribution to the shared reality and begin to separate out his own truths from the physical. Then, being once again the composer of his own symphony, including that part of it that intersects with everyone else’s, he can change it. Just his speaking to others from the heart of his own universe will make others aware that they, too, have universes, that they, too, are immortal makers. And then, for some, the world begins to flicker ‑ until they put it back.

Psychiatrists try to persuade insane people to abandon their hallucinations or try to shock them out of these “worlds of their own in which they are lost”. An insane person is one who, driven out of his own world, forbidden his own world, finds the agreed‑upon “real” world chaotic, so tries to retreat from that world as well and becomes overwhelmed by all that he refuses to confront. Forcing him into the “real” world without simultaneously rehabilitating his ability to have a world of his own either fails or turns him into some sort of minimally acceptable robot: One who appears to share the real world, because the fragments of his own denied world have been suppressed by drugs or shock.

In other words, what psychiatric drugs and shock do is further suppress that “world of his own” whose denial got him into this mess in the first place:

Someone (some person who represented the real world overwhelmingly) wouldn’t let him have a world of his own. As a result, the real world became unconfrontable, so he tried to shut off that real world. What’s left of his own world expresses itself oddly. Drugs and shock suppress these “symptoms” and with them his diminishing hope of ever finding himself. But he is now able to “live in the real world” because he no longer has to confront it. He simply agrees with it (well‑adjusted).

The purpose of modern psychiatry is to deprive of the remaining scraps of their own universes those who, in order to cling to those fading scraps, try to shut off the physical universe. More simply put, the purpose of modern psychiatry is to eliminate bad dreams by eliminating the ability to dream. Yet more simply put, the effect of the techniques of modern psychiatry is to turn living beings into things. A thing is that which cannot disagree with the physical universe, that which cannot dream.

Why do psychiatrists do this? Why do governments pay psychiatrists to do this? Why do newspapers promote the latest miracle zombie‑making drugs? Why do millions of people reach avidly for the latest cure to being able (there’s the rub) to dream? What is this craving for a dreamless sleep?

Volumes could be written about corruption, who profits financially and who maintains political power over whom. Underlying such explanations is one that doesn’t require volumes: These people (and probably all of us, to some extent) fear for the stability of the universe if we learned our power and began to create or re‑ create (as only a few artists now do) vivid universes of our own. They believe the lies they teach ‑ that being “in one’s own world” threatens the game. What would happen to the universe if each of us were able, at will, to create and uncreate it?

Have you ever thought it would be “neat” to make the whole world go POOF! and vanish? And when you thought that (if you ever did), did you not flinch internally, say to yourself ‑ so quickly that it could hardly be called a thought ‑ “No, careful, don’t do that!”?

We must be able to trust ourselves to be able, again, to have our own universes. Fortunately, contrary to rumor, we are too ethical to let ourselves have powers if we suspect we will misuse them. Hence that twitch of caution at the very thought of making things go POOF!

The insane are parodies of creativity. They have not left the game. They are stuck in it all too thoroughly. But they are the bogeymen used to make us afraid of our own powers: “Behold ‑ this is your fate if you disagree with the real world.” And: “These are the people who imperil our being able to have a world in which to communicate! Beware those who would overturn the board, take their checkers and go home!”

And it is of great use to trot out mad creators, artists who cannot clean themselves or sustain a marriage or face the world without drugs or alcohol. This is so useful to the purveyors of fear that they go out of their way to seek out artists and “help” them find drugs and eccentricities. We are taught that great artists are crazy, that it is important ‑ if we are to become artists ‑ that we experience everything, dispense with ethics and lead messy lives. The message is, it is dangerous to create.

It is true that some people are so powerful that they have been able to create great art in spite of their own insanities. But it was not the insanity that created the art. It takes a degree of stability just to do the work, to set up an easel, to buy the paints, to have the hours it takes to write a book. The insanity of some artists derives from their asserting so strongly their own worlds that they meet terrified resistance from those who fear to let others have their own worlds. And some artists have mixed intentions, using art to suppress the worlds of others, a sure path to insanity as they come to believe their own lies.

A related half‑truth is the notion that one should create for the sake of creation, that the true artist creates for him‑ or herself, not for others. This notion of pure creation is a way to booby‑trap creation and produce burnt‑out artists. We want to play. That requires a game. A game requires players and a chance to win and barriers to overcome. In short, a game requires communication. In the absence of communication, creators, like volcanoes, spout great white blasts of flame, then cool to black cinders. There is no continuing game. Communication means the exchange of creations, one’s dream received and understood by another, who responds. In the absence of communication, the creator must become alienated from himself in order to have a game with players other than himself. He must become fragmented. He hears voices. He is, we say, insane.

Great sanity creates great art. Only one capable of great understanding can communicate so powerfully to so many over such a great span of years. Suspect the agenda of whoever warns us of the dangers of creation, the necessary insanity of artists, the impracticality of dreamers, the banality of art that communicates.

If we are so afraid of losing our game that we try to embed it in concrete, dream‑proof agreement, it follows that we want to have a game. Does it not also follow, then, that if we were to recover our full abilities as creators, we would become MORE able to create games to play, MORE able to communicate with each other and MORE able to be with each other and enjoy each other’s company?

The other direction ‑ the psychiatric direction ‑ is hardly a direction at all. As we move toward dreamless sleep, we go from being able to create life to feeling compelled to create SOMETHING. And where we cannot create life, we create death. We create, for example, a dying planet. And even the dreamless robots are still, basically, what we all are, creators. The creation goes on, but unconscious, robotic, deadly.

Those who prescribe dreamless sleep mock the dreamer as one who is not entirely awake. Dreaming precedes waking. In the early morning we rise with our bubble dreams to the surface and pop into wakefulness. As bubbles of air rise to join air, so dreams join wakefulness, which is not the absence of dreams, but an increased ability to choose and communicate our dreams.

by Dean Blehert