cultural crankiness (anthroposophical psychiatry conference)

At the Goetheanum, this fall of 2012, there will take place a psychiatry conference for anthroposophical doctors. Here’s a part of the description, taken from the program:

… since the nineteenth century we have been able to observe the rise of forms of illness such as neurotic disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, traumatic disorders, attention deficit disorders and many others which are connected with the challenges of our time and which Rudolf Steiner described as “cultural disorders”: “That is where all the cultural disorders, the cultural decadence, all the psychological emptiness, hypochondria, eccentricities, dissatisfaction, crankiness and so on come from, also all the aggressive instincts which attack a culture, which reject a culture. Because either one accepts the culture of an age and adapts to it, or one develops the corresponding poison which is deposited and which will only dissolve through acceptance of the culture.”

The ethereal kiosk would be classified as at least half-way insane, no doubt, due to its general decadence and eccentricity. Other than that, we do not recognize anything in the description above that resembles our particular culture. A slight neuroticism may perhaps surface from time to time and some of us are a bit attention deficit (especially mr Dog, attention deficits are part of the terrier condition, in case you didn’t know, but he’s getting older now, we may need anthroposophical trauma treatment for that).

I love reading anthroposophical medical conference programs. I don’t know medicine, you know, but they’re always eminently readable compared to much else in the field. ‘The human soul, a dramatic battleground’, ‘Depression as an existential experience at the abyss of being’ (that’s got to do with transformation in the face of the Great Guardian of the Threshold) — this stuff is at times more ‘literary’ from me than it is medical, I suppose, and that seems more interesting and enjoyable from where I come, being neither a medical doctor nor a proper anthroposophist (although I’ve had my encounters with smaller guardians of small thresholds; they were gnome-like). There’s a lecture on karmic consequences of psychopathology. It’s something I’ve wondered about many times. On page 8 we learn not only about soul exercises but also about a workshop on ‘fairy tale work with acute psychiatric patients’. I’m not dismissing the idea; quite the contrary. I’m only noting its existence. I’m saying, because I think you may think I’m laughing and thinking about gnomes and bats in the belfry (you know, in Swedish we can combine these themes into one, it’s called ‘tomtar på loftet’ in case you ever need the expression), but I’m certainly not. In fact, I suspect fairytales and fiction can be helpful in almost any situation. On p 18: ‘Incarnation of the borderline ego through the psychotherapeutic use of mentalisation.’ That one kept calling for my attention. The one immediately after is about psychotherapy based in the spirit-self, for healing of a fractured soul (from unconscious threshold crossings). All in all, quite interesting reading. I highly recommend this conference brochure.

H/t Michael Eggert, whose post (in german) about it is well worth reading.

15 thoughts on “cultural crankiness (anthroposophical psychiatry conference)

  1. I wish I could say that all mainstream psychiatry is practiced according to rigorous scientific standards and methods, and of course a lot of people and medicine actually help. But the battle over DSM5, the next US diagnostic bible can cause instant depression http://bit.ly/JdxZzK There seems to be no cure for this type of madness, not even a diagnosis.

  2. Anthroposophy is sort of interesting, psychiatrically. I mean that. Seriously. Guardians and threshold experiences and Egos and misalignments in various bodies. (I doubt that the mental experiences of most anthroposophists are any more interesting than those of most people though. But that is another matter.)

  3. Out walking, thinking about the guardians, the obvious occurred to me: the smaller ones aren’t smaller, they’re lesser. Please excuse my embarrassing confusion…

  4. DSM5 is a dangerously viral disorder of the US cultural-medical-economic complex.

    The swedish folk-diagnosis “tomtar på loftet” is so funny and metaphorically powerful it almost makes it desirable. There are certainly times when I wouldn’t mind a bunch of small happy beings singing merrily somewhere in the upper regions of my fractured soul. And it is more positive than the strange swedish expressions “han har inte alla hästar hemma” or “inte alla indianer i kanoten” (“s/he doesn’t have all horses at home”, “not all indians in the canoe”), indicating a lack of sense or intelligence.

    There is, like Alicia says, some strangely literary joys in reading the conference program. It’s also interesting to note that the dangers of occult training might be real:

    “51. The dissociation of the components of the human being at the threshold to the spiritual world. Distinguishing the side-effects of spiritual training and psychiatric clinical pictures in connection with the book by R. Steiner: Knowledge of the higher worlds. How is it achieved? GA 10, chapter “Division of the personality during spiritual training”.

    What is really interesting here is the idea that you might also suffer from “unconscious threshold crossings”. And there is more to explore here, but I’ll be back later about that.

  5. Yes, that is utterly fascinating, the unconscious threshold crossings. The threshold thing in general is very similar to some kind (no many kinds) of mental breakdown. And within this context, describing psychological ‘events’ with anthro lingo, it’s not at all far-fetched to think of a disassociation of the ‘components’ of the human being, when thinking of what these components are about and how they are supposed to integrate and balance and whatnot. Clearly, psychiatry would use other words, but what is described is not fundamentally different things. At some points when Rudi talks about the threshold experiences there’s an eerie resemblance to depression, rigth then and there, without needing conferences to point it out. Which makes you wonder if anthroposophical training is good for ill people… or for healthy people, for that matter. On the other hand, healthy people who’d rather stay happy than meet the guardian might not choose to enter this kind of thing anyway (I wonder?).

    But… there’s this idea, in anthroposophy, that if you enter into certain things prematurely, you put yourself at great risk. I think we have to see 51. in that light. Remember what a Minnesotan wrote about publishing the first class lessons in English, there was a link in my post not long ago, and he wrote that it can be very dangerous for the unprepared. I assume that one possible consequence is that, on the concrete level, you go bonkers. While if you’re prepared in the right way, you don’t. They’re supposed to be read out loud, in groups, with people who have been going through the proper stages and been approved. That these people go bonkers too is pretty clear, judging by the shere number of anthroposophists who are first class holders and the number of anthroposophists who seem to be rather bonkers. But, anyway, I would not suggest the lessons caused that, for the record ;-) And I obviously don’t agree that the lessons have any negative side-effects, although I can’t predict the future. Steiner talks about risks though. A lot. I can’t help but feel it’s a method of making his listeners feel important as the select few who can handle the risk (one wonders, again, what *that* feeling might contribute).

    ‘Tomtar på loftet’ is simply brilliant. And very useful. We can all have a few. Or many. Not that the tomte is always a happy fella. But that is at it should be.

  6. “there’s this idea, in anthroposophy, that if you enter into certain things prematurely, you put yourself at great risk. I think we have to see 51. in that light. Remember what a Minnesotan wrote about publishing the first class lessons in English, there was a link in my post not long ago, and he wrote that it can be very dangerous for the unprepared.”

    From what I have understood of the Minnesotan’s rather ‘over the top’ and perhaps ill considered reaction, I am not sure that this is exactly what he meant.
    In passing I would like to say that the expression he used about pearls before swine is very regrettable and if he stopped to think about it he might very well feel like a swine himself!

    It is true that if you deliberately cross the threshold of the spiritual world prematurely, by the use of psychotropic drugs for instance, you do put yourself at risk.
    When your consciousness begins to cross the threshold of the spiritual world you become open in a certain way.
    One of the things that can happen is that the thinking, feeling and willing, which are normally held together by the physical body, become separate.
    Several things can then ensue. For example -You can find yourself doing things which are ‘out of character’ – potentially in a good way but also potentially in a bad way, you can be swept away with powerful negative feelings which are an unbalanced reaction, or you can enter a state of bliss from which you may not wish to return, your thoughts can become chaotic or obsessive.
    To avoid these and other dangers Steiner gives 6 exercises,
    1. for the control of thoughts – so that YOU remain in charge of your thinking,
    2. for the holding in check of emotions – not repressing them – but remaining master over how you behave while strong feelings surge through you.
    3. For strengthening will – so that you only do what you consciously choose to do and don’t just react to stimuli,
    4. Positivity – so you learn to see everything in an evenhanded way. You can look at phenomena which might be aversive to you and see what is positive in it and learn something from it.
    5. Openness – accepting that all your preconceptions could be overthrown, trying to feel and understand what it is to stand where someone else stands in life.
    6 the harmonious practice of all these 5 in a balanced way.

    The interesting thing to me about these exercises is that anyone can do them and become a better person, more focused in their thinking, more sensitive to their own feelings and to those of others, more able to carry out the intentions they form for themselves, more balanced in their reactions to all sorts of events, not being distracted by all the crap that can go on in one’s head (at least in mine!) and more open, more empathetic to other people’s points of view.

    The problem with the Class lessons is not that reading them unprepared will damage a person in any way but that the person may not appreciate/understand what is really there, – because the content can appear ridiculous to those who don’t know the background and context. There is a Buddhist value that comes into play here, – that of right speech. The Buddha describes four dangers into which words can fall – untruthfulness, the desire to wound, slander and triviality. Things are slandered when they are spoken of in such a way that they are diminished in the eyes of the hearers. This is the temptation for someone who has hold of something of which they cannot discern the true value.

    We do have a similar expression in English to your wonderful, ‘Tomtar pa loftet’. It is ‘Bats in the Belfry’.

    * p.s., In another comment I responded to a question by Ulf by mentioning the experiences of Adam Kahane as an example of ‘crossing the threshold’. Some people who have made a decisions like Adam Kahane did, abandoning everything that conventional wisdom dictated for a higher cause report how they wonder to themselves if they are mad, they can feel as if all the certainties they have lived by are swept away, they can also feel exalted.

  7. Yes, I noted the bats, but they’re not as elemental as the tomtar! ;-)

    Will return to your comment a little later! Must run out with mr D, fix lots of things that needs fixing. But just wanted to say, briefly: Interesting stuff.

  8. Ok, so I said I’d return to this, and now I will!

    It’s highly interesting to speculate on the Minnesotan’s intended meaning, I must say. I’m not sure what I meant is that far from what he meant. For example, your interpretation of the risks I was thinking of:

    ‘For example -You can find yourself doing things which are ‘out of character’ – potentially in a good way but also potentially in a bad way, you can be swept away with powerful negative feelings which are an unbalanced reaction, or you can enter a state of bliss from which you may not wish to return, your thoughts can become chaotic or obsessive.’

    is not very different from my summary: going bonkers. With the right preparations, in the shape of exercises, you’re more likely — if the theory holds — to avoid these risks.

    Of course, there are quite a number of anthroposophists who seem rather swept away and unbalanced! There are also those who have ‘entered a state of bliss’ from which they seem unwilling to return. So I guess, from this ‘evidence’ alone, it’s pretty obvious Steiner may not have been wrong ;-) (Though one might question the reasons why he’s not. Is it really about the preparations or lack thereof? I — as someone who has a lot of crap going on in my head too — don’t see anything wrong with the exercises, quite the contrary. So perhaps people aren’t doing them sufficiently? Are they too impatient?)

    This side of it was what I was thinking of when I referred to the Minnesotan in the context of a post about mental mishaps.

    So, perhaps it would be correct, then, to say there are two sides of it. The other side which falk mentions here:

    ‘The problem with the Class lessons is not that reading them unprepared will damage a person in any way but that the person may not appreciate/understand what is really there, – because the content can appear ridiculous to those who don’t know the background and context.’

    was also evident in that letter to the SCR, although crudely put in the ‘pearls for swine’-argument!

    Of course it’s a risk that people won’t understand or appreciate it. But then again… I’m not sure the effect is any more serious than that of the person putting the reading material down, not to return, or closing the tab in the browser. That happens a lot, and with all kinds of texts. (I’m sure people have left my blog feeling it’s completely pointless too. Even ridiculous!) A few people might actually try to get to know the background and context. What I’m thinking is that very few just ‘happens upon’ those lessons for no particular reason. And some of those who do are probably not likely to continue reading but will forget about it immediately. I can’t see great harm occuring. The dangers you mention (slander, bad words, judgement stemming from ignorance (whatever that is), et c) are simply dangers that come with any kind of document. As a non-anthroposophist it seems clear to me that there’s no reason to worry about the person who might be tempted to slander or trivialize or whatever. I think the real reason there’s worry is that either these lessons contain things that will make anthroposophists look bad or they don’t contain anything all that exciting in which case anthroposophists look less important than they try to imagine they are! Actually, I think the latter is the case. They contain very little that would be interesting from a slanderer’s point of view. And although they’re interesting, they’re basically an elaboration of what Steiner has already worked on elsewhere. And for that reason not ‘exciting’. But secrecy can be a power tool, a way to boost one’s ego. That’s a danger anthroposophy needs to look out for!

    By the way, I have not yet read the most recently published lesson — I might have to recommend it here on the blog, in order to tempt people (it’s not working very well, darn!).

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