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R. D. Laing and Caritas1

by Stephen Kierulff

An explanation is a group of words so formed that people generally agree to quit enquiring about a particular subject (Bateson, 1972). I will attempt no explanations. Instead I will tell a story.

The late R.D. Laing, well know for his writings on schizophrenia (and other topics), was scheduled to speak at a gathering in February, 1963. The night before Laing's talk, I woke and experiencd a fantasy about speaking to a group of psychologists, sharing with them ideas that were really important to me, thoughts that I normally kept hidden behind my "scientific" facade. In my waking dream, I imagined I was sitting on a table, swinging my legs, and saying that I consider myself an informed eclectic in psychotherapeutic matters, that my Judeo-Christian heritage is an influence on my approach to therapy, and I try to follow the advice given in the Bible. I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal....Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity is not puffed up....for we know in part, and we prophesy in part....And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Cor. 13).

I was thinking that it would take courage -- more courage than I had, to actually come out and say that in front of a secular audience. Nevertheless, the nighttime "daydream" continued. I wanted to stop it; I wanted to sleep. But the fantasy continued with intensity, as if I were in a fever.

I found myself telling the audience of psychologists about my appreciation of the Lord's Prayer as a guide to how to live, and I mentioned some metaphysical interpretations of the prayer.

The fantasy, which appeared to be grandiose nonsense, would not leave and allow me to sleep. While it went on, I felt joyful and confident. I was speaking my personal truth and I felt the words were flowing as easily and naturally as a river. Finally, the "lecture" ended, the fantasy faded, and sleep returned. I was looking forward to Laing's lecture in the morning.

I woke early and drove to the campus. Laing spoke in the university cafeteria, and gave what I thought was a charming talk . I liked his Scottish accent: He pronounced ego like something Kellogg's would sell you for breakfast--"Egg-o." His lively, elfin eyes, his thinness and his playfulness--his joy.

Laing was teaching a course that convened soon after his lecture ended, and I decided to audit it. He sat on a table in front of about 100 listeners, swinging his legs in a relaxed manner, as he ambled through a talk that engaged me at a deeper level than any other lecture I have heard. Fifteen or 20 minutes into his presentation he asked, "How many of you have read the Bible?" Laughter greeted this question. "From cover to cover?" More laughter. "Well, since it's Sunday morning . . ." Even more laughter from the audience. These weren't the kind of people who read the Bible or go to church. Undeterred, he took a Bible out of his briefcase and said, "I'm going to read some favorite passages of mine, from the Bible." He paused. "I believe it. (What I'm about to read to you...) That's the point."

He read First Corinthians, chapter 13, about the virtues of charity, as I had done in my fantasy at 3:00 a.m. earlier that day. He read the words as if he had written them himself, without any oratorical pretense--a statement of belief--his own credo. When he finished, he said, "I'd just like to make a comment on two or three aspects of that passage . . . ." He equated charity with caring, and said, "It's got to be what we really care about more than anything . . . to care about this world."

And as if that were not enough to raise the issue of synchronicity or precognition, he later offered his thoughts about the Lord's prayer.

Naturally, I was astounded by the parallels between my 3:00 a.m. fantasy and his 3:00 p.m. talk. Yet, he added much that was new to me (not part of my fantasy) and that I was delighted to hear. He said, "I remember when I discovered these two things . . . about the Lord's Prayer. I was absolutely furious at the English translation--at what they thought they could get away with. 'Our Father which art in heaven . . . .' Now, it doesn't matter whether one's mother is in heaven or . . . this is addressing one's daddy . . . . One can talk to one's mommy as well. 'Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come . . . .' The word is feminine, which is translated 'Kingdom.' It would be more appropriate to say, 'Thy Queendom come.' One may be addressing one's father, in the masculine word, but what one is asking for is 'Thy Queendom come, on Earth . . . .' They just turned it around and called it 'Kingdom.'"

After we recessed for 10 minutes, Laing again quoted from the Bible, this time from the works of Solomon--Ecclesiastes. "There is an evil among all things that are done under the sun . . . . Also, the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live . . ." (Eccles. 9:3).

Hearing this much, I could not help thinking of all the sorrow Laing had taken on, dealing with those who are labeled schizophrenic, their families, and those whom he apparently regarded as his enemies--the unsympathetic professional "helpers" who treat their patients as if they were not human--whom he apparently regarded as his enemies.

The quote from Ecclesiastes went on, the message being that there is much evil in the world; therefore, "go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. Live joyfully with the wife that thou lovest, all the days of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun" (Eccles. 9:7, 9).

Laing continued, saying, "There's something about the mind behind that, the spirit behind that, that is not depressed by it. 'The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live. Therefore, rejoice.'"

The world is full of greed, vanity, misunderstanding and indifference--full of evil; but don't lose heart, rather, eat with joy, drink with a merry heart, "for God now accepteth thy works" (Eccles. 9:3, 7).

I was astounded . I felt immediately lighter. The passage from Ecclesiastes was exemplified by Laing, by his joy, his artful and effective resolve, and his celebration of life in the face of the misery that he dealt with in his professional role. I felt as if every other professor, author and speaker I had ever heard was half-dead compared to Laing. I empathised with him, and felt that this passage from Ecclesiastes, like the one from Corinthians, was a guiding light.

I loved his playfulness, his courage, his sincerity, his lack of fear, his willingness to be himself and to be seen plainly, without pretence.

Perhaps that is why I could not wait to hear him speak, but heard him, in my mind, at 3:00 a.m. the morning before I first saw him. (This is not an explanation; it is rhetorical whimsy, or whimsical rhetoric.)

I listened to Laing, every lecture, for the month that he was on the West Coast in 1983. Before he left, I hugged him goodbye, and when he left I missed him.

I bought his book, The Voice of Experience (Laing, 1982), and found something in it that bears on the temptation to try to explain the synchronistic elements of this story.

We cannot expect to grasp that which holds us in its grasp . . . . The most ordinary events of the ordinary human world are beyond us. We can see that our single destinies intertwine and interpenetrate, that others figure in our dreams and dramas as we play our unrecognizable parts in the dreams and dramas of those with whom our lives intermingle. (p. 66)

It was not Laing's Christianity, per se, that I loved, for he might as well have been a Buddhist or a Jew for all that. What appealed to me was his spirituality, his transpersonal approach, his willingness to promote the values of a spiritual sense of life over the current belief in the sufficiency of the scientific method. Many people today make a religion, in effect, of "hard science." But this religion of science--"scientism"--does not provide the sense of connection, the basis for stewardship of the planet, which is so needed.

Hard science speaks with the tongues of angels, but it lacks a sense of value. It is, in fact, value-free. It lacks charity; it lacks love. Hard science is like sounding brass. Our world needs charity (from the Latin caritas--caring, to hold dear).

Scientific thinking and spiritual awareness are not contradictory opposites. They can be employed in such a way as to complement and supplement one another. They do not overlap or compete. What we need is a sense of the meaningfulness of our existence, and a realization of our responsibility for caring for the bounty that is in us and around us on this Earth.

As I was looking up the quotation from First Corinthians and thinking about possible additions to this essay, I came across the following passage, which precedes the famous chapter 13:

For by one Spirit are we all ... one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles . . . and have been all made to drink into one Spirit . . . there should be no schism in the body, but . . . the members should have the same care, one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it . . . . Are all prophets? . . . covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (I Cor. 12:13, 25, 26, 29, 31)

I like the idea that we are all one body, one being, whether we consider ourselves to be Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Kleinian, cognitive-behaviorist, humanistic, transpersonal, Republican, Green or whatever. Sectarian dogma may seem to divide us, but our common spirituality unites us.

I also like the idea that there is something "more excellent" than spiritual gifts such as prophecy or precognition. Such a gift does not add to the credit of the one who receives it. There is nothing that anyone can do to "earn" a precognitive or synchronistic experience. Yet there is something each of us can do that will add to our spiritual stature: We can care. We can hold each other, and the Earth, dear.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor . . . and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Cor. 13)

What will it profit us if we develop convincing theories to explain (or if we personally develop the ability to manifest) precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, or any other spiritual gift (or siddha, or psi or ESP), if, in the meantime, the Earth is overpopulated and polluted to the point of destruction?

I ask myself this, and then I find some part of me answering: These gifts may be useful in dealing with the present crisis--the present opportunity.

In Think On These Things, a little book of selections from the Edgar Cayce readings, which I gave to Laing as a gift, I starred one passage:

Be glad you have the opportunity to be alive at this time, and to be a part of that preparation for the coming influences of a spiritual nature that must rule the world. These are indicated, and these are part of thy experience. Be happy of it, and give thanks daily for it. (A.R.E. Press, 1981).

I originally wrote this essay intending to emphasize the point that Bateson made, that explanations are not very useful; they are only thought-stoppers. But I have to admit that I changed my mind when I came across an article by Carolyn Keutzer (1984) in the Jouranl of Humanistic Psychology, one of which approached an "explanation" for synchronicity. It heartened me -- it made me feel more comfortable about what may have been going on between Laing and myself the morning before his talk. (It interested me to learn that Laing often was awake, and writing, or thinking, in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps he was planning his talk -- whether in a dream or in the waking state -- while I was having the fantasy that paralleled it.)

Keutzer wrote about Bell's theorem, among other topics. She maintained that Bell's theorem demonstrates an affinity between the microcosmic world of quantum mechanics and the concept of synchronicity (which is defined as a "meaningful but acausal confluence of events").

When two particles--electrons or photons--of opposite "spin" fly apart, changing the spin of one also changes the spin of the other--even if they are at opposite ends of the world . . . . It's as if each particle knows instantaneously what is happening to the other. (Keutzer, p. 85)

She quotes a researhcer from the University of Paris (Bernard d'Espignat) who concludes that "in some sense all these objects constitute an invisible whole". (p.85).

Accepting [this] means embracing the temporal paradoxes of an instantaneously connected world in which nothing can really be separated from anything else. Bell's proof of a nonlocal ultimate reality is thus the contemporary echo from mathematics of the ancient mystics' claim, "we are all one." (p. 85)

After I told Laing about the "meaningful coincidence" between his 3:00 p.m. lecture and my 3:00 a.m. fantasy, I said, "The idea that there are separate people is an illusion." His lively eyes smiled and he saluted me, one particle to another, each of us in synchronistic spin.

In the experience of a synchronistic event, instead of feeling ourselves to be separated and isolated entities in a vast world we feel the connection to others and the universe at a deep and meaningful level. That underlying connection is the eternal Tao, and a synchronistic event is a specific manifestation of it. (Bolen, quoted in Keutzer, 1984, p. 90)

Whether you call it the Tao, Life, the Ground of Being, God, the Universe, Divine Love, "the way it is," or something else, there is no rational explanation, no way that an event that apparently violates the laws of space and time can be understood within the confines of a scientific method limited by the assumption that causes precede effects and that it takes time for information to move through space. Knowing that particles of matter, separated in space, move as if they were connected, gives me some sense of peace, some rest, around this issue. Maybe that is what an explanation is for. It does not really "explain" anything, but it allows us to get on to other things-such as caring about the beings whom we hold dear, including the being the Native Americans refer to as our Grandmother, the Earth.



Association for Research and Enlightenment Press. (1981). Think on These Things--Selections from the Edgar Cayce Readings. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Author.

Bateson, Gregory. (1972.) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine.

Keutzer, C. (1984). "The Power of Meaning: From Quantum Mechanics to Synchronicity." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Volume 24, pp. 80-94.

Laing, R. D. (1982). The Voice of Experience. New York: Pantheon.

Stephen Kierulff is aclinical psychologist
who received an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, declined an invitation to attend Harvard Graduate School's Department of Social Relations in 1963 because he was more interested in learning about people than rats and reifications, made a living as a musician and as a writer for many years, and decided to complete his studies in psychology at U.S.International University in San Diego where existentialists Rollo May and Victor Frankl were on staff. He now sees clients in his private practice in West Los Angeles.

¹originally published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Volume 31, Number 3, Summer 1991, pages 20-27.

Reprint requests: Dr. Stephen Kierulff,
358 South Bentley Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA.
90049 USA
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