It was so reaffirming to discover that the so-called father of American psychology understood something so crucial about the human condition. James grasped that mental health is not a hit and miss phenomena; a realm belonging only to certain individuals while remaining out of bounds for many others. Mental health is not random. It is not the domain of the privileged or the educated or those that won the genetic or bio-chemical lottery. James believed it was coded into the blueprint of our spiritual and psychological DNA. However, he knew that the field had yet to discover and articulate the principles that would reveal this health, as a constant and as a science.
Below is an accounting of the time when James had a powerful insight which instantly catapulted him out of a two year crippling depression.
For almost three years after receiving his MD, James lived in his family home battling ill health and depression. He would later describe this depression as a ‘crisis of meaning’ brought on by his studies in science. These left him feeling that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that his belief in freewill and God were illusions. James suffered panic attacks and hallucinations just like his father before him, which caused him to believe that his illness was rooted in a biological determinism he could not overcome. One day in April of 1870, after reading an essay by Charles Renouvier, his psychological fever began to subside. He had come to believe that freewill was not an illusion and that his own will could alter his psychological state. As he writes in his journal from that time:
“I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier’s second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will — ‘the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts’ — need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present — until next year — that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”
James had an insight that collapsed his previous ‘depressed thinking’. Consequently, as he expresses above so powerfully, his depression became yesterday’s reality.
We have been privileged to live in a generation in which the fundamental principles of how the mind works have now been uncovered. These are the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought. They have given us the blueprint which explains ALL human psychological functioning. They explain, as you hopefully have read about in my other blogs or learned elsewhere, that there is indeed mental health in mental life.
What was William James’ dream is now our reality. This presents us with an enormous opportunity to make it a reality for our children and for future generations. In a world that often seems so full of confusion, misunderstanding, suffering and despair, a light is shining which illuminates the pathway for us all. It what we mean when we speak of – and it is the very name given to our work and our organisation – Innate Health.
We must continue to build on the foundation that William James began. Perhaps we can begin by being grateful that at our core, we have psychological health as a divine gift. Seeing that fact deeper and deeper within ourselves will give us the eyes to see it in more and more in others.
And it gives us the hope that we can look forward to the time when it is known and lived as a universal truth.
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