A student wrote to ask, “Are the experience of enlightenment, and psychotic break — are they correlated?”
Clearly, there are certainly some outer similarities shared by the awakening experience (so–called “enlightenment”) and psychotic breaks, chief of which is a sharp disruption of expected patterns of mental behavior. There can be a radical re-orienting of the experiencer’s view and reaction from others. There can be indescribable feelings of expansion and an uprooting of everything that is or has been “familiar” to that point.
But the very nature of that break — in each case — are fundamentally different.
This talk is by no means meant to be a definitive or exhaustive description of the matter. It is just a record of one part of a response to this question, from the point of view of a long-term meditator’s direct experience of one of these dimensions. (It is up to each person to decide which of the two areas he has had experiences in.) There are whole realms of neuroscience or para-psychology that one might wish to dive deeply in to, to provide a total view of this matter on levels neurobiological, para-psychological, emotional, etc. It is not my interest to do so. I only bore down on one or two aspects of this apparent correlation, and the vital difference, for purposes of sketching something useful for practitioners of meditation.