Within the last months, so many lost young people suffering madness, addiction, rage, fear, so many variations on breakdown, have come into the field of our families and communities. Every small circle of people that happens to come together in our country has children suffering in one way or another. Our family secrets.

Today, a colleague wrote: “In the latest edition of Harper’s they list in their Harper’s Index the chance that an American teen suffers from a severe emotional or mental disorder is one in five! It’s too bad it has to show up as a one-liner in Harper’s.”

Desperate, lost, hungry, abused, anorexic, autistic, suicidal, paranoid, violent against themselves or others, environmentally poisoned and injured, drugged by doctors or dealers, unable to find work, meaningful labor or education, alienated from their families and communities, often without any alternative but going to war, they are the ones, by their very conditions, who are speaking truth to power.

In the last week, a young man has been writing to me of his uncontainable anguish, pain, overwhelm, anger and confusion. His letters could have come from any one of dozens of young people I know of, or know. He was writing of his great fear of the world. Of the ultimate uselessness of hospitals, pharmaceuticals, therapists, police and healers. Of his failure to find anyone to help him.

He is desperate. He is angry. He is overwhelmed. He is hearing a multitude of voices and they are driving him mad. He does not know if he is hearing Spirit or if Spirit is attacking him. He is out of control. He is lashing out.

His inner state is not unlike the nation states on the planet: Suspicion. Fear. Strike.

He has to heal as we have to heal.

This is a letter I wrote to him with the hope that he will find his way to sanity.


Psyche lost Eros because she was incapable of believing in, having faith in, the Divine that must remain invisible and because her jealous sisters insisted she challenge what appears only in the dark. Recognizing the Divine in the moment of loss, she had to engage in different tasks to restore her relationship with the face of God that had appeared to her.

The first task was to separate the beans from the peas from the lentils.

We are called to separate the destructive voices of the sisters, from our true internal understanding. We have to be willing to discern and trust the Divine when It appears.
We are called to separate the true voices of spirit from our own internal voices and from the external voices that are imposters. To separate the trustworthy internal voices from the internalized destructive voices. To separate the internal voice purporting to be, let’s say, the Dalai Lama, from the teachings of the Dalai Lama, from the spirit of the Dalai Lama who may also be speaking to you. Let each stand on its own and respond to each as it its due.

Sometimes the animals come to us, or the trees, or the wind. Learn to distinguish these spirit beings, from the embodied animals, trees, elementals that may also come and speak, and differentiate these from your fantasies or wild imaginings. This task, like Psyche’s original task, requires discernment and faith. If you have grounded faith in the existence of the spirits, it will be easier, ironically, to recognize the phantoms of your mind and others’ minds.

Sometimes the dead come to us with their agonies and demands. The dead want to be heard. They want us to help them cross the river, to transform, as the I Ching speaks about it, from ghost to ancestor. We do our best to meet their call, to distinguish the hungry ghosts from those who can and will transform. The dead come in great waves. Not only our dead. Not only the dead our ancestors may have injured or allied with, but all the dead, of all the races, of all of history.

These days, there are so many, we feel we are drowning too. It is true; there are too many of the anguished dead. Too many died in the most horrible ways in the last decades, in the last centuries. There are too many to acknowledge, hold, console, cross and mourn. Tell them this. There is no choice but to share the truth with them. You cannot do it all. Nor can we, your elders. But you can be aware of them, here, among us, clamoring and suffering. Tell them we know and this knowledge will have to be sufficient. And also, whether they are ready or not, you can insist they help us, just as you have to assist in healing the world. You are not ready, but you have to be.

How do we do this? Each person, like Psyche, must find his/her way.

You have to separate the dissonant voices you hear, whatever names they bear, from the real voices of spirit and health. You are called to differentiate between those who speak on behalf of your healing and those who are not committed to your healing.

I am not your enemy nor are any of those alongside you that you are ranting against. If you rant against those you are hoping will help you, you are creating the loneliness you are in.

Something inside you is no longer able to differentiate. Everything becomes everything. You are losing the ability to distinguish the beans from the peas from the lentils.

There is a healthy, strong self within you. Find that one. You can.

There is turmoil in the world. Yes. There is danger in the world. Yes. There are assaults on innocence and goodness everywhere. Yes.
We all know this. We are all concerned. We are each trying to find each of our distinct ways to meet the different crisis. We cannot respond to them all in all ways. No one can. We each work in different ways. This implies a council of response. You will find your ways as we have found ours.

If you continue to lash out at anything that moves, especially those who you think can help you, you will be part of the pattern of destruction that is driving you crazy

Though you don’t know this yet, you can chose to extricate yourself from the crisis, to find balance and insight inside yourself and so differentiate between what is no longer able to align with goodness and what is determined to align with goodness for all beings.

It is not your task to try to educate, to issue alarms or to rant now. We are not innocent or ignorant. We know the dangers, are bearing witness, are acting accordingly. Each, we hope, in our own, thoughtful, ways. Each, we hope, as careful as we can be.

It is your task to differentiate what is wise and kind, to support it and let its light reach you even from afar. If you do this, you will not feel so alone or endangered

Also you can’t use up all the space with your agony. We are all trying to meet the overwhelming anguish of the times. Take your formidable intellect and your love for the earth in hand. Focus the light of these into your psyche and find the sanity in the swirl.

Like Psyche, no one can do it for you.

When I was young, I once told a dear friend that I couldn’t bear a certain situation. I was afraid I would break entirely under the weight and anguish of it.

She responded, wisely: “Who asked you if you can bear it? Bear it!”

I learned to bear it. It doesn’t mean, I didn’t break from time to time. There is no way to do this easily. No one can be safe or comfortable in a world that is not safe.

I wish we could provide you with a safer world. But, alas, it is your task to do your part to make it safe. Start with yourself. This is the work for which your entire life’s suffering qualifies you.

I hope this letter helps you set out on what is for everyone a solitary journey. I believe you will find your own sanity as you search for it as Diogenes searched for truth.

When you return to the world having found the strength, sanity and healing that is indigenous to you, you will have proved to all of us that sanity is possible. I will look forward to hearing from you and learning of your ways.



  1. sue Hammond December 14, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Deena, I am speechless before the profound truth of these words. Not only have i been one of the mad ones, i have spent a great deal of my adult years working with, paying attention to, holding, counseling, listening in empathetic silence to the agonies of many, many young people. I wish with all my heart that I had had these words to guide me, and to help guide them. But, I have them now, and they–the words themselves–reverberate inside me. Even now…still…they are needed by me. Even now, they reach the mad one who somehow through some Grace, some deep core turning, some unimaginable still acceptance and “bearing”….did survive to keep healing, changing, hearing words like these. i don’t have the words to thank you. It will take my life…and the ways I decide to live my life…to thank you.

  2. Carrie Dinow December 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I am completely awestruck by the expression and clarity with which your beauty meets his suffering.

  3. Teru December 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    This is mental dynamite! It is an antidote to all that passes as treatment in these days. And of course ‘treatment’ in these days is no treatment, incomplete, ravaging, controlling,mind-numbing. And when I visit my son at La Casa and I have seen similar and much worse at Penmar, a snake pit!, it’s no wonder that it merely trumps what passes for civilization. I love the seriousness and complicity that you approach this young man who could be anyone struggling to make sense of his place in an insane world. The most searing line for me is the one about having grounded faith in the existence of the spirits. We have to connect to what is invisible and deep withiin us. I hear time and again at NAMI meetings that the children of members in such turmoil are/were highly intelligent and accomplished. Maybe they just failed to discern in their creation of an alternate reality and threw logic and appearance out the window. I also love the way you don’t romanticize this but look at it squarely in the face. I want to hear more of your work with him!

  4. ptery lieght December 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Wise words and kind ones.

    I promised the next time I got the chance to share this I would. That one who is hearing voices can simply tell the voices that they will write everything they say down. This gives the voices inside no resistance, one thing that makes them more loud and more insistent. Two, this gives voice to something inside that is trying to come out in the only way it can, the best it can do. Writing gives space for it to change into a better more understandable form.

    This is like a place inside that explodes and then given space becomes less dangerous, and also like a rusty pipe starting out again, with all the ugly stuff coming out first until the clear streams can flow again. No one as to decide which voice is true. No one knows what that is right away to begin with. only truer voices felt over time.

    Lastly, all those who are working with mental illness in their families would do themselves good to read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker. And if they feel moved to consider getting off pharmaceuticals, the book “Your Drug may be your Problem” by Peter Breggen and Cohen is the most grounded and useful book out there to read before trying to get off them.

    My blessings on the mad,
    Madness is healing,
    where sanity is business as usual,
    void of our passions…… void of our griefs…

    You get the idea. Too much of our true selves do get hidden away under our masks so much that our child inside is suffocating, until it finds a way out, and then the crisis begins.

    Thank you Deena for such a response. I hope my comments are helpful.


  5. Floyce Alexander December 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Your letter to the young man contains advice we can all learn from, and I am especially grateful you are alive and writing. You are as rare in the ambience of this time as Julian Assange and Michael Moore and so many and all unique individuals on the planet attempting to give us a way to learn the truth. Psyche and Eros, and Diogenes–what a “pairing”: the many ways to be learned through loving and a soul’s determined search for honesty and truth . . .
    We will reach that content-sensitive way of communicating in order to save ourselves. Like Wikileaks, the moment will present itself and you’ll be in the center of this crucial creation.

  6. Jonathan Tremblay December 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    This is a very interesting posts…

    And quite timely, as I know someone very close to me who is also experiencing the exact same thing. I have been looking for ways to help him and have been asking all those I know for help. Recently, after one of these attempts an email was sent to me, authored by a man from West Africa named Patrice Some Malidoma. In the article Some talks about the main differences between how his culture sees mental illness and how our western world perceives mental illness. The primary difference of course is that in his culture these people with “dis-orders” are actually viewed at by the communities as healers waiting to be born. Where as here in the west, the only remedy readily available appears to be medications. Mr. some notes that during his time in mental institution’s he actually observes the medications as having entities, or spirits that literally act as spiritual leeches; sucking the vitality of the patient and causing them even more harm.

    In Mr. Some’s culture the answer is for this individual to go see a shaman or local spirit healer so whatever is trying to be birthed through the patient, a gift to the community, can come out and any negative energies can be cleared. Yet in our culture very few of these places exist. So what are people like this young man, and my dear friend suppose to do? What if these two and people like them have important gifts, or messages, or healing powers, what are they to do? What is a good friend to these people suppose to do?

    Our culture is so toxic and if there any hope for a brighter future exists, one would think that a task for those having the skills and ability to do so, would be to create places and situations for young healers to go? does anyone know of any such places?

  7. Jaquelyn McCandless December 19, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Dear Deena: Your insights and poetry are profound and important, as always, thank you! Jack and I just finished 3 weeks of work with the council process in Israel, where there is a lot of fear and despair. If your young man could find a council listening circle he may find some healing as well as help others in the heartfelt listening and sharing of his stories. Love, Jaquelyn (and Jack)

  8. Daniel Millard January 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I am one of the young men you speak of… I am the insane and broken one, who is gaining sanity and healing thru my writing. By listening and learning and sharing, I am growing. I want to be known and loved. I want to live!

  9. Deena Metzger January 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I suggest your friend contact Stephen Larsen. His first book was the Shaman’s Doorway. He and and his wife Robin wrote a major book on Joseph Campbell. He could be an answer to your friend’s dilemma. His center is in the Hudson Valley in NY. Blessings, Deena

  10. Deena Metzger March 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    The people at Stone Center – that I wrote to you about earlier are having an open house that might interest you. I briefly mentioned the predicament to Stephen Larsen and he thought you might find it useful. March 6th. Blessings, Deena

  11. Floyce Alexander March 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing all of these posts. It’s very helpful to be able to share with others our own observations and insights, as I know you’ve known a long time and for a long time have indeed acted upon it . . . You are a wonderful guide to the unceasing attempt to grow into our full humanity, despite the myriad reasons for madness around us with seemingly no letup. And please keep publishing your superb books!

  12. Deena Metzger March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Floyce, I see these posts and also Face Book as opportunities to create vital fields of consciousness. Not as places to express opinions, but as sites for true, imaginative and heartfelt collaborations on behalf of healing and the future. Cultural change emanates from shared community exchanges. We are creating cultures from which healing, vision, peace and a viable future for all beings will emerge. Glad you are part of this.

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