The Borders of Normal by Manuel Matas, M.D.

As an experienced psychiatrist, Dr. Manuel Matas is very familiar with the science of the human brain—as well as the possibilities that exist beyond the known borders of consciousness. He has never been a classic rationalist, as he himself has experienced phenomena that defy logic and the explanations of Western medicine. In The Borders of Normal, Dr. Matas reveals just how accepted (and studied) many of these phenomena are, providing a compelling overview of influential thinkers who have, over the years, recognized events and experiences that fall outside the realm of current scientific thought. As a proponent of a nuanced, respectful approach that lies between belief and scepticism, Dr. Matas helps us to view paranormal experiences as normal and indeed endemic to the human species, for it is in this space of the unknown that we may learn more about ourselves, each other, and the bodies and worlds that we inhabit.

Manny Matas is a friend of mine. So when I re-read The Borders of Normal not simply for pleasure and interest but as a reviewer, I felt an obligation to do so with an intensely critical eye. I refuse to write a flattering fluff piece for a pal. But the more I read (and re-read) Doctor Matas’ work, the more I find myself unable to criticize this psychiatrist’s treatise. This is an exceptionally well researched book, approached with the meticulous care of expertise—each story shared, each fact, each speculation and leap of metaphysical faith approached with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel—each cut designed not only to open or explore, but engage, enlighten, and ultimately heal.

The Borders of Normal deals with the field of study known as meta-psychiatry (literally: “beyond psychiatry”). Meta-psychiatry represents the confluence of psychiatry with spirituality and metaphysics, which is the philosophy of being and knowing.

Perhaps somewhere on that alternate, parallel or tangential plane, Manny and I first met, or encountered. Our initial in-person introduction felt remarkably comfortable. Familiar even. It could be the result of his hailing from Winnipeg—my dad’s hometown—a place of personal kinship. Or it could be that as a layperson intrigued by the field of metaphysics and quantum mechanics I’ve pored through no less than a hundred titles on the subject over the years. In many ways we view the world in a similar manner, open to an awareness of more, occasionally being witness to it and more often than not being open to every experience, irrespective of, at times, the difficulty to fully comprehend it.

“This is the most engaging, personal research document I’ve encountered.”

With an ease of communication I associate with a truly talented psychiatrist, Doctor Matas guides us through breadths of meta psychiatry, combined with personal experience and in-depth research. This is the most engaging, personal research document I’ve encountered. The book reads easily and feels like a conversation in a relaxed setting, in fact how our first proper visit took place, seated on a sofa, in a chalet-style hotel by a warm, inviting fire.

Until recently, I kept my personal experiences mostly to myself; however, after surviving a life-threatening illness, leukemia; after a successful stem cell transplant from an anonymous donor; and after seeing the angels at my father’s funeral, I decided to go public and share my experiences, in order to fight the stigma surrounding paranormal phenomena that is so prevalent in our society. I wanted people to know that it’s okay to have these experiences and it’s okay to talk about them. It’s perfectly normal. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Nor is there any reason to feel proud or special. All in all, it’s simply part of life.

This book left me, as I suspect it will for most readers, with a calm and reassuring sense of optimism. Questions remain unanswered, as they should. Some things, after all, we ought to feel and even know without quantifiable proof. I can’t, after all, prove gravity. And yet we unequivocally know it to be true. In his epilogue, Matas shares even more, as we learn of his leukemia diagnosis, effectively a slow but inevitable death-sentence, which results in quite the opposite.

I had spent decades looking for something and did not find it until I stopped looking.

Thank you, Manny, for sharing your story, and for providing us with a depth of understanding in a field that can be challenging to navigate with topics that remain difficult to share for many. And yet these are the things we should speak of openly. I like to believe The Borders of Normal will give more of us the courage to do so.

Dr. Manuel Matas is the author of The Borders of Normal: A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena. He has had forty years of experience working in the mental health field. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Manitoba and his Diploma in Psychiatry from McGill University. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Scarborough Board of Education, the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba teaching hospitals, and more recently, in private practice. He has served on the Board and the Scientific Council of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

  • Title: The Borders of Normal: A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena
  • Author: Manuel Matas, M.D.
  • Publisher: Friesen Press (Aug. 15 2017)
  • ISBN: 9781525504563 (trade paperback)
  • Pages: 252 pp

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.