The Spiritual Shenanigan of Madness

9:10 AM (1 minute ago)

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The past few days, the topic of spirituality and madness has been coming up again. Dr. Seth Farber is promoting his newest book, The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and the Rise of the Mad Pride Movement, and Beyond Meds posted this recently: http://beyondmeds.com/2012/11/24/schizophrenic-or-shamanic/

“Oh, yeah. That.”

The topic is never too far from my mind. Lately, however, I’ve been depressed and my enthusiasm for trying to save the world has been somewhat dampened.

“This is all some kind of joke.”

It’s not, of course. It’s real life with real humans on a real planet in a real universe.

It’s fortunate that I stumbled across a metanarrative that is so well-established in the works of so many. I knew it had to make sense to someone other than me, but as this record indicates, I had no idea what I was talking about and who might understand.

The means by which I arrived at my conclusions were not academic. They were not rooted in what I had I learned from books, though the content of my knowledge did inform my madness. I didn’t make sense based on theories, though. I just used bits and pieces, the bare minimum – fragment of song here, a phrase remembered there, fractured elements of old experiments.

I wasn’t taught a new metanarrative. My worldview was not given to me by a critical analyst or a healer or a paradigmatician.

(Parody Magician)

(Clinically, that last little bit may be seen as a splinter thought or a minor flight. Me? I just like the way that some things sound like other things. Here it is again, the Delillo quote: “How human it is to see a thing as something else.” That sentence changed my life, made me realize how differently we all might see the very same thing.)

This is a portion of what I wrote in response to Dr. Farber’s – who has never been clinically mad, but who has known and studied many mad people – recent posting. I admit that I was a little clumsy in my wording, a bit prosaic. However, I was also feeling a little trollish and a little resentful and a little vulnerable. It is worth noting that this comment was entirely ignored.

In my thinking, the right to spiritual freedom is a human right that is often sorely denied those who meet perceived diagnostic criteria and most mental health systems are woefully incompetent in areas of spiritual compassion or guidance. There is some work being done in California to create a more spiritually accommodating culture of mental health care, but I am not sure if what their approach is to “psychosis” which has a strongly messianic component. It seems that the response to such intense spiritual experiences (even in “alternative” practice) is often to help a person to “get over” their “delusions” or to help them to package their state of grace in a way that is palatable and non-offensive, to focus on spirituality as a tool in recovery.

It is difficult to conceive of how “we” could establish an accepted paradigm which affirmed people’s sacred experiences in madness as being both real and vitally important.

I see that you are proposing a new organization, a new movement, an offshoot of the more general Mad Pride movement.

How would such an movement persuade the public that it was more than some “wingnut consolation prize for the god-gifted loonies?” (<- this is not a real quote, just something I can imagine someone who is sarcastic and cynical saying from the smirking perspective of the culturally typical mind.)

I am – as you know per our previous dialogue – one of those loonies, a mad person who came to the heartfelt conclusion that somehow the multiverse (“an ecosystemic God force”) – was communicating with me and through me.

Like many people in the grips of a deeply personal spiritual enlightenment, I made a sincere effort to find someone to listen to me, to help me figure it out.

I called churches and synagogues, wrote professors and newspapers. As you know, I even tried to email the Pope.

It is difficult for me to articulate how crushing it was to realize that very few people care much about  the visions of the purportedly mad, or the messages that they believe they may have gleaned from the workings of the world.

I have found little space for such discussion within the movement, save for a few individuals who themselves know the gravity of a divine calling and live within the strangeness of knowing their own shadow script, cued by synchronicity, sense, circumstance, and small signs abounding.

Hardly anybody talks about this reality that so many people must try to somehow fit into their lives.

In spite of the fact that the content of my “psychosis” was expansively benevolent and deeply compassionate, the confusion and emotional upheaval that came about by witnessing what I still believe was/is God divined by the skies and the trees, and the insects and the radio and strangers and timing, well…it has been a bit of a difficult time, as such things often are.

I am still trying to find my footing. Unlike many other people, I chose to keep my belief that the world works in old ways and that I am somehow privy to those workings (as are we all, whether or not we realize or appreciate it).

It would seem to me that a particularly valuable function of an organization that sought to support people in their realization/interpretation of purpose and experiences of metasense might be simply offering a safe space for people to share their ideas and realities, without fear of scorn or disregard.

Some of this may already be happening within the Hearing Voices Network. I don’t feel that Icarus is a consistently safe space for such discussions, as I have witnessed people being told that their sense of god-calling is 1) very poetic and 2) the work of the devil. Sometimes the really far-out posts are simply ignored or answered with something along the lines of, “Hope you feel better and can get some rest! Mad love!”

I do not appreciate it when I speak of things that are very real to me and they are dismissed as metaphor or “fuckery.”

Still, as you know, I hold significant reservations about any movement that seeks to define one’s experience for them.

Who is anyone to say that a person must claim their vision as a true-to-god messianic calling?

While prophets are lauded in the centuries following their deaths, being labeled a modern-day prophet – having not only a divine right, but also divine responsibility – could conceivably be just as isolating, punishing, and alienating as being labeled a “chronic schizophrenic.” Prophets are notoriously treated poorly while they are living…laughed at, run out of town, burnt at the stake and what not.

Maybe the word “prophet” isn’t the correct word?

Visionary?

Seer?

This brings up the issue of role expression and expectations. Would these Mad Messiahs – or whatever they might be termed – be expected to lead great rallies and offer boldly inspired sermons on ecosystemic unity? Would they offer quiet and holy consult to the troubled of the world? Would they stand quietly and hold their hands out to the sky? Would people watch?

What, exactly, do you envision us doing, Dr. Farber? Should we become great organizers, agitators, activists? Um, how do we do that? Maybe we should just hold a sign out by the mall, “They Say I’m Psychotic. I Say God Loves Me!” ?

What about the deeply inspired and deeply wounded individual that feels the power of the world and the weight of calling and, in the context of their experience and worldview, decides that they are called to do something that might actually be destructive?

These things, sadly, do happen. Perhaps if people had more resources to safely discuss what they are experiencing such unfortunate outcomes may be avoided.

In any event, I am not sure how one might even begin to operationalize your vision of a Mad Spirituality movement. As I said, nobody listened to me when I tried to explain the very same things you write of in your book. In fact, they were cruel and condescending when I spoke to them about the sense I felt.

I understand that it would be a wonderful thing in the world to have masses of mad people – redeemed “schizophrenics” and “bipolars” and “depressives” – rise up in a cultural wave of peace, wisdom, and evolutionary clarity about what is and is not important. I understand how fantastic it would be if mad folks could inspire people to adopt an ethos of love, humility and stewardship.

Goodness knows I’ve daydreamed those happenings myself.

In a world that worked as it was intended we’d all listen to the wise ones, whomever they are. As you well know the world is currently not structured to work as it may have been intended.

I think it is worth noting that while madness can have a regenerative effect (like being reborn or coming back to oneself)I think it is also worth noting that many people do not have the opportunities to gain the skills and experience that may help to utilize their mad gifts. While the madness process does (for some) seem to bring some strengths to light and forge new directions, it is not as if everyone who experiences a sense of calling knows what precisely to do with that calling or how it might best be responded to, nor do they necessarily have the social/cognitive/emotional/spiritual skills necessary to handle the burden of truth and the tasks that it bears.

Oh, it could be said that the world works in such a way that everything we’ve been through taught us everything we need to know and I suppose in a perfect world that might be true. It is not, as we all know, a perfect world and many people who experience madness have also experienced horrific trauma and the fact is that it is not easy to live caught between exalted vision and old wounds.

I think that it is possible that when we are honest and true to our best possible selves, as shown to us by God (by any name), that whatever we do will serve the world well. Sometimes I like to think that just be staying alive and feeling deeply and sharing love where able…well, I like to think that might be enough. Other days, it feels like nothing will ever be enough.

It’s fair that I am frustrated with all these ideas spinning around and the fact that nobody seems to notice that there is a person who blogged her way through this whole “Am I a schizophrenic or a shaman?” business.* I am the woman who, in madness, thought she had a fairly sound case for a functional proof of God (by whatever name) and the pictures to prove it. I did not (and I say this with a twinge of indignation in my chest) only prove God, I also may have developed a strong hypothesis on the common origin of written language AND a working theory of human consciousness that is based on subjective learning, neurology, and sensory/emotive experience AND the fact that some of us busted and beautiful losers are really, truly special.

*The answer is neither.

It was all very audacious.

How many people have been sitting on their front steps and suddenly felt called to go stand in the yard, turn around…and found themselves facing a sky that was cut with perfect diamonds, a crown the size of the horizon. The dark clouds were roiling and twisting in the shapes of bones and the light was alive.

A woman walked by on the sidewalk, talking on her cell phone.

I started crying as I fumbled with the webcam, wept while holding a computer on top of my head, so that I had proof that what I was seeing was real.

In those moments,shamelessly recorded for some imagined posterity, I thought that I was going to die, that I had failed.

I spoke the words, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I tried.” I said something about my children, “Please…”

Then, I saw that it was all beautiful and the faces rose and fell, all in the shadows of clouds. The bodies twisted, showing like old gods.

It did occur to me that I might be hallucinating, but I was fairly sure that such a precise and focused hallucination was unlikely and I was fairly certain that I saw what I saw in the way that I did because I had learned what to look for, and because, simply, I was looking.

At that point, one afternoon among many, I had been watching the sky and studying clouds intensively for about 3 months. I knew them well and, I had come to believe, they knew me.

In a period of grief and under the duress of years and lost meaning, left alone in ways people should not be left alone, I had made friends with the sky.

…and the birds, and the trees…and ghosts and insects, too.

The radio knew my deepest dreams and I had completely lost my mind.

…but, not really…

If you consider these archives, it is clear that I was aware of how significantly I was breaking script.

If I had come across my ideas in a book, I wouldn’t be so attached to them. I figured my experience in ways that, to me, were fairly logical – given everything I know about everything…which isn’t much about anything, but enough.

I left out some parts here. Mostly this is just a collection of reminders, pieces of a much bigger story. Notes quickly taken, journals and exercises in essay form, emails I’ve sent, a couple that have been sent to me.

I’ve kept this log for different reasons over the past few years. Right now, I am keeping it as an afterthought, a running commentary, absent-minded. I wish I could spend time on these archives. I forget about them. I forget I have this record.

Record of what?

Well, the precise sort of thing that Dr. Farber is referring to: the messianic complex, mad spirituality. However, it far more than that.

IT’S MY LIFE.

After a 23 year history of abused mental health (and emotion, and sexuality) and the grievous psychological effects of compound traumas in living, a woman’s life finally gets shitty and mean enough to completely break her heart and she ends up alienated and ostracized on her front porch and she figured out a few things and a few things figured her out.

(Writing in 3rd person is something I do when I am writing about something that happened to me that was hard. Clinically, it’s called dissociation. I don’t think of it like that, but really, I have had to step outside of myself quite a bit the past few…decades.)

So, hooray, a lot of what I thought would/wanted to happen has happened – though not all, not by a longshot (if I’d gotten everything I’d wished for the military industrial complex would be slowly ceasing to exist and I’d have a book deal and an honorary doctorate and health insurance or at least someone to help me fill out the forms for Obamacare.)

So, hooray, I still feel the love of god – by any name – in my hands and in my shoulders and in my belly and my breast. It feels like the sound of bees.

When I am depressed, I don’t feel it so much. I am depressed when I don’t feel it so much.

The people I know who have gone through similar breakthroughs in theme and self/world relation are all mighty busy trying to stay alive and navigate the looming large hands of knowing.

It bothers me that someone such as Seth Farber might suggest that this task of ours, a task that many of us feel deeply enough already, and suggest that we are a dissapointment if we do not claim our birthright and start a revolution. There a few important details missing in his estimations…like how exactly an army of wounded and wistful agoraphobes who speak in metaphor and feel fear like a demon might somehow organize themselves to live some version of their dreams…or how we would even agree on anything…

“It’s God!”

” It’s time travelers!”

                                                                                   “It’s the Illuminati!”

“It’s aliens!”

“It’s Christ!”

“It’s Buddha!”

“It’s my dead uncle!”

“It’s electricity!”

If you’ve read this, you know that I am not only a crazy lady who writes some random shit about mental health, revolution, metatheory, laundry and radios, but that I am also a low wage mental health worker and a participant in dialogue and planning on topics relating to paradigm shifts and human rights.

I am also the mother of two children, who I try to leave out of all this, but who are central to my life and who have been greatly affected (in ways both great and not-so-great) by their experience of having a mother who experiences madness (well-tended, mindful madness).

…and so, yay, I am, by virtue of my left-handedness, my connected earlobes, my open-heart and good memory, my eye for pattern and symbol, the water I drank when I was a child and my still-fine-enough story mind, one of God’s chosen ones.

Who isn’t?

There is no such thing as God. God as it is known by many is just an idea, an image and some words, that took the place of an actual mechanism in the working world.

I’d write more, but this is long enough.

All I’m saying is that it ain’t easy. It’s not as if, when these things go down, some esteemed group of healer guides and benefactors show up to help anyone out.

I’m not so short-sighted that I don’t see the way the world has crossed my path with friends and mentors, has put me in positions that have taught me more of what I need to know, has offered me protection me from further harm. However, the world has also spun in my direction no small number of dramas, insults, distractions, and tests.

It’s exhausting to try to figure out how to be myself, what I should do with all of this.

All I can do is my best…which somedays isn’t so great, but is usually more than enough, given the fact that I don’t have to do any of this.

I could just erase everything and go find a second job at a convenience store, become quiet and nondescript, put on some sweatpants. Give up.

Or I could say: “It was all just some crazy shit. Hey, I was having a hard time and I got a little carried away in my compensatory thinking. How silly of me, to think that I might know the world.”

I could replace found object surrealism with linear scrapbooking of my children’s every move.

Maybe I could find a boyfriend that treats me like he’s doing me some sort of favor, someone who “loves me in spite of…”

I could call it an illness and get back on meds, sign up for disability.

I could also frame it as a typically fine transformative madness and make myself into a well-respected psychotherapist and advocate, who compassionately helps people to “heal psychosis” and who never says a word against the President.

However, I’ve chosen to keep my truth and its implications and consequences.

It’s abhorrent to me that anyone might be so rude as to suggest that I was wrong about this, given that they don’t know me, nor do they know much of anything of my experiences beyond the relatively brief accounts and flat/uninterpreted images left here.

I actually find doubt and dismissal to be of paramount faithlessness.

The world showed me some of its most wondrous working and gave me knowledge of things that I never cared to know, but that are – in the end – all I need to know…and sent me friends when I was alone and played me the songs I needed to hear and gave me vision, a new way of seeing and I…

I’m supposed to forget that?

I’m supposed to “get over” that?

I’m supposed to just chalk it up to “some crazy shit” – even when I know that it is not, because I figured out how it works and it’s real?

…and for what purposes, so as not to make anyone uncomfortable, so as not to seem crazy?

So I don’t get “in trouble”?

…like if someone started reading this and decided that I was utterly bonks and that I needed to be “treated” as swiftly and thoroughly as possible?

Or if someone couldn’t reconcile motherhood with madness, and thought that I should have to choose between the two?

“It’s embarrassing to the kids! It’s harmful to them!”

The only way it is such is if it is made to be such.

My children are compassionate, sensitive, wise little people. They understand that everyone is different. They think it’s a good thing.

My son reads Tolkien and science facts. My daughter understands animals and they both remember things in pictures.

I am a wonderful mother for them. I am their mother.

Sad to think it might be asking a bit much that I be able to speak about things such as God and madness, when the world is so full of both.

One thing I do know is that no matter what we do, if we do it wisely and do it well, we heal what is broken in us and we bring light to the world.

What else can we do?

Is that not enough?

One thought on “The Spiritual Shenanigan of Madness

  1. shenanigans plural of she·nan·i·gans (Noun)
    1.Secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering.
    2.Silly or high-spirited behavior; mischief.

    …high-spirited.

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