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M is for Madness.
I lost the plot in India when I was 22 years old.
It’s a cliché isn’t it?!
Six months of solo travel to the one place in the world diametrically opposed to all that my homesome UK ever represented to me. A land of the saturation of all senses, of turvy topsy, and the flip of the coin to all that I had known.
I don’t know if it was the combination of travelling alone for so long without the familiarity anchoring me to my sense of identity, or the hashish smoked, or the fact that I had no idea who I was beneath the mask of familial and societal charade, but something fell away, leaving me free-floating without root or centre, drifting further out on the sea of lost.
I recovered, of course.
But I had tasted madness. For the first time. And not the last.
Over a decade ago, I came across this book by Eric Maisel: The Van Gogh Blues-A Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. This book became sort of a bible for me. Earmarked and noted in the margins. Copies bought for friends over the years. In 2018, I embarked upon Eric’s Creativity Coaching Training.
Creative folk and mental health. Another cliché?
Mr. Maisel, in his early years of psychotherapeutic vocation, became fascinated by the apparent difference in the makeup of artists, sensitives, and those whose North Star pointed toward the moon of a spiritual seeker’s life. He noted, with curious fascination, that these people were born with a need, nay, desire, for meaning. To make meaning. To find meaning. To seek for meaning amongst the unfathomable chaos of life’s supposed meaninglessness.
Because of such tendencies, or despite them, these are the ones who become the mystics and healers; the visionaries; the artists; the music makers; the dancers; and the creators of magic and wonder, beauty and awe. They are the ones who build the bridges between the mystery and the earth, from the mundane to the muse, and from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
The creative ones hold the keys to wonder.
The power to touch and transform. To heal and to shapeshift. Shamans of song sorcery and word wizardry and abracadabra art. Rites of passage. Writes of time passing.
And this comes with a price. A responsibility for such a gift.
To move between worlds as seers and to be able to make grown men weep and fall to their knees and to remind us of our marrow remembering is no small feat. And often, sometimes, maybe, it impacts our health.
Our mental health.
Art is medicine. It has saved my life innumerable times. Art heals and makes beauty out of our scars so that they become tribal markings of initiation and strength, a resilience of spirit that means we survived.
Art is when I am in flow. When I’m tapping away to the comforting sounds of a keyboard, Alice Coltrane harping in the background, in the late night, the owl in me happy with the endless jet black and timelessness of the wee hours. Art isn’t linear. It forbades rationale and control. Art is the realm of chaos, and chaos, the dance of all of life, is both creation and destruction. Life and death.
Just ask Shiva and Shakti. F*cking to eternity, their juices the floods of life’s waters so that the wheel keeps on turning. Their cosmic love mating making the world go round. And around. And around.
Around the world.
R.I.P Daft Punk! Thank you for the music.
The creative ones tread the pathways of darkness and shadow walking. To be an artist is not all light and love and fluffy unicorns, my little pony phony heart living. To live as an artist, to be an artist of one’s life, means that one has to get down and dirty. Into the grit and grace. Between the matter of life, into the spaces between.
Courage is needed. Warriors with dirty faces and scraped knees. Muddied and bloodied. And unafraid to take the risk. Cannot not take the risk.
And yet, as with all things holy given, we can get off balance. The underworlds call us. The dark nights of the soul, where Hades and Persephone frolic in some ungodly union, until spring returns us out of the earth. Reaching our arms up through the soil and soul, fingernails filled with rotting dirt. The dead wife, a dead life. Composted for the new.
Are we scared of madness? In others and thus ourselves?
Rumi had to be broken down to become God-drunk and write his poetry. Van Gogh inhaled and ate his toxic yellow paints and cut his ear off, having never sold a painting in his life. Rothko committed suicide because he could never quite capture God in his art. But my goodness, was he close!
The starving artist in the attic.
Another f*ckin’ cliché!
Madness has touched me many times over the years. Stroking my sanity with bouts of depression and anxiety. Out of alignment I have gone. My soul wandering the desert lands, wild winds blowing its dust into my eyes, so my vision became blinded and I did not know which way up I was and where the world ended and I began.
A client confided in me recently that she was scared that embracing her aching creativity may mean that she would go mad.
I assured her that we cannot guarantee that would not be the case. How can we? Is not madness a bedfellow to genius? Whispering sweet and sour nothings, pillow talking into wild consciousness all through the night? They cannot be separated. Yin and Yang. As above so below. We dance the polarities of life. It’s all that we have my loves.
Sometimes we have to be broken down to be rebuilt, and that doesn’t always look, feel, nor taste kind. Creative living is a raw route to God. To wholeness. To being in a threesome with Eros and Thanatos, an orgy with the gods. It’s fierce and tender. It’s terror and delight. It’s ecstasy and it’s pure, sheer hell. If you’ve ever dared to go over the edge, then you know. You know. Drugs can take us there. Art does too. And sometimes, the two combine. Just ask the visionary Alex Grey!
It is only recently that I am willing to own that I have a relationship with these more knee-trembling mental health states. I don’t know why they place their visitation upon me. Sure, I’m sensitive. Empathic. A soul-seer. A creative genius. An artist. But aren’t we all?
These places made me a yoga teacher who specialised in mental health and well-being. It led me to training to become an art therapist, and more recently, a creativity coach. I have created art for as long as I recall, hidden behind it, used it, mined it for treasures, and to know my own mind and heart and who the hell I am. I know madness. I have breathed its air; I know its textures. I’ve imbibed its potions. And I’m still here.
Sometimes we have to swallow the medicines that life gives us. The taste may be bitter, vile vials. But we do not know what they are gifting us with, what the iron in our blood then makes us into. Like Wolverine. Like superheroes. Walkers of sensitivity and observers of deep beauty, yes we cut deeper, but we’re strong as f*ck.
If we make it through that is, if we make it through.
There’s no shame in mental illness and creative madness. We can learn to love ourselves there, if we can find some space inside. We can learn ways to support ourselves. We can practice meditation and take medication. We can dance it out and play with clay. We can trust in the fact that there are many things that don’t make sense that happen to us, many of them painful and without rhyme or reason. A treason for our joy, or maybe a challenge by the divine ones to bring us deeper to true joy. If we dare. If we’re willing.
The artists are the ones who are willing. For no fault of their own. Just from being born. The bridge builders. The ones who save lives whilst teetering on the tightrope of sanity with their own.
Madness is no f*ckin’ joke. It sucks. And it destroys and wastes precious lives. Precious loves.
The antidote? I don’t have one darlings. I just open a page and start writing. That’s all I know. That’s all I know.
May you be well.
May you know peace.
May you be happy.