What is Madness?

But let’s go back to the beautiful city of Amsterdam, and start looking at madness again.

Madness struck me in Amsterdam on a rainy day, in all its manifestations (psychiatrists call it ‘psychosis’), but the signs, the coming of it, so to speak, started much earlier.

But what is madness precisely? What does it hide?

The current debate of mental health, positioning it as ‘mental illness’ is a dangerous thing, because it acts as a curse. If someone from the authority tells you that you are ‘ill’, ‘mentally ill’, you tend to take the person seriously, especially, if that person holds the title of a doctor.

But I am a Doctor myself (a Doctor of Philosophy), a title I acquired together with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder (the diagnosis though preceded my PhD thesis).

I stared at ‘illness’ from a philosophical angle, and from all the knowledge I acquired while on my path of constant academic learning (I love to teach, and I love learning). I stared at it as an abyss, as a tunnel of darkness and as a dark force, which could potentially eat me up, if I allowed.

Eventually, I reversed the gaze. If you are familiar with the I Ching (the Chinese oracle, one of the oldest systems of divination), it has an interesting hexagram, number 48, which signifies the well. In case you throw the coins in a certain way, you might get a changing line, which has an underlying significance of ‘biting through’.

It is hard to master the Chinese oracle, and to really understand the whole mystery of its wisdom, but some conclusions can be made. It speaks ‘in tongues’, it gives precise messages that show the way and bring a light to the situation, only if you are ready to receive the message.

The message of the well is that the well is always there, and it represents a force which is greater than us. It is the unconsciousness, the mystery of things that are hidden, and can be brought to light only if one, indeed, ‘bites through’.

I adopted that approach while gazing at my ‘bipolar disorder’. I stared and I observed, I pushed it aside, and looked into the well, that looked back at me.

I didn’t see any disorder, or any illness in it, but the search for the unconsciousness, for the things that are hidden, for the mystery of the universe, and magic. It was like being sucked into a hypnosis, after which you emerge renewed and restored. You discard the diagnosis firmly out of your head, you recover from the ‘curse’ of words that it’s an illness, and you step firmly into the beauty of true madness, where you see and hear all that magic, which is beautiful, and very real.

But one has to be brave enough to jump into the well, and trust the source.

Because at some point it becomes a battle against the wall with the whole army of psychiatrists saying that what you experience in madness is not real.

How do they know? How can anyone say that what you hear and see is not real? There is actually a nice Chinese proverb which summarizes my point: ‘The person who says it cannot be done shouldn’t interrupt the person doing it.’

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks within, awakes. – Carl Jung

chinese proverb

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