Madness and Mastery
by Gary Z. McGee
“Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life…If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature… Be glad that you can recognize it, for you will thus avoid becoming its victim.” ~C.G. Jung
Madness is a pathfinder. Without madness, without the crazy courage to do the taboo thing, the audacious thing, the insouciant thing, the eccentric thing, the unpopular thing, there would be no unique spark, no outside the box thought, no otherworldly imagination, no arguments with God, no crucifixion of the past.
Without madness we are left with dullness. Without madness we are left with the cruel cold entropy of monotony. Without madness, we are stuck living stifling comfort-based lifestyles over empowering courage-based lifestyles. Without madness, without chaos, drunkenness, and imagination, all we have is banal order, logic, sobriety, and reason.
It’s not that we don’t need order, logic, sobriety, and reason. It’s that we are drowning in them. It’s that our hands are tied by them. And madness gives us a release valve. Madness helps us come up for air. Madness forces us into the realization that life is short, that we are going to die, and that we only have from this moment until then to live the most authentic life we can manage. It puts into perspective the need to, as Dylan Thomas said, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Too much comfort, safety, and security handicaps creativity, expansion, and potential. It hinders authenticity. It cripples next-level growth. It keeps us from fully confronting God. Healthy expansion requires a little discomfort and insecurity. It requires a leap of courage into the fire. It requires emancipation from comfortable fetters. It requires staring into the abyss. It requires risk.
As Nikos Kazantzakis said, “A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.”
There is a fine line between courage and foolishness. There’s a fine line between freedom and fetters. Our madness toes the line.
Integrating madness (balance):
“You should be a monster. An absolute monster. And then you should learn how to control it.” ~Jordan Peterson
Madness cuts both ways. Too much madness, we lose ourselves in chaos. Too little madness, we lose ourselves in order. There is a goldilocks zone regarding the madness we allow into our lives.
We should look at madness like we look at our shadow. We should integrate it. We should let it surface. Let it breathe. Let it have its fun. But then we should harness it. Control it. Master it.
We either integrate our madness and gain the potential for controlled chaos on our own terms, or our madness will come out at some unexpected time in the future as disintegrated, uncontrollable chaos. We either empower ourselves by integrating the madness, or the madness will swallow us whole, leaving us powerless. Authentic wholeness requires intimacy with both the madness that surrounds us and the madness within us.
As Edward Abbey said, “You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.” Indeed. You can’t tap into your drunken, frivolous, hunger by trapping it in a safe and secure comfort zone. Madness becomes a kind of escape hatch.
In our youth it was necessary to repress our madness to achieve discipline; in our maturity, it is vital that we integrate it to achieve wholeness (enlightenment). The alternative is bitterness. Madness has a way of planting seeds in the manure of our bitterness, from which imaginative, unexpected, otherworldly things might grow.
When we really get into the heart of our madness, our deep passion, our primordial frenzy, our unreasonable joy, we feel more alive than ever. We’re finally able to breathe. A primal orientation manifests. Authentic passion comes into sacred alignment with fate. The pieces of our puzzled Self paradoxically click together. We feel whole, actualized, aware. Most of all, we feel hungry, thirsty, ravenous, voracious for more courage, more adventure, more risk, more life.
Our lion appetite swallows our tiny sheep stomach whole. It’s finally time to eat—and eat well.
Harness the mystery (self-overcoming):
“I have always endowed madness with a sacred, poetic value, a mystical value. It seemed to me to be a denial of ordinary life, an effort to transcend it, to expand, to go far beyond the limitations of man’s fate.” ~Anais Nin
Madness gives us reach. It gives us breadth. It gives us poetic license. As Carl Jung said, “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
Our shadow reaches all the way into hell. Our madness gives us the courage to reach. When we reach into hell, we’re seeking the repressed part of ourselves, that place where all the pain, fear, and rage has been buried. We’re reaching out to the snarling beast inside us. It’s our job to transform its rage into poetry and art. Madness is a spark for the fire of courage. But it is foremost a vehicle for catharsis.
Paraphrasing Nikos Kazantzakis, “We are weak, ephemeral creatures made of mud and dreams.”
Madness sheds the weakness and takes the mud and the dreams and cooks them into an instrument ready for expansion and growth. Madness unearths us. It unburies us. It digs us out of ruts. It forces us to look beyond our petty conditioning. When we’re mad with purpose, we’re a force to be reckoned with. We are Nature incarnate. We are the beast unleashed, ready to subsume, to overcome, to transcend.
Such madness verges on magic, and we become unconquerable.
The Dionysian Reveler (sacred tomfoolery):
“These poor creatures have no idea how blighted and ghostly this so called ‘sanity’ of theirs sounds when the glowing life of a Dionysian reveler thunders past them.” ~Nietzsche
Dionysian divergence is a primal awakening. It’s the spearhead of Madness. It’s a sacred alignment with the Shadow aspect, which is projected like a blacklight into the too shiny world. It’s a drunken frenzy unleashed on a stuck society. It’s a fierceness inflicted on a meek and mild goody-two-shoes culture.
It’s a lion waking up from a nap surrounded by a herd of sheep pretending to be asleep.
Dionysian divergence is the dethroning of reason by imagination. Reason is important. But it will never be more important than imagination. For Reason, like the Apollonian, has the tendency to fall in upon itself. Given too much rope, Reason will hang itself by the hard-headedness and hard-heartedness of its own unwavering ideal. Reason will drown in its own reasoning. That is, unless imagination and madness can gain the upper hand and pull it out of deep water.
Under the blinding sun of the Apollonian ideal, the Dionysian dynamic is a much-needed eclipse. It’s a beacon of darkness that gives us creative hope despite artless faith. It’s a primal upheaval, an animal frenzy of passion, frivolity, and lightheartedness in the face of over-domestication, apathy, and hardheartedness. It’s the liberation of instinct and insight. It’s the transformation of boundaries into horizons.
Dionysian divergence dances through the mannequin culture. It thunders past the status quo junkies. It flies high above the steel walls of the Apollonian labyrinth. It sees how Goliath has become an idol, a golden cow, a parasitic icon which has blinded the people of the world from the knowledge of their own imagination, joy, and courage.
Foremost, the Dionysian reveler is a courage-enforcer, a mettle sharpener, a lion-awakener. Far too long has the culture lived a fear-based lifestyle under the comforting gaze of the Apollonian Goliath. It’s time to cultivate a courage-based lifestyle. It’s time to get mad, count coup, and wrestle with the gods. It’s time to balance the scales, to melt down the golden pedestals of idolatry, to burn down our uppity high horses, to upset parochial apple carts, and to continuously un-wash the brainwash of perfection from our imperfect minds.
It’s time to unleash our madness and assert our uniqueness. It’s time to let our Shadow shine. To fly over all the false gods. To crucify our past and push our beliefs off a cliff. To climb a mountain and reap the whirlwind. To rejoice in the folly of it all. To laugh and to learn how it’s all laughable. It’s time to get mad and revel in a new way of being human in the world.
Image source: Unknown by RAVI
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Madness and Mastery) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.
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