Mad With Inspiration


 There’s something attractive to me about someone who is a little bit crazy, a little bit mad with inspiration

 In his presence I sense a fire burning. His imagination is alive. His capacity for wonder is intact. And when he laughs, he laughs with his whole being!

 Less attractive is someone whose persona is so controlled and contained, that he dampens and deadens. His talk and presence puts the fire out.

 One might ask upon meeting someone like this: Where’s the fire? What happened to it? Who stomped the life out of you, or, did you numb yourself?

 For myself, I like daily doses of madness - as in, a little here, a little there. But sometimes, I love to be quite swept away, right out of my mindmad with inspiration!  

 Which is how I sometimes feel when I’m writing, teaching, absorbed in music, or meditating. 

 Plato, in the Phaedrus, described a breakthrough experience of going past the limitations of the mind, into a state of mania. 

 Plato regarded this state of mania as man’s highest good. He called it God-mania, or Theia-mania, a God-intoxicated, inspired state of being.

 He described this God-given state as “being-beside-oneself.” (Josef Pieper, Divine Madness: Plato’s Case Against Secular Humanism, p. 9)  

 Alan Watts used to say that we human beings need to 'go out of our minds' at least once a day. 

 If not, we remain inwardly clogged, trapped and depressed until finally ending up vacantly staring into space, drooling.

 Surely it’s a high priority to experience a daily sense of being catapulted out of our prisons of self-sufficiency into holy, ecstatic and transcendent states of being.

 Indeed, ”if we’re lucky,” says Professor Michael Sugrue, in his lecture on Plato’s Phaedrus, The Hymn to Love, we will remain in such an inspired state for all of our days - a holy maniac forever. 

 It is thus our great, good fortune to experience on a regular basis some sense of being out of our minds and beside ourselves! 

 Otherwise, why go on? I mean - what’s the point, if there’s no joy? 

 Paradoxically, in such a state of mania, dislodged and dispossessed from one's ordinary sense of mind and self, one goes more deeply into the mind and self, and finds consequently, greater clarity and a sense of wholeness.

 Which is to say that losing your mind and self appears actually to be about finding your mind and self!

 Which is my idea of true religion, that, when you’ve found the real thing that, you lose nothing that matters and gain everything that does!

 The one who finds 'true religion,’ in my estimate, finds himself truly. He comes to his senses, and to all of his senses, including extra-sensory capacities. 

 Hitherto 'sick in the soul,' disordered, scattered and fragmented, a man now finds through true religion, an inner coherence, a sense of it all coming together. A formerly chaotic soul finds a dynamic inner peace. 

 Now, friends and relations may well think that we earnest practitioners of the art of divine madness, are indeed crazed maniacs in the efforts we make to participate in various religious rites and rituals. 

 We are content to be so regarded. Calls us fools, nuts or maniacs, if you'd like. We don’t care. For we enjoy being ‘crazed.’ 

 We wouldn’t trade it for how you spend your time. For 'we have been there and done that, and prefer a state of inspired madness rather than a deadly, worldly, sanity.

 Thus I choose with Plato this inspired madness! More mania, please! 

 Plato, in the Phaedrus, writes about four forms of Divine insanity

 The first inspired 'madness’ is related to prophetic utterances. It was said, for example, about the Sibyl, a prophetess, that the Delphian god, Apollo, “breathed in her the richness of the spirit.

 Thus inspired, her guiding utterances could be life transforming. A few words from Sibyl could change your life.

 Many words, in contrast, from someone whose soul is frozen, will leave you cold, empty, and without direction. 

 Now, you can find this emphasis on the necessity of a state of Divine intoxication, in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas wrote of persons able to deliver revelatory words because they have been “lifted up by a higher power." 

 Josef Pieper, an expert on Aquinas, remarks that Aquinas himself, commonly regarded as “the accepted model of the most unimpassioned rationality,” regarded rationality as a limited way of knowing.

 The point is that mere rationality must be transcended into poetic realms of experience and meaning.

 St Thomas always understood that prophetic words with power come only from an inspired ecstatic state. 

 The second form of Divine mania discussed in Plato’s Phaedrus is “cathartic mania.” Plato thought that the condition of our souls is such that we require a deep purging, a catharsis. Only a "God-inspired experience of mania” will do the job.

 Plato’s sensitivity to the scars (samskaras) that people carry is remarkable. He makes reference to inner pain so severe that it can only be accounted for in terms of a psychic inheritance.

 There are, said Plato, “those sore plagues and dire afflictions which linger in certain families as the wrath of some old ancestral guilt.” 

 How ever might such a level of "old ancestral guilt," and the sense of doom it engenders, ever be purged? 

 Well, it is said in the Phaedrus that,"Mania devised a remedy for this inherited soul sickness.” 

 Plato’s perspective is that the Divinely appointed mania alone is able to relieve the person of his ancient inherited burden. No other solution will do.

 One evening the writer, Sheldon Vanaulken, came home to find his young wife, Davey, shaken up and weeping because, as she explained, "all her sins had paraded before her, all evening long." (A Severe Mercy

 He had no idea how to help her, having never gone to such depths himself. It was soon realized that she required a soul catharsis, a purging comparable to Plato’s remedy. 

 Plato's point is to say that there are conditions of the soul so desperate that nothing else will cure but a Divine remedy, with its unique power to purge and purify.  

 For the fact is, says Pieper, that “man is unable to free himself from these burdens of soul by means of mere rational technique.”

 No! "On the contrary, states Pieper, "such an attempt would render the burden even more burdensome.” 

 Liberation can only occur through a process of healing characterized by the necessity for the one desiring healing to relinquish the steering wheel of rational self-control and self-possession."

 In other words, the iron grip of one’s mind upon the soul, must first be interrupted and then broken, to allow for a Divinely inspired purge

 Plato’s third form of inspired madness in the Phaedrus is its expression through poetry. It is understood in the Phaedrus that, “genuine and grand poetry is not possible unless born out of Divine madness." 

 The poetry, it is said, of those who are 'reasonable and sensible,' fades into obscurity before the poetry of those who speak in the ecstasy of 'being-beside-oneself.’  

 A case in point, states Pieper, is that of the poet, Rilke, about whom his biographer says: “Rilke is the quintessential figure of a poet, in the simple sense of being a vessel for divine inspiration.

 "One necessarily has to believe this in order to do justice to Rilke.” No other explanation is adequate to account for the power of Rilke’s writings. Surely, it is thought, these words of his, had a Divine origin. 

 Goethe, too, understood that the true poet is someone who is "out of his senses. His condition is altogether a trance.

 The fourth form of inspired madness in Plato’s Phaedrus is erotic experience.  As Goethe says, in the spirit of the Phaedrus: “When I beheld this maiden, when my heart yearned for her, a whole new world of beauty and excellence unfolded before me. 

 Thus 'eros', properly understood, is the awakening of 'holy longing.' As Michael Sugrue states: ‘When Dante saw Beatrice he was never the same again.

 Her physical beauty awakened in him a longing for the ultimate, for the Divine, for transcendent Beauty. This is the 'madness of love.'  

 We see beauty here on earth and long for heavenly beauty. When this holy longing is awakened, Plato says, we grow wings and are able to rise up. 

 We fly up out of the dark caves we’ve been living in! We have been "blessedly afflicted” and determine never again to go back to the darkness of the cave.

 In the Phaedrus, it says that there are those who have had only a partial initiation. These have glimpsed a little bit of light. They have tasted but a tiny portion of holy longing. They therefore continue to give themselves over to mere pleasure and miss the joy.

 The point has been missed. They have merely dabbled in spiritual practices and remain bound. 

 They have missed the bliss, and remain like the sapless old playboy, Hef, continuing to hobble around with his troop of busty, brainless babes.  

 Which is not erotic love, but something base and cheap.

 In the Phaedrus, it is said that our wings shrink and disappear because of foulness and ugliness. 

 In the spirit, however, of the 'truly erotic,' in the experience of a shared 'Divine madness,' two lovers help each other to grow wings that take them heavenward. 

 They want only the best for each other. And the best is about the experience of a 'shared inspired madness.' 

 I pray that in all of our relations we will have the effect of kindling each other’s hearts to participate more fully in this wonderfully inspired 'insanity!'