On madness


Towards the end of the great film “Zorba the Greek”, the character Zorba advises his young friend “A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.” By madness Zorba does not mean insanity. Rather he refers to a willingness to enjoy something regardless of what others think. In a stunning moment of liberation and in response to Zorba’s statement the young man asks Zorba to teach him to dance.

Too often we limit ourselves for fear of what others will think. Too often we stifle creativity because it might be criticized. Too often we seek out a comfort zone then anxiously guard it, fearful of taking any risks that might carry us out of that comfort zone.

Even in religious practice we can come to fear madness. Jesus Christ clearly wanted to make us uncomfortable yet we settle into a spiritual comfort zone where we don’t like to be challenged or feel uneasy. “Let me just go to church, hear a relatively innocuous sermon, then go home.”

One of my acts of madness lasted for over 21 years. I ran every day. Rain or shine. Sickness or health. I once even ran a mile after being discharged from an ICU because I needed to keep The Streak going! I remember being at a party when a man approached me and said he’d heard I was a runner. When I began to tell him the ICU story, his smile faded and he began to back up!

When one embraces madness, one is more likely to speak out. When a person embraces madness, he/she may indeed be judged as a troublemaker or even (as I once was) an “enemy of the church”. Yet madmen and madwomen often speak things we need to hear. I would argue therefore that madness stands as an antidote for spiritual stagnation.

Further Reflection: What have your experiences been with madness? In what ways did they set you free? Do you let fear limit your madness?

Further viewing: Enjoy the closing scene from Zorba the Greek as Alan Bates explores madness with Anthony Quinn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6K7OC-IKnA



About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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4 Responses to On madness

  1. mulchmantrc@aol.com says:

    welcome back from new england — zorba!!!! — i forgot!!! — dosent christ encounter several wackos in the scriptures? — wasnt there a guy up a tree yelling that here passes the king of the jews? — wasnt there a madman that he cured with a quiet word and a gentle touch? — what about those guys who tore a hole in the roof to lower the paralytic? — need we speak of jack nicholson and bill murray — the list goes on forever — madness is all around us — you are SO insightful — it will make us free — didnt you once tell a patient “thats crazy talk — stop it” — glad you have evolved!!

  2. Thank you for your post on madness which brings to mind Emily Dickinson’s comment that “Much madness is divinest sense.” Anyone who does not follow the precepts of this culture will invariably be called mad. A passionate person is called a “drama queen” or “irrational,” and most activists at some point are called “strident,” “extreme,” or “militant.” I believe that the madness to which you are referring might also be synonymous with wildness. When we submit to our wild animal self, we often get labeled “mad” or “crazy.” The real madness, however, lies within a culture that absolutely refuses to deal with anything that is scary, risky, unconventional, or edgy. In fact, we would be hard-pressed to find a culture in modernity that so adeptly and so adroitly wards off anything it doesn’t want to deal with as the culture of industrial civilization. That, my friends, really IS madness. Almost all of the mystics were called mad. How can you read John of The Cross or Theresa of Avila and not really wonder if they really had ALL of their marbles? And perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps they lived on the edge of sanity for long periods of time. Do we have any doubt that Jesus was called mad for his explosive demonstration of rage when he drove the money changers (Wall St. banksters of his day) out of the temple? Carl Jung had a psychotic break, and what brought him back to sanity was sitting in the attic playing with miniature figures that he could move around and tell a story with. From that came a wonderful psychotherapeutic tool called sand play. It has provided healing for many people who have utilized it. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? Moving little figures around in a sand tray to tell a story? Consider the extraordinary people throughout history that we have called mad, and look at their contributions: Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Beethoven, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and of course, Emily Dickinson herself. Troubled though they were, they proved that in many ways, “much madness is divinest sense.”

  3. Susanb61@aol.com says:

    Two comments. First, I think I remember another quote from Zorba the Greek. He said, “I have the wife, the house, the children…..the full catastrophe”. I always thought that was funny, perhaps because my own domestic life has been so chaotic. My second thought is that the sand tray modality mentioned in the above comment is very powerful. Even though it is not “evidenced based therapy, it can be a profound intervention. In my training I saw videos of Vietnam veterans using the therapy. There were numerous “props” such as toy tanks and helicopters, etc.. One Vietnam veteran blamed himself for not being able to save a fellow soldier. He was asked to create a sort of “relief map” in the sand tray using wet sand. He was then asked to add all of the equipment he would need to save his friend. It was in that moment that he realized he did not have all those means at the time. It was true insight-oriented sand tray therapy.

  4. Billie Brown Bibona says:

    Reminds me of Ezekiel’s experience which was similar to seeing invaders from outer space. Nowadays he would be locked up and nobody would call him a prophet.
    Or the story of the psychopharmacologist who said, he would love to cure Jesus with Haldol.
    And, by the way, the whole ICU thing was crazy. But I did admire you for it.

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