Today I should be working on my essay for the Mad Studies module. The deadline is creeping up closer and closer, and I still have much to write. But instead I am drawn here to Madreality, where I may write what I please – without references pinned down in the Harvard style – and may share this image of some lovely graffiti that I spotted yesterday:
So how do we look after each other when madness is involved? The mainstream perspective is to bring the mad person back to consensual reality as quickly as possible: to shut down the madness, contain it, eradicate it, deny its full expression. But what would happen if instead, we made a space for the madness to exist? What if we showed it a healthy respect, and took the time to listen to what madness has to say to us?
I'm reminded of the story of Naomi, as told in Rachel Aviv's beautiful book Strangers to Ourselves. Naomi was a young Black woman in mostly-White Minneapolis, struggling to support her four young children in the context of poverty and racism. When her isolation and despair evolved into psychosis, she jumped off a bridge with her two youngest – one of whom drowned. Naomi and the other child were rescued, and she was brought to hospital where she was constrained, diagnosed, and charged. Yet in the midst of her psychosis, in the midst of her pain and despair, she made this plea: “You're not listening to me.”
Julia Cameron, in The Listening Path, writes:
When we listen – really listen – to what others have to say, their insight often surprises us. When we don't interrupt, but wait, allowing our companions to extend a thought instead of rush to complete it, we learn that we can't in fact anticipate what they will share. Instead, we are reminded that we each have so much to offer, and that, given the chance, our companions will offer something more than, and different from what we might expect. We just have to listen.
When do we ever listen – really listen – to the mad folk? Listen without judgment, listen with respect? What the mad have to say may be garbled, rambling or nonsensical, but I would suggest that it is anything but meaningless. Madness articulates the absurdity and cruelty of our human societies, the suffering inherent in the human condition, but also the redemptive power of our human kindness and grace.
Listening is a powerful act of generosity, with the potential to engage and connect with others. I recently attended a Warm Data - People Need People session via the International Bateson Institute and one of my fellow participants had this to say: “If you want to change the system, you can't. You have to go in and listen, and listen, and listen.” Setting out with the intention to change others will only push them away and alienate them. But setting out with the intention to listen brings us into relationship, and opens the channels for real dialogue and for mutual impact.
So again I suggest that we may learn much by listening to madness. We might engage with the mad, with compassion and openness, and thus discover the truths they offer to us. This would be a fine way to look after each other.
Yes, beautiful. I agree!