“Today I felt pass over me a breath of wind from the wings of madness.” Charles Baudelaire
This morning I attended a religious conference and listened to two powerful speakers, my friend Terry Hershey and Fr Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, a uniquely influential ministry to gang members of the inner cities, especially Los Angeles.
Hundreds of people learned and grew in grace listening to the speakers. Many were moved to tears and experienced deeply passionate feelings about life, about themselves, and about God. It’s a stunning event to watch. I wish I could say it is a stunning event to participate in except I today was a “watcher,” not a “participant.”
The Breath of the Winds
Surprisingly, not long after Terry’s speech I began to experience some of those old, old feelings that result from having to perform: Give a speech, sign books, and say blessings to all you come your way. Easy stuff… except when mixed with the “breath of wind from the wings of madness.”
I think was I recalling those days when my public speaking events left me feeling like a pile of unworthy rags. My anxiety and issues with my old friend depression, left me thinking about William Styron in his classic book on depression, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, where Styron writes about an episode with depression…
… I began to feel an encroaching anxiety and sense of dislocation, a sense of unhappiness, a mysterious feeling that all was not right in my world…
Okay, okay I was not nearly as depressed as Styron, but I most certainly sensed that breath of wind of the wings of madness. Tis a heavy breath, odorless, and a bit chilly as it teethed just a tiny bite into my open hand.
The Odd Power of Madness
You know, I don’t think these depressive inclinations are limited to those suffering from a diagnosed form of depression. In fact, I think these feelings are more common to all of us in American or western society—much more common than we might like to admit. Just think of the synonyms: sadness, despair, misery, and dejection. Now we’re talking feelings that we all have.
In my meditations of late I have discovered a sense of cloudiness and lethargy following me like an unholy ghost, claiming my full attention and leading me to think about anything except meditate and contemplate. As well as brief revelations of the breath from the wings of madness.
From Recluse to Rebirth
If so, that is okay. In fact, it may be a good reminder of that fowl human condition of suffering. Suffering, albeit physical or emotional or situational, consumes much of our time and even more energy. Yet with the breath of madness also comes the breath of transformation.
As Fr Boyle reminded me this morning, it is good and right to return to one’s “lowly” place (physical or emotional) to become unified with the suffering people of our world. And in the oneness come compassion and kindness and a slight, ever so slight, appreciation for the redemptive workings of “madness.”
When the Winds of Madness
Refresh the Mind of Sanity
Photo courtesy of Vladimir Zapletin at istockphoto