Tag Archives: Mental Health

The Beauty of Madness

Photo by Barbara Besteni

The blue and gray digital beauty of “Starry Night” welcomed me into its embrace as the words of Don McClean’s “Vincent,” his anthem to the tortured soul of Vincent Van Gogh, whispered in my ears.

Before me, the walls of the monstrous Miami sound stage that once gave life to the modern-day masterpieces of Miami ViceBad Boys, and countless long-forgotten music videos, displayed the digital renditions of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in a 360-degree canvas that seamlessly dissolved one painting into another.

I wept.

I had not been listening. I had not known how. But I was listening now.

The side trip to Arles

Three years ago, a trip to France took me through the town of Arles, the place that inspired so many of Van Gogh’s paintings, including my all-time favorite, Starry Night. It was the view he saw every night from the window of the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to which he’d voluntarily committed himself.

At the time of my visit to Arles, I was more interested in continuing on my journey to Barcelona than stopping to explore the trees and daffodils that Van Gogh sketched. But the spirit of my surroundings moved me. I didn’t know why, but something stirred inside my soul and insisted that I write it down to save the memory.

I know better than to question The Muse when She commands, “Write it now!” With nothing else at my disposal, social media and my iPhone would have to do.

I posted a quick Facebook message, quoting McLean’s “Vincent.”

“And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do.”

Within seconds, a private message from my friend Tara Gilani across the Atlantic startled me.

“You OK? That Vincent post was “funky.” Xo

“I’m in Provence … land of Van Gogh inspiration!” I replied. “I love you for checking in though!!!”

“Hooray!!” she wrote back, after I apologized for my cryptic message. “Enjoy!! Xoxox”

My quick response to Tara’s question, however, did not tell the whole story. There was something about Arles that moved me. But it wasn’t until three years later, at the Ice Palace Studios soundstage in Downtown Miami, that that something became clear.

Beneath the surface of the $100 million ‘pauper’

The legend that surrounds Van Gogh is one of darkness bordering on the edge of insanity … his severed ear, his ultimate suicide … all shrouded in mystery and stories to which layers upon layers of myth have been added so that the truth is no longer recognizable. It’s a historical game of telephone that seems to have no ending.

But what we don’t hear, what Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience captures in such visual eloquence, is the soul of the man who was haunted by a need to serve, accomplish his purpose, and struggled to be understood.

The digital experience inside the soundstage is the main course, but if you rush through the frames with the quotes and paintings that lead up to it, you miss understanding the beauty of the artist responsible for combining the ingredients into a recipe that no other artist has been able to duplicate.

The prelude to the experience itself is the appetizer that gives perspective to the works Van Gogh created. Without that perspective, he is just another painter.

Clinically, Van Gogh was believed to have suffered from epilepsy, acute insanity, and hallucinations. While at the asylum, he was supposedly getting better. But he relapsed, and it eventually led to his suicide.

But what came first? Did the madness inspire his masterpieces? Or was his inability to completely express himself a catalyst to the mental illness that would eventually lead to his suicide? 

If you’re sane enough to question your sanity, to commit yourself to an asylum, could it be your brand of madness is the closest thing to sanity to which you can aspire?

What was guiding this “mad” man to create such timeless works of art that move people in ways that even those who know nothing about him can appreciate?

We can write the tortured, starving artist off and romanticize his plight. But beneath the surface lies a soul struggling to be understood, to celebrate their differences instead of fitting into a status quo.

Van Gogh was not exactly a pauper, but he didn’t have a lot of money while he was alive. 

Starry Night is currently valued at about $100 million.

Perhaps …

I left the Van Gogh Experience a changed woman, one with an appreciation and understanding of those who suffer from mental health issues, issues with which we all struggle in one way or another. 

I also came away wondering if what we call madness is genius in disguise.

As a writer who struggles to get out of the way of inspiration and let the Universe use me as Her messenger, I relate to Van Gogh’s struggles. My demons are by no means as dark as Van Gogh’s, but releasing them through the written word is my therapy of choice. And when I don’t, the darkness returns.

Having those who read what I write learn from what they read — even if they don’t agree with me — is my purpose in life.

Don McLean stated it perfectly in the line that keeps repeating throughout “Vincent”:

Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

That song, written so many years ago, ends on a less-than-positive note.

They would not listen; they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

But perhaps Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will change that. Perhaps the refrain from earlier in the song will now become reality.

Perhaps they’ll listen now.

I’m listening, Vincent. I’m listening.

——–

“Vincent” words and music by Don McLean

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Filed under Barbara Besteni, spirituality

Thinking Inside The Box

It has been nearly one year since we’ve been living inside the box known as the COVID-19 quarantine. And while the initial restrictions brought about by the pandemic have eased somewhat, we are still very much stuck inside, longing for the days when we can move freely around the cabin of life and get back to “normal.”

We have spent the past year living inside our homes, working from home, teaching our kids from home, learning from home, and fixing or replacing the myriad of things that have broken down or worn out thanks to stay-at-home overuse.

This has kicked nostalgic longings for mask-free dining, hugging friends, and travel into high gear. It has also given those patient enough to notice the silver lining time to look inside our souls, minds, and hearts and ponder life’s big questions.

Questions such as:

What’s so wrong with the box that everyone thinks we should think out of it?

“Normal” as we once knew it is still beyond our reach. Perhaps we will never be normal again. So maybe it’s time to take a look at the tired, old phrase of “thinking outside the box” and look around inside to see the treasures that lie within.

Breaking Down the Walls

To think outside the box means to break the bonds of the status quo, the mental prison that limits our ability to acknowledge our power and live the purpose for which we were created.

“That’s great! Let’s go.” you say as you kick down the walls of stagnation and step out into the fresh air of possibilities.

Hold on a minute.

Thinking outside the box also implies abandoning everything that’s inside. And while leaving behind the pain and frustrations that have kept us trapped inside, we also leave behind the lessons and wonders that have gotten us this far.

We are then in danger of creating a new box with the same limiting beliefs that kept us from going anywhere.

Two years ago, I knocked down the walls of alcohol consumption and entered the box of sober curiosity. It was liberating. And, oh, so sweet!

Literally.

I jumped out of Total Wine & More and into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I no longer drank alcohol, but Willy became my BFF. We packed the pantry with dark chocolate (because, after all, it was heart healthy), and used the mid-afternoon sugar crash as an excuse to devour bon bons by the bagful.

I had given up booze, but had forgotten to take with me the lesson of how to ditch a bad habit. Once I realized this, I ran back to the old box, left Willy there to fend for himself, and grabbed bananas, grapes, and a bunch of berries to sustain me through the rest of my journey.

My mind, my mood—and let’s be honest here—my mid-section are all the better for it.

This is just one small example of how throwing the contents of the old box away can hurt you in the long run.

Thinking outside the box is an adventure. But embarking on an adventure just because crowd mentality tells you to do so, leaves you unprepared for the obstacles you may face along the road.

It might be a little chilly outside the box, so grab a jacket before you venture out.

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