Between Mysticism and Madness

For a couple years I have had this phrase, “Between mysticism and madness I find myself.” When something stays with me this long I know it is a thread to follow, so consider this fair warning for the beginning of my “following.”

Over the years mysticism has taken on new meaning and brought me to new depths of knowing and unknowing. For me, mysticism is about finding the Source of all our connection, finding the pattern of life, that which ties everything together. It is spending my time strengthening that connection and interdependence; on awakening and bringing into manifestation my innate qualities of spirit and belonging to each other.

In the words of John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Because of my lifelong yearning, I have found that from my progressive Catholic upbringing, spiritual seeking, reading countless books on self-discovery, religion, spirituality and faith, world religion studies, time in seminary, working with and in churches, that my religion has become simply about developing a “goodness,” a way of being and living, that honors the unique part within myself that is in relationship to the Whole – to all living things. Ironically the root of the word “religion” means to “bind together.” Am I not already bound to others? If by nothing else, than aren’t I bound by the rhythm of life? That invisible current that carries all life? Sometimes it is through swirling eddies, at other times class 5 rapids, and hopefully, from time to time, I drift along on gentle waves that echo the cadence of the human heart that I feel and hear when I am held in the arms of another.

On the flip side, madness has on occasion become a friend, a comfort, and oddly, a way to understand this journey of mysticism. If you’ve ever been in a canoe or rowboat, you know what happens when you stop paddling – you drift along. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s been an awesome ride, and other times I have found that I need to put my oar in the water and row. It’s discerning when to paddle and when to drift. When I have chosen to simply let myself drift, even if I have been called to put my paddle in the water to steer my way back to center, then it’s madness.

So the gap in between the mysticism and the madness is where I have found myself these days. It is in the times when my boat is gets stuck in the reeds or mud, or I have drifted too far left or right, that madness begins to rear its head – the madness of judgment, inadequacy, unworthiness and self- loathing.

Seven weeks ago I embarked on a journey that I initially chose not to share with many. I had weight loss surgery. It was the physical catalyst for stepping into the unknown territory of physical transformation. I have since shared more frequently and openly about the physical elements of the surgery, the machinations of the digestive system, what I can eat, when and how much, and of course everyone wants to know, “How much have you lost?”

But up until now, I have spoken very little about the workings of my inner world. So consider this the beginning of many blogs about what has been and what is yet to be. Anyone who has ever had a lot of weight to lose knows the challenges, the successes and failures, the terror of the inner dialogue, as well as the loneliness and despair.

You know the cultural bias in our world for being overweight, the look in people’s eyes on an airplane when they realize they are sitting next to you, the occasional gawker at the grocery store who is eyeing the contents of your basket, the comments of how lazy or unsanitary you must be to have allowed yourself to get this size, or the discomfort of restaurant seating. For those of you who are unfamiliar these things, please refrain from sharing with me how I am making up what people are thinking or their judgments, you haven’t been there.

But most of all, it is the self-condemnation that does the most harm. As the pounds have begun to fall away these past weeks, I have been met by more demons, more insecurities. It’s as though someone has turned up the stereo in my head and the DJ has lost the playlist I made specifically for this trip, and has put his 3-year-old nephew at the mixing board playing the best of the worst! Oh wait… I think I’m the DJ. Crap.

During these last seven weeks I haven’t quite been drifting aimlessly, but I have had moments of not wanting to put my oar in the river and bring myself back to center. Sometimes it’s just too painful. I discovered months before the surgery, how easy it has been to ignore my body. And I don’t mean once in a while, or in small ways, like having dessert 3 times in a week instead of once every 2 weeks, but really how adept I had become at turning a blind eye to it.

My body had become as easy to ignore as tossing the wrapper from a stick of gum, or crushing the empty milk carton to fit in the garbage. I realized that I cared as much for my body as the person who tosses the cigarette butt out the window does for mother earth. I hadn’t completely grasped or been aware of just how much the messages others had been feeding me the first 25 years of life were still so alive in me.

I think each of us is simply learning the fine art of rowing. Of learning to listen to the current, to see the flow of water beneath me, as well as connecting with others who may be rowing alongside, of learning how far to put the oar in the water, and at what angle. Each day on my “shrinking” voyage I am being asked to consider what the nature of the river is and how I respond to it.

It reminds me of the times when I am still, floating in water with my ears below the surface listening to my heartbeat, listening to the blood coursing through me. It is the sound of the universe within me, the sound of eternity. It is the sound of the mystic that believes in ocean of everything, even when I am in madness and can’t see it or feel it. Between these two, I find myself – a vessel on a pilgrimage of my soul’s religion.


  1. Lysa A-B October 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

    That is one of the most well-written, heartfelt, spiritually touching stories I have ever read. Bless you for baring your soul like that and demonstrating for others the simple yet often challenging art of authentic living. And bless you on this current “return to health, wellness and wholeness” journey. We love and support you!

  2. Robert Fish October 28, 2011 at 7:41 am

    And in that knife edge between mysticism and madness, we find . . . . . . . . . it all. Thank you for opening your heart to us as you ride this class five rapid.

  3. kelly isola October 28, 2011 at 7:57 am

    you are most welcome. i never in a million years dreamed i would be writing such intimate things so publicly. AND enjoy doing it, maybe a little scared, yet still feeling fulfilled.

  4. Debra Clemente November 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Hello Kelly and first of all best wishes and all blessings to you as you embark on your physical transformation. The title of this post resonated with me for this is where I find my own self teetering at times as Spirit speaks to me in ways that to begin to explain to the rest of the world they would call me mad. I’m a big fan of Unity Radio and have tuned into to your show several times. Keep the faith. Deb

  5. kelly isola December 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you very much!

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