WILD IDEAS … musings for the mind, food for the soul.

Understanding Depression: A Woe That Is Wisdom

There is a woe that is wisdom, a woe that is madness—Herman Melville

From the moment I was born, depression began to weave itself into the fabric of my life. Alone and frightened by the responsibilities of a new baby, my emotionally fragile mother sank into a black hole from which she only occasionally emerged. At a very young age, I threw myself into trying to understand the enigmatic forces that had taken my mother from me and that threatened to debilitate me as well.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate the many faces of depression. On the one hand, our psychiatric age understands depression as a disease process that can be controlled through the use of medication. Certainly, the miracle of antidepressants has eased the suffering of millions of clinically depressed patients. But it is also useful to make a distinction between depression as an illness and depression as a gateway to the soul.

Take a spiritual perspective.

When we take the limited view of depression as pathology—as a wretched state of being that needs to be ameliorated—we miss out on rich opportunities for healing and personal growth. The weight of depression draws us down into our own depths, opening a gateway to the subtle energies of creativity and consciousness.

From a spiritual perspective, depression is known as “a dark night of the soul.” Indeed, theologian and author Thomas Moore said depression is one of the faces of the soul. “When we deny or cover up anything that is at home in the soul, we cannot be fully present, he explains.” Along the same lines, Buddhism regards depression as intrinsic to human existence primarily because emotional suffering inspires the search for wisdom and understanding.

The way out is through.

It’s not easy to look straight into whatever it is that triggers despair. Yet, there—where the work is most intense—we may find the source of our salvation.

As depression forces us to withdraw from the world, it may also bring us into contact with internal perspectives, knowledge, and resources that the outwardly engaged person is too distracted to access. What we discover in our inner landscape may be profound as well as painful. Suffering carries the potential to gift us with a sense of purpose—provided we can raise it up to the light of consciousness.

when death comes

For those of us who travel a sacred path, bouts of despair and desolation become an indispensable part of the journey. The Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung said, “There is no light without shadow … without the suffering of defects there is no progress or ascent.”

Dive deep and discover.

In the midst of depression, it can be tough to convince ourselves that life hasn’t abandoned us. But with the proper guidance the way out is through. Provided we find the inner strength and courage to keep going, we may discover something in the darkness that is infinitely trustworthy.

And so we continue on … sometimes sinking even deeper into the abyss before we can confront the source of our terrible suffering. Yet, precisely because the agony and dangers of the journey arouse such depth of feeling, the rewards are so colossal.

Again and again, we turn and face the terrors of the dark and the wrenching loneliness that lie at the bottom of our own souls. We let ourselves sink down because we can do little else. Helpless. Exhausted. Ashamed. We have given up the struggle. Finally, we may be prepared to understand that the best protection against our pain is to fully embrace it.

Embrace the richness of your inner life.

In our desperate struggle for control we imagined we were fighting to save ourselves from emotional annihilation. Instead, we emerge humbled and awed. We have been led by suffering into the mapless country of faith and the mysteries of the creative divine.

In the following poem, the Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, reminds us to accept the richness of our complex emotional lives without harsh judgment. He asks us to trust the emotional twists and turns that accompany the life process.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Spiritual Journey

Do you struggle with depression?
Many creative people do. Even if you don’t think you have a creative bone in your body, depression may be a sign that your creative energies are blocked or misdirected. Contact me to find out more about my Body-Centered Healing services that support you in integrating the principles of creativity with the healing process. Read related post: Successful Strategies for Dealing With Depression