Tag Archives: meaning

Possibilities For Communion

Matthew Ratcliffe, in Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology, provides the most accurate description of depression I’ve ever read. For the depressed person:

“The practical significance of things is somehow diminished; they no longer offer up the usual possibilities for activity. Associated with this, there may be a sense of impossibility; possibilities appear as ‘there but impossible to actualize.’ There can also be a sense of estrangement, as possibilities that are inaccessible to self appear as ‘accessible to others with little effort.’ Other people might continue to offer possibilities for communion, but these possibilities appear at the same time as ‘impossible for me to take up.’ Together, these alterations in the possibility space constitute a feeling of isolation, which is experienced as irrevocable because depression does not include a sense of its own contingency. The resultant estrangement from the world amounts to a change in the sense of reality and belonging—things no longer appear available; they are strangely distant, not quite ‘there’ anymore. Certain kinds of possibility may also be heightened. A world that no longer offers up invitations to act can at the same time take the form of an all-enveloping threat, before which one is passive, helpless and alone. Hope, practical significance and interpersonal connection are not just gone. Their loss is very much part of the experience; it is felt.” (71)

Ratcliffe argues that most people see the world (without thinking about it) as a possibility space open to practical actions and meaningful projects. The depressed person inhabits a different world altogether, even as she stands before us in the same room. Her depression precedes her experience of being present in the world.

It’s not a matter of losing one’s hopes; the depressed person lacks a capacity to hope for any meaningful life at all. She is estranged from the world of non-depressed people for whom possibilities appear “accessible with little effort.” The possibility of believing in possibility itself feels impossible.

Hers is an altered world marked by inhibition and indecision in which she feels inextricably trapped. Her future is not her own, and she is “passive, helpless and alone” before it. Good things won’t happen for her; only bad things will happen to her.

What does all this mean? Why did I choose this passage?

While Ratcliffe’s detailed analysis of depression helps me understand my illness, I wrote this post for people who don’t know how awful depression feels. I hope my blog offers possibilities for communion regarding an illness millions of people across the world know all too well but often lack the words to describe.

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Four Wheels Rolling

County Line Road

1

The whole world beside me
I have done all this before
Trees pavement sky & the long long drive
Just watched a game
At my sister’s place off County Line Road
It wasn’t the score that mattered
The salsa chips or soda pop no
But being there
For a moment
All my own

2

I’m in the driver’s seat
AWARE
Returning home for toothpaste pajamas & dreams
To rest the arms legs head shoulders fingers toes lungs & mouth
The brain heart ankles feet hair skin & face
But not the Soul
The Soul sleeps but never rests
The Soul is full but never satisfied
The Soul is AWARE of its awareness

3

Still in the driver’s seat
The whole world beside me
Driving up & down
County Line Road
Up & down
County Line Road
AWARE of everything
Absolutely
Of this & that & so much more

4

I know my eyes are here but it’s not their seeing
I am SEEING
I know my hands are here but it’s not their feeling
I am FEELING
I know my life is here but it’s more than me
I am BEING

5

We anticipatory creatures of maybe
Oh how we struggle
All this flesh in the way

6

AWARE of the deer
AWARE of the moon
AWARE of the radio
AWARE of the distance
AWARE of the thin white lines
AWARE of the luscious curls of wind
AWARE of the world living through me

7

Never a beginning or end
Always STRUGGLE & UNREST
Struggle & unrest
Bodies tied to infinite loops
Of struggle & unrest

8

Bodies bodies everywhere
And not a mind to think
Stressing bodies
Asking what we’re doing
How we’re doing
What we do for a living
Please the Doing will be done & yes
The Opportunity will find me yes &
Please the Moment will define me yes
For I am AWARE

9

Life is not a series of objects
To be moved from one side
To another to another
Progress is not living
Production is not living
Profit is not living

10

Oh the ways
The many many clever ways
We choose to struggle

11

Four wheels rolling
Up & down
County Line Road
I dream of a destination
Called home
Four wheels rolling
Up & down
County Line Road
Four wheels rolling
The way four wheels roll
I dream of a world
Beyond the beyond
Called home

c b snoad
draft 10-11-02
edit 1-29-17

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The Thirst For Life Itself

Not long ago I was asked in therapy to consider my purpose. I thought for a moment, careful to select my words.

My purpose, simply put, is threefold:

  • To love and be loved
  • To be present for others
  • To accept help

I realize after years in therapy that I can’t discuss my recovery without touching on spiritual matters. Even without uttering “God” or “faith,” I’m restless for meaning in a mechanically operated, perpetually instant world.

Perhaps I’m a secret believer. A reformed cynic. Maybe identifying as agnostic spoke to my struggle with indecision and self-ambivalence. Maybe this mask no longer fits.

Has my writing taken a religious turn? Is my soul a desert wanderer? Or a longing to be nourished, the thirst for life itself?

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Cosmic Insignificance

Nietzsche on the nature of reflection:

When we try to examine the mirror in itself we discover nothing but things upon it. If we want to grasp the things we finally get hold of nothing but the mirror. This, in the most general terms, is the history of knowledge.

I could use the bulk of this post to conduct a close reading of the above quote, to pick apart its internal logic, illustrate its underlying tensions. But today I’ll concern myself not with what Nietzsche says, but instead what my choosing of this passage says about me.

Essentially I want to know why I’m drawn to philosophy in the first place and how this interest relates to my depression and anxiety.

Does a depressed way of thinking lead me to agree with Nietzsche that attempting to know something is futile? This sounds simple enough. My misery loves the company of Nietzsche’s pessimistic worldview.

In addition, does my anxiety recognize itself in Nietzsche’s thoughts on the impossibility of knowledge? Do I suffer from metaphysical hypochondria—the constant fear that reality isn’t real, that I have no self, that the world is an illusion? The vertigo of knowing that nothing can be known for sure? Makes sense. Afraid I’ll float away, I ground myself in doubt.

But the psyche is an ocean and so far we’ve only touched the surface. I argue that choosing this quote reflects a deep-seated existential angst that manifested itself long before any symptoms of my illness appeared.

I suffer from depression and anxiety because my entire being is engaged in an existential crisis, and has so since birth. My illness is both an expression of and response to this crisis. When I’m depressed I feel nothing because I am, at my core, Nothing. When I’m anxious I worry this Void will consume me.

Some people lift weights, get high or go to the shooting range as a means of coping with their cosmic insignificance.

I go to the library, where great minds thrive. And there I find Nietzsche. And there I find joy.

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The Secret Time Won’t Tell

I’ve written many times about our inability to know the world, to understand and tame its restless energies. Often in this thought I’ve assumed a pessimistic tone, arguing that trying to know anything is futile. But that’s the coward’s way out. There are truths we can grasp; that most of the world remains unknowable does not mean nothing matters in the end.

This week I’ve been reading The Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism, published in 1988 by Donald A. Crosby. Among the many facets of nihilism that Crosby examines, is the nihilist’s contention that nothing is certain and thus life is absurd and meaningless. Crosby concludes much of what I mentioned above, and he finds the nihilist’s perspective regarding the impossibility of knowing anything as shortsighted and dangerous.

Crosby discusses God a lot. He writes that, at least in the Christian tradition, people assign limitless knowledge to God. Humans are destined to search and search for answers, but we’re fundamentally incapable of finding everlasting truths. To illustrate why this realization need not lead us to despair, Crosby includes an insightful passage attributed to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:

If God held all truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left the persistent striving for the truth, and while warning me against eternal error, should say, Choose! I should humbly bow before his left hand, and say, “Father, give thy gift; the pure truth is for thee alone.”

Say we suddenly knew everything. The Quest would end. There’d be nothing left to ponder. No mysteries to uncover.

The Truth is clever, elusive. Although silence is often the answer to my calling out, in my persistent striving I’ll keep listening for the Secret time won’t tell.

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Edge Of Tomorrow

“Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future.” –Mikhail Bakhtin

I propel myself into the future full of Desire, Hope and Freedom. Tomorrow is virgin territory, a blank canvas, an open field to unleash urges long suppressed. But, if I’m lucky, there’s a tomorrow after that. My Desire, Hope and Freedom speed ahead, relentless in their pursuit of fulfillment.

Of course there’s a twist. There can be no “fulfillment”; I must carry on knowing that satisfaction is impossible. I have glimpses of contentment, but ultimate relief remains out of sight. The chase proceeds, my body threatens to outrun me. Behind each rush the Craving lies.

The pessimist declares my efforts futile. The optimist insists life would be meaningless if I didn’t try.

 

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Beyond Belief

I lack the strength to fully accept or reject the existence of God.

I can’t identify with hardline atheists who know beyond a doubt there is no God. Duped by the almighty power of reason, non-believers turn to a religion with its own zealots: science. The laboratory serves as the site of the uber-rationalist’s Divine Liturgy. He chides the theologian for naming that which he cannot see and proceeds to diagram particles invisible to the naked eye.

But let’s be honest: I’m not fond of Sunday services and I’m uncomfortable with the doctrine of original sin. I loath the hypocrisy of pious folks who skim the Bible for commandments that apply to everyone but themselves.

I find God in the chorus of a Nirvana song. Long legs and high heels. The vibrant rhythms of a Ginsberg poem. The rush that chocolate provides. I yearn for meaning, to go beyond belief. To recognize my being completely.

God or not, I live for the possibility of joy. And the strength to know I deserve it.

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