Smooth as a sunbeam
Lighter than light
My spirit transcends
The clockwork of time
Smooth as a sunbeam
Lighter than light
My spirit transcends
The clockwork of time
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:
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? A desert wanderer, am I longing to be nourished by the thirst for life itself?
I took away three main ideas from Alina N. Feld’s brilliant analysis of depression in Melancholy and the Otherness of God.
First, philosophers from Ancient Greece to modern times have seen the Melancholic as a visionary soul vital to humanity’s recognition of its own simultaneous vulnerability and power. The Melancholic thinks and feels at a higher frequency than “normal” people. This leads to greater distress and untold suffering for the afflicted, but this pain is survivable. Those who attend to the vibrations of what today we call depression become wiser human beings.
Second, living with depression requires courage. The Depressed must feel the fear and proceed anyway. At the heart of Being lies the specter of Nothingness; the Depressed encounters Nothingness but doesn’t back away from it. There is value in appreciating the vertigo of contemplation before the abyss.
Third, in order to reach heaven one must go through hell. Depression feels like hell on earth, but its torment is far from eternal. The life of the Depressed is a spiritual journey, a path to freedom in the face of terror. There is no Resurrection without Crucifixion.
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.
I have long maintained that my depression is a spiritual problem. I never ignored the chemistry behind my illness and I’ve always believed that by taking medication I’d relieve some of my symptoms. But I know my depression goes beyond physical concerns. It’s ultimately led me to metaphysics.
But last week my doctor called to say my thyroid levels were high, which means that my thyroid is underactive. “It’s possible your thyroid issues are affecting your depression,” he said. Notice how I wrote “affecting” above, meaning that my thyroid might be making my depression worse. But what if the proper word is “effecting,” meaning that it’s causing my depression—literally bringing it into existence?
If I could take a pill and “lose” my depression, or at least a great deal of it, within a few weeks—why the hell not? Is it possible the root of my illness lies in areas none of my doctors considered before? What if my biology supersedes my will—my brain, not my mind, being the sole determinant of who I am?
We’re still investigating all treatment possibilities. There’s a chance my depression has affected certain hormones, thus leading to lower thyroid function. A lot’s going on inside of me and it’s all, somehow, connected.
Whatever the outcome, I’ve suffered with depression long enough to sense its impact on my whole being. It has brought me closer to my humanity and helped me view my life in a new light, despite the darkness in which I often find myself.
I’m still drawn to the final chapter of Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, entitled “Psychotherapists or Clergy.” My well-being depends on factors both seen and unseen. Some days I need medicine. Other days I need miracles of a different nature.
British philosopher Colin Wilson died December 5. I hadn’t heard of him until the news of his death. Then I found an essay Wilson wrote for the July/August 2006 issue of Philosophy Now, entitled “Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline.”
Wilson’s discussion of Immediacy Perception and its relation to Meaning Perception struck me with wonder. Immediacy Perception is our awareness of what’s directly in front of us; it’s what we’re looking at or focusing on right now. Meaning Perception is our feeling about what’s happening before us, its significance beyond this moment, and our spiritual connection to it.
Our greatest insights, Wilson argues, occur when both types of perception converge. He writes of the English poet Rupert Brooke who “on a spring morning… sometimes walked down a country road feeling almost sick with excitement.” Brooke was amazed by what he saw on his walk and by the creative act of Seeing. Wilson describes such moments—“looking at things as if they possessed hidden depths of meaning”—as mystical.
It’s like viewing family photos, studying the smile on each face before me, and recognizing the power of love. Or walking up my driveway on a cold night, the habit of reaching for my keys rendered almost magical when recalling the comforts of home.
This, to me, is philosophy in action. When I pull back the curtains of existence—defying all the worry, pain and sadness—I long to see the light behind my world and all the meaning emanating from it.
My life is a word
on the tip
of God’s tongue.
I take my father’s
name in vain.
There’s no reason
for my being here
My life is a thought
ahead of its time
each moment reached
It’s a miracle
to feel so small.
A pebble poised
to alter tides.
The moon beside
itself with laughter.
c b snoad
I remember returning to my hospital room in the dark one night in full-blown Woe Is Me mode. What had I done wrong? Why this illness? Why was I stuck here?
Desperate for answers, I took God to task. My larger concerns focused on why I existed, why I was suffering, why I was left in the world all alone. What’s the point of believing in a god indifferent to my plight?
Anger overtook my sadness. And I felt relieved. In examining the basis of existence I claimed my suffering as my own. But I also took possession of my greatest joys and everything about my life I valued.
Questioning, searching, demanding proof—these are divine pursuits. Knowing that we’ll never know and still going about the business of being alive—this makes the everyday spectacular.
After years of trying to be smarter than everyone else, of being a good boy and following the rules, of being the perfect student, the perfect employee, I was finally able to sit still and cry. My healing began in sadness, strengthened in anger, and took hold in letting go.
The next time you’re stuck at a red light at a busy intersection consider the uniqueness of the moment. Look to your left, to the right, ahead of you and behind. You will never reach this red light again with the same group of drivers in the same order. This seems like a trivial observation, but it carries larger implications. What if every moment is significant and even the most mundane things are part of something greater? That there are cars and red lights and intersections—and that I might meet you there—these are incredible truths.
Many people believe in the existence of the soul. They hold that the soul persists, that mine existed somewhere before my birth, that it will flourish long after my body dies. But what if my soul is something I create on earth—the sum of everything I am and everything I do? It’s the way I carry myself, how people view me, the general impression of my being in the world. After I die, my memory will live on in those I’ve left behind. Even after they die, we all will have been here. This is immortality—as time moves on nothing changes the fact that we lived today.
You’re in a room full of fifty people and what you’re able to see is based on your position. The person next to you sees what he sees, as does everyone else there, each with specific advantages and limitations. But nobody sees the whole room. And nobody sees each person’s perspective. What if a view of the whole room and everyone in it, plus each person’s partial sense of the room and how he or she feels about it, is possible? That I can envision a force of some sort that can grasp all of this at once—this, to me, is God.