I caught an amazing discussion last night on MPR about depression and spirituality. I especially connected with the disucssion on how the depths of our emotions can bring awareness and glimpses of the soul.
I think the topic is timely and applicable to many of us. Whether or not you have experienced depression, I encourage you to take the time to listen to the program.
Some excerpts from the program:
“When I was going through the depression, I had the sense that many of the qualities by which I had defined myself were abandoning me and that I was no longer the person whom I had previously been. And yet, there was something within me that seemed to stay the same, something essential remained at the core, and I thought, ‘What is that essential thing?'”
“Going into my experience of depression, I thought of the spiritual life as sort of climbing a mountain until you got to this high, elevated point where you could touch the hand of God or, you know, see a vision of wholeness and beauty. The spiritual life at that time had nothing to do, as far as I was concerned, with going into the valley of the shadow of death. Even though that phrase is right there at the heart of my own spiritual tradition, that wasn’t what it was about for me. So on one level, you think, ‘This is the least spiritual thing I’ve ever done.’ And the soul is absent, God is absent, faith is absent. All of the faculties that I depended on before I went into depression were now utterly useless.
And yet, as I worked my way through that darkness, I sometimes became aware that way back there in the woods somewhere was this sort of primitive piece of animal life. I mean, just some kind of existential reality, some kind of core of being, of my own being, I don’t know, maybe of the life force generally, and that was somehow holding out the hope of life to me. And so I now see the soul as that wild creature way back there in the woods that knows how to survive in very hard places, knows how to survive in places where the intellect doesn’t, where the feelings don’t, and where the will cannot.”
“My mother would say things like, ‘I talk to God. I talk directly to God, and he answers me.’ And I always sort of had the image when I was a child that God was this, you know, sort of old man, half-shaven, in a bathrobe who had a direct phone line to Sylvia, my mother, but didn’t do very much to help her. I was always – I thought, you know, ‘If she has such a direct line, why doesn’t he make her better?’
What I was told about my mother being in bed so much was that she had warts on her feet. It was kind of an odd thing to have been told. And the warts had a wonderful name. They had an Italian name. It was verruca, which to me sounded kind of like a Hebrew prayer, Baruch atah. And so I was sort of fascinated with the word. But I would sit outside the door to my mother’s bedroom, and I would hear her crying or just sort of wait for her to wake up. And that was very much the experience of my childhood.
I remember even a very strong sort of sensation walking through the door. We lived in an apartment during that middle part of my childhood, from the time I was about seven to 10. And I remember walking through the door and really feeling a change in the atmosphere from the sort of vivid outside world where I loved to be. Whatever the weather, I loved to be outdoors. And I would walk inside and I would feel a kind of permeable darkness, and that was my mother’s depression.”