Archive for the ‘depression’ tag
Well, the Eden Project seminar series is now done and it is time for me to find another focus for my Jungian interests. One of the big “take aways” from working with a Jungian analyst as seminar leader and eleven others (four women and eight men as seminar participants), was the realisation that we did more than study a book, we also built relationships based on shared interests and passions. Living in a new city with a population of 1,000,000 it isn’t easy getting to know people let alone people who have a curiosity about Jungian psychology. As a special “extra” for me was the discovery that one of the participants belongs to the same “sangha” that I have recently joined and that at least three others have a strong interest in meditation and Buddhism. This adds a lot of extra energy to the dialogues in which we engaged during, between and after seminar sessions.
Now, I have opened up a book that has sat for a long time on my bookshelves waiting for an opportunity to gift me with more thoughts to chew on. The books is The Vertical Labyrinth, by Aldo Carotenuto, a Jungian analyst who lived and worked in Italy. I have read his book Eros and Pathos quite a number of years ago and have hopes that there is much in the book that will enrich me, nourish me so to speak. And, as expected, the opening pages let me know that I hadn’t made a mistake in choosing this book at this time.
Carotenuto begins with looking at an artist and as he speaks about the artist, I heard echoes of myself and what has been my experience too many times over the past decades. Listen:
“Fame pursued this man, but strangely enough this success was completely separate from the feeling he had about himself. For some time he had been troubled by the suspicion that he was dissembling, that he was not, so to speak, up to the situation. . . . the only way to deal with this distressing feeling was complete inactivity. He would have, of course, liked to go on painting, but the block was total: a sad farewell to creativity, a wish for death, the tragic and painful confrontation with his own failure.” (Carotenuto, p. 7)
It is strange how many, including myself, can be seen by others to be very successful, appearing to have life exactly where we want it but beneath the veneer of success is a mantra that denies this success as a sham, a magician’s trick of using smoke and mirrors to disguise the “truth” as we know it, that we are about as unworthy as it is possible to be. When the weight of this self-defined truth gets so loud that we can’t block it out, we crash and freeze. Feeling disappears and we are only left with the voices in the head that come from some dark, inner black-hole. It is a problem of ego, an ego that has lost touch with the foundational inner spirit. It is about loss of soul (or perhaps better expressed – denial of soul) and a loss of relationship to the inner self which is the source of a meaningful life. Carotenuto goes on to say:
“This is a sufficiently common experience that can strike anyone, man or woman, particularly at certain fundamental moments of existence. Perhaps it could also be called fear, but a special kind of fear, without well-defined outlines and endowed with almost mysterious characteristics, paralyzing in part and in part propelling. It is a fear that has to do with the world and with our own being in the face of it. But the world is infinite and gives us no response.” (ibid)
And this takes me right back to the Eden Project and how our desperate search for Magical Other which shifts from parent, to spouse, to work, to authority, to religion and to leaders who have all the answers can never give us what we so desperately search. By projecting to an Other, out these somewhere, we only find a response of silence for that Other who has the answers is found within our psyche. We can express it in art, in music, in dance, in work, in prayer, in so many countless ways – but, can only connect with it within our psyche. Waiting for the world to respond leaves us desperate and abandoned in the returning silence which only tells us that we haven’t been heard or that we are undeserving of being heard or that we are a figment of our own imagination. And, in response to the deafening silence we crash.
We crash and that could be the best thing that has ever happened to us. As Carotenuto has said, “paralyzing in part and in part propelling.” Propelling us to act. The old expression comes to life, “when you find yourself at the bottom, the only way left is to go up.” We are forced to either give up and call it quits, or to begin to fight back to win our soul and our meaning for existence.
It has been a while since my last post. There is no “good” reason for the delay other than to say that my head, heart and spirit were lacking. Sometimes it is just enough to wake up, make required connections with the outer world and then just go blank.
This has been my story for much of April as anyone who reads here regularly will have noticed. Usually I write almost every day. It goes with the practice of reading, taking photos, playing music, meditation and taking care of the body. Yet, there are times when it seems all that one can do is breathe and wait for something to shift. Breathing is the issue, and that issue is mirrored by a resurgence of my seasonal allergies which has me again taking allergy medications which leave me in a bit of a zombie state from time to time.
Today, I changed residences in Calgary. Today my wife returned to our home in Saskatchewan after six days in Calgary with me. Perhaps today will be that shift that is needed, that I have been waiting for. It is raining and puddles are growing, the spring melt has now built small soggy ponds – all signs that spring and new life are here. Now, to see if that new life manifests in waking up and investing in becoming more present.
Tonight I head out for week four of the five week seminar which is focusing on James Hollis’ book, The Eden Project. I will leave much of the “settling in” process to tomorrow as I figure out what is missing and what I need to purchase to begin to treat this new basement suite as my sanctuary. And then, on the weekend I am taking part in Michael Conforti’s workshop with respect to dreams here in Calgary. It is time for me to leave the lethargy and claim my own space in life.
I have always been drawn to feathery scenes involving nature, a face of nature that is gentle in comparison to the pounding waves of a rough surf. There is a sense of peacefulness, a sense of sleeping and dreaming. But the image also points to death as well as rebirth; both co-exist.
I am currently upset with some of the politics of the world, especially the politics of my home country where soul seems to have died leaving a vacuum, a long pause in limbo before there is a renewal of soul. I was grateful to find these words in James Hollis’ book which helped me frame the current situation in the world.
“Where once a peasant could look forward to the towers of the medieval cathedral embodying sacred authority, or the castle expressing secular authority, now the powers of miter and mace are exhausted, replaced by the authority of the state and populist ideologies, fads and fevers – all of which are haunted by a mythological vacuum. The beatific vision is converted to an early retirement on the Sun Coast, the Madonna of Chartres is replaced by the Madonna of MTV, and salvation is found through Halcion, angel dust and the form of crack cocaine called Ecstasy.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 25)
One could easily now suggest that the power of mace that was replaced by the state has now been replaced by the corporate entity and the economy. The mitre has shifted more and more to an ever-expanding burst of churches, New Age philosophies and practices and fundamentalist and repressive theologies, as well as drugs, virtual reality and every sort of addiction and fanaticism one could ever imagine.
This is all so depressing. Thankfully this image reminds me that in the deepest part of the winter, in the bleakest part of the human psyche, there is rebirth, the renewed promise of light, of hope, of animation in which the human soul is recovered.
“Generally speaking, women have a better, more balanced relationship to Eros than men, for they are psychologically more likely to find the ministries of the god in varied venues. Men, having so often the god with success in their endeavors, are devastated by retirement, impotence of any kind, defeat or displacement. Sadly, they are more likely to drift into sadness, depression, substance abuse, suicide, compulsive sexuality, or seek some quick surrogate lover or diverting cause. Accordingly, they handle the death of a marriage or spouse, retirement, or occupational displacement poorly because they have lost contact with their inner soul life.” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p 52)
Hollis’s words have reached deep within me as usual and set me to wondering about how much I have yet to learn. I am blessed with my marriage and know that I would be devastated with the death of the marriage or my spouse. Somehow, I sense that I would survive the devastation because I have regained contact with my inner self, my soul and I have come to terms with aspects of my shadow self as well. I am not so sure if I would have survived it a number of years ago when my soul and life was fully placed in outer life and the people in my outer life.
The will to life is the mark of one’s relationship to Eros. There was a time or two or more in my life when Eros was absent, when the will to engage in life was numbed. I went through the motions as if I was in mourning – and I was in mourning though I didn’t know it – mourning for my own soul. I kept myself busy so as to avoid as much as possible being alone with my self, being alone with the darkness that seemed to crowd out feeling.
As it happens, between writing the first sentence of the last paragraph and the following sentences, I took a time out from writing to eat my evening meal and then do a bit of reading – Fire and Irises, a book by Margaret Nicol. Just a bit of background before I go on – Margaret is from the same area of Canada as I am from, the Ottawa area. Like myself, she has had a career that spanned both education and psychotherapy. We are also close to the same age. I will leave the rest of her story for you discover. The purpose of saying this much is simply to preface the next quote from her book and to say that I could have said the same thing regarding myself:
“From the outside I suppose I looked as though I was fairly ‘together.’ I was a psychologist and held a full-time job, which I did adequately. But that was the cover story. I despaired that I would never be normal and wake up feeling happy like other people.” (Nicol, Fire and Irises, p. 34)
Eros was absent, well almost absent. What I know now is that Eros wasn’t really absent as this god continued to be present though I was unaware of its presence. Teaching and counselling others, coaching, continuing with studies to try and fill the emptiness were signs of Eros’ presence, waiting patiently for me to wake up out of the blackness. Eros showed in the flashes of compassion, the time I spent listening to the fears and anxieties of others. I found the lost ones in my classrooms and let them know that I saw them, that I accepted them just as they were. I just couldn’t do the same for myself.
My dreams started to talk more openly to me about Eros, about a divine spark of life that was still buried within the depths, behind the layers of darkness. Not quite hearing clearly, I wandered through cyberspace connecting with ghosts of people, with the faint whispers of Eros that made its way into my poetry. As I wrote in my dream journal and my poetry, I began to paint the scenes. And then, I saw/heard/felt something beneath the darkness, saw a child that had been abandoned.
Reclaiming that child was a long journey, one that is still in progress if I am to be fully honest. Reclaiming that child meant awakening the darkness within which the child hid. The blackness had protected the child, waiting for the adult to have the tools and courage to peel back the layers of the darkness in order to reclaim the child. In the process I had to be both father and mother to this child hidden in darkness so that the child would believe that it was safe to come out of hiding, that it was safe to again feel. And in the process, Eros began to pulse in the adult. Contact with the inner soul had been made and a journey of transformation was begun.
I took this photo a few days ago and feel that today is a good time to bring it here. The photo points to something that is larger than myself, something that I can only describe as spiritual in nature. The image pulls me to be more of a human, someone who doesn’t settle for the minimum, someone who settles into a dullness.
“We do not serve our children, our friends and partners, our society by living partial lives, and being secretly depressed and resentful. We serve the world by finding what feeds us, and, having been fed, then share our gift with others. (Hollis, What Matters Most, p. 43)
I have to admit to spending much of my life nursing a secret depression, a depression well masked so that when the dam broke that held the depression in the buried depths, it took all who knew me by surprise. But what had happened was more of a failure of the outer world to feed my soul enough so that I could continue burying the depression.
“One of the signs of the fact that the psyche moves on, whether we will it conscious or not, is the appearance of boredom, ennui, loss of energy. When we are doing what the psyche wants, the energy is there and the excitement is palpable.” (Hollis, page 44)
Yes, I was bored with my life, with myself. It was getting harder and harder to open my eyes and fully see the world that lay stretched before me. My running regime began to suffer and I became slower, less invested in continuing the work. I would crash and do as little as I could get away with in all aspects of my life. Of course, this was a gift as it forced me to admit that I was in trouble and that I needed to do something about it. Now, looking back, I am grateful for the crash as it gave me the kick in the pants to finally do something to allow me to regain my soul, to become reanimated.
With the crash and the admitting to myself that I was burying myself in darkness, I was able to see that there was light in the darkness, light such as these rays of light that pierce through the thick dark clouds.
I have to admit that I haven’t been doing as well as I thought since the day my mother died. I had thought that I was prepared for her death knowing that it was coming and having had a week-long visit with her in order to say our good-byes. It took four days for the tears to finally come and allow the pressure to ease up.
I descended into a darkness. I felt an intense guilt about still being alive even though it seemed a part of me had died; it was almost as if the creative inner force within me, my very soul had died. I wanted to disappear, forever, into that darkness. I was forgetting to breathe. A vise had seized my lower stomach and was squeezing for all it was worth and all I wanted was for it to stop, for stop to the pressure and pain.
But, I was not alone through this. My good wife was there as well. It is not easy being with one who is often not in this world. That we were on holidays, whose dates were of our choosing more than a month ago, when my mother died was yet another blessing though it tainted the idea of this being a holiday. I didn’t have to bury feeling even more while I would have gone through the motions of teaching. I had a time, space and place to go through this process.
Meditating at least twice a day while here in the Philippines, having adopted this routine of a morning meditation on the balcony and an afternoon meditation in a secluded beach location where the sound of the waves add to the meditative experience, has provided me no small measure of additional release. Now, with this post, it feels as though there has been a shift and I am now emerging out of the darkness.
Today’s photos were taken by my wife. The scene is a cliff-side cave quite a distance south from where we are staying. The rock was hard and sharp, but for some reason, this was okay. At least it let me know that once again, I can feel.
How appropriate after writing about depression to find this image on my way to classes early this morning. If there is a picture possible about what depression might look like, then, for me, this is it. The actual sky was dark, but not this dark and the sun was weaker than it appears here. Light plays tricks on a camera as it tries to cope with images taken of the direct sun, even a sun filtered by layers of clouds. The camera paints a darker scene with a stronger sun. I then think that perhaps even this is trying to tell me something for the camera doesn’t really lie when it shows me something that I thought was different. There is more than what I see, more than I understand about what I see.
I then think of my own experience with depression when I entered mid-life. The world I saw was much different than the world those around me at the time saw though we all saw the same scene. In depression I didn’t have full access to my mental capacity nor my senses. My range of vision was more like I was wearing blinders which cut off all peripheral scenes. The world had less depth, more two-dimensional. Even sound was muted. If I payed any attention, it was only to the bits of the world that mimicked my mood. But I didn’t see and note all of this at the time. I thought that the world had changed; I didn’t see it was not the world, but my self that had muffled and filtered. Depression is called abaissement du niveau mental for a reason.
Though my dreams were talking to me, though the natural world was talking to me, I was deaf. It was time for help and help came in the guise of a guide. That’s one of the important things that come to one when life ceases to have depth and meaning, a guide. A real guide will coax images, sensations and fantasies into existence, images that point back at the blockages of energy and in doing so, point to new ways of thinking, doing and being that are necessary so that the journey can continue.
As I went walking later in the day, after writing up the first part of this post, I saw that the day had become even more bleak, grayer and darker with thick air. It made me think of how depression is not limited to individual people but can often seize a community or a country. In small communities, a tragedy involving young people often steals the energy and vitality from the community. It is only after a period of grieving and healing that the community can again find a new way to go forward. In the modern world we see a bleakness descend over whole countries. We call it recession and depression and we dig in, bury our heads and wait for the darkness to pass. But like an individual, a guide is needed for the collective psyche, a guide that will invoke active imagination which will bring new possibilities and new hope.
Who will be our guide? What fantasies will our collective imagination produce? How do we get there from here?
I took this photo earlier today, just before I ate my lunch. The scene was quite near the apartment, less than 50 metres away. Because it was lunch time, the people who work at hard, physical jobs such as taking care of the boulevard green spaces, often quickly eat a small lunch then use their time to rest. They have learned the art of sleeping on pavement and hard ground at a moment’s notice. I guess one could say that they have mastered the art of energy conservation.
In Jungian terms, psychic energy is often referred to as libido:
“All psychological phenomena can be considered as manifestations of energy, in the same way that all physical phenomena have been understood as energic manifestations ever since Robert Mayer discovered the law of the conservation of energy. Subjectively and psychologically, this energy is conceived as desire. I call it libido, using the word in its original sense, which is by no means only sexual.” (Jung, C.W. Volume IV, paragraph 567)
The photo talks about conservation of energy and about the absence of energy, at least in terms of conscious energy. Digging further into my texts to see where the absence of conscious energy would take me, I soon found myself looking at the word depression. Interesting. As a therapist I have often been faced with clients having serious issues with depression. In their waking life they had little energy to perform tasks, to be present in their relationships, to care about themselves or their work. Since I learned long ago in science classes that energy is neither created or destroyed, it made sense that the energy that used to be present in waking life had to have gone somewhere in the psyche. But where? If not in the conscious psyche, it must then be in the unconscious psyche.
“The unconscious has simply gained an unassailable ascendancy; it wields an attractive force that can invalidate all conscious contents – in other words, it can withdraw libido from the conscious world and thereby produce a ‘depression,’ an abaissemnet du niveau mental (Janet). But as a result of this we must, according to the law of energy, expect an accumulation of value – i.e. libido – in the unconscious.” (Jung, C.W. Volume VII, paragraph 63)
Since the energy has gone underground, so-to-speak, in order to regain energy in the conscious state we must do the work of connecting with the unconscious via dream work, or via active imagination. In a way this work is not much different from being a plumber and unplugging a drain or a toilet so that the water (energy) can again run free.
For myself, continuing to work with active imagination sort of acts as a way of preventing an accumulation of libido (energy) in the unconscious as well as having too much energy located in the outer psyche (ego). I do better when there is balance between inner and outer
Sometimes a picture just jumps out and says, “See me, see me!” This was one of those pictures for me. I often take doorway and window shots as they are “natural” frames. Doorways and windows are structures that provide openings into another place. Closed doors and windows leave one wondering and leave one shut out. Open doors and windows are almost an invitation to enter, to risk.
This photo has a hint of colour amid the darker colours of the wall that separates this side of existence and the version of existence on the other side of the window which is a curious blend of door and window – that has been opened. Within the inner world, green leaves on a small bush that talks about life on the opposite side. The wall behind the bush is a blend of darkness and white, a suggestion that this alternate world is not necessarily a perfect place.
As you can see, I am projecting a lot on this scene, using the image through active imagination to create a dialogue with my inner self. This inner world is more mythological than it is defined. The inner world is a place that defies clarity. But then again, as I am learning as the years and decades pass, the outer world is also a place that defies clarity. The lack of clarity often leads to a sense of depression, a questioning of purpose and meaning. Many, unable to handle the ambiguous nature of living in this outer world, turn to some sort of religion in an attempt to find answers to their personal questions of self and meaning, especially during times of unrest such as is being experienced in the world today.
“Or, consider anxiety, that steady state affect of our existential, precarious existence. It is hard to imagine an organism which experiences equanimity in the face of its imminent annihilation, although that counterpoise has been the chief goal of most world religions. Many of those religions seek surcease of suffering through sleight of hand, the promise of an afterlife, which after all is simply offering the ego the promise of a second go at it, presumably under better conditions. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 104)
Is this why I am drawn to doorways and windows? With no religion to turn to with their promises of another life, another world, I am forced to find a different answer to my personal questions of purpose and meaning in a world that isn’t particularly concerned with my personal continued existence.
Today’s image was taken at Hong Mei Park here in ChangZhou, China. The plum blossom is one of the symbols of the Chinese New Year, a symbol of new life. As one site notes about these plum blossoms: “The plum blossoms burst forth at the end of winter on seemingly lifeless branches. They stand for courage and hope.” As I walked through the park, fittingly named Red Plum Park (Hong Mei Gong Yuan), the thousands of plum trees were in various stages of coming to life with red, pink and white blossoms. The park was busy with people and their cameras. For me, the visual symbol of China is a scene which features leafless branches alive with vivid red plum blossoms. I have this scene displayed on my living room wall, the only art work I have bought in China. The walk through the park was enjoyable because of the blossoms and also because of the hint of warmth to come. I left the park knowing that in a few more weeks, when warmer weather arrives, I will return to take more photos and to relax and sit still with the warmth and the scenes.
It’s interesting to see how I am responding to the symbols of hope and courage. There is a lightness of spirit, a lifting of shadows with the approach of spring. I see this lightening of spirit happening to those in my life as well as to the world at large. What is happening around the globe, whether in Egypt or Libya or Wisconscin, U.S.A., is a surge of hope and demonstrations of courage. The darkness hasn’t disappeared, but the flames have been rekindled to lift depression.