The soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of gray, blue and black. To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange – the brilliant colors. In a society that is defended against the tragic sense of life, depression will appear as an enemy, an unredeemable malady; yet in such a society, devoted to light, depression, in compensation, will be unusually strong.
Care of the soul requires our appreciation of these ways it presents itself. Faced with depression, we might ask ourselves, “What is it doing here? Does it have some necessary role to play?” Especially in dealing with depression, a mood close to our feelings of mortality, we must guard against the denial of death that is so easy to slip into. Even further, we may have to develop a taste for the depressed mood, a positive respect for its place in the soul’s cycles.
Some feelings and thoughts seem to emerge only in a dark mood. Suppress the mood, and you will suppress those ideas and reflections. Depression may be as important a channel for valuable “negative” feelings, as expressions of affection are for the emotions of love. Feelings of love give birth naturally to gestures of attachment. In the same way, the void and grayness of depression evoke an awareness and articulation of thoughts of a need for God, otherwise hidden behind the screen of lighter moods. Melancholy gives the soul an opportunity to express a side of its (God relationship) nature that is as valid as any other, but is hidden out of our distaste for its darkness and bitterness.
Today we seem to prefer the word depression over sadness and melancholy. Perhaps its Latin form sounds more clinical and serious. The depressed person sometimes thinks that the good times are all past, that there is nothing left for the present or the future. These thoughts and feelings, sad as they are, favor the soul’s desire to be both earthly and in eternity, and so in a strange wat they can be beneficial.
Sometimes we associate depression with literal aging, but it is more precisely a matter of the soul’s aging. Having been identified with youth, the soul now takes on important qualities of age that are positive and helpful. If age is denied, soul becomes lost in an inappropriate clinging to youth.
Depression grants the gift of experience not as a literal fact but as an attitude toward yourself. You get a sense of having lived through something, of being older and wiser. You know that life is suffering, and that knowledge makes a difference. You can’t enjoy the bouncy, carefree innocence of youth any longer, a realization that entails both sadness because of the loss, and pleasure in a new feeling of self-acceptance and self-knowledge. This awareness of age has a halo of melancholy around it, but it also enjoys a measure of nobility.
It’s difficult to let go of youth, because that release requires an acknowledgment of death. I suspect that those of us who opt for eternal youth are setting ourselves up for heaqvy bouts of depression. If you allow depression to visit, you will feel the change in your body, in your muscles, and on your face – some relief from the burden of youthful enthusiasm and the “unbearable lightness of being.”
Maybe we could appreciate the role of depression in the economy of the soul more if we could only take away the negative connotations of the word. What if “depression” were simply a state of being, neither good nor bad, something the soul does in God’s plan and for God’s reasons. Aging brings out the flavors of a personality. The individual emerges over time, the way fruit matures and ripens. Melancholy thoughts carve out an interior space where wisdom/God’s plan can take the residence.
In this sense, depression is a process that fosters a valuable coagulation of thoughts and emotions. As we age, our ideas, formerly light, rambling, and unrelated to each other, become more densely gathered into values and a spiritual life, giving our lives substance and firmness.
Because of its painful emptiness, it is often tempting to look for a way out of depression. But entering into its mood and thoughts can be deeply satisfying. Depression is sometimes described as a condition in which there are no ideas – nothing to hang on to. But that is when we are forced to realize that we can not control our life and that we need to find another way. This is when the Holy Spirit can step in and help us turn over control of our life to him.
When, as Christian Lifestyle trainers and friends, we are the observers of depression and are challenged to find a way to deal with it in others, we can bring them into a deep loving relationship with their God. We could learn from Christian training and follow its guidance, becoming more patient within the Holy Spirit’s guidance, lowering our excited expectations, taking a watchful attitude as this soul deals with God’s plan in utter seriousness and spiritually. In our friendship, we could offer it a place of acceptance and containment. Sometimes, of course, depression, like any emotion, caazn go beyond ordinary limits, becoming a completely debilitating illness.
One great anxiety associated with depression is that it will never end, that life will never again be joyful and active. This is one of the feelings that is part of the pattern – the sense of being trapped. This anxiety seems to decrease when we stop fighting the elements the elements that are in the depression, and turn instead toward learning how to love God better and how to be closer to him.
Insinuations of Death to Self-control
People of all ages sometimes say from their depression that life is over, that their hopes for the future have proved unfounded. They are disillusioned because the values and understandings by which they have controlled their lives for years suddenly make no sense.
Care of the soul requires acceptance of all this dying to self-control. The temptation is to champion our familiar ideas about life right up to the point of conversion, but it is necessary in the end to give them up, to enter into the moment of the soul making its most important decision. If the symptom is felt as the sense that life is over, and that there’s no use in going on, then an affirmative approach to this feeling might be a conscious, artful giving-in to the emotions and thoughts of ending that depression has stirred up.
The emptiness and dissolution of meaning that are often present in depression show how attached we can become to our ways of controlling our lives. Often our personal plans and our control of our life seem to be all too neatly wrapped, leaving little room for God’s control. Depression comes along then and opens up a hole. Depression makes holes in our theories and assumptions, but even this painful process can be honored as a necessary and valuable source of healing.
This peculiar kind of education – learning our limits – may not be a conscious effort only; it may come upon us as a captivating mood of depression, at least momentarily wiping out our happiness, and sending us off into fundamental appraisals of our knowledge, our assumptions, and the very purpose of our existence.
Coming to Terms with Depression
Many people are full of religion, close to life, empathic, and connected to people around them. But these very people may have difficulty LOVING GOD WITH THEIR WHOLE HEART and moving closer toward that goal and therefore to see what is going on, and to relate their life experiences to their ideas and values. This difficulty of loving God with their whole heart separates them from God’s close involvement with their life. We see this development in people as they reflect on their past with some distance and detachment. To suddenly find need for withdrawal and with vague emotions of hopelessness. Such feelings have a place and work spiritually on the soul.
If we persist in our modern way of treating depression as an illness to be cured only mechanically and chemically, we may loose the gifts of soul that only depression can provide. We may find it exhausting trying to keep life bright and warm at all costs. Identity is felt as one’s soul find’s its relationship with God. We know who we are because we have uncovered the purpose we were created. It has been sifted out by depressive thought, “reduced,” in the basic point to it’s existence.
Care of the soul asks for a cultivation of the larger world depression represents. When we speak clinically of depression, we think of an emotional or behavioral condition. For the soul, depression is an initiation, a rite of passage. If we think that depression, so empty and dull, is void of a spiritual factor, we may overlook God’s purpose for it. In our cities, boarded-up homes and failing businesses signal economic and social “depression.” In these “depressed” areas of our cities, decay is cut off from will and conscious participation, appearing only as an external manifestation of a problem or an illness of the soul.
We also see depression, economically and emotionally, as literal failure and threat, as a surprise breaking in upon our healthcare plans and expectations. Hospice workers will tell you how much a family can gain when the depressive facts of a terminal illness are discussed openly. We might also take our own illnesses, our visits to the doctor and to the hospital, as a reminder of our mortality. We ar not caring for the soul in these situations when we protect our-selves from their impact.
Because depression is one of the faces of the soul, acknowledging it into our relationships foster intimacy with our God. If we deny or cover up anything that is at home in the soul, then we cannot be fully present to others. Hiding the difficult factors results in a loss of soul; speaking about them and from them offers a way toward genuine community and intimacy with our God.
The Healing Powers of Depression
Care of the soul doesn’t mean wallowing in the symptoms, but it does mean trying to learn from depression what qualities the soul needs. Even further, it attempts to weave those depressive qualities into the fabric of life – coldness, isolation, darkness, emptiness – makes a contribution to the texture of everyday life. We discover that depression uses the Holy Spirit as a guiding spirit whose job it is to carry the soul into a better relationship with their God.