Depression: The Open Secret

Do not run from sadness. It may contain medicine.

I often get excited when someone reports uncaused and inexplicable sadness, seemingly unrelated to their life circumstances. I see sadness, like all the other waves in the ocean of life, as an invitation, an invocation, a calling to open up to deeper truths about existence, to recognise our inherent vastness.

Life is bitter-sweet. However beautiful things are right now, they will pass. Everything is impermanent and groundless. You will die, at least in this incarnation. Everyone you love will pass on. Your success may turn to failure. What you have, you may lose. Your body will cease to function in the way it does now. Nothing is certain, everything is cast into doubt. The water of relative existence slips through our fingers so easily. Our joy is tinged with sadness. Our bliss is pierced with nostalgia. The yin and the yang of things won’t let you settle on an independent opposite. There is no home for the homeless here.

Contacting this deeper, bitter-sweet truth of existence, encountering the raw ground of being, unprotected and unprepared may initially present as melancholy and even despair, but that existential disturbance may contain unlimited riches.

At the point of despair, when the ground falls away from under our feet and our lives spin out of control (were they ever ‘in’ control?), we are often medicated, or we self-medicate, with pills or sex or alcohol or meditation. Science would like to reduce our existential human predicament to the dysfunction of brain chemicals, easily remedied with a few innocent pills prescribed by someone with a hard-won certificate. And perhaps those theories have validity – through certain lenses. But there are so many other lenses. Infinite lenses. There are myriad sides to this diamond of human experience, and it would be a shame to reduce ourselves to chemicals or neurons.

If Jesus had taken anti-depressants on the cross, he – and we – would have missed the point.

Perhaps our depression is not a sickness (though I will never argue with anyone who wants to defend that view) but a call to break out, to let go, to lose the old structures and stories we have been holding up about ourselves and the world and rest deeply in the truth of who we really are. Conventional wisdom would have you turn away from melancholy rather than face it. Well-meaning friends and family and self-help gurus may want to fix you, to get you ‘back to normal’, to make you more ‘positive’, whatever that means. What if the ‘normal’ no longer fits? What if you need to shed your half-shed skin, not climb back into it? What if sadness, and pain, and fear, and all of the waves in life’s ocean, just want to move in you, to finally express themselves creatively and not be pushed away?

What if you are not nearly as limited as you were led to believe you were? What if you are vast enough to hold and contain all of life’s energies, the ‘positive’ and the ‘negative’? What if you are beyond both, an ocean of consciousness, unified, boundless and free, in which even the deepest despair has a resting place?

What if your depression was simply you calling yourself back Home, in the only way you knew how?