January 13 2013
Last week I wrote the piece titled: “Depression. Helpful? Who’d have Thought!” The reactions it generated were instructive. First, depression is not an uplifting topic – even though I wrote of having seen that it is merely the dark side of an important truth. Then I said that all of temporal existence is empty – which, if not understood sounds really depressing!
What we want is freedom. What we often get is the feeling that things are not going our way – that freedom is farther from our grasp now, at this point in life, than when we started out feeling young and full of possibility! Good news awaits!
These are words from the “Heart Sutra”
“Form does not differ from Emptiness And Emptiness does not differ from Form. Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form. The same is true for Feelings, Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.”
No matter how you are experiencing emptiness, you are seeing a very important truth – you are in possession of a powerful insight into the nature of being. Anyway you see it – if you embrace the power of this truth you have taken an important step toward liberation!
Let’s do a really quick recap of last week in order to make all this clear.
For reasons that all look silly in retrospect, I’d cooked up a nasty pot of depressing emotions. Added to this, I saw emptiness. At first, “emptiness,” seemed to be just an emotional perspective – the natural conclusion of the negative angle I was looking from. Looking closer I realized that all created things – all the things that show up in the world – all of them are… empty – all the time!
The longer I looked at it – the less I was seeing just nasty blackness – as more and more, I began to appreciate that even though I had stumbled into it backwards, still, I had identified something important. I was recognizing the “left hand” or dark side of a timeless insight. “All form is emptiness. Emptiness is not other than form.”
So – we are past the depression thing and working to flesh out an insight. We are now looking directly into the nature of creation, form and emptiness, One coin with two faces – forever dancing into and out of view.
Emptiness, it’s a tricky word – as most who read this will wonder how something like a home, a car, our household appliances – the whole list of things… how can we say that they are empty?
Used in this way, emptiness means; “All beings and phenomena are empty of independent, permanent essence.” Emptiness speaks of things that can and will be taken from us. Most will not have things taken from them by force. Instead, as a result of the passing of time, we simply lay most of it aside. The rest will crumble. And with the passing of time, so will we. All the while our true self longs to be united with true things – we are moved to join our being with that which has “permanent essence!”
Feeling empty in the face of material, “plenty” means that a person is really sensing their true identity. They are experiencing the fact that we are actually spirit beings who will one day leave all the things of this world behind. How can this statement be proved? Consider how the substantial things of this world both tempt and torment us while things of no substance, love, hope and joy sooth and satisfy as nothing else is able.
To have money and possessions – to have food and a home – to be provided for in all material ways – and to them confess that I felt depressed, struck one reader as being inexcusably self indulgent! His perspective was that so many who share this world with us have little and manage to live, apparently happy lives, never giving voice to feelings of depression or having thoughts about how all of life is empty. Well – maybe they are perfectly content. But I hope not. This would be to rob them of important truths. It is not just Northern Europeans and American who seek spiritual liberation.
What I saw –and the reason I titled the previous article as I did is because no matter how much or how little one has – most people will feel depression at some time in their life. The gift – the reason depression can be helpful is that what is really happening inside the person is a spiritual surge to wake up – to recognize our true identity! Depression occurs when we are paying too much attention to the outward shape and feel of life – to all the “Things” of this world. This can be experience from both the place of having and the perspective of wanting.
“Have’s and Have-not’s” – we have all, to some degree set our affections on things that only existence temporarily. To live in this world we must take part in it – take parts of it! Just remember that because all these things are decaying – we’d best not put too much trust in them. We should never think that they are the measure of our ultimate security.
Sounds sensible, but occasionally, in a flash of realization – we see that as flimsy as, “things” are – we are habituated to having them around. We become uncomfortable if it appears that they will no longer be available. Remember how people freaked this past year – prior to Christmas when it was announced that “Hostess Twinkies” would soon be gone from store shelves forever?
Depression is a measure of the degree to which we are still clinging to things. I am not embarrassed to confess that even though I write these articles every week, encouraging a higher spiritual perspective – I can be just as blind as the next person – I can and did find myself invested in temporary things. Sensing their deterioration and the certainty that sooner or later they would completely disappear – I felt depressed. I felt the truth – that anything in this world that I am hanging onto and depending on for comfort or courage – all of this is empty.
Depression became my friend when I realized that it was showing me where I needed to let go. Depression became a tool as I began to allow the feeling to point out the exact areas in my life that I needed to surrender.
The article, “Depression… Helpful?, Who’d have Thought!” was my invitation to readers to join me in an exercise of reverse awakening. What I mean is simply that any area of my life that causes me fear, pain or generalized unhappiness is a door – a way toward freedom. Pain, it was occurring to me, would make a great teacher if it did not hurt so much. The truth is – the pain is a great teacher precisely because it is painful! Without the pain, we would not pay attention. As a friend and teacher had tried to tell me for years, “Our angst is our liberation!”
Clinging, or attachment – call it what you will – all the temporary things of life that we try to hang onto to secure our safety and happiness are burning – consumed by the forces that brought them into being! This is the reason that people feel depressed.
In our heart, at the core of our being there is an eye that never blinks. It sees where we are placing our trust. As in my case it knows when we have placed too much trust in a world that is slipping away. Just like the pain response – a hand on a hot pan –emotional pain is a signal. Depression is the message we need – information we should pay attention to!
Whoever seeks to save his or her life will lose it. But the ones of us who voluntarily, lose their life – paradoxically, these are the ones who find out what life really is. I’ve paraphrased an immensely important Biblical passage – It’s message is at once simple and difficult. It does not tell us not to have or how much to have. The message is that we must not cling – not hold onto – do not attempt to take strength from things that, not only have no real strength – they are on fire, burning, even while we watch!
Have them now – use them – just know that they are burning. Before we pass from this life, plan to give away all the keys – knowing that love will chauffeur our real selves over the wild places, past where the pavements end.
Love beyond definitions. Love – invisible threads of visible fabric – no more or less than the urge of all seen and unseen wanting to come close again. More than lips and skin, Love as a vehicle and its passengers – their origin and destination. Something lovely, something like this.
The other side of the street – depression lives just across they way, in the shadows. Feel it’s sharp pain, it’s combined hurt and pain and know you are being called to shift your perspective.
As I said, after posting last week’s article I received several comments. Some were nice. Some… not so. Some offered advice and others appreciated the shared perspective. My only concern was that several – usually the ones that wanted to offer advise – did not seem to have been written by people who had actually read what I had written!
What I wrote – what I wanted people to understand was not that I was depressed – rather, I like so many others had simply been touched by that black hand we call depression. And, having seen a way out – just like me, many are fortunate enough to be able to apply a curative perspective to this common emotion.
However, what I did for myself – some say they cannot do. I will not argue. Depression is a strange and personal experience. But for all who can see it – begin right now to appreciate depression as a message – an indicator that an option is available and now is the time to exercise it!
No matter what your lot in life – your failures or accomplishments – let them go! No matter how you feel – what you are feeling or why…,. Let it go! You are as free as you wish to be. Cruel as this may sound to some who feel crushed – the operative word, here is. “feel.” Feelings come and go.
You are not feelings. You are immortal spirit. You are not thoughts. You are pure, formless awareness – you are the one who sees all but cannot be seen. You are already awake; you are already seated in heavenly places. I only wish that more people appreciated the immediate truth of these words. Lucky you, if you do! Either way, you are always and already, joy and peace beyond mere feelings of happiness or depression.
Take these words – write them somewhere forever visible and permanent. Tattoo them from your wrist to your elbow, or save your money and just remember them! You were not only meant to be free – you already are… free. The depth of your pain is just an indicator of the heights to which your spirit is already soaring. Hate me, you who sufferer, Just do not forget what you have read here today. Tomorrow you may see that your angst, your pain is a door that opens into liberation.
I find your view and your insights on this topic to be helpful and useful. However, I do want to say, as a medical professional, that some people are not able to think or reason or pray their way out of depression. Some people are actually born depressed. Depression is intertwined with our neurology. Which comes first depends on the person and is often anybody’s guess. Medication may seem like a cop-out to lots of spiritual thinkers, I know more than one Zen Master who forbids it. They occasionally end up with psychotic suicidal monks on their hands and I have heard of more than one death because of it. What was the point, I wonder?
Medication can be food too. It is not, in my opinion, to be as despised as many spiritually-minded people make it. I know you do not suggest that this is your feeling, but I want to point this out because I think it is important. Sometimes the proper medication can lift a person to a place where they can then help themselves, when otherwise they would be in dire and pointless misery, without the ability to think clearly or act purposefully. We cannot always will ourselves out of depression, and like a chained dog cannot conceive of freedom when we are bound by an apparently endless bout of it.
Compassion comes in many forms, including properly prescribed medication when necessary.