Meditations on The Great Work
Depression is a debilitating mental illness that affects millions of individuals a year. Statistics present that 8% of adults will experience a severe depression at some point in their lives (around 5% in any given year) and women are twice as likely than men to experience it.
According to Health Canada, symptoms include:
The experience of depression can feel like the light going out in the world. It can feel like there is a wash of heaviness around everything one engages in - if one is even able to muster the energy to engage. It is like walking through days with a weight on your ankles. It is exhausting and isolating, affecting all areas of life, including physical health, interpersonal relationships and work.
There are two main forms depression can take: situational depression or chronic depression. Situational depression is triggered by a definable life event - generally a major loss, such as divorce, job loss, death of a loved one. Situational depression is experienced as one moves through the stages of grief in response to loss. The stages of grief (as presented by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) are:
In the stage of depression, we are faced with existential questions such as: "Why bother?", "What's the point?", "What's the meaning?" A major loss prompts the complete re-evaluation of our lives and circumstances. It calls into question so much of what we thought was solid. It is often a confusing and frightening time. With situational depression, especially with the help of outside support and the soothing cradle of time, depression gives way to acceptance. One comes to a point of recognizing that, though things will not look as they did before the loss, there is hope and a new way will be found.
Chronic depression is very different. It is not tied to any life event in particular. Although situational depression can turn into chronic depression, if one remains stuck in grief and never moves to a place of acceptance. Chronic depression is the very real and very devastating sense that life is empty and there is no hope.
There are many approaches to treating chronic depression, including anti-depressants (which work on the biochemical level) and cognitive behavioral therapy (which works on the negative thinking level). These approaches address the physical and mental aspects of depression and how they impact on our emotional life. But there is another aspect of ourselves which more and more individuals are beginning to explore from a holistic perspective - the Spirit.
In Spiritual Psychotherapy, much of the work revolves around "reawakening the soul" or "calling back the spirit". Spiritual Psychotherapy works with a template which presents that, when we come into this world, we are whole. We emanate Essence and are, in fact, Spirit embodied. Early experiences cause us to become disconnected from our Essence. Instead of walking forth on the solid ground of our own inner sense of worthiness, we stumble along on the shaky ground of worthlessness and shame. It is not that there is a particular situation that has caused us to question who and how we are in the world. It is the very fact of our beingness that calls the "who's" and "how's" into question. What a terrible pain to carry! Depression falls under the category of mental illness, but using the Essence/Spirit template one can see that it is also a "soul illness".
Healing the soul requires the gentle comfort of inner work. Healing our "being" cannot be resolved by "doing". Those who work with chronic depression know that 'problem-solving' does not work. We can change what the externals look like, but if the inner ground is still shaky, it is still dark and frightening. What is needed is the reconnection to that core inner experience of Essence.
There are many tools in Spiritual Psychotherapy which can facilitate the inner reconnection. Perhaps the most powerful is Inner Child work. Going back through one's own story to excavate where the disconnection with Essence occurred, identifying the faulty self-perceptions that overlay the knowledge of our own inherent worth, and reclaiming our relationship with Self as our foremost relationship can start to shift the chains of heaviness and depression. It is the journey of reclaiming our Light, and with it comes lightness of Being.
We are Spirit on a human journey. And that journey does involve pain. Most individuals will experience depression at some point in their lives. I know I have. I have experienced the light going out and I am ever grateful that I had both enormous support and a sense of the "map through the forest" to guide me through. It is a terrible journey to travel alone.
If you find yourself in a place of depression, reach out. Know you are not alone. Know that within you, though you may feel it is buried quite deep, there is an Essence that glows with your own unique Light. And know that there are ways through which to reclaim that Essence and push back the heavy veil of depression.
A long-time enthusiast of Alchemy, I have often been awed by its relevance to the path of self-discovery. The Alchemist knows - you are The Great Work, the Opus Magnum. This blog explores the many intersecting paths that lead to embracing the Self and living an empowered, fulfilling life.