MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

The Soul of Depression

with 6 comments

Photo: lain Ridley/Flickr

Photo: lain Ridley/Flickr

We’re putting our show about depression on the air again this week. It’s been over two years since it has been broadcast, and, as always with rebroadcasts, we went in and refined and hopefully made it better. But this is essentially the show we created six years ago, which people discover all the time online.

Some have told us it has helped keep them alive. This kind of effect of our work is humbling and amazing beyond words. But in every way this show is unusual. It is more personally revealing for me than anything else we’ve done. I feel vulnerable knowing it will be out there in the ether again in coming days.

In my journal this week, as in the program script, I “disclose” that when we first created this program I took the making of it as an occasion to walk with some trepidation back through the spiritual territory of despair. I have a bit of the same sense now, airing it again, because that dark place seems a bit closer to me this February than I’m happy to admit. It’s a long, cold, depressing month in a frankly depressing moment in time, and I’m very tired.

As I prepared for those interviews years ago, and conducted them, I worried that peering down into that abyss again — even in memory, or vicariously through conversation with others — might send me into it. It did not. It was a clarifying, strengthening experience; one that made me grateful to be at a remove where I could in fact learn from depression rather than be enveloped by it. But I will stress here — as much for myself as for anyone reading — that we are not in a place to find spiritual enlightenment when we are in the throes of this illness.

Just in recent weeks, I had a new conversation with Parker Palmer, in which we both found wisdom on economic depression in some of the ways he had talked to me about clinical depression all those years ago. But hearing this show again right now, I’m personally most held and strangely comforted by Andrew Solomon and especially Anita Barrows’ insistence that emerging from depression — “healing” if you will — doesn’t mean leaving darkness behind. It means being aware and whole enough to accept dark months and dark times as expressions of human vitality.

Those of us who have struggled with depression live imprinted with its reality — and the terrifying possibility of its recurrence — ever after. It is a gift, albeit an uncomfortable one, to live on this side of health where I can accept darkness as a companion, not a teacher when it is as close as this, yet an essential thread of the life that is mine.

— Krista Tippett

Click here to listen to the podcast “The Soul of Depression”

Written by MattAndJojang

August 15, 2014 at 8:52 am

6 Responses

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  1. One thing that caught me in this piece is the reference to the months and dark times as expressions of human vitality. I’ve always loved winter, short days, long nights. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the midst of farming country, and understood that those dark times were necessary. Lying fallow is good for the land, and good for the spirit from time to time. When a period comes when I’m not as productive — for any of a number of reasons — I still think of it is a fallow time, rather than as a non-productive time. In our world, non-productivity is a negative. But lying fallow? It’s all positive, and a necessary precondition for new growth.


    August 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm

  2. Same here, Linda. I was struck by the last part of the article when Krista Tippett wrote:

    Those of us who have struggled with depression live imprinted with its reality — and the terrifying possibility of its recurrence — ever after. It is a gift, albeit an uncomfortable one, to live on this side of health where I can accept darkness as a companion, not a teacher when it is as close as this, yet an essential thread of the life that is mine.

    Depth psychologists often talk about our shadow side. Or to put it bluntly, they often talk about that dark side that each of us have.

    Most of the time we deny or reject our dark side, those parts of us that are weak, unpleasant, ugly, or even evil. Unfortunately, this repression of our shadow side has disastrous consequences not only for the individual (as exemplified by the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), but also for our society as a whole.

    For instance, it is for this reason that seemingly upright members of the church turn out also to be the most vindictive, the most judgmental, the most cruel people. On a bigger scale, the denial of the shadow side of our being had led to these horrendous events in history: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Tiennamen Massacre, to name a few.

    Life is an interplay of light and darkness. To become healthy and whole we need to accept that dark side of ourselves, which more often than not we prefer to brush aside.

    But does this mean that we just give in to the negative and destructive parts of ourselves? By no means.

    It means, first of all, to accept that we have a dark side, and then to find a way to breakthrough, so that we can allow ourselves “to listen to the deeper dimensions of our own being, where the dark side lurks,” to borrow the words of a spiritual author.

    This is probably what Rilke realized when he wrote this:

    I love the dark hours of my being.
    My mind deepens into them.
    There I can find, as in old letters,
    the days of my life, already lived,
    and held like a legend, and understood.

    Then the knowing comes: I can open
    to another life that’s wide and timeless.

    So I am sometimes like a tree
    rustling over a gravesite
    and making real the dream
    of the one its living roots

    a dream once lost
    among sorrows and songs.

    — Matt


    August 17, 2014 at 11:03 am

  3. HI Matt,

    I was interested to read these comments in that some dark times can be a ‘gift’. To counter the negativity, perhaps the quote “love thine enemy” is a hard but applicable thought ? I think you’ve read this before but i thought it might be applicable so I hope you don’t mind me sharing these thoughts on a fallen oak tree that I came upon.

    Explorers of the dark

    Silence and sun – the storm has gone.
    Nature breathes again after the battle of the night
    Now sunbeams play on trickling streams
    And silence is broken by the water running away.

    There in the middle of the winter-wheat, a great oak has fallen.
    Four hundred years it stood – its time has come
    Yields now to saw and axe to be returned to earth and air.
    Its spirit will yield slowly giving shelter, heat and light.

    A crater’s left by roots torn up – ground never seen before.
    Darkness and damp rule beneath in land of mole and worm.
    Yet this tree did not fear to go there.
    Indeed if it did not explore the deep it would not have lived a full life.

    As the acorn first sprouts, no green shoot or flower emerges,
    But a white dagger pointed to hells deep and darkened realm.
    It smites the earth, commissioned as pioneer for this great tree.
    For here in the darkness food, foothold and fresh water is found.

    It is said that the most precious gems come from the deepest, darkest mines.
    The freshest water comes from a mountain spring its source in unseen rocky places.
    And so the oak from the dark and deep,
    provides shelter and food for bird, butterfly and boar.
    Its courage to explore the dark deep providing for many and it will bear fruit

    But who is the braver, the tree or the acorn ?


    August 17, 2014 at 2:54 pm

  4. Hi, Senan!

    Although I came across your poem in your book, thank you for sharing again. As always — beautiful! And, needless to say, very appropriate…

    The idea of accepting the dark moments that we experience in our lives is quite a radical concept for most people. But life is always an interplay of light and darkness — this is an inescapable fact.

    Even our Christian contemplative and mystical tradition teach us that we need to enter the “cloud of unknowing” and experience the “dark night of the soul” in order to reach spiritual maturity.

    The key is to not to treat these dark moments as our enemy, but instead to “love thine enemy.” Learning to do this, however, is easier said than done. It will probably take a lifetime, for most of us, to learn this process.

    — Matt


    August 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

  5. I’ll take this occasion to thank you again for introducing me to Krista Tippett and On Being. Your blog post about her interview with Roseanne Cash caused me to listen for the first time and now I listen regularly, often downloading the entire unedited versions of the conversations. I’ve learned a lot, and gotten lots of enjoyment, from her show. Thanks again.


    August 26, 2014 at 7:08 pm

  6. You’re welcome, Bill.

    Love that podcast with Roseanne Cash, too. If I’m not mistaken, they featured it again just a month or two ago. There are podcasts in “On Being” that I listen to again and again, and Roseanne Cash’s interview is one of them.

    I can’t remember anymore how I discovered “On Being.” It was probably one of those times when I was just surfing the web. (It was still known as “Speaking of Faith” then). And ever since I was hooked! The topics that they cover really resonate with me. Needless to say, it also has brought me hours of enjoyment.

    Happy to know that there’s also another “On Being” fan… 🙂

    — Matt


    August 26, 2014 at 7:58 pm

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