Depression. The very word is weighty. The weight of sorrow pressing down on you, the pain you go through when you feel disconnected. Like an observer of life and not a participant. Sometimes in my Yoga journey I have been hit with the darkest waves of hopelessness. Days where I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so low. Days where you hope that Death is not so far away.
The study of Yoga, as I have often written, makes you truly wake up. Its not escapism. Far from it. And coming to rest in the present and acknowledge that everything you love now, all the people you love and everything you hold dear has a shelf life and one day will be no more, well, that’s hard. Intellectually we all know this to be true but we generally exist in a state of denial. We use our own goals, our own events and milestones, like career achievement, marriage, whatever your path happens to be, we use them. We use them like stepping stones. Stepping from weekend to weekend. From smaller house to larger house. From dating to marriage. And as long as we can keep ticking off boxes we feel that’s living.
And what happens when we can’t tick off the boxes anymore? What happens when we become ill or infirm? What happens if we lose our career or our house? What happens when we never meet the right person and end up alone? When we can’t tick our boxes we end up ‘depressed’ and more often than not, with a doctors prescription for something to keep the serotonin levels up, so that we can keep our heads above water, so that we can keep fighting.. That we can muster the energy to pray for a positive outcome.
When I was seven I realized my own mortality. I used to look at my parents and my cats and my brother and wonder how I would feel if they all died. And wonder what death was like. For a while I avoided mirrors as I had read in a book about ghosts that if you saw your own ghost next to you in the mirror it meant that death was impending and I truly felt that I could die at any moment and it wasn’t far off. It tainted everything I did and I used to console myself with the thought that, at the very least, I wasn’t the only one who was going to die. Lets face it we all would.. (I was a little like Tuesday Adams at times)…
However as an adult I get a second wind of it occasionally. The fact that life itself is undeniably sad. That love we share, the things we create, well we won’t be around for always to appreciate them. Well not in the current forms we are in. That film ‘Never let Me Go’ has often been described as ‘disturbing’. But why? It is only disturbing because it encapsulates the tragedy of the human condition. That little by little our bodies disintegrate, little by little we lose our friends and loved ones, and then one day the person we are is no more and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
I have been reading a lot about depression recently and it is described as an illness, but in my opinion thinking of depression as an illness is just another way of denying the actuality of what is. Feelings of emptiness or futility.. Perhaps these need to be explored rather than denied? Experienced rather than anaesthetized? If someone feels like there is no point in carrying on perhaps their feelings should be taken seriously rather than labelled dysfunctional. Perhaps community is a better solution than Prozac.
Something that really disturbed me when I was reading about depression was the assertion that anyone who has ever thought about suicide is ‘depressed’. I have a real problem with this as I believe anyone who has faced their own mortality may have considered suicide as an option. Like being so very weary of a game when you already know the outcome and considering your options. That’s all. I believe anyone with imagination and curiosity has thought about it. And apparently it is the 10th most common cause of death in the UK today so why aren’t we addressing it? Why are we treating it as taboo?
My father committed suicide nine years ago. And I am ashamed to say that when I realized what had happened my first thoughts weren’t for him, they were for me. Didn’t he know I still needed him? And then just an unending stream of wishing there was something I could have done. Wishing there was something I could have involved him in that would have made him see things differently. These totally primal urges to go back in time and fiercely protect him. The human part of me wanting to protect the human part of him. But I never worried about his soul. I had Buddhists go on to me about how he had committed the ultimate Karmic faux-pas but I can’t take that seriously. How can a belief system that preaches non-attachment suddenly go all judgemental on someone for not wanting to go on? Humans judge. The beyond doesn’t. Humans are stuck in the wheel of action and punishment because thats how our minds work as we desperately try and find balance. I don’t believe for one minute that someone gets punished after death for suicide in the same way a child gets sent to bed early for rejecting broccoli…
Four years ago I was travelling in New Zealand and I met a woman called Meryl Yvonne. I had been studying intensely for four months, in my Ashtanga practice and had hit some kind of wall. Just getting into the habit of watching events around me as if they were a soap opera but getting involved in nothing. And she said a couple of things that really stayed with me. One- that suicide doesn’t solve anything, and two- that if someone is in a place where they are capable of really ending it- they have moved so far beyond the normal human state of being that they have shifted into a somewhat altered state, a long way out of the usual range. Far beyond hysterical threats of what they might do but truly letting go. And then I had a weird sense of pride that my Dad had his eyes open, flawed as his decision may have been. And after that day, after I had had some healing, I started to feel connected again. And to take pleasure in the little communications in the every day. And to understand why old people on buses always talk to you.
Because as long as we are here, we are all about the relationships. Forget the schmaltzy romantic crap we are encouraged to believe in by the media. That kind of connection is generally doomed anyway. Reach out to people every day, talk to people as much as you can, and give the gift of truly listening to people as much as you can. Because we are all in the same boat. Our mortality has to humble us in the end. Great Baroque artists were renowned for their skilled use of chiaroscuro- that is, light and dark. The light only really shows up against the darkest of backdrops. And in Yoga you can journey to the darkest of places. And our challenge is, not to deny it, not even to try and change it necessarily. As sometimes we find ourselves in what feels like impossible situations.
We have to learn how to stop judging ourselves. Let go of what we believe constitutes the ideal life and stop beating ourselves up for not having one. And know that its ok to be be different. Different to how always thought we would be. Different to how our families expected us to be. We have to learn how to stop apportioning blame. And we have to learn to trust. To trust that life, that a good reason for being here, will find a way around our obstacles, around our situations, like water always finds a course in the end.. And one day it will all make sense.
And this is where faith comes in. Becomes sometimes just living, just existing in this world and doing your very best is the biggest act of faith there is. And there is an eternal- an eternal light, an eternal love we all have the right to experience. And Yoga is the act of scraping away what obscures that, whether its our fear, our habits or our attitudes that hold us back. Yoga is letting go, and trusting something new to enter in, and sometimes the process isn’t pleasant. Sometimes its heartbreaking. And this, I believe, is why the Yamas and Niyamas are so important. That you are as strong and as clean as you can be to cope with what comes up. That when the energy rises within you- whether you call it Kundalini, Serpant Power, or God, it flows through a vessel that will not yield to drama, attention seeking or unhealthy excessses but will be for the greater good of all, to lift everyone else as far as is possible.
So do not deny the darkness. Do not ignore your feelings. Give them your attention and let them be.
Keep going x