By Jim Green
And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.
These are the words of Job who some have identified as one of the first sufferers of depression in all of world literature. He often strikes a note familiar to those who have lived through such trials:
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.
However depression is defined or explained, it is nearly always accompanied by this miasma of dread. There is no hiding place, no resting place and terror threatens to overwhelm at every moment. We consequently assume that reports from the Land of Depression will be bleak, hopeless and – well – depressing. So it comes as an arresting surprise to hear a different tone sometimes being struck:
The last thing you should do is waste your depression. Please don’t let all that suffering go to waste. It will give you better clues about the way you are living your life, and how right that is for you, than anything else. Survived, and used properly, depression could be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Here’s something different. These are the words of Gwyneth Lewis, a distinguished Welsh author and poet. In Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression she shares her experiences and invites us to consider them from many perspectives. It leaves the reader with an almost scandalous question: could it be, after all, that what we call depression might actually be… useful?
I am currently writing a book under the working title of Meditation & Depression. I’m particularly interested in how – and indeed whether – the practice of meditation can help people recover from times when the hopeless self seems lost in the desert and the dark night. Is such a practice something that can help prevent damaging relapses? And, on the other hand, are there times when it is just not appropriate, perhaps even harmful?
If you would like to share any experiences from your journey through this territory, then please feel free to get in touch with me (in confidence, of course). I am certain that there is a treasure-house of experience and hard-won wisdom in our meditation community, which I would like to honour and reflect. I’ll respond to everyone who contacts me.
Love and blessings,
Jim Green firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in the Meditatio Newsletter, October 2017