Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Journal of a Soul 63

From the Ashes of Despair

It's hard to know where to start.  Like drawing a circle, I suppose one can put the compass point anywhere on a sheet of paper, set the radius randomly and start at any point to describe it.  Writing about the Soul or Self or Meaning, or lack of any one or all of them, is somewhat similar, I guess.  The alcoholic writer, Charles Bukowski, whom 1986 Time called a "laureate of American lowlife," described despair as only an alcoholic could as: “my beer-drunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees of the world.”  What, I hear you chorus in response to these words brings you to write about despair?  Well, I suppose when we are inundated on all sides by pain, suffering, dying, death, war and destruction we can be forgiven for at least being a little sad.  What motivates these thoughts forming themselves in words upon this virtual screen is the well publicized death of the brilliant, inimitable actor and stand-up comic Robin Williams, whom the director Steven Spielberg has described as "a lightning storm of comic genius" and the on-going murder of innocents in Gaza, not to mention other places in the world that we forget so easily where such wanton killings of innocents continue to scar and mar the human face of the world.  We forget these poor souls because other more recent horrific news gains sway in the headlines. As I type these poor inadequate words, I am listening to a live radio show here in Dublin, Ireland where parents, sons and daughters and siblings are describing their pain at the suicide of one of their relatives.  If anything, the late great, wonderful human being Robin Williams is still touching our lives all over the world by helping raise our consciousness of this issue. Robin Williams R.I.P.

No Substitute for Experience

The subtitle here says it all, I think.  There is, indeed, no substitute for first hand experience.  Also to sound a very old tune in these pages the cerebral or intellectual only captures such a small, albeit a significant part, of the human phenomenon.  There are so many other dimensions of that phenomenon that can only be described after one has experienced them. These are all those non-cerebral, non-intellectual sides to our character like relationships, experiences of beauty, truth, love, compassion, companionship, care, love, hope, spirit, genius, laughter, genius and even that spark of madness all of which Robin Williams so much embodied in his sheer humanity.  And to that list, dare I say it, I must, of course, add despair.

I have said that there is no substitute for experience.  I have also written about my own experience of clinical depression when I was 40 years of age, now some 16 years ago.  That place or space was one where there was no soul, no meaning, no self.  That was a place or space of despair that only seven weeks hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital could mend. Thankfully, due to medical intervention, I have never had the experience of revisiting either the hospital or that space or place of pain since.  Important here has been a comprehensive understanding of the nature of depression which can be (i) of the clinical or endogenous variety (in other words, a biochemical disorder that can be corrected as far as possible by pharmacological intervention or medication) and (ii) the reactive variety where our life situation brings us down.  In this second variety, counselling and therapeutic intervention are very effective, though sometimes prescribed drugs can help to kick start the process, medicines that can later be withdrawn.  Also, I find that in the case of clinical depression, care of the soul through the creative arts and reading and attending self-help courses also helps.  The worst thing for anyone who knows anyone who is depressed  is to offer them cheap black and white advice.  There is no simple answer as depression varies from person to person in its symptoms, and a "both/and" and not an "either/or" response is the correct approach with regards to medical and therapeutic interventions and helps.

In matters of the mind, cheap advice can be useless at best and destructive at worst.  In all cases I have found that to be with and to accompany others in their crisis is the right approach.  What's said, in the end, does not matter much.  Being there is what matters. It's about presence or being present with others who suffer.  Of course, that is more easily said than done.  The accompanying person or companion will often feel helpless and so useless and more often than not seemingly ignored as the poor wretch suffering their despair simply cannot respond or reach out because they are not able to.

Falling Apart

Often in these times I find turning to poetry one of my resources.  Again, at the risk of repetition ad nauseam in these pages, let me come to William B. Yeats.  He wrote a wonderful poem in 1919, shortly after the ending of The Great War called "The Second Coming", some appropriate lines of which I will quote here:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

While Yeats spoke about the disintegration of the outer world in the wake of the Great War, the lines touch and move me on a personal existential level of inner disintegration and inner falling apart.  To that extent those words of Yeats are really very apt indeed. In this experience of inner disintegration, I am so much reminded of other lines from the wonderful father of Existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard that run:
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.” 
                            (― Søren KierkegaardThe Sickness Unto Death)

Pulling the Parts Together: Standing Together in Hope

Early Christian thinker, Origen, 185 - 254 A.D.
This is so hard to do and so much easier said, so the naivete of the subtitle here has to be forgiven, at least momentarily.  If anything, we humans have to learn over and over again the lesson of our brittleness as human beings. Too often, we believe the myths we have created about our power over all things and even, God help us, our power over ourselves. The old writers and artists often got it right: An early Christian theologian, Origen, presented a response to the problem of evil which cast the world as a schoolroom or hospital for the soul. It is interesting to note that the great Romantic poet John Keats saw the world as the "vale of soul-making" and his thoughts were very much in line with those of Origen.  In other words, to be truly human is to be a carer, a nurse, a doctor or a paramedic for each other.  To be truly human we must be soul-makers, not soul-breakers.  Too much of modern life is into soul-breaking rather than soul-making. To be a soul-maker is to be a compassionate healer.  The answer is seen in all the ways we can become caring communities rather than anonymous urban sprawls that dislocate and break souls down. Indeed, pulling the parts together is no easy task.  We live in a world that almost prefers disintegration to integration.  We care little about others, especially strangers.  We care little even about our neighbours, and often even less about ourselves.  Anonymity is seemingly preferred to being accepted as belonging. Indeed, it is so hard to put down roots in the masonry and concrete of our modern cities.  And yet there are so many reasons to hope as is shown in these two wonderful videos I am placing here below. The first is the moving video of the meeting of two wonderful young human beings one a Palestinian American and the other a Jewish American, both of whom were beaten up by Israeli police at various times in the last several years. Its viewing brought tears of hope and peace and brotherhood to my eyes.  The second is even more moving recent video as the human hands of love speak so powerfully by scratching at the earth and lifting stones and rubble to bring a wonderful little child back to the fresh invigorating air of life. My heart breaks in hope for our stained humanity.  Maybe the youngsters of today will teach their children better than we have done ours: (i)Two Modern Heroes and Healers  and (ii) The Healing Hands of Love.

No comments:

Post a Comment