The feeling of being dead while the body is still alive
‘Last week I again failed to accomplish anything, was just tired and run down!’
‘Since the breakup with his girlfriend my son lies about depressed and complains that he is unable to study!’
‘Everything is pointless, empty and grey; the best thing would be to end it all.’
Each of these statements suggests a phase in a human life that tells of dejection, heaviness, fatigue, pessimism and perceived futility – thus a state of depression
The concept of depression is used, on the one hand, to account for unproductive phases or to explain negative sensations, and on the other hand, also to describe severe mental suffering. In fact, these symptoms are so common that they seem to have transformed depression into an endemic illness: In the estimates of the World Health Organization around one fifth of the human population is so seriously affected at least once in their lifetime as to warrant psychotherapeutic intervention on their behalf. Depression can occur in children, adolescents and adults. It can last for a shorter or longer period and can totally paralyze a person mentally, physically and emotionally. It may be a temporary hiatus of upset as well as evoke a far-reaching mental ailment. In extreme cases life is perceived as so endlessly grey, stressful and pointless that suicidal thoughts can creep in.
By Marianne Klauser-Stalder
If I could at least feel sad!
We all know the hours in which we feel despondent, low-spirited and sad. The longer we have worked on ourselves, the better we will know which thoughts are able to help us at such moments to regain a cheerful mood and a more optimistic perception. Indeed, most of us have suffered losses, which need to be mourned. Feelings of grief, despair and pain are indeed unpleasant and dampening, but nevertheless quite natural – so that they are not symptoms of depression in the real sense.
Real depression can be compared to a persistently grey, heavy, constricting straitjacket; a condition which renders thoughts as well as the mind heavily burdened so that those affected feel tired, listless, weak, joyless and trapped. They are pessimistic and see everything as gloomy, cannot concentrate and are slow in thought and action. Decisions are endlessly difficult and the memory function is also impaired. ‘When I have my Alzheimer’s days …’ is how a housewife describes her depressive states.
During the depressive state, the energy levels are in a state of exhaustion, the thoughts circle in the same darkly brooding orbits, the emotional world is devoid of freshness and the present is unable to be experienced properly. An absence of a zest for living as well as the loss of a natural feeling of happiness is typical of this state. Often annoying physical symptoms such as, for example, pains, insomnia, restlessness, cravings or loss of appetite also tend to accompany this emotional low.
Many of those stricken by depression feel guilty and ashamed of their predicament because they have a distinct notion of what to do about it but cannot follow through because they lack the necessary strength and drive. Well-intentioned advice from their surroundings such as, for instance, to ‘try to think positively’, usually only makes the situation worse, because gloomily pessimistic thoughts cannot simply be turned off. The fact that this state of being, despite the recognition of its consequences, cannot be improved by one’s own efforts causes anxiety and gnaws at self-esteem.
Depression can therefore be described as a state of friction between high and often exaggerated expectations of one’s own goals in life on the one hand and, on the other, a paralysis of energy, a lack of perception of present-day realities, the absence of the invigorating warmth of spontaneous experiencing of everyday life, the curtailment of the full vigour of activity as well as a paucity of inner liveliness. This attenuation of vitality and clouding of thoughts thus paralyzes the free will. The essence of the human being, the perceptive capacity, is therefore rendered impotent or at best, becomes severely restricted in its activity and this is the very thing that signifies the crux of the ailment. Erich Fromm has summed this up well when he wrote: ‘What is depression? It is the inability to feel, it is the sense of being dead, while our body is alive. It is the inability to experience joy, as well as the inability to experience sadness. A depressed person would be greatly relieved if he could feel sad. ” (The Sane Society)
Growing in grief
Grief, however, is an archetypal human feeling, which is a part of every life on earth as a natural reaction of the soul to a loss. The death of a loved one causes grief, just as do other forms of separation which life imposes on us. Grief announces itself even if we desired and brought about this separation ourselves, so that grief in such instances is sometimes perplexing to us. Our children move out cheerfully and well prepared, eager to make their own way in life; we are happy for them and sad at the same time, because it brings a warm, vibrant phase of life to an irrevocable end. Some transitions in life bring us sadness because we have to let go of something familiar and precious. Also, the behaviour of other people can make us feel sad, especially conflicts and attacks, because such things may undermine our self-esteem, reputation and sense of dignity and diminish our participation and trust in the social network we belong to.
Children, too, are sad – often not knowing why – and then require comfort.
However, it is just these unpleasant situations of grief and pain which enable us to grow and mature, even to the point of being able to experience the great power that continually envelops and sustains us. It is therefore necessary to perceive, accept and experience whatever approaches us, even if this does not always bring happiness and sunshine.
Grief follows its own paths; in most cases waves or phases can be identified, which come and subside again of their own accord. The goal is to embrace this rhythm and experience the troughs of the waves with their different shades exactly in the same way as the high points. Every person who has experienced this at least once knows that waves of sorrow grow weaker over time, slowly lose their grip and finally fade away. Grief furthers healing and development as long as it is perceived in purity and not perchance interlooped with other feelings, thoughts and fantasies.
Grief thus initiates a necessary emotional moulding process, from which a person can emerge, strengthened and imbued with new spiritual knowledge and an expanded consciousness.
… but not submerging in it
Grief becomes unhealthy only if we are submerged by it and hold on to it needlessly for a long time, thereby subjecting others to burdensome entanglements or by embellishing the original grief with fantasies and longings of our own. Holding on to grief can give rise to a chronic melancholy, a taunting grouchiness or even a state of permanent embitterment, a disorder which harbours at its core a reproachful attitude to fate and a belligerent attitude towards other human beings.
In contrast to this, incipient grief can, however, also be edged out like an unwelcome guest because it makes excessive demands or does not fit into our concept of life. Ousting or repressing grief is just as unhealthy as needlessly prolonging it. In both situations the catalyst that may give rise to a future depression rests with the one-sidedness displayed therein and this holds true for all other aspects of one’s life as well.
The many faces of depression
Depending on the nature and biographical origin, a depression can find expression in many different forms; for example as ‘winter blues’, when in the autumn the days become shorter and sunlight becomes increasingly scarce. At that time of the year many people struggle against fatigue and a dampened mood. This type of depression is due partly to natural causes: The human organism wants to step back during this season and become quieter and more withdrawn but, unfortunately, our corporate structures and work practices, attuned as they are to relentless activity, do not allow for such a subtle retreat. Many of those affected find relief during these months by switching on a lamp, which is also a symbol for the fact that, in order to escape a depression, we should adjust our antennas in a new way so as to connect with the light that constantly surrounds us, not only to sunlight, but especially to light not visible to the eyes, which streams down from higher spheres.
Postnatal depression, called ‘baby blues’, also has partially natural causes: The rigours of birth as well as the subsequent radical hormonal changes taking place, combined with high expectations of motherhood, can lead to despair, acute exhaustion or even a psychotic episode. In most cases it would be enough to lovingly look after the mother and relieve her of some of the stress until her own energies are again in balance and the joy of having her little one awakens.
In a similar manner, lingering worries, unsound relationships, work-related issues and unresolved prolonged conflicts may gnaw at the soul of an affected person and in time trigger depressive moods.
After a lengthy engagement, such as caring for a relative, for example, or undergoing challenging trials, a so-called relief depression may surface, which necessitates the person concerned to pause, take stock and then tread the path to recovery.
In phase-related depressions, the so-called transitions of life, whether they occur in adolescence, in mid-life, during menopause or at an advanced age, often bring into focus a key issue in a person’s life that has to be re-evaluated, put into perspective and brought to a close, so as to make room for a new inner orientation and spiritual direction which is now due with the next phase of life, in order to give it new meaning.
The issue of change and transition is found in many cases of depression; for example, the days of emptiness and helplessness which may set in after the children have moved out or when a company is suddenly restructured and nothing is quite the same as it was before! Hermann Hesse alludes to this very natural process of life in his poem ‘Steps’: ‘Courage, heart, take leave and fare thee well!’ We should therefore in the course of life bid farewell again and again to ideas, grand designs, ambitious goals, cherished habits and sometimes also to people. Resistance to change consumes essential vitality, constricts and dulls our perception and clouds it in anxiety. If one is able to mobilise trust in the forces active in Creation and to face the coming changes with a firm resolve, then the mind too, will be much more at ease.
Escalation to severe mental trauma
Sudden and unexpected traumatic events such as an accident, the loss of one’s job, the death of a child, a separation or the suicide of a loved one can cause the soul to cry out in petrified anguish and, metaphorically speaking, even ‘turn it to stone’, just as is illustrated in the Old Testament: Lot’s wife solidified into a pillar of salt when, disobeying the command from the angel, she looked back and witnessed how the sinful city of Sodom was consumed in a rain of fire! This emotional distress, which is described as reactive depression in psychology, can develop in a person when the inner self freezes up after a severe battering and, mentally overwhelmed by what is happening to him, life for this person suddenly seems no longer worth living. Treatment involving ‘digestion’ of what has happened is called for in such cases, until the events lose their terrifying grip and find a meaningful place in the person’s own life story. Only then can the capacity to perceive and experience be re-awakened. Such things normally take their time, and are best initiated under the guidance of a professional.
Other forms of severe depression can engulf people from ‘out of the blue’ and seemingly without any discernible cause. In former times, these conditions were, on account of the severity and frequency within a family, referred to as ‘endogenous’, thus as inherited. However, this idea, which suggested that little could be done other than in prescribing medication to alleviate the symptoms, has been largely abandoned by professional circles today.
In manic depression or bipolar disorder a person mostly gyrates between two extreme emotional states: ‘on top of the world’ and ‘down in the dumps’. There is hardly an intervening state of everyday normality. Those affected feel an incredible burst of energy and an almost inexhaustible potential for ideas when in the manic phase which drives them to make purchases, launch projects, start-up businesses, and carried by this energy and self-belief, they simply bulldoze what gets in their way or infect others with their enthusiasm. However, for no apparent reason all this drive and energy collapses at a certain point, and the person finds himself again in a dark hole, despondent, depressed, unable to realise anything, with only a deep yearning for a recurrence of the manic phase and the associated ‘high’ experienced by it. The individual phases can last days, weeks or months and seem subject to an externally imposed rhythm.
As a matter of urgency, those affected must learn to recognise that the alluring but dangerous characteristics of the manic phase are actually symptoms of a diseased state, so that they do not inevitably fall back into the depressive hole of exhaustion which follows. The great task for them is to strike a balance by forgoing the grandiose, appreciating ordinary normality, showing restraint and pacing themselves in order to conserve energy.
Cut off from experience
The causes of depression are as diverse as there are people, and range from severe traumas and feelings of being cast aside by others, the detrimental effects of a flawed upbringing, a self-styled one-sided way of life, exaggerated goals, a pessimistic and brooding mind-set, a deeply felt erosion of the meaning of existence and suppressed or unrelieved grief that has become chronic.
The one-sided emphasis on the intellect that dictates the direction of life for almost all human beings living in the present time plays a fundamental role in every depression, because, as a result of the cognitive dominance of the frontal brain, the impressions of life reaching us are dissected and analysed by it, from which no real experiencing can arise. The endemic nature of depression in our society demonstrates in a dramatic fashion the one-sided mind-set pursued by this society, which focuses only on functionality and achievement, on the back of which the constricted capacity for experiencing resulting from this incursion, leads to a narrowed outlook on life, unbridled ambition, low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority, distrust and bitterness. Thus many of those affected by depression are minded to judge their lives in a pessimistic way and thereby live continuously under mental duress. They feel as if enveloped in a grey cloud standing ‘beside themselves’ and cut off from their own inner mental resources.
In addition, dependence on others often plays a constricting role, whether in the family, in the workplace or in a partnership but also in sought-after relationships as well. An intense desire for acknowledgment by certain persons as well as a favourable comparison with other people in general leads to loss of individuality, one’s inner liveliness. It is aberration that avenges itself bitterly and about which there is warning in the Work In the Light of Truth by Abd-ru-shin:
‘It is the Will of God that man should absolutely develop an individuality of his own, with the most pronounced awareness of his responsibility for his thoughts, volition and actions!’ (Lecture: ‘The Family Bond’)
The disguised longing for the Light
In their suffering, most of those affected by depression are unaware that they carry a deep longing within themselves, not only for relief from burdensome feelings, but in reality also for a deeper understanding, for spiritual nourishment, which alone is able to animate them and give new meaning to their lives. A depression may thus be understood as the soul’s outcry for a fundamental change, for a development that makes room for new life and fosters the actuation of free will!
Five aspects of a new vision of life
Abd-ru-shin’s work In the Light of Truth – The Grail Message conveys an entirely new vision of life, which is significant for the shaping of one’s personal life and provides those affected by depression with the guidelines for a way out of the maze, because ‘Joy and happiness can exist in all Creation! You men alone bring about distress and sorrow, disease and crime, for right up to the present day you did not want to recognise the source of the vast power which was given to you for your journey through all the worlds, in which by your own desire you must all wander for your development!
‘If only you adjust yourselves aright this power will forcibly bring sunshine and happiness into your lives.’ (The Grail Message: ‘Servants of God’)
- The Creation Law of Movement: The above-mentioned power, which is capable of forcibly bringing sunshine and happiness, can be found in all Creation. Everyone can open himself or herself to it. But, in spite of this universal accessibility, it is not a physical power but instead, the all-embracing Light Power, which alone can inspire the innermost core of the human being, the spirit. If a person opens himself to this power, he can glimpse the universal cycle into which he himself is integrated: He perceives this power as an animating factor and must pass it on in some way in order thereby to become a useful member of this cycle himself. It is in this that the secret of the Bible proverb ‘that it is more blessed to give than to receive’ lies. Only by voluntarily imparting to his surroundings what he has received can a person adjust to the great all-embracing Creation Law of Motion, within which everything in Creation moves and develops. In a persistent depression this movement has stalled. Therefore, even in the darkest depression, it is primarily a matter of adapting to the Creation Law of Movement in a way appropriate to the individual personality because a small movement is always possible, but the impulse for this very small movement must nevertheless arise from the individual himself. This is the first step to escape from the disengaged, inertial state of a depression.
What has proven of value, for example, is the simple act of moving the eyes back and forth in search for something beautiful. Something beautiful can almost always be discovered, be it in one’s own dwelling, in a hotel room, in the workplace and especially in nature.
In addition, listening to music, letting the sounds of a singing bowl sink in, humming or singing a tune or perhaps even sounding an instrument, bring about an inner experience of being involved and thus a first small movement. Skill levels are irrelevant in this respect: ‘How very quiet the forest would be if only the birds would sing that sing the best!’
Also, the regular reading of a poem that bears within it a specific rhythm and meaning stimulates and enriches the mind, thereby lifting it out of its passive state. This is especially so if the poem can be committed to memory.
Furthermore, shorter or longer forays into the natural world, perhaps into the woods or mountains as well as gazing at the night sky are invaluable aids to engender inner movement.
Such small outer movements are able to spark the inner experiencing of the present and increase mindfulness in everyday life. Where an inner contact can be felt, there it becomes necessary to press on, because the individual’s personality has stirred itself.
- Living in the present: ‘Life on earth must be really experienced if it is to have any purpose! Only what has been inwardly lived through in all its heights and depths, what has been thoroughly perceived in one’s intuition, only that may one truly call one’s own!’ Hence the work In the Light of Truth also urges: ‘Therefore each moment of life can never be taken too seriously, so that our thoughts, words and deeds shall not deteriorate into meaningless habits, but pulsate with vital warmth!’ (The Grail Message: ‘The Mystery of Birth’)
We all tend to be preoccupied on the one hand with coming to terms with past events and, on the other, with planning for the future, whereby during this process we forget that which is more important: to perceive and acknowledge the immediate present! It is only experiences related to the present, by way of a conscious perception using all the senses, that bring real life. In this also manifests the symbolism which applies only to the personal life. Not only the exceptionally moving experiences, but also the small events of everyday life should be viewed as personal pointers, perhaps even warnings, and are able to provide insights into how things should continue from there.
Whoever opens himself consciously to the present does not need artificial stimulation in order to ‘get going’ and feel happy. However, individually structured exercises may be called for in this respect, because a calm focus on the present initially requires full concentration and attentiveness, without having to be artificially contrived. Therefore it is recommended for the beginning to practice this at three different times of the day, simply to be mindful of everyday situations, taking them in without generating judgmental thoughts and without expecting anything specific or of major significance … until this can strengthen into an inner attitude, which then becomes second-nature.
- Distancing the self from intellectual dominance: The innermost part, the core of the human being is the spirit, which connects him with the spiritual world, his true homeland and thereby enables him to continuously feel a longing for unconsciously perceived higher planes, although often in an encoded, unrecognised form. The urge for the good emanates from this innermost spirit core, as well as the ability to recognise the living Laws of Creation by one’s own effort and thereby also the ability to read the Handwriting of God. It is this core that enables a human being to find an affiliation with all that is alive in Creation, thereby gaining unlimited possibilities for his development. The inner voice, which originates from the spirit, speaks to the self from a living core of being and conveys buoyant perceptions but also serious warnings and prompts man to exercise his free will. Finally the human capacity to love also originates from this innermost source, which bears within it the key to the true recognition of God.
In contrast, the intellect and the feelings dependent on it represent useful tools to deal with life on earth but lack a penetrating radiation as they are not connected to the Light Power. However, the demands of the structures of today’s society, especially those of the professional world, one-sidedly emphasize intellectual activity. The schools too, above all else, concentrate on developing the cognitive abilities of children, with the aim of making them excel intellectually. Many young people collapse under the weight of these pronounced expectations of success, which they cannot meet and fall into passivity and the many forms of youth depression.
The widespread distribution of depression is, with all its many forms, in the end above all else, a dramatic expression of how the limitations and one-sidedness of intellectual dominance can have an impact, namely in the endless, energy-sapping, exhausting grinding of thoughts and musings, which block the connection to the innermost core of spiritual vitality.
Everyone needs regular moments of silence and reflection, during which his innermost being reaches out tentatively and inquiringly towards higher spheres in order to replenish his energies by seeking a connection with the power currents encountered there. From there he can gain all the help he needs for the understanding of his fate. These spiritual aids are always available in abundance, but the human being has to initiate his own search movement upward, in order to avail himself of these supports. Viewed in this light, prayer too acquires a whole new meaning, the real prayer which seeks God in gratitude.
For this reason Abd-ru-shin gave the advice in the Grail Message: ‘You men, could you but pray aright at last! Really pray! How rich would your existence then be! For in prayer lies the greatest happiness you can receive. It uplifts you to immeasurable heights so that supreme happiness streams through you blissfully. Could you but pray, men! That shall now be my wish for you!’ (Lecture: ‘Ask, and it shall be given unto you!’)
Here are a few questions for a personal reflection on life: Does my intellect serve a useful, upbuilding function? What kind of thoughts does it produce? Are these thoughts animating? Are there enough moments in everyday life during which the intellect is silent, giving room to the inner, receptive perception?
- Cultivating good thoughts: ‘Your thoughts are the messengers you send forth, which return heavily laden with similar thought-forms, good or evil as the case may be. This actually happens! Remember that your thoughts are realities that shape themselves spiritually, often becoming forms outliving the earth-life of your body … ’ (The Grail Message, lecture ‘Awake!’)
The conscious cultivation of good thoughts attracts what is good and is able to soothe one’s feelings, since every good intention immediately obtains invigorating support from spheres above the earthly, through the mutual attraction. Therefore it is not a case of convulsively fighting gloomy thoughts, but it is sufficient to register them as such, to recognise their genre, to know that they will have originated from somewhere, perhaps even having a message of sorts for us but then we should let them pass by in front of us. Afterwards, it is essential, purely and simply to consciously make room for all that is good in life, continuing to do so again and again. A little notebook can be used to document something good each day, such as a quotation, an experience, a new idea, an interesting encounter, a successful day at work, the weather, health issues, a new venture, a recognition, or a past event seen in a new light. Forgiveness, too, goes hand in hand with good thoughts and bestows spiritual relief on both parties, with an immediate liberating effect upon the minds of those involved.
- And following up with good deeds: ‘An Eternal Law operates in the Universe: That only in giving can one receive where lasting values are concerned! Like a sacred legacy of its Creator, this Law deeply permeates the whole of Creation. To give unselfishly, to help where help is needed, and to understand both the suffering and the weaknesses of your fellow-men, means to receive, because it is the simple and true way to the Highest!
‘And to will this seriously brings you immediate help and strength! By one single, honest and ardent wish to do good, the wall which your thoughts have hitherto erected as a barrier is cleaved as with a flaming sword from the other side that is now still invisible to you …’ (The Grail Message, lecture ‘Awake!’)
All good perceptions and intentions only gain real value when they are put into practice! It is only in the active implementation of the good that the cycle, into which every person is integrated, will close for us and thereby also open the way for us to experience the love and true happiness connected with it.
Thus it is by no means retreat and rest that is called for, but rather an animated exchange with other people, which includes giving as well as receiving assistance. Such an exchange will bring new impulses, illuminating insights and freshness to new experiences. As a result, genuine gratitude and a new joie de vivre will be perceived, because ‘Gratitude is closely linked with joy!’ (The Grail Message, lecture ‘Thanks’)
Additional questions that can be asked are ones such as: What can I do to become personally engaged, personally involved? For other people, for a good cause, for nature? Such questions are able to initiate a change in the personal direction and focus, away from the brooding observation of oneself and also of others to a free, joyful, unencumbered readiness to give.
Like a mountain hike
Liberation from the gloom of depression does not happen overnight, even if there are brief bright spells now and then. There is often a very long path to cover, which can be compared to a mountain hike: The beginning is shrouded in fog, which does not lift over long stretches. Nevertheless one foot must be placed in front of the other in the firm belief that the first rays of sunshine will suddenly break through eventually. Sometimes it becomes necessary to explain the way to another hiker and to give assistance if the need arises. Just like in a mountain hike, the first as well as all further steps must be taken by the individual himself. Under no circumstances should one wait around until a solution is offered from the outside or that certain wishes must first be met, before the healing process can commence.
The first step must be taken, even if it requires a lot of effort to do so and the step itself may only be small. For it a matter of casting off the dross which burdens us, becoming re-attuned to the great Creation Law of Motion and then giving ample room to the good, which will find expression in loving thoughts, good intentions and helpful deeds.
Thereby, the promise which Abd-ru-shin has given in the Grail Message: ‘But all that is burdensome therein truly serves only as a blessing! It is a mercy!’ will find its fulfilment. (Lecture ‘Thanks’)