October 11, 2011

There is so much stuff in my closet that needs to go. Yes, I’m talking about clothes, shoes, scarves, belts, stockings, and so on. I’m also talking about the things I’ve hidden away over the years.

For instance, in my 30s I realized I had a major depressive illness. Drugs and therapy keep it under control (mostly!), and I am so grateful daily for good health insurance, my wonderful therapists, the SSRIs that kept me alive, and the newer medications that are such a relief for me.

While everyone has been depressed at one time or another, I have found that only those with similar illnesses really understand the struggle that is depression. It’s so easy to say, “Buck up!” and in fact, part of the struggle is learning not to abuse oneself with those words. There really is no “bucking up,” no way to “get over yourself” when depression is a constant companion.

It helps to know I share this condition with many successful and wonderful people–William Styron, for example. His autobiographical Darkness Visible is a chilling account. My hero of the moment, Parker J. Palmer, has struggled with this black cloud. As did Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, and so many others.

Only now am I able to bring this condition into the light, and I have to say it feels very risky. I do so not because of any confessional impulse, but in the hope of helping anyone else who might feel closeted and alone.


Imagine you have struggled too long.
One day, on the interstate,
it comes to you: Car exhaust—
that you could accomplish.

You go home and call your sister,
make pasta salad, anything
to save your life. At your next appointment
you get new pills, a threat of hospital.

Imagine that a switch is flipped;
you can see a normal sky.
You laugh; you play, for God’s sake.
Months and years pass uneventfully.

Dream you’ve nearly forgotten
how to struggle. Then, waking,
you are certain: The pills have failed;
you must save yourself all over again.

Fast forward many years and drugs,
many, many appointments.
One day you know that you
are learning the ancient art.

Awareness burning, deep down
you are swirling molten lead.
It bubbles up through your throat,
emerging gold and bright.


Making Meaning

December 22, 2008

It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard. ~May Sarton

I awoke (awakened?) at 3:30 with the images from this morning’s poem and had to get up and write. It was influenced by my reading of Dr. Eric Maisel’s book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. Maisel contends that all creatives suffer depression, and that liberation from depression is possible by creating meaning, forcing our lives to mean. He offers a prescription, in fact, consisting of such things as nurturing self-support, opting to matter, braving anxiety.

Maisel acknowledges that there is a role for anti-depressant drugs, and that early trauma is often a contributor to depression. But he clearly believes that creative people are primarily depressed as a result of their need to make meaning of their lives.

I am just a little over halfway through with this book, but I have found it both fascinating and practical. For example, he offers a sort of mantra of self-soothing in the following passage: “You have to tell yourself, ‘I am the beauty in life’…You combat what shaming did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what criticism did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what a sterile environment did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.'”

Meaningful creating seems to involve working soulfully, a path with heart. How do you create meaning?


December 22, 2008

In the dark time, the eye begins to see. ~Theodore Roethke

Again I have fallen
into the dark well of grief.
I can feel myself paling
like the camel crickets
too long out of the sunshine
that made me shudder
and draw back.

In this deep and narrow place
I must make meaning:
a lifeline, a light,
some wide wash
of healing water
in the black crucible
of faith.

Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me your suggestions for wording for my sign…

Radical Acceptance

May 3, 2008

Radical acceptance can keep us from becoming progressively constricted and diminished in the face of painful experiences.  ~from The Mindful Way Through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, Segal & Kabat-Zinn

You may note that I have changed the tagline of this blog to “words that illuminate the path to understanding.” Still way too many syllables for my taste, but more descriptive of what this blog has turned out to be. How would you say it more concisely?–send suggestions!

I have found so many of those illuminating words lately. It is great to be in a May-long break (is that at all like a bee-loud glade?) from my formal studies, so I can read other things!

I love this book from which today’s words come, in part of course because it validates what I have come to discover over the years and wrote about in my very first post to this blog (that mindfulness is key to God, the universe and everything). I read the research version a while back, and I am glad that the authors have now published a popular edition.

It includes one of my favorite Rumi works, “The Guest House,” translated by Coleman Barks:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


December 22, 2007

Anything is good material for poetry. Anything.  ~William Carlos Williams

Holidays have always been hard for me, since they involve seeing family. I remember a number of years when it was the end of February before I felt fully recovered from the experience of visiting family at Christmas. Ram Dass (with tongue in cheek) invites anyone who thinks they’re enlightened to spend time with family. At any rate, holidays remind me of family, and family reminds me of this poem.

Elegy For One Aggrieved

Yours was the sin of age.
Sedated in your easy chair
you had the eyes of the wild raccoon
on the screened-in porch
when the children blocked her escape.

Taken for a walk on forgiving ground
you suddenly knew what to do.
I tightened on your forearm to keep you
from lying down in each leafy depression
to die.

Later, in an unholy place,
people scurried to preserve your pulse
while you stared, leaden,
at the silly tins of peppermints
and would not eat.

Mine was the impotence of youth.
Now, on fall afternoons,
I lie in those leafy places
and cradle your grandmother bones
and softly, to your spirit, sing.

(originally published in Habersham Review, Autumn 1991)


October 21, 2007

Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself. ~Jalal Al-Din Rumi

There is no better advice for me today. I am bent on being dissatisfied, feeling sorry for myself, dwelling on what isn’t working. It’s time for yoga and meditation. For looking outside my own head. For dissolving, like melting snow.

Depression is so tempting! Familiar, safe, responsibility-free. Furthermore, it’s all about me! And yet a subtle shift in perspective can sometimes have the power to obliterate it. May I find the courage to act.