Transpersonal Testimonies: Human Potential, Human Cruelty (Or: How Meditation and Behavioral Therapy Kept Me From A Killing Spree) by Random Smith, aka Depression Time |Leave a comment
March 10 by The Running Son
by random smith, aka Depression Time
Visit Depression Time’s excellent blog: http://depression-time.com/
[ NOTE: This account is direct, honest and well worth the read. Be aware of a paragraph or two with mildly sexually explicit content; it is in context and should not distract from this narrative of profound inner struggle. Peace, the RFB ]
If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.
If you can dream it, you can become it.
– William Arthur Ward
Motivational words for many, most certainly. The oft-quoted, though ultimately value-less maxim was just one of likely hundreds penned by Ward, a favored contributor of that journal of inoffensive letters, Reader’s Digest. Ward here implies an infinitude to human potential. Most frequently this potential is interpreted as potential to overcome obstacles, to succeed, to be of benefit. Though there’s a more ruthless interpretation: What you think, you are.
What it tells my depressed mind is that those thoughts — those malicious injurious and frequently blood- and fluids-soaked thoughts, specifically — are equally capable of taking a substantive shape and guiding my development as the more too-frequently more-difficult-to-coax charitable sentiments. This thing, this human, is inventive and adaptable if nothing else. And, confoundedly, it seems designed to both collaborate and to dominate.
It is the struggle of the two wolves.
As creatures of considerable biological impulse, tenacious survival instincts and a procreation drive for recreation, we are heavily seeded with a full suite of tools needed to maintain our presence on this planet. As a punk kid coming up with seemingly no end of potentially violent critics, I used my anger and my lust as sources of emotional comfort. A hard-on brought a sense of invulnerability (but was difficult to maintain through an entire school period, much less walk home after school). Anger dominated.
With them came vile scenes of bodies being torn to pieces, children raped and dismembered. You name it. I remember seeing these things, sometimes being troubled by them, but it never occurring to me I had any influence over them. They were from deeper, unreachable space. I was the flesh blown about by these stronger energies.
After I adopted a Christian outlook (but before I understood the significance of my own evolutionary roots), I was sometimes tortured by the images that could arise during these ruminations. Worse than their own inherent vileness was the fact that they arose from within me. What sort of creature was I? I would wrestle over these images and thoughts. Struggle against them. Sin. Judgement.
After I left the church the images continued along with a worsening depression. I saw in these unwelcome thoughts my potential, but I’d wager not the sort that William Arthur Ward was singing about when he urged us to “imagine … achieve … dream … become.” I had the makings of a serial killer in me, an abuser of the worst kind.
I considered them, their roots. Struggled against them. I didn’t realize that in doing so I was actually fixing them more more securely in my brain. For the longest time I viewed them through a guilt-smeared lens. But a form of salvation would come from an unexpected place: A mentally ill woman with a jittery cadence and propensity for nervous laughter.
As memorable as my first encounter with a street evangelist who struggled to communicate to intoxicated youth the message that there is a God and that God loved them was my first instruction in mindfulness.
While the self-identified “God Squad” came and left almost as quickly as my explorations of pot and alcohol in shaded corners of a particular public square near an old torpedo factory, the woman who introduced my mind to me was a family friend. I was approaching thirty by then, living through the complications of homeownership, family life, and running a small business.
I’d already migrated through black-out anger, cutting, drugs, drink, panic, depression, what have you. I was on and off psychiatric meds, but otherwise dealing with my challenges soberly, as was the pact I struck with my wife before we hitched wagons. Still, the marriage was teetering. She nearly left me on our Mexican honeymoon, but we lasted long enough to return to the States and promptly get pregnant.
Yet I wasn’t recovering from my depression fast enough, as far as my wife was concerned. That meant trouble.
R. sat with me outside the coffee shop following another stressful week. She was an attorney in town. I knew her through my wife mainly. Understood she was medicated like me, living through the loss of her husband several years earlier. I don’t know what prompted it, maybe a discussion of our shared mental struggles, but that seems too intimate to me now. It came from nowhere, the way epiphanies must, luminosity washing out everything around it, those menial supporting details. Inhabiting its own pocket of space, uncontested by past and future.
She told me about a happy people with the ability to snuggle up in the back of their psyches and dispassionately observe the parade of thoughts and feelings passing through at any given moment. With the strength to meet their minds and analyze and let go. To do this and not get swept away.
She suggested I could do the same: be an observer of my mind, unattached to the origin, color, or perceived meaning of the randomness dancing behind my eyelids.
It was a revelation.
The idea that I could watch a feeling or thought arise, collect with similar sympathetic thoughts or retreat in the ascendance of some competing thought or feeling, and not respond emotionally was revolutionary stuff. It is not an exaggeration to say that this seemingly obvious concept was key to allowing me to begin the long slog back from victimhood.
I would become better acquainted with Buddhist teachings and cognitive behavioral therapy over the next decade or so. It wouldn’t save my marriage, but it would enable me to make sense of these most troubling images, images that had repeated enough that I had come to believe were personal urges.
The mind, I learned, is a tempest, a whirlwind. Neither good, nor bad. Just incredibly active. Sometimes the seemingly random images that leap from the subconscious and into our awareness are significant (sexual abuse survivors know what I’m talking about) but most are just that: the meaningless chatter of electrical impulse taken form.
It is the shame and guilt following our awareness of striking cultural taboos suddenly flickering in our minds that cause us to clamp down. To start. To ruminate. To obsess. And to revisit.
Last night was my first meditation in a solid month. It’s tough under the influence of depression; I could only manage ten minutes. But it was enough to remind me of what happens behind the flickering screen. And I’m reminded of the happy fact that I’ve given up on guilt. Not that these images came rushing back when I sat down in silence. Interestingly, nothing of the kind occurred.
Normally I would have called to them. Looked for them. Expected.
I know they’ll be back. But I also know that when something startling or ugly does inevitably surface, I’ll just have to laugh.
I mean: How random was that?
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