Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To Gaze Upon the Beast

Part I:  The Problem

These past weeks, I've found it very challenging to write a blog post.  When I've tried, all the words that fell from my fingers were bitter, angry, and despairing.  Some days ago, I could not find anything to say that felt worthy of articulation.  Indeed, I could barely complete a sentence.  Most of my day was spent in this kind of caustic, emotionally abortive state.  Half-formed resentments kept knocking around my head so that I could not quite grasp what I thought or how I felt.  I just shriveled, hunkered, wilted, and crouched by my computer all day.  I read the news on the computer obsessively.  Finally, tearing myself away from Facebook and Truthout, I watched the news on the television.  I felt even worse.  The world seems damned and I feel helpless to save it.  The sky was dark and the cold in my basement apartment bored into my bones.  A hot, tearful bath thawed me a bit, but later I found myself on the couch beneath a blanket slipping in and out of one of the worst depressive states I've been in for a good long time.

I could not quite figure it out.  I'm prone to occasional bouts of depression, but they are usually mild and fleeting episodes.  Ironically, I suppose, depression does not get me down.  Generally speaking, anxiety is my mental illness of choice.  It is true that depression nearly drowned me almost a decade ago, but it rarely can hold me more than a few hours at a time since then.  That's why I was so surprised to find my anxiety swing over so decisively to that deeper darkness.

Whenever I have a feeling, I study it.  Why am I having this feeling?  Is it ephemeral and/or merely situational?  Does it have a more complex or spiritually grounded component?  How might my physical condition affect this manifestation of emotional sensation?  So I search my environment and body for irregularities.  (I can't stand irregularities.)  Perhaps it was that I had foolishly gone a couple days without my supplements.  As one who occasionally suffers from episodes of what my husband gently calls "not feeling well", I know that I have to eat well, take supplements that support good brain function and mental health, stay physically active, and get decent amounts of sleep.  When I neglect myself, I'm likely to become "off balance".    To my natural health regimen, I add aromatherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture.  I'm kind of high maintenance that way.

Perhaps it was the dismal gray skies and the damp chill.  I'm not a real outdoorsie type, but I do find that I do tend to be solar-powered.  Bright days encourage me to be active.  Perhaps the dark and the damp compounded my morning doldrums and sent me slipping down into the gravel pit.  (I often think of depression as a gravel pit with steep sides.  Easy to find your way in.  Dull as hell once you're there, but damned difficult to climb out again unless you happen to know the way.)

As is my custom, I fussed and worried about my feelings until it suddenly hit me what had happened.

I looked directly at the Beast.

Part II:  The Reflection (always keep mirrors handy)

The Beast is a many-headed, malicious killer and it is everywhere.  Look now and you will see it out of the corner of your eye.  It is hunger, want, injustice, intolerance, hatred, war, bigotry, torture, pollution.  It is grasping, cutting, strangling.  It starves, cuts, twists, mocks, and brutalizes.  Cut one of its hideous heads loose from its body and it seems that two more grow back in its place.  Like the Medusa or the Basilisk, to look directly at it brings petrification and death.

And yet we must fight it.  But how?  How can we fight something so enormous and so frustratingly resilient?  How can we fight something that we cannot even bear to look in the eye? 

I think it was a conversation with my little girl that helped me with this question.  She came to me in deep frustration that as a child she could not change the world.  She was furious with herself that by the time she grew up and had power to stand up for the vulnerable, too much damage would already be done.  How many more children will die?  How many more species will become extinct?

I heard myself in her, but did not respond to her as "myself" but as "mother."  This is basically what I told her.  This is basically what I told the reflection of myself in her.

It is good that you want to fight that Beast.  But it cannot be conquered by one person.  Gather allies.  Remember that there are people already out there, working, studying, advocating, healing, teaching.  Generations of us have faced this danger and generations of us will face it again because we will not accept defeat as long as love exists. 

Do not attempt to look directly at the Beast.  The vastness and power of it will freeze you in your tracks.  Instead, like the valiant mice in Aslan's battle, focus on the toes and heels and tails of the Foe if that is all you can reach.  Even the mighiest adversary cannot keep fighting if we cut the legs out from beneath him.  Focus on what you can do rather than what you think you ought to do.  Your little efforts, grounded in faith and inspired by love, may be just the thing to turn the tide.   

Consider that even the pennies you set aside daily to help other children in the world add up quickly. You may wish to help a thousand children and regret your powerlessness to do so, but consider that the child who receives the gift of your pennies can make all the difference in the world.  If your pennies save just one child, that one child can join in the story of humanity.  Celebrate her voice.  Celebrate her life.  She may not be a multitude, but she is a beloved sister.

And always remember that however immediate and terrifying the problems that face us seem, we are creatures bound to the future.  You are not done growing. Your job is to keep growing and keep learning. Keep getting stronger. Remember that none of us can fight on our own. The world has not been waiting for you to stand alone. The world waits for us to stand together.


Michele said...

What a profound post. Thank you.

Morgaine said...

I'm in the same place. Haven't been able to hit "publish" in almost a month for many of the same reasons.

RantWoman said...

Thank you. Your words help me orient myself in the midst of my own dark moments.

Thank you also for the courage.

Ev said...

I am an oddball. As such, I can take note of the changes in those around me who are more oriented in the direction of "normal". I love Winter. But alas, most fear and even hate it. I have seen the building fear in the eyes of many people around me. They see the signs. "Winter is coming!" That dark time that has imprisoned us in our homes huddled together for warmth for months since the days of our earliest ancestors. It is natural for people to have a building feeling of anxiety as the Winter months approach us.

I, of course, become tickled with glee. But I have a similar feeling when I know Summer is coming. I loath Summer and its limitless supply of insect minions and heat induced suffering.

I hope you can shake yourself free of your funk. Or maybe you should try listen to some funk! In my house we have discovered that listening to music that makes us laugh and dance like idiots can lighten the darkest of moods.

Hystery said...

Ev, I'm no great fan of summer either unless it remains quite mild. I love the beauty of winter, but worry about it too. This probably results from my husband's years as a snow plow operator. When it snowed, off he'd go in the middle of the night to do a double shift. Took some of the shine out of winter's wonderland for me.

I love the spiritual depth of winter. It isn't for nothing that there are so many cool holidays during this season.

Your suggestion about music is a good one. I keep forgetting to play music for myself. I got in the habit of not listening to it for a number of reasons too pathetic to mention.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Your struggling with the "Beast" (the feelingly endless "ocean of darkness") and your answer back for your daughter reminds me of a quote from Thomas Merton:
A Letter to a Young Activist” by Trappist monk Thomas Merton

"Dear Jim,

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything…all the best, in Christ, Tom"

Hope your time today will feel renewed.

Daniel Wilcox

MikeSnow said...

I just happened here following some links on a Quaker blog. Think you might like this story about the Christmas truce, Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914. If you are interested I would be glad to send the pdf.

Hystery said...

Dear Mike, I would like that very much. My gmail address is hysterywitch at...

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