(by Jeff Foster)
Is Depression Simply A Call To Spiritual Awakening?
(From Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit magazine, issue 32, Winter 2012-13)
“Jeff has achieved something wonderful with this honest and insightful book –
something that benefits all of us and sheds much-needed light on the mystery we call life.”
—Stephen Gawtry, Managing Editor, Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine
I was recently talking with a woman who was busy planning her own suicide. She was sorting out her finances, paying off debts and trying to find foster parents for her young daughter, who would be left motherless after she killed herself. She had been threatening suicide for years, but finally she was really going to do it. Her friends and family had been trying desperately to stop her, but her mind was totally made up.
“That’s it. I’m done. My time here is over,” she said to me, very matter-of-factly, at the start of our session together. Everything had become such a burden to her – her unfulfilling job, her needy friends, her own brilliant but overactive mind, her failed search for a life partner. Even her young daughter was driving her up the wall with her incessant demands. She was totally exhausted from helping everybody all the time, and never getting anything back, and she saw suicide as a “logical” and “intelligent” solution to her problem of living.
I allowed her to talk and talk. She had a lot to say, and I said very little. I simply remained on her side, feeling and seeing the world from her perspective, allowing my experience to become hers, intimately so. This was easy, since in my life I have known well that place of total exhaustion and despair, the place where “I’ve been trying so hard to save others and have received nothing back”, the place where it seems like death would be a blessing and release.
I joined the ‘Our Lives Are Exhausting and We Want Out!‘ club (membership is free). We were the failed ones, the misunderstood ones, the unloved ones, the ones who nobody appreciated, the ones who longed for deep rest. I wondered if anyone had ever truly met her in that place of total exhaustion before. I wondered if all those therapists, spiritual teachers, friends and family members over the years, with the best of intentions, had just been trying to save her, to fix her, to feed her new “positive” or “spiritual” beliefs, to force her to change her mind and “get back to normal”, rather than truly meeting her in her pain and loneliness, and validating her present-moment experience. Perhaps in the midst of her present despair, something else, something new, was longing to break free.
We can view depression not as a dysfunction or mental illness, but on a deeper level, as a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest.
We talked for hours. Met with understanding rather than judgement and fear, she slowly began to open up about her true longings, secret dreams and hidden desires. It became clear that she had a rich, creative inner life that had simply never been given expression. Behind the facade, she was so very alive, so open to experience, so sensitive to all the energies around her, so “wide angle” as she put it. Deep down, she was a wild and passionate free spirit, but had limited and constrained herself over the years, squeezing herself into a mould and into a life that just wasn’t ‘her’ at all. She had been living a life of numbers and money and predictability, and it was crushing her inner explorer, poet, and adventurer.
I gently encouraged her to open up about her secret longing to travel, to explore, to ride out into the unknown without a map. She began to talk with passion about those times in the past where she had felt free and alive and unburdened. There was a longing to return to the simplicity of those days. A fire raged in her.
Her longing for death was not actually a longing to die in the physical sense. What she truly longed for was not the end of breathing and the cessation of the heartbeat, but the death of the false self, the death of the inauthentic ‘me’ she had been pretending to be – the successful businesswoman, the selfless supporter of others, the one who was in control of everything. Through the experience of deep depression, life had been screaming to her at the top of its lungs, “LIVE, LIVE!”. All I needed to do was to facilitate the answering of this divine call.
Through the experience of deep depression, life had been screaming to her at the top of its lungs, “LIVE, LIVE!”.
We began to explore possibilities. What would real, fearless, authentic living look like? She had a brilliant mind, and a wide-open heart, both of which had been underused in the business of Real Estate. She started to talk about selling her house and setting off with her beloved daughter (“my beloved angel, sent from heaven”, as she called her) into the vast unknown. She had always longed to travel to New Zealand. Could this dream become a reality? Or rather, was it already a reality? Maybe it was just the old Real Estate dream that needed to die. And maybe that death was already happening.
If she had put her daughter into a foster home and killed herself – which had been her plan up until this moment – she would have been teaching her daughter how to close off to life and possibility. She would not have been teaching the deep truth of herself. Suicide would have been a false teaching, and she knew this in the very depths of her being.
Suddenly, everything became so clear. There was no longer any choice. She knew what life was telling her to do. Yes, she was going to kill herself… but not in the way she had imagined before today. She was going to kill her old self, her limited, untrue self. That was the real suicide, the divine suicide, the suicide that is necessary for all of us if we are to live passionate, authentic lives. She was going to break up with a life that had become empty and meaningless for her and break free, setting out into the unknown with her beloved daughter, their hearts wide open to possibility and to each other.
This was not a mental conclusion based on fear. This was not running away from her responsibilities. This was a deep honouring of the life force trying to move inside her. This was alignment with her passion. This was deep responsibility, in the true sense of the word – the ability to respond authentically to life’s deepest call.
Now, she had no choice but to live.
The following morning, I learnt that her adventure had already begun. She had already started boxing things away, selling unwanted possessions, preparing herself not for death, but for a new life. It was a divine suicide – the suicide of the false, by the false. She would move to New Zealand with her beloved daughter, who would not be put into a foster home and lose her mother, but would join her living mother in an adventure of a lifetime.
I had not taught this woman anything. I had not ‘done’ anything to her at all. I had simply listened to her from a place of non-judgemental acceptance, reflecting her own deep truth back at her so she could actually hear it for once. In the midst of total breakdown, a new life had been given the space to emerge. It’s amazing what can happen when we just listen to each other.
It is no surprise that the word “depressed” is spoken phonetically as “deep rest”. We can view depression not as a dysfunction or mental illness, but on a deeper level, as a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest, unconsciously entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own false story of ourselves. It is a loss of interest in the second-hand – a longing to die to the false and limited ‘me’, a longing to rediscover our true vastness, to receive our birthright.
Depression actually has awakening built into it. And so it needs to be honoured and validated, not medicated, meditated or analyzed away. We need to listen to its call. And we need to fearlessly meet others who are deeply depressed and long to die, and listen to them without prejudice, hearing the deeper cosmic truth in what they are saying. We need to trust the vast, universal intelligence of life itself, and allow the divine and loving suicide of spiritual awakening to weave its mysterious magic, in us and in everyone we know.
My new book The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life, written after many years of meeting with thousands of spiritual seekers all over the world, takes you by the hand and gently leads you beyond your doubts and fears, beyond your failures and unfulfilled longings, beyond your limiting stories and judgements about yourself, beyond your depression and anxiety, to an ever-present, always-accessible place of peace and deep rest within.
No matter what is happening in your life, no matter where you are on your journey, life constantly invites you to rest deeply, not in the future, not ‘one day’, but in this present moment, which is your true home, and the source of all your fulfilment.
Jeff Foster studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University. In his mid-twenties, after a period of depression and illness, he became addicted to the idea of ‘spiritual enlightenment’ and embarked on a spiritual quest for the ultimate truth of existence. The spiritual search came crashing down with the clear recognition of the non-dual nature of everything, and the discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary. Jeff was left with a deep understanding of the root illusion behind all human suffering, and a love of the present moment. He presently holds meetings, retreats and private one-to-one sessions around the world, gently but directly pointing people back to the deep acceptance inherent in themselves. Jeff was voted #51 on Watkins Mind Body Spirit’s 2012 list of the world’s 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People and has published four books in over six languages. Website: www.lifewithoutacentre.com