Jim Cogley: Reflections Tues 12 Dec – Mon 18 Dec  

Tue 12th Dec – Exploring Depression

Piece from shipwreck 200 years ago

To even mention the word depression can put us into a bad mood. It’s that state of mental ill-being that most have experienced at some time, and many for much of their lives. When someone says, ‘I’m feeling depressed’, it’s not entirely accurate, even though it is their truth. It would be more accurate to say ‘I’m experiencing depression’ because it is not an actual feeling, but more an absence of feeling. The latter description opens up the deeper question of what might I be depressing? This affords me more control over my experience and leads me away from being a helpless victim of fate to doing something about it. Depression was once called ‘melancholy’ and from the days of Freud has been largely understood as blocked or unacknowledged anger. For the person who is depressed this usually doesn’t make sense, because that emotion of anger is the one they least associate with, so deeply has it become buried in the unconscious.

Wed 13th Dec – Physical Causes

Sometimes depression has physical causes that a visit to the doctor may be able to solve without any need to look inward. Lack of sleep, burning the candle at both ends, leading to burnout is often a contributing factor, but even the reason for doing this need to be questioned. A virus can attack the body, giving rise to endogenous depression. Endogenous literally means ‘internally generated’. An underactive thyroid, where there is a lack of the hormone thyroxine, can seriously affect the metabolism and give rise to depression. Many women experience post- natal depression, however, this is also a form of grief where the physical loss of the baby from the mothers body is not an adequate understanding. Inadequate diet and lack of essential minerals or vitamins can also be a contributing factor as can times of transition in the life cycle. This could be menopause in women around 45-55 and mid-life crisis in men that may only hit long after the chronological mid-life stage.

Thurs 14th Dec – Resisting what Is

When experiencing the full onslaught of difficult emotions, we may seek medical help and even ask for some medication to numb our pain. In effect, what psychotic medication does is to help slam closed the door that really needs to be opened fully. Much of our suffering comes from resistance to what is and so the first step on the road to recovery is simply to feel what needs to be felt in order to heal. We are seriously programmed to resist, repress and deny what ever is uncomfortable and when it rears its ugly head to do everything in our power to consign it back to the realm of the unconscious. This is where psychotherapy and medication do not make good bedfellows, because one is trying to facilitate the emergence of emotions while the function of the other is to block them. Medication may be necessary in the short term, to tide one over a difficult patch. However, in the long term it is counterproductive since emotions can’t be denied forever.

Fri 15th Dec – Spiritual Causes

The root causes of depression are so often spiritual in nature. Someone who lives in the past with mistakes and regrets is effectively beating themselves up and that self-inflicted anger can easily give rise to depression. Resentment is another big factor where again I beat myself up over what someone else has said or done. Resentment is really the anger I feel at what someone else had done being directed towards myself. Many are trapped in envy and totally unaware of what is happening, except knowing that there is something seriously wrong. Envy is to compare and to compare is to despair. It was once classed among the seven deadly sins because it killed off the connection to my essence or core self. Closely allied to envy is the tendency to covet what someone else has. In effect, it is this insatiable wanting called greed, that prevents us from having and can lead us very quickly down the path of depression.

Sat 16th Dec – ‘An emptiness deep inside’

Some other factors that give rise to depression that are of a spiritual nature could include holding onto secrets where my reluctance to reveal something to a trusted other is really an excuse for not admitting it to myself. In our secular age, neglect of soul or inner life, is a major contributing factor to widespread depression. This is where on the outside my life may look like a doughnut but I feel like the hole. It’s an emptiness deep inside that no one or thing can fill. This is where nothing can deliver what it promises and gives rise to frustration, that of course is frozen anger. Partly related to this is where my life priorities may be all wrong. I may spend my days being very busy responding to the urgent things of life while never having time for what is important. A bout of depression might be an awakening to a whole new perspective on life, with much deeper priorities.

Sun 17th Dec – Advent 3 – Giving and Forgiving

Christmas is many things not least of which it is a time for giving. Last week, we had a collection for SVP, that wonderful charity that helps people when they are in need. Two people who were collecting in Dublin told the story of how they stood at their church gate and so many passed without giving anything. These were usually well-dressed with expensive overcoats and designer handbags. Then a homeless man came up and to their amazement emptied his pockets of everything he had begged for all that day. They asked him if he was really ok about what he was doing and he said, ‘Absolutely. I was taught growing up that what goes round comes round. I have a bed in a shelter for the night and that is all I need. Tomorrow is another day.’ Someone listening was so moved they offered to get him permanent accommodation and I just hope they were able to make contact with him because he deserved it.

That man found joy in giving and there is equal joy in forgiving. If we think of the word for-give it’s another form of giving. Here let me share with you a story called The Bridge Builder. Like all stories it begins with, Once upon a time……there were two brothers who had always been very close. They lived on two farms next to each other. After 40 years of farming side by side, being the best of friends, and sharing everything, they had a row, they fell out, and while it started as a simple misunderstanding, it became serious when it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by months of silence. As in most cases like that the truth of one was the lies of the other as they both looked at the same situation from different perspectives. They now had a major difference where any kind of reconciliation was utterly unthinkable.

One morning, one of the brothers named John, heard a knock on his door and he answered it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. ‘I’m looking for a few days work’, he said, ‘would you happen to have any jobs for me here?’ ‘As it happens I do,’ he said ‘you’re just the man I need. That farm across there belongs to my brother and up to last week there was a meadow between us with a path linking the two farms. Just to spite me he went in with a digger and opened up the bank of the river and flooded the field making into a lake. I need to go one better. There’s a pile of timber over yonder and I want you to build me a big 8-foot fence, so I won’t ever need to see either his ugly face or his place anymore. That will soften his cough.’

The carpenter said, ‘I think I understand the situation. Just show me your hole digger, get me some nails and I will be able to do a job that pleases you.’

John got the supplies needed by the carpenter and then had to go away for the rest of the week. Meanwhile, the carpenter worked away sawing, measuring and nailing.

When he returned at the weekend the carpenter had just finished the job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. There was no fence but instead there was a bridge stretching from one side to the other, right over the lake of water. It was a fine piece of work complete with handrails and coming across was his younger brother with his hand outstretched.

‘You are quite a fellow’, he shouted, to do what you have just done and build a bridge like this, especially after all I have said and done.’

The two brothers first stood at each end of the bridge and then met in the middle and took each other’s hand. With tears of joy in their eyes they agreed to put their past differences behind them and right there were fully reconciled.

They turned to see the carpenter hoist the toolbox onto his shoulder. ‘Please wait,’ said the older brother `I have lots of other jobs for you to do.’ ‘I would love to,’ replied the carpenter, ‘but the work `I have done is what most needed to be done and I still have many other bridges to build.’

And perhaps, so do we, and there’s no greater joy than in building bridges and Christmas is a better time than most.

Mon 18th Dec – The Hidden Dynamics of Depression

There are many expressions used when someone begins to experience depression. It might be that ‘I’m all out of sorts’, ‘my nerves are at me,’ or ‘I’m down in the dumps.’ They all amount to the one thing, that ‘my get up and go has got up and gone’, and no amount of cajoling to pull myself together makes any difference since I don’t feel I have any together left to pull! The question is where has all the energy that I once had disappeared to? Energy just doesn’t evaporate, so instead of being available for outer activities it has now turned inwards. Here, its purpose is to bring to the surface contents from the unconscious that may have been hidden for many a day or year. Some reflection will usually reveal a trigger factor that sets this process in motion. For example, a relatively minor loss can trigger a major loss that has never been dealt with. In order for the depression to be effective in its work it needs our co-operation to facilitate the emergence of whatever has been repressed. This means that journeying towards wholeness I need to be more a mid-wife to my deeper self and avoid being an undertaker!

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