The Metaphysics of Depression

It took me a while to understand what people were actually telling me when they described their experience of melancholia and depression.  They nearly always spoke about the purely psychological dimension of negative thoughts and emotions, often so unbearable that suicide seemed a redemptive relief. They rarely acknowledged their embodied physical experience.

But almost without exception, when I continued to enquire about their ailment, they would begin to talk about extreme physical states: sensations of unbearable physical heaviness,  sluggishness, immobility, inability to rise from bed, a glued physical reluctance to engage in any activity.

No wonder, I thought, that they should have such distressing emotions and thoughts. Their internal physiological state, their inherent biological ecosystem, was in an awful state; and this was naturally mirrored in their sad emotions and thoughts, at their most extreme inclining towards suicide

As a mystic and metaphysician, I would then always contemplate the journey of their soul. I hoped that I might intuit some kind of coherent story, framed by metaphysics, karma and spiritual purpose, that threw some light on the darkness of their malaise, on their dark night of the soul.

Yes it was obvious, as with any illness, that there was an opportunity for spiritual development. But I always advise caution here, because it can be nasty and insensitive to assert that someone’s illness is a purposeful part of their soul’s journey. At its worst, this kind of statement can be a soulless, passive aggressive ‘you asked for it’ banality. (Even if sometimes there may be an element of truth to it.)

Stepping back from the idea that depression can be a deliberate developmental stage planned by the soul, there are however other metaphysical perspectives that are worth exploring.

I approach all this tentatively, because it is an idea that is work-in-progress and also because I want to be sensitive to the suffering of those who endure depression and melancholy.

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The key angle here is to focus on the physical experience of depression that I began to list in the first paragraph: the symptoms of sluggishness, heaviness and the effort required to move, as if one were being sucked into inertia.

Notice too how many of the therapies for depression encourage movement of the body, emotions and thoughts. Notice also the medicines administered for depression; their very prescription acknowledges that it is a biochemical embodied state.

But the physicality of depression is often ignored by those of us looking for a psycho-spiritual or metaphysical understanding and cure.

There are however two metaphysical perspectives, which can provide insight.

The first is from the writings of Djwahl Kuhl, particularly in his book, Esoteric Healing, dictated to his secretary, Alice Bailey.

The second can be found in many metaphysical philosophies, but is most explicit in the Yin-Yang approach of Taoism.

In explaining illness and the possible avenues for healing, Djwahl Kuhl of course talks about the karmic element. He also discusses illnesses, such as plagues and epidemics, where individuals have no choice but to participate in humanity’s collective karma and mass events.

Djwahl Kuhl also crucially discusses the inherent impurities in the stuff that makes up the body of planet Earth and consequently the inherent impurities that exist too in our human physical bodies. We may be brilliant, compassionate, enlightened saints, but our bodies are organic and carbon-based, and therefore contain inherent impurities that we share with Gaia. The substance of Gaia’s vehicle is not one hundred per cent pure. Gaia herself has karma.

This is a profound insight for metaphysical approaches to illness and healing. Some of our illnesses have nothing to do with our personal karma and dharma, but are simply part of the reality that we exist in an interdependent physical environment and we participate in its corrupt physical elements as much as in its gifts. That is just the way it is. (Try keeping your body healthy and alive forever!)

The physical experience of depression, then, may simply be due to someone’s physical body experiencing an impurity that belongs to planet Earth.

(Below: The Schwatzchild metric; gravity bending space and time.)

Then there is a second metaphysical insight. (I apologize in advance to scholars who may see this as an oversimplification.)

The Yin-Yang concept of Taoist philosophy expresses a crucial cosmic reality that is rarely articulated in a helpful and straightforward way. This philosophy asserts a fundamental truth, that there are two great forces continuously at work and continuously in balance with each other.

Expansion ↔ Containment

Yin  ↔ Yang

Yin — everything in the cosmos is in a continual state of containment, of gravity and magnetism; of taking on form.

Yang — everything in the cosmos is in a continual state of movement and expansion.

Without gravity and magnetism – Yin –  the cosmos would have no form, no solidity, no coherence.

Without movement and expansion – Yang –  the cosmos would be an unimaginable block of inert matter, a sucking black hole of density, never developing and growing.

These two forces of expansion and containment balance each other to create all the forms and matter of life. Moreover their relationship is always dancing and in a state of transformation. They exist alongside and within each other.

At the same time, these two forces are felt in our bodies and our psyches.

Too much Yang, too much expansion and movement, and we become hyper.

Too much Yin, too much magnetism and inertia, and we get sucked into depression.

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So here we have a metaphysical perspective on depression. It suggests that the physical matter of someone’s body may be too inclined towards gravity, containment and magnetism; and has lost its balancing outwards movement of expansion and development. The depressed person’s cells and atoms are not moving and expanding in a balanced way. There is too much dense, sluggish gravity.

Why should this be in some people’s bodies? Yes, there is the possibility that it is the soul’s choice. But there are all the other more obvious reasons — ancestry, DNA, environmental conditions  — which come from being part of an interdependent species of planet Earth. Please do not get me wrong and start sending me emails stating that people can influence their vulnerability through changes in behavior and attitude. That is only too obvious. What is not obvious to many is how we share in the collective experience of the whole planet, sometimes willingly, sometimes innocently and by chance.  

Depression can be, so to speak, a natural event that occurs sometimes because our bodies are made up of matter over which we sometimes have no control. Birth and death are also indicators of this reality.

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Moreover, many people who do not suffer severe depression, do also experience cycles of melancholia, ups and downs. These are natural too and built into our biology.

Two of these cycles are very well-known.

The first is seasonal. Many people experience lows when their bodies are deprived of sunlight in the Winter; and then recover energy when stimulated by the renewed light of Spring and Summer. The warmth and rays of the sun work directly on the physiology to stimulate activity. Deprived of the stimulation, many bodies sink into melancholy.

The second cycle is the equally natural one of sadness following a period of activity or a peak of success. The body seeks balance. Having been in an extreme state of liveliness, it swings back into an extreme state of morose sluggishness. Some people, as we know, suffer lifelong swings of mood, not as disturbing as suicidal depression but nevertheless extremely uncomfortable.

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So to an important question. Can any of this approach to depression bring relief?

I do not know.

I do know however that anything that expands our understanding might in some way be useful. It progresses the conversation.

For people however who are dedicated to their spiritual development and have developed the practice of compassionate witnessing, then this approach may give them a new angle to contemplate. Possibly, better understanding their metaphysical and physical anatomy, they might intuit an insight into how they can mobilize themselves out of too much gravity into more expansion and movement. I do not know. I do however pray for the relief of suffering.

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Often my friends who suffer from depression and who have a spiritual approach, will say: I don’t belong here. I wish I had not incarnated. I want to go home.

I may then ask them about their sense of home. They always reply that home (usually in the heavens) is healing, safe, friendly and beautiful.

I find it very poignant when they say that, because I perceive extraordinary hope and optimism in their sense of home. We mystics who, fortunately, do not endure depression, are, in a way, always at home. I wish that for my melancholic friends too.

Why Are Some Meditators So Smug?

There is a lovely human contradiction here.
Meditators are strung out between being primal primates and transcendent gurus.

The organic reality is that meditators sit in a complex system of nerves, juices and synapses. These  biological essentials are hardwired into basic instincts for survival — for the individual and for the species. Sometimes these built-in nature drives can be bloody and harsh.

In the culture of traditional eastern meditation this is reflected in the classic Tibetan Buddhist mantra:
I am a sack of skin filled with unpleasant things.

Less harsh is the mantra:
I have a body, but I am not my body.

Softer and emotionally literate is the more modern version:
I have a body, but I am more than my body;
I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions;
I have thoughts, but I am more than my thoughts.

But these mantra pose a really interesting and substantial paradox. Who is the “I” who has all these things?

The “I” is obviously still a persona, an identity, a “me!” But this “I” is claiming to transcend and be detached from the sack of skin, the body, emotions and thoughts. This “I” is more than the flesh and blood identity.

In the Christian tradition we know only too well the problems associated with detaching from and condemning the physical body. The arising challenges range from a gentle dissociation that is harmless to others, to an uncontrollable flood of repressed, corrupt and abusive libido. This pathology of course is not restricted to Christianity, but may be found in any tradition that represses the body and its instincts.

But there is also a psychological challenge which is hardly acknowledged and requires more enlightenment. It is more subtle and has to do with status and survival. And is sometimes very destructive.

It is one of the most ordinary basic instincts in human beings. It is the survival drive that requires a stable sense of status. Where we sit in the social pecking order is a crucial element of psychological stability. We can see the politics of dominance hierarchies playing out all across the animal kingdom.

In the human species, status anxiety, and not knowing where one stands in the social hierarchy, can lead to mental illness and suicide. Moreover when someone’s status is threatened or disrespected, it can trigger powerful basic instincts of defensiveness, anger and aggression. This is the culture of gangs, bitchfests, prisons, mafiosi and dictators.

When a meditator, therefore, self-soothes and calmly observes the world around them, they transcend the usual dynamics of status and survival. In their consciousness the meditator is detached from, higher than, everyone else who is caught up in the noise, arousals and delusions. By virtue of being calm and watchful, the meditator has achieved – at least within their model of reality – a higher status.

This higher status gives them, as a biological creature, quite naturally, feelings of superiority. No wonder some meditators feel smug. At its worst the gentle smile of a meditator may be an expression of conceit.

And . . . perhaps they have genuinely achieved a higher status. Perhaps this is a positive evolutionary step onward for human beings.

If calm meditative watchfulness is a positive evolutionary step onward, then what matters now is whether the meditator has the reflective skills to understand the trickiness of the human psyche and whether they have insight into the hardwired drives of their sack of skin filled with unpleasant things. What matters too is whether they have an instinct for compassion.

Looking back at my own practice, I remember that in my twenties i was a smug meditator for a while. I did not know better and it was a stage before I developed a more insightful and loving temperament. 

In fact, I now wave a flag and will assert that the experienced meditator has reached a higher stage of human evolution and development — has higher status!

But this higher status, in the context of the great ocean of cosmic consciousness, is meaningless. (Try competing with a galaxy!)  As meditators experience over time, there are never-ending new and higher states of consciousness in our infinite enquiry into love, wisdom and the mystery.

Our plateau of calm awareness is but a starting point for ever more expanded states, more compassionate awareness and service.

So yes, I would have everyone on the planet able to practise the skills of calm awareness. But I would also want them to understand and appreciate the flesh and blood realities, the basic instincts of their biological creaturehood.

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Meditation requires insight at all levels.

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The image below is of St Simeon the Stylite who lived on top of a pillar for decades.

King’s Coronation Vow of Allegiance

A short comment about the coming coronation of King Charles III.

Some of us in the United Kingdom may be feeling conflicted about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation that we all take a vow pledging “true allegiance” to His Majesty. I feel conflicted.

Here is a perspective that may help.

Seen through a metaphysical lens the coronation is a grand event of ceremonial magic. The monarch’s aura will be blessed, suffused and linked to great angels, spirits and archetypal virtues. The archbishop and colleagues are the high priests. The crown, sword, sceptre and spurs are all symbolic artefacts which resonate to help anchor these blessings.

For me, though, I find the politics challenging. I am uncomfortable cooperating with an out-of-date hierarchical system of dominance, which has so many resonances of abuse. It is therefore difficult for me to pledge that allegiance. But I understand the opposing view held by loyal patriots.

I can however whole-heartedly support an invocation for love, peace, inclusion, justice and healthy governance. My heart too wishes Charles great good fortune and that his reign be a blessing for all.

So when I tune into the coronation ceremony, I will be praying for those high values:
Love – Peace – Inclusion – Justice – Healthy Governance

It could be a creative and positive magic moment.

Experiential Metaphysics Booklist V2

First, big gratitude to all of you who sent in suggestions for the metaphysics booklist. I have a draft now of what may be my final version. Of course you will not agree with all of them, but here is my rationale. Each book should stand on its own and not be duplicated in the list. The list is for experiential metaphysics – ie energy work, esoterics and psychic/intuitive practices. So I am not including books that are seminal for mysticism and general spirituality.
Here’s my twelve with one bonus.

1 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
There are many translations of this literary and spiritual jewel. It is short, extraordinarily insightful and integrates a thorough awareness of the psychology of consciousness expansion with psychic skills (siddhis.) My preferred translation is by Alistair Shearer. 

2 Alice Bailey: Glamour: A World Problem
For many folk Alice Bailey, working as the secretary for the Tibetan abbot Djwhal Khul, is the most important esoteric writer of the last century. This book in particular introduces learners to the collective karma and psychic pollution created by humanity and methods for transforming and healing it.

3 William Bloom: Working with Angels
I didn’t want to put in one of my own, but this is the only book I know that makes explicit the nature of the deva world and a universal method for cooperating with it in all realms – home, healing, gardening, work, arts, industry, education. . .

4 Jane Roberts: Seth: The Nature of Personal Reality
The Seth books pioneered the whole field of ‘multidimensional reality’, parallel realities and how consciousness unconsciously creates our perceptions and experiences of ‘reality.

5 Arthur Zajonc:  Meditation as Contemplative Enquiry
There are so many books on meditation. This one is in our booklist because of its compassionate tone, insights into reflective practice and awareness of the metaphysical dimensions.

6 Barbara A. Brennan: Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing through the Human Energy
This is a very accessible yet deep introduction to energy healing and esoteric anatomy. With great illustrations.

7 W.Y. Evans-Wentz: Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines
This is a mind-boggling description of some of the esoteric practices in Tibetan (Bon) Buddhism. Contemporary shamanism sometimes forgets the depth of practice in the Himalayas.

8 A Course in Miracles – Book 3  Manual for Teachers
If there were only one book that spiritual teachers, coaches, psychics and healers, should read before working with others – this is the one. It merges inspirational compassion and psychological wisdom into a person-centred and immediately practical approach.

9 Thomas Sugrue: There is a River – The Story of Edgar Cayce
Edgar Cayce was probably the best and most accurate clairvoyant and psychic of the last century. His biography is an eyeopener for anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps.

 10 Stephen Skinner: The Compete Magician’s Tables
This is an extraordinary work of scholarship that builds on Alister Crowley’s ‘777.’ It is an encyclopaedia of correspondences – showing the harmonic relationship between gods, goddesses, aromas, angels, numerology, colours, etc, from the world’s magical traditions. Essential for sparking and expanding the imagination. — Do not purchase the Kindle version as the images of the tables are corrupted. If you do not want a print version, see if you can find a PDF.

11 John & Caitlin Matthews: Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus
Anyone studying magic and esoterics needs to understand the entwining western traditions – the Middle Eastern temple tradition and the more northern shamanic/Wicca approach. This book, originally in two volumes, is a wonderful history with practical examples.

12 Starhawk: The Spiral Dance
If there was one woman and one book that broke through with the wave of feminism and Wicca, this is it. Inspiring, socially aware, wise.

Highly Recommended
You should buy this book for the pure pleasure of its ambition. It is dippable and has great illustrations.
Manly P. Hall: The Secret Teachings of all Ages
This is the ultimate coffee table book for esoterics. Beautifully illustrated (if you can, get the full colour version.) It is a treasure of encyclopaedic information about the occult and the mysteries. Caution: a tad expensive.

 

Booklist for Experiential Metaphysics

Your help is gratefully needed.

I am putting together a reading list for a coming course ‘Experiential Metaphysics.’ It is the reading list for what we were calling a modern Mystery School.

Below you will see a provisional list. I hope to bring it down to twelve titles that students must read. The books need to cover the essentials: cocepts and practices.

Please put your suggestions and edits in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

Many thanks 🙏

 

A Course in Miracles: Book 2 Work Book and Manual for teachers

Alice Bailey: Glamour – A World Problem

Barbara A. Brennan: Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing through the Human Energy

W. Y. Evans-Wentz: Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines: Books of Wisdom of the Great Path

Dion Fortune: The Mystical Qabalah

George Frazer: The Golden Bough

Michael Harner: The Way of the Shaman

Marvin Harris: Cannibals and Kings

William James: Varieties of Religious Experience

John & Caitlin Matthews: Walkers Between the Worlds — The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus

Jane Roberts: Seth Speaks – The Eternal Validity of the Soul

Edouard Schuré: The Great Initiates – A Study of the Secret History of Religions

Stephen Skinner: The Complete Magician’s Tables

Starhawk: The Spiral Dance – A Rebirth of the Religion of the Ancient Goddess

Malidoma Patrice Somé: Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

Rudolph Steiner: Knowledge of the Higher Worlds

Tenzin Wangyyal Rinpoche: Wonders of the Natural Mind – The essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Trans Alistair Shearer)

72 Virgins and Ecstatic Spiritual States

Martyrs who die fighting for Islam are promised seventy-two virgins in paradise.

Scholars argue over whether this was actually ever promised in sacred texts. They debate too whether there was a correct interpretation of the concept. One scholar, Christoph Luxenberg*, suggests that a more accurate articulation would be something like ‘white raisins of crystal clarity’ rather than delightful virgins.

Of course, the whole idea is a metaphor for the pleasure that awaits the faithful in the after-life.

My own musings on this, deconstructing the patriarchal sexism, have pondered whether the promise of middle-aged, male virgins would be quite so alluring.

Fight the good fight and your reward will be a posse of clumsy, embarrassed and apologetic blokes nervously awaiting your advances.

Like geeks the world over, they might suggest that all your problems could be fixed if you would just switch off the machine, wait a few seconds and then switch it on again. A bit like death and reincarnation.

All of this is a preamble to a spiritual rant against certainty and religious indoctrination. Religious leaders, all leaders, should have higher ethical standards. They should know better than to manipulate insecure people with false promises. Seventy-two virgins!

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There are essential tools that everyone should have in their tool bag of spiritual skills and practices. One of these is to be wisely sceptical of snake-oil salesmen, false prophets and spiritual teachers who offer certainty. To put it another way, people on the path of spiritual development need to be comfortable with unknowing.

The path of love, compassion and expanded consciousness, is full of mystery and unknowing.

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I was in an enjoyable dialogue recently with a group of Jungian therapists. For me, that is a good mix: Explore archetypes and unseen connections, and care for people.

One very nice guy pondered that the path of spiritual growth seemed to him to be a complete waste of time. You end up, he mused, in this eternal, ecstatic, white light state. That was it. A brick wall. Nothing more. Boring. A waste of time.

I loved the provocation.

No, I responded, it is not like that at all. In my experience, and echoing many other mystics, what happens is this:

On our spiritual journey, we do indeed enter an ecstatic state. But it does not end there.

Using spiritual practices, we repeat being in that ecstatic state.

We develop those practices (usually in meditation) so consistently that the ecstatic state becomes a plateau, a normal experience. It is no longer a peak experience. We have expanded and that altered state of consciousness is now our norm.

Then, from that plateau, we continue to develop and grow. Our consciousness, our awareness of all that is, expands. And so we then, on a higher turn of the spiral, reach a new peak, a new plateau of experience

But that process of consciousness expansion and spiritual growth is always at an edge of mystery.  It is a mystery because we are not capable of comprehending what comes next.

That is the essence of consciousness expansion. To repeat, we are not able to comprehend the next state – because it is beyond our current level of consciousness.

We don’t know what we will meet when our consciousness expands. We can only guess at, intuit or imagine, what the next state of consciousness will be like.

It is an unfolding mystery.

So . . . Far from ‘enlightenment’, ‘samadhi’ or ‘nirvana’ being a boring waste of time, a brick wall, the end,  there is further exploration of the new — into something even more divine, extra-ordinary and metaphysical. It is an unfolding mystery.

It is essential then that we have that tool in our spiritual tool-bag, that we can be comfortable with unknowing.

It also calls for courage and purpose, wisdom, increased love, compassion and benevolence — as we melt and rebirth in the ocean of cosmic fire.

What could be more exciting?

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Ah, asks the martyr, what about the seventy-two virgins?

The middle-aged geeks? I respond affectionately. I don’t think so.

The real reward is far more extraordinary, incomprehensible and enjoyable.

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* ‘Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran’ quoted in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/12/books.guardianreview5