Blue Genes

Yes one can have a genetic predisposition to depression, but what might it mean that those genes developed long before our modern conceptualization of depression?

I know that I seem to have a bit of that lugubrious shaman blood, that tendency toward black Russian despair and a taste for Kafka and Munch as rather funny gentlemen.  I know that my paternal grandfather was prone to brooding silence and violent outbursts, a supposedly remote, even cold, man who I never knew but nevertheless suspect would have been up for some good chats and dark laughs—that we would have somehow “gotten” each other.

That grandfather, I know, also had electro-shock therapy—one of the first to get it in Chicago in the 30s.  Whatever that grandfather “had,” I know that my father feared getting it (and perhaps that’s why there is so much he never “got,” at least not yet).  He had years of psychotherapy, and once anti-depressants came on the scene he was on those; I’m told they helped, but I’m not sure I see the evidence.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not “anti-medications” (and they can be life-savers in some instances), it’s just that anti-depressants are like tranquilizer guns against the beast:  even if you successfully stop the thing, or at least slow it in its tracks, the effects will wear off and it will charge again.  It doesn’t have to be therapy, but while the beast heaves heavily in its stupor we are well advised to study it closely, to walk around it, to try to understand where it lives and what it wants.  It is not just the enemy—it is also our life-spirit demanding to be lived… or else.

And while I’ve chosen the non-meds path, I have certainly put in my years in therapy, in yoga, in working with my homeopath and in doing the depth work of wrestling with the beast of despair and alienation until it has started to be my friend, not safely sedated, not tearing me apart (at least not too often any more), but a helper in allowing me to understand the soul-making suffering of others.

Thus I posit that a tendency toward melancholy is potentially a good, albeit painful, trend in the human heart—an urging toward our own realization that the individual ego-self is prone to be alienated, depressed, hollow and despairing because it is incomplete.  It is our melancholy that leads us down the rabbit hole and into the depths where we find magic, terror and transformation.  Sometimes it is our pain and longing that helps lead us to each other.  If we dwell only at the surface of things all the treasures and pleasures we manage to grab soon prove empty and dispiriting.  If we think it crazy to take the uncanny clues of an illuminated world seriously we block our progress.

So, for our children and ourselves, I suggest that while we absolutely want to provide comfort and company wherever possible, we might also consider dropping our knee-jerk pathologizing of melancholy in favor of a rethink about what makes for soul.

I am increasingly convinced that we get nowhere as individuals.  Even deep within our own selves we find a multiplicity of “selves”—of creative and destructive impulses, of courage, fear, anger, hurt, love, longing, innovation, generosity, and so forth.  We can label such ciphers as “thoughts” and “feelings,” or as neural networks, or as archetypes, or as nymphs and satyrs, but we really must consider that these inner figures have a particular sort of realness—a guiding and directive agenda that we ignore at our own peril—often at the cost of entrenched depression because we listened not to the first whisperings of melancholy.

Just as the spoons and bowls might suddenly decide to dance around the kitchen and put themselves away (unlikely, but still statistically possible as any true rational quantum physicist would have to admit), we humans could become conscious pieces in a cosmic puzzle.  We could awaken and ask the spirits, inner and outer (i.e. each other) what they want us to do.  We are symbols of soul, and we are symbol makers.

More than anything else today, I choose to state a long-lived question here—to those who seek or happen across these words—is there anything we can do together to help us?  Is there anything that you have been thinking to say or ask (to me, to someone else, to the world) but haven’t taken the chance for fear of sounding stupid or being taken the wrong way?  It’s not that I have any answers, it’s that I want to be connected in questions.  Can you trust that we are in a shared situation and that we already trust that we are interested in helping each other—that we know that we have but a common interest… that “all our collective children” is but a symbol for something still deeper and eternal that we seek and which promises to unify us, free of charismatic leaders, political and economic solutions and free of religion and dogma?  Then the fun begins—the conscious living, making, assembling and contemplating of a puzzle—a hard one at that, but nothing that a rainy afternoon, a pot of tea, some cookies and a fun loving group with a good attitude can’t enjoy.

A symbol broke in half is a symbolon, and it is a puzzle.  Thus we are symbols and symbol makers; and we are puzzles and puzzle makers.

A bit blue?  A bit torn?  A bit puzzled and perplexed?  Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and a cookie, throw in some love and help with our collective puzzle.

Namaste, Bruce


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5 Responses to “Blue Genes”

  1. joely Says:

    I have been thinking about this. Everything we think does not need to be said because those words and thoughts quickly lead to actions which are not as easily undone. I guess with the idea of depression or depressing topics or really just complaining: how are we to prevent those things from controlling us if we cannot stop talking about them. I often wish people would just talk about the good and stop the incessant babble of woe is me bullshit. I know it sounds harsh, but seriously, raising kids is hard but it is nothing new. I wish there was more talk about the positive emotions and how the negative emotions have led us to see the positive. I am tired of of the whines, I here enough from my kids. I love what you say about us being puzzle makers. That being the case, I would rather spend time discussing how to solve the puzzle rather than restating time and time again what it is about the puzzle that is so hard. That kind of thought gets us no where fast in our solution. I enjoy your proactive stance to look at the world with a new lens.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Sometimes non-action is the best path. Still, I would strive toward a unity of opposites with your position—since the gold is also in the shit, I seek to welcome the full range of words and emotions… but with the hope that in the middle of everything we truly meet and arrive at the very place you are advocating.

      Ultimately it is the problem of words, words, words… like religion, so often creating more problems than they solve. Somehow, in the wordless space that allows for communion in the truly painful, but also says “quit yer whinin'” about the sort of negativity that blocks life, or seems to, I meet you soul-to-soul in that field beyond right and wrong that Rumi knew the way to.


  2. Amber Says:

    Bruce, I can tell that you are an amazing psychologist. I have had the pleasure of working with many psychologists (and therapists) and can tell when one is adept at making a patient feel comfortable, you do that very well for all of us here in the blog world. I appreciate that greatly.

    When you refer to melancholy it reminds me of a favorite scripture (I am very religious). I don’t have the direct quote on hand but I can summarize it pretty well–“[the Fall] was necessary for us to taste the bitter that we might know the sweet.” My favorite part about this verse is its reference to the bitter and the sweet. There is no way to know happiness if we do not experience sadness. It is the contrast that teaches us. It doesn’t make the sadness any easier, but it does remind us that sadness has an opposite–happiness.

    I don’t have any questions for you…yet. I am sure I will be back after I think a little bit more.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Amber. Your words mean a great deal to me, as I have come to trust that I can connect with people in intimate settings, but in this blog world it is a great challenge for me to imagine that my wish to make readers feel comfortable might really come across. So thanks.

      In a strange synchronicity I was volunteering at my kids’ school today and got into a conversation with an artist-parent about the meaning of the Fall. I agree with what you say, and further feel that “paradise,” is a myth from a time that human consciousness was not yet divided from the world. That artist and I agreed that the unity or oneness or God-consciousness is something that, at root, all religions would seem to agree upon—yet semantics seem to create discord between ways of explaining.

      BTW, by “myth” I do not mean something unreal, I think there are very real spirits, energies, etc. that escape the rational consciousness which cannot allow for anything it cannot tangibly prove (such arrogance the ego exhibits); I suggested that our modern problems start with Descartes, but my artist friend suggested it was really Aristotle—and a long climb of masculine knowledge eclipsing feminine wisdom.

      Our challenge is to hold to our paths, respect each other and somehow awaken to the perfection of things as they stand (in my view with world as a sort of school for consciousness more than a project that needs perfecting). As you say, an all sweet world would soon make no sense to a generation who knew nothing of bitter. A harmonized world in which we came to recognize our unity and at the same time our perfect differences strikes me as interesting. Perhaps these sorts of chats as we have here in this “world” symbolize a way in which our conscious minds catch up to something always and already true in our neither pre-fall, falling nor post-fall consciousness—in the bitter-sweet realm of the unnamable.

      You can tell by my need for too many words that these ideas just wiggle around and slither away from words, but I think you catch my spirit.


      • Amber Says:

        Thank you for this response. You have said much for me to digest and I appreciate that. There is something that warms my heart when I find a detailed and well though response to something I have written.

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