Archive for May 9th, 2011


the switch

I have a good friend who has lately been refusing my invitations to come over for a visit. He says he is experiencing dark moods and keeps telling me he would not be “good company.”

He is an introvert and says he prefers to be alone, and I respect his wishes. Yet I do keep inviting him over because I want to keep reminding him that he is valued and loved by others, no matter what he may think about his desirability as a social companion. So we chat by e-mail, and as long as the conversation continues, I don’t worry about him.

The other day I told him that he reminds me of the way I once was a long time ago: a man who loves his misery. I speculated that he may be so habituated to depression that he might be holding onto it like a security blanket… if the pain were to stop, he might ask, would he feel anything at all?

I suspect he fears an empty void and the prospect of annihilation.

I know from my own experience that, were the “security blanket” pulled away, he would see its darkness had been suffocating a small spark of light all along, and that this spark would grow into a flame if he would only allow it the breath of life.

I’ll leave it to you to surmise what that spark actually is, but I do believe that brain chemistry is a reflection of one’s spiritual health.

Those who would seek to exploit his depression would tell him his feelings are the result of a chemical imbalance that could be set right by taking pills for the rest of his life. They would take his money and tether him to drugs that would further muffle and obscure that spark and numb him to its possibility.

The idea of a “chemical imbalance” being the cause of depression is a lie, but not because the liars cannot actually measure such imbalances and offer scientific proof of them. Imbedded in the lie is the simple truth that the human body manufactures the chemical mix according to specifications which we ourselves choose. The chemical imbalance is not a cause but an effect of a deeper thing which reduces down to being a simple matter of choice and free will.

This choice is a simple binary switch that can be flipped for instantaneous change. I vividly remember the “light switch” moment in my own life. Nine years ago Otto and I had just arrived from Minnesota in Marathon, and had parked the roadster in front of the post office. That was the moment I flipped the switch.

Before this point I had been clinically depressed and suicidal. After it I was happy. I was surprised by how simple and easy it was and is to change.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I’d lived through so many years of pain before discovering this simplistic truth. Why had I made such a big obstacle of it? Why had I squandered so many opportunities for happiness over such a very long time?


But I got over this in a hurry and began exploiting that moment of insight as a portal to a spiritual adventure which now consumes my waking and dreaming life. I will talk more about this another day.

For now, however, my focus is on my friend who does not believe that such a switch even exists. He does not see it, nor that his fingers are already touching it.

His predicament reminds me of a story by C.S. Lewis that I have mentioned before: The Great Divorce (1945). The Great Divorce is the story, told in the first person, of an English professor who inexplicably finds himself in a grim and joyless city (the “grey town”, which is either Hell or Purgatory, depending on how long one stays there).

The narrator eventually finds himself waiting at an excursion bus stop on a rainy evening. He enters the bus and converses with his fellow passengers as they travel. To his surprise, the bus travels straight up, and he soon discovers that the bus is en route to Heaven.

He surmises that his fellow passengers—who are perhaps a bit impatient and pushy, but otherwise average folks—are inhabitants of Hell. (He subsequently learns that those in Hell are able to visit the outer reaches of Heaven—the “foothills of Heaven”—and may stay in this high country if they choose.)

When the bus reaches its destination, it’s surrounded by the most beautiful country they’ve ever seen and where the “people” on the bus—including the narrator—are gradually revealed to be ghosts. We witness their surprise and dismay that every feature of the landscape (streams of water, blades of grass, etc.) is unyieldingly solid compared to themselves. The ghosts experience piercing pain when they walk on the grass, and even a single leaf is far too heavy for any to lift.

Shining figures, men and women whom they have known on earth, come to meet the ghosts and to urge them remain there and enter the higher realms of Heaven. They promise that as the ghosts travel onward and upward, they will become more solid and thus feel no more discomfort. These figures (called “spirits” to distinguish them from the ghosts) offer to assist the ghosts in the journey toward the mountains and the sunrise.

The interesting thing is that very few ghosts decide to remain in Heaven.  Almost all of them choose instead to return to the grey town. They give various reasons and excuses. Much of the interest of Lewis’ story lies for me in the recognition it awakens of the plausibility and familiarity, along with the thinness and self-deception, of all the excuses the ghosts refuse to abandon, even though doing so would bring them “joy forevermore.”

This reminds me of the way my friend is clinging to his pain.

The parallel between his situation and the experience of the souls in the foothills resonates with my belief in reincarnation, that we experience Heaven or Hell in this life and not a “hereafter.” Lewis’ story tells that choosing the goodness of Heaven would have worked backwards into the souls’ lives, turning even their worst sorrows into joy, and changing their experience on earth to an extension of Heaven. Conversely, for the ghosts who return to the grey town, even the happiness they experienced on earth would lose its meaning, and their earthly experience would have been Hell.

None of the ghosts realizes that the grey town is Hell. For them life in the grey town is not that much different from the life they led on earth: joyless, friendless, and uncomfortable. Life in the grey town just goes on forever.

Their eyes are as blind to this recognition as their fingers are numb to the switch.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Sandra McCracken performing “The High Countries”