Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life Spiraling Out Of Control ... or a Learning Experience (?)

A funny thing happened while I was spiraling down into my sort of once-a-decade-or-so episode of depression (which, for me, is a time when I have to deal with existential angst that I prefer to ignore most of the time). Typically those "depressive" episodes involve making the psycho-spiritual-emotional adjustments necessary to conform my inner Self with the reality of my life. That is, acknowledging life transitions, such as aging and mortality. I've gotten used to experiencing such spells periodically in my life. Typically, I have found that the worst way to handle these episodes is to fight them. I have learned that the fastest route through the Darkness is straight ahead. Plunge in. Do the necessary mourning. Deal with it. Feel the pain. Make the necessary adjustments. Grow. Change. Get on with it.

After a while, a couple of things happen, sort of simultaneously. I more or less finish the process of adjustment, mourning and growth that is required. And, perhaps just as importantly, I get sick and tired of being miserable. Very soon after that, I revert back to "normal." Typically the new "normal me" is often very different from what it was before. These episodes have always been transforming experiences. That doesn't mean I don't hate them, dread them and fear them. It just means that I usually go into them with at least the faith that I'm going to come out the other side, more or less intact, even if altered.

That faith has always been based on a couple of absolute "givens." The most important "given" is the certainty that the Universe is a good, loving and hospitable place. There are good people in it (without denying that there are bad people). There is an abundance of everything (even if the distribution system is so damaged that there are many who do not benefit from the abundance of Life).

Another "given" is my conviction that I live in a country which makes at least some effort to protect the rights and privileges of its citizens. It provides for our relative safety from external aggressors and provides a (more or less) equitable rule of law at home. It affords us the freedom to work in our chosen profession and to benefit from our labors. Perhaps most of all I emotionally rely on the legal protections that are supposed to ensure that I will be treated fairly by my government and that my person and my property are protected by the rule of law.

I do not expect a lot of "services" from my government. I have always operated on the theory that we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, and should not ask for, much less rely, on "assistance" except in times of temporary crisis.

I do not expect a lot of "security" from my religion. The "God's in control and all's well with the world" theology that abounds in our country is not only NOT comforting to me, it is downright repugnant. All I need from religion is a glimpse now and then of the Glorious Mystery at the foundation of Everything. That is more than sufficient for me.

I do not expect people to always treat me fairly or tell me the truth. When they do, I am delighted (and often surprised). I do not seek "security" in people.

I do not seek security in accumulating a lot of things. On the contrary, I have spent my entire adult life trying to pare down my desires to match my needs. That is indescribably difficult in our consumer culture, where it is so easy to be seduced and caught up in the race for "more, better, best." My goal has always been to minimize my needs and try to live as simply as possible.

I say again: my primary security lay in believing that I am privileged to live in a country where I am safe and (relatively) free. I have always trusted that, if I work hard, I would be able to support myself and my family, even if simply. One of the linchpins of my faith is the rule of law in America that prevents people or my government from taking away what I have worked for. I always believed that, within that setting, I could adjust to most anything else Life might dish out. [I have to add this disclaimer: I am fully aware that most people on Earth are far from being so privileged. I am utterly and unspeakably grateful for the blessing of living in the place and time I do.]

Over the last couple of years, I have been struggling with the transition into Midlife: menopause; dealing with the idea of the mortality of my parents, and my own; coping with a teen-ager about to leave the nest; coping with a spouse who is also facing similar transitions in his life. It has been a bad time for me, but I have put my head down and forged ahead, hoping that I would get through the Darkness like I always have before.

Now, however, the the "givens" in my world do not look as solid as they have in the past. I still believe in the Fundamental Goodness of Creation. I still believe that my country's core values are worthy, but I am disheartened to see how our so-called leaders have ignored, perverted and trampled on them. Worst of all, I am afraid that their policies -- and the rampant greed among the citizenry that those policies allowed to go unchecked -- will rob me of my sense of personal and financial security (as illusory as my faith in them may have been).

If the stock market keeps performing like it did this week, our life savings will soon be all but gone. I know we are in a better position to cope with a loss like that than many, because we have relatively little debt. Nevertheless, I am at a time in my life when I expected to be able to relax a little and look forward to enjoying retirement, living off the fruits of my previous labors. Instead, I find myself working harder than ever, with less expectations of doing any better than keeping my head above water (getting ahead seems out of the question). My hopes for a future in which I can reap any benefit from my previous labors are dimming. What happens when I can't work at that pace any more? What would happen if I spiral down into hopelessness and can't force myself to even try anymore?

It was bad enough being depressed and unsettled at a difficult time in my life. Instead of feeling as though I am working my way through the Darkness toward a new phase of my life, I feel as though my world is crumbling around me and the very things I relied on for my sense of security are anything but certain. I am no longer merely depressed. I am teetering back and forth between anger and fear.

My my head tells me it would be better to be angry and come out swinging. At what? At who? To what end?

My heart wants me to curl up in a fetal position and hide under the bed until this is over. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of days recently when, on an emotional level, I do precisely that even while going through the motions of my regular routine.

My soul tells me it's time to contemplate the Buddhist notion of giving up my reliance on the fruits of my labors.

Geez, I hate that.

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