Thursday, August 7, 2008

Between Heaven and Hell; Outline, Introduction notes 2

Between Heaven and Hell:
A Spiritual Handbook for Manic-Depression

Synopsis and Preliminary Chapter Outline

I look forward to the day when the spiritual and the psychological work together, consulting one another, drawing from each other's experience, for the benefit of psycho-spiritual wholeness. For too long, both parties have viewed each other with suspicion, accusing each other of creating many of the neurosis they themselves are working to redress.

The days of psycho-therapy alone, medication alone, faith alone, have come to a close. "Health" can be nothing but a systematic term, for all areas of the human person--mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, sexual--represent parts of a whole. When one is mentally ill, the body becomes like a car operating on three wheels, or with only three cylinders firing. Systematic performance is, at best, sub-par, and at worst, inherently dangerous.

I am a Christian. I write unapologetically from a Christian perspective. While I may make mention of other religious traditions and practices, I make no claims at being an authoritative voice. Nor do I speak with any authority save for my own experience on the subject of Christian (specifically Catholic) theology. I am a "junior theologian" at best. Nevertheless, I draw on my academic study and research in the field of theology for the benefit of expounding on traditions and practices I feel beneficial to those Christians living with manic-depression.


Part I: A Great Darkness
"If the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be." (Mt. 6:23)

Darkness--that which overshadows--has long held a place in religious and mythological lore. It is also the universally preferred image used for by the depressed to put a name on their feelings.

St. Augustine said that darkness is the absence of light--it is not a "thing" in and of itself.
The feeling of sin--and its accompanying guilt--is palpable. The absence of good can only mean the absence of God, and vice versa. In depression, and in times of spiritual barrenness, God is nowhere to be found. "The comforts of religion are there when they are not needed, and vanish when they are..." [A. Solomon, ref.] This is the "Dark Night" of St. John of the Cross, the dark hour of the soul.

Part II: A Great Light
"The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light." (Mt. 4:16)

When the days of darkness have become a forgotten memory and God becomes so close you can feel Him, the mind enters the company of the angels . Or does it? Since the mind's realities are not always shared by the spirit's, one enters into mania with borrowed wings which can be recalled at any moment. One is held aloft by a temperamental emotional wind. This may sometimes be directed towards spiritual ground, but such maneuvering is a thing of the saints. More often then not we soar according to our impulses. Differentiating the emotional from the spiritual when they seem so indistinguishable becomes a thing of practice. Many people have crashed and burned in the seat of such a vessel. How often does a pilot let his inexperienced passenger take a turn at the controls unassisted? The man who controls his mania is like a master of fire.

Part III: Ascent-Descent
"The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises." (Ecc. 1:5)

All things come to an end. Mania and depression, spiritual ecstasy and darkness, are no exceptions. It is part of the nature of cyclothemia and manic-depression. St. John Climacus fashioned the bridge between heaven and earth as a "ladder of divine ascent." One ascends upwards through virtue, which begins with humility; one is dragged down the rungs by vice, pride being the most dangerous temptation for those nearing the upper echelons of spiritual perfection.

Part IV: The Dead
"The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, 'He's dead.'" (Mk. 9:26)

Drugs dull the mind. Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and mood-stabilizers are no exception. In their attempts to control the turbelent states of manic-depressive living, such medications can turn a vibrant emotional landscape into an aird wasteland. Being forced to move beyond emotions, one must learn how to navigate spiritually through this emotional void. When one begins to pray in the absence of emotion or preference, one's cup becomes empty. Emptiness preceeds enlightenment. The best medication regime is one which puts a cage around volatile emotions and allows them to roam, rather than tranquilizing them altogether. It makes psychotherapy and spiritual direction not only tenable, but effective. When one is able to harness and direct one's emotion towards spiritual actualization and healthy living, he approaches the foot of the Divine Ladder and prepares to ascend.

Part V: Earth
"And I saw that wisdom has the advantage over folly as much as light has the advantage over darkness." (Ecc 2:13)

After the thrills of mania and the dramas of depression, one returns to life on earth only to find it...unbearably ordinary. Mental and emotional drama is like a drug; when we don't have it, we manipulate Life in order to make it. Attachment to drama keeps one steeped in illusion, convinced that this or that feeling is permananet and defining. In actuality, they are more like furls of smoke from a stick of incense, thick and heavy, only to fade into nothingness a few seconds later. Learning to live in the moment and accept life as ordinary is a more grueling discipline than it appears. It is in this regard that the Masters of the East have much to offer in teaching the ways of living this life. Do you miss God? Do you look for him in the clouds where you have flown, or the depths where you have dwelled? You will never find Him, for He is right before your eyes.

Part VI: Union
"The Father and I are one." (Jn. 10:30)

One must be mentally healthy in order to be fully spiritually healthy, since the mind and the spirit are inextricably linked while we are in this body. With an effective medication regime, attentiveness to one's psychological state, a diligent prayer life, and a trusted psychotherapist and/or spiritual director, one possesses the tools necessary for a sound mind and a content spirit.

Mania is like a rare ore, or element: it is completely unprocessed, unfocused, raw. It bubbles up from tar vats in the mind, only to spill out onto shore, contaminating everything around it. It is pure energy, not unlike electricity. It streaks through the sky like lightening, possessing enough power to kill a man. And it often does.

In order to be harnessed, it must be directed. And that is precisely the role that religious practice can play for the manic-depressive. In the words of Abba Joseph to Abba Lot, "if you will, you can become all flame."


Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him,
'Abba as far as I can I say my little office,
I fast a little, I pray and meditate,
I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.
What else can I do?'
Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven.
His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him,
'If you will, you can become all flame.'

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