Monday, April 25, 2011

Death of the Soul

Depression stalks our world.

The last twenty-four hours or so have been the annual mental, emotional and astral onslaught that is Anzac Day, a day of mourning and celebration, on which we remember a particularly bloody conflict where a whole generation of Australian boys was wiped out on a beach in Turkey. I believe a similar number of Turkish families lost their sons and brothers, also.

I have, some years, gone out to parades and sung along with National Anthems and hymns, or just eaten ice cream and watched the crowds. Today, I decided to spend the whole day in my own home, supposedly insulated from it, to see if the day would feel any better. I didn't leave the house, didn't go for a solitary walk, didn't even step into my backyard in utter privacy. Instead I spent the day in my living-room, listening to occasional rain on the roof and feeling the coldness of Autumn finally close in, when Winter should be about to start. It was the first day I couldn't wear just a tee-shirt and be comfortable.

Rain goes a long way towards alleviating anxiety and depression. It cleanses the air you breathe, washing particles of pollution out of it if you are in a populated area and dust out of it if you are in an unpopulated area. Rain promises that your plants, things of beauty and food, will stay alive a little longer. Rain promises that at least in the short term, you will have something to drink. And, of course, the ever-changing clouds are always fascinating.

But on Anzac Day, none of that helps. Far away and long ago, people were dying. Far away and right now, people still are - we haven't learnt a thing. People who are traumatised by murder and torture in their own countries flee on the first vehicle they can, often not even being told what country they are being trafficked to until they disembark, but the delightful Tony Abbott says it is all about how attractive the government's policies make Australia look. Political changes here are never going to change the desire of people in distant lands wanting to flee in any direction they can from certain death and mutilation. And then these deeply traumatised, damaged people who have fled everything they know, the countries they love, the people they love, the only language they know just to survive, find themselves behind padlocks and razor-wire because they have somehow done the wrong thing in trying to stay alive.

Depression stalks our world.

I did a reading recently for someone I know, and all I was told by the subject was that it was "about relationships". I turned over one card after another, and a vast, complicated and very personal story unfolded in front of me. A wounded human being, carrying deep, secret pain within them from long ago, searching desperately for the person who could help them heal. It was very hard to find a way to tell them that finding a lover, even "the right one", will not help them heal - they need to heal before they will be capable of being free and comfortable in a nurturing relationship. I know they wanted me to say that on such-and-such a day they'd meet a tall dark handsome stranger who would adore them and make everything better in their life. I coudn't honestly tell them any such thing, I cannot promise what isn't there now and may not ever be there if they don't overhaul their life. I have a lot to overhaul, myself.

Depression stalks our world.

And yet, until triggered by something like a day drenched in warfare, I feel like a happy person. I wouldn't normally say I'm depressed. I wander around looking forward to whatever is coming next, grateful for the ability to be upright and breathing, and pretty-well with a permanent smile and a ready laugh. I have discussed luck and happiness on this blog before, but sometimes the best of us don't feel so lucky. Sometimes a dark stain spreading across the world can seep through to anyone.

I do a bit of work on the inner realms from time to time, and I've definitely been neglecting it in recent weeks. I went down into a particular "cave" after doing the reading to be selfish and do a little housework on my own mood, and I found a network of dark energy rushing through me that had multiple sources, both inside and outside of me. I didn't deal with all of it, but identifying it and dealing with some of it is a start.

On four occasions I have sat with coma patients, and only one of them was someone known to me. On all occasions I dropped into a working trance, with the aim of finding the essence of the person. In three of those four cases I failed to find them, and in the fourth case, they wanted to leave anyway. One of the other three came back, but permanently danaged, "unsouled".

A "shellshocked" person, a person with post traumatic stress disorder who can no longer function, will be partly or wholly unsouled. Their family and lovers will report not that they are damaged, or psychologically wounded, but that they are "a different person". People just instinctively know when someone is merely psychologically harmed and capable of healing, and when it is vastly more serious than that. A magical person will see it on the inside, and it is a frightening thing to see.

I remember reading something in the last few months - I'm sorry, I didn't record references - about a colony of chimpanzees where the senior males were somehow removed from the group, perhaps by predators or poachers, and the junior lads didn't have the seniority to push their women around. It is said that in chimpanzee society a pecking order enforced by violence of senior males to secondary males to females to children, each level punishing the one below it slightly more than they themselves are punished, is natural in chimp society. It is also "natural" in highly stressed human societies, and you could make a case that most of our societies are stressed because we were evolved over millions of years to live on soft earth in groups of twenty to fifty, not on hard concrete in groups of millions.

But the interesting thing in this colony was that once the senior males were taken out, the senior females took over leadership. And instead of bullying underlings unmercifully, they bullied only those young, upcoming males whose testosterone was starting to kick in, and let them know in no uncertain terms that no child-abuse, spouse abuse or unreasonable fighting would be tolerated in the group. And as those lads grew into adults, the dynamic of the group was softer, more peaceful, and the young capered around without an eye to suddenly running away, and the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the group were uniformly better than in regular groups whose blood had been sampled. The groups was peaceful when the elder males with their crusty traditional ways were taken out.

In the early 1980s, a friend of mine who was a political anthropologist suggested publicly a good way to take a huge step towards world peace. As a parent, he had noticed the beneficial effects of warm milk and cookies (what he actually called by their proper names, biscuits) on very young children, their teenage siblings, and even on occasion on his own moods. His suggestion to take the first step to world peace was this:

To take all the world leaders and their generals, strip them out of their uniforms (including suits) and put them in fluffy, fleecy, colourful tracksuits without the insignia of rank, lock them up in a warm, comfy room with soft floors and lots of cushions, and feed them cookies and warm milk until they got friendly and talked their differences out, feeding each other cookies as peace offerings.

You know, it would probably help. Gandhi said, wisely, "You cannot prepare your people for war, then expect to have peace." That is true on an international level, and on a personal level. As long as we - or my client - feel defensive and needy, we will never really master our circumstances and get what we truly need. And while we have standing armies with serious weaponry at the ready, we will never settle conflicts with nothing worse than a handful of twigs and a few harsh words.

Depression stalks our world, and it is way passed the time we need to get a grip and start to heal ourselves on an inner level.


  1. Did you watch Q & A last night? Eva Cox who is a post WWII Jewish immigrant and two young and very different women were on the panel. One of the latter was an ex-army officer who had been wounded in combat and the other was a refugee who had come on the boats. It was a wonderful discussion and will carry me with hope into the days ahead.

    People who are very damaged can heal. I do believe there is some other design behind our lives, but that is a personal belief that not everyone shares.

    We are fortunate to live in a country with relative peace and prosperity, and a great degree of freedom. Yes, I share some of your sadness but hope you pass through it soon. We need you positive energy and laughter!

  2. Here you are:

    It may not mean the same to you but who knows? Where there are ideas and energy, there is hope and such things tend to be catching!

  3. I didn't actually watch Q and A. I used to watch it a long time ago, but I really don't have the time in my life for a lot of TV. What I have been watching recently on the same channel is "Big Ideas" which is on in the late morning I think, where highly educated, intelligent and thoughtful philosophers wrestle with the big problems facing our society. Today it was a discussion on IVF babies: on the fundamental freedoms of parents to choose, on the fundamental rights of kids to be healthy and cared-for, on the fundamental wrongness of choosing one over the other because parental love should be absolutely unconditional. Interesting tussle.

    I am not plunged into a deep depression. I *do* feel that depression is a normal reaction to the way we force ourselves to live these days - cheerfulness in the face of overcrowding, concrete, being irradiated with radiowaves all the time and every other facet of our society as it's been for the last fifty years ... cheerfulness in the face of this would be pathological, as we have spent up to three million years evolving towards living completely differently to how the last thousand years has taken us.

    Thank you for your comments - discussion is always worthwhile and welcomed, whether I agree with you or not.

  4. Perhaps your writing was intended to be rhetorical. I thought as much actually and wasn't being flippant about the state of the world - just feeling somewhat happy today myself. My apologies if I seemed to miss your point.

    The Q & A program demonstrated how effective women can be in debate and setting the policy agenda, and you might have enjoyed it :). I don't usually watch it either but it was Easter and I deeply admire Eva Cox.

    All the best.

  5. CF the chimpanzee section of your post - so it is not entirely irrelevant!

  6. Wonderful post, Nisaba. Thank you. I wonder how many of the harpies who have been abusing me over the course of this weekend (thanks to my well-meaning participation in an internet forum) have been unsouled by their lives? Though I fear that they are more weak than traumatised.

    Reading this made me wonder if my own father was teetering on the brink of that unsouled state after the war. Certainly he had some degree of PTSD and had seen things he never wanted to talk about. He would never march on ANZAC Day, despite being highly decorated. There was absolutely no question of us going to any dawn service anywhere. I wonder if he perhaps had hold of the coat-tails of his soul, and feared that revisiting anything even vaguely war-related might pull them out of his grasp?

    Some of the things that came out of his mouth when he was in the last stages of dementia gave me more of a glimpse of the darkness you talk about than I really needed or wanted to see. Yet finally recognising that there was something deeply wrong with him, which most likely had a cause, has lightened my own darkness around our relationship.

  7. "Some of the things that came out of his mouth when he was in the last stages of dementia gave me more of a glimpse of the darkness you talk about than I really needed or wanted to see."

    Yes, people at the extremes of life are wired differently, and are comletely immersed in things we can only glimpse fitfully. It's true of the very seriously damaged, the dying - and also those being born. You know that vacant look that young babies' eyes often have, even those who turn out to be exceptionally intelligent later? They're glazed-over, almost stupid-looking. It's because they're not really loking at this world yet - they're still looking to the dimension they just came from. My father had the same look (probably due to morphine as much as anything) as he was dying, looking forward to death.