There is a repetitive rhythm, more train-on-track than song, that sounds a little like this in my mind: “If you were if you were if you were if you were….” If I were more beautiful, if I were more intelligent, if I were more ambitious, compassionate, patient, talented; it’s an unanswerable fill in the blank quiz, failed before the pen has been picked up to begin. The primary failure, outside of course of just overall perfection, is that if I were more Pure, I tell myself, then the lifeless heavy corpse of depression would never have found a home in my body and brain. A person who practices with brilliant fire – tejas – the art of yoga, or a woman who truly knows selflessness in relation to her lovely children, or a person who is utterly committed to the life of the intellect or lessening the suffering of others: such a person’s heart would be too full, indeed too pure, to ever suffer the invasion of such an unwanted guest.
And so the staccato and harsh percussion continues, day after day, year after year. If I let go, really let go, then I’ll be free. If I never raise my voice in anger or selfishness, my mind will empty itself of these toxicities, and joy will be the reward. Or at least peace. And so, by this reasoning, melancholic, anxious depression is not an affliction but a natural result of my own vile actions and shortcomings.
My wise shrink, Dr. S., tells me, unsurprisingly, that it is these very thought patterns that keep the gates of my mind locked, so that the corpse will indeed never leave, but will instead gradually win over every aspect of my existence to its barren side. It is the nature of depression, I’ve been informed, to believe oneself wanting, and to have the conviction that life itself, in its true, active, and beautiful form, will remain forever out of reach. Depression is not just the overwhelming sense of loss, as William Styron names it; it is also the sure conviction that there has never been any gain to speak of.
What to do? Yoga. Acupuncture. Biofeedback. Running, ballet, therapy of many sorts, changes in diet, hypnosis, prayer, and on and on and on. And when none of it “works,” then there is all the more room for the rhythm of self-accusation to continue. It could sound like this: “I told you so I told you so I told you so I told you so……”
What to do then, when failure seems complete? Why, drugs of course. The list is so long, and the names so comical in their futuristic, blandly corporate yet subtlety evil tone, that it appears one could build a dystopian autobiography from simply listing them. It is usually at this point in one’s depressive episode that one becomes suddenly utilitarian. “Yes, but if they work, then what does it matter? If they enable a return to yoga, to acupuncture, et al., only in better form, then it’s all worth it.” These are the mutterings, sometimes the desperate scream, that go through the brain when things really do get That Bad.
Study after study show…. different things. Yes, the drugs work. Fifty percent of the time. Yes, the drugs work. Seventy five percent of the time, but only on the really hard cases. No, the drugs don’t work. Exercise is better, it has the same effect as an anti-depressant! But studies are useless when applied to one’s own body. And studies do nothing to quell the natural, healthy hesitation that repeats itself insistently: do I really want this little red pill (yellow pill, blue pill, white pill, orange pill) to change my brain? And will it even change my brain? Or will it just make me too fat or too thin, not able to have an orgasm, give me constant headaches, make my hands numb, or permanently dilate my pupils so it looks like I’m actually on a fun, truly brain-changing drug?
My favorite yoga teacher, a brilliant man named Richard Freeman, once gave an interpretation of the opening sutra from the yoga sutras of Patanjali. The sutra states: Atha yoga anushasanam. Its meaning is usually stated as an introduction: “And Now, Yoga.” As in, now, in these pages, Patanjali will give a thorough discourse on the meaning and practice of yoga. It is beautiful to chant; the words themselves formal, elegant, full of portent.
Richard asserted that these words also mean something a little more subtle. They mean, “Finally, Yoga.” After many years of wandering, suffering, wondering; many years or lifetimes of being lost to the true Self (Atman), one finally comes, as a traveler dying from thirst, to drink from the infinite well of yoga’s wisdom. It is a wonderful interpretation, and one every practitioner can, I believe, relate to powerfully.
I am looking forward to the day when I, too, can come to the practice of insight with the words “Finally, Yoga” deeply felt and believed in my body and mind. So much better than the words, “finally, drugs.”
October 17, 2014