Cecil J. Thompson
This past week was Mental Health Awareness Week. The Columbia Spectator and a number of other organizations published articles and ran advertisements raising awareness for mental health. This is necessary because for so many of us the tendency is to remain aware for that week and then forget until we are reminded again. We owe much of this tendency to our need to resist hurt and forget suffering. We retreat in fear or overlay the forgetting with a certain dismissiveness of suffering as weakness rather than as heavy crosses people bear.
In a crucial sense, suffering of all kinds constitute crosses, heavy burdens! Yet, the crosses of depression, anxiety, and physical suffering are gateways to knowing the self beyond narrow self-constructs. As we travel, and once beyond the narrow conceptions of self, we sit upon thrones in the Spirit of transformation.
Modern culture and society are about bright lights, possibilities, and impossibilities in the sense that we strive to prove ourselves by going up against high challenges and impossible feats. We strive for victories that win us superior standing in the eyes of others. Daily life is all about business, being super men and women, tough-mindedness, action, a fast paced existence that culminates in a cult of speed which looks down on slower paces of life, materially unproductive activities, and anything that would slowdown the drive to be first or prevent the "rugged individual" from getting to the pinnacle of material glory. This kind of existence is mechanistic and regimented. It involves a discipline which pretends to possess real sensitivty to choice-based and choiceless occurrences that cause sisters and brothers to fall behind the pace of a highly structured and fast-pacedl existence; at the same time, it imposes harsh penalties for the slightest deviation.
But because of cultural training and social conditioning, when we look at this portrait of culture, we feel a sense of pride and exhilaration that causes us to leap to our feet and endlessly applaud the beauty and excellence of a thriving civilization! Comforts and velvet cushions cause us to maintain the illusion that everthing is fine. But then, all of a sudden, the sounds start rising. Sometimes we cannot see the faces, but we hear moaning and groaning in the shadows (which Cornel West calls the "underbelly" of society); sometimes we hear shrieks, whimpers of defeat, whispers of hurt, murmurs of restless nights, uncontrollable yelps from turbulence in the soul, and cries for help produced by creeping sensations on the skin and in the mind, invaded by cobwebs of deep frustration.
When the light of Truth illuminates the darkness, we see those who are really there: sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, friends, and strangers; in short, we see ourselves and not "others," children of God bearing crosses of depression, anxiety, and physical suffering in the shadows. Should we say nothing about this? How can we say nothing when we know that to say nothing is to conspire with a form of "silence" whose embrace is not of daily contact with God, but of an escape into unconsciousness as a way to distance the egoic-self from pain.
What are these crosses of depression, anxiety, and physical suffering? They are painful conditions from which people suffer. Here, I am stating objective fact based on a clinical gaze. This response will win the approval of those who stand ready to applaud "common-sense" approaches, and medicine as the only way to heal disease. It will win the day with the pragmatist who insists that there is a certain courage in dealing with practical life in a practical way. But this thinking knows only one path to healing and restoration: the taking of prescription drugs to dull the pain; antidepressants to shoo sorrow, dejection, and gloom; antianxiety drugs to steady the nerves, and high doses of morphin and other potent opiate analgesic medications to alleviate physical suffering.
At the level of mind, treatment forms by a health care provider are useful to countless numbers of people. But this is all the mind knows! These are the dictates of common-sense in the face of suffering. And, yes, this thinking makes sense if all we have here are painful conditions (physical and mental alike) claimed to be the exclusive domain of science.
But that's not all there is in this portrait of shadows hanging on the wall of grace. This is not simply a question of painful physical and mental conditions. This is a question of crosses; crosses of depression, anxiety, and physical suffering. The model for crosses tells of the Cross bound to resurrection. Therefore, we know that crosses lead to resurrection. But who knows anything about this? This is not a question about knowledge with which the mind "unrenewed" can assist us; but mind renewed can, because it is a student of Spirit.
What does the Spirit know? It knows that as a cosmic reality suffering is a gateway to healing and spiritual transformation. But it also knows the narrow-conceptions of "self" that create suffering. Such conceptions spin out realities alien to Spirit. For instance, these realities tell us we are not alive if we aren't mentally or physically well; they convince us that the pleasure of wealth, status, and power is all there is; they tell us there is nothing wrong with unbridled desire; they tell us to want and take the entire world of external "things" completely into ourselves; they tell us we are weak if these things do not happen; they tell us we are guilty of illnesses that take us out of the flow of conventional existence and stop us from keeping the pace; they tell us it is okay for others to dream for us; they tell us it's perfectly fine to worry constantly about what others think of us and disregard the opinions we would like to have of ourselves. The Spirit knows these thoughts as the raw materials with which crosses of depression, anxiety, and physical suffering are built. But at an even deeper level, it knows itself as us, a higher consciousness in which there is sincere silence and a state of being that accepts crosses whose effects of pain and agony lose their power and dissipate in an energy field adequate in itself and is incapable of looking to temporary forms for ultimate fulfillment.
Therefore, the powerful call of healing to us is always to put down the cross and walk into it. We put down our crosses of anxiety, depression, and physical suffering and walk into them. We do this by acceptance. We do it by a sincere act/non-act of silencing the futile reactivity of the mind and focusing on the indestructible nature of life that God is, and in whom "we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). As we sink into this silence and serenity, crosses are subsumed in victories that neutralize anguish, but recognize no superiority to defeat. This is how we pass through gateways of suffering!
This is when the Spirit discloses its creative pregnancy with thrones. Beyond the gateways of suffering and still in serene acceptance, we rise to sit upon thrones; thrones of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. These are higher states of being, self-contained, to which we rise as we become increasingly present in each moment and silent in everything even the crosses we carry. We become present in every breath as we breathe into oneness, dualities crumble and are changed into something else at a higher level of awareness; no opposition; we breathe and live in crosses and transformation, suffering and healing, resurrection and thrones.
We carry within ourselves those in the shadows and rise with them as one to sit upon thrones!