Tag Archives: depression

Plague

I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.

First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.

Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.

How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.

Immortality

Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.

Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?

When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.

I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.

So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).

This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.