Depression Remedies from Nature, Mystics, and Cosmology

I was taken aback by the rage of a psychologist attacking me recently for my linking acedia–and its remedies--to depression.   Psychology does not hold all the answers to depression–there needs to be room for the mystics, spirituality and cosmology. 

Forest Bathing/Healing in Nature. Nitin Das

Frankly, some of the least happy people I have known in my life have been psychologists.  James Hillman said a mouthful in his book titled “We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse.”   

Many therapists came to our University of Creation Spirituality because they knew that their training lacked altogether any mention of spirituality, the mystics and spiritual practice. I witnessed profound results and conversions, and learned something about remedies for depression that spirituality brings to the table. 

When I led a workshop on grief for 800 people from a great variety of religious backgrounds at a Sounds True retreat, we did not talk about grief–we got down on all fours (really all sixes) and did a practice I have devised.  One response to the experience was this: “I have been seeing a psychologist for 21 years.  I am going to fire her on Monday.  This is what I really needed.” 

Worshippers dancing in a Cosmic Mass.

Yes, ritual can be a healing practice and not just pills.  We employ this same grief practice in all of our Cosmic Masses and always with profound results.

Barbara Ehrenreich writes about how the 17th century birthed an “epidemic of depression” and suicides because there was no longer a viable cosmology and ritual (science and religion split in the year 1600 as I have made clear).  I share her insight appropriately in the “Father Sky” chapter of my book on recovering the sacred masculine. 

“The Heavens.” Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Otto Rank makes the same point, namely that when religion lost the cosmos in the West, society became neurotic and we had to invent psychology to deal with the neurosis. 

A primary reason for depression may be less physiological than cosmological.  Our society, narcissistic and capitalistic at its core, lacks a sacred story of how we got here. People are cut off from the “good news” of original blessing and original goodness that the mystics know and that Genesis One celebrates.  

And the “good news” of Father Sky alive again thanks to today’s cosmological discoveries.  All of which can feed the first chakra and combat acedia. 

Psychologists need to rediscover the “miracle that existence is” (Rilke)—like the rest of us.  To be continued.

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 189-236.

And Matthew Fox, “Father Sky,” in Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, pp. 3-18.

nd Mathew Fox, “Psychotherapy and the ‘Unio Mystica’: Meister Eckhart Meets Otto Rank,” in Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times, pp. 139-156.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: The healing energies of nature. Photo by Patrick on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

When depressed, what medicine do you receive from nature and cosmos, the mystics and ritual?

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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29 thoughts on “Depression Remedies from Nature, Mystics, and Cosmology”

  1. Avatar

    Matthew Fox states “When I led a workshop on grief for 800 people from a great variety of religious backgrounds at a Sounds True retreat, we did not talk about grief–we got down on all fours (really all sixes) and did a practice I have devised. One response to the experience was this: “I have been seeing a psychologist for 21 years. I am going to fire her on Monday. This is what I really needed.” ”

    Is this just a ‘teaser’ and invitation to buy a book or pay to attend a conference? If not, please share the practice and spell it all out. And I keep looking at my body and limbs and can only see the ‘fours’, maybe ‘fives’ with the forehead, but cannot add up to the ‘sixes’ 🙂 — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Please do not let one raging psychologist occupy so much head space. As a pastoral psychotherapist and licensed psychologist, I know the world of spirituality and healthy psychology are woven together for our health. By the way, most non spiritual people don’t understand acedia, and have never acknowledged it in their life. Peace

  3. Avatar
    Micki Rasmussen

    Thank you so much Matthew for the talk today and every day! I so appreciate your common sense advice on practices to help us navigate these troubling times we find ourselves in! I couldn’t agree more that while depression might be a reasonable response to current societal challenges, opening to the beauty and wonder of the cosmos is powerful medicine!

    1. Avatar
      Marlene Bosch

      I ditto all that Micki said word for word. I have known for years that when depression sets in I have to ask myself one important question
      «  have I been in nature lately ? «  Daily time in nature especially time with trees and water truly is my medicine . To add to that I DANCE with the elements of EARTH, AIR ,FIRE AND WATER …. They were and are my companions now and during covid …. Thank you Mathew !❤️????

    2. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Have you been absorbing the wonder and awesome beauty we are privileged to experience through the images the James Web Space Telescope is sharing with us?
      Incredibly healing for heart and soul to be part of wondrous Cosmic Creation!

  4. Avatar

    Matthew, as a psychologist…..gratitude for today’s meditation. I would not be alive, but for my connection now with the mystics, nature….the cosmos. Lethargy and fear (age of anxiety according to Paul Tillich in the 20th century) are the 2 things we must contend with daily….according to my favorite Jungian analyst, James Hollis. Yes yes yes to the connection between acedia, or what I call lethargy, and depression. The Original Blessings absence in one’s life is one 3 significant factors contributing to lethargy. Gratitude for what you teach me – how you have contributed to changing my life and the lives I reach every day. Aho!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      That’s the TRUTH, Billy.
      Matthew’s teaching has changed many lives.
      I know, as you most likely know, that because of his teaching people have opted for life.
      Folks have shared with me that when they listened to his message it awoke something
      deep in them that they knew, but never had words for. Have you experienced that also?

  5. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    On a very personal level, I discovered early on in my healing journey, that what I needed was a wholistic approach… a method of therapy that addressed not only my emotional/feelings and thoughts and the patterns engrained due to abusive childhood trauma… but also methods that would assist me releasing the physical paintapes stored in my body memory. I also needed a method of therapy that contained spirituality and the wisdom ways of ceremony and ritual that I related to. I also needed the creative arts as well as healing modalities that incorporated nature into the mix of all of this.

    My 10 year apprenticeship in the Shamanic Healing Path provided this wholistic approach. Those 10 years were deep, intensive soul healing work. For myself, personally… following what I intuively knew I needed with regards to my own healing journey and being willing to engage in this wholistic approach has been transformational and life changing in so many ways, because it addressed all aspects of my beingness.

    I’m so grateful that I trusted Spirit to guide me in finding what I personally needed for my own healing, and also for trusting in my own intuition and for the courage given me to step into the mystery of the unknown in my wholistic journey of healing and wholeness… which I continue to co-creatively and willingly participate in daily.

  6. Avatar
    Cheryl M Burton

    I have also had some bad experiences with Psychologists. Psychiatrists seem to have been born to be bad. But Psychology has a way of correcting itself. Edith Stein predicted much corruption seeping into the practice by our times. Even the Dalai Lama in the 60s told Thomas Merton he was concerned about the corruption that had already infiltrated Bhuddism at that time. And it is telling in the violent State treatment programs for the mentally ill. This is why first listening to Dr James Finley, I was unable to hear/discern anything good from him. Since I am limited in my comment, I have to say it was Divine Providence and not Psychology as I had been exposed to it, that caused me to eventually see through the surface. Finley spoke well of Matthew Fox in his recent Mystic Podcast on Meister Eckhart, and mentioned Fox’s writings on Eckhart. Also James Finley was interviewed on meditation I think about 8-9yrs ago by the Sounds True Podcaster? I think it was the most beautiful sincere blending of Spirituality and Psychology I have ever heard, and I don’t think many ever hear something like that even once in their life. The interviewer who dialogued with Finley was clearly overwhelmed by it also, as she thanked him for the once in a lifetime mental boost!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thanks for sharing your comment, Cheryl.
      a Powerful Podcast: I hope to hunt it up and listen to it.
      Thanks for the lead.

  7. Avatar

    Breath Awareness – Meditation – Contemplation – Motion Meditation are part of Forest Bathing. Plants and bodies of water produce the natural medicinal depression antidote termed negative ions. When we breathe in negative ions they cause us to be in a more relaxed aware state with less brain chatter and this helps us transform out of depression into awe, wonder, and joy. This is a reason why monasteries were built in forests and around water. Different rates of breathing cause us to learn how breath monitoring and control relieve depression as is evidenced by the exercise boom that resulted from the pandemic. Matthew is tuned in because he has done the work and he is a great example for us. It appears from what has been stated that the angry psychologist is deeply entrenched in what Hindus refer to as Maya, that is, the world of illusion.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Gary,
      Thank you for your comment. I never thought about the fact that Monasteries were built in forests and around water for transformational reasons. It’s so obvious. I visit monastery grounds often for hermit time – and yes, I love living in the trees and walking through the woods and sitting near the water. Thank you, when I am at retreat this weekend, I will remember your thoughts as I feel my heart lifted by the awe and beauty of it all.

  8. Avatar
    marijo grogan

    Bravo Matthew! As a psychotherapist I have struggled for years in attempting to
    balance my personal and professional practices from solely exploring the Via Negativa
    to recognizing the other three paths as equal contributors to healing and well-being.
    We are learning today that one of the most effective adjuncts to trauma therapy is
    incorporating body practices such as yoga, tapping, and ritual. Metaphor therapy is
    a creative approach that allows our deep unconscious to find the balance it needs
    for healing. Identifying societal injustice that leads to soul collapse is important.
    Today, scientists are telling us that we can create new neural pathways by focusing
    on feelings of gratitude and pleasure. Buddhist practices encourage self-forgiveness
    and compassion as a way forward. My clients are a precious gift – so many having taught
    me about the grace that shows up in our most despairing moments. This grace manifests
    as Love ultimately providing us all with the means for becoming wounded healers in
    our world.

  9. Avatar

    Thank you so much for the diverse comments regarding depression and treatment. I especially learn from the individual points of view. Blessings to Matthew and this community.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Yes, Pat.
      That is my experience also.
      The different points of view AND Matthew’s ability to interact with all the shared points of view.
      I sometimes feel myself eagerly anticipating what he will teach in response to the variety of shared comments.
      There is always learning; sometimes challenging.

  10. Avatar

    My silent contemplative faith and prayer reminds me experientially of the Presence of God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Peace~Healing~Beauty~Joy~Creativity~Life… flowing within, through, among us, especially in our loving relations, Mother Nature, and our sacred eternal multidimensional Cosmos within our co-Creator~Source’s ongoing Loving Diverse Oneness….

  11. Avatar

    I lived through a twelve year long clinical depression (19-32) and dark nights of my soul. I am aware that my illness was/is both genetic and spiritual. So as Friar Rohr has often said, “Both/and.” Along with spiritual disciplines, I take my escitalopram regularly too. My own journey has been informed by psychologists Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. David Benner, and indirectly James Finley too. (God) provides in many ways, we should not discount any of them, whether spiritual practices or medicine (modern and ancient).

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thank you, Patrick.
      Your comment offers the need for balance, depending on the individual.

  12. Avatar

    I look for the Grandmothers as image of Divine, Love, Force – they cast the Net of Light (see and appear in dew drops of shining sunlight Father Sun, green leaves whispering in breeze, clouds of white passing in moonlight…flowers blooming, tree stump corpses of bodies death remind me of this precious moment of life, being the light of theh world, shining my oneness for others, and foro myself!

  13. Avatar

    Focusing on the gifts of loving family and daily blessings. Trying to bring love and whatever joy I can give to those around me who are depressed: we rise together. Prayer and contemplation. Immersing myself in nature and beautiful art. Renewing myself in the mysticism that was gifted to me.

    Also, knowing about, and feeling reassured by, the option of getting therapy and/or medication prescribed for depression if I feel I need it and decide to choose that option. Knowledge of options is empowering and comforting.

  14. Avatar

    For me, I’ve needed both traditional therapy and a reconnection to the Divine. My mental health has been shoddy from an early age so it’s hard to say if it’s from purely a biological reason or just from dealing with life. I am on medication that has helped tremendously and my therapist and I have made excellent progress. But I’ve also felt the most peace just feeling loved by my Creator who is with me through good times and bad.

  15. Avatar

    Jim Finley and Richard Rohr have always combined spirituality and therapy. Throughout Jim’s horrific abuse as a child that continued in the monastery, he had a deep and abiding faith. And yet, he knew that he needed professional help as well, and he got it. While I do not disagree with most of what Matthew is saying, I need to stress again the dangers of severe clinical depression. I know that state and almost died from it. One is in darkness and physically laden down to the point that no nature or anything else can penetrate it, so that sometimes extreme measures are needed to break that prison open. Then all the spiritual and other modalities can operate. For those of us women with severe childhood trauma, some scientists find that there is even a change in the DNA. As Melinda says, there are options, and I believe that the array of multi-disciplinary resources can work together. As Patrick and Fr. Richard point out, it is always both/and. No one size fits all, and there is no need to argue about it or be defensive. I regret that Matthew was attacked, as all the points that he makes have value.

  16. Avatar

    Hi, just to let you know, there is a healthy community of psychologists who are interested in religion and spirituality. In fact, most mainstream Christian organizations, and some others, require psychological testing before they ordain their clergy. I say this as a psychologist who does some of these assessments for major denominations. There is also a division within the American Psychological Association, which specifically asked for religion and spirituality. Here is the link, in case you are interested.

    Thank you again for your words of wisdom, I deeply appreciate these daily emails.

  17. Avatar

    I so agree with Patrick and others who recommend a wholistic approach. As a retired nurse and Therapeutic Touch practitioner, I have seen how this society wants a “quick fix” to everything–a pill. They don’t “have time” to get to the root of their issues. However, when a carpenter builds a house, it isn’t only with a hammer. He/she needs ALL the tools at his/her disposal. Depression is a chemical imbalance and sometimes meds are needed, but only taking pills without discovering the underlying issue does not solve the problem. We need to use ALL resources to recover. Unfortunately, good mental health care in this country is often hard to come by, no matter what our socioeconomic status is.

  18. Avatar
    Mary La Croce

    Matthew Fox,
    I agree with you that without the sacred and the spiritual in our lives we lack a fundamental, existential floor and direction in our lives. The rage from the psychologist on this issue raises concerns about that person’s state of mind. Thank you for all your work. It is of inestimable value.
    Peace, Mary La Croce

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