A Story of Healing Acedia and Depression Sans Pills

Yesterday I responded to a letter from a psychologist who did not like my naming acedia and depression as a spiritual issue.  The suggestion was that depression is best healed with a pill.

Not always the answer: Fluoxetine HCl 20mg Capsules (Prozac). Photo by Tom Varco on Wikimedia Commons.

I say simply, “maybe sometimes, but not always.”

If people find themselves living in a spirituality bereft and oppressive society, it may be the context itself that is rendering people depressed.  In fact, depression may be a positive sign that they are not brain dead or soulless but passionate about living fully in a milieu that is not.

At such a time it can be very valuable to go to the mystics to learn what they have to say about Joy and Darkness, which is what we have been doing in our recent Daily Meditations.

John of the Cross came up with the term “dark night of the soul” though others certainly examined the concept long before his languaging—Hildegard of Bingen and Mechtild of Magdeburg and Julian of Norwich as starters.

“It is in the negation of seeking God elsewhere that we become open to him within us.” A meditation on Meister Eckhart’s teachings on the Ground of the soul. Theodore Nottingham

I will tell you a story today and one tomorrow of profound healings that uplift the first chakra (where acedia is centered) that I have witnessed in teaching the mystics.

Years ago in our ICCS program at Holy Names College, we had a woman student who was herself a therapist.  In our class where we were studying my book, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, she told us this story.  She had been abused by her father as a child and had spent many years in therapy but that “reading Meister Eckhart was bringing her much deeper healing than therapy ever did.”  Eckhart truly lifted her out of her deep depression.  She has been using him in her practice ever since.

An earlier teaching video by Matthew Fox, drawing from his workshop with Steve Herrmann on “Psychology and Spirituality: William James, Carl Jung, and Meister Eckhart in Dialogue.”

While Eckhart preceded John of the Cross by 250 years, he was talking about the experience of “nothingness”—sometimes as a positive experience and sometimes as a negative one.  

By cushioning it between the Via Positiva and the Via Creativa (I derived the four paths most explicitly from Meister Eckhart), he gives our suffering context and meaning and ways to see beyond it and through it. 

He teaches us deep letting go and letting be—including letting go of denial.  Indeed, Carl Jung says he got the “key to the unconscious” from Eckhart for this very reason.  Maybe more Eckhart and fewer pills might go a long way in healing acedia.  

To be continued.


See Matthew Fox, “Education,” in Charles Burack, ed., Matthew Fox: Essential Writing on Creation Spirituality, pp.182-190, “Creation Mystics,” pp. 90-131, “Cosmology,” pp. 75-89.

And Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, (2015 edition), pp. 327-350.

And Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart 

and Fox, “Depth Psychology: Meister Eckhart Meets Carl Jung,”in Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 117-138.

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

Banner Image: “Meditation” Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Queries for Contemplation

Have the mystics and wrestling with your own mystical calling assisted you in weathering depressions and dark nights of the soul?


Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack

To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship.  His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Meditations with Meister Eckhart: A Centering Book

A centering book by Matthew Fox. This book of simple but rich meditations exemplifies the deep yet playful creation-centered spirituality of Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart was a 13th-century Dominican preacher who was a mystic, prophet, feminist, activist, defender of the poor, and advocate of creation-centered spirituality, who was condemned shortly after he died.
“These quiet presentations of spirituality are remarkable for their immediacy and clarity.” –Publishers Weekly.  

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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12 thoughts on “A Story of Healing Acedia and Depression Sans Pills”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Recently I engaged in conversation with coworkers about anxiety and the ways of dealing with this. Surprisingly, ALL of them were sharing the meds and/or alcohol and edible marijuana they were choosing to use. When asked what I was using, my response was my spiritual practices. No one enquired further about my response, but rather they continued to discuss and compare their meds and there so called benefits.

    I perceived in this moment, the spiritual poverty within our society and how easily tempting it is to choose a quick fix with regards to dealing with anxiety and all that lies beneath this; which rises to the surface to be worked through. Oppressing, suppressing, denying and rejecting all so called and labelled negative emotions and thoughts through meds and other substances and negating the existence of this energy; creates a false sensation of joy and happiness.

    I was then accused of worrying to much about things, that I should lighten up and try what they were choosing; cause “IT works”. I prefer to do my own inner work, through the spiritual practices and methods that I choose in dealing with anxiety and all that which unfolds, evolves and emerges from this; as I learn to converge with the causes of this energy, transforming what lies beneath it all, through the creative wisdom ways that I am learning of, as taught by the mystics and the elders.

    1. Avatar

      Interesting that your co-workers are all using somewhat depressive substances to cope with depression and anxiety. The “work” you’re doing requires more of self. Our society requires us to be victims, when we do what is contrary to that ideology and employ sensitivities to our healing we are often told to lighten up, take the easy route and be less sensitive. My prayers are with you as you journey. Blessings

  2. Avatar

    I can’t imagine separating out spirituality from mental health. I am a therapist experiencing somewhat of a ‘dark night of the soul’ myself… and for me, I recognize that an aspect of it is the aloneness- and the vacuum left having moved away from my Catholic faith. And you might think it’d be a simple ‘prescription’ to replace those rituals I miss so much- pills do have a role, but it’s so much deeper than that. Thank you Matthew- I really appreciate your daily reflections!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thank you, Theresa, for your deep sharing.
      Deep wounds, the loss of the meaningful rituals.
      I searched, found some meaningful Creation Centered Rituals to ground myself and to feel closer to Creation of which we are each an integral part. From that deep love affair with God’s creation, I created some of my own rituals.

  3. Avatar

    It would be tragic though if some disregarded the help of psychedelics or pharmaceuticals in addition to various forms of counseling for their own particular brain injuries. Studies are showing that there are both psycho-spiritual and physiological components to mental illness (brain injury due to both genetics and experience). Again, as Friar Rohr and others have said, “Both/and.”

    1. Avatar

      I agree, Patrick. Depression and other mental and emotional ills have a multitude of causes, and there are a multitude of ways to deal with these ills. Certainly, the society and culture contribute, but hasn’t that always been so? To suggest that an individual doesn’t have enough faith to overcome depression/anxiety, etc., is an old story and only shames the sufferer. There is more than one story in the bible connecting illness with sin. If we are not careful, depending on the mystical practices alone to heal these problems seems to me to be another perhaps more subtle way of blaming the victim. These may work very well for some, but my experience is that more conventional treatment had to happen first, or simultaneously. Both/and.

    2. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Patrick,
      I favor the Both/And option.
      Balance is one of the names an old Indian Elder gave me – to grow into.
      Both/And sounds like Balance to me.

  4. Avatar

    Yes! The enclosed video in today’s DM of Theodore Nottingham’s “meditation on Meister Eckhart’s teachings on the ‘Ground of the Soul’ “ is a beautiful description of the “Ground of Being~our True Heart Self~our Sacred Eternal Soul~God’s Loving Diverse Oneness…” experienced and described by mystics of all genuine spiritual traditions, including Indigenous spirituality, throughout human history, up to our present day. This inner spiritual transformation, potentially Present within all of us, leads to our experiencing more deeply the Loving Oneness~Peace~Healing~Beauty~Joy~Creativity… also Present in our outer ongoing co-Creation-Cosmos, especially our beautiful Gaia, Mother Earth, and compassionate service/Oneness with one another….

  5. Avatar

    Mystical training (“the Path”) is a way of both preparing for and integrating the mystical experience. It’s a very long process, as attested by traditional, trained mystics such as Eckhart. Without that long integration, the experience itself can heal parts of the deep, subconscious inner psyche but still must be integrated into consciously aware daily life. Also, if an untrained mystic is not taught how to consciously utilize the traditional elements of the Path or is unaware of them, the techniques will not be available to help with emotional self-control and calmness. That’s the benefit of the Path.

    Depression can occur from many causes. Sensitive/intuitive people may be profoundly aware of a subtle, deep lack of spiritual nourishment AND be finely attuned to depression from a brain-chemical onslaught. Add trauma and tragedy, and you get a recipe for deep despair. While spirituality should be a component available for healing, people with depression need to know that they MAY NEED OTHER or more than that and should NOT FEEL GUILTY for seeking out the type of healing they need.

    Yes, mysticism is a healing. No, it is not the total answer.

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