A Second Story on Healing Acedia and Depression Sans Pills

We are meditating on touching our Joy in spite of darkness and times of acedia.  I offer a second concrete story here.

“Soul Sprinkle.” Photo by Guy Mayer on Flickr.

One Fall semester I was teaching a course on “Psychology and Spirituality” and began the course asking students to draw a picture of their soul.  The pictures were alive and interesting and fun—except for one picture that was very dark and chaotic.

I invited the student to my office to talk.  She was a Catholic sister who had been seeing a psychiatrist for years who put her on drugs for her depression.  Disturbed that she had been sent to our program, I called her provincial in Boston and said, “we are not a psychological clinic but a degree program in spirituality.  Why would you send us a sister who is under psychiatric care?”  

She said, “Oh, father, we have tried everything–years of therapy, and nothing has pulled her out of her depression.  So we sent her to your program as a last resort.”

Art as meditation: circular Fraktur calligraphy, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Photo by Mayank Baranwal on Unsplash

Sitting down with this student, I learned more of her story.  She was an artist and one day her convent burned down and all her paintings were destroyed and her superiors gave her a new job—to hand out mail in one of their institutions.  She did this for years and was depressed (duh!) and they sent her to psychologists who prescribed lots of pills.

She stayed in our program, threw away the pills from her therapist, and thrived on art as meditation, the new cosmology and the mystics.  By graduation, she was a new person, and her community welcomed her back and she found work designing cards, etc.

I do not deny that some times drugs can assist healing for some kinds of  depression.  But I question whether some psychologists are even exposed in their training to spiritual traditions, the mystics and cosmology as paths to healing.  These are medicine for acedia that nurture the first chakra. 

“The Point of Dance is Embodiment.” Gabrielle Roth describes how she discovers her vulnerability and power through encountering God in dance. Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Picking up the vibrations of the whole universe and dancing on Mother Earth trigger the first chakra.  Such medicine is powerful, especially when done with others in prayerful ceremony or ritual.

Today’s story informs us pills are not always the cure to depression.  The truth is, this woman had to get off her pills to move beyond her depression.  She had to see the world anew.  Cosmology, art/ritual and the mystics allow that healing to happen.

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

See Fox, “Depth Psychology: Meister Eckhart Mets Carl Jung” and “Psychotherapy and the ‘Unio Mystica’: Meister Eckhart Meets Otto Rank,” in Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times, pp. 117-156.

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

Banner Image: Soul painting, Little Havana, Miami. Photo by Frankie Cordoba on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Have you found healing from acedia by way of art, ritual, cosmology and the mystics?  Do you think it’s possible that our culture, like that of 17th century Europe, actually invites depression?

Recommended Reading

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

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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20 thoughts on “A Second Story on Healing Acedia and Depression Sans Pills”

  1. Avatar

    Point of clarification. Psychologists do no write prescriptions for antidepressants. This is the work of the MD, hopefully a psychiatrist. Yes, few psychiatrists take in the entire picture- the sister was suffering from grief, which presents just like major depressive disorder. No amount of psychotropic medicines will cure grief. This happens probably 1000s of times a day. Peace

  2. Avatar

    “The Want and Desire for More of Something”

    We need to be open to our pain and invite ‘hunger’ of both food and spirit into our lives. Unless we feel and let the pain pass through, unless we feel the pangs of hunger, the want and desire for more of something, we move ourselves and shelter ourselves ‘out of the present’. And that could be our darkness.

    Not to be ‘present’ is to ‘hide ourselves’ somewhere else. What are we ‘hungry’ to do? What do we ‘hunger’ for? Is it art, meditation, prayer, writing, dance, mission, builder, creator? What is our purpose, gives us ‘our purpose’ and that which truly inspires us and brings us actively and joyfully into the ‘present’? — BB.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      What you describe is the Via Creativa – the Path of Creativity. Engaging with our creativity, lifts us out of the Via Negativa – the Path of Emptiness and Loss. We can feel our sense of purpose blossom as we create. We fill the emptiness with the blessings from our own being.
      In Native tradition, sage is burned to cleanse negativity from a space. Sweetgrass is also burned to balance the sage, to fill the empty places created by the sage cleansing. Sweetgrass provides the positive blessing that fills the spaces that have been cleansed from negativity. If the cleansed spaces are left empty they will draw something in to fill them. Burning Sweetgrass offers blessing as a filling option.

  3. Avatar

    A psychiatric patient who was being treated and educated about depression told me that she found out that her depression stemmed from anger turned inward because of not being able to control matters. Her statement about depression parallels Rollo May’s statement that depression is misdirected creativity against the self. A culture that breeds people who secretly and not secretly put themselves before others will cause depression. Mental institutions are populated with many decent people who have been victims of extreme selfishness. The open-hearted state of unconditional love feels and thinks of persons within each other and not the isolated small self first. Persons within each other are the OverSoul of Emerson.

  4. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Pharmaceuticals are big business, and these corporations work in relationship with MD’s in the medical profession, whom receive financial kick backs when they promote and prescribe the medications they produce. This is a fact that has been reported upon in journalistic documentaries over the years.

    I know this to be true, due to having photographed years ago at one of their conventions. My husband and I were shocked and appalled at what their motivational speakers were communicating to both the sellers and distributors regarding the pharmaceuticals they were promoting. Several seminars were on drugs related to what we now call a pandemic of depression and anxiety within our society.

    MD’s are overwhelmed with a caseload of patients and in my opinion this had led to impersonal relationships, which has contributed to over prescribing pharmaceuticals for all kinds of ailments. There is also a division within the medical profession itself, between MD’s and those within the mental health field of psychology and psychiatry. There is an even greater divide between all of these and naturopathic practioners and other complimentary methods of healing. All of this division within the medical field itself, contributes to the fragmentation of healing options available to treat the whole person.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      I have been following Medical Professionals who have studied the impact of the foods we eat on the brain. There is a growing number of Medical researchers using nutrition instead of pain meds to assist folks with health issues.
      Also, and I am amazed by this finding, Neurologist, Dr. Perlmutter has researched and achieved turning around Alzheimers disease with nutrition!
      Your convention experience depicts our human confusion between money and wealth. Brian Swimme talks about this. Wealth has nothing to do with money. It is about experiencing our connectedness to the Cosmos and our significant place in the Cosmos. We humans focus on money – the convention’s apparent goal – and many have lost sight of the wealth that we are as cosmic beings capable of awe, wonder, creativity, healing and more.
      Those that Matthew has lifted up for us to ponder; the Mystics, Shamans, Earth teachers, who help us to reconnect with the wealth that we are. There is much healing available in the wealth of our being.
      The more I explore what we are learning from science, cosmology, and medicine, the more rigorous I am about my health and wealth choices.
      A personal note; In 2010, I was crushed in a car accident – hit by a Semi-Truck. My car totaled. The police, at the scene, were amazed I was alive and talking. The nursing home/rehab center Doctor prescribed narcotics for pain. I refused to take them. He was irate that I would challenge his orders, his face turning as red as his hair with rage. I had to fight for the right to my pain and how I chose to care for myself during that time. I did not take the narcotics. Meditation, sitting outdoors in my wheelchair- surrounded by golden fields of dandelions, feeling the heat of the Sun blessing me with new life – an opportunity to renew, and so much more. Pain is one of Via Negativa’s precious gifts. An opportunity to create something new from what I lost. The Orthopedic Surgeon decided to allow my body to heal itself! I did, with the blessings of the Cosmos to support me.
      Thank you for sharing your Convention experience. You have opened a door for us to take yet another look.

  5. Avatar

    Dear Matthew,

    I know you’re not belittling, discounting nor ignoring the real suffering of those who have a genuine physiological brain injury (chemical imbalance), but to one who has that and also knows of the spiritual dark nights I must sincerely caution against even the appearance of such. It is hurtful to those who rely on herbal and pharmacological remedies for their illness. Worse, it can lead to people going off their meds only to experience a worsening of symptoms or even a psychotic break that could lead to a suicide. Again I must emphasis the “both/and” of healing on behalf of those who have a genuine hormonal imbalance, and not only a spiritual one. Having walked alongside people who have struggled (and died) I know all too well the complexities of such human suffering.

    Only by grace, Patrick

    1. Avatar

      Excellent point. Praising a depressed person who went off their meds is dangerous and also still subtly implies that medications are an inferior “crutch” to treat depression. It implies they “saw the light on the folly of their meds” and were “saved/converted” by the superior wisdom of using spiritual techniques alone. This may not be the intended message of today’s post, but this week’s general trend has been to downplay/scoff at medications (and by implication, the people who choose to take them) when COMPARED with spiritual training/therapy and the mystics who used that alone. It sets up a false competition between the types of treatment for depression.

      Therapy alone is OFTEN NOT SUFFICIENT as a treatment for depression. Neither, OFTEN, are medications alone. Most recent studies say a combination of the two gives the best results. (Exercise is also showing promise). Check with your doctor first. We have divergent responses to treatments, and what works for one person may do nothing at all for another.

      People struggling with depression need a well-stocked toolkit with an assortment of options to manage their pain. Medications are not to be used casually, but they are a vitally important option for people, and every bit as much legitimate as therapy, including spiritual therapy.

    2. Avatar

      I think of Sylvia Plath and her bell jar, whose creativity and art did not save her. In the deepest darkest times, I felt like being in a bell jar. It is both a spiritual and a more than spiritual experience that no amount of prayer, contemplation, etc ., can begin to touch. It is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual hell that requires a number of approaches. And just because not all therapists, medical or not, don’t understand the spiritual side does not mean that they cannot be effective up to a point. Thank you for continuing to emphasize the need for a holistic, complex approach. Those of us who have had to rely on medication, therapy, and other more aggressive modes of treatment do not need to be shamed. Our culture and society and many religions do enough of that. Thank you, Patrick, for speaking up and I second everything that you say.

    3. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thank you, Patrick for your deeply felt comment.
      Also each of us needs to make the determination for our unique situation.
      What is best for one, may not be best for another. Because, as you have so clearly and care-fully explained the role of medications for some people is life saving. My encouragement would not be to let go of what is working for you, however, I would encourage looking into the path Matthew is defining, also clearly and care-fully with all of our deepest well-being in mind. It may be, there is an overlooked blessing.
      Thank you, again, Patrick for your deeply felt comment. Both/And!

  6. Avatar
    Barbara McGurran

    Healing is ALWAYS holistic. I believe they come from the same root word. That is the problem as I see it with all medicine today. Healers must be aware of the health of the being as a whole,not just one part. We are not robots where you fix one part and all is well. There is also more to us than what you can see. Our spirit is our animating influence and must be taken into account.

    1. Avatar

      Barbara, you bring up an important point. Healing is holistic. When we teach Therapeutic Touch (a lifeway of Energy Healing) we stress that the word HEAL comes from Old English Haelen, which means “to make whole”. It is NOT the same as curing, which just removes whatever is causing an illness but may not change what the person is suffering. One can Heal even when the outcome is death. This involves making peace with all that needs closure in the person’s life and allows a peaceful transition. Healing is a much deeper concept.

    2. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      For sure, Barbara.
      We are truly complex beings.
      There is so much more to us.
      We are deeper and larger than we can imagine.
      Thank you for your comment.

  7. Richard E Reich

    Today you ask in part: “Have you found healing from acedia by way of art, ritual, cosmology and the mystics?” My answer is a huge “Yes.” I paint, and write, and am a singer-songwriter, and I have even danced with Gabrielle Roth, at a workshop, which was an absolutely amazing experience! I also absolutely love the mystics. After having been trained in philosophy and theology, mysticism seemed so much more real to me–based in experience rather than in the intellect–in the body and not just in the head. At one of my church’s we introduced “Dancing in the Urban Sweat Lodge”) in the basement of our church in Southern CA. So thank you Matthew for bringing this form of spirituality to me and so many others !!!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for sharing your huge “YES” with us.
      Learning through one’s personal journey is the knowing that can’t be achieved without the experience and the risk taking.
      Thanks again for sharing your huge “Yes” with us.

  8. Avatar

    Matthew, I also found it humorous that Robert Bly turned his back on psychology students that hadn’t begun studying Carl Jung. It reminded me how in my early adult years when I was searching for a career, it was the books of Carl Jung and one year at the CG Institute of Analytical Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland as an auditor that started my 40yr. career as a clinical social worker. His archetypal studies of the True Self reminded me of my intuitive long term spiritual interest of the mystics of all genuine spiritual traditions. Since retirement in 2015, I’ve even gracefully had more time to deepen my spiritual journey, including Creation Spirituality and sacred multidimensional spirituality studied and experienced by genuine spiritual researchers (such as Michael Newton, Ph.D. and Eben Alexander, MD; eternea.org) and internationally prominent channelers.

  9. Avatar

    This talk hit me between the eyes – yes, acedia – that’s what happened to me in 2001 when I was injured on an art job and told I would never draw again. I never quite recovered from it, career-wise, mood-wise, economically, etc. I was cut off from my identity, my role in society, my creativity, etc, and I was put down for not being able to “move on” from it. How many more years have to be wasted in this place of loss and disappointment? I think I need to dance, but I have no knee cartilage, so I am going to have to look for a workaround.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Sue,
      I feel your deep courage in the story you share.
      I strongly encourage you to continue to find the DANCE that fills your heart.
      Have you discovered Forest Bathing? Check it out on YouTube. I am writing from a cabin
      in the middle of a woods. I come here alone at least once a month to simply BE with TREES.
      I watch them DANCE in the breeze and my soul joins in the steps.
      All the best to you, as you continue your search for Your DANCE!
      Blessings and thanks for sharing your story.
      Be well!

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