No future? Lost hope? Can’t see how things might improve? When we get into this negative state of mind, we lack energy even to do the easiest of things and nothing gives us much pleasure.
For Macbeth, life seemed to have a future — one of power and status. Yet he also felt such things were insignificant. For he said:
“Life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.”
Perhaps he was feeling that only what the world could offer were mere illusions.
Yet buying into illusions can be what gets us down in the first place.
Illusions of alienation
To lose contact with people we felt at home with, when we’ve gone away into situations that were unfamiliar and unknown, can be extremely disorientating and disagreeable. One feels different, separated from normal ways of thinking and doing things and unsure of the way forward. We come to mistakenly believe that there is no-one with whom we could share our interests and concerns. No community to which we feel we could belong.
Seen from a spiritual perspective, there are certain triggers for this type of thinking that have grown in recent times. They are to do with our automated life and bureaucratic society and of the widespread materialist sense of values. Existential thinkers have put into words this state of estrangement from any truly human sense of reality and community.
The thoughts that support a feeling of alienation are mistaken. This is because there is always the opportunity of making new friends; always the chance to communicate on a deeper level; always the prospect of joining a social network or local group. It simply involves being oneself rather than pretending to be someone one is not. It involves searching out like-minded people.
Illusions of meaninglessness
One may come to believe that there is nothing that means anything any more. Not just a lack of meaningful relationships but a lack of meaning in life itself. When we start to fall for this way of thinking we are tempted to ask about any point in staying alive.
Yet there are many things we can do that can give satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment, as long as we are engaged with some activity. When we can see what is needed in a situation and start to do something about it, then we can become energised and find a meaningful purpose.
It can lead to a sense of accomplishment, the appreciation from a neighbour, or the interest of a fellow worker – all meaningful experiences. Also our ideals and ethical principles of living can develop and take on new meaning as we try to follow them in daily life.
Illusions of condemnation
A third basic fallacy that leads to depression is to do with a feeling of guilt. One may have done something about which one is truly ashamed or on the other hand be unfairly blaming oneself; one’s self-assessment may have been realistic or unrealistic. We are at risk of losing hope when we dwell on the illusion that we will suffer a future of punishment and torment.
Yet, let us realise that there are darker forces within the mind encouraging our self-condemnation and that we can gain some control over these. Just as we can receive creative inspiration from a higher source, so we are capable of receiving destructive impulses from a lower one.
Our power over our illusions
Emanuel Swedenborg’s visions of the spiritual realm, convinced him there are those he called lower spirits who desire nothing more than to pop into our minds self-damaging thoughts – illusions which take away hope and inspiration.
Yet, Swedenborg testifies to the unconscious presence with us also of higher spirits who illuminate in us what we have known to be right, defending us against irrational illusions. He wrote that the higher ones have the power of restraining the lower ones, defending us against their malicious influence. So there is help within the human mind to balance out depressing feelings and the illusions that bring them on.
The battle ground may be within the individual soul. But the person can take a conscious hand in the outcome. The important point to remember is we can turn our backs on illusion because negative thoughts can have no power over us as long as we do not identify with them as our own.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems