Driving an empty road in the Wisconsin pine barrens
Suddenly out of the ditch he appears, four feet over the highway
Right in front of us!
A hawk, flying hard, something long trailing behind him–
A snake.
I point excitedly, almost drive into the ditch.
“Look, Joe,” I say to my son.
Effortlessly he is up and gone into the trees.
We watch him disappear.
Joe says, “Man, dad, that snake is screwed.”


Heart’s Desire

Desire is always a tricky thing. Especially when we’re in depression. We lose any interest in things we used to love, and at the same time whatever shreds of hopes we hold seem so impossible in the midst of the suffering.

Now in the short version of Buddhist practice, we hear desire is the cause of all our problems. Mix that in with the American ideal that, as my father used to put it, “Suffering builds character” and you can get some very confused ideas about suffering and desire. It’s no wonder our depression comes to define us, so that we almost become attached to it. Even as we go deeper and deeper into the attempt to care less, so things won’t hurt so much.

At workshops I give about a spiritual approach to depression, we talk toward the end about how depression, or grief, can bring us to a bottom line. Rather than being attached to our suffering, we can begin to ask the question of how to let it go. What might I need to do, or to change in my life, so that this doesn’t return or doesn’t hold such power over me? And beyond that to the question, “Am I willing to consider what would bring happiness or joy or love into my life?” So that even if I become depressed again, I will have learned and filled my life with as much as I can? People usually have a lot to say about that, about their innermost heart’s desire.

At one such group an older woman said, “You know, I have always wanted to get a motorcycle and ride it. But what would my kids think? I am a grandmother after all. And isn’t that a bit self-destructive?” The people in the group suggested she didn’t need to worry about what other people think, and how often they had let that simple fear keep then from doing things. They encouraged her to do it if she wanted to. I thought a moment too, and said, “It seems to me that there is nothing more self-destructive than to ignore that voice of our heart’s desire.” Some Buddhists might take away my membership card for that suggestion. But we forget that aversion is as much a cause of suffering as clinging.

There are many theories about depression and it‘s cause—repressed anger, suppressed rage, unacknowledged sadness–that all seek to tie it to one emotion. I’ll offer mine. That perhaps it is about suppressing who we are, in whatever form that manifests. Getting a motorcycle might be all that is needed. To those purists who will jump on me for that, I think there is a way we can learn to differentiate between clinging desire, and desire which might even lead us to further emancipation. Sometimes the path out is through.

Or sometimes perhaps, there is wisdom simply in thinking about the possibility of happiness. We have to choose in this life, and have to take action. We can act as best as we can in accord with our heart’s desire. I think of my friend Brett, who had a pretty good life. He had inherited a business from his father, didn’t mind the work, and made a good living at it. But what he really loved was to play the saxophone. He was good at it, too. He’d made a record even. One day he told his friends he was going to leave his business, and move to L.A. “I just don’t want to be an old man one day on my deathbed, wondering what might have happened if I’d taken that chance. I want to find out now, and the only way to do that is to try it out there.”

I saw him about two years later, when he was back for a visit. I don’t remember if I even asked about whether things had worked out for him in his dream of making music. I only remember that he was happier than I’d ever seen him. He was married and in love, both with his wife and his beautiful new baby. Taking that chance on his dream had opened up doors to happiness I don’t think even he knew were there.

It’s been said by evolutionary biologist and behavioral psychologists, that if the universe wanted to move a human being in a particular direction, that based on what we know of human nature, it would do it through what delights us. Not through punishment or desire, but through delight. It would do us well to pay attention to that.

From a writing group

On Having Mental Illness

(a collection of essays from a writing group of adults with mental illness)

When I was on vacation with my mom and dad, we went to a zoo. I got really scared, I did not want to go in there, I thought people were looking at me. They sent me to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester and tested my blood and gave me shock treatment. And I remember we all had to go to the doctor and they put wire on my head and I laid on a hard bed, and when I came to I thought they were pulling rubber bands out of my arms.

Unfortunately today with my mental health I am just trying to hold to living at all. I am angry at how our government has so many Catch-22’s that actually hurts us more than they help. I’m completely lost.

It is very complicated in my life. Life can be terrifying. You can only take one step at a time or one minute a day. Sometimes I can cry easy and hold it immediately. I have had a mental illness for a long time. People that don’t know me can’t see what it is like for me. If I am having a difficulty with my illness, sometimes I can’t find the words to say to tell someone. I wonder if they could care about me. I am having a lot of difficulty right now. I’m confused. Life sucks.

Is it mental illness or just a deceived word to corrupt the truth of the evil spirit that flows thought our minds and souls. Because when Adam and Eve had sinned they hid in shame and felt guilty. Are we any different today from them is the question. God through his son became flesh so he could save us for his Glory.

What I would tell someone about having a mental illness is:
It’s not right that you are stripped of everything. I mean everything!
It’s not fair that you have to start your life all over again, from the very first step!
It’s not fair that you are treated like a child even if you are 40 years old!
It’s not fair you have a curfew!
It’s not fair that you can’t have a car!
It’s not fair that you have to sign in and out when you want to go somewhere!
It’s not fair that you can’t move out on your own!
It’s not fair that you have to sit home because there’s no gas for them to take you anywhere!
It’s not fair that you have to eat foods that you don’t like.
It’s not fair that you make pennies on the dollar for your wages—why can’t we at least make minimum wage!
It’s not fair, it’s just not fair that you are treated like a bunch of animals!

It was always very hard for me because I am very smart. I have fun but I talk a lot cause of my ADD, Bipolar. I do NOT have split personality that most people think it is. I have to always be doing something. It’s hard for me to have relationships because it feels like I’m trapped with nowhere to go. The more I talk about it, the more open I am, the more I am ok with it.

My mental illness interferes with thoughts, moods, feelings, relationships, daily living. Work has been a struggle for me and so has life. My mother understands living with mental illness is a challenge. I was diagnosed in my twenties, and I am on the right medicine now. It took time to know the medicine that would work for me. It is good for society to know the facts about mental illness.

Sometimes I have good moods.
Other times I get moody.
Sometimes I feel that nobody cares about me.
I could not go to places like shopping with a friend.
I would rather stay home and do nothing.
I would not talk to people or hang around them.
I feel that when I am in my shell and don’t want to come out of it.
Now, I am doing better.
I am happy now.
I like to go to places and do things.
I like to stay busy and do things with other people and friends and family too.

My depression is really hard to live with sometimes but I have learned to let things go and not stress over them so much.