Friday, February 01, 2008

Depression as an advantage?

Philip Dawdy over at Furious Seasons (which the author describes as "A blog about the crazy world of mental health and America"), has an interesting interview with Tom Wootten on depression as an advantage. Wootten is the author of The Depression Advantage (2007) and The Bipolar Advantage (2005). According to Dawdy, Wootten "has different ideas about how to address depression than does the rest of the Western world" and so he "recently interviewed him via email about his bold claim that depression is an advantage."

To give you an idea at what Wootten is getting at:

Depression is an advantage. What are you talking about?

How we choose to look at our experiences in life and how we react to them determines whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage. Depression is a very painful state that has a very real chance of killing you. Most people would say that it is the worst thing that ever happened to them. A few have chosen to use it as a catalyst that changed their lives while they gained power over it.

It is not the hardships we face that matter, it is what we become as a result of facing them. Some of the greatest people in history have said that depression is what made them great. The Depression Advantage is about facing our condition while accepting the possibility that we might gain from it instead of trying to hide from the experience. Avoidance leads to a diminished life where we live in fear that some day depression will return and we will not be able to handle it. When we learn from it we find that we gain power over it and it does not affect us the same as it used to.

Our first depression seemed impossible to survive, but as we experience deeper states we find that the level that first seemed impossible can now be managed very well. We can even help others because we understand it and can empathize with them. At least in lower levels, we gain an advantage over depression instead of it having the advantage over us. Taken to the extreme, Saint John of the Cross said that it was his "Dark Night of the Soul" that made him a saint.

Information on Wootton's integrative approach to depression can be found in the Success Center section of his website.

As I mention in my comment, both personally and pastorally I have found it of immense value to be able to integrate the darker moments of life into a wider context of meaning (what Wootten calls the "big circle'). As he says:
"Some people think that the problem is that we have wrong thinking. They propose that we catch ourselves thinking sad thoughts and replace them with happy thoughts, as if that is going to change the picture. It is the same as focusing on the two small circles. We will never fully understand our condition until we begin to focus on the big circle and find meaning in our experiences. As long as you think that sad thoughts are an illness you will not find the advantage of your condition.

"The example of our saints is that they got to a point that they were in the same state of oneness no matter what happened to their body or mind. Saint Francis was in incredible pain at the end of his life, yet had the ability to keep focused on the big picture. It is not that he was somehow separate from his experiences; he experienced them just as you and I would. But since he was focusing on the big picture, he was in bliss. Bliss is the state that is not affected by the duality.

"As our saints grew in understanding, they still experienced the pain, but from the perspective of bliss it did not affect them as much. That is why Saint Teresa said: 'All these illnesses now bother me so little that I am often glad, thinking the Lord is served by something.'

"It takes the perspective of extreme pain for some of us to see the truth of bliss. The Depression Advantage is that we have the chance to understand something that few ever will."

Surf over and take a look at Furious Seasons. Some of the things I agree with, others I need to think about. Having cut my theoretical teeth through my readings in the anti-psychiatric movement, I find Furious Seasons well worth my time.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., You can find my comments on Wootten in the comment section of the post.


Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

Over at The Path, there is an interesting post on an issue near and dear to my heart: the spiritual formation and discipleship of Orthodox Christians. Here are my comments on the post Do the Orthodox "Know the Gospel"?

First of all, thank you for this post!

I think that, even more pressing then bring new people into the Church is our retention of the people that we have.

Having listened to the interview (click here to listen: Is There A 'Revolving Door' In The Orthodox Church") with Dr Bradley Nassif (click on Dr Nassif's name to read the article he wrote on this subject of Word magazine) and reading over Matthew Gallatin's comments, I find myself leaning more toward the former.

I appreciate, and agree with, Gallatin that those who leave the Church "either didn’t understand, or were unwilling to shoulder, . . . the tremendous responsibility that comes with being Orthodox." But this it seems to me leaves a number of questions not only unanswered, but even asked. Specifically, how were those who leave catechized?

It is not unheard of for someone to be received after only a few months, or even weeks, after they approach the priest. How many times are people received without even any formal instruction in the faith?

Then there is the question of the community. It is one thing to welcome converts, it is another thing to actually integrate them into the community and nurture their growth in the faith.

In the early Church the catechumenate lasted years. It was proceeded by a period of inquiry and followed by a period of further instruction (mystagogy). Even assuming that all our clergy and faithful are personally committed to Christ, we can't neglect the fundamentals of a serious period of instruction for inquirers, catechumens and the newly illumined.

And this must happen within a community that is itself committed to integrating new members. This means that it is not simply converts who need to change, we need to change as well.

Many of those who were baptized as infants have for all practical purposes fallen away. Unreasonably we seem to think that parishes that have an uneven record of fostering a personal commitment to Christ in those born into Orthodox families are able to do so with adult converts.

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

Again, thank you for the post--it is a issue that, like you and many in the Church, I am very concerned with.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Great Catholic author coming to town

From fellow blogger Mike Aquilina of Way of the Fathers, I have received the following announcement. If you are in the area and can make the time, why not stop by?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

One of my favorite writers on early Christianity is Fr. Michael Giesler, author of the novels Junia and Marcus, both set in second-century Rome. They're great page-turners of the Ben Hur/Quo Vadis variety, and they deserve a wide audience. Fr. Giesler is coming to our town, and I hope you'll be able to meet him (and pick up his books) at one of his appearances. The dates and times follow.

8:30 p.m. — Lecture, "The Glory of the Early Christians: Family Life and the Gift of Celibacy," Gentile Gallery, Franciscan University of Steubenville

11 am — Mass at Aquinas Academy (2308 West Hardies Road, Wildwood, PA 15091)
12 noon – 2 pm — Booksigning in lobby of Aquinas Academy
3-5 pm — Booksigning at Kirners Bookstore (219 4th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)

Fr. Giesler holds a doctorate in sacred theology and an advanced degree in philosophy. In addition to his novels, he has published many scholarly articles.

Please spread the word! If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask me.

Tag! I’m It?

I've been tagged!

From: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE. New York: Random House, 2007, p. 123.

His big insight is that bank employees who sell you a house that's not theirs just don't care as much as the owners; Tony knew very rapidly how to talk to them and maneuver. Later, he also learned to buy and sell gas stations with money borrowed from small neighborhood banks.

Tony has this remarkable habit of trying to make a buck effortlessly, just for entertainment, without straining, without office work, without meeting, just by melding his deals into his private life.

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

I tag Irenaeus, Sherry W., Fr John W Fenton, Stephen Paul, Fr Tim Finigan.