Monday, May 27

Depression, Grief, or Enlightenment

One hundred days ago today I watched my best friend –or rather one of my best friends– die right in front of my eyes. It was horrible. It was also a moment that changed my life forever, and I find myself in a weird mood. Granted, my dog’s death is not the only thing that is weighing on my mind right now –life has been kicking me hard on a number of fronts lately– but the thing is that all of a sudden I can’t seem to bring myself to care… or maybe it is that all of a sudden everything seems so distant. I try to think of what would bring me joy, but other than the occasional ice cream cone I am effectively drawing a blank. I try to think of the things I dread, and nothing really jumps at me on that particular front either. I go out for a walk with my one remaining dog, enjoy the beach and the sound of the birds singing, I watch the sun set every evening, and marvel at the beauty of it all. So no, I haven’t lost the ability to experience love or joy, but –ice cream aside– the things that bring me that joy no longer seem to be man-made, not unless you include cats and dogs in that particular category, and at the end of the day these are still simple things, and the more I think about it, the more I realize I am at peace.

Yes, I can go to the store –any store– and browse around to my heart’s content, but nothing I can buy excites me. In fact the mere thought of purchasing more stuff I don’t really need makes me almost physically sick. I can grab a book, but all of a sudden even reading seems rather pointless (a terrifying thought for someone who grew up in a family in which books were treated almost as sacred objects). I don’t care about watching a movie, and surfing the net feels equally pointless.

I do realize that to some these would seem like obvious symptoms of depression. Others would say that I am still grieving, that I should give myself a little more time, and then I will feel better, but that is precisely the point: that I don’t feel bad… at all. Yes, I miss my dog like crazy. He was my constant companion for more than six years, and I am fully aware that even if I were to get myself another dog my life will never be the same, but what most people seem to be concerned about is the fact that I’m not doing my duty as a consumer. How dare I not care about buying new clothes, new books, new whatever? How dare I be content walking the beach and watching the sunset? How dare I say ‘this is enough’? Where is my drive, my ambition? And the answer is that it is probably buried along with my best friend… and then I turn my attention to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and think that maybe there is some truth to those truths after all. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I usually stop at the third… I do have some reservations about the fourth, or maybe that is just because of the way in which it was explained to me.

The first three are (in a ridiculously oversimplified form, but that’s the way we tend to remember things anyway):

-Life is suffering, and even when we are happy that happiness is marred by the certainty that it will come to an end.
-Craving and desire only add to that misery.
-When we stop craving and desiring, when we stop clinging to things that do not last, and are therefore bound to cause us grief, our suffering will come to an end.

Up to that point the whole thing is commonsensical enough.

The fourth tells us how are we supposed to go about getting to point three, which means that the order is somewhat messed up, but I guess it sounded better that way. As I said, I’m not sure I adhere to the procedural aspects of that one in the same way I do to the first three, so maybe it’s best that it is out of place. If nothing else that makes it easier to skip.

And no, I’m not claiming to have reached nirvana, or anything like that. That would be ridiculous. I still miss my boy, and I probably always will, not to mention that I’m not even sure I want to reach the required level of detachment for that one, as I don’t really see it as a virtue. I am proud of my humanity, I am not willing to give it up, and that level of detachment comes across as a little too selfish for my liking, but that is not the point. The point is that for the time being I find myself in a good place, and for me that is enough.

Of course this is not about nirvana, or any such nonsense. It is about the fact that the one thing no one ever seems to have called those noble truths –especially the one that talks about the cessation of suffering by renouncing all that pointless craving– is ‘compatible with Western values’, where consumerism is king, so people shake their heads in despair. They express their concern, and treat inner peace as a mental health issue. It is something that cannot possibly be tolerated, and much less accepted or encouraged. It is something that must be stigmatized, or better yet, drugged out of existence. There are pills for that! Pills that can actually be bought! Don’t you want to get better? And I am reminded of something else: of that scene in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where the delta babies are being conditioned through aversion therapy to loath both books and flowers, and someone says that while they understand the need to get them to steer clear of books, why flowers? The answer is that landscapes and flowers are free, and therefore the love of those simple joys must be actively discouraged, but they are still conditioned to embrace outdoors activities, such as sports, that will lead to healthy levels of consumption.

This is the world we created, a world in which I still miss my best friend, but where I am coming closer to making my peace with his passing, where I am at peace with myself, and that, I am beginning to realize, is something that cannot possibly be tolerated.

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