Last week, we explored the landscape of depression and the inner messages it brings for us. Beyond depression is the serious condition of despair. Despair calls for a clear, thorough and active response. We feel the hopelessness of despair when we co-create in the impossibilities to such an extent that we are now in undertow. When this happens, we need to immediately redirect our thinking.
How do you know if you are feeling despair rather than depression? In depression, you may sense the possibility that your unhappy perspective can change. You just feel unable to find the zest to reactivate and engage with that possibility. In despair, however, you don’t feel possibility.
When you are depressed, life can seem like a movie going on in front of you. You feel out of the picture, unsure how to re-enter the fullness of life. But if depression becomes despair, you don’t even believe in the picture, and don’t care to re-enter it.
Whether you see it or not, you are constantly held within an intelligent, loving whole. You are not an isolated island, but a vast interconnected being. Depression leaves you temporarily unable to sense this interconnection. It is as though you are under heavy clouds. Though you may be looking for the sun, you cannot see its light.
By contrast, when you are despaired, you are temporarily unwilling to even turn to look for the sun, because you are attached to the heaviness of the clouds. You have lost the belief that the sun exists at all. Your focus has locked on the clouds and they are all you have chosen to see as real. In your thinking, you have eclipsed the sun.
Despair involves a giving up. It is an implosion into self-pity. In it, you are co-creating with an impossibilities dynamic that pulls you away from your truest magnificence into a black hole that envelops the force of life. Despair is like kryptonite for the innate superpower that nature has given us all to live and thrive: your interconnection and your power of choice. It poisons your mind, debilitates you and hinders your evolution. In your deepest moment of sobriety, you can see that even a second of despair comes at too high a cost to your growth and to the wellbeing of all.
Some may choose medication to deal with depression. For despair, it is essential to practice meditation. This is because it requires humility, nonattachment, and a complete redirection in thinking. Though both depression and despair are based in identification with a sense of separate self and the idea that life is “happening to me”, there is a difference in degree. In depression’s listlessness, we may still find the opportunity for deeper awakening.
However, despair is more problematic. We are so identified with our sorry stories that we don’t see the value in pausing to redirect our consciousness. We have given up on the goodness of life. Our universe has shrunk down to the size of our erroneous self-perception. Through that distorted lens, we are convinced we suck and are worthless. We have lost the big picture. We have bought into feeling disconnected and mistreated by life itself.
It is telling that alcohol-related deaths, drug overdoses and suicides have sometimes been lumped together by health professionals as “deaths of despair”. Addicts know despair intimately and have spoken to me of the dangers of the “f— its”, which occur once despair has deeply set in. The “f— its”, which could be “I don’t care”, “It doesn’t matter”, “I’m not worth it”, “I’d rather get high than deal with this”, or even—deep down—“I’d rather die than see my ego”, are what takes an addict back to the streets, losing the program and the fellowship that would support them in staying sober. Those I know in recovery have warned that in their experience, addicts who are unwilling to do what the twelve-step program calls “a searching and fearless moral inventory” (of resentments, fears and relationship behaviour) are far more likely to give in to “f— its” and succumb to their disease. They have told me that understanding, witnessing, and releasing has literally saved their lives.
If you notice that you are feeling despair, immediately pause. See and accept it as it is: a trick in your consciousness convincing you that something unreal – your sense of separateness or worthlessness – is real. Remain rooted in the understanding that it is an illusion and it is passing. Do not fight it, push it or pull at it. Greet this moment in all its fullness, just as it is.
You may not like what you see. Give that space. Take a moment to recognize that the thoughts you have been courting, and what you have been perceiving as a result, are not the whole truth. With newfound possibility, and upon the solid foundation of understanding the difference between what is real and not, you can begin to witness despair. You allow it to release, no longer giving it undue energy. Eventually, the temporary spell of despair will pass if you are willing to see beyond its gloomy perspective and open instead to consider the light.
Other than this mindful understanding of despair, and looking into why you feel that way, healing despair involves activation, like jumping up and down, making yourself laugh, or getting out for exercise. If you practice martial arts, try doing a few kiai or kihap (short belly-centred shouts that focus energy). If you feel really hopeless or sorry for yourself, throw some punches while you jump. Reconnect with the fierceness of your inner vitality, which knows that impossibilities are not real. Adamantly insist on “I am” and your will to live.
In today’s heavy atmosphere, it is more important than ever to understand, witness, and release despair. Because we are all connected, as we choose to activate in the positive possibilities, we become like lights of peace not just for ourselves, but for all beings.
Many of us know that there will forever be a “before” and “after” COVID-19. We are at a pivotal time in our shared history—one could even say at a point of no return. Willingness to change now opens us up to our beautiful potential. In so doing, we play our part in quelling the undertow in our world and become part of a healthy shared future.
UNDERSTAND, WITNESS, AND RELEASE DESPAIR
When despair knocks at your door, you can welcome it—just like any other emotion or state of mind—without attachment or judgment. There is nothing gained in judging your feelings and saying to yourself that you have failed or that you are bad for having them. You learn to understand and witness them, just as they are. You do not add any story to what is. Despair simply is. You know that when you feel despair, you are co-creating with impossibilities and erroneous perceptions. You learn to not compound this misperception with guilt, shame or judgement that only fuel the undertow and deepen your suffering.
Quietly sit and watch as the clouds of despair go by—not trying to wrestle with them, not crumpling into a hopeless heap because you feel you can’t “get rid of them”. Practice willingness to understand and witness what is and know that these feelings are temporary. Whatever triggered your despair will eventually pass. With quiet wisdom and self-compassion, you will find a sense of internal space. When you are willing to give yourself the gentleness, the love and the understanding you need, you will shift and the sun in your life will shine once again.
Now, with that good news, go turn on your favourite music and dance for the love of it. Go for a walk outside (while practicing social distancing as needed) and enjoy the sunshine—or whatever weather the day may bring. Or call a friend you have not spoken to in a while. Whatever you choose to do, may it be something you love and that says, “Hello world! I am here and I am so glad to be alive!”