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Freeing the Holy Ghost

[ Note 1: This is an excerpt of an unpublished book by Claes Janssen with the same title. ]

1. In a church

LETTERS I'VE WRITTEN, NEVER MEANING TO SEND. I play the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed on my new computer, as I write this. JUST WHAT YOU WANT TO BE/ YOU WILL BE IN THE END.

I agree, I think. But you have to make clear to yourself what it is, and specify it in detail. That's the real difficulty, as it turns out.

One of the most hilarious experiences in my life, at least lately, was when I defended the Devil in a church.

Hilarity is not what one expects, when going to church, and in fact, I had not. I felt I had a spiritual message - approximately the one Jung had in mind when he said that one ought to re-invite the Devil to the Trinity, so that one would get a Quaternity instead. That idea I had made my own. The Holy Quaternity was my spiritual message. It is a message of joy, no doubt. Still, it was a surprise to me when the audience began to laugh. They did that already in the beginning when I happened to say that Jesus was punctual (he said he was going to resurrect himself on the third day, and then he did). They continued to laugh again and again during my lecture. Most of all laughed the clergyman, the vicar, who had invited me to his church. He practically convulsed with laughter in his pew.

Under these circumstances it was hard not to laugh oneself. I did my best, though, and on the pictures taken of me from that memorable occasion I look quite stern, as befits a superego figure.

Sartre looked quite stern, too, on the picture of him I once had, when he said (as quoted): YOU WILL PERISH FROM MODESTY. BE INSATIABLE! WANT THE IMPOSSIBLE!

That's what the Moody Blues said too, more melodiously. It is an antithesis to depression.


2. Enlisting the Devil

My book, In Defense of the Devil, is in Swedish... but, as I suddenly remember, I've got the two central chapters in English. They can be read on this site. They'll tell you enough.

This is another piece, which might be read as a kind of summing up of my thoughts.

I said that when you are in Renewal, you are there with a truth. That is so when you are in Denial, too. In the first stage of Denial, this truth is hidden to you, as it threatens a present status quo. The Devil frees your perceptions in the situation, by confirming that you have the right to experience, here and now, whatever it is you experience (a right that no animal ever questions). The Devil gives you the power to feel, to think, and to desire freely, without talking about it - to stand alone. The Devil frees you to want. As the Devil, you might be in conflict, still, but the conflict is now external, not the internal conflict when you condemn yourself for wanting what you want, or for not wanting what you do not want. You are out of Denial in so far as you now still adjust, still act censoredly, perhaps, but practice no inward self-censorship.

Experiencing the conflict, you move to the next stage, to Confusion - still with this truth, which conflicts with your status quo. In the deepest experiences of Confusion, you identify with this truth, feeling that if you do not act in consequence of it, you will not be real. But you do not feel free to act in consequence of it. Therefore, you feel like a ghost.

- In principle, I am nothing but a ghost, said Virginie, a girl in Kingsley Hall, R.D. Laing's »schizophrenic community«.

And then, as if by magic, the man who said he was the Holy Ghost entered the scene, showing what to do, what stance to take. Virginie had felt like a ghost, but not holy. So had I, for I was deep in Confusion that memorable summer in Kingsley Hall, 1968. I couldn't have been shown the Holy Ghost's message more effectively, if God had staged it all, as a happening.

Reflecting on this afterwards, I saw that obviously I didn't know for certain, couldn't know, that God hadn't staged it all, that is, sent the »real« Holy Ghost - whoever or whatever he (or she) was - to Kingsley Hall, so as to give CJ the laughter of his life...

Furthermore, I saw that as far as the effect on me was concerned, it made not the slightest difference!

What you do not see, when feeling like a ghost, but not holy, is that the truth you are in touch with forces you to change, to make an »identity switch«. You are, in a sense, too used to yourself, to being the person you were - but this was before you discovered this truth (or, if the change is triggered by a loss, before whatever has happened, happened).

Undoubtedly, schizophrenia is the deepest experience of Confusion; the schizophrenic's conflict is felt as a matter of life against death. As psychotherapy with schizophrenics shows, they hardly feel free to make themselves real at all with another person, to approach, to touch. But the character of the conflict is no different with the rest of us (as the man who said he was the Holy Ghost made me see). The death-in-life, if we lose the truth we are in touch with, the life, if we bring it to Contentment, is a reality; it is just for us more relative, less all-encompassing.

Quite possibly, some suicides are rooted in this conflict; if so, that tells us that strangely enough, some people, in some situations, prefer death to the alternative of »becoming someone else«. This shows how hard this latter alternative is to perceive, to see as a real possibility. [ Note 2: A fascinating book I've read recommends »egocide« intead of suicide. David H. Rosen, MD. Transforming Depression (Putnam, New York, 1993). Rosen is a Jungian. I quote from an article by him on another original, thus easy-to-find concept, »soul attack«, which looks equally apt. Persons with »soul attacks« are just as disabled as those with »heart attacks«. /.../ Persons suffering from »soul attacks« have psychic damage and suffer a symbolic death that I term egocide. Egocide (in contrast to suicide) allows the person to shed the dominant negative ego identity or false self (symbolic death) and to begin a new life based on one's »true self«. /.../ Egocide, i.e. symbolically killing the negative ego, allows for the needed death of a part of the person's identity, but the whole person lives. ]

In everyday, non-suicidal situations, it is easier to see that our characteristic attitude in this matter is simply ridiculous. This is shown eloquently by the example - Abraham Maslow's - of the man who never ate oysters. »I never eat oysters, for if I ate them, I might like them, and I hate the damned things«.

We cannot change, until we can imagine the alternative future, picture ourselves acting differently, feeling differently. It is hard, when one feels one thing strongly, to imagine feeling differently. Therefore, the change in Confusion will by necessity be slow, step by step, permitting you to glimpse the different stance, lose it, then glimpse the possibility again, to get used to it, until it slowly feels real.

You are in Confusion with this truth, whatever it is. But you will probably see the truth »as in a glass, darkly«. It will be fragmented, doubted, experienced, perhaps, as a sense of unreality. Possibly, all you can identify with in Confusion is the search, the idea of the search (or, the idea that it is always good to move into the sense of unreality, to enter the experience) and your identity as a seeker. Nevertheless, being (as) the Holy Ghost, you honor that search, and/or the truth you have glimpsed, confusedly, even though you cannot bring it to Contentment, that is, live by it. You put it above you.

You see the light at the end of the tunnel, and acknowledge that it is, as far as you can make out, the light.

A key message of the Holy Ghost is the old renaissance motto: »Nothing human is alien to me.« The Holy Ghost stands for all the alternative interpretations of the situation, for all the alternative experiences, which are possible for you, if/when you give up your old »identity requisites«. You are an example of a man, a woman, in a particular situation, at this time on earth. As an integrated, conflict-free experience, this sense of being an example characterizes Contentment. So the Holy Ghost makes you glimpse Contentment in Confusion (which equals seeing the situation as a joke: very liberating).

Now, the suffering. Confusion shades into Renewal. The Holy Ghost is inspiration, pneuma, the breath of life - the potential of change. But you have not reached a strong foothold in Renewal, until you have taken up the suffering. Christ's ability to »suffer cheerfully« I see as a key factor in Renewal. It so happens that life is not just. Jesus was crucified, unjustly. They let Barabbas go, instead, and Pilate mumbled, like the bureaucrat he was: »What is truth?«

Statistically, you can reasonably hope not to be crucified by society. In the rich societies with a strong enough Contentment (the »good« societies - but they are probably simply rich enough) you can reasonably hope not to be tortured, nor even, perhaps, unjustly imprisoned. If you are reading this book, you are one of the fortunate on earth: you are not starving, you are not illiterate, and you have time to read for pleasure. Nevertheless, you cannot reasonably hope that life will be just to you. You cannot reasonably hope for a life without suffering.

The correlation between how good you are as a person and what happens to you, your good or bad fortune, is not zero, I think, but it is certainly not perfect. Misfortunes will befall you. You will be lied to, swindled, slandered; gossip will blow into you face. You will be misunderstood, unjustly accused. Men/women you love will be unfaithful to you; you will know jealousy. You will know false friendship. You will know failure. Bankruptcy will threaten, and/or the loss of your sight in one eye (as I am threatened right now). [ Note 3: That particular threat passed. It might have worked as a mind-opener, though, making this piece of writing extra good. ] Accidents will happen. You will suffer loss, aging, death of loved one's.

You might work on yourself, on what you see as your own contributions to the failures and misfortunes, your inexperience, clumsiness, gullibility, lack of foresight, accident-proneness, whatever; this will not prevent them. While you are guarding, most conscientiously, against three possible misfortunes you foresee, a fourth one you did not foresee will befall you.

And so much of it all is simply not just. Circumstances will make you suffer, and there is nothing you can do about it - except quit sulking.

But that you can do, and it makes a tremendous difference.

Some other of Christ's traits which you might have good use for are, for example, his good leadership, his forgivingness, his unselfishness (when corrected: no unnecessary self-sacrifice!), his giving, his indefatigability, his self-forgetfulness. They are all connected. Searching for one word to describe Christ's attitude, I come up with one that feels good, for it lacks all softness: He was task-oriented. He gave and forgave, was unselfish, indefatigable, and self-forgetful, all in the interest of his task, of what he had to do. He took up his cross. To some, that is a simple symbol of the task-orientation - taking up the difficulties, connected with your fate, whatever they turn out to be.

And he was a just therefore a good leader. As was Churchill, to give another example of a task-oriented man. »Tonight there will be sugar on the pancakes«, he said after the battle of El Alamein, a turning point in the war, glimpsing Contentment.

Commitment is another aspect of the task-orientation.

It was with considerable pleasure that I discovered this piece. I had forgotten that I had written it. Consequently, it's missing in the Swedish book. It summarized my theory quite elegantly, I felt. I like the Churchill quote at the end, which toughens it.


3. No Holy Ghost Can Ever Be a Conservative

I had forgotten that I had written the above. Consequently it was missing in my book In Defense of the Devil (in Swedish). I like that Churchill quote at the end. No one, I hope thinks of Churchill as a masochist.

We will now enlist the figures of The Holy Quaternity, particularly the Holy Ghost, to understand a psychiatric diagnosis, namely depression.

As with the Christian idea of the Trinity, where the Holy Ghost and Jesus are aspects of God, so it is with the Quaternity. The Devil, as I see it, is an aspect of God. Or, to express it differently, they are four different aspect of me, a human being.

Or »a self-defining value«, to quote the African Zulu tribe's definition of what it is to be human.

Today felt like the first day of spring. I was sitting on the porch, reading an engaging book about Simone de Beauvoir. In that book, the Swedish writer, Åsa Moberg, asks herself why she, de Beauvoir, all through her life persistently denied to journalists that she had any lesbian experiences, when both her diary and her letters to Sartre show that she certainly had them. Åsa Moberg suggests an answer. She was probably afraid of being »marginalized« as a writer.

Simone de Beauvoir's ambivalence about her lesbian experiences was rooted, as we all know, in a taboo. In her time, the reality that lesbian women had nothing to be ashamed of seems to have been less real than society's prevalent fiction that they had.

This triggered a chain of thoughts for me. de Beauvoir was self-sacrificing in a way I had never thought of. She sacrificed (if Åsa Moberg was right) what she might write now for what she had written in the past. But this is a kind of harakiri for a writer, for the joy of writing, which is its deepest meaning, can only be experienced now. It lives in what I am writing, never in what I have written (except as memory and echo-effect).

To express it differently, Simone de Beauvoir sacrificed her contact with the Holy Ghost.

Reflecting on her dilemma I suddenly see that I can express what's wrong with contemporary Western culture in one sentence. Wow! What's wrong with contemporary, Western culture, expressed in one sentence, is that we have lost touch with the Holy Ghost.
- I'm Claus, I said. There is coffee.
- I'm the Holy Ghost, said the stranger.

This happened in the summer of 1968, in Kingsley Hall, the »schizophrenic community« of R.D.Laing in London.

- »I'm the Holy Ghost«, the man said again at dinner, continuing, »and as the Holy Ghost, I always use red underwear, which proves« - he underlined the word - »that no Holy Ghost can ever be a conservative«.

Then he stepped on to a chair and pulled down his pants to show us his read underwear.

Thus began the most hilarious dinner speech I've ever heard, which gave me the laughter of my life. That laughter has in a sense never ended; I just have to interrupt it now and then, in my well-understood self-interest not to »laugh myself to death« (as we say in Sweden). For whenever I like, I only have to think about that man, that speech, and laugh again.

He took out his mouth organ and sang, accompanying himself on it: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE/ ONE OF THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE? The joke was cosmic, I felt. [ Note 4: My Kingsley Hall experience was so complex that to do it justice, I had to work it into a novel. It's described in Venus Asleep. ]

But I interrupt the old laughter again to say that it was that man (unfortunately, he never told me his earthly name) who gave me a good, practical understanding of the Holy Ghost. I've realized since then that to most people the Holy Ghost is a fuzzy character. They don't understand the Holy Ghost - probably for the very simple reason that they've never met him. I understand him, for I have.

Also, I must say that the man explained himself unusually well, already with his first words. No Holy Ghost can ever be a conservative.

For the idea of the Holy Ghost is just that. He (or she) can never conserve anything, not even his/her own ideas. Nothing can be conserved. As soon as one acts so as to conserve anything, then and therewith one loses touch with the Holy Ghost. It's not correct to say that a Holy Ghost has no past (on the contrary, the freedom of the Holy Ghost stretches into the past as well, and it turns into a treasure chest thereby). But the Holy Ghost lets go. The past is the past. Now is now - and the now can be made luminous, if you contact the Holy Ghost.

The man made me see that the Holy Ghost was a principle, a stance. Anyone could be a Holy Ghost. Whoever wanted to was free to take that stance, which was, somehow, also the absolute of the Outsider's stance. The free creativity with no thought of the consequences. As the Holy Ghost, you stepped out of yourself, out of all your »identity requisites«, out of everything that defined you - out of THE EMBROIDERY OF YOUR LIFE (which) HOLDS YOU IN AND KEEPS YOU OUT, as Judy Collins sang. As the Holy Ghost, you read your life like a book, and if it was a good enough life, it turned into a joke. You saw your life as if in God's perspective, and you laughed. [ Janssen, Claes: Förändringens fyra rum. Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm, 1996. ]

By giving priority to control instead, society has made itself »necessity's prisoner« (to quote again my favorite key-word for NO-).

The consequences have been given priority over truth - and the consequences are, by nature, always hypothetical. Truth is real, as that what's here now, what you can sense, feel, think, touch, in one word, experience. The consequences are unknown.


8. The Holy Ghost's Paradox

8.1. The authorities have probably always forbidden awareness everywhere (although never calling it awareness, when forbidding it). Socrates was forced to empty the cup of poison. He did so gladly, as the antique sources tell. »We owe Asklepios a cock«, he said, and died.

When considering Socrates' fate, I discovered that for me, as presumably for Socrates, truth was the point, not the consequences. That was the essence of the Holy Ghost's message, and it was also the essence of the Outsider's stance. I was certainly glad that I hadn't been killed, searching for the truth (so far), but if one gave up the search, so as not to get killed (or jailed, or whatever) one - yes, missed the point.

Psychology, fortunately, is not taboo, but there is a widespread resistance to it.

At the heart of the resistance to psychology is the fear that one might be changed by psychological knowledge, »against one's will«, as it were. One is afraid, in other words, that one's present will, one's present attitudes, might be changed. That is, one is afraid of discovering that one is not as content as one thought.

Abraham Maslow has spoken well about the ambivalence towards new knowledge:

More than any other kind of knowledge we fear knowledge of ourselves, knowledge that might transform our self-image. A cat finds it easy to be a cat, as nearly as we can tell. It isn't afraid to be a cat. But being a full human being is difficult, frightening and problematical. While human beings love knowledge and seek it - they are curious - they also fear it. The closer to the personal it is, the more they fear it. So human knowledge is apt to be a kind of dialectic between this love and this fear. /.../ Therefore, any methodology for getting at the truth must include some form of what psychoanalysts call »analysis of the resistance«/.../ [ Maslow, Abraham: The Psychology of Science. Harper & Row. 1966. ]

Why do we resist self-knowledge? It might make us change. Why do we resist change, then? It forces us through Confusion. What we resist is, in the deepest sense, Confusion, and nothing but Confusion.

... and the Holy Ghost is the figure who will take you through Confusion.

To get in touch with the Holy Ghost, just think of a problem situation, which presently troubles you, and ask yourself: If you weren't you, (name), but just anyone, what might you think, feel, do in the situation?

The authorities cannot forbid you to breathe deeply, interpret your dreams, think, feel, fantasize, make pictures, experience and talk about what you experience (with or without that particular arrangement called psychotherapy). They cannot forbid awareness. Riding horses isn't forbidden, and sailing isn't either (curiously enough: both make you feel intensely alive, and both are dangerous).

The authorities would forbid the Holy Ghost, perhaps, if they could (although they'd never admit it, of course). But they cannot.

When I was seventeen, I took as my motto: »Seek truth, and if it brings you to the gates of Hell, then knock.« That spring and summer of 1968 in London, when I was twenty-eight, I felt as if my search had in fact brought me to those gates, or just about. Then, in Kingsley Hall, the Holy Ghost entered the scene. So, let me call the »truth and consequences paradox« I am now going to describe »the Holy Ghost's paradox«.

»Soul sells« - but not until you forget the sales figures. Ego death creates ego strength - but that's not why it is good. That's the Holy Ghost's paradox. Truth has good consequences, but not until you forget about the consequences and give truth the absolute priority.

To do this, however, it seems you frequently have to feel bad first, terribly bad. You have to move through Confusion.

»The truth shall set you free.« That's what Jesus promised. In Kingsley Hall, I doubted it. As I might say now, his message was incomplete. He forgot the sequel, »But First It Will Make You Miserable«. The ego is forever a pessimist and, worse, a besserwisser who thinks it already knows everything. It always gives priority to the consequences. You have to feel terribly bad, so as to break (or »kill«) the ego and make it give up its stubborn »result-orientation«.

The awareness, symbolized by the Holy Ghost, is something we are all equipped with, our birthright as human beings. Henry Miller, of all men, expressed it the simplest. In Sexus, he writes: »The power to participate in an experience and at the same time observe that one is participating is something I thought was a part of everyone's natural equipment. I was unaware of the fact that I enjoyed things more than other people.«

To participate and observe that one is participating is to participate in touch with the Holy Ghost. It's a deep pleasure.

We lose this power, if we think too much about the consequences, getting hung up on the hypothetical. One simply doesn't realize that nothing, absolutely nothing, which one struggles to conserve is worth losing touch with the Holy Ghost.

I find myself explaining the same thing again and again, in slightly different words, possibly since the Holy Ghost's paradox is a truth that one characteristically glimpses, loses, glimpses again...

You are in Confusion with this truth, whatever it is. But you will probably see the truth »as in a glass, darkly«. It will be fragmented, doubted, experienced, perhaps, as a sense of unreality. Possibly, all you can identify with in Confusion is the search, the idea of the search (or, the idea that it is always good to move into the sense of unreality, to enter the experience) and your identity as a seeker. Nevertheless, being (as) the Holy Ghost, you honor that search, and/or the truth you have glimpsed, confusedly, even though you cannot bring it into Contentment, that is, live by it. You put it above you.

Werner Erhard, the creator of est has said it shortest, probably: »Experience your experience!«

One existentialist writer, the philosopher Peter Koestenbaum, seems to be in touch with the Holy Ghost's paradox, when he describes »self-disclosure« as a source of meaning, as »the rule for a meaningful human existence«. [ Koestenbaum, Peter: Existential Sexuality. ] This doesn't feel like the old oracle's »Know Thyself«, decanted. For the oracle's exhortation didn't contain anything about the meaningfulness of self-knowledge as such. The oracle might have recommended it (just as any psychotherapist might) for the purpose of acting more wisely, getting happier in your relationships or more successful in general (all naturally quite recommendable, of course, but those are consequences recommendations, thus »result-oriented«). Koestenbaum seems to be saying that self-disclosure in itself is an act which creates meaning. That's how I've always felt. Not to try to understand oneself and one's life seems to me to be like reading a book without attempting to understand its contents. It creates boredom and lack of concentration.

It creates depression, I think.


9. On Depression

I have tried to understand Prozac, that »serotonin uptake inhibitor«. Or »listen« to it, to use Peter Kramer's phrase [ Kramer, Peter: Listening to Prozac. ]. My understanding, though based on Kramer's, is slightly different from his. Kramer thinks Prozac's popularity in the USA - roughly 18.000.000 users by 1996 is the figure the AltaVista gives me - is due to the fact that it creates greater extraversion, whereas LSD and cannabis were resisted as they heightened introversion. That's a suggestive explanation, but I judge it as false by Kramer's own examples. If we define a strengthened extraversion as being more in touch with others, and/or as action, and a strengthened introversion as being more in touch with oneself, and/or as reflection, then at times Prozac seems to catalyze both, quite markedly.

Mind you, I'm not recommending Prozac. I recommend no drugs. [ Note 5: Society's resistance to LSD, in particular, is much better explained by it's being confusing, intensely so. It's effects might be interpreted as »making the unconscious conscious«, but it brings to light too much too fast, as it were. The psychedelic message, or whatever to call it, is too hard to integrate, both personally - not for all, but for too many - and for society. ] I'm recommending the Devil, instead. I'm recommending the Holy Ghost. They, I hope, are more powerful. I'm just thinking of Prozac so as to reach thereby, possibly, a deeper understanding of depression.

I see Prozac as an energizer.

A fascinating experiment with monkeys changed my perception of the nature of energy. If one takes the leader monkey out of a group, the monkey next in rank will take the leader's place. Now, that just about doubles his free serotonin (if that's the correct expression). When the leader monkey comes back, the provisional leader's serotonin level reverts to what it was before.

What's particularly fascinating about that experiment is that I recognize this energizing mechanism from my own experience, as I'm sure you do too. Whenever we take up a challenge, by attempting something that feels difficult, our energy level rises. My first experiences as a group therapist give me a good, personal example. I was absolutely stunned by my heightened perceptiveness, for which I was completely unprepared, and which felt almost miraculous. All of a sudden, I could create break-throughs for people just as I had seen Harvey Jackins do, for example - and it was easy!

Reader, think of examples in your own experience! No doubt you will discover them, and quite easily.

Conversely, in all probability, whenever we shrink back from a challenge, our energy level decreases.

Depression, I think, is that shrinking back.

Any time we shrink back from something we desire to do, which feels difficult and/or which we are afraid of, we probably experience a mild or not so mild depression. Robert Fritz' has described this situation in his book, The Path of Least Resistance [ Fritz, Robert: The Path of Least Resistance. Stillpoint Publ., Mass., USA, 1987. ] and Peter Senge has referred to his description, completing it with this illuminating drawing:

Shrinking back

The dynamics behind our shrinking back is, according to Fritz, »a dominant belief that we are not able to fulfill our desires«. The withholding messages we give ourselves, of powerlessness/worthlessness, intensify as we approach the goal, like a rubber band, which stretches. [ Note 6: Fritz is or was, originally, a musician, not a psychologist, so he probably doesn't know a classic rat experiment which shows the same psychological reality. In situations of ambivalence, which in psychology can be described as approach/avoidance conflicts, the closer we get to the goal, the stronger the negative factor is felt. »The avoidance gradient is steeper.« Fritz has simply described it by another metaphor. ]

Fritz exemplifies those messages:

I'm powerless.
I must try to control myself, or else I'll go mad.
I can't make it.
I'm completely worthless.
I'm not good enough.
I ought to be perfect but I'm not.
I'm unworthy.
I can't trust myself, others or anything at all.

My interpretation of Prozac's popularity, then, becomes different from Kramer's and, at the same time, utterly simple. We are a depressed culture. (The last of Fritz' examples seems more schizophrenic, but never mind.)

Statistics I didn't know, when I formulated this hypothesis, strongly support it. For people born after 1955, the likelihood of falling victim to a deep depression some time in life is in many countries at least three times greater than for their grandparents. For Americans born before 1905 the proportion of people who some time in life suffered a deep depression was only one per cent, whereas of those born in 1955 or later about six per cent have been depressed before age twenty-four. For those born between 1945 and 1954 the risk of falling victim to a deep depression before age thirty-four was ten times greater than for those born between 1905 and 1914.

Those statistics are given by Daniel Coleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. [ Coleman, Daniel: Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, New York, 1995. ]

In diagnosed (»clinical«) depression we recognize the withholding messages of Robert Fritz, just slightly differently worded. The depressed person thinks of himself that he is worthless (possibly to the extent that he isn't worth living, has no right to »take up a place« on earth), of others that they are too demanding (and that s/he will never be able to live up to those demands), and of the future that it is full of difficulties and obstacles.

Also, the depressed person characteristically has the highly dysfunctional belief: »If I voice my desires I'll be abandoned«. That's tragic, for in not voicing one's desires one abandons oneself.

Now, we can see how the shrinking back from one challenge after another will probably trigger a kind of downward, »failure spiral«, through the mechanism of a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy. I tell myself that I will probably fail and/or be abandoned, if I attempt to get or do what I want. I shrink back, which diminishes my energy, making my self-confidence even lower, which makes me shrink back even more, which diminishes my energy, which... and so forth. Finally, I might end up unable even to get out of bed in the morning (telling myself, probably, that if I do, the day will only bring more disappointments).

I'm skeptical towards all psychotropic drugs nowadays, suspecting that they constitute in principle a kind of energy-loan from oneself, which will have to be paid back with interest later. However, there are times when taking a loan is justified, and this also constitutes my defense for Prozac: it can apparently energize a depressive person enough to break this downward spiral.

Conversely, we can picture an upward, »success spiral«. I attempt something difficult, something I am not certain that I can do. I get energized by the challenge. I succeed, feeling more self-confident. I attempt another difficult thing, get more energized, succeed again... and so forth.

When I feel good, I feel like a ball, which can set itself bouncing.

Now, if we are a depressed culture, isn't that because we have lost touch with the Holy Ghost?

Undoubtedly. There is no doubt in my mind that it is so.

What are you here for - here on earth, here today, wherever you are? What you feel like doing (desire, wish, want: chose the word that has the strongest power for you) will tell you, and nothing but that will tell you as trustworthily, I think.

»If I voice my desires, I'll be abandoned.« Now, what is this? At best, it's giving priority to the consequences, which are hypothetical. In other words, one turns oneself, one's life, into a hypothesis.

Depression's hypothesis is probably false, as well as depressing, since the consequences are seen in the darkest possible light. But that's not the decisive thing. The decisive thing is that it's a hypothesis, which you don't test.

Truth, that is your desires, is a reality. The consequences of expressing the truth are hypothetical. If you don't express your desires, you don't get to know anything. You've cut off reality, that is, the feedback from it. Perhaps you wouldn't be abandoned, if you expressed your desires, perhaps you would. Moreover, in not expressing your desires, you invalidate the existing relationship to whoever you are afraid would abandon you, if... For you cannot, obviously, feel loved as you are, just »loved«, quote/unquote, as you pretend to be. The real you is hidden and, in the nature of things, these unexpressed desires you live with will take on a phantom quality, swell in your mind, seem exaggeratedly important - or, as Jung says, they'll turn demonic.

Obviously, you have to test your hypothesis. Express you desires and see what happens. Either you won't be abandoned, or you will. If not abandoned, you'll instead discover, perhaps, that you are living with a person who is eager to satisfy your desires, whichever they are - with A MAN WORKING FOR YOUR SMILE (L. Cohen). What a surprise! So now you have to learn to receive. That might be unexpectedly hard for you, unexpectedly new, unfamiliar and frightening. Or else you will be abandoned, just as you feared. That'll feel terrible, at first - but remember, the abandonment is an old feeling. In fact, in a sense you have always felt as you feel now, haven't you? You are used to it. Haven't you lived all your life in abandonment, but numbed to the feeling?


10. Flow and the piscine of Grenoble

At worst, on turns oneself off when depressed, by turning off one's energy. One turns one's life off. That's why Peter Koestenbaum equates depression with saying no to life.

John Custance, a manic-depressive, who wrote his autobiography, described his characteristic experience in depression: »Whatever I do, I feel I ought to do something else, instead«. [ Custance, John: Wisdom, Madness and Folly. Sw. translation En dåres visdom, Natur & Kultur, Stockholm, 1953. ] Depressed, he has lost his life orientation. He has lost his flow, to use Csikszentmihályi's concept. [ Csikszentmihályi, Mihály: Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row, 1990. ]

Flow is the existential/phenomenological opposite of depression. It is characterized by the opposite experience: Whatever I do, I don't feel I ought to do something else. I don't, obviously, observe that I don't feel I ought to be doing something else. I just don't feel it, period. The psychologist Milhály Csikszentmihályi (whose long, hard to spell name tells of his Hungarian origin) distinguishes three phenomenological characteristics of flow, namely concentration, timelessness and euphoria.

Timelessness and euphoria are experiences I associate most strongly with YES+, while I see concentration as strongly NO+. Thus, in the 4-Room Apartment, the phenomenology of flow would give it aspects of both YES+ and NO+. That places the experience close to the zenith point in the 4-Room Apartment, just as depression has aspects of both NO- and YES- and can be said to mark the nadir point.

When I'm writing, I don't consciously experience timelessness. I just don't think of what time it is. I have no consciousness of euphoria either. I just don't think of how I feel. I think of what I write, of thoughts, connections. I think of the Holy Ghost, now. Concentration I experience, yes. And, I always look forward to my mornings of writing. Presumably, that is a looking forward to feeling good. I just haven't thought of it as euphoria.

It's a self-forgetfulness. It's what I used to feel when galloping.

That's the phenomenology of flow. Now, which are its conditions? What do I have to do, what stance do I have to take, to create flow for myself - and more flow today than yesterday, hopefully, more tomorrow than today?

Athletes, mountain-climbers, dancers, basketball-players, chess masters and composers experience flow in connection with these absorbing preoccupations, says Csikszentmihályi. One condition, in particular, seems to characterize the experience. The work is »autotelic«, that is, it's felt to be its own goal.

This makes me think of the piscine (communal swimming-pool) in Grenoble, France. One night in the summer of 1958, I climbed in there with a friend. We dived into the water, which mirrored the town's lights, and swam there, alone. I still remember my surprise at how easy it was to scale the rather high gate.

I was a young man of eighteen then.

In the afternoon, we had been sitting at an out-doors café and I had argued the superiority of what I called »infinal« over »final«, that is, goal-oriented, acts. Quite possibly, we climbed into the piscine at night to check this theory. If so, it was confirmed, to say the least - for not until I read of Csikszentmihályi's idea of the autotelic did I think of the possibility that we might have had this goal, climbed into the piscine with this so as to in mind, whereas I've always remembered the experience itself with a particular pleasure. I thought we climbed into the piscine to climb into the piscine...

Now, the idea of the autotelic is the essence of the Holy Ghost's stance. It is that which is lost, entirely, in depression. It is that which we have almost lost, as a culture.

In the Holy Ghost's stance, you experience what you experience, whatever it is, and you experience it simply as you happen to be here now, at this time on earth, as a man, a woman, who has been given the gift of experiencing your experience. You love so as to love. You create so as to create. You live so as to live. As you are alive, you might as well feel it.

11. Conclusion

I've placed my culture of the couch, and I've given it the shortest possible interpretation I can think of. You've lost touch with the Holy Ghost, and therefore, you live in a constant, mild or not so mild depression.

I promise you that if you connect with the Holy Ghost, if you give priority to truth, to the reality of your experience now, to what you think/feel/see now, what you desire now (which, by the way, is the only reality you can ever perceive directly), and if you voice this, never mind the consequences, your depression will end.

Once when I was nine or ten years old I hit my best friend with a half-eaten apple, squarely in the neck, at a distance of a whole block. The blocks were small in my hometown - twenty-five yards? Nevertheless, I often think of that experience: it's one of my best success memories. It's alive. It is as if I can enter the experience again, at will, whenever I feel like it. Time freezes, and I marvel, just as I did then, at seeing the half eaten apple's perfect arc as it moves down on its target.

By the way, collecting success memories is a good anti-depressant.


  © Copyright Claes F Janssen, 1996-2011. All rights reserved.