I recently heard a radio interview with Professor Gordon Parker who was for many years associated with the Black Dog Institute which as you may know seeks to help those suffering from depression. In the course of the interview, the interviewer asked Professor Parker how he would distinguish between depression and melancholia. Without hesitation Parker explained that melancholia is merely sadness where those who suffer from depression are not only sad, but experience a greatly diminished sense of self-worth.
Indeed the great Australian psychologist, Dorothy Rowe, suggested the world-view of a depressed person was something like this:
• No matter how good and acceptable I appear to be, I am really bad, evil, valueless, unacceptable to myself and other people
• Other people are such that I must fear, hate and envy them
• Life is terrible and death is worse
• Only bad things have happened to me in the past and only bad things will happen to me in the future
• I must never forgive anyone, least of all myself.
As well, as I mentioned in a previous blog, depressed people are psychologically vulnerable to slights, insults, disappointments, failures etc. More psychologically robust people have defence mechanisms to deal with these as they occur in their day to day lives. But depressives just see them as reinforcing their own low opinions of themselves.
People ask the question, “How is it possible that there are differing world-views. After all there is only one world and it would seem reasonable that we should all see it the same way.”
David Bohm, the famous quantum physicist and thinker had this to say on the matter:
“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based on our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.”
As the French Author, Anais Nin perceptively wrote, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.”
Our own particular world-view is a lens through which we see the world. The lens is fashioned by our early socialisation built on an inherited genetic platform. Once we have created a world-view we tend to interpret the world to match our world-view. We find what we expect to find and often discard evidence to the contrary.
In my little book, “Augustus Finds Serenity” I use a little parable to try to explain this phenomena and being someone of limited imagination I referred to it again in “Froth and Goblets”. Let me recount it to you. Augustus, the principal character in “Froth and Goblets” is walking with his teacher, the sage Takygulpa Rinpoche.
Takygulpa Rinpoche and Augustus walked slowly along the path by the river’s bank. The river was deep and the current swift. The sound of water running over the rapids further downstream carried through the evening air. “I enjoy the river,” said Augustus. “I find it peaceful and enervating.”
“There are many who are afraid of the river,” said his master. “How do you think it is that some can look at the river and feel fear and others look at it and feel joy?”
Augustus walked on deep in thought, but without answering. “Surely the river is the river and would appear to all in the same way?” he finally ventured.
“Suppose,” said his master, that you had been walking all day and finally, tired and thirsty, you arrive at the river’s bank. How does it appear to you then?”
“It would be very inviting.”
“On the other hand, say it was cold and wet and walking in the woods you come across a bear? The bear is angry and gives chase. You run as fast as you can but the bear is close behind. Then, you come to the river’s bank where the water is wildest and the torrent swiftest. How does the river appear then?”
“It is a frightening obstruction.”
“What has changed?”
“My state of mind.”
“Yes. So you see, we can see things differently because of our different states of mind. Fear, in particular, distorts our viewpoint.”
“It is good then that we don’t often get chased by bears.”
“Oh, but we do. Many of us are always being chased by bears – imaginary bears – in our minds. Or, just as fearful, anticipating being chased by bears when there are no bears. We are forever dealing with our interpretation of the world, not the world as it is. This is a major cause of suffering.”
And so it is for those unfortunate people suffering from depression. When you look at Dorothy Rowe’s description of the world-view of a depressed person it is easy to see how debilitating depression can be.
As much as we would want such a person to acquire a more positive world-view, one that supported rather than attacked their notion of self worth, we know this is a difficult task that few accomplish.
My proposition, in the book “Froth and Goblets” is that both Buddhist practice and the findings of the modern positive psychology movement can help facilitate this process for some such sufferers.