The Gospel of Depression (A Paradox) | Epicurus on Happiness

I found today’s devotional by Henri Nouwen timely as it relates to my recent pondering about the need to be in touch with human emotions, such as sorrow, in order to find comfort and liberation in the midst of brokenness.

Jesus Mourns

Jesus, the Blessed One, mourns. Jesus mourns when his friend Lazarus dies (see John 11:33-36); he mourns when he overlooks the city of Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed (see Luke 19:41-44). Jesus mourns over all losses and devastations that fill the human heart with pain. He grieves with those who grieve and sheds tears with those who cry.

The violence, greed, lust, and so many other evils that have distorted the face of the earth and its people causes the Beloved Son of God to mourn. We too have to mourn if we hope to experience God’s consolation.

- Henri J. M. Nouwen

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the gospel that Jesus came to preach can be called the Gospel of Depression because he wanted to tell us that we all are already depressed. Like what Peter Rollins shared regarding pyrotheology, he is not telling people to be depressed, but rather he is telling them they are already depressed. Yet if they were to deny and suppress and hide their depression in their search for happiness, certainty and satisfaction, they will only become even more depressed. That seems to be Jesus’ message in the sermon on the Mount, when he said:

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

(Luke 6:21-25)

Perhaps Jesus was addressing the general mindset of the Jewish society and religion that hinders people from encountering their humanness and brokenness. Similarly, modern societies generally tend to offer quick-fix solutions to the brokenness of humanity, such as mindless entertainment, drugs, alcohol and performance-based religions, which only distract people from facing their inner world. Boredom, in fact, may be a sign that one is out of touch with one’s inner reality, having been overly dependent on outward distractions in the society. I myself have experienced boredom before many a times, and I too have had my fair share of seeking to relieve boredom by playing computer games and so on, especially in my younger years, and yet from these past experiences, I can testify that these distractions do not fully satisfy or fulfil the feeling of emptiness inside me. Therefore, I am coming to realise that maybe only through connecting with my inner world and being in touch with my humanness and brokenness and sadness will I experience liberation and joy, which itself is a paradox. But psychologically speaking, that is how our human psyche works, as noted in Alice Miller’s book “The body never lies”.

“”Sadly, many of us were unloved, neglected and abused. The remedy? While there are no simple answers, we do know that the body is healed when one admits to personal truths and to real feelings. But how do we admit to such truths and to such feelings? We need to feel our pain and our powerlessness so that we can, paradoxically, become less pained and more powerful. We need to admit to our “negative” emotions and change them into meaningful feelings.”

(From a review of “The Body Never Lies”)

Maybe that is also what Jesus meant by “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” when he spoke to the Pharisees. It could be that the religious people think they have it altogether when actually they are broken inside and therefore do not experience emotional healing, whereas those who come to Jesus as they are, knowing they are broken inside, will experience emotional healing. Similarly, since we are our own physicians/doctors, we can heal ourselves by acknowledging and embracing our past hurts and childhood trauma, as often as necessary. I remember I used to write diaries a lot when I was in my early 20s, venting my hurts and pains when memories of how I was bullied in school resurfaced. I have discarded those diaries a number of years ago, and the only remnants of my writing/journalling are mainly some of my poems, that I still keep today. One of my poems called “Deafening Silence” conveyed how I was struggling with low self-esteem and learning to be comfortable with finding my own voice, being in my own presence and exploring my own thoughts.

Epicurus on Happiness

Video information

Episode 2: Epicurus on Happiness – British philosopher Alain De Botton discusses the personal implications of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) who was no epicurean glutton or wanton consumerist,but an advocate of “friends, freedom and thought” as the path to happiness.

Epicurus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have finished listening to this thought-provoking video on the Epicurean philosophy on happiness. I noted that his recommended path to happiness revolves around three main ingredients: friends for companionship; freedom from a competitive, monetary-oriented life and enjoying economic self-sufficiency; and an analysed life in which we take time off to reflect on our worries and analyse what is troubling us so that our anxieties could be diminished. I think those living in the countryside and agricultural areas would have a higher chance of enjoying these ingredients of happiness as they are relatively self-sufficient and free from the influence of politics, having nothing to prove. I agree it is important to take a step back from the commercial world and find time and space in quiet thinking about our lives. It is interesting to note that in ancient times, the writings of Epicurean philosophy were carved on stone walls near marketplaces to remind the people not to be distracted by advertisements which attempted to make them think they lacked something they needed.

Incidentally, I was researching earlier on the spiritual meaning on boredom, and this article also mentioned the importance of taking time to connect with our inner life and become sensitive to our own patterns of suffering, through meditation, in order to experience transformation and liberation from dissatisfaction.

“And that is why for many spiritual traditions, slack time is vitally important – one is given time to simply become sensitive to one’s own patterns of suffering, via meditation, to confront boredom face to face by placing oneself in situations that are free from distractions. Boredom is a very large and menacing lion at the gate of spiritual progress and freedom – we all must face it, and either bolt for a box of See’s Candies or sit with it until a transformation takes place. And this may take months, years, or decades, perhaps.

So in a sense, boredom can be an ally, a tool, and certainly a barometer of one’s condition. When boredom arrives, notice what form it comes in, what exactly are the physical, mental, emotional and other subtle feelings or forms that you are labeling as boredom. Simply be aware of what arises and is imputed/assumed as boredom. But don’t try to do anything about it – notice that ‘it too shall pass’ into some other state. It is the noticing, the awareness of it, and the non-violent stance of simply being with it, not trying to change it or transform it, that is often the most direct and powerful way of transforming it.”

(From “On Boredom“)

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