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When You Got Nothing

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

...let it wake you up to what you've got.

image courtesy of adobestock

I’m going to spare you the research data about depression.

We all know how prevalent it is, how debilitating, how much it’s escalated recently in all populations, even in children. I can quote statistics till the cows come home, but that’s not what this is about. What I want to talk about is how depression itself can hold the key to our freedom from it. This article by Drew Hanson, Jim Carrey’s Right: Depression Can Wake Us Up, Science Now Confirms, fleshed out something I’ve always wondered about. I highly recommend you read it. We pathologize depression. We treat it like a disease, like something to cure, to overcome, or, at the very least, mute. What if depression isn’t a disease? What if it’s an invitation to go deeper? What if, as Hanson posits, depression is there to stimulate our appetite for spirituality? In keeping with this line of thinking, I’ve come to see depression it as spiritual exhaustion. Not exhaustion that’s spiritual in nature, but exhaustion that can lead to a spiritual awakening. Anam Thubten, says, “Cultivate exhaustion.” As in, go ahead: be as exhausted as you actually are with this illusory world, with your own neuroses, with all your beliefs. You’re supposed to be tired of it. It’s a huge waste of time and energy. I’m sixty-seven and my whole life I’ve struggled with depression. My father did as well, big time. My maternal uncle committed suicide. It looms large in our family. But I haven’t let this define me. I have let it inform my biology somewhat, but I haven’t let it define me; because depression may be an important partner with my spirituality — which has saved me from succumbing to the worst episodes of depression in my life. Let’s go super nerdy with this. In the last decade or so, scientists have found that “subjects whose parents and grandparents experienced depression have a significantly thinner right cortex than those without depression in their family history.” As Hanson put, “[N]euroimaging shows that strong personal spirituality thickens the [the right cortex], even among subjects whose family history puts them at a high risk for depression. These brain scans prove that spirituality serves as a protective buffer against the condition.”

Right now, I’m dog-paddling in a strong current of depression. But that’s not the problem that it used to be. I know my way around these waters, and I’ve built a pretty sturdy little ship. Especially with this new information about spirituality and its relationship with the brain’s structure and function.

Now I can credit the value of my sitting practice even more than before. I can know that I must do it, and do it regularly — no matter how much I want to go back to bed.

I’ve started framing the “I got nothing” feeling as a good thing. Like, I got nothing because I let go of all my precious coping mechanisms, the neuroses, all that ego bullshit. I got nothing, so now the Nothing that I am is free to whirl and fly and lie down and breathe in the infinite, non-dual emptiness of the awakened mind.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that I'm still riddled with all that ego stuff.

But framing “I got nothing” in a positive way is fun. It’s something to shoot for. It kind of turns the depression on its head. When I’m moping around thinking, “I got nothing,” I can remember maybe that's awesome. Or maybe my right cortex is just a little thin right now. Either way, gotta go sit.

Not to feel better. But to practice being as exhausted with this world as I actually am.

And to explore what that might look like if it were a good thing.

Something to think about.


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