Dark Emotions have Value

“We have lost our connection to the dark side of the sacred. We prize status, power, consumerism, and distraction, and there is no room for darkness in any of that. Americans tend to have a naivete about life, always expecting it to be rosy. When something painful happens, we feel that we are no good, that we have failed at achieving a good life. We have no myths to guide us through the painful and perilous journeys of the dark emotions, and yet we all suffer these journeys at some point. We have high rates of depression, anxiety and addiction in this country, but we have no sense of the sacred possibilities of our so-called illnesses. Instead we have a medical culture. Suffering is considered pathology, and the answer to suffering is pharmacology.”

Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, in an interview

can’t wait to get this book! Could the “American Idol” of optimism be a source of some of our problems?

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Rohr on Your Powerlessness

We are all powerless, not only those physically addicted to a substance. Alcoholics simply have their powerlessness visible for all to see. The rest of us disguise it in different ways and overcompensate for our more hidden and subtle addictions and attachments, especially our addiction to our way of thinking.

We all take our own pattern of thinking as normative, logical, and surely true, even when it does not fully compute. We keep doing the same thing over and over, even it is not working for us. That is the self-destructive nature of all addiction, and of the mind in particular. We think we are are thinking, and we even take that thinking as utterly “true,” which removes us at least two steps from reality itself.

 

—        Fr. Richard Rorh

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps

Rohr on Addiction and 1st World Problems

“Our suffering in developed countries is primary psychological, relational, and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within. It is a crisis of meaninglessness, which leads us to try to find meaning in possessions, perks, prestige, and power, which are always outside of the self. It doesn’t work. So we turn to ingesting food, drink, or drugs, and we become addictive consumers to fill the empty hole within us.”

What am I Reading?

Glad you asked.  May not finish these until August because classes start this week, but enjoying all three.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

This classic is a hard read because of the content of Frankl’s concentration camp experiences. Existential theory gets a bad rap in Christian circles for different reasons, but I believe there is more complementary between the view and Christianity than contradictory.

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

my favorite part is actually from the preface, and not even a main principle of the book:

“…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success; you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio

I have been interested in this for a while. It is written by a neurologist, but for a general audience. I worry that emotion is given a bad rap in psychology and Christian circles. He has done research that suggests that emotion can be an integral and helpful part of decision-making.

“feelings are just as cognitive as other percepts.”

“Emotion, feeling and biological regulation all play a role in human reason.”

“I began writing this book to propose that reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were, that emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all; they may be enmeshed in its networks, for worse and for better.”

Unholy Ghost: writers on depression

This is an anthology of writers sharing their own experiences with depression.  So it’s not clinical but personal and fascinating. And powerful, at times.

There are three cases where a person afflicted will write, and then a loved one will share their perspective.

Russel Banks contribution, “Bodies in the Basement” is a great essay on poetry, fiction, and depression. Highly recommend.

You will get stuff like this by Darcy Steinke: “The raw nub of my soul bobbed up to the surface, ugly and ungainly, and I was suddenly pierced with panicky malaise.” So, if you are interested in depression/mental health but prefer something more scientific, this may not be for you.

My favorite, so far, has by Susanna Kaysen, who wrote, “One Cheer for Melancholy.”

These quotes give you the gist:

“Any psychiatrist can tell you this (pessimism) is a standard defense mechanism against disappointment and loss. But so is optimism–and optimism is a lousy defense mechanism because more than half the time it leaves you feeling bad.”

“Seeing things clearly, for me, is a sort of happiness, even if what I see is banal or sad.”

“Americans are saddled with the idea that we can and should be happy.”  (I could go on for days on this sentence)

“I think depression and despair are reasonable reactions to the nature of life.”

“The melancholic temperament is equipped to perceive and, more important, to tolerate the fundamental ambiguities of life.”

 

 

 

Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality (Scazzero)

Continuing the list of Emotionally Unhealthy practices among Christians…..

4. Denying the Past’s Impact on the Present

Obviously this is of great interest to me as a counseling student, but Scazzero’s personal story is practical and telling.  After 9 years of marriage, he and his wife went to counseling.  Only then did they recognize how much of their patterns in life were similar to their parents.

“We were evangelical Christians. We were committed and stable. Our priorities and life choices were very different from that of our parents. Yet, underneath the surface, our marriage bore a striking resemblance to that of our parents’. Gender roles, the handling of anger and conflict and shame, how we defined success; our view of family, children, recreation, pleasure, sexuality, grieving; and our relationships with friends had all been shaped by our families of origin and our cultures.”

There is the spiritual Truth of becoming a “new creation” in Christ. But we assume too much about that.  We often assume our past is irrelevant to our present. We talk about our life “before the Cross” and want to move forward. But how can we truly move forward and be transformed by the Spirit when the past has its tentacles deep in our hearts. And how can we change things we don’t even recognize are unhealthy.  They can be so ingrained and natural that we have justified them for decades.

Maybe you don’t need a therapist. The Holy Spirit is trying to help you realize things that need to be changed.  God is in your life to use whatever He can to teach you and change you.

But we can’t simply stick our heads in the ground and pretend everything is okay.

5. Dividing our Lives into “Sacred” and “Secular” Compartments.

This is a problem that we have all heard sermons about. We are sometimes good Christians on Sunday and then jerks at work and school.

The author shares the stats on divorce, abuse, racism and how many evangelicals live lives that are comparable to the average non-believer.

It’s easy to “do well” at church activities, even sincerely, but God wants more.  He wants every day.  He wants hearts to be changed.  He wants us to love our enemies and the like.

Being actively involved in a church is a step above being a pew sitter. But it is not the same as being a disciple of Jesus who is constantly being transformed into His Image.