“For all my relations” ~ are we sitting shiva for the world?
When a Native American enters a sweat lodge to pray, the words uttered are, “For all my relations.” This has never meant a person’s blood relations but rather every living thing (and in that culture, the rocks are sometimes referred to as The Stone People) so the breadth of meaning for living is much wider than you might expect). The overall spirituality of the many tribal groups we refer to as Native Americans sees the interconnectedness of everything, all of us linked by invisible but powerful webs. You can see a parallel in Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_unconscious , but for me the “we” is much more than just us upright apes. It’s the sparrows who bathe so exuberantly in the margins of my pond, and the tiny froglets now settling to winter sleep, and the hedgehog who prowls the garden at night hoping for cat-food. It’s my friends halfway across the world whose faces I’ll probably never see in the flesh. It’s the whole of consciousness, human and otherwise.
I heard recently the phrase “Misery loves company” applied to how on social media you’ll often find that people rally round someone in distress. It’s one of the things that I like about social media in that while there can be great cruelty there can also be great kindness too, but for me I think there is another reason why those in mental distress will often band together.
It’s because there’s an unspoken understanding, a fellowship if you will, among those who suffer this way. You’re unlikely to get told, pull your socks up, or that you’re choosing to be miserable etc, by others in similar distress.
And believe me, there can be a lot of judgement that goes on. Believe me, I am aware that next to someone in the slums, I’m living the life of Riley and ought to be bloody grateful for it and ought to be happy.
I’ve also noticed something else too among the loose community of those who suffer with this sort of distress(depression etc) and that is it’s getting worse. People who thought they’d found strategies for coping, or even a cure, are finding their methods aren’t working so well. The medication seems to have lost its edge, the mantras seem hollow, you have to exercise to damaging levels to get the same effects, the longed-for holiday is forgotten within 24 hours of the ‘plane touching down. These are good people. They’re not ungrateful wretches who are greedy for more consumer goods or whatever. They’re people like me who in the midst of our wonderful First World Life are finding themselves crying for days and not really knowing why. They’re finding that the gaps between down times are getting shorter and shorter, and the up times feel tinny and empty. Success might be sweet but it feels short-lived and hollow. We’re finding that this persistent sadness pushes through loving families and supportive friends.
And it won’t ever quite go away.
I woke up today thinking about it all and wondering why.
I’d also read a tweet in the small hours reminding me that there are only 50 months to go before we as a planet reach the tipping point where the environmental changes are(supposedly) irreversible. I’d tried not to see it but I saw it and that was that.
Now I know that I personally have not been responsible for any of the decisions over the last two hundred or so years that have created havoc with the environment. I know I’m not the one hunting rhinos to extinction and pouring crude oil into the oceans. But I belong to a people who have done these things. I belong too to the people who will be blamed if there is a posterity. I probably won’t live to see the damage. There’s a Native American saying that sums it up. “We do not inherit the earth, we borrow it from our children.” I doubt they’ll thank us for it.
So, why not eat, drink and be merry because it’s not my problem? Vast amounts of people seem to be able to do just that, shrug it off saying that it’s not their problem and they’ll be long dead before it all happens.
I can’t. Remember, we are all connected, through time and space too I believe.
Whatever the physical causes of depression might prove to be, trauma is also implicated. Grief often leads to profound and prolonged depression. Some days I wake and I feel as though I have suffered a huge loss but cannot remember it, just feels the pain. I strongly suspect many folks will relate to this feeling.
I also woke with a phrase in my mind. Sitting Shiva. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_(Judaism). This is the formal mourning process, ritualised to some degree practised by Jews across the world. I first heard about it when I was a student. I cannot remember when or where now but one thing struck me was the collective part of the process. People come and respectfully sit with the mourners, often in silence, to comfort them. They share stories of the deceased, too, if initiated by the mourners. Once, many years ago, I saw my cat Watson go through a ritual of grieving, when his companion William was killed on the road. He wailed, and refused to eat for several days, and lay on the grave in the garden for a week. We sat with him, sometimes, silent or talking depending on his lead, and grieved with him.
I’ve begun to wonder whether those of us who feel this persistent, unconquerable sadness (depression if you will) are in a strange way sitting shiva for the world, for the living planet and her creatures, human, plant and animal. If this is so, then let us talk, let us comfort each other with words and stories, and be respectful of the unspoken, unknown griefs another may be feeling without being able to articulate it.