2012-10-09

Pushed Down to Safe Ground

Parker Palmer, the author, educator, and activist, struggled with depression. Depression was, it seemed, his broken-ness. One day his therapist said to him:
Parker Palmer (1939 -   )
“You seem to look upon depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you. Do you think you could see it instead as the hand of a friend, pressing you down to ground on which it is safe to stand?”
Palmer writes:
“Amid the assaults I was suffering, the suggestion that depression was my friend seemed impossibly romantic, even insulting. But something in me knew that down, to the ground, was the direction of wholeness for me, and something in me allowed that image to begin its slow work of healing.” (Parker Palmer)
He goes on to say he’d been ungrounded, living in his head, in abstractions, in inflated ideas about who he was that masked the fear that he was less than he should have been, and living in “a distorted ethic that led [him] to live by images of who he ought to be.” The “shoulds” were driving his life – and trying to live UP to everything he thought he should be inevitably meant failure, inadequacy, and, for him, depression.

Depression, seen as a friend, became a friend – pushing him down from those heights of what he thought he was or should be. Depression was literally de-pressing him back down to safe ground where the question could be asked: Is this really my gift and call? Is this what is mine to do? Regardless of what the voice of "should" tells me to be, is this who I am really?

Says Palmer:
“Depression was, indeed, the hand of a friend trying to press me down to ground on which it was safe to stand — the ground of my own truth, my own nature, with its complex mix of limits and gifts, liabilities and assets, darkness and light.” (Palmer)
It’s always the "shoulds" that afflict us. After all, what would there be to bother us about losing a leg except the thought that we should have two of them? Does it bother you that you don’t have wings and can’t fly? Inability to fly doesn’t bother us much because we don’t have in our heads the idea that we "should” be able to fly. Get over the idea that we should have two legs, and one legged-ness won’t bother us either.

To reach ground on which it is safe to abide is to be grounded in just what is -- to clear away our high-flying, highfalutin notions of what should be.

Broken-ness, affliction boil down to this: failure. And failure is always relative to the success we think we should be having. We failed – or something failed. Our bodies failed, our relationship failed, our job failed, our brain failed. There was a failure of something in ourselves or in our world to be what we were so sure it should be, was supposed to be.

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This is part 3 of 5 of "Blessed Affliction."
Next: Part 4: "If You're Lucky Your Heart Will Break"
Previous: Part 2: "The Weakness Is the Strength"
Part 1: "Who Are You?"