Resolving The Paradox: Ecstasy As One With Depression
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Tom had been meditating for more than 50 years. He was fascinated since he was a young child about the feelings he experienced when he first watched his breath go in and out. Through focusing upon his breath he was able to detach his mind from his body and float above his physical body as an observer, which was accompanied by sensations of spiritual ecstasy and bliss. By the time that he was in his thirties, he was meditating 8 + hours per day in a monastery and experiencing the heights of bliss and "light at the end of the tunnel" experiences. The group of monks that he was living with came to see his successes and referred to him as Samadhi Tom. It was at this time that he was increasing his experience of joy and rapture at ever increasing heights when he felt that he was on the verge of stabilizing the peak-state into a permanent long-lasting feeling. Just as he began to approach what he believed to be culmination of his practice (complete mastery and absorption in the light), he fell into a deep, catastrophic depression.
The Monastery and Depression
This first attack of depression that he described from the monastery was the most debilitating experience for him, where he found himself unable or unwilling to leave his room, eat, or even meditate any longer. This state shift produced extreme consequences, and this seemed to rob him of the most important thing that he valued – Transcendence. He soon left the monastery and floundered for years in his middle-age, where he made a lot of money, but seemed felt spiritually bankrupt. Tom felt that, “I had rented my soul to the devil while allowing myself to stray the furthest I ever had from the only thing that really mattered.”
The depression increased in intensity, and he was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, which he interpreted as a virtual death sentence. Due to the diagnosis, which included symptoms such as extreme ecstasy followed by extreme depression and “delusional thinking”, he found himself perpetuating a state of despair. The pain reached such intensity that he came close to committing suicide, but he soon found that he needed to shift his focus to a positive interpretation of the situation. At this stage he set out on a journey to make meaning of his experiences in a new context. Of course, some people in the psychiatric community would regard his thinking as perhaps delusional, but Tom decided to persevere with his quest for spiritual truth.
The Saints and Sages
Tom began studying the saints and sages of the past most closely and discovered similar patterns of ecstasy and depression, of trials and achievements. Tom was particularly moved by the story of St. Teresa of Avila, a Catholic Saint who had discovered a sense of Oneness with God that included her experience of debilitating physical pain. The story very much resembled his own, and so he continued to learn about how she once found that extremely stimulating spiritual states would be disrupted by her pain, and she believed that she needed to remove the pain from her body in order to properly experience a peak-state and union with God. However, she recognized that her pain needed to be included in her contemplation of God in order to fully realize the high spiritual state – This was the essence of equanimity. Once Teresa of Avila successfully achieved this capacity for equanimity (Experiencing both Positive and Negative experiences simultaneously and without preference), she helped others to achieve this result in their own lives. One of her statements: “The pain is still there. It bothers me so little now that I feel my soul is served by It.”, was one of the most interesting quotes for Tom, and it helped to reconcile the duality of pain and pleasure into non-dual liberation of consciousness.
No sooner did he recognize what Teresa was describing than did his life began to change. He began to recognize that his depressive states presented an opportunity for him to embrace the feeling and allow it to naturally transform under the light of consciousness. The essence of Yoga as described in the Bhagavad-Gita was also particularly powerful for Tom, where it implores students to “Be steadfast in yoga, devotee. Perform your duty without attachment, remaining equal to success or failure. Such equanimity of mind is called Yoga”.
Although meditation led him to a particular stage in his journey of self-liberation, his story illustrates that many people incorrectly pursue states of ecstasy through attempting to isolate the optimal conditions for its emergence and remove content from their experience - Denying aspects of their perceptions. The experience has taught him that unless one learns how to hold the paradox of pleasure and pain with a mind of stability, openness, and integration, the duality of pleasure and pain will create a continuous cycle of positive and negative experiences (An ultimately, increase suffering).
- Anonymous Contributor
This story is about Tom Wootton, a man who discovered something very unique about his experience of depression, which is described in more detail at the following site: http://www.storiedmind.com/recovery-stories/tom-wootons-story-finding-ecstasy-and-equanimity-in-depression/