Myth and Meaning

Through experience I find what I believe is the core problem of depression – a loss of meaning. In depression, meaning seems drained out of existence; there it all is – color, sound, smell, beauty, love, life all around and in front of you – so what? It is just there. Purpose and meaning are extracted. It all looks and feels like nothing. I think the barometer of joy and happiness in life is measured on the scale of the amount of meaning one finds in it. Physicist David Bohm suggested that meaning is the third principle that constitutes reality. Einstein saw the dual principle of matter and energy. Bohm suggested a third aspect to our very physics — matter, energy and meaning. Meaning is as much a part of our physical reality as the other two, and is unfolded from the other two. Depression is a result of a loss of this dimension. I’m speaking from experience. No one ever told me this.

I don’t know what causes bouts with depression. There are so many theories and ideas and doctors and analysts, so many who conscientiously diagnose and prescribe and listen, many times to the great benefit of others. I am 59 with a doctorate in depth psychology and have been helped and have been able to help in this area. But there is much more to the mystery than I believe we have yet encountered or articulated in general. As Robert Romanyshyn says, depression is not the cause, it is the cure. And Marie Louise von Franz says to go into depression, let it take you to where it is going, underneath all of the superficialities of life to where you can discover what it wants, what it has to say, its purpose, its meaning.

The trick is to be able to come back with what you find, to bridge the worlds. I saw a movie last night just as I was coming out of a strong bout with depression. The movie spoke to me in a gorgeous and timely way. It is called Ondine, a movie directed by Neil Jordan with Colin Ferrell starring (p.s. Colin Ferrell is one of my favorite actors ever.) The story is of an Irish fisherman who catches a woman in his fishing net. The movie deals with harsh realities, but shows the magic and mystery that a dimension of meaning contributes for all involved. It is that dimension which storytellers and movie makers and musicians and poets and artists consistently address that are utterly life-giving, that revolutionize and move life forward out of meaningless, repetitive, deadly spirals.

I was reminded of the following words in Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections as I started to write on this. “Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science.” Myth is another dimension altogether.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, fairy tales, Iron Man, the Greeks – without such as these we would be a lost species. If you have a friend who is depressed or find yourself in this state, sit with it until the meaning and the myth emerge. Some would say those are the stories that take one away from reality and lead to insanity. I say to be without them is insanity. I know whereof I speak.

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5 Responses to “Myth and Meaning”

  1. joyparker Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve had my own share of depression over the last year and have been finding my way out of it these past six weeks. And finding meaning is the key!

    By the way, I can’t believe you just watched Ondine. I just watched Ondine last week. How can it be that you and I are watching the same movies when we have never met and are a couple of thousand miles apart?

  2. Tayria Ward Says:

    I don’t know, Joy, out of the hundreds of movies and days available, it’s remarkable. The universe is definitely perking up our ears!

  3. Darita-Rose Alden Says:

    I am finding a lot of help regarding a long-term depression in reading Murray Stein’s In MidLife. It’s amazing that so many other people have had this experience of loss of things that were profoundly meaningful. It gives me serenity and detachment. Thank God for Jung and his students who became teachers.

  4. Tayria Ward Says:

    Finding meaning, perspective and connection is so life-giving, isn’t it? Murray Stein is so articulate. I am glad you’ve found his writing and that it is good to you.

  5. Jerry R. O'Neill Says:

    To discover meaning in myth and metaphor has been life-giving for me over the past seven-eight years helping me find my way out from the shadows of depression. Years confined to conventional images of faith and conservative spiritual practices, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, John O’Donohue, Thomas Moore and the poems and stories of W.B Yeats and James Joyce opened windows and doors allowing a fresh breeze of the spirit with thrilling synergistic currents of ancient and new to awaken and enliven my soul, the holy suddenly evident in and all around me giving me wing and heartbeat for life and ministry again.

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