Since roughly puberty, one of my life’s struggles has been intermittent bouts of depression. Maybe it’s inherited, maybe it’s just my portion, or maybe it’s connected with long-time sleep issues.
Whatever its source, in daily life, I work hard to counterbalance the onset of periods of low energy, negative thoughts, and aimlessness with contemplative practices, spiritual readings, exercise, music, family, and meaningful work. Or as much meaningful work as I can muster. These keep me in rhythm, aware, grateful, at peace.
But when I slip out of this delicate rhythm my well-being can slide pretty fast. If family issues come up, or a sickness, or even a vacation or a family visit, the amount of sleep, contemplative practice, and exercise routine all suffer.
During an especially difficult period for me I connected with a friend who was going through difficulties of her own. She’d recently gone through a divorce and was confronting addiction issues in her life head on.
As one of the few people whose book recommendations for me are consistently spot on, I asked what she was reading at the time. One of the titles on her current list was Awareness by a writer I hadn’t heard of: Anthony De Mello.
In talking with a friend who’s a voracious reader at a recent get together, he confided a little sheepishly that he had about 600 books on his various reading lists. It reminded me of my own lengthy reading lists, most of which I will never get around to actually reading.
Over the years I’d go through phases of different interests: Zen, Russian Literature, Postmodern Theology, Myth, Anthropology, The Desert Fathers, various poets, literary criticism, and so on, gathering far more reading on my wish lists than I had time to finish. Any recommendations by well-meaning friends usually ended up somewhere between the 125-150 on the priority list.
A year after becoming a father in a new house and taking on a new job, sleepless and overwhelmed, I was purely in survival mode. I had been struggling to maintain any sense of orientation or even coherent identity. The barista calling out my daily coffee order (as large as possible) seemed one of the few touchstones of identity in a newly jumbled existence.
Throughout adulthood, daily journaling and reflective reading had been a touchstone spiritual practice. That was gone for now. No time. Creative practices like writing and music had kept me centered. These were on hold. Travel or long phone chats with old friends? Gone. Spiritual or scriptural reading? Intermittent at best.