I’ve died many times. It’s a strange thing about depression. At least, a strange thing about how my mind works: from a young age, I’ve been presented with worst-case-scenarios in technicolor, painting a picture of catastrophic what ifs. More than once, I’ve lost everything I’ve loved. My world has fallen apart without a brick crumbling in real life.
There are similarities between depression, philosophy and spirituality. Each seeks to understand the existential. I’m fortunate I discovered a spiritual practice which offers refuge from existential anxiety. Thanks to my practice, the context of these mini deaths has shifted — I don’t see them as depressive dysfunction but powerful markers of growth.
If you believe in nothing else, if God does not satisfy your taste, if the fate of humankind feels bleak, if the world makes your heart ache and you question reasons why, if life feels unpredictable and chaotic and uncertain and unknown and faith feels far fetched and spirituality superficial and religion reprehensible, if, if, if you believe in nothing else…
Believe in beauty. The beauty of a moment, the beauty of human connection, the beauty of human resilience, the beauty of the search for meaning, the beauty of a smile or a flutter or skipped heartbeat or people you love being right here right now or random acts of kindness or songs sending chills down your spine or memories that make you cry happy tears or future visions that propel you forwards in times of darkness or films that make you see the world differently or books that shake you to the core or Spotify playlists that remind you of yourself or the really silly things that aren’t silly because they make you feel something.
Is self-enquiry selfish? On the surface it may appear this way. In this video, I compare the philosophy of solipsism and the experience of oneness, or nonduality, to explain why exploring deeper elements of our own unconscious mind paradoxically connects us to the interconnected web of existence.
Solipsism is the philosophy that no knowledge outside of the self can be known. Reality is subjective, and I only have knowledge that I exist. Therefore, everything within my reality is all I can, and all I will ever know as truth. How can I know you exist outside of me? Solipsism says I am the centre of the universe.
I view solipsism as ego-centred. From an intellectual perspective, this argument stands to reason. Viewing the universe as mechanical and material and consciousness restricted purely to the body and brain, of course I will follow the path that “I” am the only verifiable element of existence.
“If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars,” philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1836 essay, Nature. “The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches.” Emerson considered the stars, through their “perpetual presence of the sublime,” as portals to complete absorption with something greater than ourselves.
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,” he adds, “how would men believe and adore and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
Humans have gazed at the night’s sky in fascination for millenia. Its vastness, humbling. Its enigmatic expanse, awesome. Ancient civilisations, from the Mayans to the Babylonians, were starstruck and enchanted by the cosmos. The ancient Egyptians even used the stars to accurately align the Great Pyramids with the Earth’s four cardinal points.
I wonder what Emerson would think of modern culture. Common gaze is downcast, transfixed by admonishing smartphones. The stars’ sparkle is second-best. We don’t notice the great lengths they travel to illuminate the night’s sky. But the ancients prized something we fail to recognise. Stargazing is free therapy. And the cosmos reveals our true nature.