Depression: A Transpersonal and Archetypal Perspective
By: Transpersonal Spirit
Depression is extremely common in the USA today. Pharmaceutical companies are making millions on anti-depressants and at the same time making millions on pain killers which put one in a depressed state. We live in a manic society where the pace of life is very rapid and many are whipped up into incredible stress with little time to sleep and nearly no time to relax. Depression seems to be the antithesis to the fast paced life style of America, and I believe that many of us could use a little more time to relax and unwind. However, if we spend too much time unwinding we are labeled as depressed.
Often times fatigue and depressed states can be an indicator that our body wants to slow down and recharge, however, our cultural upbringing tells us that this time to relax is lazy and should be medicated with a stimulant. This approach to life leads to many dangers including increased accidents from tired drivers, and a long list of health issues related to unmanageable stress.
There are many forms of depression to consider, in extreme situations a person will be unable to function and stay in bed for months at a time, other times people become suicidal depressed, and others become agitated, angry and anxious. In these cases medical intervention can provide great relief but not for everyone, in fact, the side effects of depression medication include suicidal thoughts, insomnia, chemical addiction to the anti-depressant and decreased ability to experience pleasure and sensation. Many of the medications on the market have proven to be less or as effective as a placebo. This all indicates that there is a misunderstanding about the nature of depression and a misapplication of treatments. Let’s take a look at depression from a fresh perspective using transpersonal and archetypal psychology to get a better understanding of what this “depression” is.
In archetypal psychology depression is associated with the archetype of Saturn. Saturn represents heavy material states of being and is associated with hard work, sowing seeds, plowing the land, cycles of time and endings. The density of Saturn combined with the hard work necessary gives way to confusion, fatigue, hopeless, depression and the need for inner strength.
Richard Tarnas states, “It governs the material world, time, tradition, the past, aging, death, and the endings of things. The Saturn archetype is associated with the Greek mythic figure of Kronos, the stern father of the gods, the Roman Saturn. Called the Great Malefic in traditional astrology, it is associated with such archetypal figures as Fate, Father Time, Death, and the Grim Reaper. In Jungian and archetypal psychology, Saturn is often called the senex.
Saturn represents the hard structure of things, the reality principle, the bottom line. It is in many ways the opposite of Jupiter in nature: where Jupiter expands and grants success, Saturn contracts and inhibits; where Jupiter is liberal and magnanimous, Saturn is conservative and strict; where Jupiter uplifts, Saturn oppresses. Indeed, Saturn can well seem to be an one-sidedly negative planet in the astrological pantheon, though in fact the situation is much more complicated. Saturn opposes and limits, but in doing so, it strengthens, grounds, forges, gives our soul substance and gravitas, makes us real.” (http://www.gaiamind.org/AstroIntro.html)
Many psychologists today talk about overcoming depression or curing depression; however, in transpersonal and archetypal psychology depression is associated with Saturn and is just one archetype in a polytheistic universe of being. Rather than overcome the depression perhaps one should learn to use depression and integrate depression into their lives in a positive way in order to gain many benefits such as grounding, strength, and inner resolve. Many people have wondered what would have happened to artists like Van Gogh or Michelangelo if they had been given anti-depressants. Would they have still had the artistic vision and sensitivity to create some of the world’s most cherished artistic accomplishments? Even American Blues pioneers Robert Johnson and Lead Belly changed music forever with their music which was inspired by this archetype of Saturn.
In many ways this archetype can provide us with many gifts including creativity, compassion, empathy, and can even allow us to learn about the depths of our psyche. Depression often times causes individuals to isolate themselves from others and to do nothing for long periods of time. Culturally, in American we view this as being counterproductive and demonize it as laziness. This leads the person in these states to feel they are fundamentally flawed and even useless to society. Furthermore, since the state of depression is often involuntary they feel they have lost control, are diseased, psychotic and can never amount to anything in the future because of their current condition. This feeling is compounded by the fact that it can last for many years at a time with little to no break.
This time of isolation and doing nothing can be a sign from our bodies that we need to recharge or even that we need to expand the understanding of our psyche. In Eastern traditions for example, extended periods of isolation and contemplation of one’s inner being are used for spiritual development. Also in Western science studies of voluntary isolation such as in sensory deprivation tanks and meditation can reduce depression, anxiety and self-judgments as well as introduce individuals to transcendent states of consciousness which can aid a person in healthy spiritual development. It is possible that by attempting to suppress the depression we are preventing it from teaching us its lessons and thus the depression knocks with increasing volume at our conscious door. It is also possible that the anxious, angry form of depression is increased in intensity by the continuous attempt to suppress and prevent its full expression.
Depression can be very serious and can lead to death through suicide; however, it can function as a rite of passage into a deeper understanding of the self and give empathy for others. Many who go through this experience can reach rock bottom and plunge into despair so profound and existentially nihilistic that they must end their old way and start over by seeking support. If one survives this ordeal they can become “the wounded healer” helping others to overcome their trails.
This dominance of Saturn in one’s life can lead to a healthy integration of the archetype of Saturn and depression can become a great teacher and initiator. Through the trials of depression one begins to slowly open to the possibility of other archetypal energies being of primary influence in their life and they can live in a pluralistic universe expanding beyond their current limitations and reaching toward wholeness. Depression is a harsh teacher and its lessons are hard to swallow but by re-framing our situation and opening to the potential benefits it holds one may be able to find healthy integration for this force in their lives.
By: Transpersonal Spirit
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Estrin, Jesse. “Depression, Soul and Growing Down in a Manic Culture.” Lecture at pccforum.wordpress.com on 4/13/12.
Grof, Stanislav with Richard Tarnas, How Deep is Deep: Depth Psychology, Consciouness Research and Archetypal Astrology. Wisdom University tele-seminar May 15 2012
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Tarnas, Richard. “An Introduction to Archetypal Astrology Analysis.” http://www.gaiamind.org/AstroIntro.html