There is timeless beauty in this place. Sitting in the corner of this sunroom in a rustic cabin, I feel a perfect alignment between my mind, body and soul. I once read about a successful CEO who also successfully manages her schizophrenia by taking her medication and frequent vacations to ease her mind from time to time. A time of recharging and relaxing goes a long way for the mind. Artists do it. CEOs do it. Even God did it on His 7th day of creation.
So on this day, I find myself in the deep woods spending lazy Saturday afternoon. My day is cruising by so effortlessly. We brought my mom and my niece to babysit my daughter. M is gathering fire woods outsize realizing his dream of living in the mountain. And as for me, I am studying about how to counsel a depressed client.
Sitting here in the corner of this sunroom on an unusually warm winter day, I am reminded of the very memorable vacation I took by myself many years ago. When I was going through my anguishing episodes of depression, I coped through them by going to a silent retreat at monasteries or renting a cabin for a long weekend deep in the mountain. This particular year, I was especially depressed because I had recently got divorced and lost my beloved dog while I was going through my clinical depression. With depression, it is hard to draw a line between the clinical and the reactive. Which started first? Was I clinically depressed, thus my ruined marriage? Was I merely being reactive to my losses? Which one came first? The bottom line is, it is hard to reason through depression because it is an interplay of biological, environmental/social, psychological and spiritual factors. It challenges you at a completely different level and it asks you to think outside the box. So I often got out of the box of my daily anxieties and ran to the mountains.
It was one of those trips I made out of desperation. Where families gather by the cozy fire and enjoy bonding and intimate times, I isolated myself to cry my heart out. To think outside the box was out of question. I just wanted to breathe. I felt my soul rotting to the core and hell wasn’t some future event. I was living it. It was my reality.
A wise Psalmist would have told me:
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him. my Savior and my God. -Psalm 42: 5-6
But Scripture-filled mind was so distant from me having no knowledge of much Bible verses other than those few that even the non-Christians would have heard of. Instead, I went up to the mountain, lowered my downcast eyes to the wonderful sight. A small rural Tennessee village tucked in the Smokies, distant cabins also tucked in somewhere along the slopes of the mountain hills, no trace of human corruption, only the stillness of the trees, those harmless tress. At that moment, I would feel that eternity was at my grasp. A necessary reminder that the time to put an end to my mental torment would be at hand as well with the arrival of Jesus. With that reminder providing peace to my unending battle against depression, I would come down from the mountain knowing that I will be back soon enough. For the moment, I had gathered enough will to go on another month or two, or hopefully longer.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy attempts to treat mental illness by reconstructuring faulty cognitions. It explores the relationships among a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors and focuses to identify self-destructive behaviors that arises from self-defeating behaviors and beliefs. The key is to replace the negative thoughts about oneself and one’s future to positive thoughts and replace self-destructive behaviors with help-seeking behaviors. In Christian terms, this wonderful concept of CBT will be referred as PMC: putting on the mind of Christ.
There is one vision that I had when my depressive episode was at its most intense stage. Amongst the daily panic attacks and strong suicidal urges, I was barely making it through from morning till evening. My mom would read Bible verses to this then-thirty-year old daughter who was trembling with unknown fear just to help me fall asleep. I guess it was one of those night I struggled to fall asleep listening to my mom’s Bible narration. I woke up with a sudden vision that is still so vivid to this day, five years later.
I saw a hand. A big hand. The hand was spread wide, over the head, my head. I saw the big hand laying on my head. In Christian tradition, laying on of the hand symbolizes receiving the Holy Spirit. But I didn’t have to dig up the traditional meaning of the ritual. I knew what it meant. Jesus was healing my head, the thorn in my brain that was causing so much torment in my soul. Years went by. It wasn’t easy. I still struggled. But it got better year after year. Today, I am medication-free. I am happy just like any healthy person is. My mood remains within the spectrum that I can easily manage and one little disappointment does not lead me to major depression. I know that Hand healed me. I know I received the Holy Spirit on that day. I know now I live by the mind of Christ and not my own.
There is timeless beauty in this mind of Christ. Nothing disturbs this mind because “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John2:17). When the body experiences anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, sadness, or grief, the mind does not make its grave fall anymore because it knows that “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). The mind is big enough to contain an endless field of green pastures, so vast and wide. And He just makes you lie down in green pastures, He leads you beside quiet waters (Psalm 23:2) when you live in this beautiful mind of Christ. In this mind, eternity is at its grasp. You don’t need to run to the mountains. You don’t need to go to silent retreats. You don’t need expensive vacations or medications anymore. Because when you have the mind of Christ, you lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. – Psalm 34:10