Are you ever able to get away from time in the sense of measuring what you do, day in, day out? I can’t seem to escape it very often, but I’m convinced that doing so is one of the ways I get myself out of depression. Of course, the clock is omnipresent, and almost all activities in the daily world are measured against it. Most people, with their usual ups and downs, adapt to schedules for everything. But psychologically, in a depressive mind, time is another weapon. It is the constant reminder, as it keeps on going, that I am not doing enough, that I am not getting things done, that I can’t do the job, that I’m not measuring up, and on and on. I feel time as relentless pressure, nonstop stress, an overlay on reality full of warning reminders wherever I look. And as writers like Richard O’Connor and Robert Sapolsky keep telling us, living in a state of constant stress brings on the mood disorders as brain chemistry goes on overload.
There are times, though, when stress stops, time stops, inner voices meet their match and shut down. It happens to me not by changing a negative pattern of thinking but by listening to something other than thought. Today, I’ve been recalling and reliving one of those moments, the first one I was really conscious of, when by chance I seemed to step right out of time.
When my wife and I first moved to New Mexico, we often drove out to explore a countryside so different from what we had grown up with in the East. We were still getting used to seeing a mountain range fifty miles away, to a wide dry rangeland spotted with twisting juniper bushes, the winding arms of cholla cactus and stunted pinon trees, the nourishing grasses clustered to conserve moisture, the land rolling up toward the foothills and clear mountains flanking either side of the Rio Grande Valley. But I still carried my worries, stress and downward spirals with me so I would soon get anxious while driving in this leisurely way, even if we were seeing so much natural beauty around us.
On one of these excursions, we headed south from Santa Fe to see a village full of beautiful adobe houses in an oasis of tall cottonwoods. As we drove back – and I was relieved to do so since I felt the pressure of time and the need to get something done that day – we followed a dirt road for many miles. At one point, my wife rolled down the window and put her head out as far as she could. She started saying something to me and waving an arm. “What are saying? I can’t hear a word!” She ducked back in the window and blurted out, “Stop – just stop! Stop the car! Here, here, here – right now!” Edgy to get back home, I didn’t want to slow down for a minute, but I pulled over because she was suddenly possessed by – I didn’t know what. As soon as I stopped by the dusty roadside, keeping the motor running – she popped the door and wandered around the car, as if looking for something. She walked about ten feet away, then came back and pounded on my window. I rolled it down to hear her. “Turn off the engine! You have to! Turn it OFF!” Reluctantly, I shut it down, and as soon as I turned the key and silenced that rumbling thing, I realized what it was and just stared at her. “Hear it? There’s not a single sound!” I got out of the car and listened hard.
For the first time in my life, I heard a silence so complete it was like an utterly different experience of being alive. Not a sound, not a distant engine, a plane overhead, a hammering or a human voice. The wind was still, the birds were quiet in the middle of a sunny day. Nothing. It stopped me, stopped everything in my busy mind and drained the tenseness right out of me. I just stood there with L, absorbed in the silence. It had a physical quality that calmed me, and I felt not just restfulness in the midst of it but something restoring me as well. The sense of time steadily beating in my thoughts a rhythm of what have you done, what are you worth, what will you do – all that was gone.
When time stopped, there was no depression, no anxiety. There was only a feeling of wellness and contentment – even a sense of fulfillment. Whatever presence or energy was circulating there, it brought the word “soul” into awareness for the first time in years. It was a feeling of connecting, of bonding, but with what? That was a question I asked later. Then and there I just floated in that feeling, not having to ask anything about it, not trying to explain it. I do not know what that is, but the experience, when it happens, is one of the richest in life that I know. It restores, it calms, it erases without conscious effort all stress and awareness of time and limits and schedules and tasks and deadlines. And it dissolves depression.
In finding a daily way out of depression, the rich if unusual moments like these are among the restorative experiences that keep telling me I’m more than the dark condition I fall into. Visualizing and reliving them leads me back to the sense of timelessness that strengthens an essential inner resilience. So that is becoming part of my practice of wellness.
I’m sure you’ve had experiences like that. My question is – does it help your healing to recall and relive them, whether by writing or in some other way?
Image: Some Rights Reserved by jurvetson at Flickr