exploration of our inner spaces
will contrast two forms of depression:
(1) psychological or situational depression &
(2) existential or spiritual depression.
Psychological depression is always linked with specific life-situations:
We get depressed when our jobs are boring,
when we have family or financial problems,
when romantic love lets us down, etc.
kind of depression
cannot be directly traced to a cause.
We are quietly haunted by a vague sense or dark mood.
Thru the hollow depths of our being sounds a low, moaning tone,
which breaks into consciousness
when our daily preoccupations fall away.
How can we understand this deeper depression?
I. TWO KINDS OF
Psychological Depression—From Disappointments
Existential Depression—Uncaused, Irrational,
C. Differentiating Psychological & Existential Depression.
II. THE DYNAMICS
The Collapse of Comforting Life-Illusions.
Capturing Existential Depression in Descriptive
C. Attempting to Cope with Existential Depression.
III. FREEDOM FROM
EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION—EXISTENTIAL JOY
Being Depressed in Spirit:
Deeper than Psychological Depression
by James Leonard Park
I. TWO KINDS OF DEPRESSION
—From Disappointments and Failures.
Psychological depression has hundreds of causes:
Our jobs are boring; we have suffered financial reversals;
we have difficulty communicating with our friends and associates;
romantic love has collapsed; nobody seems to care about us.
Almost any disappointment, disillusionment,
or collapse-of-hopes might cause us to tumble into an emotional slump.
But such moods are usually short-lived; we can manage them:
Since the ordinary blues are caused by specific circumstances,
they often disappear when the situation changes.
Once we have identified the causes of our depressed spirits,
we can correct the situation or take a different attitude toward it,
often pulling ourselves out of the black pit.
—Uncaused, Irrational, Pervasive.
But we might also be depressed in spirit—without
We are quietly haunted by a vague sense or dark mood;
thru the hollow depths of our beings sounds a low, moaning tone,
which breaks into awareness when our daily preoccupations fall away.
When we are frustrated and disappointed about something in our lives,
our underlying, existential depression reinforces this discouragement.
C. Differentiating Psychological & Existential Depression.
Usually both kinds of depression happen simultaneously,
but if we probe deeply, we should be able to separate them in 5 ways:
1. Whenever our hopes are dashed, whenever
whenever someone we trusted turns against us,
whenever we fail to achieve our own goals, we get depressed.
A black cloud settles over our lives—because something went wrong.
Existential or spiritual depression, on the other hand, is free-floating,
not the result of a collapse of hopes or loss of dreams.
2. Finding a cause is the most decisive way
psychological depression from existential depression.
If we can locate an intelligible cause, the problem is psychological.
But if there are no specific reasons for being depressed,
if the heavy feeling does not come from something we can name,
but arises from deep within ourselves,
then we might be depressed in spirit.
Because definite circumstances cause psychological
such dark moods last only as long as their specific causes.
Such feelings are passing moods—soon supplanted by new experiences.
But existential depression is a continuous inner state-of-being.
We are permanently depressed, even if we are not explicitly aware of it.
4. Psychological depression permits us to turn
to other concerns.
But existential depression is pervasive; we cannot escape it.
5. Because most depression is specific, caused,
& limited, at least in principle, we can overcome psychological depression.
Once we understand why we are depressed,
we immediately know a number of ways to change the situation.
But we cannot overcome our existential depression.
All the psychological techniques that cure ordinary depression fail.
II. THE DYNAMICS OF EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION
A. The Collapse of Comforting Life-Illusions.
Existential depression arises from our spirits.
If we choose to desensitize ourselves (perhaps with drugs),
we will not face this deepest truth of our beings.
But 'tuning down' our sensitivity does not solve our deepest problem.
If our basic beliefs and values collapse for
if our work, family, possessions, or religion are undermined,
we might be cast into the pit of existential depression.
Perhaps we long for the "good old days",
before our life-meanings were challenged and cracked.
Maybe disillusionment uncovers our spiritual depression.
B. Capturing Existential Depression in Descriptive Words.
or existential depression is a helpless feeling
of being drained and depleted, dying, decaying, going away.
One common image is the hole.
We seem to be falling or sinking into a bottomless blackness.
The goo into which we sink presses on us from all sides,
but it gives no support from below.
We stand hip-deep in a hole in the ground.
We can see the world around us, but we cannot relate to it.
We want to crawl all the way down into the hole and cry.
When we are alone, we don't have to keep up a happy front.
We don't have to submit to being 'cheered up' by well-meaning people.
Spiritual depression is like being in a giant
We reach out to other people, but we can't make contact with them.
Their voices come to us muffled and distant.
We wander from one thing to another, but nothing
The scary blackness seems to envelop us, sucking us down.
It is like trying to walk thru molasses.
We are caught in a dark, ominous void, gray
and black without color.
The sun is hidden; the rains have come.
Gloomy weather seems to trigger existential depression:
Cloudy days remind us of the darkness and gloom within ourselves.
Bright, clear days prompt us back to our illusions.
C. Attempting to Cope with Existential Depression.Psychological professionals often deal with 'depression'.
Our culture has developed a number of coping
Intensified work and play are common ways of handling the blues.
Some people take up gambling for the thrill, excitement—and winnings.
Others 'get high' from shopping—spending money to feel better.
Mood-altering drugs are very popular for masking depression.
There are also creative and constructive ways
to accept and acknowledge our depression of spirit.
We can become fuller and deeper human persons
by learning to live with our Existential Malaise.
Abandoning our illusions and evasions brings us to greater maturity;
we come closer to ourselves when we stop running away.
Ultimately, we might find strong and courageous ways
to embrace our existential depression and anxiety,
to incorporate this Existential Malaise into our self-affirmation.
Finally, how common is the following sort of
When we reach the bottom of despair, the powers of life take over.
At the bottom of the slide into depression waits death,
but once we have touched death, the only way is up.
When we become deeply convinced of our existential
when we give up treating it like psychological depression,
we can open ourselves to a gift of JOY.
Just as existential depression once pervaded our beings,
now JOY takes over without explanation.
This JOY can never be confused with ordinary
which is the opposite of psychological depression and sadness.
JOY is far beyond psychological responses to fortunate events.
In fact, this surprising JOY is so deep and pervasive
that it does not disappear when particular things go wrong in our lives.
We have a JOY without cause, which suffering cannot destroy.
This is not a superficial euphoria or temporary 'high'
but a deep and wonderful change in our beings.
we receive JOY, we can still be psychologically
Everyday problems and troubles can still bother us,
but such difficulties never get blown out of proportion;
they never out-last the situations that caused them.
A JOY wells up to support us even in the most difficult situations.
This JOY is not a manic elation but a quiet
and sustained JOY.
Others might initially attribute this JOY to a happy disposition.
But we know that JOY is flowing into us, not emanating from us.
We know how terrible we felt when we were depressed in spirit.
In fact, we were probably more deeply depressed than most people
because only an intense awareness of our Existential Malaise
will sufficiently motivate us to make the drastic changes
that open us to the gift of JOY.
Existential JOY can never be achieved.
It comes only after we acknowledge that we cannot overcome depression.
We surrender our whole beings,
reorganizing our lives in response to the gift of JOY.
Then JOY becomes the fundamental tone of our lives.
Psychological Depression Existential Depression
understandable feeling 1.
feeling of low spirits;
of disappointment or failure. undefinable, unintelligible, free-floating.
2. Caused by
2. Uncaused, no recognizable source;
problems and difficulties; arises from within our selves;
specific channels of approach; no channel of approach;
we know why we are depressed. we don't know why we are depressed.
3. Temporary—comes and
3. Permanent—always present
with our changing life-situations. in our selves, altho often repressed.
4. Focused on a
specific aspect of 4.
Pervades every corner of our being;
our lives; localized, isolatable. cannot be isolated.
5. We can overcome it
by correcting 5. We cannot eliminate
the cause or simply letting it pass. but we can conceal it or embrace it.
Questions for Discussion
1. Can you trace your depression to specific life-situations?
2. Can you
separate (in your own experience) your psychological
depressions from your free-floating existential depression?
3. How would you describe and explain your depression?
4. How do you cope with depression—both psychological and existential?
5. How do anti-depressant drugs affect both kinds of depression?
6. When do you feel your uncaused, existential depression?
7. Do you know anyone whose life is possessed by existential JOY?
8. Can you tell the difference between happiness and JOY?
9. Have you had spontaneous glimpses of existential JOY?
10. Do you know how to
open yourself to the gift of JOY?
James Park is an existential
This article was adapted by the author
from Chapter 3 of his small study-book called:
Opening to Grace:
Transcending Our Spiritual Malaise
(Minneapolis, MN: www.existentialbooks.com, 2007---second edition)
The title of that 4-page chapter (p. 16-19) is:
"Psychological Depression & Spiritual Depression".
discussion of existential depression
will be found in James Park's major book:
Our Existential Predicament:
Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death
(Minneapolis, MN: www.existentialbooks.com, 2006---5th edition)
Chapter 2 "Existential Depression" , p. 39-51.
A complete listing of links
relating to existential depression
will be found in the Depression Portal:
more information about James Park
will be found on his home page:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum
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Depressed in Spirit:
Deeper than Psychological Depression"
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