Depression: Nature & Laughter

By Stu Whitley | Bio

balm to the damaged soul lies outdoors. The natural world, with its
fixed cycles of life, degeneration and recuperation, is a soothing
reminder that all passes eventually.

There’s a harsher truth
as well: the world is indifferent. It is neither fair nor unfair; it
simply is. Outdoors, if one is careless, disaster can easily happen.
Rushing streams and precipitous inclines may be beautiful to
contemplate, but they are neutral on the issue of your vanity or
self-indulgence. Yet taking ourselves closer to our natural beginnings
is a healing first step toward self-rediscovery.

I once wrote
some poems about this. What I was trying to capture was the way in
which wild places have hold of our hearts. More: we must understand
that there is a biological imperative eons old that is responsible for
the wild places within us.

the pulverizing, unrelenting surf far below raven’s wings
is a place where earth, sky and sea converge
each striving for supremacy, now as at the beginning of the world
ocean implacable, runnelled by wind and current, its
waves roiled by streaming breakers falling upon themselves
in trembling echoes of the otherwise silent voice of Creator
the air’s rent with spindrift, ragged clouds frown
on the gloomy face of tatsaogitl, the west wind

at foam-flecked edge of this creeping pandemonium
a chorus line of shorebirds skitter on matchstick legs;
farther on, oblivious to the flooding neap,
greedy raven pulls gray worms from packed sand;
mad petrels dive on stiletto wings to the edge of sorrow
from mossy stump, now, grinning raven
claims exclusive jurisdiction in croaking, raspy notes

I sit on a fallen forest leviathan reduced to tidal plaything
salt air sharp in my nostrils; breeze snatching at my cap
a light rain forms lucent drops on my jacket shoulders
I shiver, oddly, for I am warm inside my layers
I am in raven’s kingdom, transformer of the world:
from here lies the perfect route to essential reality, to eternity

the relationship of human beings to the sublime unity
of wind, water and sky and the life they sustain, is not
only the primary one, but the most intense and urgent one
for it’s here, under brooding sun smothered in mist
that I am reminded of the great, primal aboriginal teachings:
that the end is the beginning; that nothing is everything

power of wild places to move us needs no special emphasis. Buckminster
Fuller once said that the problem with Spaceship Earth is that it came
with no operating instructions. This is why we let things get out of
hand with our environment, especially now.

The same is true of
us: there is no definitive handbook or warranty or free servicing. I
think we need to set about restoring our equilibrium in much the same
manner that we must go about restoring the ecology of our external
landscapes. The old one is gone: a new one must take its place, which
necessarily takes account of the harm done, damage counted, and pain
remembered. M. Holub stated in Shedding Life (1997) that “what
mostly gets out of hand is self-control and confidence…. In the inner
landscape, stress, fear and desperation are as dangerous as any form of
superstition.” But in the outdoors, we are reminded that it is not just
a matter of being aware of the sublime eternity on display, we are part
of it.

my heart in hiding
stirred for a bird –
the achieve of, the mastery of the thing
—Gerard Hopkins, The Windhover

final thing I would say is that the unfairness of unpleasant events
that slam into us, singly, serially, or at once, eventually needs the
corrosive effects of laughter. Laughter not only decreases stress
hormones and activates the immune system, [link to
] but it also has the chemical constituents that can peel away the
flimsy bonds and false paradigms of depression.

Humour is
creative and aligned with the discovery of hidden likenesses and
ironies. Even in the worst calamities, there’s a perspective that
humour (sometimes ‘black humour’) brings that helps right the ship.
Laughter is an affirmation of the faith that we need to reassure
ourselves that what has precipitated depression is but a dimension of a
larger, fuller life. Schweitzer wrote that “the most valuable knowledge
we can have is how to deal with disappointments. All acts and facts are
a product of spiritual power, the successful ones of power which is
strong enough; the unsuccessful ones of power which is too weak. Does
my behaviour in respect of love affect nothing? That is because there
is not enough love in me.” He goes on to conclude that:

great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets
used up. That is possible for him who never argues and strives with men
and facts, but in all experience retires upon himself, and looks for
the ultimate cause of things in himself.”
—Albert Schweitzer, Memoirs of Childhood and Youth (1925)

cannot look back on a dark period in one’s life and not grin ruefully
at the way events allowed one to be ‘used up’? As a turn on the old
chestnut would have it: he who laughs, lasts. Perhaps George Orwell put
it best when he said the aim of a joke is not to degrade the human
being but to remind him he is already degraded. If that strikes one as
funny, the path to recovery is near.