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Category: community

On depression and anxiety and coupling

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Even at prayer, the demons suggest an imaginary need or desire, a feeling of emptiness and/or sense of void for various unlawful things, in reality unattainable, and then stir up remembrance of these fantasies, inciting the nous to pursue them. When such fantasies are momentarily realized, the darkened psyche experiences a fleeting satisfaction, but when the psyche is faced with the transitory nature of these fantasies, it becomes depressed and miserable. Even when the nous is at prayer, the demons attempt to keep filling it with the thoughts of these things, in order to deceive the psyche into believing that fantasies will become permanent satisfactions, thereby destroying the fruitfulness of the nous‘ prayer (St. Evagrius the Solitary, 1981).

“[...] Long and excessive desire for any imaginary need or desire for the sensory brings sorrow to the heart and darkens and disturbs the nous. It banishes pure prayer and all tenderness from the psyche and brings a painful pining or longing in the heart. This leads to measureless hardness and insensibility, and for this reason the demons usually bring depression upon those who have undertaken to lead a spiritual life. For example, ascetics, who attempt to live an angelic life, i.e., a life on a higher plane, are particularly affected by such fantasies as the demons of depression and anxiety often attack them, implanting in their minds an idealized vision of the fulfillment and earthly bliss to be found in the communion with women and/or in the marital state, whe in reality, after the initial excitement of the passions passes, man is left to that which is described by the Holy Apostle Paul as anxiety for the things of this world and great distraction (see 1 Cor. 7) (St. Symeon the New Theologian, 1995).” (Orthodox Interventions, p. 94, 95)

The chapter then goes into what to do about the feelings. But I want to first think about the nature of this fantasy. I believe it is basically the desire to couple with someone or something. They talk about marriage, which is the ultimate permanent coupling, but it can also be the desire for friendship or other family relationships such as exist between a parent and child. Or a desire to possess or control people, animals, or things. The monastic seeks to forsake all these things in order to couple with God. His relationship with people and things thereafter is one of self-emptying, not coupling, except for the direction he gets from his spiritual father.

But what about those in the world? Depression and anxiety certainly affect them too, even if they are married and have best friends. Abuse and neglect were listed in passing earlier in this chapter as contributing factors, along with heredity and chemical imbalance, but the process of the contribution wasn’t mentioned, I suppose because the patristic literature doesn’t talk about it except as it is directed towards lust for women, though I know greed and avarice and gluttony are listed too. Still, there is something about sexual sin that hits us deeper. It is intimately involved with our bodies and our hearts. Food comes close to this relationship, which is why fasting is prescribed.

Romantic fantasies affect married people after a process of complaining about one’s spouse, I suppose. Perhaps one’s complaints are legitimate, which is where forgiveness and humility about one’s own faults fits in, if the spouse doesn’t cross certain lines. Thankfulness is often an antidote for complaining. But hopefully one can also communicate with one’s spouse about things that bother one.

People who marry obviously believe in coupling with another person, and have expectations about what that should be like. We can’t say that all expectations are fantasies. We should be treated and treat others well. The married person believes in two-way relationships, not just one-way kenosis. I suppose depression and anxiety can be symptoms of the line being crossed into fantasy. But what if proper expectations legitimately are not met? This is the case of abuse and neglect, or the death or serious illness of a loved one. I’ll speculate that the person involved in this legitimately disappointing coupling, whether it be between spouses, friends, parents and children, or other partnerships, has to learn to be a monastic. Still, I am thankful for this statement,

“But from depression, wo/man comes to know the fruits of the evil spirit of listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, sluggishness in praying, etc. (Macarius of Optina, 1995). This can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on Holy Scripture, and living with godly people (St. John Cassian, 1997).” (p. 96)

Thanks for that last acknowledgment.

Carrie’s PTSD

by Andrea Elizabeth

What if Carrie’s reaction was a result of post traumatic stress? Let’s say her high school telekinesis episode was the PTSD exaggerated response to a lifetime of exaggerated isolation and skewed religious teaching. We can understand her response and believe that it was almost an inevitable reaction to the combination of certain chemicals. But human free will makes these reactions not inevitable. We can believe that if Carrie had more mature love for her fellow students she could have understood their motivations better and had more compassion on them too. She couldn’t bear their rejection and humiliation. This can be seen as pride. Jesus would have done different.

But don’t children need to be shown love in order to give it? Christ had Mary. I think we put a lot of pressure on people to be Christlike who have not had a parental relationship with someone like Mary. Of course a perfect parent isn’t guaranteed a perfect child, and Christ was God, so. But Christians want to be Christlike, and that is why they need a spiritual parent. I don’t think it should be expected that being a hermit Christian is the way for most people to go. If they mess it up, I don’t think it’s all their fault, even if they have a conscience, which is why they still have stuff to confess.

Progress and masculinity

by Andrea Elizabeth

Chapter 3 of Atlas Shrugged is very painful to read because it is difficult to totally vilify technology and efficiency. If something is ineffecient, it is usually because of negative reasons such as poor construction, poor planning, or misguided goals. Rand goes too far in saying that nature is less efficient than technology. Slowness isn’t the only criteria for inefficiency. Tolkien provides the antidote for this mistake of hers, but even he gets impatient with the Tree Ents. Still, I can’t help but find this passage compelling:

“What she [Dagny Taggert] felt was an arrogant pleasure at the way the track cut through the woods: it did not belong in the midst of ancient trees, among green branches that hung down to meet green brush and the lonely spears of wild flowers – but there it was. The two steel lines were brilliant in the sun, and the black ties were like the rungs of a ladder which she had to climb.”

Manifest Destiny and Immanent Domain both seem tied to the above. There is something inevitable about “progress”, at least to the western mind. However stone age cultures quickly adapted when they were introduced to iron age tools.  But they were content before that, and didn’t seem to sense the importance of progress.

The above passage also makes me ponder the idea that nature is feminine and progress is masculine. Villifying progress seems to vilify masculinity. Indeed, one might characterize the expansion of the railroad as rape. But does that make men in “uncivilized” cultures feminine? No, they exert their energies towards territorial disputes and raiding. The same characterization can apply there too. What is the difference between the Genesis command to “fill the earth and subdue it”, and that characterization? The former requires permission from the feminine first, I suppose. Can you ask a tree what it wants to be used for? I believe so, but it takes an artist and a poet to properly hear the answer.

And there is also the issue of communication, which is a very human and natural thing. We crave access and sharing, which technology makes easier. Too easy in some cases, I’m sure. But to be against it is to close oneself off and make oneself unavailable. One may not like the invasive nature of railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, and highways, but even the pony express cut through Indian lands requiring the building of forts in the western frontier to protect them. White man’s communication trumped the preservation of Native American life. We should have befriended them and asked them to send smoke signals for us. And paid them for it. In higher technology?

This chapter also gets into international trade with Mexico. The argument for being our brother’s keeper is criticized very strongly. Again the vagueness of who our brother is is brought out. As is the amount of state control instead of free enterprise said brother is under. I believe in private property, so in that way I agree with Rand. But her heroes don’t come across as greedy, which I think is a side effect that needs to be addressed. They may say they only care about money, but their lifestyle is much more spartan. Resentment and envy is the greed of the less fortunate. Characterizing the less fortunate as lazy and inept sounds too harsh, but I wish the left would sound more like they valued hard work and that they believed laziness is a vice. Laziness and ineptitude alone do not account for poverty, however. There are tons of other variables in the equation. But to blame it all on rich people’s self-serving policies sounds too deflective.

What’s in the closet?

by Andrea Elizabeth

While driving my daughter to community college, I listened to part of the Diane Rehm show where pannelists were discussing what is being done with all the information that is being gathered about us nowadays from our smartphones and debit cards. While giving us new access to each other, information, goods and services, these things give sellers and other information aggregators access to our habits and activities. It is a two edged sword. The people who called in worried about privacy issues were kindly dismissed as conspiracy theorists, and told that this information gathering is also used to save the lives of soldiers and lost children. This reminds me of the story of St Kilda island where medical care for dying children made the inhabitants give up their ancient way of life. I hear that even the Amish use modern medicine’s technologies. With x-rays, MRI’s and DNA interpretation, there isn’t much privacy left. Yet somehow with all this, we still can’t peek into God or the true nature of ourselves. This takes grace.

Winter’s Bone

by Andrea Elizabeth

Winter’s Bone is another look at female submission. Middlemarch (see post below) provided the traditional British perspective, this movie is set in the Ozarks. I’ve been thinking lately about my affinity for British traditional culture. Winter’s Bone brings home my affinity with the South. 3/4 of my grandparents are from the South, with their ancestors hailing from Arkansas and Mississippi. (The other one was the son of a German immigrant) A couple of centuries before that they came from England and Scotland, hence the aforementioned affinity, I suppose. I’ve also heard that British culture is more mirrored in the south than in the north. There are differences, however. Lording it over a person has a different character in England than in the southern backwoods. Southern aggression is less verbal and more violent.

Winter’s Bone redeems this aggression somewhat, however. Ree, the female lead, has to come to terms with the worst in southern culture, but she ends up somehow making me feel good about it. Lately, for example, I’ve worried about the effect on the Appalacian trees, not to mention the Sequoia’s in California, that air polluting older vehicles have. Winter’s Bone makes having a nice, new, clean, fuel efficient car look like a sell-out of one’s soul.

Dreaming 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

Without traffic, it is an hour and 10 minutes to St. Maximus the Confessor Orthodox Church in America. Each time I’ve attended, I’ve felt it very much worth the drive to Denton County. However, there are other things to consider when one would thinks they would like to attend two services a day. One of these considerations is that Parker County, where I live, which is the county to the west of Tarrant, which is the one west of Dallas County, doesn’t have an Orthodox Church. Last fall I shared this dream of a semi-monastic community in my neighborhood. Problem is, the residents would have to have a job, and the jobs are in Tarrant County. The property I described that is in my neighborhood just came up for sale last weekend. The newish, niceish house is 2,600 sq ft, there’s a “bunkhouse” with kitchen and bathroom where the owners lived while they were building, and has 13 acres of mostly cleared dry land, and a little cow pond. The other problem is, it’s listed at $495,000. Seems to me only 4 to 6 single, co-ed adults could segregatedly live in the existing buildings, so at most, that could be over $100,000 a piece to live in pretty shared environs, which is hard to do when one is used to independence. I don’t know how families could work yet. Here’s a wider shot taken last fall, for perspective. I think you can zoom in and see the bunkhouse just to the left of the main house, and to the right of the pump house or whatever that is.

But here’s another idea. On the Parker County/Hood County border to our south, 15 minutes away, is this cute little structure. It’s oldish sign says Temple Hall United Methodist Church, and their internet listing says they meet on Sundays at 11am. I wonder if they’d rent it out during other times. Methodists are open-minded, right? Probly not twice a day, but one has to start somewhere. I wonder if Methodists like icons.

When the pursuit of virtue by society turned to self-preservation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Some of the audio, not to mention the concepts, is a bit hard to understand, but I find the following idea from Leo Strauss’ lecture on “Plato’s Political Philosophy: Apology and Crito,” (h/t Gabriel) the first of the series, enlightening. I hope it is the point he was making.

Apparently Professor Strauss believes that Niccolo Machiavelli ushered in a shift from political or social science being based on virtue to it being based on circumstantial realism/”hedonism”. The virtues became imaginary and unattainable and a more pragmatic approach was adopted. I believe he’s saying that a person’s drive for self-preservation became the goal, not the attainment of the virtuous, ideal telos of all mankind. I like being able to pin this shift on one person and one time in history, which not all agree with Professor Strauss as occurring, but it makes comparing and contrasting, and closure easier.  Even if Machiavelli is being used as a scapegoat, what should he care at this point? The ones who disagree probably don’t think he’s the model citizen either.

I have at times considered that a selfish focus can lead to good. Nice trees and shrubs make people want to shop at certain locations, thus it is profitable for merchants to beautify the polis. However, setting the bar as low as Machiavelli does degrades humanity, and thus stifles it.

On the other hand, idealistic people can become too narrow in what they think the ideal is. The ideal man or woman behaves thus and has a certain kind of appearance. It can get pretty discriminatory and limiting. Louisa May Alcott seems to have suffered from not fitting into an ideal mold in her father’s comparison. He believed his fair hair and mild manners were perfect, whereas her dark looks and passionate manner, being the opposite, must be evil. “What Would Jesus Do” also presumes that a person can imagine the ideal on their own. We can’t completely discount this because our nature is in the divine image. Balancing this with our sinful habits and delusions is the challenge.

Another point Professor Strauss made while talking about how the idea of human nature changed with Machiavelli, was that man began to be seen as an individual and not as a social being. In his desire for self-preservation, he saw after the fact that he needed to be social. I guess this goes along with believing sin is natural. In the Orthodox view, sin is unnatural. Thus, if desiring society is virtuous, then individualism is sinful and not natural. This also fits with the idea of Being as Communion, which I haven’t read.

One can easily idealize and imagine what the perfect society would be like, but its virtuous reality may be far different from that. As long as we strive for it however, by grace we’ll attain it someday – maybe in the next life.

More thoughts on community

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ideally, community is with one’s immediate family, neighbors, and extended family. In the Old Country, this was pretty much one’s only option, though some people did migrate for various reasons. Consider Abraham. In America the pioneers left family behind and were driven west motivated by hunger for more private space. Considering the overcrowding of the cities they came from, I don’t think we should be too hard on them for that, the way they crowded out the Indians notwithstanding. Nevertheless this is the American tradition. Once they had their plot of agricultural land, they banded together with whomever happened to move in the adjoining acreage. This was because they needed each other for survival as was brought up last post where it was also pointed out that today we don’t seem to need these relationships so much. Now we get our necessities more remotely via online shopping at the extreme end of the spectrum. This makes relationships seem more optional. I don’t want to completely vilify this modern development because I think we can romanticize the past arrangements too much. Sometimes people had to flee communities because of dire circumstances, not because they were evil people for not appreciating the ideal clan situation.

Still we are a people of community. With ease of shopping, we can find our community at a distance and according to our individual taste. One can criticize this as being selfish and untraditional, but one can also point to people throughout history who were able to buy imported spices and meet imported people at the market and such. I don’t think anyone ever completely shunned imported things just for being imported. I was surprised to see the Old Believers using plastic laundry baskets in this video series (h/t Gabriel). Speaking of these Old Believers, their community was very selective, and not just based on what was locally available. Sometimes imported elements are needed because they represent one’s past roots, which of course are not all bad. I suppose every Christian who does not live in Jerusalem, Antioch, or maybe Rome has an imported religion, though in Rome some Orthodox Churches are there through more modern importation.

With all this, everyone has to figure out how to live where they are and with what they bring in. What if they are bringing in something that is at odds with what was there before? The American tradition is an enhanced sense of the tension between what the Protestants believe is right, and freedom to choose something else, even the lifestyle the Protestants abandoned in the Industrial Revolution.

Those of other traditions, like Orthodox Jews, often established their own isolated communities to keep their traditional way of life in this country. Others decided to look and act more like Protestant Americans. Of course Protestantism isn’t the complete opposite of Orthodoxy so one has to be careful. Nevertheless, converting to another tradition always places one in a dubious position. Both the cradles and the former community doubt if it should or could be pulled off. Probably not, but we stepchildren exist and have to figure something out.

I have a dream

by Andrea Elizabeth

For the past week I’ve been obsessed by an idea. The possibility of neighboring acreage with a newly built house coming up for sale and what I would do with it has lit me up. Before this, I’ve had my eye on the highest hill around, 6 miles from my house, as being the perfect spot for a traditional Orthodox Church out here, a light shining in the wilderness of ranch-land to the south and Victorian houses to the north. I’ve lived among both, but have been too poor to own either. Now I live among the ranches, one of which through the grapevine I’ve heard is coming up for sale. My current idea is not as traditional as my other one.

It’s actually not my idea. A few years ago a family who used to go to my Church moved back to east Texas where they came from. They would like to purchase some acreage out there, and have a few families live on it and jointly grow their own food. My idea is similar, but a little different. I would like to start a semi-monastic community where people of various backgrounds, but who have monastic leanings, live together either in a multi-dwelling structure to conserve the land for farming, or possibly individual cells. They keep their own finances, cars, and jobs however. Everyone shares the mortgage payment and helps with the garden and the cow. I like the idea of growing towards self-sustainment and being off the grid, but that would not be the main goal. The main purpose is to hopefully have twice daily readers services together in a cool little chapel, possibly like the one above. If everyone lived together, I think they would be more likely to walk together every day to the beautiful little wooden structure and participate. We would still go to our main parish for the less often offered services however. Maybe someday when that Church is more equipped, they could afford to have us get our own priest out here, and then maybe build that traditional Church I mentioned above. Meanwhile I would like for a monastic type person to be able to find a compatible lifestyle, but that strictness would not be required of everyone. There would be some rules however mainly regarding purity and sharing of duties. I’m not sure if married couples or families would live on the property or be encouraged to live in a house close-by like we do. I love the idea of being able to walk to the chapel to pray everyday and help with the grounds, animals, chapel, finances, etc. Other more distant people could commute to the services if they wanted to. There are many people who live in isolating circumstances whom I think would be greatly helped in this type of situation if it were done right.

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