Just a few thoughts, about psychology, mysticism, depression, and Jung.
I suffered from depression a good bit, on and off starting from when I was 14, but it’s possible that I was in distress for a good while before that. I think I was really stressed out in boarding school.
Anyway, I was a hell of a depressed undergrad, and the depression continued for some years after graduation. I won’t go into the causes here.
I became interested in both mysticism and psychology. I was basically hunting for a cure (typical me, trying to self medicate!). In the mid-1990s there was this thing called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) which became quite popular in the self-help book genre. NLP seems to be a watered down version of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which was at the time de rigeur treatment for depression (I have heard that there has since been a resurgence of the Freudian school psychotherapy).
NLP is actually harder to apply than the books would have you believe. I tried, but some key was missing. I went back to mysticism… I tried to learn to meditate (dhikr) properly and learn the proper attitude to take in prayer. Imam Ghazali’s books were of tremendous help: I finally found the key!
(I found out that Imam Ghazali also went through a period of soul-searching and sadness, which is why I sought out his books– if he had managed to resolve his internal crisis, his books would offer me a clue to my problems! I also learned that there is considerable hostility to Imam Ghazali, thanks to Salafism being in vogue on many campuses. I got little sympathy for depression and considerable scorn for practicing dhikr. I now avoid mentioning these things to known Salafis, and avoid Salafis when they come in groups.)
The key is simple: what you know in your head and what your heart understands can be very different. My head understood that God is Merciful. My heart was lagging very far behind and did not understand. This is in part due to preachers perpetually going on about sins and hell-fire while forgetting to mention the other half of the message that God is Merciful. To be sure, many laypersons are recalcitrant and may need the firebrand approach; but there are some fragile hearts too who need hope.
Anyway at one point my heart finally understood that God listens to prayers even if you’re not perfect. It’s good to work on your conduct, etc, etc, but honestly, perfection is quite impossible for me. I felt like a dumbass for not understanding earlier. I felt like a guest who ran out of the King’s banquet because I spilled a little gravy… then the King asked, “Errr… what’s wrong? Why did he run out like that, for such a little thing?”
Well, that was a first step. I still had some way to go, but life was much more bearable somehow. Setbacks no longer threw me down for days, like they used to.
I still had to work on a few things though. There was the matter of flashbacks, memories of bad experiences that crop up when a setback occurs. At this point I now found that I could put into practice the techniques of NLP. I had to go into an altered state of mind to be able to do this, and the previous breakthrough had enabled me. I then deliberately recalled the bad experiences (which I won’t into), one by one, as many as I could recall, and forgave.
I still was getting gloomy episodes though, when I wondered, why don’t I have happy memories? I couldn’t remember being treated well. So I shifted my consciousness (it gets easier with practice)… and tried my best to dig up happy memories.
It was harder than I thought, and I could, at the time, only think up two or three happy memories, rare nice things that such and such a person did (I had mostly memories of the bad things the people did, which I had already dealt with as above.) It didn’t seem like much, but… surprisingly, it was enough. All I needed was two or three! In the time since then, more good memories have come up, few at a time and shyly, but there nevertheless.
I now wondered why NLP worked with my meditation…. the answer is that NLP is based on the works of Carl Gustav Jung on the modalities of thought. Jung had broken away from Sigmund Freud because Freud objected to him studying…. mysticism! Jung borrowed a lot of concepts from spiritual traditions! Some concepts which I had found to be equivalent:
- Jung’s Archetypes == Alam al-Mithal (world of similes and archetypes)
- the mental techniques used in NLP are comparable to the technique called muhasaba (self-reckoning). Muhasaba is usually referred to in the context of accounting you good and bad deeds, but apparently it can also be used for other purposes…
Things came full circle. There are some differences: what I have heard of Alam al-Mithal is that it is an actual world or dimension where objects that actually exist have meanings. My guess is that if one burrows into other states of mind deeply enough, the Archetypes may seem to be quite real. The Archetypes may combine in some ways to convey meaning, very likely some clue about your mental or spiritual state… but I don’t know… I am not a full-blown psychonaut.