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Friday, November 11, 2016


Anhedonia, from the Greek meaning "without pleasure," is the inability to experience enjoyment from activities you once found satisfying, such as exercise, hobbies, music, sex or socializing. It is one of the two hallmark symptoms of depression, the other being sadness. Surprise! 

Described by psychologist William James as a "passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and spring," anhedonia was coined as a nod to "analgesia," or the inability to feel pain. Joylessness is a very common phenomenon in today's world. And you don't have to be clinically depressed to lose that spring in your step. An hour spent sitting in traffic or standing in line at the DMV is enough to crush the soul. 

So what do you do if your former pastimes cease to fulfill you? You have done nearly every recreational drug out there, some uppers, some downers. You've consumed oceans of alcohol. Traveled the world. Explored higher education. Done a lot of relating with the opposite sex, if you know what I mean. Competed in athletic events. Read volumes of literature. Cleaned out your closets and scrubbed your toilets. Donated your possessions. Volunteered your time. Taking a page from Voltaire, you have cultivated your garden. When suddenly you are visited by the urge to do nothing. You get sun and sleep more and eat greens and take supplements. But you cannot shake off this pestering malaise. And so you sit and wait. But even doing nothing is not fully satisfying, and the gnawing feeling of disquietude, of an exhausted mind that cannot find rest even in physical immobility, will not go away. 

Do you seek out a new breed of stimulation? Do you grab your phone and call an acquaintance, turn on the TV or surf porn or give online dating another go? Do you get back into video games for the first time since college even though today's systems with their half a dozen buttons and busy screens are far too disorienting to entertain? Maybe you take another vacation? Do you cry along with Huey Lewis: "I want a new drug, one that won't make me nervous, wondering what to do, one that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you, when I'm alone with you"? What if you don't feel like being with anybody? What if you just want to be alone? Do you diagnose yourself with depression or let a therapist do the dirty work? You can, only to get put on an anti-depressants. Which may work, in addition to making you tired and heavy and annihilate your already waning sex drive. Your insurance probably wouldn't cover it, and wasting money on yet another pill would only make you feel worse.

In bygone eras when feeling down I would change my hairstyle, go see a movie or maybe go to the mall. I'd come away with a new outfit and a stomach full of pizza and credit card debt. A day later I had a cluttered closet, indigestion and credit card debt. But then I recognized all this for what it is: a distraction. Like modern medicine, distracting yourself from your existential angst is treating the symptoms, not the cause. It is putting a band-aid on a metaphysical wound. And though band-aids may protect a wound from infection, by cutting off exposure to oxygen they also prevent you from fully healing. 

So if adopting a new hobby won't fulfill you, you are suffering what the ancients diagnosed long before there were psychiatrists to give anhedonia its catchy moniker. Long before even the Greeks were around. These ancients - the Aryans or nobles who descended from the Himalayas to spread their advanced culture - taught that losing interest in the affairs of life was a necessary step in spiritual evolution. It is okay for the child to be persistently fascinated by the external world with its sights and sounds and sensual enjoyments. But this is all Maya, these ancients taught. Or illusion. The material realm is not all there is. And it is only when surrounding events lose their allure that the individual is inspired or at least compelled to seek a sustained source of enjoyment. And that enjoyment can be found within. So the nobles of time immemorial taught meditation, merging with the one consciousness that is both source and sustaining force of all. By closing your eyes and sitting quietly in a space free of external distractions, by quieting the mind and regulating the breathing, you can attune yourself with the primal force, which these ancients gave a name, and that name was Aum. Or as the Christians and Jews like to say: Amen.

We can say with Ernest Becker that "the distinctive human problem from time immemorial has been the need to spiritualize human life, to lift it onto a special immortal plane, beyond the cycles of life and death that characterize all other organisms." If this is the problem, you are the solution, because what you truly are - pure spirit - is immortal and beyond life and death and pleasure and pain. And only when the old pleasures seem tired and worn, only when the flavors of life lose their taste and the colors lose their vividness, that you finally turn within to experience the true wonder that shines inside and that lends its brightness and flavor to all of life. 

And you chant with these ancients of yore, "Tat, twam asi." Or: "All that there is I am." You realize that you are what you seek, and at long last you find lasting peace. Or so they say.

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