Dear Ones —

I've been asked again today how to find light in a time of hopelessness.

I am always daunted when I get asked questions as heavy and important as this. But I feel I have to take a swing at it, too. If somebody asks for your help, after all, you are duty-bound to try.

So here goes:

When I was in the worst of my depression and despair, a friend came to me with this simple idea: "You cannot force out the darkness; you can only bring in the light."

She could see that I was fighting the darkness with everything that I had, and that it wasn't working so well. She asked me to imagine that I was in a small, darkened room (not difficult to imagine, at that moment in my life) and that I had a broom, and that I was trying to sweep the darkness out. Was it working? No. Of course it wasn't working. When you try to sweep out darkness, it is instantly replaced by only more darkness. When I punched at the darkness, did it diminish? No. I was only taking wild swings into the eternal black night.

"Stop fighting the darkness. Stop pushing it. You have to bring in the light," she kept saying. "No matter how small."

The tricky question when you are suffering, of course, is: How?

But her words resonated with something in me, and I began a practice, first thing every day when I woke up. I would always wake up in pain and sorrow during that time (as if depression had been sitting on the edge of my bed all night, waiting for me patiently) but I started doing what I called an emotional CAT-scan on myself, first thing every morning.

I would lie there in the silence and scan my entire being, just like a radiologist would. But unlike a radiologist, I was not looking for disease. I was not looking for dark spots; I was looking for spots of light within the vast darkness. Could I find even one molecule of goodness or grace or ease within me? Was there any person who, when I thought of them, brought a sense of gratitude? Was there any task I could imagine doing that day that seemed remotely pleasant or rewarding? Was there some item of food I could imagine eating (not binging; not "assault-eating", but just enjoying) that brought me a tiny glimmer of imagined enjoyment?

I would pore through the darkness (and there was plenty of it, believe me) and I would scan and scan and scan until I could eventually find even one tiny cluster of light cells within me. I was looking for the opposite of a tumor; I was looking for a minuscule pinpoint of goodness.

Once I found it (usually in thoughts of love or kindness, or in some extremely modest pleasure, like "It would be nice to wash these sheets today so that tonight I have clean sheets on my bed") I would ask myself if there was anything — ANYTHING — I could do that day to build upon that tiny cluster of light cells within me.

Because that is what you need — you need to figure out how to help that tiny cluster of light to grow a tiny bit bigger by the day. And the only way for that to happen is if you help the light increase, through some sort of distinct action on your part.

If it was love for another person that lifted me somewhat, could I do some act of kindness that day toward that person? Write a letter to my grandmother, maybe? Call my young nephew and sing him a funny song on the phone? If it was thoughts of my best friend that uplifted me a bit, maybe rather than calling her (yet again) to cry on the phone about my sorrows that day, could I bring a surprise cup of coffee and some flowers to her while she was at work? If it was general sense of human compassion that stirred something alive in me, what if I went to the bakery and bought two dozen bagels and spent the morning distributing them to homeless people? If thoughts of a merciful god — no matter how distant — encouraged me, could I pray? If I could come up with nothing better than the dinky little thought that clean sheets might be nice, then why stop at the sheets? What if I also mobilized all my powers and gave myself the gift of a clean bathtub, as well? (Oh, heroic! A clean bathtub! This is no small task when you are depressed, but sometimes I could pull it off.)

I tell you, there were days when I REALLY had to reach. But I reached. I reached for the light, and wherever I could find it (no matter how teensy) I worked on growing it.

I can't say that I got better by the day in any regular, quantifiable manner. Emotional recovery doesn't work like that. It's not a grid and we not machines. Our minds and our lives are too messy for steady incremental progress to measured in any scientific manner. Some days you inch forward; other days you fall back. But I got better by the month. I got better by the year. The clusters of light within me grew because I tended to them and I fed them. Whatever you feed, grows.

I didn't push out the darkness, because I could not. I don't have that power. Instead, I brought in the light, and the light pushed out the darkness for me.

I hope this helps.

Fight for your lives, dear ones. Fight for your lives.


via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Wall