On October 11, 2020, I decided to commit suicide. The plan was to unsheathe my switchblade, plunge it into my jugular vein, and immediately remove it so I could bleed out as quickly as possible. Heartache was making my intestines hurt so badly that I wanted to die rather than try to tough out the increasingly intense pain. I was scared to find out how bad it would get. I took a deep breath and readied myself. As I exhaled, I suddenly had a vision of my ex-girlfriend’s face. She was crying, just as hard as I was crying, as if she was mirroring me. I dismissed this vision quickly as I’d been having lots of strange visions during the preceding weeks. Then the face transformed into my mother’s. She mirrored me, too.
What happened next was well beyond my comprehension. The best way I can summarize it is this: It was as if I was instantly with my entire ancestry and all my progeny, like we were all at a family picnic. In that moment, it was clear that killing myself would break a chain that’s been in existence for longer than my overstimulated chimpanzee brain can fathom and for reasons I’ll never understand. The moment ended, the pain remained, but the plan was ultimately abandoned. There wasn’t a chance I was going to break that chain.
The visions stopped that day, as did the suicidal ideation, but depression followed. I spent months grieving, both for literal and metaphorical deaths that piled on faster than I previously thought they could. It wasn’t fun. I felt like I was forced out of my mind and had to rediscover not only how to function, but why. This is the new reality of depression. “Why did I get out of bed this morning?” was no longer a thing I’d say to coworkers in passing to get a cheap laugh. In the new reality, I wasn’t sure why that happened.
There is a vastness in sadness that gives me a generous amount of space to observe. Given how lethargic I was during that time, I paid close attention to why I spent the little energy I had on certain things. I found new understandings about the purpose of my actions and eventually discovered existing ideas to make sense of my experiences. I knew why I urinated, why I listened to music, why I went to work. All of it initially seemed pointless in the pits of despair, yet I kept mechanically doing it and figured out why as I crawled out. Despite using a variety of methods to improve and maintain my mental health, I still feel attached to the fall of 2020. I’m well past the grief and heartache, but there are still remnants I’ve kept mostly hidden, unsure of the correct way to display them. I’ve shown bits and pieces to those close to me, but that doesn’t feel like enough.
At 25 years old, I constantly see my peers in crisis. Our mental health is challenged as soon as we wake up, unlock our phones and go on social media. We may watch an unarmed person get shot by police, or read about the impending doom of climate change, or see a billionaire flaunting their putrid amount of wealth while others starve. I have friends who have gone silent as they navigate their own depressive episodes, leaving me to anxiously wonder whether or not they’ll come out the other side unscathed, while others have let me in to see the dark corners of their mind. Sharing what I’ve experienced is probably not going to cure depression in anyone. Those who are depressed and reading this should, if applicable, take their medication, go to therapy, exercise, and do whatever they need to do to get better. However, I know from hearing the experiences of others that there is healing going on at some level when we share our woes. It’s even better when we share how we got through them. That allows us to mirror each other.
One friend told me how she wishes she could slow down, that life is moving by too fast. We’re on a planet that is helplessly hurtling through the universe at 1.3 million miles per hour, circling a supermassive black hole, destined to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy 4.5 billion years from now long after all earthly life has gone extinct. We get bogged down identifying with these fleshy meat sacks stuck to Earth by gravitational forces too difficult for most to overcome. We consider ourselves to be nothing more than our bodies and brains rather than what lies beyond. I want my friend to know that she is only bound by time if she so chooses. She shouldn’t worry much about her life moving by. Death is like taking a shit; it’s going to happen eventually whether we’re ready for it or not. It’s similar to the present. It doesn’t stop coming no matter what.
Before displaying the remnants, it will be helpful to know the framework these remnants pushed me to examine. While it may seem a little hokey, and frankly it kind of is, this is what I find to be true relative to my experience. This is all just neurons firing away, really. Who damned me to have to come up with such a convoluted perspective that borders on the absurd? I guess at the very least this is just another way to make life more entertaining.
On April 18, 1970, the author Ram Dass spoke to a group of people in Dublin, New Hampshire. During the talk, he described the Hindu seven chakra system. He explained that energy flows through the system like a river and centers on something different at each chakra. Although he used a variety of analogies to illustrate the chakras, I will only use what I found most pertinent when reiterating his description and make my own additions where necessary.
The first chakra is where energy centers on survival. Once homeostasis is achieved, energy goes toward the second chakra that is preoccupied with sensual gratification. Given this, the second chakra is often associated with sexual intercourse. From there, energy goes to focus on a symbolic self in the third chakra. Now surviving and gratified, energy wants to enhance the entity it’s within to its maximum potential. For humans, this manifests in acts of power or control, such as fighting in a war or racing a car.
The fourth chakra is where things get weird. It is here where energy can no longer be limited within an individual entity like a human body. That is why energy converges upon compassion in the fourth chakra. Once energy starts to break down perceptions of separateness and the interconnectivity of phenomena becomes more apparent, it is natural that compassion grows. Then, in the fifth chakra, energy pulls toward God. There it is, the big G word that everyone has been getting all riled up about for centuries. Bare with me regardless of your beliefs. For the sake of clarity, I’ll only use one of the many definitions of God going forward, but I’ll need the help of 13th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart in order to do just that:
Everything that is has the fact of its being through being and from being. Therefore, if being is something different from God, a thing has its being from something other than God. Besides, there is nothing prior to being because that which confers being creates and is a creator. To create is to give being out of nothing.
For those unfamiliar with Christianity, it's important to know that most, if not all, Christians believe in a creator deity. All Eckhart is illustrating here is that if everything is being and all that is being came from creation, then everything is God. That means you are God. Congratulations. If this is the first time you’ve understood that, spare the rest of us and don’t let it turn into a third chakra ego trip. Everyone else is God, too, so don’t start acting foolish.
Even further out is the sixth chakra, where we find the Godhead. Again, Eckhart will aid us with this rarely discussed idea:
Everything in the Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to be said. God works, the Godhead does no work, there is nothing to do; in it is no activity. It never envisaged any work. God and Godhead are as different as active and inactive.
Eckhart is describing the ousia of God. It is paradoxical, since the Godhead is the Godhead when it is not the Godhead. For the more Eastern-inclined, Zen monk D.T. Suzuki found that Eckhart’s Godhead was similar to the Buddhist idea of sunyata as well as Lao-tzu’s Tao. Is your head spinning? Yeah? No worries, because the whole system is about to completely implode.
Ram Dass describes the seventh chakra as Para Brahman, a Hindu term meaning that which is beyond all form. If the Godhead is contradictory, Para Brahman is beyond contradiction. Don’t even bother trying to conceptualize Para Brahman; whatever you can come up with will fall short. Energy is not energy at the highest chakra, which is not even a chakra.
Before I heard this particular talk, I found the chakras to be woo-woo. Malarkey. Caca. However, looking at chakras as a framework for energy is intriguing. Let’s face it: you probably won’t want to have sex if you haven’t eaten in three days. You’re not going to be like Ramakrishna if you have no money and desperately crave cash. If you’re selfish, you’re not going to be very compassionate. There’s a feeble logic to it and then rationality gets thrown out the window, perhaps rightly so.
I noticed the chakra system had parallels to another somewhat fragile structure: Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Psychologist Dan Tomasulo pointed out the similarities between the two systems in 2011. Take for example Maslow’s physiological needs (food, water, oxygen, etc.) and how it compares to the survival instincts in the first chakra. Also consider the esteem level in Maslow’s system (respecting oneself and others) and its resemblance to the fourth chakra. Tomasulo points out that scientists and mystics approach the same truths from different directions with contrasting methods. Disregard either and you may not capture the full scope of the truth.
It doesn't occur to me that the chakras are meant to be viewed as a strict hierarchy (nor does the Maslow model), but rather that energy can move between the different centerpoints freely. From this point of view, I can’t help but see overlap with natural philosopher Émilie du Châtelet’s law of conservation of energy, which states that energy is neither created or destroyed. Who’s to say that energy does or doesn’t grow finer and finer, moving into a more massive and overwhelming state that most humans never experience? Is this why hallucinations, especially those induced by psychedelic chemicals, are so dumbfounding? Is this when the brain is tuned into a higher form of energy not accessible in everyday capitalistic life? We may never know.
As I developed this spiritual-psychological-physical pseudoscientific framework, I used it to hone in on what my motivations were. I’d eat a cookie because it tasted good, not for its admittedly lacking nutrients. I sometimes lusted for a person because I wanted control over them, not strictly to gratify myself. Legitimacy aside, the chakras gave me a way to understand what I was doing while navigating the horrifying circus of complete nonsense all around me.
On November 7, 2020, it would’ve been my maternal grandmother’s 86th birthday had she not passed away in the spring. That morning, I drove to my parents’ home to meet up with my mom. I’d be visiting my grandmother’s final resting place with her to pay my respects for the first time. By that point in the fall, I was so emotionally drained, so hollow, that I felt the gravity of the visit would have little effect on me. This proved to be true, as I never had even the slightest urge to shed a tear the entire day.
To escalate the visit further, this was also my initial visit to my aunt and uncle’s graves, the youngest children of my grandmother. Both of them had passed away due to unfortunate circumstances several years before my grandmother’s death. Their ashes were kept in her closet until my mother chose to lay all three of them to rest together. It was time to properly grieve for them, something I believe my grandmother struggled to do. Who could blame her?
I never met my aunt. She had problems that afflicted her for many years which prevented us from knowing each other. My uncle also had his issues, but luckily I did know him my whole life. He was a strange man to say the least who nonetheless made me laugh whenever we saw each other. The wildest thing that ever came out of his mouth was this: “The downfall of Western civilization began when they invented birth control.” Whatever point he was trying to make is insignificant. He was unapologetically who he was, warts and all.
My mom and I arrived at the gravesite. We put down the flowers we’d brought and my mother spoke to all three of them. My hollowness allowed me to comfort her without wavering. All I had to do was stand there and put a hand on her shoulder as she talked. That was all I really could do. I looked at the graves - what was essentially the entirety of my mother’s blood relatives - and realized how important it was to her, and at a different level, to my grandmother, that I was there. I was surviving and that was all that mattered.
While I was surviving, I was by no means thriving. In 15 days, I would mistakenly give myself an awful haircut that made me look like a disheveled monk. The look made sense since I was spending so much time sitting or laying down, meditating or otherwise, in my barren room that contained only a mattress, some bedsheets and a phone charger. The things that usually gave me pleasure had become incredibly dull. Music, motorsport, stand-up comedy, you name it, the enjoyment just wasn’t there. Pursuing pleasure felt fruitless.
To make up for this lack of gratification, it only made sense to increase my intake of particular substances that brought me euphoria. I’d drink as much as 3 cups of black coffee a day, rip a marijuana pen every few minutes in the evenings, drink copious amounts of vodka on top of that, and every so often smoke a bowl of molasses-covered tobacco using a hookah rig. Most nights that autumn, I would get totally blitzed, stumble into my bedroom and knock out right away. If I wasn’t completely wrecked, I would remain awake in bed drowning in negative thoughts. Crying myself to sleep was sometimes the method I used to induce slumber, but combining alcohol and cannabis was a much easier and efficient way to get some rest. I was either high or very low, no inbetween.
As night fell that Saturday, I started setting up my hookah rig when I received a text from my best friend. It was sent in a three-person group chat that included my ex-girlfriend, with whom he was also friends. It read:
“... deng… I’m gonna have to hang with y’all separately :( I just realized
Many loves to you two, i miss you both so”
My ex-girlfriend replied shortly afterward: “Miss you too”
I didn’t respond. I wanted as little communication, attention, and sunlight as I could have in order to continue being the human equivalent of a hermit crab’s discarded, decaying shell. I couldn’t have come up with anything to say even if I’d tried. I missed them both dearly, but they both knew that. I hadn’t seen my ex in a month, and hadn’t seen my best friend in two. COVID-19 case rates were skyrocketing to new heights, so it seemed unlikely I would see either of them - or anyone - soon. Isolation was what my immediate future looked to hold. Exactly what a depressed person wants, but doesn’t need. My symbolic self, Jack Kaup, whose social security number is this and net worth is that, was no longer important. I knew my ego was a mere illusion, so when I was alone I didn’t feel the need to perpetuate it.
Shortly afterward, I was on my porch occupying my mouth with a rocks glass half full of vodka, the dab pen and the hookah mouthpiece interchangeably. I very quickly became a triple threat of drunk, stoned and buzzed. As I filled my lungs and liver with toxins, I suddenly heard a noise that frightened me. The noise itself wasn’t concerning, but the surprise of its occurrence was. It was cheering. It had been months since I’d heard other human beings cheering for something - anything. Alarmed, more so than normal due to weed-induced paranoia, I searched in the direction the cheering came from to understand why it happened. Through an open window, I saw two women in their living room drinking wine. On their television screen was Joe Biden, delivering his presidential acceptance speech.
In my haze of despondence, I had completely forgotten about the most important event going on in America, mainly because it became obvious on election night that the race was too close to call and would be so for several days. I suspected Biden would end up defeating Donald Trump, but didn’t care enough to stay up to date. I watched the women watch their TV and couldn’t help but think they might as well be watching sports, celebrating their favorite team’s victory. The vitriol and stark divisiveness in America disgusted me, so much so that I beat a hasty retreat from social media before my depressive phase even started. Biden’s win seemed so trivial to me and yet the women were hanging on his every word.
I considered what Trump supporters were feeling. Angry, disappointed, maybe even outright devastated. Strangely, I felt bad for them. Perhaps even stranger, I felt bad for the wine-drinking women as well. They’d been duped yet again into cheering for an old white man who they believed could single-handedly improve their already somewhat decent lives. What happened that made them so blind to how the nation’s political processes actually worked? I wish I could tell them to curb their fervor, to save themselves the trouble, and that regardless of who was in the Oval Office they should cherish the fact that they still have each other.
The chain I couldn’t break, which includes every single person previously mentioned, everyone from Meister Eckhart to Donald Trump, is bound together by compassion. It is ridiculous how easy it is to have compassion for everyone and everything. When you’re caught up in the first three chakras, though, it sometimes doesn’t feel possible, or it seems like it doesn’t make sense to do so. Once you work with those chakras in service of the fourth, nothing needs to make sense anymore. You may benefit from being compassionate, you may not. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others were murdered despite making being compassionate their priority. Their compassion was more important than their lives. It put them on the path to immortality that so few are brave enough to walk.