It’s hard to explain how it is possible to go from a state of complete hopelessness and a sense that the universe is profoundly hostile, to a state of optimism and and the experience of receiving support from the world and others within a single day. The fact of the matter is that it often seems as though there are parallel universes that we live in.
The universe we live in is defined to a large extent by our mood and beliefs. Right next door to the one we live in are a series of alternate universes that we could inhabit that are defined by a different mood and set of beliefs.
It’s not necessarily that one universe is more “real” than another. The person who is depressed can point to very real negative things in the world around him, but at the same time, he is attending to only parts of the world. He searches the world and finds all the things that are scary or disturbing, in another state of mind he might find only things that are exciting and encouraging. All of us have to filter the overwhelming sensory information that comes our way, and all of us have a strong tendency to notice things that fit our current mood and our current beliefs.
But how can we find those parallel universes?
Mood charting, or writing a diary, or going through photo albums, any activity that allows us to recall times when we were in a different mood, can all be helpful.
Another source of information about parallel universes is derived from our relationships with other people. Probably all of us have had the experience of spending time with a good friend and, at the end of that time together, realizing that one’s sense of the world has changed as a result of seeing things through the other person’s eyes.
Carl Rogers, who long time readers of this blog will recall, is a favorite author on topics related to psychology, had this to say in a chapter he wrote about personal learnings.
“I have found it of enormous help when I can permit myself to understand another.”
He was referring to the value of entering into another person’s world and seeing things as the other person sees them.
I believe that one of the values of this experience is that it is an antidote to our tendency to get stuck in one particular universe, or one particular view of the world.
I wrote this piece as a way of putting together some of my thoughts about how it may be possible to come out of a state of chronic depression, for the mother of a wonderful man who we have been seeing for a while who seems really stuck in his view of the world as hopeless and hostile.
The attitude of openness to understanding others’ experiences and the willingness to consider how it might be possible to see the world in a different way, is part of how it is that some people are able avoid depression.
Often it seems that cognitive therapy is founded on the idea that one way of perceiving the world is “true” and another way is not accurate.
I am not sure that this is at all helpful or accurate.
The most helpful experience may be just the recognition that there are alternative universes that could be experienced. None of these universes is real in the sense that it contains all the truth. But exploring these other worlds can be very valuable.