Familiar with that vague sense that something isn’t right? It can feel like going through the motions: get up, go to work, come home, do it again. The boxful of holiday decorations feels like just another item on your endless to do list. No sooner do you arrive at your travel destination, than you want to go home. You hate the book you have been reading, and the conversation of your circle of friends seems disappointing. God is ignoring you. Are you coming down with something, or is it hormones? Whatever it is, we sense our dissatisfaction is not random; we would like to make sense to ourselves. Sometimes, we just feel empty, as if something significant is missing, and we don’t know what it is.
How do you search for something that fills a need with no name? The good news is the bad news: emptiness is a spiritual condition, not a mental disorder. We all spend our lives pursuing something that feels important: maybe your world is right when you are searching for the answer to a question that haunts you, or deep in conversation with a soulmate, or acting on behalf of a cause worth fighting for. Sometimes, it feels as if the well has run dry. What then? It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but how do you move on, when the compass is missing?
Being at the place of the dry well brings a tangle of emotion; we can feel sad, irritable and numb, all of them unwelcome experiences. This is starting to sound like a problem about feelings, and we urgently want a solution. If we can get a diagnosis, we can solve this. If we spend any time online or watching cable tv, we can come up with a shopping list of helpful psych meds to discuss with our health care provider, in case of depression or anxiety. There’s a reasonable chance they might brighten our mood. But what if discouragement is actually a useful clue about our emptiness, a healthy spiritual restlessness rather than just a pathological emotion we need to eradicate?
If you feel depressed, therapy and medication can save your life. If you feel empty, medication will not make it go away. If you feel empty, you are out of touch with your heart’s needs, and there is no substitute for pausing the action and listening to it. Probably there have been moments that were truly meaningful to you, not just an adrenalin rush or a warm fuzzy, and it is important to take note of them. They may form a pattern that leads somewhere new and interesting. Truth in advertising: this is not a quick process. This is called a spiritual journey for a reason. Depression comes to us when we feel lost and empty, and we want and deserve a path out. But first, a question: if your life were unchanged, except for your sadness, would it be enough?