|Self with fellow students in the Augustinian Order, 1985. Not one person shown stayed!|
When I left Religious Life I spent nearly two months literally in this Slough of Despond, in this personal Hades, in the Desert. This is a far more desperate place to be than the experience of being lost. Indeed, to use a very facile mathematical image, it is like being lost raised to the nth power. That experience is akin to how the Gerard Manley Hopkins felt in the Terrible Sonnets or the despairing psalmist felt at stages in the Book of Psalms or how Josef K felt about his torment in Kafka's novel of despair, called The Trial.
This is the heart of existentialism - the angst of lived existence, and only those who have been there, experienced some despair can talk about it. Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, to whom I have referred a few lines back knew this black despair as he wrote: "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.// What hours, O what black hours we have spent//This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!// And more must, in yet longer light's delay." These are the first four lines of the Terrible Sonnet No. 45, and later on in the same angst-ridden poem he gives us this wonderful, if angst-filled line to ponder: "Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours" and opines that all other lost souls, or rather despairing souls "are like this, and their scourge to be// As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse."
Night sweats are indeed often part of the depressive's night as I can attest from my personal experience. Being in the desert is a lonely experience, and one cannot just decide to exit from it at any time one wants. One goes with the experience till it ends, whether that be by medical intervention or quite simply when the period of depression burns itself out, or when any particular sickness runs its course. It is truly the Slough of Despond as one does not know when the dwelling in the desert is going to end. In the midst of the desert there is the sheer blackness of unknowing and this, too, adds greatly to the physical and mental suffering.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
|Self, teaching in the Gaeltacht in more recent years|
Teaching with Renewed Vigour and Energy
It was as if I had been tested in a furnace; that I had journeyed in the desert; that I had been to Hades and back, and had survived. I had come through, and had emerged wounded and broken maybe, but not crushed or left for dead. I found that I had a new confidence in class. I was now no longer as idealistic as I had been during my first period of teaching. I remained in St David's for two years where I taught Mathematics, Religion, History and English. Once again, the range of subjects in which I was qualified was no little help and my general knowledge was always wide. This time round I made precious few mistakes in disciplining any class. In fact, I was pretty good with all classes and had little or no trouble during my two years in the hallowed halls of St.David's, Artane. I loved my time teaching there, and did a lot of Meditation work, in which I had built up a certain expertise over the years, with the pupils there. Indeed, I worked closely with a former Provincial of the Christian Brothers, a Bro. Timothy Claver Leonard, CFC in leading meditation sessions in line with Eastern and Christian practice. I also qualified, under Tim Leonard's direction, in presenting and assessing the MBTI, an indicator which seeks to determine, or, at least allow the candidates, to determine their character type. This was interesting work from which I learnt a lot about human behaviour.
Also, while in David's I met one of my life-long friends, Tom Gleeson, and I engaged in team-teaching or co-teaching and observation of classes with Tom. We learnt a lot from each other as to what teaching could and should be. Over the two years there, I grew in confidence as a teacher and felt that I had a store of practical wisdom to share with my pupils from all my own experience of living. Bear in mind that I had done several months of pastoral experience while in Religious Life - two months in Meath Street where I co-ordinated a Summer Project and I also did a month of visiting the sick. Later I was to spend a month in Galway where I worked in a drop-in centre called Tagaste House. While there, I worked with reformed alcoholics and drug addicts. All of this practical experience, coupled with my academic studies and my descent into Hades had strengthened me and given me a deep insight into life which I could share with my charges.