Being Creative about Depression Exhibition
At an individual level or at an international level, the solution for many of humanity’s challenges can be found in the courageous act of dialogue. Choosing dialogue is itself the triumph of peace and of humanity. Similarly, in challenging the isolation of depression and destigmatising the condition to encourage people to seek advice and help, we are presenting the Dark to Dawn Being Creative About Depression exhibition.
As depression plays a large part in many people’s life experience, both currently and historically, this initiative was created to engage people in dialogue by introducing broad ranging and yet hopeful perspectives with the hope of relieving the suffering associated with depression. These include challenging tendencies toward insularity and isolation.
The views expressed are not limited to clinical analysis nor are they promoting the idea of a single ‘cure’ or solution. It is an approach that we hope will open a dialogue about a new way of perceiving depression – not as an anomaly but as a potentially valuable part of the human psyche that can be a driver of creativity and possibility to contribute to humanity. Emphasis is placed on confirming the belief in the intrinsic value of human life, the worth of each person’s unique expression and experience, as well as the value of sharing experiences to give them greater purpose and meaning. The exhibition and forum challenge us to view depression as a part of our life experience that has the potential to be expressed creatively, opening a new possibility of living a full, interactive life. We hope to activate this perception through dialogue and seeking possibilities for people to believe in their own value and purpose in their daily experience.
The exhibition is accompanied by a short film, Dark to Light, directed and produced by Daniel Askill with Music by Michael Askill. A circle of 60 cameras was used to capture 3-dimensional, moving images of dancers. The resulting images allude to the individual’s immense potential for transformation and change. The sound component uses the ancient resonances and haunting sounds of Himalayan singing bowls.
Please read more from the Dark to Dawn Handbook:
- Historical Perspective
- Melancholy and the Black Dog
- Motivating Force
- Creative Contribution
- A New Perspective
- Purposeful Struggle
- Courageous Reflection
- Creative Individuals
- Inner Struggle
- Meaningful and Contributive
- Challenging Perceptions
- Active Listening
- De-Stigmatising Depression
- Creative Expression
- Challenging Isolation
- Interdependent and Interconnected
- Heart to Heart Dialogue
- Unifying Purpose of Humanity
- Hopeful Perspectives
- Unique and Intrinsic Value
- The Contrast
- Buddhism – Engaged Humanism
- To Transform
- Inner Transformation
- Decision of Hope
- Making Room for Dialogue
This handbook has been created as part of an exhibition on depression that includes a video installation by two of Australia’s leading artists: Michael Askill (composer) and Daniel Askill (film maker). The role of art has always been to evoke untapped emotions in the human spirit and reflect aspects of society that are sometimes challenging. This artistic contribution is intended to fulfil the role of opening a dialogue amongst those who view it – another function that art has always performed for humanity. In addition to this artistic expression there are displays that range from historical perspectives through more questioning ones, to the personal accounts of those who have challenged their perception of depression. It is the intent of the exhibition to create a space for dialogue and foster the possibility of constantly evolving thought.
The insular nature of depression means that it is all too easy to regard oneself as being different or abnormal, it is this perception that may sever a person’s connection with the world and the people around them. The reason for dialogue is that it opens up new avenues in our lives by breaking down habitual notions about depression and challenges the perception of it as a disease that must be eradicated. By definition, the simple act of communication makes us aware of our commonalities; from this stand point we are able to see it as being part of the human condition and are able to seek a creative transformation for our lives.
It must be stated that this exhibition does not propose a single solution, it is not a clinical nor analytical proposition. Its purpose is to inspire dialogue, possibly the most creative act of humanity; it is this simple act of bravery that can spark our transformation. The power of dialogue opens an immediacy of interaction. It enables the discovery of the virtues of our own humanity right where we are. Through the opportunities offered by the creative act of dialogue we stop seeking a destination, instead our expression becomes a constant and energising experience through which we reveal our potential and value. We reveal the innate worth in all human expression, whether positive or negative.
Every life represents a unique and valuable experience, when we involve ourselves in dialogue with another human being we are opening ourselves to a whole new world. The story of every life is individual, and there is much to discover about the person before us. What is proposed here is the possibility of exploration, for in so doing, we actually reveal the creative potential of our own lives, we begin to see the authentic humanity in others, and help them to see the same.
This exhibition has been created by SGI Australia with the support of Professor Stuart Rees, Director, Sydney Peace Foundation; Professor Di Bretherton, Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies; Joan Anderson and Anthony George, Office of Public Information SGI; and the members of SGI Australia.
Depression has been a part of the human condition for as long as history has been recorded. Known by various epithets such as melancholy and the black dog, recent advances in treatment – medication, alternative and therapeutic – have helped relieve the symptoms of depression for many people. Less attention has been paid to its role as a motivating force for valuable contributions. Although the experience has been painful, many great artists, thinkers, significant figures and common people alike have made their battle with depression a source of their creative contribution to humanity.
Melancholy and the Black Dog
Melancholy is derived from the Greek for ‘black bile’, and originates in the old medical theory of the four humours, whereby disease was caused by an imbalance in one of the four basic bodily fluids. Personality types were thereby determined in the same way – so that someone suffering a melancholic disposition would have a preponderance of black bile.
The use of the phrase black dog to refer to depression was popularised by Winston Churchill, and in all probability he inherited it from his nanny, Mrs Everest (b. circa 1830). Prior to this, there are examples in the correspondence between Samuel Johnson and Mrs Thrale, “Long live Sir John Shelly, that lures my master to hunt. I hope he will soon shake off the black dog, and come home light as a feather.” Although Johnson referred to himself as being under great depression in 1761, depression as a term was not widely employed until the 20th century.
Do we consider ourselves defined by depression or do we seek healing by embracing the condition as part of who we are? The idea that we can regard any kind of depression as a motivating force may well be very confronting, however, in doing so we open up the possibility of creating a purposeful expression. Depression may be the starting point from which we can reveal a new expression.
The idea that depression can become a creative contribution is challenging. The source of this way of thinking is the belief that dialogue is the most creative expression we can engage in. This expression, when it reflects our heart and experience, can move others to believe in their own power to create value from their circumstance. It is both the cause for relieving our own isolation and a powerful method to inspire others to open their heart to another.
Life itself is a constant process of creation: our daily encounters and activities can become the reflection of this truth.
A New Perspective
A new understanding of depression can be developed using history’s lessons and sharing our collective experience. With courageous reflection and support all human experience, including depression, has the potential to create value in our life and the lives of those around us. From the challenges life presents, we can create a new history of transforming suffering to purposeful struggle.
The nature of struggle is as individual as we are, yet the act of struggling is common to every person on this planet. The nature of purpose is to transform our battles – we begin by seeking to recognise the value of life. The struggle becomes one of appreciating our lives and the lives of others. Through constantly challenging our habits we reveal the hitherto hidden strengths we all have. We can create an existence that is inclusive, not exclusive, and possessed of an outward looking, expansive perspective on life.
Courage is needed to actively reflect and take the responsibility to act. In itself, this is a demanding process for it requires us to face our inner demons, and accept aspects of our own nature that we may not like very much. The opportunity offered by dialogue is the revealing of a basic truth: we all possess these aspects in our nature.
The driving power that makes this a viable process of self reformation, or individual human revolution, is the positive belief in our creative potential and the potential of others – a possibility again that is offered by dialogue.
To engage in this courageous reflection is to open oneself to the intrinsic value and potential of life.
It is clear that for many, depression is a destructive experience. However, focusing on this prevailing view as the only reality of depression has limited the dialogue on the creative expressions that can arise from this condition. The most beautiful expressions in nature come from struggle. Flowers bloom from their struggle through soil and stars shine from their intense dynamism to produce light that can only be revealed in the dark night. Those individuals who have shaped history and contributed creatively all share a commonality. Engaging in hardships enabled them to purposefully reveal an intense inner struggle through their expression, thereby inspiring hope in others. Their greatness was determined by their struggles, not by an absence of them. No person can avoid suffering, the questions open for discussion are how to create value from suffering and how to make our own experience the fuel for a meaningful and contributive life.
The nature of depression can be characterised as an inner battle, a warring between the differing aspects of ourselves. This sense can be amplified when we feel at the mercy of our condition, the depressive aspect of our beings becomes something that we wish to eradicate. The result is an internal world with periods of intense conflict.
When we engage in dialogue and pursue a creative expression we seek to alter this inner struggle into one whereby we embrace our whole life. The struggle shifts from the divisive inner conflict into an enlivening determination to utilise the whole of our beings, ‘warts and all.’ In other words, we find the greatest hope when we transform these inner battles to an engagement in the totality of our lives. Dialogue is the portal to this engagement.
Meaningful and Contributive
"For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor
"There is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers."Erich Fromm (1900-1980), social psychologist, philospher
Another way to express the above quotations would be to ask that we not look for the meaning of life, but rather seek to give our lives meaning. To engage with others and actively participate in the world is to entertain the possibility of a fulfilling life.
This can only be done in the present moment, as the way in which we approach this moment is crucial and determines the course of our life. It is the way that we relate to others, in this moment that affords a possibility for creativity. It is this ever creative single moment from which the wellspring of meaning can flow. What matters is that we understand that it comes from us.
The meaning we seek and the contribution we make is therefore found here and now, in the way that we relate to others.
Creating a shift in our perception of depression may stem from our determination to engage others with the aim of actively listening, having the courage to express our experiences and opening up to the possibility that we are able to support them in their struggle. A new way of interacting to create value from depression challenges the dominant paradigm that it is something that needs only to be eradicated.
Also helping to de-stigmatise the condition, shifting our perception of depression requires us to challenge judgementalism. Rather than focusing on negative judgment of self and others, it is through dialogue we create value and make our experience purposeful.
Coming to appreciate the creative potential of depression means courageously challenging our own mind to see that suffering is not only common to humanity, but can also be purposeful. Transforming daily life into a creative expression need not be a lonely process – when shared it can be a stimulating experience.
It is very human to think to ourselves “what am I going to say next?” when we are engaged in conversation with another person. To actively listen to another human being is a concerted effort on our part to expand our lives beyond the confines of our own suffering.
We actively make our lives bigger by creating a space in which we can embrace another and allow the traffic of words between us to be transmitted and received. As we engage with the troubles and joys of our friends and acquaintances the ground on which we stand shifts from sympathy to empathy and we establish a true connectivity with all people.
Every life is touched by trouble or strife and as human beings, there are many more things that unify us than separate us. Cultural, social and personal aspects of our lives exist that can make it difficult for us to be open about our depression – the need to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ or not to be seen whining about our lot are two simplified examples. We may feel misunderstood, embarrassed or in some way tainted by our state of life; whatever the case may be, the result is that a human being drives themself inward and spirals further into the hole, losing sight of the dignity of their own life.
With constructive open dialogue we have the opportunity to break down these perceptions and create environments where no one has to endure that sense of isolation. Every time that we find the courage to connect with another person we do a little more to remove the notion that depression is something to be hidden or be ashamed of.
Without doubt the hardest struggle for many of us is to share the deeper and darker experiences of our lives. It is either too painful, or socially just too difficult.
To engage in conversation with purpose needs courage; it also requires a change in perception. When we engage and share our experience we are allowing ourselves the right to seek support without pity, we are breaking judgemental notions about our condition. More than that, we give others permission to do the same. With the building of dialogue, creativity and trust our journey changes from one we make alone into a shared struggle for creative expression.
Using our struggles purposefully as a motivation to encourage another frees the creative self from the prison of isolation. Whereas the darkness of depression cultivates isolation, science has established that all life in the universe is interdependent and interconnected. How we are affected by our environment, both positively and negatively, is proof of the potential we have to influence the environment. Despite our feelings of disconnection, the interrelatedness of all humanity assures us that our very existence has an effect on the world around us. In pursuing opportunities for heart to heart dialogue we reveal the sustaining and unifying purpose of humanity. Life’s creative potential exists nowhere else but in the midst of this dynamism.
Interdependent and Interconnected
One of the basic lessons in biology is that there is no such thing as an isolated system – at its most basic this means that the action of the sun on the sea a thousand miles away brings rain to the hills, or the canopy of the Brazilian rain forest creates the air that we breathe.The ways in which we are connected as human beings are myriad and wonderful. Part of the horror of depression is the severing in our minds of this connection, or even worse, the connections we perceive are distorted and painful. Creating a hopeful reality lies in the determined effort to reach and connect with others.
Heart to Heart Dialogue
The basis of true dialogue is one of empathy, the opening of our lives to another. It requires us to seize opportunities, and empowers us to create a new history.
As we talk with our friends, there can sometimes be an almost overwhelming desire to ‘fix them’ or to try to solve their problems, but this is not the spirit of sincere dialogue. When we talk based on empathy and self-reflection, we open the opportunity for engaged and compassionate dialogue.
Unifying Purpose of Humanity
As human beings we have the same needs and are troubled by the same fears. At the root of all our existences lies a deep desire for security, for happiness. Leo Tolstoy said that the sole meaning of life is to serve humanity; in the light of this statement our happiness and that of others become inextricably linked.
Once we put our happiness in the context of other people and with humanity as a whole, we introduce purpose into our lives. The determination with which we transform our depression becomes a beacon for others – the fact that we are able to consider the wellbeing of another lifts our own state of life. The happiness we seek for ourselves and the way in which we help others become one unified purpose.
Hope can be seen as a decision; a determination to break through the darkness of despair. The source of hope is dialogue. Through this uniquely human expression we can sense the very heart of another and in doing so transform our own heart. This hopeful exchange relies on belief – that each of us is part of the whole and each of us has a unique and intrinsic value. Rather than searching for a meaningful life and hoping that it will reveal itself sometime in the future, it is possible to create hope through our decision to engage with others. This courageous and purposeful action is a decision; it is an expression of the creative potential of humanity. When human life is viewed as a work of art, filled with shades from dark to light, the contrast reveals the beauty of a life engaged.
Unique and Intrinsic Value
The hardest thing for many of us to do is to deeply appreciate our own value; in periods of depression or desperation we can find it impossible to see ourselves as valuable. In his 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra explored this aspect of human nature: his lead character is shocked into appreciating the value of his own life by being shown how the world might be, had he never existed.
Although this example is on film, in reality it has true relevance for all of us. When we value ourselves we are mindful of the contribution we can make and our life becomes an expression of the creative potential we possess.
The truth of our lives is that we are innately valuable and our unique qualities, even those that we don’t like, can become a source of great strength.
"A powerfully imaginative mind seizes and combines at the same instant, not only two, but all the important ideas of its poem or picture... never losing sight of their bearings on each other; as the motion of a snake’s body goes through all parts at once, and its volition acts at the same instant in coils that go contrary ways."John Ruskin (1819-1900), Author, poet, artist
Change is an intrinsic aspect of life and an integral part of all our experiences. In the state of depression these shifts can be amplified to a greater or lesser degree. More than this, the currents in our lives are more than simply from highs to lows and back again – the nature of our depressive state is not constant, but contains many varying shades and hues. It is this shifting in the colour of our thoughts and feelings that brings different insights, different sensitivities and different perspectives to our lives. When we engage with purpose these shifts can be a natural and beautiful expression of life, heightening our awareness of the dynamic potential of our interaction.
Buddhism – Engaged Humanism
Buddhism was established out of the desire for humanity to utilise its infinite potential; it begins and ends with the heart. Buddhism teaches that each individual can reveal their creative potential as they are no matter what their circumstances. The belief that all life and all humanity has unlimited value provides a sound basis for dialogue that produces shared understanding and opens up endless possibilities for those involved. The practice of Nichiren Buddhism reveals a way to transform depression into a positive and creative expression. Through heartfelt, courageous reflection and interaction, all suffering can become the source of profound inner transformation. When shared, this transformation reveals the value of our challenges and then they become a source of encouragement and hope for others who are suffering.
Nichiren proved the power of the individual to transform a situation of hopelessness to a beautiful expression of humanity’s courage and compassion. Similarly, in post-war Japan, at a time of hopelessness and despair, the Soka Gakkai emerged to create hope from this great suffering. Through the examples of the Soka Gakkai’s three founding presidents a peace movement has been created. The suffering caused by war was transformed into the purposeful struggle for the right of each individual to become happy. This right remains the conviction of Soka Gakkai International and the core of our determination to open a dialogue that leads to the decision of hope.
A key Buddhist principle is that we contain limitless potential as we are, right now, in this moment. This belief is of immense significance in terms of any person who wishes to transform a life filled with depression, because in essence, it means that you do not have to go anywhere. The power to transform our lives comes from our determination to express this belief in our daily experience.
"A great inner revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of humankind."Daisaku Ikeda
This statement forms the basis of our belief in the power of dialogue to bring powerful change. The starting point is one individual’s courage to engage with another.
Decision of Hope
All too often hope is perceived as existing separate to us, as something that arises from elsewhere. The Buddhist viewpoint is that we take full responsibility for our lives, so that hope is something that we create now, in the moment that we decide to make our life one of value.
This is akin to the lighting of a candle in the darkness, for in making a decision of hope, we illuminate our lives and that of others.
Making Room for Dialogue
Expression is not the sole domain of the artist. The nature of dialogue itself is creative. The first engagement in dialogue offered by this exhibition is an artistic experience in the form of sound and vision. This film is an artist’s impression of the transformation of depression – from dark to dawn – but the full value is only revealed when we, the viewer, engage with it.
To open ourselves to the possibility of transformation is to see our lives as a work of art, our interactions with another as a work of beauty, and the act of dialogue as being a truly creative process by which we express our humanity.