Our depressive mood may be related to us trying to chase and catch the rainbow all the time
It is beyond dispute that we may all have aspiration of attainment of something. For instances, a student aspiring to become a medical doctor, a lady hoping to get married and have children before 30 years old, or a man wanting to become a billionaire. Even for those who seem to have realized that chasing after these wants may hinder their internal peace, they choose to strive for liberation or enlightenment. In fact, sometimes, simply chasing after the attainment of liberation or enlightenment can be frustrating. The more one tries hard to achieve these special states, the more difficult for one to attain.
A client of mine aspired to become a medical doctor. His first attempt of application for the medical school in the university was unsuccessful. He became depressed and felt hopeless for his future. After some psychotherapy, he chose to study in the field of pharmacy in the university. After graduation at the university with a degree in Bachelor of Pharmacy, he reapplied the Bachelor of Medicine degree in the medical school. He was admitted this time as he worked extremely hard to study and obtain first class honor in the Bachelor of Pharmacy. However, after he started his study in the medical school, he was depressed again. It is because he found there were so many bright classmates in the class and he could never be at the top of the class. Due to his recurrent depressive mood, he barely graduated in the medical school. As a result, he could not become a specialist in neurology as he aspired. He was in depression again. He mentioned that his attempt to become a medical doctor and finally become a neurologist was an attempt to chase and catch the rainbow. He could see the destination, but he could never attain.
Having aspiration is a motivation for many people to work hard and stay active. This is a positive aspect of our striving and chasing after a goal. However, if we only obsessed in achieving this goal and ignored all other things in our life, this obsession might cause us to suffer in the end. We might not be able to achieve the goal and also might be very stressed and depressed throughout the process. It is a similar phenomenon when people trying to attain a complete liberation or enlightenment in their lives. For example, people who learned to meditate may try to adhere to routine with high level of discipline and try to completely eliminate his wants and needs in daily life. If they tried to attain some kind of moral reward or high level of enlightenment with meditation, they would be disappointed as it was like chasing and catching the rainbow. It is because if we are too obsessed in whatever we are chasing, we tend to idealize our goals and aspirations. The meditator trying to attain an enlightenment with meditation may have high hope on enlightenment. However, the ultimate truth is, in meditation, we let go of our illusion of being enlightened. During meditation, we just sit and simply pay attention to our breath. It is only when we stop chasing being enlightened and just simply meditate, we could see our “self” in the process of trying to catch the rainbow. In this way, we could appreciate the rainbow without trying to chasing and catching it.
For the client above, it is encouraging that he kept his aspiration to become a medical doctor alive. His striving and hard work deserved our applause. Indeed, his hard work pays as he finally was admitted to the medical school. In this sense, having an aspiration and striving towards our goals is giving meaning of life. It is only that if we idealized what we are chasing and obsessed in getting it, we might become depressed when the outcome is not as expected. If we could learn to focus on the process and let go of our “self”, we could still strive to achieve our goals. With this process-orientation in our mind, we would not suffer if the attempt of our striving failed or not as ideal as we expected.