Chipping Away

30 Mar 2021

The Pope asked Michelangelo how he had created the statue of David. Michelangelo is said to have replied, “It was simple. The statue was always there; I just chipped off everything that was not David.”

There is no factual basis for this quote, but it is a useful one all the same. The concept is sometimes referred to as the Via Negativa, meaning that what is not there is more important than what is.

When we are suffering with depression, it seems we can never be happy again. Intellectually we might know this is not true and, if we just hang on for long enough, the darkness will lift and there will be sunshine again.

My own belief is, when we are ill, we cannot do more than endure – although I will come back to this point later.

In the periods of good health however, we can look at our happiness, or at least contentment, with objective eyes.

Is happiness even achievable? Maybe not, but surely, we can work towards it.

Life, even in the absence of grief and hardship, seems full of petty niggles and irritations that get in the way of contentment.

Some of these we can do something about, and some of them we can’t.

I am waking up each morning tired and with a headache. There are two possible reasons. The first is that I am not getting enough sleep. As I tend to read until past midnight and get up at 6am, this is the most probable cause. As coffee seems to fix the headache, it could be I am drinking too much caffeine. I can do something about both.

What about those things we can’t change? Some irritations are just facts of life. We all have our small immovable pains. Perhaps, however, we can transform them.

As a child, one of my chores was to do the washing up on weekends. I hated it. One day, my great-aunt pointed out that washing up was just a fact of life – it would always be there, and it was useless to hate it. She asked me to concentrate instead on the iridescent beauty of the bubbles, the smooth, water-slicked surfaces of the clean plates, the view out of the window and the birds in the garden. She said the washing up could be a time to daydream and to create stories in my mind. So, I don’t hate washing up anymore, it’s a happy task.

I’m not making light of the major griefs and hardships in life. Some of what we must deal with is not David, it’s just rock – although it may be the plinth on which he stands. Where we can, however, remove what is not happiness, then let’s at least try.

As for depression, what can be removed is our guilt. Acceptance promotes quicker recovery.

So, I’m chipping away at whatever is not David.

I’m just wondering when my husband will eye me with suspicion and ask, “Who’s David?”


A Moodscope member.

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Moodscope members seek to support each other by sharing their experiences through this blog. Posts and comments on the blog are the personal views of Moodscope members, they are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice.

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