On Mental Health
Nature abhors a vacuum, the mind as well.
Thought must people the unpopulated,
Limitless caverns where blind cave fish dwell,
And keep stalactites and stalagmites mated.
If it weren’t limestone it would be a bear.
If not a bear then an army of snakes.
It doesn’t matter what it puts in there
As long as it’s not empty; the mistake
Is to assume mental health only a blank.
It’s not; the brain is a menagerie
With chimps on wheels and starfish in the tank
To stanch the flow of evil memories.
Better to stuff your head with trivial news
Than leave it open for demonic use.
Christians traditionally meditate on something, a rosary being an easy example. Buddhist tradition would have us empty the mind until it is a windless pond. I have achieved the former but never the latter.
My experience confirms that to meditate on something is better than trying to achieve nothingness--then maybe I am spiritually impaired when it comes to eastern meditation. I did chant for a time, but even then my mind was filled with the words and the rhythm of the chant in order to produce a change in my mind, or its brain waves--which is what we all seek in meditation, from a neurologist's point of view.
I would rather work at a task than meditate, write a bad sonnet than stare at a blank piece of paper. I'm for the pursuit of something, not nothing; a positive good, not just complete detachment. Eliot tries hard to distinguish between attachment and detachment in his Four Quartets, but I don't know if he ever nails them. Both are necessary. The point of this sonnet, I suppose, is that idle hands are the Devil's playthings, and so are empty minds. "You must stand for something or you'll fall for everything."
There is no real dichotomy here, just my inability to meditate passably in an eastern fashion. But in coping with depression, that kind of blankness scares me; I feel my black, looping thoughts curl like snakes to enter into all the mouseholes of the empty house. Perhaps if I were healthier I would change the final couplet.