I took a good look at myself in the mirror this morning. I've lost a bit of weight, but since everyone has been offering me a whole lot, I've haven't really had to go without meals for a real long period of time. Something odd has happened though. Since shaving my head (which is growing tremendously fast by the way) I've had more of an urge to exercise. Maybe it's because I look manlier than usual or perhaps I'm channeling the GI inside me, but I'm just in the mood to work out. I'm sure I'll get burned out soon. I'm never great at keeping the routine up.
I have a student who is depressed and "tired of being alive". He's having a tremendous amount of difficulty at work (long hours, poor pay, no respect) and just doesn't see anything on the horizon for him to look forward to. The sad thing is is that he is one of my most enthusiastic students who is always ready to engage in a great discussion following a sometimes complicated lecture. He has a cool confidence that radiates off him which changes the trajectory of the class itself. As a teacher, he is the student that we all want. He's smart, witty, ballsy and possesses a brilliant self-deprecating sense of humor that is quite rare for Koreans.
Still, he is depressed and I shouldn't take this lightly. No one should. But in Korea, depression is far too often ignored and mislabeled as work-related stress. Since depression often goes undiagnosed here, students and adults alike take to throwing themselves off buildings. Putting the books down or taking a day off of work doesn't cure depression. Neither does quitting your job. It takes help from friends, family and maybe even doctors. There isn't a single cure and realizing that is half the battle.
During my Buddhist month, I had a student who was having a lot of trouble deciding whether or not to move to Vancouver for a year. She was worried about culture shock and friends and missing family and all of that stuff. Normal things to worry about, but she was considering skipping the entire adventure because she would miss her "life". She was raised a Buddhist, so I referred her to some Buddhist text about making decisions and personal strength. It really helped her and she moved to Canada. Of course, I have no idea how she is doing there, nor will I ever see or hear from her again, but she claimed that the Buddha's words helped her.
The next month (as a Catholic) I faced another situation where a student was very anti-Christian. He would always scoff when the faith was mentioned and offered very typical arguments when some of my Christian students would discuss Jesus. To me, it sounded like something bad happened to him and he decided to blame God for it. I really don't like it when people disrespect other peoples' faith, so I stepped in there and expressed what I think about the phrase "God is Love". He listened and since he was a Christian in high school (before being conscripted to the military), he knew the books I was quoting from. The next month he wasn't in class. Eventually he came by and told me that he couldn't take my classes anymore because he had gotten involved with the church again.
This month, I face another problem and what I tried to do was to refer him to some Jain texts. I tried a few, but since Jainism is a solo venture of the soul which teaches that the world is a cursed place full of suffering and pain, I find that the message doesn't sit well with him. I can offer him a lecture or methods of liberating himself, but many of those messages just don't sit well with him. I can tell him that happiness comes from within, but what happens if someone feels empty already?
Here's what it boils down to: People are primed for their own religion. They navigate their own spirituality and life using it as a compass. It's hard to deprogram their minds and reset to it to another show. Yet, welcoming them back into the fold is easy. It simply takes a little nudging to get them back into it. That's what happened with the first two students. They were lost in this burning world (You like how I mixed Catholicism with Buddhism there?) and a simple push in the "right" direction set them back on course.
They were easy. This fellow, however, has no religious priming and therefore sees no value in it. My problem is that while I have been primed for a Christian God to swoop in and save the day, I'm not so sure he looks the same as I remember. His image is not as simple as the old wise man in the clouds. What I mean is that I also don't know what religion he needs to hear, but maybe that's the point. He's not primed for religion. He's primed for a humanist approach and I need to be flexible with that as well.
Religion is a great thing and it helps billions of people every day. However, there are a whole lot of people that haven't been primed for it and while some followers might try to save the day with their own faith, that is really do different than the mislabeling and misdiagnosing of depression that goes on in Korea.
The world is complex. There are no quick-fixes.
There's a second part to this, so stay tuned...