Tuning Out Depression: Tom Waits



To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” 

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment


For people dealing with depression, winter can be the most difficult season, especially when you live in the Canadian prairies. Living in Saskatchewan has plenty of upsides, but our winters tend to be pretty harsh. (As I write this, Saskatchewan is in the midst of its mildest winter in years, but newcomers to this province are typically in for quite a shock to the system when they experience their first winter here.)  Countless studies highlight the benefits of sunshine on a person’s mental wellness so it’s no surprise that a few months of going to work in the morning when it’s dark and coming back home after the sun sets can make someone with depression feel a little more gloomy. Add in cold snaps, blizzards, and vehicles that won’t start and it’s no wonder why so many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Fortunately, we have a choice in how we deal with these dreary winter months. In The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle offers multiple practical methods to shift our ingrained modes of thinking and to come to terms with and be at peace with what Mother Nature throws at us. Tolle goes into great depth on how to eliminate complaining about circumstances we usually can’t control. Whether it’s shitty weather, a toxic relationship, a stressful job, or anything else that life throws at us, we have three healthy options:

  1. Speak out and take action as an attempt to change the situation;

2.  Leave the situation;

3.  Accept the situation.

As Eckhart mentions in the introductory quote, doing anything else (such as complaining) is madness. If it’s -30 in January with swirling wind and blowing snow, it’s pretty obvious that you can’t change the weather with the snap of your fingers. You can leave the situation temporarily by going on a vacation to a sunny destination where you can lay on a beach, or you can plan to permanently leave the situation by moving to a place where winters are more bearable. However, for most people, the most realistic option is to accept the situation. The weather won’t change so you have to view it as an opportunity to catch up on reading, listen to more music, go to the gym more often, spend more time on your hobbies, etc. But complaining and pining for summer only generates negative energy and makes the present moment not very fun. Accepting your current circumstances, even if they are less than ideal, is a huge step in finding inner peace and being present in the here and now.

One artist I listen to more often during the winter months is one of my musical idols: Tom Waits. It’s safe to say at this stage of his career that Mr. Waits will never write a “feel good song of the summer.” From his early beatnik jazz days to his mid-period experimental circus music to his late period as a blues troubadour, Tom Waits has consistently been the ideal soundtrack to crummy weather. Waits is what most people would call “an acquired taste,” but once you take the plunge you’ll find arguably today’s finest living songwriter – an artist who’s been covered by everyone from The Ramones to The Eagles to Bruce Springsteen to Steve Earle to Norah Jones. While his music has its share of melancholy, there’s more than enough humour, beauty and hopefulness to give you a soothing sense of comfort. His songs feature sordid tales of freaks, weirdos and outsiders like German dwarves, men with missing fingers playing guitar, hookers in Minneapolis, eyeball kids, and rain dogs. With his knack for shining the spotlight on the underdog and outcast, Waits is a more eccentric Johnny Cash.


A little rain never hurt no one.” 

Tom Waits, A Little Rain” from Bone Machine


One of my favourite songs in the Tom Waits catalogue is “A Little Rain” from 1992’s Bone Machine. This haunting piano ballad features this simple mantra: “A little rain never hurt no one.” I’ve always loved this song since the first time I heard it, but it’s taken on added meaning for me since I’ve started dealing with my depression and anxiety three years ago. It particularly resonates with me after reading Tolle’s book. Once you accept that life can’t always be sunshine and lollipops and rainbows you learn to accept that a rainy day doesn’t have to be the end of the world. The chemical imbalance in your brain that comes with depression may try its damnedest to dwell on the negative, but it is possible to train your brain to focus on the present moment and be thankful for the good stuff in your life. Instead of dwelling on the ugly aspects of a winter on the prairies I’m getting better at accepting the circumstances and realizing that I now have the chance to spend more time listening to “Hold On,” “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You,” “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” “Lie To Me,” “Raised Right Men,” and the multitude of other incredible songs in Waits’ discography. After all, a little Tom Waits never hurt no one.

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