Awakening from Depression (part 1)
We’ve all heard Robert Frost’s poem, “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice, From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire.” I know this subject is not what Frost was referring to, but it echoes my feeling that I would rather be in the throes of passionate despair than suffer the soul crushing emptiness that is depression.
I’ve been wanting for weeks to write an article on depression since I’ve been experiencing bouts of it this summer, however depression makes you not want to do much of anything, including writing articles. There are many ways in which people experience being out of balance, for some it’s anger, others anxiety, and for many, including myself, it’s depression.
As a meditation teacher who is constantly talking about the bliss that comes from a practice of dipping into the field of fulfillment twice a day, it can seem contradictory and even hypocritical to talk about my own personal experience with depression. Even advanced meditators can experience depression though, and we can often exacerbate the difficulty by thinking we should somehow be beyond such experiences or even feel ashamed that it is evidence our practice “isn’t working.”
Even advanced meditators can experience depression
Meditation gives us that feeling of awe and wonder, of the boundaries between you and the world dissolving and experiencing the self as one with all that is. Depression is the opposite, it feels like the self is cut off from everything else and there not even interest in anything much less wonder. Another way of describing it is as a lack of enthusiasm. The etymology of enthusiasm is “infused with God,” and when one feels depressed that flow of divine energy feels siphoned. It’s as if our access to life itself has been cut off.
So how is depression experienced by someone who has established themselves in Being through meditation? Even if meditation cannot eliminate depression, it does give you a sense that the center of your awareness is in the witness state, so it’s like you’re witnessing the depression as opposed to feeling like the depression is you. You can hold both the underground river of fulfillment and the turbulent surface of darkness at the same time in your awareness. There is also that deep knowledge that everything is for the purpose of evolution, so even when you’ve lost your sense of sight in the fog, there is the understanding that the sun is beyond the clouds even if it’s obscured temporarily.
Depression, like all dark things, has its gifts
And depression, like all dark things, has its gifts. My early experiences of depression were one of the early guideposts to my meditation path as it revealed to me that our inner state does not always reflect the outer, and that it’s only the inner consciousness state that really matters.
I remember sitting on the couch in eighth grade on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful, shining day and there were lilies everywhere but I was sitting there in black sweat pants and oversized dark green flannel shirt (it was the grunge era) and witnessing how I could see all the beauty right before my eyes but it couldn’t penetrate the numb emptiness I felt inside.
It was in those dreary moments I let go of superficial goals and committed myself to finding out how to live in a consciousness state of sustained fulfillment.
Depression runs in my family, my grandmother even underwent shock treatments and told me every time I saw her that she’d be dead before my next visit. As an adult, my depression has mostly been due to hormonal triggers; either due to PMS, during the first trimester of my pregnancies, or post-partum depression. Other triggers can include trauma, major changes, loss of a loved one, or a chemical imbalance. Whatever the reason, it’s a very challenging situation to find a way out of because the very nature of the condition is a vicious cycle of stagnation.
To understand depression, you have to understand energy and how it wants to flow. Flow means movement and evolution, it’s like a river. Rivers like to flow, but they can get stuck and stagnant. In order to move our bodies and do the things and feel the feelings, it requires a flow of energy. When that energy gets stuck, we feel stuck inside.
It's as if “depression” is really “deep-rest-ion”
Depression is not always necessarily negative. It is a sign of being out of balance but sometimes the off kilter balance is due to the body needing to redistribute its energy. It’s as if “depression” is really “deep-rest-ion” because it comes on when the body needs very deep rest. For example, when I was newly pregnant, all the body’s energy went towards the new baby, and the depression kept me still which was exactly what I needed to be doing. I remember watching my mother when she had cancer and I witnessed a similar effect. Everything was shut down, even her personality, in favor of the energy going towards healing.
I always feel torn between wanting to lean into the stagnation and do very little as a way of favoring deep rest and feeling like I should move to get the energy flowing. Usually my protocol is to first, let go of all expectations for the day. Then try to move, even something simple like folding laundry, and if after a while it feels like I’m forcing it and getting frustrated, I accept that rest is what is needed and I lie down to read, nap or simply do nothing at all.
Alleviating depression is very tough and that’s for a reason. For those who have some knowledge of Ayurveda, the type of depression that is associated with lethargy, feelings of heaviness, increased sleep, poor motivation, and despondency is a Kapha imbalance. Kapha is associated with earth/water elements, the grossest of the elements. This means that while it may be slower to set in than say anxiety, it also is harder to correct due to the slow-moving nature of Kapha.
I wish I had a magic solution for the crippling experience that is depression. If I did, I would take it myself. But I’ve been through it enough to know on the other side of that dark door is always the light, and with time and gentleness to oneself it always, always opens again.
In Part 2 next week I will provide a list of ways to alleviate depression. This essay was so long, I had to break it up.