Sunday, January 29, 2006

Practical Spirituality—Healing Depression I - By John Gilmore

In our last article we gave instruction on how to deal with anger. The same techniques can be applied to grief, anxiety, and any root emotion associated with stress. The techniques should work with you whether you have an explosive type of anger, or if you are one of those people who just hold anger in, and allow it to slowly wear away at your stomach, liver, heart and other parts of your body. Through much research Aryuvedic practitioners have discovered, and have reported, that a large percent of illness is caused by stress.

Internalized anger, or anger turned inward, is a source of stress that is very much related to depression.

Many people in the world today, especially in the west, suffer a great deal from depression—especially those who have traditionally not been allowed to express their anger openly. It is not surprising that another name for depression is learned helplessness. An example of learned helplessness can be understood through an experiment done a long time ago with a dog. The dog was put into a big box with a metal grate on the floor and a partition in the middle. Scientists would push a button and send an electric current through the grate. Each time the dog would jump over to the other side.

After doing this several times the scientists decided to tie the dog down so he couldn’t jump, and see what happened. They hit the button several times. He whimpered and hollered trying to escape. Eventually he just laid there, stopped struggling, and took the pain. When they released him they hit the button again expecting him to jump over the partition. To their surprise he just stood there and took the pain until they let go of the button each time. He never jumped again. They also noticed that the dog became very depressed.

The dog had accepted that he couldn’t do anything about his circumstances except bear the pain. He was depressed because he had learned that he was helpless and had accepted it. What was the difference between the pre-depressed dog and the post- depressed dog? One fought and struggled to be free each time, and for a moment, after he jumped the barrier he was free. The other one had accepted that he was helpless and from that moment on, during the shock or not during it, he was tied down. The same thing happens with many people in our society. They learn to be helpless and become depressed.

When horrible circumstances happen in people’s lives, they often hold on and struggle to live joyful lives until the circumstance pass. After the circumstance they usually, slowly rebound from the sadness or fear that comes with their loss. They expand their awareness of self, and realize that they are more then anything that has been lost. Sometimes, however, what happens is that the person gives up in the midst of the struggle. They, like the dog, begin to just wait for one painful episode after the next to pass. The outcome of this is depression and also a living death.

A major part of life is the struggle. We struggle to be born, we struggle to learn to walk, we struggle to talk, and we struggle with awkwardness during our teenage years…life is about struggle and overcoming circumstances. If we are not working to overcome circumstances and to be fully engaged in the world and with life, we are not living completely; we are only existing. It is important to live fully and completely in the midst of the storm, even if we are feeling lonely or depressed if we ever want to come out of the circumstances as whole, more powerful individuals. We can do this by: Doing the opposite that our emotions suggest. Instead of separating from people and breaking relationships we should start spending time with others and building more meaningful, supportive relationships; If we are more lethargic, we should become engaged in an exercise program that gives more strength and vitality—one where we can see a physical change to our bodies, not sleep more and gain weight; And instead of avoiding the problem, or trying to shove it under the rug or forget it, we should be working on whatever the core problem is, not the outgrowth.

The Shaolin say that many people work on the outgrowth of a problem when they are trying to solve it, and not the root. This is like trying to heal an ailing tree by working on the branches, instead of the root. According to the Shaolin it is important to find the root of the problem, and then bring all of our gifts and talents to bear to work on the root. Above we have suggested ways to work on the physical—the body, through physical exercise to improve self image, the mental through social interactions with friends and loved ones, but the most important is to work on the core of the problem.

What is the core of the problem? It is probably different for everyone, but it is likely that it is the same problem that the dog had in our previous example, with some variation. I once knew a man who said that he learned the cure for depression. He said that he was depressed for a long time. He discovered that he was only depressed when he stopped trying to live the way that he really wanted. When he couldn’t do that, or stopped trying to do what we refer to in our philosophy as his life work, or that which he felt called to, he was depressed. “All I do now,” he said, “is keep trying to do what I want.”

Very simple, yet profound. This basically means that you shouldn’t give up on life. As long as we keep jumping over the barriers, as long as we struggle and strive to do our life work, we will never be depressed. And we will see each little step—each little leap, as a victory, because that, after all, is what it is. It only takes one step at a time to make the longest journey. If you are a person inclined to be depressed, or if you know someone depressed consider this article. Work on the self image, work on your social life, and find the core of the problem and work to correct that. In the next three articles we will give you some techniques for doing one step at a time. Perhaps then you will find life more satisfying and you will discover your life work and be able to do it one step at a time.

Dr. J. W. Gilmore is a Writer, Spiritual Director, Anti-oppression Consultant and Wellness Consultant. He is a Certified Massage Therapist and Reflexologist, a Reiki Master Teacher, a Martial Arts Instructor and a Spiritual Coach living in Costa Rica. For more article like this or similar information visit:

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