Depression and Spiritual Growth

Temple in woods
August 14, 2007

The word “depression” means a dip or low point. It also relates to the concept of depressurization. We puff ourselves up with grandiose ideas and ambitions. Similarly, we create puffed-up dramas of our own debasement. We fortify our ego with all kinds of expectations and projections. Then, our Guru and our sadhana come along like a big, sharp golden nail to pierce our egos and let the air out.

Whoosh! Suddenly, we are in the dumps. Depression brought about in the course of steady spiritual practice can be a sign that some ego fixations have been punctured. We have come down from our lofty, dramatic heights, but we are not yet quite ready to meet and greet Reality with open arms. Depression, in this case, fills a kind of emptiness that was always there, but has not yet been recognized as the setting for real growth. Old patterns are on the way out, and the new has not yet arrived. The ego throws a depression “fit” to fill the vacuum.

When we are depressed, we often want to curl up and turn our back on the world. But for the practitioner, this is the time to show true grit and recommit to health cultivation, conscious engagement with the world and meditation.

Taking care of health comes before meditation. Our basic constitution has a lot to do with exactly how depression manifests in us. We can influence depression by adjusting our daily routine (dinacharya), our yoga or other activity and our diet. Consult an Ayurvedic doctor for dietary advice and be sure that any yoga routine you are doing is recommended for your constitution.

You must be sneaky. Feed yourself what is most similar to Realization—a feeling of belonging and connection—rather than reinforcing the feeling of darkness and ignorance, or separation. Don’t isolate yourself even though you may feel tired or ashamed. Depression is like the ego’s last stand. Depression is actually a barrier thrown up by the ego in a desperate attempt to make you feel so hopelessly blocked, you’ll run scared back to your old, insecurely happy self.

Meditation is also key. Meditation opens the gates to a new level of equanimity and awareness. It cools pitta depression by “cooling down” the compulsion to achieve. It nourishes vata depression by smoothing and soothing the tissues, the prana and the mind. It brings clarity and spaciousness to the heavy, fogginess of kapha depression.

At the same time, by discovering more clarity through meditation and changes to our daily life activities, we can recognize depression as just another pattern. We do not have to identify with it. We do not have to violently push it away or give in with a shrug. We can have a more experimental, practical approach. We can just work with our real situation.

It takes courage and confidence to change daily habits and meditate in the face of depression. The depression represents our old, entrenched habit patterns, and meditation is the new pattern. It’s like trying to get your car out of a rut. It takes effort and ingenuity. You have to call for help from friends, i.e., your Guru and your community. But once you get going, the ride becomes smooth and free. You are back on the road again!

We should always apply for assistance from Guru. Guru is our helpmeet and our spiritual friend. She is none other than the manifested form of our own innate Godliness or wisdom. We should pour out our depression as an offering at the feet of our Guru, or our chosen Deity. Done with sincerity, we will receive the nourishment we need and a benediction.

When we open our channels through proper diet, daily routine, exercise and sadhana, we hear the voice of wisdom more clearly and we develop more confidence. Every so-called problem is solved in this same way. We develop clarity and a tolerance for openness. Confidence is nothing other than an innate understanding that we are Shiva nature. This understanding can only be covered up more or less; it can never be absolutely silenced. Those who discover confidence in the face of difficulty are discovering a little bit of Realization.

In Ma’s love,