by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
What causes depression? No one knows.
No really – not even the medical profession. Do a quick google search and see what comes up.
The best they can offer is a few theories of biological factors combined with environmental and behavioural issues. They can estimate how likely someone is to experience depression based on this, but they don’t know the root cause.
Makes it hard to heal something when you don’t know what is causing it!
So we DON’T treat depression, instead we treat the symptoms of depression. Big difference.
Symptoms of depression are generally divided into three categories – mood, physical and cognitive.
According to Depression NZ, mood symptoms of depression include a persistent low, sad or depressed mood, loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities and irritable mood.
Physical symptoms of depression include change in sleeping patterns, change in appetite, decreased energy, tiredness, fatigue, physical slowing or agitation.
Cognitive symptoms of depression, thoughts of worthlessness or guilt involve loss of confidence in self and excessive guilt about past minor wrongs.
As a result of feeling bad about themselves, people may withdraw from doing things and from contact with others. Thoughts of hopelessness and death. The person may feel there is no hope in life, wish they were dead or have thoughts of suicide. They may have difficulty thinking clearly or difficulty in concentrating. They may not be able to read the paper or watch television. They may also have great difficulty making even simple everyday decisions.
Treatment for depression focuses usually on medication and psychotherapy. One fools the mind into feeling ok, and the other looks deeper into some of the beliefs and behaviour patterns that may be contributing to the depression.
Both focus only on the symptoms of depression – and this can be very helpful because it gives the depressed person a lift and the necessary strength to start taking a hard look at what is actually CAUSING the depression.
But if treatment and action stops with just these two methods, as it so often does, then the root cause is never addressed and a huge opportunity is missed to fundamentally realign a person’s life.
So what really causes depression? Here’s one possible reason for some depression, based on what I’ve experienced over the last few decades.
Some depression is caused by a soul in crisis. It’s a desperate plea for attention. It’s a flare above stormy seas during a dark and windy night exploding into the atmosphere.
And what do we so often do?
Turn a giant hose on the flare and wash it away without bothering to follow the trail all the way back to the flare’s source – that soul of ours. And if the words spirit, soul or consciousness don’t work for you, then think of it like this.
When you are depressed, it is simply the ‘True part of who you are’ telling you that things are ‘not right’, and that you need to make some fundamental changes in your life.
This is why we feel the symptoms of depression – the lack of interest in our life, the inability to read a newspaper or watch TV, the difficulty thinking clearly or focusing. All of this is nudging us toward going within and spending time focusing on our internal selves. It’s nudging us towards just stopping still and observing our internal state, as it is, with no judgement.
Before we go any further, let’s establish how we work.
First, we have the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body and the energetic body. Simple enough right?
Examples of parts of these bodies are our hands, our feelings, our thoughts, and the firing of our nerve synapses.
Think of it like the four elements, earth = physical, emotional = water, mental = air, energetic = fire.
But there is another element – the fifth element. Aristotle named the fifth element as the ether – that which encompasses all that is. Hinduism and Buddism call that fifth element Akasha, also ether. And Japanese culture named it Void/sky/heaven.
Within our body, the fifth element corresponds to our soul. It is the part of us that connects with all that is – with the ether, the akasha, or consciousness.
When you experience depression it is because the four material elements are no longer in alignment with your fifth element – your soul. You are lost and floating away from Self, abandoned on the great expanse of ocean… and so a flare is sent up. Depression arrives. This sense of something being fundamentally ‘not right’, this total lack of motivation to engage in the world as it is for you right now, this profound sense of sinking and despair.
Those depressed thoughts and feelings are the flare, shooting up from the soul into the atmosphere to grab our attention and tell us to pay attention, to pull our attention inward, to look and see what’s really going on inside us.
That’s why depression is such a gift. It’s maybe the first moment when you’ve felt the stirrings of your soul, it’s a sign to dig deep inside and start listening to what your soul has to say, it’s a neon flashing sign instructing you to change your life now.
The arrival of depression in your life is something to celebrate! Yes, I know, I said celebrate – because now you are being forced via feeling awful to make changes in your life that you were reluctant to make before. You are being forced to look at yourself and see what’s really going on underneath the surface. You are being forced to get to know who you truly are.
Depression is your soul desperately trying to get your attention.
HERE I AM!!!
LISTEN TO ME!!!
And what do we do? We miss the great gift of depression and it’s ability to motivate us to ruthlessly examine our life, instead becoming completely absorbed in the feelings and experience of depression. We focus on how awful we feel, and how we don’t want to feel like that, and then we medicate those feelings away.
Instead, I’ve found it useful when I’ve felt depression to fully accept it. To be totally ok with it. To recognise it as just another state of being.
When I do this, I discover that there’s something I’m denying, or not allowing expression. From here, I can follow the flare of depression back down to my soul, and listen to what is required.
This is not easy at all, and it takes a lot of effort and hard work – knowing what’s going on doesn’t make it any easier to deal with! In my most recent experience, a month or so ago, turning inward to face the depression that had been coming and going for a few weeks led me to grief deep within my heart. I had no idea this grief was there – but once I could feel it, then it could surface, I could let it go and the depression melted away.
This was just a small episode, resolved within six weeks. Partly this is because I’ve been working with this method for over a decade now, and partly because I’ve honed my ability to pay attention to all levels of myself – which is where our yoga and meditation practice becomes so very important in working with the gifts of depression.
Without an ability to witness or observe the self, we get caught up in thinking our thoughts and feelings our feelings and never realise we have a choice about how we react to these thoughts and feelings.
So actively working with depression as a normal state of begin in the human condition that is merely giving us feedback first requires that we have some kind of yoga and meditation practice.
Second, it becomes very difficult to heal the root cause of a condition when the belief system doesn’t accept there is such a thing as a soul, or a consciousness beyond the body, feelings, mind and energy. This is the conundrum western medical experts find themselves in. Until they can embrace an understanding of the world which includes the spirit or consciousness, they can not heal a condition caused by the pain of the spirit.
The key to unraveling depression is simply being completely honest about WHO you are, and what YOU want. Even if it means facing up to truths in your life you would rather keep hidden.
Recently, I had to let go of an old dream of a particular kind of life because it’s apparent to me know that my life is not unfolding that way. i had to face up to that truth, regardless of what kind of life I thought I wanted.
At it’s most basic – a misalignment of internal truth can cause depression.
- Maybe you married your wife because you thought she was hot and now you can’t stand her.
- Maybe you pleased your parents and became a doctor when you actually yearned to be a lawyer.
- Or you miss your home country so much and even though you’d be ‘worse’ off you really want to move home again.
Our soul knows our Truths. We know our truths. But so often… they are hidden and denied. Instead, we buy into what society tells us.
Like we should be happy because we won Miss Universe – but our true self couldn’t care less about being Miss Bloody Universe, and instead wishes she were living in the Arctic charting the movement of polar bears.
“How could she possibly be depressed,” society mutters. “She’s got everything a girl could want! Fame, money, looks…”
But life is so much more interesting and complex than that. We don’t all find fulfillment in the same things – even though we’re sold the same external desires via our advertising-controlled media. Looks! Wealth! Fame! Possessions! Eternal Youth!
Denial of who we truly are combined with actions taken for external reasons create depression.
- I’ll make a million bucks and then they’ll love me! So why aren’t I happy now…
- I’ll be an All Black and it will be awesome! So why aren’t I happy now…
- I’ll marry the richest man I can find and then everything will be wonderful! So why aren’t I happy now…
What makes us truly happy is simply being who we truly are. It’s aligning our physical, emotional, mental and energetic selves with our spirit, soul, consciousness, true Self.
So if you are encountering depression, the most empowering you can do is to first change your perception of it.
Welcome it into your life as a gift from your soul.
Start by getting the help and support you need from your friends, family and the medical profession – medication and psychotherapy are excellent at treating the symptoms. This is important because when you are in the depths of depression, and I know, I’ve been there – it is nearly impossible to do anything. And to start listening to your soul or true self, you need to be able to take action.
With the symptoms taken care of, or at least lessened, and the support and love of those close to you, then you can start to do the hard work that will free you from depression forever. Because it is hard work to look honestly at who you are, beyond who you think you are, or who you’ve made yourself into to get what you think you want.
This is when our yoga and meditation practice helps enormously – it’s not just our bodies which we’re learning to align, but our external selves with our internal selves. That slow alignment of outside with inside can free us of depression.
Rates of depression are increasing all over the Western world, and I believe it is caused by our general reliance on external sources to chart our life’s course, with little heed paid to the yearnings of our soul.
At some point, this total disregard for our own internal truth manifests as a profound sense of despair and disillusionment with life. Instead of seeing the horror in a world plagued with depression, we can instead see it as a giant wake-up call – our collective soul is crying out for recognition.
In the wake of material comfort, it is time to finally understand that true joy, happiness and contentment comes from living an authentic life.
It is time to connect to your true self.
This is far easier to write or say than to do. But when I read of people who have been experiencing depression for years or decades, my heart goes out to them. I have to wonder – would a regular yoga and meditation practice combined with serious self-inquiry help this person to undo the knots of their psyche and free themselves from depression?
Possibly, just possibly.
(This article is based on my own experience of depression and my observations of those I know – it’s not intended to be an accurate description of the way all people experience depression.)