On Depression

I am receiving more and more emails and reports from people who are suffering from depression. Most people think that it is a disease and that they have to change something. It is a phenomenon that was not around when I grew up. The WHO believes that in a few years 25% of health costs will be incurred by depression. I believe that our society is now breeding and producing depression. I consider depression the healthy and natural response of a mature (if slightly sensitive) integrated adult to the imbalance that we have created through our from nature estranged civilization. Starting with the age of Enlightenment humanity believed itself to be above nature. We have been taught that we are flesh-robots, powered by selfish genes pursuing their own selfish interests. We are taught to outmaneuver similar organisms (other people) that are competing with us for limited resources. If we are lucky we are training our offspring better than they do theirs and so our genes continue to exist in this ongoing survival of the fittest while ‘theirs’ will hopefully die out. Talking about ‘theirs’: Our civilization suffers because it teaches that there is this ‘other’ that we have to conquer whether in the disguise of competitors, Islamist terrorists, immigrants, war on drugs, war on poverty, war on illiteracy, war on cancer, war on infectious disease, war on I-don’t know what and now its war on depression. All of these are nothing but externalized conflicts that our society does not solve. It is our state of being in constant war against everything that causes this depression. It is depressing to live in a hostile or at best indifferent universe in which I constantly have to combat against millions of other organisms that have nothing in mind but to replace me.

Considering all of the above we should be depressed. A healthy human being should in fact be depressed facing all of this unease, disharmony and disease that our society has created. Since all of humanity has one common mind depression will be felt by all of its more sensitive members. However, it stands to reason that we all should be feeling it. There is nothing wrong with depression. The fact that it has become ubiquitous is just a sign, a symptom how much is wrong. So firstly, I think that every person who is feeling it is to be commended for having the sensitivity because you guys are really feeling it for all of us. The truth is, I should be feeling it myself but I have been a rather robust apocaloptimist. An apocaloptimist is a person that knows that the world is going down the gurgler but thinks that miraculously it will turn out all right. I don’t’ say that with a sense of pride but almost with a sense of embarrassment. But there is not much evidence to believe that things will turn out all right. Species become extinct every day, the amount of fresh air and clean water decreases rapidly. The forests are retreating, the pole caps are melting, and so is the tundra, releasing its giant deposits of methane gas. On top of that, we, the supposed crown of creation or only intelligent animals, have nothing better to do than being in constant warfare and in brief moments of military peace at least in legal, economic and domestic squabbles with each other.

All you depressed people out there, you do have a right to a better world and a right to a better society and every depressed person in the world is crying out that we cannot continue like this. In order to put an end to global depression we have to create a society that is more just, more compassionate, we have to teach gratitude, forgiveness and love in our schools rather than competitiveness, preparing our children for the rat race and a depressing future.

What you are feeling is a symptom of a humanity struggling to evolve from the power chakra (manipulation, exploitation, coercion, destruction of our mother planet) to the heart chakra. Humanity has to take this step or otherwise it will not survive. Depression is nothing but an evolutionary motor, a symptom of our crisis that pokes us into the back and tells us to evolve. This is not to say that you, personally, do not evolve but it means that all of us are connected and are in truth forming one universal being. As long as this universal being is not evolving fast enough, depression is felt by many of its members. Another symptom is terrorism. Because we are externalizing auto-aggression we are projecting it onto the Islamists who are mirroring it back to us as terrorism. Truth is all of us are the terrorists. We have terrorized this planet for thousands of years, slaughtered its indigenous cultures, hell, we are still doing it today destroying their final vestiges with our bulldozers! Do we have the right to cut down the forests, to poison the air and the water? Is that not terrorism what we do? It is our denial to deal with our own darkness that the terrorists express on a global scale back to us. Why are we so mesmerized with Islamic State if it did not address something deeply within us? They fascinate us, don’t they? They even look like a hybrid between Darth Vader and the Dark Lord Sauron.

But back to depression: I could write many things how we could tackle it from a yogic viewpoint. It’s an excess of tamas, so we would increase the inhalation to make you more rajasic. We could use Kapalabhati to kick the brain into gear, use Bhastrika to break the granthis (pranic knots) or employ Nauli to ignite the fire of intelligence and creativity. How about a few arm-balances to increase the feeling of personal power. But I want to write none of that. Isn’t that exactly what psychiatry does, they patch you up with chemicals so that you can run along in the rat race a bit longer and continue living in the empty and meaningless world that we have created?

No, let me start somewhere completely different. In the Gita is a stanza where Krishna talks of him “to which friend and foe is alike, who is the same in shame and glory and who treats with equanimity a clod of earth and a lump of gold.” Who is he? According to yoga, our life (or more precisely the karmic forces set in motion by none but ourselves) supplies us with exactly the right cocktail of pleasure and pain that we need to wake up. So the goal is not an endless supply of pleasure (which would make us insensitive, conceited and hard-hearted) but to awaken. So the question, when we are suffering is not so much how do we get out of it because life is constant flux and the next moment might present something entirely different. The point is who is it that the suffering occurs to? Who is it that is aware of the suffering? If you keep asking this question with great intensity you will find that there is an underlying current that is aware of whatever happens in your life, such as depression. These phenomena, however, leave no imprint on this current. It is the eternally un-depressed, un-impressed, unchanged and unchangeable.

In yoga we call that the pure consciousness (purusha). It is that what cannot be cut by blades, nor pierced by thorns, nor drowned by water, nor burned by fire. This pure consciousness was there prior to depression, it now witnesses depression and it will still be there when depression has long subsided. This our deepest strata is entirely changed in the process of depression morphing from the seed state to the manifest state and then to the residue state. This strata is the true you. It cannot be touched neither by glory nor depression.

This consciousness is so-called because it is that what is conscious. We are conscious because we are the embodied self (atman). But the scriptures teach that there is only one atman. While being embodied (that is while living in a body), the body gives us the impression that there are many consciousnesses (purushas) and that’s why Patanjali (the author of the Yoga Sutra) accepts their plurality. But when identification with the body is surrendered (the earlier the better) and the self (atman) is recognized, we will see that there is only one. You and me and all of us share the same self.

When we realize that it will be the end of conflict, first with ourselves, and resulting from that, with each other. Then competition and ambition will end and with it selfish genes, survival of the fittest, conquering nature and competing for limited resources. Because we will finally realize that there is no ‘other’. As we share the same self whoever I am defeating or vanquishing out there, will always be myself and all pain out there will always return to my own doorstep. Depression means that we are not living with or for each other but against each other. When we realize that together as a community, that then will be the end of depression.

 

About Gregor Maehle

Gregor Maehle started his yogic practices over 38 years ago. For almost two decades he yearly travelled to India where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Gregor spent 14 months in Mysore, India, and in 1997 was authorized to teach Ashtanga Yoga by K. Pattabhi Jois. Since then he has branched out into research of the anatomical alignment of postures and the higher limbs of Yoga. He obtained his anatomical knowledge through a Health Practitioner degree and has also studied History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Gregor lived many years as a recluse, studying Sanskrit, yogic scripture and practising yogic techniques. He has published a series of textbooks on all major aspects of yoga. His mission is to re-integrate ashtanga vinyasa practice into the larger framework of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers trainings, retreats and workshops worldwide.
Posted in Ecology, Meditation and Samadhi, Society/ civilisation, Yoga Philosophy.

6 Comments

  1. You hit the nail on its head.

    JK’s wisdom comes to mind:
    “It is not a measure of success to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

    One can be anything but depressed now, unless one is “well adjusted” or well evolved spiritually.
    Isn’t adjustment or normalization the whole point of modern medicine and school education? Any small deviation has a fancy name in the DSM manual!

    Does the spiritual journey necessarily produce depression? As the awareness develops it probably produces depression and sadness initially and hopefully, as one progresses at some point one recognizes “the self” and a peaceful realization descends. If so, we ought to have disproportionately high % of depressed in the ranks of modern yogis.

    But this very idea of using parts of mind it fix other parts of mind is fascinating.

    • Hi BT,
      Wow, is that a J Krishnamurti quote? Amazing how accurately he worded it. Thanks for that. You are right, our whole education system and the other parts of the industrial complex tune us to be well-adjusted, unconscious robots to feed the giant production apparatus, which as side effect gobbles up the entire biosphere, while the media, economy, mainstream science, psychology, etc. cheer as on as we march happily into the abyss.
      I don’t think that spiritual evolution necessarily produces depression but currently as one becomes more aware one also becomes more sensitive to a planet trying to shake off a humanity that is going more mad and unsustainable by the day.
      I think there is a way out but by now spiritual evolution is not going to do the trick. What we need is probably a much more radical spiritual revolution.
      Greetings
      Gregor

      • Indeed, it is a Krishnamurti quote.
        I typed it from my fallible memory. I believe he referred to health instead of success.

  2. hey, nice article.

    I have dealt with my own depression in the past. I was almost skeptical of its dissipation after nearly six years. Suddenly, being able to make decisions and feel confident in what I was like being given a new life.

    There is a prophecy of the Anishinaabe, which says then one day when the wind looses the breath of life, the fish become unfit to eat, and the cup of life almost becomes the cup of grief, a new people will arise. The new people will look back along the trail, to find what was left behind. Their journey will lead them to the elders, but the elders will be sleeping.

    It says that if the new people stay strong in their quest, the Midewiwin water drum will sound again, and at this time the people will have a choice. The choice is of two paths, which I think are somewhat apparent. One being spirituality, the other represented by technology. I don’t think technology is inherently sinister, but I do think that a society which convinces itself of its maturity with every new thing it makes, while recklessly consuming its only source of life is.

    I wanted to share that because I think it is very relevant. I think we do need something. the prophecy tells that the new people will be of ‘all tribes’. Ironically, this may be one of the most well networked eras in humanity. I am too an apocoloptimist. I think in the end, its the journey that matters not the destination. Even if all seems lost, as longs as even a small group remain dedicated to ‘the way’, then the inherent purpose of life is satisfied. It is noted that the prophecy does consider that if humanity cannot make the right choice ‘this will end’.

    • Thanks a lot, Adam, for this contribution. It is humbling to again hear of the intuitive wisdom of indigenous cultures, which we, the supposed enactors of linear progress are often lacking. What we seem to have lost is the ability to listen to nature, a skill which ancient society still possessed.

      Greetings
      Gregor

  3. Interesting article. Love the perspective. Or should I say articles…I just found your website, so I am going to be busy! I suffered and recovered from depression about, oh, twenty years ago (I am 46 now). There is another ingredient to the phenomenon of depression. Depression is a created concept and it has been given a “toxic” label. It is considered toxic in society because society does not want its individuals to experience “what is wrong with society”. So, we are taught to relate to it as something that causes us to be bad in someway; something that requires removal. Depression is something no one wants and everyone wants to stay away from. It is pariah. That is a lie.

    As you mentioned above, ancient society had an ability to listen to nature. Nowhere in ancient Greek history or literature was there ever a mention of depression in the sense that we mean it today. There is an overwhelm and helplessness that modern people experience over simple every-day affairs. There is a pretense towards “not caring” or “being carefree” in distraction after distraction. We care and are a afraid of caring. We are confused and afraid of being confused. We are afraid of awareness! We are brutal to ourselves. It is as if we are Atlas and we are being crushed by the world. As the world as gotten smaller with technology and information, it seems that the sheer weight of the world has become intolerable to many who have no capacity to process much or any of it for that matter. Maybe we can thank education for that. Maybe it is what Plato said about the Greeks: “They are all children”.

    To me, the thing we call depression is a treasure trove of unrecognized, undistinguished, orphaned pieces of our human spirit and soul. It is the source of our inspiration, our heart, our love, passion for the deep, the rich and true. To this day, whenever I am sad or feeling beaten, I reach down and begin to find a few seeds that are ready for the planting…the nourishing…the giving back to the world…and it isn’t instantaneous, it is not fast-food. We need to relearn patience. The Self can teach us that, because it isn’t going anywhere.

    It is no wonder they called the economic wasteland of the 30s, the “Depression”. It was a time of helplessness, of utter collapse, a failed system that came tumbling down. But clearly there were some people who didn’t see it as a depression, and instead saw it as it was, the beginning of something new, creative, and extraordinary. If they hadn’t had that kind of awareness, the human race would have died out long ago.

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