Is depression simply a disease as many psychiatrists and doctors would have us believe, or is there tremendous potential for personal growth and spiritual awakening locked up in the struggle against this common ‘disorder?’
For those who are battling, or who have already conquered depression, there is certainly no one size fits all answer, but, according to one of the world’s foremost experts on the relative study of mind and spirit, Dr. Lisa Miller, severe depression and spiritual experience are two sides of the same cognitive coin.
Her idea is perhaps best presented with this metaphor: depression and spiritual awakening are two sides of the same door. On one side is the total possibility of despair, hopelessness and isolation, and a look through to the other side reveals equally strong shades of spiritual satisfaction, inner peace, and connection to all that is.
Personally driven by her own despair and depression that resulted from infertility and a lack of being able to find her and her husband’s lives worth living without their own children, she began, ever so slowly to awaken to the messages of healers and helpers that seemed to arise serendipitously on her path, offering hints at greater possibilities for happiness and fulfillment.
Slow at first, her rise in awareness of how the universe was speaking to her through others quickly gave way to a flood of synchronicity, events that were simply far too meaningful to be described as coincidence. Synchronicity, remarkably, is one of the most important and commonly shared experiences or features of the process of human awakening, and individuation onto the soul’s proper path.
The synchronistic events in her life ultimately gave way to a letting go of sorts, a submission to new possibilities, a release, if you will, of previously held notions of what she thought happiness was supposed to be or to mean in her life.
As a researcher and professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, Lisa ended up in a position of critical curiosity about the nature of depression: is it a disease or not? If so, how can a disease be caused by emotionally charged events in one’s life, such as the loss of a family member, or in her case, the lack of being able to create a family?
The causal link simply did not fully add up, thus she applied her skills as a scientist to the matter and came upon a significant discovery about how the brain is physically constructed with regards to its disposition of being in a depressed or spiritually connected state. For in her eyes, these two concepts seem to mirror each other philosophically, so why not scientifically?
Researching this with her team at Colombia, they discovered that yes, indeed, the actual substance of the brain where depression and spiritual fulfillment are registered are remarkably different with each of these states, reflecting a genuine physical polarity to accompany the metaphysical connection. The study began by recruiting some of the most depressed people she could find, especially those with a long family history of crippling depression, then looking at people with equally long lineages of spiritual presence.
They realized that the subjects all had a similar condition in the cortex region of the brain, and in the case of the depressed participants, the brain’s cortex was literally withered and underdeveloped, as though it had been starved. Similar to how a plant reacts to insufficient water.
Conversely, when looking at spiritually awakened subjects, those with a rich history of happiness and feeling connected to physical and spiritual realms of our multidimensional existence, these same regions of the brain were markedly stronger, more robust and larger, looking like the broad trunks of healthy trees.
“What we found, was that in precisely those regions of the brain which atrophied and withered in lifelong depression, for those people with strong personal spirituality, there was thickening of those very same regions. The cortex was thick, as if you were looking at a tree in the Amazon, versus a tree withering in the cold and drought.
Depression is not always an illness. It can be… but very often, depression, as every one will face it, is core to our endowment and core to our development.” – Dr. Lisa Miller
Another fascinating thing that they found, indicating what clinical science can show about the spiritual path, is when they looked at women who, “through suffering had come to a spiritual path, with nice thick cortexes, they also had another quality. The back of their head gave off a certain wavelength of energy that we call alpha, and its also found on the back of the head of a meditating monk.”
Of the possible frequencies that the human brain can naturally operate under, such as alpha, beta, delta and gamma, alpha is the same frequency as the Schumann resonance, the known frequency given off by the earth. In other words, those on the spiritual path, with healthy and vibrant brain cortexes, are operating at the same frequency of our home, the earth.
“The spiritually engaged brain vibrates at the frequency of the earth’s crust.” – Dr. Lisa Miller
This information can uplift many of the millions of people struggling though depression and looking for some hope to find their way out of the isolation, despair and darkness of this common condition. The more deeply a person feels depression, the greater the possibility for spiritual awakening that sets a person firmly on the spiritual path.
“The world is alive and infused with that sacred field we might measure as high amplitude alpha. Knowing this, we live into an inspired life. All life of meaning that is not one that we create, but one that is truly in the fabric of the world. We live an inspired life.” – Lisa Miller
Take a listen to Dr. Miller’s beautiful and uplifting story. At the very end she reveals an incredible even that adds even more to this story of synchronicity and inspiration.
About the Author
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Those who are called ‘mentally ill’ or ‘mad’ are the voices in the wilderness, the ones who point to the distress of society, the ones who convict it of its crimes. By their ‘strange’ appearance and parting from the ‘norms’, they challenge and reveal that humanity is not free. They reveal that what is normal is but an accepted madness of the majority.
~ DR. DAN L. EDMUNDS
Love this by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds. In a world where the majority are unable to see the bigger picture and therefore have little compassion for extreme states and mental illness, this is exciting. Gives me great hope for change.
What is termed “madness” or “mental illness” is for some the only means for expression of their being lost and confused in a world which has caused them deep hurt and pain. Such is not disease but behavior with metaphorical meaning. There has been received through life mixed messages and placement into situations where regardless of the option they chose they felt damned. They seek to break out from the reality which has only caused them distress. The development of hallucinations and delusions are all metaphors for the very real demons they have encountered in a disordered society.
The inner mind, the voice within us, becomes ampliﬁed and becomes “possessed” with the demons coming forward from the trauma and distress which has been encountered. Rebellion against the system of things becomes self-destructive as the person seeks to send a message to the world of their distress, but it remains unheard. Each coping mechanism that has been employed has often led to failure and not brought them out of the unlivable situation that is their life. However, the catharsis of this pain and grief can go in two directions – it can be misery and existential death, or it can be transformative.
Through the pain and struggle, through the breaking out of the “typical reality” one can journey through various modes of altered consciousness. Many deemed “mad” speak of the supernatural. They have sought every attempt to reach out and create meaning. If they can be helped by a loving, supportive network to navigate through this state of confusion and the various realms of altered consciousness towards rebuilding and reconstructing a life of meaning, then they can come forward to a recovery that gives them valuable insight about human nature, who they really are, and the reality of the impermanence of this life and the world around us. They will ﬁnd that suffering is inevitable, and in that suffering is the state of the world that is mired in greed and attachment. The ones deemed “mad” have accomplished a rare task – they have completely detached. But this detachment is only from the typical standards of the world. They remain haunted by the visions of their previous life.
They cannot escape it, and thus they become anxious and paranoid that something or someone will pull them back to that painful existence. At times, rage comes forward as the reaction to challenges, but who would not be outraged if their voice was suppressed and they became the scapegoat for the problems of their families or those around them? Those deemed “mad”, feeling always alone, depart to a world where they remain alone from people, yet may create for themselves beings who give them comfort and solace. This is really the end of their search, to simply be accepted and loved. But here too lies a problem, for when their lives have been devoid of love and they receive unconditional love, it becomes like an overwhelming ﬁre that consumes them. They have never been loved, so how can they respond to an outpouring of love?
When all they knew was that oppression and coercion was said to be because “we love you”, when “love” really was only about control, how can the person then understand genuine love? Once again, the confusion sets in. To reach the person who has been deemed “mad”, we cannot overwhelm. Our sincerity will not be enough, for their trust has been shattered time and time again. It is only through entering their world for what it is, by joining in, and learning to speak the language of madness, that we ourselves can begin to understand the experience of these individuals. It is only by this joining in that the person may have the chance for the journey known as “madness” to reach a transformative movement towards discovery.
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds.
Great article by Paul Levy (a pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, and a healer in private practice) regarding psychiatric abuse (psychiatry’s invalidation of trauma and protection of the abuser). Psychiatry makes the sane ones.. the sick ones, the invalids (the in-valids).
I am a survivor of severe psychiatric abuse. There was a year or so in the early 1980’s when I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals at least four times. During my visits to the hospital I was in the midst of a spiritual awakening that I was struggling to contain that was triggered and complicated by extreme psychological abuse at the hands of my father, who was a very sick man. I was suffering so deeply from the psychic violence perpetrated upon my mother and me by my father that it was making me “sick.” One of the most difficult parts of my ordeal in the hospitals was not being listened to by the psychiatrists, either about the abuse by my father or the spiritual awakening. Spiritual emergences/emergencies oftentimes become activated because of a deep experience of wounding, abuse, or trauma. In its initial stage, a spiritual awakening can look like and mimic a nervous breakdown, as our habitual structures of holding ourselves together fall apart and break down so that a deeper and more coherent expression of our intrinsic wholeness can emerge. The spiritual awakening aspect of my experience was so off psychiatry’s map that it wasn’t even remotely recognized. Instead of hearing me, about either the abuse or the awakening, I was immediately pathologized and labeled as the sick one. Being cast in the role of the “identified patient,” I was assured that I was going to be mentally ill for the rest of my days, as if I was being given a life sentence with no possibility for parole, with no time off for good behavior. The fact that I wanted to dialogue about this and question their diagnosis was proof, to the psychiatrists in charge of me, of my illness. The whole thing was totally nuts. Fully licensed and certified by the state, the psychiatric system’s abuse of its position of power was truly unconscionable. What the profession of psychiatry was unconsciously en-acting was truly crazy-making for those under their dominion. I was lucky to escape the psychiatric world with my sanity intact. Many others are not so fortunate.
After hearing the sad news of Robin Williams and his suspected suicide, I am really tired of hearing some people refer to depression as a ‘disease’. It is not a disease, but more chemical and emotional imbalance of the brain, normally affected by long-term stress, deep trauma or grief, for some it is difficult to diagnose the root cause. Here is a good article written by Dr John Grohol on defining Depression for those of you that are insistent on calling it a ”disease”.
Furthermore, should it really be referred to as a ‘mental illness’ either? Through my research and personal experiences, depression is an understandable psychological reaction to the stress and violent deformities of the modern world.
I have tried a number of conventional and non-conventional methods to treat my own depression and I feel the most valuable activities are spending time in…
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Now in our mid-seventies, my wife and I have no imminent need for assisted living or nursing care. But the house we live in is, by definition, a two-person residential facility for the aging. Here at what we fondly call The Home, it’s not uncommon for one of us to try “improve” the other’s quality of life by offering “extra services.” Unfortunately, those services often take the form of advice.
A few years ago, my wife gave me some advice that struck me as — how shall I say? — superfluous. Remembering our experience with my mother, I said, “Could I pay a little less this month?” To this day, that line gives us a chance to laugh instead of getting defensive when one of us attempts, as both of us do now and then, to give the other unsolicited and unwanted “help.”
Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.
Last week I got a call from a man who’d recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’d emailed his bad news to a few family members and friends, one of whom had come over right away. “How are you feeling?” his friend asked. “Well, as I said in my email, I’m feeling amazingly at peace with all this. I’m not worried about what lies ahead.”
The friend replied, “Look, you need to get a second opinion. At the same time, you should start exploring complementary medicine. You should also sign up for a meditation program, and I know a good book that can get you started down that path.”
I asked my caller how that response had made him feel. “I’m sure my friend meant well,” he said, “but his advice left me less at peace.”
I told him I’d have felt the same way, and offered this image: Imagine that I need support with a serious problem, when along comes a guy with advanced CPR certification. He’s so eager to show off his skills that he isn’t able to hear my true need. Instead, he starts administering chest compressions and “rescue breathing,” even though I’m perfectly able to breathe for myself. Now I have another big problem as I try to fight off the “helper” who’s smothering me.
I asked my caller how he would have felt if his friend had simply said, “How great that you’re at peace! Tell me more.” “That would have been wonderful,” he replied. “But everyone I talked to had advice for me, including a relative who said I needed to join her church before it was too late.”
I asked how he’d been feeling recently — he said he’d been feeling afraid. “Do you want to talk about your fear?”, I asked. He talked while I listened and asked a few more questions. When we were done, he told me that some measure of peace had returned. It was a peace that had come from within him, not from anything I’d said. I’d simply helped clear some rubble that blocked his access to his own soul.
My misgivings about advice began with my first experience of clinical depression thirty-five years ago. The people who tried to support me had good intentions. But, for the most part, what they did left me feeling more depressed.
Some went for the nature cure: “Why don’t you get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air? Everything is blooming and it’s such a beautiful day!” When you’re depressed, you know intellectually that it’s beautiful out there. But you can’t feel a bit of that beauty because your feelings are dead — and being reminded of that gap is depressing.
Other would-be helpers tried to spruce up my self-image: “Why so down on yourself? You’ve helped so many people.” But when you’re depressed, the only voice you can hear is one that tells you that you’re a worthless fraud. Those compliments deepened my depression by making me feel that I’d defrauded yet another person: “If he knew what a worm I am, he’d never speak to me again.”
Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.
Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.
During my depression, there was one friend who truly helped. With my permission, Bill came to my house every day around 4:00 PM, sat me down in an easy chair, and massaged my feet. He rarely said a word. But somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition.
By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.
It’s at such a bedside where we finally learn that we have no “fix” or “save” to offer those who suffer deeply. And yet, we have something better: our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up. As Mary Oliver has written:
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
I leave you with two pieces of advice — a flagrant self-contradiction for which my only defense is Emerson’s dictum that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (1) Don’t give advice, unless someone insists. Instead, be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be. (2) If you find yourself receiving unwanted advice from someone close to you, smile and ask politely if you can pay a little less this month.