From a Talk Given by Robert J. Solomon, M.D.
What we are going to talk about today is depression, in particular what causes depression and some thoughts on how we can overcome it.
What causes depression? Despite what many people believe, depression is not caused by difficult circumstances in our lives. Rather depression is created within us by the meaning we give to those circumstances.
In other words, depression is caused by our conditioned, negative perceptions of the world. These negative perceptions in turn create biochemical changes in the brain, which we experience as depression. If these perceptions are distorted enough and go on long enough, we can shift from simply being in a depressed mood to experiencing a full blown clinical depression which includes changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, and interest in life.
The most important point here is that all of these changes are not happening to us from our circumstances, but rather are being created by us through how we chose to see the world.
Why is understanding this point so important? Because if we believe that how we feel is something that is happening to us, we will find it very easy to feel like a victim of our circumstances. This misunderstanding is a big problem because feeling like a victim breeds increasing levels of hopelessness, helplessness, and disempowerment. And the more disempowered we feel, the more depressed we get.
What is the answer to this vicious cycle? Seeing and understanding the truth of how our psychological experience of life is created. We create the experience we are having moment to moment from where we choose to focus our attention; in essence, we choose how we see the world.
Once we know this essential truth, we begin to realize that we have much more to say about how we feel then we had previously thought. Can you see how empowering this realization is? Feeling empowered is the antithesis of allowing oneself to be a victim, and thus is an important antidote in overcoming depression.
Another essential ingredient in overcoming depression is the realization that the very thing we are looking for, our well-being, is actually a presence within us that is always there and is always trying to surface, regardless of our circumstances.
The best way I know to illustrate this point is through the following example. Let’s say you have a problem in your life that is really troubling you. This issue could be about your spouse, child, job, or anything for that matter. The point is, you are really troubled by it, and perhaps are feeling hopeless and down about the situation. You keep thinking about it, desperately trying to come up with an answer. Days may go by without relief. Then, all of a sudden, while driving to work, boom, there is the answer. You can’t believe what a good idea you have just had.
What do we call this experience? We call it the light bulb turning on or an epiphany. The key question is, “What is the feeling that goes along with having the epiphany?” And the answer that it’s is a good feeling. In fact, if you feel into this experience a little more, you may realize it is even more than just a good feeling; it is a profound sense of joy and even bliss.
What this point illustrates is that the very thing we are looking for, our well-being, comes hand-in-hand with the insight from our inner wisdom. This insight, and the good feeling that follows, effortlessly surfaces. It is much like a spring when you stretch it. It naturally comes back to its place of rest or balance when you let it go.
We are innately inclined to well-being. In other words, we have an innate capacity to self-heal, not only in the physical realm, but also in the psychological and emotional realms as well. When we are depressed, we are simply getting in the way of this well-being surfacing by using our thinking in a way it was not intended to be used. But despite feeling depressed, there is an innate drive within us to allow our well-being to surface again.
We can think of our negative perception of the world as being like a cloud cover and while the sun represents our well-being. Does the sun disappear forever on a cloudy day? No, at some point in time the clouds will disappear and we will experience the sun again. It is like this when we are depressed. Like the sun that finally reappears, we will get absorbed in life again, our minds will quiet, and our well-being will surface again at some point in time.
Where this understanding inevitably leads is the following: No matter how bad we may feel or how challenging our circumstances may be, there is always hope. Why? Because of this inevitable, innate capacity to self-heal that all humans possess. Realizing this truth is an incredibly important and valuable resource in overcoming depression.