THERAPISTS WHO TRY TO HELP depressives
have a problem. Depression is characterized by a feeling of helplessness
and hopelessness. In other words, a depressive doesn't think
his actions will make any difference. He's quite sure of it.
He feels his situation is hopeless. He believes he can't do anything
about his situation or his depression. He feels helpless about
The therapist knows better. If the depressive
would change the way he thinks, he could reduce or even eliminate
his depression. But here's the catch: Changing the way he thinks
would take effort. And effort requires motivation. And
motivation requires the assumption that his actions can have
In other words, before the depressive can
get over his feelings of helplessness, he must first get over
his feelings of helplessness.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists have actually
found a way to do this. They give the depressive an antidepressant
drug and then while he's feeling more hopeful and less helpless,
they help him change the way he thinks.
Then they take away the drug and he doesn't
(usually) lapse back into depression because he no longer thinks
depressingly about his circumstances. Research has shown that
the combination of antidepressants and cognitive therapy works
better than either alone.
Now here's my point: Meditation does the
same thing for the "normal" mental illness we all have.
Abraham Maslow wrote that in his studies
of psychology, he came to the conclusion that many of the most
cherished "laws of psychology" often turned out to
be "no laws at all but only rules for living in a state
of mild and chronic psychopathology and fearfulness, of stunting
and crippling and immaturity which we don't notice because most
others have this same disease that we have."
He wasn't the first to have noticed this.
Freud wrote of the "universal neurosis in man." Buddha
said that "all worldlings are deranged."
There is a kind of craziness we all share
and it's hard to get out of it. The craziness is a self-perpetuating
trap similar to the depressive's dilemma.
Most of us wish we could be more peaceful,
feel more contentment, be better listeners, feel more forgiving
and patient, and so on, but our own physiology defeats us.
It's frustrating because we know we could be that way,
but somehow, no matter how great our insights are on a relaxing
vacation, when we get back into our daily lives, we are unable
to be the people we want to be.
You know what I'm talking about, don't
you? The problem is, you constantly release stress hormones into
your body in response to the crazy world (and your ingrained
mental responses to that crazy world). It is almost impossible
to ingrain any new mental patterns because the anxious, agitated,
frustrated, discontented state of your bodymind will continually
thwart you. You're saturated with stress hormones and it causes
the "psychopathology of the average" you can't seem
However, there is a way out. Meditation
lowers stress hormones. Specifically, it reduces cortisol and
lactate drastically. Read
more about that here. So when you meditate a couple of times
a day, twenty minutes a pop enough to keep your stress
hormone level low you become calm. And in your new, calmer
frame of mind and body, new habits of mind can form.
In this calmer state, you naturally and
inevitably develop more serene, loving, and peaceful points of
view and habits of action. These new ways of thinking and looking
at the world and behavior can become natural and ingrained when
you keep up your meditation practice, so even if you were to
skip a day of meditation, your new habits would sustain your
serenity and sanity.
It is worth taking the time to filter out
your cortisol by meditating. It is the fastest, most efficient
way to reduce your stress hormones.
If you did nothing, the cortisol in your
bloodstream would eventually get used up or filtered out. The
problem with just waiting is that while they are in your system,
the stress hormones have an influence on your behavior. And the
stress hormones influence your ways of thinking. They influence
how you interpret the events of your life. And those actions
and thoughts can make your body produce more cortisol.
Because your stress hormones have not yet
been filtered out, you might snap at your spouse, for example,
and that makes you a little more upset, especially when your
spouse snaps back. It puts more cortisol in your system.
It makes your life a little more upsetting, a little crazier.
In this way, the craziness tends to perpetuate the craziness.
That new jolt of cortisol also stimulates
more anxious thoughts or frustrating reactions, which come right
around and boost your cortisol level some more. It is a cycle
of insanity that is hard to get out of.
But meditation is a reliable way out of
the madness. Read the literature to convince yourself. Or simply
A tremendous amount of research has been
done on the physical effects of
meditation. This is not guesswork or based on mere anecdotal
evidence. The research is solid and there is a lot of it. And
the results all point in the same direction.
Meditation can make you an oasis of sanity
in a crazy world. Learn how to meditate here.