Ten percent of adults suffer from depression in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a staggering number of people who cannot find contentment within themselves or the world around them. Although prescription medications have had a positive effect on some, another supportive approach for improving the long-term state of awareness in individuals is meditation.
Meditation has been documented as an effective component for improving a number of medical conditions. For people struggling with depression, meditation can help by returning them to a realization that the original state of the self is goodness and power. When people feel good internally, the world around them automatically looks more positive. The challenge is to practice a contemplative cycle of positivity during a bout of depression.
Quality of existence comes through the mind
We have seen this through the incredible stories of pivotal leaders in history, such as the late Nelson Mandela. These inspiring individuals have eloquently shown us that the quality of existence during their most challenging times rested in their state of mind, not their external surroundings. They deeply turned inward when the outside world was failing them—what they found was their innermost place of strength and wisdom despite their physical or emotional conditions.
When we refuse to allow our external conditions to define us and determine our value, we open ourselves to a whole new dimension of thought. Meditation provides the opportunity for people to notice the internal dialogue continuously taking place in the mind. Rarely do we detect how engrossed we are on a subconscious level with fear, worry, resentment, and even anger. Looking at it from a spiritual perspective, we understand that depression activates those emotions of fear and anger to suppress original and eternal qualities of love, peace, and purity. As we begin to face those negative emotions, we draw out the power to change the waste thoughts that emerge from that negative state into positive thoughts. We redirect the feeling of being low.
The root of depression
First we must understand how depression takes root. In spiritual terms, the subconscious is the keeper of all life experiences. In the ancient language of Sanskrit the subconcious is referred to as sanskar, where all the positive and less-than-positive experiences reside in the being. When these experiences emerge together at the same time in the mind, a person can feel confused, distracted, fearful, and low. A cycle perpetrating this pattern can suppress pure feelings, thus depressing the souls’ greatest nourishment: happiness.
Noticing what we are thinking and what type of thoughts we are entertaining is the first step. The more gently vigilant we are about this practice, the quicker we can overcome patterns of sinking into depression. The biggest misconception in today’s society is thinking that meditation is solely done on a mountain top, at a retreat center, or sitting down somewhere quietly—there is much more application to the practice than that.
What is meditation?
Meditation is accomplished when we become aware of the thoughts taking place in our minds and then actively practice to change them into more uplifting and worthy thoughts. Then, when we actually find time to slow down and sit in solitude, a deeper sense of stability and recognition of their worthiness and goodness can occur.
The pace of our lives and access we have to constant text and language create an abundance of static in the mind. This is why when we start meditating we can often feel overwhelmed by our internal noise, the remnants of all we have recently absorbed. Paying attention to positive thoughts while on the move is imperative in creating a healthy mental dialogue.
Replacing negative thoughts with meditation
An acronym that I use regularly is ALGAE. A for anger, L for lust, G for greed, A for attachment, and E for ego. These emotional states of thinking are the root cause for depression if they are used to suppress the original goodness of the being: love, peace, and purity. The opposite factors of ALGAE are peace in place of anger; innocence in place of lust; contentment and joy instead of greed; love in place of attachment; and spiritual wisdom of the self or self-respect in place of the ego. The stimulations of the external world have the tendency to feed ALGAE. When a gentle, vigilant approach to paying attention to thoughts occurs—particularly while those thoughts are active—emotional suffering takes a back seat and so does the temporary fix of antidepressants.
Through meditation we can take charge of our minds and shift the influence that emerges from the subconscious. It is possible to slow down the barrage of waste thoughts that come from ALGAE, thoughts that depress the mind from being in a state of joy. Understanding how the waste thoughts were created leads us to the formation of new positive constructs. Instead of living in the pain of the past, we can begin to feel the deeper and true essence of who we are. As many traditions throughout the ages have suggested, there is an inherent goodness and purity in every being at their core. We reach this pure state of being and awareness through a consistent meditation practice.
Depression is on the rise, but fortunately so are contemplative practices. As we move further from the core of purity and peace we will either be gently urged or forcibly pushed to step inside and shift the state of consciousness we cyclically entertain. Though the mind can be our best friend, if we ignore it, it will wreak havoc. By paying attention to the quality of thoughts emerging on the screen of the mind from sanskars, we are able to shift them from negative into positive. Eventually a new pattern emerges, shifting ALGAE into the pure state of who we are. By rejecting waste, we can feel deeply in charge of our minds. In time our minds can become our best friends once again.
By Sister Jenna, a spiritual mentor, meditation expert, motivational speaker, host of the America Meditating Radio Program, and director of the Meditation Museum in Silver Spring, Maryland