We talk too much, often expressing what we think we desire rather than taking time to listen to ourselves… it’s no wonder we fluctuate between anxiety and depression. Our default focus tends to be on the anxiety producing concerns of what others are thinking or doing, on what should be or could be, and on what appears as the accepting consensus. All the while, the depressed soul withers from its unattended cries of purpose, identity, needs, and passions. It’s hard to explain this to the disquieted person. It seems it has become easier to increase dosages and wait in line for a prescription than to address the pressing matter of who we really are, what living is really about, and how to live according to our individual purpose. We live in a sedated society, medicated by detached practitioners who themselves, through ignorance, evade the real issues and causes of anxiety, depression, addiction, and other ailments.
The soul requires your attention. If it’s depression or anxiety we experience, before we seek to medicate, we need to ask ourselves how much time are we spending nourishing our souls. While we may spend time balancing the physical and social aspects of our lives, the soul may remain neglected signaling ‘hunger’ through the pangs of restlessness and melancholy. Often, someone who is experiencing a generalized form of anxiety or depression will discover that little time has been vested in soul-enriching activities that restore emotional and spiritual balance. So before a discussion on medications takes place, an exploration of wellness activities should be discovered. These may include:
Meditation has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety. In fact, there is research proving that meditation is just as effective as prescribed medications in managing anxiety.
Reading increases awareness and can help improve the ability to understand what is going on within you. It also helps with shifting focus away from what you are experiencing to being in tune with the plot and characters of the story.
Laughing or even the act of smiling releases pleasure creating chemicals in the brain, giving off a sense of well-being. Engaging in content or with people that make you laugh is a sure way to combat the imbalance of ‘feel good’ neutrotransmitters in the brain of those suffering with depression and/or anxiety.
Many times, our moods are worsened by overthinking or catastrophizing. A “keep it simple” approach in which we spend time devoted to the deeper part of ourselves is important as a starting point to manage our moods before reassessing and exploring further solutions.
An essential kind of success-perhaps the most critical type-is psychological. Unfortunately,many people attain financial wealth and yet ignore the importance of their psychological health. We tend to frequently check our bank statements and balance our checkbooks, yet we put off reflecting on what’s happening in our minds. With the rates of anxiety and depression becoming more prevalent, it’s time to prioritize and take inventory on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We begin by reflecting on our past and current relationships (social, personal, occupational, spiritual). What seems to be the theme? What or who is the common denominator of the problem? What are my greatest liabilities and am I ready to discard them? The initiation of such a process is probably the most daring and life changing endeavor a person will ever embark on. Psychological success requires discipline, structure, and an enduring commitment to tend to one’s inner life. A dedication to reflect, admit defects, and take on the painstaking task of breaking unhealthy patterns and cycles is by far the best form of achievement. Psychological success is the thread that holds everything together and it’s proper management pays off the greatest dividends.
Addiction pertains to all of us. Though the problem may not be substances or compulsions, the condition of addiction is universal and we all experience it to some degree. Every time we turn away from what is true, what is good, what is just, what is virtuous- we take another “hit” in favor of what seems gratifying. While it may seem harmless-to look away or evade your responsibility-it erodes the soul and gradually removes us from our nature of loving, caring, feeling, uniting, connecting, etc. Being unable to face the reality that we are living in contrary to our nature, we continue to turn away, drifting further into pleasures and distractions until anxiety, or depression, or crisis signals us to take action. Recovery is a return to the fundamental aspects of being a person… it is the state of answering life’s questions with action of what is good for the world and what is my responsibility in this given moment. Recovery limits or all together turns away from distractions and pleasures that get in the way of this responsibility.
I’ve come to realize that at the core of every relapse, underneath the distress and volatility of each craving, there is a sincere and desperate cry for reality… a reality tht lives out love, wisdom, and truth in its purest form.
All the rituals and practices of the major organized religions cannot parallel the moment a person hits rock bottom. There are no scripts, no pretensions, no rehearsed utterances…just a man or woman bearing their soul, pleading for healing, for answers- sending their cry into the void in hopes that Something or Someone will come. It’s miraculous to watch. You’ll never see someone as connected to their natural state as that. It’s similar to watching the miracle of birth. Being able to be a part of moments like this, I’ve discovered that there is something greater than ourselves watching over Its creation and I’m convinced loves us.
“Pick me up and throw me where you will. Wherever I land I shall keep the god within me happy…” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’ve heard many stories from people in recovery dealing with obstacles, some so severe I wondered how they were managing to stay clean and sober. Some had lost their homes to foreclosure. Some were laid off from work. And some had even lost children to illness. In every account, the same statement reappeared at the end of each share, “But I didn’t drink” or “I didn’t pick up”… “no matter what.” These people were living proof that something profound had taken place within, a spiritual awakening. Though the external reality of their lives were constant and difficult, there was a wise and directing consciousness beneath what they presented. This consciousness was impenetrable- although their lives were shaken, they were far from broken.
Recovery is spiritual awareness. People become aware of the divinity within and make a decision to honor it on a daily basis. Outside circumstances such as death, divorce, and financial problems cannot influence the spiritual life within. Many people in AA refer to this idea as the “98 Burn”, a statement made on page 98 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book text which states “job or no job, wife or no wife…burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone.” While our world may be shaken or everything seems to be crumbling down around us, we must acknowledge the god inside us, unfazed, smiling, and always willing to direct us towards the next step. Stability, healing, and recovery depend not on what happens to us but on the reckoning and daily practice of honoring the divine life within.
Periodically, I like to meditate on a couple of things that help restore and elicit a sense of gratitude. It constitutes a period of contemplation evoking powerful emotions of joy and a state of thankfulness. First, I think of a difficult or frightening moment in the past I eventually overcame. I think of how, by great fortune, I was spared of the worst possible outcome of the event. For example, I once slammed on the breaks right on time in traffic avoiding a fatal collision with an 18 wheeler. Or I was called to cover a different unit on the day I was scheduled to see a patient who had been caught with a shank in his cell. On both such occasions, I was spared and I didn’t have to be. Many people die everyday from such unfortunate occurrences. I like to think that the time I’m given beyond these moments are added bonuses that I should embrace and do as much as I can with the “complimentary hours.”
The second thing I contemplate on is recalling all the people I’ve known, both directly and indirectly, who are battling or have battled serious life conditions such as terminal and chronic illnesses, addiction, severe mental health issues, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, and other forms of prolonged suffering. I think of how if there is a universal good that exists in the world then perhaps these people serve a great purpose. Perhaps, through divine wisdom they are the ones chosen to bear it for now so that I won’t have to.
As macabre and dark as it can appear, surprisingly these two exercises cultivate a genuine kind of gratitude where the effects are immediately felt. Suddenly, the coffee tastes fresh, people become more loving, and the possibilities endless.
It’s surreal to think of how a thing, a substance, sometimes so small, sometimes invisible or pleasantly deceptive to the human eye can utterly destroy a life. Sometimes, these things appear to be beautiful in their rawest form. A swaying cocoa plant or a vibrant poppy add beauty to the fields they inhabit. It’s astonishing and at the same time unfathomable to accept the reality that these beautiful ornaments of nature-once they are separated from their original form and ingested-have the capacity to enslave and obliterate a person on every conceivable level.
I think of these beautiful intricacies of nature in their true essence…I think of the lives that were once whole and later became separated from themselves and the world because of addiction. This helps me understand that there is an objective and guiding principle pervading all living things: Nature and people thrive and are at their most beautiful in their wholeness, and this should never be tampered with…
Man envies every least deserving thing. He strives and dies for the things that should always be allocated at the background of reality. The promotion, the size of his home, his bank account, the attention given by others, where his kids go to school, where he dines and gathers- all take center stage and consume the pathway to his purpose. And nature which seeks to teach him how to live, how to be happy, is altogether ignored, kicked away like an orphan who incessantly begs for loose change and crumbs. He seldom ponders the trees that show him how to weather the inevitable storms, to stand strong through the turbulence, to accept harmoniously the place it’s been given, and to fall gracefully when it is time. It’s tragic that we often fall prey to the erroneous escapes of life’s struggles-the pill, the powder, the bottle, the dollar, the relationship, etc- through self medication and yet, often ignore the guiding example of nature. Nature stands still, stoically, through both the pleasant moments and drudgery of existence. It doesn’t rebel nor complain about what should or could be… it stands and exists in perfect harmony with what is and what has been given. If you’ve run out of answers, if there’s no more ways to escape left in you, switch your focus to bringing nature and life center stage and lessen your priorities on those things that hinder.
When we want to express our most profound sentiments, our rawest emotions, dreams, fears, or opinions in any given moment on any given circumstance, but fail to do so, we commit the greatest offense to the self. When we’re filled with a passionate idea but bite the tongue out of fear of being criticized or oppressed, it is the equivalency of self-mutilation-a denial of our unique creativity. In attempting to gain acceptance we lose the part of ourselves that earnestly seeks authenticity, the part of ourselves that yearns to find its place in the world. In turn, our vibrancy is diminished and our confidence withers. It is better to be daring and speak one’s mind risking ridicule and ostracism than to keep silent to appease the masses. The former you can quickly recover from, but the latter creates irreparable damage to the soul.