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Use Depression to Build Presence and Mindful Awareness

Difficult emotions offer a silver lining of opening us to new ways of seeing.

Key points

  • Emotional initiations are universal; they act as guideposts on one's journey that signal a new direction.
  • Depression is a major signal that one's life may be out of balance and needs readjustment.
  • "Presencing" takes a person out of depressive thought patterns by fully immersing them in the here and now.
Marcos Paulo Prado/Unsplash
Marcos Paulo Prado/Unsplash

Ever had a Sweet 16 birthday? Graduated from high school or college? Gotten that first job? Been given a promotion? All of those are initiations into another phase of your life.

While life accomplishments represent positive initiations, let's not forget how difficult emotional initiations—such as depression—also offer wonderful means for both spiritual and personal transformation.

I wouldn't blame you if you responded, "Depression? Seriously? You've got to be kidding me, right?"

Let's spend a moment exploring the universal nature of initiation. Initiations establish meaning and context for our life, as well as acknowledge a new direction that is taking shape. Initiations act as guideposts on our journey. For example, there are religious initiations, such as Christianity’s Rite of Baptism, Judaism’s Bar Mitzvah, or one of Buddhism’s many devotional practices. Likewise, depression is just as powerful for shifting us into new realms of awareness.

You might think of the initiation of depression as stepping stones. As Confucius wrote, "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."

From this perspective, you can use depression to move those old stones that have piled up and are blocking you from fulfillment. You might think of depression as a signal that something in your life needs readjustment.

A research study examined those who flourished after a history of depression. The findings showed that almost 40 percent "attained complete mental health." Those who flourished had meaningful relationships, exercised, and found deeper meaning through spiritual and religious connections.

Personally, one of the most powerful initiations I’ve ever encountered was a depressive episode in my early twenties. It was a life-transforming experience because it forced me to look at my life and beliefs in new ways; it expanded my normal state of being, awareness, and consciousness. Healing and growing in this way, however, is not necessarily about treatment goals. Rather, it's the acceptance of an ongoing process.

In my spiritual suspense novel, Travelers, I illustrated how mental health practitioners and the system itself can get stuck on a simplistic and materialistic view of patients. In this excerpt from Travelers, psychiatrist Dr. Banks muses upon how things might be different:

"The morning staff meeting had a certain boring predictability to it. We all sat there, sipping our coffee and shuffling through the papers of dislocated lives while speaking in a specialized clinical lingo, dissecting diagnoses, prescribing drugs, and choosing treatments and manualized therapies that were often printed out in bulk. I could hardly count how many boxes we clicked each day to satisfy insurance company requirements. How many different digital platforms we used to manage all our records. How distant and mechanical this was from actually working with patients, and yet we devoted a massive amount of our time to doing it.

At some point during the din of discussion, my mind drifted into an odd reverie about whether another kind of healing was possible. I imagined taking a patient’s hand and walking with them into their own swampy and dark personal hell. Together, we’d explore, confront, and make sense of the slimy gremlins and frightening swamp creatures, before walking over rough terrain and, exhausted but safe, finding our way back home, to the light. This process would take time, and we would let it unfold naturally, without the pressure of assessments and treatment outcomes. But now, instead of being a healer, had I just become another cog in a massive machine?"

Use Depression to Experience "Presencing" for Healing

When you're stuck in the depths of depression, it's easy to identify yourself with all those ruminating thoughts rattling around in your head. In truth, however, these ramblings have very little to do with the reality of who you actually are.

Fortunately, there’s a way to go beyond depressive thought patterns. And that is through the act of presencing. Basically, presencing takes you out of old mental ruts and fully initiates and immerses you in the here and now. Doing this circumvents your ego’s elaborate ramblings. Instead, it gets you in touch with something much more profound and expansive than the limited personal self. This is an initiation into contacting your deeper nature and being.

Presencing is your natural birthright. So start simple and find your presence in:

  • the next breath you take
  • the next step
  • the next flower that you see
  • the next worm wriggling slowly through the grass
  • the next color, sound, and texture you experience

Truly, each is a spiritual initiation into the mystery and depth of being. Seek out nature. Rest the weary mind and all its thoughts in the unbounded moment.

And when you forget? Be compassionate with yourself and begin again with a new, small awareness, knowing that this moment and day offer the wonderful possibility of initiation into kindness, wholeness, healing, connection, and renewal.

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