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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Buddhism and Sitting with Depression

As some of you may know I have been diagnosed for awhile now with schizoaffective disorder. It is a brain disorder which combines symptoms of schizophrenia with symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often I can go from feeling on top of the world to the darkest, coldest hole of depression. I take 6 different medications that help a great deal but often I still have episodes despite them.

Well, yesterday was one of those days of being in that scary hole of depression and so I have been doing some research into how Buddhism helps us deal with depression. Here's some of what I have found.

The prevailing way to deal with depression in Buddhism seems to be meditating on compassion and and loving-kindness towards our depression. It is very easy for me to have compassion and loving-kindness toward others but often I forget to have compassion and love toward myself. This is probably one of the reasons that my physiological depression becomes worse with a lack of self-love and compassion.

So this morning I sat with my depression and just showed it love and compassion. I talked to it and told it that I understood it was warning me to "stop and listen." I told it that I loved it and thanked it for being so concerned about me and my life but that it could now go. I understood the lesson it was trying to teach me. I no longer needed it to fertilize the seeds of happiness that would soon grown and blossom out of the depression.

This worked very well as I could literally feel the heavy sorrow leave my shoulders and slowly drift and lift away like a dense fog. This is does not always work but it does indeed help us relax for a time and be at peace. Now, I do not for one minute want to convey that I am an expert on mood disorders or that meditation alone will "cure" depression. However, it is a powerful tool to add to our arsenal in dealing with such emotions.

I think some depression is very much brought upon ourselves for being somewhat selfish and egocentric. That is hard for me to swallow sometimes but I feel it to often to be true. Although most of my depression seems to come from my chemical imbalance I know that I make it worse by feeling selfish pitty for myself. As if somehow I am the only one who struggles with depression or that no one could really understand how much pain I was suffering. The truth is, however, that we have all been there at one time or another. Maybe not in the extremes of a chemical imbalance but enough to relate to it. In moments like these I often remind myself that others have it much worse then I do and I am then able to turn the depression into compassion for others who are suffering worse.

If you are going through depression right now in reading this post know that I have often been right where you are right now and that through meditation and sometimes medical treatment it can be very transformative.

You are not alone in your depression even though you feel like it. I am there with you in the dark sitting beside you with my arms around you. Lean on me and others until you can sit with it and see meditation as a light in the darkness, an island in a rough ocean.

-Peace to all beings-

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the gypsy around the dagoba said...

I have just come accoss your blog and I wanted to tell you how great I though it was.

I study medicine in the UK and have just returned from Sri Lanka. I spent a two month placement in a teaching hospital there. I was facinated by the Buddhist approach to mental health. The monks taught meditation techniques that I wish I had been able to learn more about. Unfortunately language and time were against me and I only gained a small idea about what is possible.

I too believe that everybody knows depression to some extent, perhaps it's especially common in the West due to our lifestyles. I'm glad there are people like to write about it. Many thanks, L.

"James" said...


Thank-you for your kind words regarding the blog.

What an exciting experience to have been in Sri Lanka!! I would love to visit the Buddhist sacred sites in Asia.

Meditation is a wonderful tool for mental health. As well as (I believe) helping people lower their blood pressure, reduce stress, increase relaxation, etc.

Peace to you.

Beth said...

james, that was such a sweet post about being there with others who are suffering depression. thank you. and likewise, you are never alone.

i really feel for you having to take six medications for your condition. i take two medications and the side effects can be so difficult to deal with. of course, without the medication things would be FAR worse, so i deal with it. i can only imagine what it is like with six.

my compassionate thoughts are with you. thanks for posting about this important topic.

M.D. Shellhammer said...

I admire your emotional honesty, and feel that you inherently know how to care for yourself. Have you ever tried the practice of Tonglen? Perhaps it would be helpful, but I leave that to your excellent intuitive knowledge.



Zen Unbound said...


This post has been cited in Blogmandu, Roundup for Oct 17 - 23, 2005.

"James" said...


Thank-you for the reminder that I am not alone. I feel quite blessed to have such wonderful friends like you in my life.

Yes, sometimes modern medicine is a double-edged sword. Just like anything I guess.

Thank-you for the compassion. I absorb it and send it right back to you. :)


Thank-you. I try to be as honest as I can as it helps me stay in the present moment rather then creating an illusiary moment.

Thank-you as well for the reminder of Tonglen. That is a great and powerful practice of letting go of attachment to depression, etc.


I appreciate you cross-posting this. Hopefully some others can benefit from my practice with sitting with my depression. Accepting but not attaching to it and then letting it go as best that I can.

isaiah said...

Holding you in the light of Clear Mind-

"James" said...


Thank-your dear friend.

alwaysdare said...

That's a great post.

I read somewhere that they recently did a study on some buddhist monks who were extremely good at meditation.

They compared the brain activity of the monks during meditation to ordinary people.

I have quoted from the article below:

"In a widely reported 2003 study, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin in Madison led a team of researchers that found that 25 employees of a biotechnology company showed increased levels of neural activity in the left anterior temporal region of their brains after taking a course in meditation. The region is active during sensations of happiness and positive emotion, the researchers reported.

In a 2004 experiment, supported by the Mind and Life Institute, a nonprofit organization that the Dalai Lama helped establish, and also involving Davidson, investigators tracked brain waves in eight Tibetan monks as they meditated in a state of "unconditional loving-kindness and compassion."

Using an electronic scanner, the researchers found that the monks were producing a very strong pattern of gamma waves, a synchronized oscillation of brain cells that is associated with concentration and emotional control. A group of 10 college students who were learning to meditate produced a much weaker gamma signal.

The two studies suggest that "human qualities like compassion and altruism may in some sense be regarded as skills which can be improved through mental training," said Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin."

Meredith said...

My heart is so open for you. I have been following your blog since before you began to study Buddhism and mediation so regularly - and it sure seems to be making a wonderful difference in your life - from the outside looking in anyway.

I so admire your courage and dedication to helping yourself in such a compassionate and peaceful way.

May peace enfold you.

Shannin said...

What a beautiful post, James. I was just feeling my own sense of selfish depression today. I watched "Sybil" (for the millionth time) and it reminded me how much worse it could be. It made me think: How dare I feel so depressed about how depressed I am; LOOK at what could happen! I also took time to stop, smile at my kids and give them big hugs... I even asked if they thought I was "mean mommy"...They said "no, and it was a good day, you didn't yell at us to do stuff"...ah, kids...I am lazy with depression and they are glad for the break!
Take care sweet one!

"James" said...


It is so wonderful to see science acknowledge the medicial benefits of meditation. I have heard of many doctors calling Buddhism the religion of science, rational thought and psychology.


Thank-you for the confidence boost. I too have noticed a growth in my spirituality and it pushes me further to keep up my practices.

I bow to the Buddha within you.


Thank-you!! I am SO happy to hear that you have found such courage to face your depression. It is a very powerful tool to fight depression to see and realize that other people have a much more difficult time them we do.

Everything is relative.

Pain in inevitable but suffering is not.

Indigo said...

I just found your blog today and am really touched by this post. I myself used spiritual wisdom, practice, and help from teachers to overcome childhood onset depression several years ago (after over 25 years of depression!). I still have the occasional funks that every person experiences, but I definitely found freedom from both depression and the medications that were meant to treat it by using spiritual means. Sounds like you are on the right track in using both until perhaps a day comes when you no longer need the meds. Best of luck to you.

"James" said...


Depression can be crippling and so for you to be free from it is wonderful!! Thank-you for the best wishes and feel free to return to my little space here in the blogosphere again!

Lorraine said...

I feel so blessed to have found your blog James, thank you for words of wisdom and for being with me on a very dark day. I was diagnosed with depression 3 weeks ago and have started medication which goes so much against my principles. I am a practicing Buddhist and do a Medicine Buddha and purification meditation on the days I feel able. I am pretty sleepy with the drugs at the moment so I am doing my best. I need hope that I will recover AND get off the drugs. Is there anyone who has come off medication and maintained their recovery?

They call him James Ure said...


I am so happy that you have found your way here--I welcome you with open arms. I am so happy for you that my words could touch you and be with you on a dark day.

It is so beautiful how interconnected we all are and how I wrote these words awhile ago and yet they still have power to touch and comfort. What a blessing for both of us.

I was against medicine for the longest time as well but I just kept getting worse until finally I was hospitalized. I knew that without medication I would probably end up dead--and so it wasn't much of a choice for me.

If one can go without med then all the better but I'll just give this one piece of advice--be careful and be honest with yourself. And if you need to go back on meds for a time then do what you need to do.

That is so great that you are doing the Medicine Buddha meditation. I found Buddhism at a very dark and critical time in my life. I have found that it is so good for the mind and is perfect for those of us with psychological ailments. It's good for anyone but especially those with mental health issues.

The foggy feelings should pass with time as your body gets use to the medicine but not being a trained professional I don't know exactly what your treatment might or should entail.

Meditation of any sort is so helpful though (as you know). Feel free to email me with other questions if you'd like:

Raj said...

You need to live in harmoney with nature and take care of open issues with your family and acquaintances.

I think you are missing a part of you.

Anonymous said...

I've just gotten back from seeing my therapist and was contemplating hospitalization. I have had chronic depression since childhood, although the symptoms all but disappeared once I started a sitting practice (and I'm on medication). Accepting and welcoming the depression rather than reacting from aversion has touched me. Thank you for writing such a wonderful entry.

They call him James Ure said...


I'm so happy for you that meditation has helped your mood as much as it has helped mine. It is also wise that you adhere to a medication regiment.

Anything that we can use to balance out the depression is wonderful.

Buddhism helps so well because it is very much about psychology and calming the mind. It is very beneficial for us with mental health struggles.

Thank-you for sharing your story and feel free to email me if you need someone to talk to about depression. :)

Anonymous said...

The Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy website says that the program teaches “how to sidestep mental habits such as rumination and self-blame.” Although the stated purpose of MBCT is preventing cases of depression, it seems reasonable to assume that, because it teaches people to deal with negative thinking, it will at least serve as a treatment for depression when used in combination with other treatment(s). For example, the University of Kansas program Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, which is described by the researchers as a treatment for depression, includes “anti-ruminative behaviors” as one of its six “elements.”

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Claire said...

thank you. I am in the thick of it. And I feel alone and scared. I am trying so hard to love myself and to practice meditation. It is scary to find my own path. I too struggle with medication. I stopped taking it because I thought I could help myself without it, but I'm back on and just waiting for it to kick in. But so so unsure. I will save this for my doctor's ears.

Just wanted to reach out. again, thank you,

Instant Healing said...

Meditation is very good for the body and the mind.The calm and the talking withing helps oneself deal with a lot of problems.Headaches and many mental disturbances are easily cured.

Leon Basin said...

Very beautiful blog!
Great post!
Something I need to do myself.

Netlorn said...

I absolutely agree with your post. I recount my personal experience of how Buddhism has helped me with depression here if you have time to look at it :

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