The purpose of this article is to share how I have overcome depression with four tools:
1. Transcendental Meditation
2. Regularity of Routine
3. Choosing a Supportive Social Environment
4. Frequent and Regular Cognitive-Transcendent Experiences
Although these tools are valuable, professional help should be sought when symptoms are serious. I do not claim to have the knowledge to cure or prevent any disease, I am only sharing my life experiences in hopes of enlightening others. This post was originally inspired by coach Nick Horton's fantastic article "Managing Depression with Weightlifting? Or, How You Feel is a Lie."
My Experiences with Depression and How They Contributed to My Psychological, Moral, Political, and Intellectual Development
Although I do not consider myself ill, I personally have had experiences with depression. These emotions do return occasionally, but with the strategies I’m sharing here, I have learned to maintain higher states of consciousness in complete bliss.
My mother has struggled with depression as long as I remember. I didn't start having issues until I was in my late teens. I really feel that the primary cause of my mother's depression was (the stress associated with) poverty. It really took a toll on my entire family (myself included). She was actually hospitalized for several weeks as her bankruptcy was unfolding.
Recent investigations in neurophysiology and psychology are revealing that the primary differences between top-performing athletes and average-performing athletes is primarily mental. Although many athletes are very dedicated to their training (often upwards of 1000 hours per year), there are many aspects of development which cannot be tackled with physical training alone.
In fact, a 2011 study called "High Levels of Brain Integration in World-class Norwegian Athletes: Towards a Brain Measure of Mental Fitness" (1) details both the psychological and physiological differences between top-performing and average-performing athletes. These scientists argue that top-performing athletes maintain higher states of consciousness. Using Loevenger's model of personality development, they explain that:
"With self-development there is an enhancement of a person’s capacity to make meaning of experience and to perform consciously. This ability can be illustrated by contrasting the personal characteristics of conventional development (about 80% of today’s adult population; Torbert, 1991; Cook-Greuter, 1999, 2000) with post- conventional development (about 9% of adult population): with post-conventional development (about 9% of adult population): from path following to path finding; from dependence to greater autonomy; from narrow craft perspective to more holistic comprehension; from unilateral control to collaboration; from reactive to proactive and preventive; from short-term to long-term perspective; from ambivalence to feedback to embracing feedback; from resistance to innovation; from win–lose to win–win interpersonal strategies; from focus on problem solution to focus on process and problem finding; and from extrinsic motivation (winning, money, power, fame) to intrinsic motivation (self-improvement and searching for meaning or peak experiences; Loevinger, 1976; Cook-Greuter, 2000; Rooke & Torbert, 2005)."
Drive, desire, and motivation are fundamental concepts in all theories of personality development. Although these concepts are portrayed in different ways by different authors, all psychologists must consider these forces in order to develop a holistic perspective on how people improve themselves as time passes. Jaques Lacan's psychoanalytic perspective on personality explains the structure of our motivations.
It is first important to note the difference between needs and desires. Needs are satiable - at least temporarily. For example, we all have physical needs like food and shelter. Lacan had no doubt that our needs can be easily met - otherwise we would not survive. Desires, on the other hand, are intrinsically insatiable. Due to our conscious experience as beings of language, there is no way for our awareness to completely come to terms with our surroundings. We are always finding (or even creating) more flaws, problems, and issues to resolve. Our inadequate representation of the physical world within our conscious minds forever guarantees that more problems will be created. Because no holistic perspective can be gained upon the physical world in its entirety, we are forever caught in experiences of inadequacy.
In other words, our accomplishments are always trumped by our insatiable desire. Did you finally get that bonus at work? Well, now it's time to work toward the next promotion. Did you finally learn that tricky guitar lick, sliding up and down that strange scale? Well, learn another one, and do it FASTER.
Many individuals will simply identify a desire, and blame their unhappiness on it's lack of resolution. "I need more money," they will say. "If I had more money, I could retire and live on my own island. That way I wouldn't have to deal with anybody, or put up with any nonsense. It would be great!"
Recently, I jumped into a conversation on the Cross Fit message boards about sleep. Many argue that athletes need more sleep. I argue that most Americans needs more sleep. In fact, almost everybody I've ever met needs more rest in general. The most exceptional people I know get plenty of rest, which I believe is key to success.
Between sleep and my twice daily practice of Transcendental Meditation (an effortless, restful experience) I spend 12-13 hours a day with my eyes shut. I don't make exceptions. I don't compromise anymore. I've never felt better.
Most find this to be excessive. "How can you possibly have time to do everything during the day?" I am constantly asked. They are shocked to learn that my typical "workday" is about 4-5 hours. I play music for 1-2 more hours, and I work out for about an hour. I also spend as much time as I like with friends and family.
I have chosen to prioritize my state of awareness over my external accomplishments. When all of my waking hours are experienced from my peak mental state, I accomplish everything I need to do in less time. It's a question of quality versus quantity. I've chosen skilled work over excessive of work, focus over fatigue, and rest over everything else.
Let me be clear. Rest = success. Fatigue = failure. This concept applies both internally and externally - your success in life is dictated entirely by the quality of your state of mind.
I began Transcendental Meditation and learned to prioritize rest two years ago. Since then:
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend two weeks working with a small group of high school students at the Whitman National Debate Institute. Words cannot describe how much fun we had, and how much joy this kind of teaching opportunity brings me. It is endlessly rewarding to see students learn about the most intellectually challenging games on earth - Lincoln Douglas and policy debate.
The Group Photo - WNDI 2011
Working with high-ability individuals is the focus of my life - from documenting their psychology as a scientist (here I come, graduate school!!), to studying with true masters such as Dr. Fred Travis (researcher and instructor at Maharishi University of Management), Randy Herbert (professional drummer), and Aaron Nickell (national champion powerlifter) - learning from and about exceptional individuals is my passion. In fact, that's the whole reason for this site, in the first place.
That being said, a whole new level of purpose and meaning is reached when I have the chance to pass this knowledge on to others. And, the Whitman National Debate Institute was a fantastic opportunity for me to work directly with highly motivated students. The WNDI and other debate camps are a truly unique teaching and learning opportunity. These institutes are held on college campuses across the country, and vary from 2 to 7 weeks in length. During this time, students are in lecture, researching, or debating all day, every day. Needless to say, the results can be very astounding.
Prisons represent the most difficult psychological spaces on earth. The stress associated with being locked away and isolated from those you love is impossible to imagine. The problems are amplified by the problematic behavior of guards and other inmates, and a negative social environment is almost guaranteed. The importance of the social environment is emphasized across developmental psychology. Authors such as Dabrowski and Fresco emphasize the social environment as the primary factor which determines how an individual will develop as time passes.
The affect of prison life on the personality has been studied in great depth by psychologists like Philip Zimbardo. His notorious "Stanford Experiment" involved taking normal, healthy college students and placing them in a simulated prison environment for a few weeks. Zimbardo himself played the role of the prison executive, and students were divided into the roles of guards and inmates. Within just a few days, the negative environment drove these students to a very low level - abusing each other verbally, simulating sodomy, being unjust in punitive measures, and so on. Zimbardo was forced to dismiss one student who lost psychological control and broke into full psychoneurosis. Yet, he continued the experiment: The environment had even been able to permeate his consciousness. In fact, it was only after his girlfriend plead with him that he called the study off.
Transcendental Meditation is an effortless form of meditation which was brought into Western awareness by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Since it's explosion of popularity since the 1950's, Transcendental Meditation has been scientifically documented to improve health in innumerable ways. In fact, there have been over 500 peer reviewed, published academic studies on the health benefits of Transcendental Meditation. The National Institutes of Health alone has awarded more than $24 million in research grants to study the effects of Transcendental Meditation. Over 160 journals have published research on TM.
Dr. John Hagelin's Introduction to the Science of Transcendental Meditation
Dr. John Hageiln earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and studies quantum physics at CERN. He is a professor at Maharishi University of Management and publishes studies on physics and on the effects of TM on the mind, body, organizations, and society. Watch his introduction to Transcendental Meditation for a detailed visual overview of the science of meditation.