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Anxiety & Depression: What Sufferers & Those Who Love Them Should Know

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Anxiety and Depression can be caused primarily by biological and genetic factors, psychological and trauma issues, environmental issues, or a combination of these.

  • Reflect On:

    Consider that due to A&D’s popular stigma, a narrow-visioned belief system, and the severity of these conditions, it’s wise to keep an open mind and learn more in order to be more compassionate and helpful to those suffering.

Clinical anxiety and depression (“A&D”) are often terrifying experiences, especially when we don’t know what’s happening to us and don’t have support. An overview and relatively comprehensive information guide to self-treatment and professional support can be invaluable and what I will try to share with you here. When I was caught in the vortex of A&D, I searched long and hard for insider information to help me. I couldn’t find very much and the therapists I initially saw didn’t help much either, until I found the right kind of therapists with experience in A&D.

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This article shares some of what I learned on my successful journey through A&D out to the other side (which at one time I thought I’d never see). It contains much of what I wish I had known when I was in the midst of that storm. I also share some facts and commonly misunderstood aspects of these conditions. Part of the reason for much of the conflicting information out there is the many ideologies and limited understanding perpetuated by people who had mild events, who haven’t been through serious A&D themselves, and who have not been in close contact with others who have A&D.

I have been through extreme anxiety and depression myself, had A&D sufferers as patients, and lived intimately with sufferers while I was in treatment. With this said, I am a Chinese medicine physician, not a psychotherapist, and this article is not intended to substitute for professional psychotherapy or psychiatry help, which I think are crucial for anyone in severe A&D.

So, I speak both personally and objectively about these extremely challenging conditions. My hope is that you will be saved some of the grief I suffered and this writing will help wisely inform your choices.

The Stigma

The most common mental illness in America is anxiety; this is followed by depression, the latter which affects more people worldwide than any other mental illness. I call A&D “evil twins” because they were nothing short of hell to get through, more so than any experience I’ve ever had, including massive grief and nearly becoming paralyzed as a teenager.

The stigma—a societally perpetuated fear, attack, and mischaracterization—on mental illness has developed because of a lack of understanding, fear, and perpetuating false perceptions that serve no one, especially not the sufferers. When your brain goes out on you, as your knee or hip might, it’s devastating because you no longer can guide your life in the way you once did. Except our brains affect every aspect of our lives, not just gait and movement. When we lose our inner world to A&D, we simultaneously lose our outer world because nothing makes much sense anymore and it can become impossible to navigate the simplest tasks.

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Most recover from mental illness, just as we do from other illnesses. In fact, between 70 and 90 percent of the individuals who are treated for their illness have a reduction in symptoms and improved quality of life. So, getting proper and prompt treatment is crucial.

We have a long way to go in our understanding, acceptance, and treatment of these disorders, all of which will undoubtedly help the victims of these hellish diseases receive more compassionate care and financial assistance.

Mental illness is not usually some scary monster that makes us “crazy.” And no, mental illness is not well-correlated with mass shootings; this false meme only increases the stigma on mental illness; insightful and revelatory articles on the subject are here and here.

It’s also helpful not to describe mental illness sufferers with pejorative, vague terms like “crazy” that offer little meaningful information and are more judgmental than anything else. Mental illness is a disease process, like the flu or diabetes. The latter affect the lungs and pancreas, respectively, and mental illness affects primarily the brain, endocrine and nervous system, also parts of the body.

While we can learn from A&D, and important “messages” and psychological growth can be gleaned from them, this may not be the best perspective to take when afflicted. Sometimes we just have to get through them, as we would the flu, and get our physiology balanced again, encompassing both psychological and physiological treatment (mind and body). Most often, some combination of both cognitive and emotional learning, as well as good old-fashioned biomedical help, are in order.

Because of the stigma, we might resist identifying, admitting, and therefore seeking help for mental illness for fear of being marginalized, embarrassed, or ridiculed. But, as with most other disease processes, the sooner we get treatment the better for recovery. So, if you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness, try to cut through the misinformation and fears that sabotage healing and get help. Usually those who have suffered mental illness are able to understand and empathize with other sufferers, as can an experienced therapist.

Yin & Yang ‘Evil’ Twins

There are different types of anxiety, just as there are different types of depression.

In this article, I refer to anxiety primarily as severe anxiety that is more than everyday worry or anxiousness that comes and goes. Clinical anxiety is persistent anxiety that is considered an “anxiety disorder.” It usually doesn’t go away on its own, can get worse without proper treatment, and can be accompanied by anxiety or panic attacks.

I discuss depression primarily in the context of severe depression which is known as clinical depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD). Depression is more than low mood and normal sadness. It’s more than being bummed out that it’s raining or  that you missed a movie date, or feeling “off.” In fact, depression causes us to perceive extreme negativity in things that would normally cause us only mild discomfort. This is consistent with the well-known adage among sufferers that “depression lies.” Well, anxiety also causes us to believe the worst, and it also lies. Both evil twins distort our beliefs about most of reality that we otherwise wouldn’t when we are regulated (“normal” and manageable) in mind and body.

Depression and anxiety are neurological partners and often co-occur, just like Yin and Yang. Anxiety is Yang (outward, activating) and depression is Yin (inward, quiescent). True to the interdependence of Yin and Yang, depression gives rise to anxiety. And anxiety can give rise to depression, especially when it begins to exhaust our resources. Both usually affect normal sleep patterns and cause insomnia. In atypical depression, one may actually sleep longer than usual. In either case, these evil twins are a menace and in my own battle with them some years ago I could hardly determine which was worse.

Depression and anxiety also often affect relationships, ability to make even the simplest decisions, ability to work and carry out once ordinary daily tasks, and otherwise live a normal life. Suicidal ideation and suicidal plans are also common symptoms. A&D can become utterly crippling and can totally consume us, especially without proper treatment. Again, the sooner they are treated, usually leads to quicker and better recovery. A more complete list of symptoms for depression can be found here and for anxiety here.

Not Necessarily A Reason

If you are anxious or depressed, you might think there is a reason for this beyond genetics and physiological imbalance, and that this reason can be identified. Like many, you might think there is a psychodynamic reason for this, which refers to some aspect of your psyche beyond its mere physiology. Examples include past trauma, lifestyle circumstances, childhood issues, unconscious forces, or other inter-relational events that affects your state of mind. This is not always the case, and it can be impossible to determine what caused your downfall.

In most cases, focusing on what is going on rather than why it’s happening is more helpful for recovery. In other words, first just try to get better by any means and leave any inquiry into why for later. An exception to this is if your A or D has actually been precipitated by a cause, which I address just below. With this said, recovering from depression often takes action, not a lot of thinking, except to trust what others in the know encourage you to “reframe” (think about from a different perspective). As one good therapist said to me, “Jack you won’t be able to think your way out of this.” Boy, did I learn the truth of that as time went on.

Anxiety and depression, like other mental illnesses, often have a genetic component, meaning you inherit the predisposition (called a “diathesis”). If any, or several, family members suffer, you might carry the genetics, making you more likely to sustain either. Often, a stressful life event can trigger genetic predispositions and even epigenetically activate (alter genetic expression of) these syndromes. Many stressful factors and physiological changes acting together and compounding one another can precipitate A&D episodes.

Once we are more regulated (balanced and homeostatic), we will likely have a clearer perspective on our condition. We may then understand more of the why. With this said, sometimes the primary reason we fall into anxiety or depression is due to an identifiable cause, and learning about and working through the issue(s) can help us recover. It’s best to talk to a good therapist with A&D experience to determine the best course of treatment.

If we are very anxious or depressed, it’s only logical to think that something is making us anxious or depressed. In other words, if I am depressed I might think that I must be depressed about something. After all, our emotions are signals of something, right? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no, and often some of both. Feeling of anxiety or depression often have no meaning and value other than to make us suffer, so it’s helpful during either to not take our feelings or thoughts too much to heart.

Clinical depression and anxiety are disorders, and there is not necessarily a psychodynamic cause behind them. In fact, depression is thought to be some 50% attributable to genetics, according to studies at Stanford. This means that in many cases it’s truly not your fault (not that it is anyway), and depression is not easy to control or navigate on our own, any more than we would be able to heal from cancer or a heart attack on our own.

We need help, and in a fiercely independent culture where we think we are supposed to be able to manage everything on our own, we might try to go it on our own, which can compound our distress. It’s especially important to have support through mental illness, not only from professionals but from supportive family and friends. This necessity poses a bit of a catch-22 because depression and some forms of anxiety cause us to want to retreat and isolate ourselves. While this can feel good in the short-term it’s often not advisable, which is why in A&D we often have to act counter-intuitively…to go against what feels good in the moment in service of what is going to help us heal little by little for the long run.

Feeling understood, accepted, and genuinely supported are crucial for healing from A&D. It’s just as important that we treat ourselves with ultimate kindness, that we become our own best friend.

Recovery

Very often, and more commonly among some popular online psychology gurus, unconditional acceptance is offered as a way out of any troubling psychological dynamic. Some even promote shadow work as the proper psychological medicine for such ails. While I consider shadow work crucial for becoming a human being of integrity, it’s not necessarily the best way through clinical anxiety and depression, or at least not initially.

Some degree of unconditional acceptance is helpful in any therapeutic process, but it must also be carefully integrated with tough love when it comes to healing from mental illness. This is because healing from mental illness often requires what’s called opposite action: that we do the opposite of what seems intuitively right, that we do what we don’t feel like doing. Opposite action is usually what is counter-intuitive. Opposite action is doing what we don’t feel like doing, or don’t think will help, but which indeed is helpful. For example, unconditionally accepting that a depressed person doesn’t feel like exercising, and therefore won’t, may not help him get better. This is because exercise is considered important medicine for recovery from anxiety and depression and it’s usually best to get some, any, exercise even though a depressed person—and less frequently, an anxious one—doesn’t feel like it.

Weaving compassion and tough love together, we might respond this way, in a compassionate yet clear tone, to someone who is depressed: “I hear you don’t want to exercise and you feel that you can’t do it, but it’s important that you try to move around, even for a few minutes.” We can also speak to ourselves (self-talk) this way if we have depression. If anxiety is predominant, we might legitimately need to rest (possibly in addition to exercise), because anxiety taxes our resources and tires us out. So does depression. Please remember to speak gently and kindly, even when firm, to anyone with A&D; you just can’t imagine how horrendous it is if you haven’t suffered it yourself.

Curiously, and contrary to popular belief, stress hormones are usually raging inside someone who can’t seem to get off the couch. Because depression causes real biological fatigue, a person with severe depression may truly not be able to exercise at all. In this case, pure unconditional understanding is helpful.  Maybe the next day, encouragement to walk even a few steps is a good idea, and the next hour or day, a few more. When I was in recovery, I began with 3 minutes of walking, which I increased from there. Prior to falling ill, I was exercising every day and could hike for hours. When I feel into depression, 3 minutes seemed like a marathon. Often, a depressed person needs to override real or perceived inertia in order to feel better in the long run, while not overdoing it. Slow and steady usually wins this race.

While anxiety or depression might cause us to feel like we’re going to die, it’s not a good idea to freak out about this feeling, which is to become “anxious about being anxious.” Feeling as if you’re going to die is how the brain automatically interprets intense fear. Again, these diseases “lie,” making us believe a reality that is not real except in our temporary perception of it. And this is key: the perceptions and imaginations we have while ill are temporary, just like it can feel like we will never get better, or that we will be forever bedridden, if we have the flu. We can and do get better. Life can turn around on a dime, and we need others to hold this hope and reasonable reality for us if we are unable to, which is often the case because it’s very, very difficult to believe this when in the midst of severe anxiety or depression.

While empathy can be generated, only those who have been through the gauntlet of A&D truly know what it’s like. If you have not experienced them, trust me, it’s virtually impossible to fathom, and it’s worse than you can imagine. Prior to my bout, I worked in a medical clinic treating people with these disorders. While I sensed their distress, as I do with anyone suffering, in hindsight I see that I could never have truly understood their experience. After having passed through them, I am back at work in the clinic and my empathy and compassion are much deeper, and I can relate on all levels to the utter confusion and terror of these states. While I can never know precisely what another is feeling, suffering from the same disorder gives a new order of relatability.

When clinically depressed and anxious, I responded best to those who spoke slowly and gently and who actually heard what I was saying and were able to understand me. Even if you don’t understand what it’s like to have clinical anxiety or depression, you can still empathize to a degree by remembering times you have suffered greatly. Indeed, part of why I have written this article is to give an outside’s perspective if a loved one of yours is suffering.

Disclaimer: while I have written about the dangers of the happiness and positivity craze and not ignoring our difficult thoughts and feelings, this approach is usually not helpful during the distorted experience of A&D , anymore than it’s helpful to give too much weight and attention to our difficult thoughts and intense feelings when we are upset or melancholy due to a bad night’s sleep, an argument, feeling excessively stressed, being hungry and having low blood sugar, or being sick with the flu, as examples. Hint: Getting poor sleep, common during A&D, can make depression feel worse. So, when I didn’t sleep well, I would remind myself throughout the day, “Don’t take anything you think or feel today too seriously.” I was already not taking things too seriously, and when I wouldn’t sleep well, this was especially the case.

A&D are distorted states and a Catch-22: it’s virtually impossible to think clearly about anything in these states because the very brain we think with is imbalanced, and this imbalance affects the quality of our thinking. But it’s not black and white: there are usually some thoughts and moments of intuition or revelation that you can recognize as more sane than others, that more resemble “the old you.” Attach to these, trust these, even if they are short-lived; use them as anchors.

It’s crucial to leverage any positive experience, any foothold we have, to regain regulation and better functioning, so we spiral upward and not downward. This leverage might be the hope someone else holds for us, the part of our thinking that does realize we are distorted and can let go of these distortions more easily, the ability to exercise, to laugh, to quiet our mind, to do anything rewarding and fulfilling, a medication or supplement that helps us feel and/or think better. Whatever. We use any leverage we can to gain more of ourselves back. During A&D, we try to invest our attention in the things that help us recover in the same way we would invest money wisely in order to grow our profits. Sometimes we don’t have any leverage, which is just one more reason it’s valuable to have others who can hold us (up) and remind us when we can’t.

Meditation & Mindfulness

I have been a meditator for years. However, I found that sitting meditation with eyes closed (mindfulness style) was not helpful for me during A&D. My mind was so disturbed and distorted that I couldn’t help but get stuck ruminating on my negative automatic thoughts and perceptions. Such rumination made me feel worse and is actually contraindicated in depression and anxiety. What I needed was a break from these thoughts, and sorry, but while suffering anxiety and depression I did not have the regulation and mental resiliency to just “let the bad thoughts go.”

Indeed, the vaunted capacity and quality for “awareness” is not constant and immutable; it varies with physiological and neurochemical changes. I was not in a place to be any closer to my negative thinking and feeling; I needed a break from them, as far away as I could get from them actually, so that my psyche could begin to find its balance again by way of the “mind healing the mind,” as I discuss below. For me this meant letting my mind get a break from itself.

So, silent, eyes-closed, sitting meditation just wasn’t my medicine. But it might be yours, especially if you are suffering from mild depression, also known as “subthreshold depression,” and anxiety. Therefore, disregard what I say if it doesn’t fit for you for whatever reason. I just want those who suffer from meditating during A&D to know they are not alone and to feel empowered to ditch it if they want to and not suffer more than they have to.

In researching this topic I came across a bold and helpful article by Therese Borchard, echoing my sentiments about mindfulness meditation. She quotes the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the “Dalai Lama” of the mindfulness meditation world, who says in his book:

“It may be wise to not undertake the entire program while in the midst of an episode of clinical depression. Current evidence suggests that it may be prudent to wait until you have gotten the necessary help in climbing out of the depths and are able to approach this new work of working with your thoughts and feelings, with your mind and spirit unburdened by the crushing weight of acute depression.”

In response to this statement, and how her depression wasn’t really helped by mindfulness meditation, she reflects:

In hindsight, I wish there was more than one paragraph in Zinn’s book about when mindfulness isn’t the solution, about when it’s better to swim laps or ride your bike into town or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. I still would have taken the course — and I do feel like I benefited immensely from it — but I would have been more forgiving of myself that it didn’t “work” like everyone else’s magic.

And in response to her meditation teacher finally agreeing with her, she goes on to say:

He confirmed what I was thinking during that moment and what has been my experience: mindfulness is better at keeping a person from getting depressed than from pulling a person out of depression.”

Indeed, this is the result of a study that found this to be true: that MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy), which “revolves around mindfulness meditation,” can help to prevent a depressive relapse. And anxiety too.

We now know that via neuroplasticity (re-wiring the brain) we can use our minds to heal our minds; this happens because the quality of our thoughts affects the biological functioning of our brains to, among other functions, produce a more balanced flow of neurochemicals. The trick in A&D, however, is to have enough good mind (mental leverage) to be mindful enough to affect our impoverished mind back into balance. This is one way that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) therapy is crucially helpful in A&D. It’s this good thinking that helps us do the right things for ourselves (self care), such as distraction to give ourselves a break from the onslaught of negative thoughts and feelings that are both symptoms of A&D and causes for it worsening.

Thinking positive thoughts actually has a corresponding positive physiological effect. So does smiling, even if we don’t feel happy. In other words, merely by thinking positive thoughts (very tough during severe depression and/or anxiety) can make us feel and think better. Similarly, the mere act of smiling can make us feel happier by changing our neurophysiology.So, it’s generally a good idea to try to smile during depression, and to do so counter-inuitively and in opposite action to what we feel like doing—namely, not smiling.

Many meditation practitioners might tell you it’s fine to feel worse and this is part of the “meditation process.” When I was not ill (and presently), I agree, sitting with distressing thoughts and feelings is difficult yet still helpful. But not during A&D. I also remember feeling worse about myself because meditation would bring me intimately closer to my distorted thinking (including suicidal thoughts), which was tough to get away from even with eyes open and active. This was not okay, and when I finally gave up trying to meditate my way to health, I felt relieved and fared better.

What I did find helpful, however, was ordinary mindfulness: being mindful of my distorted negative and anxious thoughts. And, I didn’t need to sit with my eyes closed for this. As alluded to above, this is the basis of CBT therapy, which helped immensely. I found it easier to let go of distressing thoughts (“thought defusion“) and feelings (“emotional defusion“) while active. To do this, I practiced not spinning stories or buying into the apparent importance and truth of my thoughts and emotions, which are distorted during A&D. “Distraction,” which I mentioned also helped, is a DBT technique. As for Therese Borchard, walking with friends, exercising, writing, watching TV and listening to music, reading, playing games—anything that took me away from ruminating—was helpful. By giving my mind a break from itself, after some time my physiology and neurochemistry became more balanced and I could see my disturbing thoughts and feelings more accurately for what they were: distorted, unhelpful, and largely meaningless.

In sum, be as mindful as you can and let go of beating yourself up if you can’t or don’t want to sit and meditate—it’s okay. Ironically, this can help your mind heal your mind, which is supposed to be a benefit from mindfulness meditation.

Medicine

I am a holistic physician practicing Chinese medicine. I and many of my colleagues, even M.Ds, try to stay away from pharmaceuticals. When I was in the early days of A&D, I never imagined I would need to be on anti-depressants. I was mortified by the thought of it and resisted them for months, until it got so bad that I welcomed anything that would help. Lesson: just as Western medicine is helpful for many conditions that holistic therapy cannot tackle, such as surgery and life support, pharmaceuticals can be life-saving to those with A&D. And, yes, I tried just about every holistic treatment available. So did a wise and now level-headed elder friend of mine who said this to me during a recent discussion:

I tried all the alternative prescriptions for A&D recovery . . . like diet and herbs and acupuncture and supplements and exercise and massage etc., etc . . . and I tried them with enormous commitment and dedication, and yet I STILL had to end up taking antidepressants. Im sure the other stuff helped . . . but alone it was NOT enough to save my life . . . it was ‘Big Pharma’ and a couple of awesome Psychiatrists who saved my life.

In the end, I don’t know if the medication helped me, and I don’t regret taking the pills. Just like Western medicine generally, pharmaceutical companies gets a bad rap, and often for good reason. We therefore might conclude that all their medications are unnecessary and useless. This is not only unfair, but unwise. While many more people are on antidepressants than should be, for many sufferers these drugs offer relief from an illness as debilitating as any around. You can listen to what world-renowned professor and depression survivor Robert Sapolosky has to say about depression. Adding insult to injury, many who take antidepressants are further shamed or stigmatized in addition to the stigmatization they already endure. Alternative medicine’s propaganda and stigmatizing of pharma medications likely causes more damage and additional suffering than necessary.

With this said, I tried every means possible to relieve my symptoms by natural means and none worked well enough, not even close. I felt like a failure for this, which added (unnecessarily) to my distress. Finally—and too late in the game—I had to go to the big guns. So, by all means, give the natural remedies a try. In the case of severe A&D, this decision should be made with the aid of your health care professional/s. But if nothing works well enough, don’t be afraid to consult with a psychiatrist for meds. Antidepressant and other medications, even with their potential side-effects, can provide much-needed relief. Yes, it can get so bad that any relief is desired as soon as possible.

With this said, anti-depressant medications don’t always work the first time around. In fact, for moderate to severe depression, they are effective about 50% of the time. A period of trial and error is often needed to find medication that works best for any individual, and they usually take between 4 and 8 weeks to take effect. I encourage you to partner closely with your doctor and mental health professionals. You are the expert on your symptoms and you doctor needs to hear what you’re experiencing. This will help you work together to find the right medication, or combination of medications.

For some, and by no means all, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety meds) and antidepressants help resolve anxiety and depression, respectively. Remember, there isn’t always a psychodynamic reason why we get anxious or depressed. Medication can also be helpful to help us get a foothold and begin to dig ourselves out of the trenches. They can help regulate us so that our prefrontal cortex (the rational, self-reflective part of the brain that shuts down in depression) comes “back on line” enough that we can absorb, remember, and comprehend crucial information and gain necessary perspective on our illness to be able to navigate it in ways that support our recovery. In these cases, medication does not mask mental illness or act as a harmful crutch, but helps us recover from it. Once we make strides and are able to exercise and function more normally, we may not need the medication. The choice to come off or get on medication, however, should be made with the help of a doctor.

Even if a person’s depression or anxiety is due to psychodynamic issues, medication can help to regulate the mind so that any identifiable issues that precipitated the illness can be productively worked through. Again, in acute A&D it’s difficult, to say the least, to perceive anything clearly enough to make strides. But again, it can be helpful to do so, especially with the help of a good therapist. Indeed, medication in combination with psychotherapy has been shown to be more helpful than medication alone for recovery from major depression (which often presents with its evil twin sister, anxiety).

Again, antidepressants are not for everyone, and the research literature clearly states this. But for some, they are an invaluable component to recovery. Since suicidality is a symptom of depression, medication literally saves lives. With this said, and ironically, antidepressants have been shown to increase suicidal ideation and behaviors in a “small number of children and teens,” so specific precaution and monitoring is needed for this age group. These are specifics to discuss with a qualified health professional.And, if you’ve been severely clinically anxious or depressed, you likely know the desperation to do anything to get out from the dark shroud of severe depression and the relentless inferno of anxiety. From my own experience, witnessing others go through the gauntlet, as well as from researching the subject, I endorse whatever helps someone get through without creating a bigger problem.

Psychoterapy

Two of the most helpful therapies for depression and anxiety are CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Here’s the classic DBT handbook authored by its developer, though my experience is that the book is not a substitute for working with a therapist, even a DBT-trained therapist. Part of this reason, is that in severe A&D, it can be tough to read a single line, much less a chapter or a book, make any sense of them, identify the proper advice for you and then, after all that, put the suggestions into action.

As mentioned previously, acting counter-intuitively, or what is called “opposite action” in DBT terms, can make a big difference. This includes not listening to our warped feelings and cognitive distortions (faulty perceptions and bad ideas). This is also why “intuition” and “trusting our feelings” as guides for how to act during A&D can be counter-productive and outright disastrous. An ordinary example we can all relate to is not wanting to get outside or get out of bed to take a shower or go for a walk. But once we do we feel better. Same for depression, unless we truly can’t get up for physiological reasons not due to an apparent lack of motivation.

As mentioned, psychological depth work is not usually appropriate in severe depression unless a significant cause of the disorder is due to these psychodynamic causes and one is regulated (functional) enough to undergo the process of hashing through past hurts and the emotional upheaval this causes. In severe A&D, depth work is usually not a recipe for success because bringing up more dysregulation and intense emotion when balance and stability are needed can sabotage recovery. Again, it’s difficult to see any issue accurately during A&D. Getting counsel from a good therapist with experience treating these conditions is invaluable and usually best to help assess what is appropriate to guide treatment.

Lastly, I want to mention that when medication and talk therapy don’t help enough, other treatments for depression you can consider include: ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). Even psilocybin mushrooms seem to have helped some, but opinions vary and the evidence is yet scant.

Other Factors

Biochemistry shifts with age, stress, diet, hormonal changes, environmental factors, genetic/epigenetic expression, and anomalous brain wiring. All these can cause significant mood changes. So, if you are anxious or depressed, it might not be due to something you are doing or have control over—that you can put your finger on and fix. It might be largely genetic and triggered by a stressful life event. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), for example, is an anxiety disorder that causes anxiety for no logical reason (other than anxiety!). OCD and other anxiety disorders amplify usually mild issues or events and make them seem multiple times worse than for a person with more common responses to everyday anxiety.

OCD, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and depression cause us to think that events themselves are causing our distress and they are responsible for our feelings and perceptions. It’s actually more our highly distorted response to events that causes our suffering. Anxiety and depression latch onto whatever we might think about. Our mind is “latches onto” and spins tornadoes from what would otherwise be mildly distressing events. This is why therapy in general, and specifically being able to witness and be aware of our reactions (a key tenet of CBT), is so helpful to recovery; it allows a more regulated and balanced version of us to guide our responses to disturbing thoughts and feelings, rather than being so caught up in our negatively-generated and alarming thoughts and feelings that they take over and own us.

Psychodynamic triggers can indeed trigger unpleasant emotional states but are not the cause of all, or even most, of anxiety, depression, and other mood changes. With this said, sometimes our anxiety and low moods are signals for real-life issues, past or present trauma, lifestyle, coping, and other unhelpful dynamics that need to be addressed. Often, it’s some combination of both real-life events and underlying anxious or dysthymic (low mood) tendencies to which we are genetically predisposed and/or triggered into that cause anxiety and depression.

In cases of mild and even moderate A&D that have their source in life issues, sorting out the impacts of such dynamics with a trained and sympathetic therapist and/or psychiatrist is a good way to learn more. When psychodynamic issues are at the root of depression or anxiety and go unaddressed, chances are that suffering will continue, even if temporarily masked by medication. Again, skillful timing and personalized treatment are key here. If the cause is more biological in nature, medication is a modern miracle that can help recovery.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses like any other biological illness, it’s just that they occur primarily in the brain. We are more familiar with less stigmatized diseases such as diabetes, migraines, or Alzheimer’s and cancer. These are diseases that largely happen to people, just like mental illness. But with mental illness, somehow we have the idea, in whole or in part, that someone with depression or anxiety can just snap out of it and that they have control over their condition. We wouldn’t say this to someone with diabetes or cancer; neither should we address an anxious or depressed person this way. An astute friend recently commented this in response to an on-line post I made about A&D:

“There is a mountain of stigma, judgement, opinionating and misinformation to be overcome by people who are trying to live with and manage their Anxiety and Depression (as though just being afflicted with these dreadful conditions it isn’t hard enough already.) No need to take on the shame or misinformed projections of people who ‘think they know’ what these illnesses are, and where they come from and what you should do to manage them. Beware of rejecting what modern medicine has to offer you, and double beware of people who think they know what is best for you. Take any lifeline that is offered to you, and relinquish your attachments to romantic notions of recovery entirely through excessive self examination and compulsive scab picking of deep emotional wounds (which can be extremely dangerous for people who are very unwell). The causes of your illness might be extremely complex, and your recovery is likely to require a multi-faceted and uniquely personal set of strategies, which may well include medication. Hugs to anyone out there wrestling with A&D.”

—Darielle Bydegrees

Time For Compassion

For all our similarities, we are complex biological organisms with many nuanced differences. Just like other animals have personality types, oddities, seeming imperfections, and unique gifts, so do we. Yet, we seem to think that just because we are conscious and self-reflective creatures that we should be able to fix our anomalies, or even that they are in our control, especially when it comes to the mind. This myth perpetuates suffering, violence, and abuse when we treat others with judgement, condemnation, and meanness according to this flawed perception. People with severe depression and anxiety can’t just snap out of it or get over it, at least not quickly, the way you or I (when well) would normally shift a low mood or worry. Clinical depression and anxiety are different animals and sometimes lifelong events.

If we are significantly anxious or depressed this does not necessarily mean that something is complexly wrong with us, or that we can fix our predicament by digging into our current or past issues or venting our emotions. It might mean we need medicine, just as we would for any other less stigmatized form of physiological illness towards which we are culturally less judgmental. Because mental illness happens in the brain, it effects our thoughts and emotions more than other biological illnesses. Usually it means that we need both medicine (pharma, herbal, and/or nutraceuticals) and the support of caring, informed, and understanding health professionals who aren’t pigeon-holed and attached to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Images and stories of “crazy” and “unpredictable” people with anxiety, or even depression, perpetuate our irrational fears and judgement of these debilitating conditions. Such people are usually not violent unto others. Those who carry unresolved pain and trauma are more likely candidates for this.

Most people with mental illness suffer in shame and silence and are some of the most vulnerable, tender, compassionate and empathic people I know. So, let’s break the mould together, lift the mythic curse of judging mental illness due to our usually innocent ignorance of these menacing and crippling invisible illnesses. We do this in part through opening our minds and humbly learning about them so that our beliefs about these conditions can match reality. This in turn informs how we help sufferers and those who love them.


Some resources for Depression & Anxiety:

Books:

The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb, CBT for healing through depression

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, on depression

The Imp of the Mind: on OCD and intrusive, bad thoughts

Videos:

“The Refugees” by Andrew Solomon at The Moth

Depression, Too, Is a Thing with Feathers by Andrew Solomon
Depression Talk at Stanford by Robert Sapolsky
Sam Harris and Robert Sapolsky: from 48.00 minutes to the end

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, or substitute for professional help. It is based on the author’s personal and clinical experience, research, and direct observations. The author is not a psychotherapist.


Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., MA, is Chinese medicine physician, having graduated valedictorian of his class in 2000. He has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. Weber is an activist for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, and mind-body integration, all the while challenging his readers to think and act outside the box. Weber’s latest creation is the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, embodied meditation practice as well as an educational guide for healing the wounds of childhood. His work can be found at jackadamweber.com, on Facebook, or Twitter, where he can also be contacted for life-coaching and medical consultations.

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Awareness

Box Top$ For Education Is Not Supporting Education (Here’s Why)

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The Box Top$ For Education program has kicked off yet again with messaging to suggest it helps schools across the country. However, when you go beyond the surface it's far from what it seems and promotes itself as.

  • Reflect On:

    What labels and initiatives do you let impact your behavior as a consumer?

National Box Tops for Education Week kicks off coast-to-coast fundraising.  For over 20 years, the Box Tops for Education program has provided families a way to help raise money for their school. The program was created to “help support education and benefit American schools” by providing a small amount of money from each item purchased. Does this program truly benefit education and support learning?

Who’s Really Benefitting?

General Mills, Inc., an American multi-billion-dollar multinational manufacturer, and marketer of branded consumer food is genuinely the benefactor. Giving a school 10 cents for every item bought is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money General Mills earns at the expense of our health. At first glance, it appears this company has been extremely generous, donating $719,000,000 in the last 20 years. If you do the math and divide each year’s totals by the 80,000 plus schools in the United States, it equates to a whopping $449 per school. As one can see, General Mills has done a fantastic marketing job, encouraging our kids to eat their garbage. Sure, we can buy school supplies, Kleenex tissues, and a few toxic cleaning products on the list, but what’s the fun in that.

Crappy, Overly-Processed “Food-Like” Products Do Not Support Learning

Diet and nutrition deeply affect a child’s learning ability. Sadly the qualifying products on the Box Top list including Hamburger Helper, Lucky Charms, Pillsbury Toaster Strudel, Fruit Roll-Ups, and alike do not achieve this.

Did You Know? The ingredient list for strawberry fruit roll-ups doesn’t include strawberries!

Instead, it contains genetically modified corn syrup and dextrose (refined sugar derived from GM corn, and artificial food dyes – red 40, yellow 5&6, blue 1 (derived from coal tar and petroleum).

Nutrient-rich homemade meals are being replaced with boxed, frozen, and canned foods due to higher prices of healthy food, our hectic lifestyles, and brainwashing tactics, such TV ads and campaigns such as the Box Top program.

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The Truth

Processed food lacks essential whole food nutrients the brain needs to function correctly. They contain ingredients such as genetically modified corn syrup, refined sugar, synthetic salt, unhealthy fats, artificial colors and flavors, chemical preservatives, and unrevealed heavy metals and pesticides. All of these ingredients work against a child’s ability to learn. 

Pesticides and antibiotics found in food today are detrimental to our healthy gut microbiota which are essential to brain function and development. Both are designed to kill bugs. So, we are destroying our gut bugs that help regulate and keep our immune systems strong and healthy to support our brain.

Studies have also shown that the high sugar content of processed foods may contribute to diabetes, which can affect a student’s learning in many ways. Blood sugar levels can affect cognitive functioning and school performance. According to many scientific journals and newsletters from prestigious universities like Harvard Medical School, processed food consumption are also linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, sleep problems, hyperactivity, attention; and mood symptoms including depression and anxiety.

Boxed foods are also linked to other severe health issues like obesity and high blood pressure. Two extensive European studies published by BMJ in May 2019 links processed foods with a range of health risks, including cardiovascular death. Another scientific study conducted by scientists from Yale University in the U.S. and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany indicated that “excess refined salt used in fast-food restaurants and the over-consumption of sodium from other processed foods may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases.”  Processed foods can also trigger cancer.  The researchers warn that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods “may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades.”

Don’t Be A Victim To The Marketing Ploy

We are poisoning ourselves, and the consequences are starting to show with the incredible rise of neurodevelopmental, mental illness, and diseases like cancer, asthma, diabetes, and many autoimmune disorders. So, let’s forgo the Box Top’s and find healthier and more productive ways to raise money for our schools. These big ag companies have no interest in changing current practices no matter how sick they’re making all of us. Or how many medications we are all dependent on. These companies are generating trillions of dollars of their products, and creating customers for life. General Mills and most food companies are owned by Monsanto/Bayer. They are adhering to FDA guidelines and are not violating any federal laws because they fund the FDA (Industry User Fees).

Fighting big lobbyist groups can seem like an impossibility for most of us, so we need to take our power back by voting with our dollar. We must refuse to purchase products with barcodes that are making 10 cents for our schools. And choose healthy instead.


Looking to help your family overcome ADHD, autism, anxiety and more without medication? Get access to download my FREE eBook ‘Every Parent’s Starter Kit to a Healthy Family’ by signing up HERE.

 

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Awareness

Why Vegan and not Vegetarian? Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh Answers The Question

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains why he chooses not to consume any meat or dairy products, and points towards the overwhelmingly cruel food industry.

  • Reflect On:

    What gives us the right to torture animals, steal their babies, abuse them simply for our consumption? Where is our compassion, morality and empathy? Have we been made and brainwashed to believe that it's ok?

The most heartbreaking thing to see and to witness is an innocent benevolent being getting tortured and suffering. This is the realty of eating animal products today. Billions of animals are raised for slaughter every single year, and the overwhelmingly large majority of them go through horrific and terrifying experiences. It’s hard to imagine how anybody could eat or wear the clothes of diseased animals knowing what they went through. It’s also hard to believe that anybody who does eat or purchase products that have used animals in their manufacturing process would do that kind of “labour” themselves.

The truth is that many people still don’t know what these beings are going through. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, immoral, and unethical. Morality, empathy, and love are all emotions that need to return to planet Earth, and as long as we have multiple industries exploiting animals, that can’t happen.

If you’re unaware of what these animals are going through on a daily basis, a recent PETA investigation on two of the world’s top cashmere exporters revealed extreme cruelty, including the violent killing of cashmere goats. You can read more about it and see some footage of that here, if you’re interested.

You can view more examples of graphic footage in the trailer of “The Buddha Bowl,” a documentary in the making featuring personalities and some of the most influential and renowned spiritual leaders from all over the world sharing their perspectives on veganism. These include viewpoints from Buddha himself and from spiritual leaders from the past and present, totalling about 30 interviews on animal rights, environmental issues and health.

One of the people in that documentary is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is recognized as a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist. The video below is not part of the documentary listed above, but from an interview taken a few years ago at a conference.

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Are We Even Designed To Eat Meat?

There is no doubt our world is becoming more awake, aware, and compassionate. Millions of people around the world have transitioned towards a plant-based diet. This represents the kind of compassion and empathy our world needs more of, and this diet can do nothing but benefit human health, the planet, and the animals.

It’s no secret that eating meat and animal products is destroying the Earth, as clearing land for animal grazing and slaughter is one of the leading causes of deforestation, and factory farms are an environmental disaster.

More people are also starting to become aware of plant-based diets and their health benefits.

A recent study conducted by researchers in California and France found that meat protein is associated with a very sharp increased risk of heart disease, while protein from nuts and seeds is actually beneficial for the human heart. The study is titled “Patterns of plant and animal protein intake are strongly associated with cardiovascular mortality: The Adventist Health Study-2 cohort,”

It’s one of many studies that’ve emerged over the years showing the benefits of plant-based diets and their ability to reverse diseases. On the other hand, many studies published have shown how the consumption of meat has the exact opposite effect.

Below is a clip from a recent CETV episode where CE founder Joe Martino and I go into the discussion a little deeper, with a specific focus on plant-based protein compared to meat protein. If interested, you can watch the full episode here by signing up for your free trial. CETV is a platform that we created to combat the censorship we’ve experienced over the past couple of years.

I also go into this type of discussion, if you’re interested in reading about it, in an article I recently published: “Another Study Suggests Humans Are Not Designed To Eat Meat.”

The Takeaway

Human beings are born with compassion and empathy. What we are doing to animals on our planet today, and how many continue to ignore it and be unaffected by it, is simply as a result of mass brainwashing and marketing by big food corporations. The truth is that we’ve been taught to ignore it, we’ve been taught to believe that it’s OK and it’s our right to do this to others who share the planet with us. No child would ever stand for such a thing unless they were taught to do so. It’s the same thing as racism, we are not born with it, we are taught it. I urge all those who are reading this to do their research into where the vast majority of our food and clothes are coming from, watch what these animals are going through, look into their eyes and and feel what they are feeling.

The ability to feel and understand the emotions of others, animal or human, is a HUGE and VITAL step towards creating a better world and a better overall human experience.

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Health

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 4: The Island)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

4. The Island

The island of Allandon was born of a fiery volcanic eruption that came out of the ocean. At first the island was nothing more than a mass of molten lava which was cooled by the air and the ocean tides into hard rock formations. As more time passed, life began to spring up through the cracks and crevices, until one day Allandon was an island of great character and beauty. As if gradually awakening from a long sleep, the island eventually recognized itself as an island, separate from the ocean. During noontide of his first day of self-awareness, the island noticed the ocean’s waters rushing upon him and then receding back. So he spoke to the ocean thusly:

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“Would you please stop splashing onto the rocks on my shore?”

 “It is the way of the universe,” she replied. “You were born of me and this is how I care for you, softening the rocks on your shore until they become tiny crystals of sand.”

“Why do you do that?”

“So that creatures that walk upon your beach can feel how gently the infinite and the temporal can meet.”

“Will you then leave me alone?” asked the island.

“I can never leave you alone, not until you have melted back into me and we are one.”

The island was outraged. “No! I may have been born of you, but I will not die at your hands!”

“Death is an illusion,” she said.

“Quiet!” he retorted. “You will stop what you are doing immediately!”

“I have no choice in the matter.”

“Well I have a choice,” said the island of Allandon. “I will resist you to the end!”

“Yes, you have that choice,” the ocean replied. “What would be my delight in you otherwise?”

An essential concept that we will come back to many times throughout the course of this book is that of duality. Our conversation itself would not be possible if there were not a duality: you and I. A listener and a speaker. Without a listener, speaking would be pointless. Without a speaker, listening would be impossible.

But it goes even deeper than that. This world, indeed existence itself, requires duality. What something ‘is’ can only be determined when it is measured against something that it ‘is not’. The shadow only ‘exists’ in the presence of light, or that which it is not. The root Latin word ‘exsto’ meant ‘to stand out or stand forth, to project; to be visible’. Existence itself as we know it is only possible where there is duality. While we can truly understand the ‘being’ of darkness only in its relation to light, light as well only exists when cast against a background of darkness. There would be no ‘good’ without ‘bad’, no male without female, and so on.

Duality is what makes it possible to be conscious. We are conscious when we distinguish subject from object, ourselves as perceivers from what we perceive. The day that the island sees itself separate from the ocean and distinguishes the ‘I’ (the island itself) from the ‘you’ (the ocean), that is the day that the island becomes conscious. And being conscious, the island and the ocean are able to talk to each other, just as we are. As we continue to speak about the evolution of consciousness, both on the personal level and the global level, the importance of the concept of duality will become ever more clear.

There is no better or more profound elaboration on the concept of duality and its role in the world than the Chinese symbol of yin and yang, which represents the two basic forces in the universe. Consider them polar opposites, like the positive and negative ends of a battery. Just as electricity is made possible by the dynamic between opposing charges, all movement in the world, all change, is made possible by the interplay of yin and yang.

In figure 1 black and white represent these two opposing forces. White is the cosmic force of yang, the masculine force, sign of the Sun, aggression, light, heat, growth and movement. In contrast the black is yin, the feminine force, sign of the Moon, passivity, darkness, cold, senescence and inactivity.

Figure 1

The small black and white spots signify the precise interrelationship between Yin and Yang: the seed of one is always contained in the other, such that all movement in the universe is the growth of one force out of the other. You can see in the diagram how the polarities literally turn into each other, like night into day and day into night. Our planet’s entire ecology depends on this complementary pattern, where everything that grows eventually decays, giving rise to new growth.

In the new conversation the subject of change is always in the forefront. We seek out support from each other in dealing with and making changes in our lives, because we all have some resistance to change. Change can be difficult. Change can be threatening. But in the back of our minds we know change is inevitable. We see the sun rise and fall, we see the seasons come and go. We know that we are always growing older and one day will die. And even knowing this, we often live as though the circumstances of our life are frozen in time and will stay the same forever.

Of course they never do. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted that in the world ‘the only constant is change.’ And we should all be grateful for that. Imagine if the world around us actually did stay the same and every day was just like the next, if the weather never changed and plants and trees didn’t grow. Imagine if we didn’t age and our children never grew up. Imagine if there was never anything new. It wouldn’t be very much fun and we know it. Despite our resistance there is a part of us deep inside that wants change. That part of us wants us to grow, to evolve, to experience new things. We also want to make our relationships better and more fulfilling. We want to be more powerful in our working life and create more abundance. We want to finally climb the mountain of our dreams and enjoy the breathtaking view from on high.

Fine. But this all doesn’t happen until we are willing to make a first step, and start declaring our aspirations out into the world. If we at least shared our dreams with someone else, and expressed our disappointment that our lives were not moving towards anything worthwhile, we would likely find that we are not alone. Sometimes the friction of mutual discontent is enough to spark us into action. Or we might turn right around and stop talking about it. Our fear of the unknown can be so strong sometimes that we will shy away from the very conversations that we suspect will encourage us to actively make changes.

Now if we decide to keep sitting back and waiting, life will eventually make changes happen to us, and they are not likely to be the ones we are looking for. When we just hang on to our relationships, life will make them slowly slip away. If we endure a job that we don’t like, work will become ever less satisfying and we may even get fired. And if we don’t keep lighting the torch of our greatest hopes, they will fizzle out into oblivion. When that happens, the only way we are able to console ourselves is by rationalizing that our dreams were never possible to begin with, if in fact we still remembered what they were.

In Chinese philosophy change is likened to a constantly flowing river. All the forces of nature move with the current downstream, in a perfectly balanced and synchronized manner. The real exception to this is human beings. We have made for ourselves a raft on this river, symbol of our self-consciousness, our awareness of ourselves as self-determining creatures. This gives us the power of choice. At any moment in our lives we can choose to embrace change and travel downstream or we can fight against the flow. While we may appear to be staying in the same place for periods in our lives, the forces of change are always at work. If we try to stay in the same place for too long, we are actually expending a lot of energy fighting our own evolution, and we are basically allowing life to pass us by. Eventually, the force will be too much and we will be carried a little ways down the river. In these moments we experience letting go, and when we let go we see that the changes we have been avoiding are not so bad after all.

In the transformation of yin and yang in figure 1, all change is contained by the outer circle which, as you can see, is the only part of the diagram that remains the same throughout. This circle represents the source of all change and all things in the universe. It is called the Dao (also written ‘Tao’), which can roughly be understood as the All or the One. In other spiritual traditions the Dao has been called Brahman, God, Allah, Supreme Being, the Unchanging, the Almighty to name a few. The name itself does not really matter. As Lao-Tzu reflects in Dao De Jing,

The Dao is too great to be described by the name ‘Dao’. If it could be named so simply, it would not be the eternal Dao.

Because the Dao (or whatever else we call it) is the unchanging All, then it is necessarily beyond all duality, and therefore beyond description. There is nothing it is not, and so we can never know the Dao. However, we can still experience ourselves as part of the Dao. By definition all things in the universe, including ourselves, are part of the Dao.  Since the Dao is the source of all change in the world, the part of us that feels a connection with the Dao is where our own desire for change comes from. I would like to call this part of us our Dao Self. If it was up to our Dao Self, we would always follow nature in moving with the current of the river.

But there is another part of ourselves, the part which does not recognize our connection to the Dao. It is the part that enables us to function in the world as individuals, to experience ourselves as apart from one another. This part of us I would like to call our Ego Self. The Ego Self  is programmed to survive at all costs and to maintain control over our lives. It is resistant to change because change threatens to destroy a part of the identity we have created for ourselves as distinct entities. It is worried that change will cause our entire being to fall apart. And so our Ego Self wants us to work our way upstream, so that we stay in the same place and remain as stable as possible.

This gives us pause to think about what it means to be human. Are we a part of the universe or apart from it? Is our real self the Dao Self or the Ego Self? While we may live our life predominantly from the perspective of one or the other of our two selves at any given time, they are always both with us throughout our life. Our basic nature is comprised of this duality, and being human means living with the paradox of this double identity. Our Ego Self is connected to our senses, and keeps us focused in the physical or ‘material’ world, the temporal world of matter. It’s voice is the voice of reason. Our Dao Self transcends sensory experience and calls us to look inside, to an invisible world that holds us to be part of the whole, the infinite world of spirit. Our Dao Self speaks with the voice of our intuition.

When we start to accept ourselves as having this dual nature, it is much easier to understand our conflicting desires: we resist change in our lives and yet we deeply desire change. When we live from the perspective of the Ego Self, change becomes associated with pain, suffering and loss. However, as we learn to live life more from our Dao Self it is easier to embrace change and let go of resistance because change is no longer associated with loss. We don’t experience loss because we feel connected to the wealth of the universe.

When John Donne said that ‘no man is an island,’ he was speaking about this interconnectedness that we have with our world and with each other. All of the great spiritual traditions of the past have been saying this in their own way. They all call us to a greater awareness of our union with the source of being, the One of many names which I am calling the Dao.

Like the island ultimately returning into the ocean from whence it came, we too are on a course for a union with the Dao. But like the island we fight against this. When our Ego Self is in charge we worry that if we do not struggle to hold on to our identity we will lose ourselves completely. We become protective of the welfare of our individual selves because we cannot see our greater connection to the whole. This is the paradox of our existence, source of both our profoundest miseries and our greatest delights. And we would not have it any other way.

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