Understanding and Overcoming Depression

In today’s world, depression is a widespread malady that affects people throughout the world. In many cases, pharmaceutical drugs are known to have potential ‘side effects’ that can cause depression, thoughts of suicide, or other dark moods that inhibit the ability of the individual to function in his life. In other cases, there is a serious mismatch between the pressures and concerns one sees in the world and the inner sense of one’s life and meaning. In many cases, there is a sense of failure, what the Mother calls a “want of vital satisfaction”, that is accentuated through peer pressure, bullying and unrealistic expectations placed on an individual through family, friends or the societal setting. Then there is the concern that everything is useless due to the wanton destruction of the environment and the careless attitude of people who are creating division, hatred, fear, pain and suffering for others, and about which one cannot do anything.

The Mother dealt with thousands of individuals as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the associated school developed and expanded. For the most part, this was a small, focused group of individuals who were working on their inner growth and development, and thus, not a representative group of people in relation to the question of depression at large in the world. However, the Mother’s view, even when focused on this limited set of individuals, provides us insight into both the deeper roots of depression and potential directions.

Obviously, those cases of depression either caused or accentuated through chemical imbalances caused by pharmaceutical drugs, needs must require the withdrawal of those drugs, as new methods of addressing the underlying conditions for which the drugs are prescribed, are put in place. Those caused by physical exhaustion and extreme fatigue similarly can be alleviated through balancing the life more completely with proper attention to the needs of the body for rest and recuperation, proper food and activity. Yet we see remaining a vast number of cases of depression in the world, particularly compared to past ages, due to the feeling of being overwhelmed, helpless and weak in the face of the machinery of the society and the expectations that are raised. In this case, helping people to understand the deeper significance of life, and their individual capability to address that, can help people find the way through the state of depression, as the Mother so clearly indicates. Controlled experiments with hallucinogenic drug therapy, or with shamanic ‘vision quests’ have shown that taking the individual outside of their limited ego-personality and showing them a larger, higher purpose and existence can help free them from the states of depression.

Turning then to the Mother’s specific insights, we find that she addresses those who have the inner capability of understanding and shifting their awareness either to a higher consciousness or to the inner psychic being which is in tune with the universal manifestation and participates in the consciousness that is manifesting. Instead of wallowing in the limited vital personality of the desire-soul, the individual shifts the focus and awareness toward the larger reality.

A disciple asks: “How can depression be controlled?”

The Mother observes: “Oh! there’s a very simple way. Depression occurs generally in the vital, and one is overpowered by depression only when one keeps the consciousness in the vital, when one remains there. The only thing to do is to get out of the vital and enter a deeper consciousness. Even the higher mind, the luminous, higher mind, the most lofty thoughts have the power to drive away depression. Even when one reaches just the highest domains of thought, usually the depression disappears. But in any case, if one seeks shelter in the psychic, then there is no longer any room for depression.”

“Depression may come from two causes: either from a want of vital satisfaction or from a considerable nervous fatigue in the body. Depression arising from physical fatigue is set right fairly easily: one has but to take rest. One goes to bed and sleeps until one feels well again, or else one rests, dreams, lies down. The want of vital satisfaction is pretty easily produced and usually one must face it with one’s reason, must ferret out the cause of the depression, what has brought about the lack of satisfaction in the vital; and then one looks at it straight in the face and asks oneself whether that indeed has anything to do with one’s inner aspiration or whether it is simply quite an ordinary movement. Generally one discovers that it has nothing to do with the inner aspiration and one can quite easily overcome it and resume one’s normal movement. If that does not suffice, then one must go deeper and deeper until one touches the psychic reality. Then one has only to put this psychic reality in contact with the movement of depression, and instantaneously it will vanish into thin air.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Depression, pp. 56-58