Easter Sunday Meditation: Can We Enlist Depression in Our Personal Growth?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Easter Sunday - a time to pause and reflect on rebirth, resurrection, transformation, and healing. The themes are universal. They manifest in nature. They resonate across all cultures. We can apply them in our personal lives.


    The Gospels tell the story of a being who suffered as a man, entered into death, was buried in a cave, and emerged as God.


    Out of despair - hope.


    Depression may be the worst form of suffering known to man. It is the denial of hope, the negation of life. It is an unrelenting life in death.


    Coming out of depression is a form of rebirth. It is the restoration of hope, the return to life. There is a healing.

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    But can there be transformation? Can we actually emerge from a depression as a changed person, more enlightened, more in touch with our own humanity and divinity?


    Back in 2009, in San Francisco, at the American Psychiatric Association general meeting, I heard Robert Cloninger of Washington University (St Louis) talk about self-transcendence. Personal change, Dr Cloninger said, is a nonlinear process. We maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. The opposite occurs when our brains head south.


    According to Dr Cloninger, psychiatry is focussed on keeping us close to our “local optimum.” I refer to this as a state of “undepression.” We get depressed. We “recover” back into a state of “undepression.” But is this what we truly want? Is that what life is all about?


    Or is there a higher level of optimum we can shoot for? Dr Cloninger makes the analogy to nonlinear thermodynamic processes. These are the shifts that involve quantum change, say from ice to water. Once a certain threshold is reached, the effect is felt across the entire system. 


    In effect, we find a new normal. We move from Stable State A to Stable State B. But there is a catch. The process involves us initially feeling a lot worse. Says Dr Cloninger: "You have to go through this valley of tears to get there, and that's painful."


    We don’t choose our pain. We don’t choose to have depression. But can we enlist our depression as a tool in our own personal growth? 


    I like to think my suffering has not been for nothing, that I didn’t endure all I endured just to wind up back in the same place. No, no miracles happened. I didn’t emerge from my depressions in a blaze of light. The changes occurred on a far more subtle level. Perhaps you have experienced some of them:


    A greater tendency toward thoughtfulness and reflection, a heightened awareness, enhanced empathy, a sense of purpose, a greater appreciation of life.


    On second thought, that is quite a miracle. 


    Today is Easter Sunday, a time of celebration, but also a time to pause and reflect. 

Published On: April 20, 2014