I write a lot about emotions and how our connection with our own feelings can help us live a richer and more fulfilling life. Today’s Reflection delves more deeply into this topic using as a reference point the recently published book ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari.
‘Lost Connections’ is a study of depression and anxiety, which seems to be more and more prevalent in our modern societies. Fuelled by his desire to understand his own ongoing depression (he was on antidepressant medication for 13 years), Johann travelled the world interviewing all kinds of experts in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and mindfulness, trying to find out why record numbers of us are anxious and depressed. And many of us are actually drugged up to the eyeballs on prescription medication to help us manage that not-so-great feeling in the background of our lives, which, ranges on a spectrum from the constant feeling of ‘not good enough’ to absolute despair. Hari also interviews many sufferers of depression and anxiety around the world, in many different countries, and from different backgrounds and cultures.
He discovers many interesting things. One of them is the huge vested interest of the pharmaceutical industry in the biomedical approach to solving this problem. We are talking millions of dollars in the pockets of big pharma every year thanks to their so-called ‘solution’ – drugs which treat the symptoms of anxiety and depression but not the cause. So the interests of these companies and how they have influenced prescribing practices of doctors, not to mention how they have hidden and supressed any of their own research studies that disprove the effectiveness of medication for healing long term depression needs to be looked at.
But what Hari discovers is that at the core of depression and anxiety is disconnection.
Disconnection from ourselves through doing jobs which don’t nourish our souls, through to disconnection from other people thanks to our busy lifestyles and our individualistic capitalist societies that send us the message from a young age that in order to ‘succeed’ in life you need to make sure your money game is in order and you need to make sure that you are on a trajectory of constant ‘improvement’. We are not taught in our schools (at least I wasn’t) that even more important than our achievements and our careers is our connections to our own souls and to family, friends and community.
I believe, and Johann also discovered this, that depression and anxiety are messengers. They are messengers, sent with love, from your soul to you, to help you to see that somewhere along the way you have veered off track. They are messengers sent with love, in the form of pain, to help you to get back on track and to feel good again. But to really understand the message, you need to look at your whole life. You need to really understand how the way you are living your life isn’t serving you. And you need to be brave enough to really look at and to really feel the pain. Because without really feeling it, you are not able to understand the message.
The problem with the medical solution to states of psychological unease, is that it treats the symptom but not the cause. And the so-called ‘treatment’ actually dulls your senses, making it difficult for you to feel your feelings and therefor receive the message of your pain.
If we start to understand life in a different way from the way we have been brought up to think about it, then we are better equipped to feel our feelings and face what is not quite right in our lives.
Identifying Your Particular Discomfort
Your discomfort may come from being in a job that doesn’t really work for you. It may come from being in the right job but not getting on so well with your colleagues. It may come from being in a relationship that doesn’t fit with you but being too afraid to leave it or do something about it. It may come from being in a relationship that does work, but you are too tentative and have not really gone all in with your partner. It may come from just not being connected enough with other people. If you are a natural introvert and love your time alone, it’s easy to forget that you still need regular contact with others.
Of the many people that Hari interviewed about their experiences of life and depression, a couple really stood out for me. One was an English woman who had been a psych nurse, and became so depressed in her work about how the hospital was treating the patients that she slowly withdrew from society and ended up spending seven years barely leaving her house. She was lucky enough to eventually find an open-minded and holistic GP who had set up a program of community engagement for those suffering from depression and anxiety. The program involved working together with other sufferers on a community garden project – transforming what had been unused land filled with rubbish and syringes, into a beautiful garden. This woman was able to slowly repair her life thanks to this program.
Another person was a man in Germany, who had spent the better part of his life in a psych hospital, who one day escaped and found himself at an ongoing tent city type protest at a community housing estate where people were fighting to stop rent increases and evictions. There was a beautiful community spirit here, with people banding together and helping each other around this common cause. Many people really got to know their neighbours for the first time ever, and others got over prejudices they had against certain groups of people who were very different to them. This man found connection and family with these people, and for the first time in his life he felt like he had a home. Later the people from the psych unit came to collect him and take him back to the hospital, but the man’s new friends at the encampment fought to have him stay with them.
Tools for Connecting with our Feelings
If you have trouble feeling your feelings and getting access to your intuition, try some of these methods and see what happens for you:
Emotional Freedom Technique is a technique that uses the nadis, or energy meridians in our bodies, to tap into our feelings and do some transformative work on acceptance. You speak your feelings – which might be difficult for you to accept and to admit, and at the same time send yourself the message that you fully and completely love and accept yourself.
‘Even though…. I am feeling depressed about …. and not sure why …. I fully and completely love and accept myself’
Reiki is an energy healing modality from Japan which is a way of channel universal life energy or chi. A Reiki practice helps you to connect with your chi and to open yourself up to deeper levels of feeling.
Although this one is bandied about an awful lot today, it is because it works. Just sitting still and being with yourself is a very powerful and effective way of getting in touch with your inner being. But you probably will need a meditation class or a teacher to help you understand the practice and overcome the bumps in the road. There is a danger especially with meditation that you can use it as a form of avoidance – enjoying the feelings of being ‘blissed out’ without really going deep into witnessing your mind body connection and learning equanimity.
CHOOSE TO SPEAK YOUR TRUTH – RELEASING THE MASKS
The next time someone asks you how you feel, rather than just being an automaton and saying ‘yes, fine thanks’ try really connecting in with yourself and seeing how you feel in that moment.
If you are a bit sad – try saying, ‘well, I’m feeling a little sad today’. If you are feeling excited – say that. But try not censoring yourself. Allow the full range of your feelings and let go of image making in connection with others. Be as real as possible.
COME TO A HAPPY BUDDHA RETREAT
Of course, taking time out of your regular life is also a great way to re-connect and feel at a deeper level. This is always helped by being in a supportive environment where everyone else has come for this as well.
BE 100% IN EACH MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE WITHOUT AVOIDANCE
A practice of really connecting with our feelings is enhanced by a conscious desire to really be 100% in each moment of your life.
Try and check inwardly to see if you are perhaps avoiding something – either feeling a feeling, saying something to someone or facing a decision you need to make. See if you can use your presence practice to really stay with whatever is arising and be fully present with it. Try to stop any subtle avoidance. See if this helps you to really feel and process that feeling and get a sense of relief when it has passed through. If you feel tears coming, let them come, if it’s irrepressible laughter, let that come through too! Imagine the emotions are a weather system, high pressure or low pressure, it’s just weather that wants to express in your system.
CONNECT MORE WITH PEOPLE YOU TRUST
In the book ‘Lost Connections’, a lot of the deep healing of people afflicted with chronic depression and anxiety comes through re-connecting with people.
If you are experiencing any kind of struggle with your emotions, be it depression, anxiety or otherwise, see if you are able to reach out and connect more with people around you. Whether it is groups that come together over a common interest, groups doing community work, or a yoga or meditation class, all of them are good ways to re-connect.
CONNECT WITH YOUR SOUL BLUEPRINT
I believe each one of us has a blueprint in our soul of what our souls want to learn and to experience in our lifetime. And I believe that the message of depression and anxiety and any general feeling of un-ease, is that you need to re-connect to yourself and to others. You may need to take some time to meditate on what it is that really brings you joy – and whether you are doing it, and you may need to check in to see if you have enough meaningful relationships in your life. The better you get with the checking in inwardly – taking time through meditation and just being and not doing, the better you will be able to hear the messages from your soul.
Pay really close attention especially to your joy – notice when your soul is uplifted by a particular activity, or a connection with a particular person, and follow this. And really feel the happiness and the joy of those moments. But just the same, when sadness comes, or anger comes, or frustration comes, really stay with those feelings too. They are our messengers and need to be felt. They may be fleeting states, that just need our full attention, or they may be recurring messengers, that come every day like the milkman used to do, because there is something you need to understand.
Img Credit: Anthony Tran on Unsplash.com
Michelle is a writer, musician, meditation and yoga teacher based in Melbourne. She teaches mindfulness courses and leads yoga retreats. She runs her own business called Inner Alchemy and is available as a coach and mentor.