Compassion and Meditation – Key for Understanding and Overcoming Depression – The Emily Dahl Foundation

Compassion and Meditation – Key for Understanding and Overcoming Depression

By feeling compassion for others -- seeing even our enemies in a new light -- we can ease our own stress and anxiety.  Through inner disarmament -- reducing anger, hatred, and jealousy -- we create a path to our own happiness and world peace. 

Much of our inner turmoil is due to negative feelings like fear and anger. Those emotions that disturb our peaceful mind must be eliminated. In times of great distress, our best friend is inside the heart ... it is our compassion. 

A compassionate attitude sustains one's good health, whereas feelings of anger, hate, and fear can hurt the immune system. Trust develops between people when there is evidence of genuine concern and warm-heartedness. Good creates more good -- even if it comes slowly.

In developing compassion and inner peace, daily meditation is key. 

During meditation, one becomes mindful of one's thoughts and feelings. Meditation is a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts. Then, we work to change those negative feelings -- to view other people and their actions differently. 

It is a human tendency to react to certain thoughts and feelings in a preconditioned way.  We all have aversions and cravings, likes and dislikes. If a thought of a person comes up, we tend to immediately react based on whether we like or dislike them. That sets up a chain reaction about what's wrong with that person.

That cycle of preconditioned reactions is what we seek to change. When people cause us difficulty, we can learn to see that they have difficulties in their own lives -- and that they act from ignorance or weakness.  It's not about condoning injustice. What's wrong is wrong. But we can see them as our spiritual teachers, teaching us lessons like patience.

We can also look for unintentional kindness from people who help us survive -- providing the food we eat, the clothes we wear, etc.  We need to see beyond the superficial relationships to connect at a deeper level, where we all share the same aspirations. The world begins to feel less harsh, more nurturing.

The challenge is to develop a deep sense of empathy for all people we interact with -- whether they are friends, people who give us difficulty, or people who are neutral to us. It's all about recognizing that they, too, have misfortunes and difficulties in their daily lives -- and that all beings want to be free of these difficulties, for their own happiness.

Through these practices, we can develop a real sense of connectedness with other beings, which is the source of empathy, compassion -- and, ultimately, our happiness. That's how Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama can feel compassion for their enemies, and you can do the same. 

You'll notice the spillover effect into your daily life. When certain thoughts arise that might disturb you, you are able to notice them, so you don't get stuck with them. You move on with the job at hand. 

Regularly meditating on compassion can also help prevent depression by reducing a person's emotional and physical reaction to stress in his or her daily life.  

We should look at compassion meditation as a protective strategy, sort of like exercise. 

Over the past three decades, research has shown that meditation produces a relaxation response that helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. As the body receives a quiet message to relax, tension and tightness seep from muscles.

Meditation has gained millions of converts, helping them ease anxiety, stress, and chronic pain, improve heart health, boost mood and immunity, and resolve pregnancy problems.

Negative thoughts are very real to depressed people. They interpret their own actions in a very negative way ... have a very negative sense of self. They hold onto these thoughts very, very strongly.

Because a depressed person is so self-focused, it's difficult to convince them that their negative thoughts are not reality. The goal of mindfulness meditation and compassion is to end this self-focus, this negative tone.

At its essence, compassion requires that we develop a sense of connectedness to others, which will give us empathy for them. If we are genuinely able to feel empathy for others, then compassion is the natural outcome.

In compassion training, one should focus on developing that sense of deep connection with all beings.  We develop a way of seeing how others are kind to us, even if it's unintentional kindness. Whether they intended to be kind to us or not, we can choose to perceive it as kindness.

Compassion training can generate a state in which loving, and compassion envelops the whole brain. When people meditate on compassion, the signals to the insula and other brain regions involved in empathy and understanding are changed. The change is more dramatic among advanced practitioners, compared with novice practitioners. 

Studies have shown that with even a little compassion training, people can reap a physical benefit.

While meditation can help many who are depressed, it's not a sure-fire cure. In fact, many people with mood disorders find they can't do meditation when they're depressed. Their thoughts are too overwhelming. They are anxious, nervous, and can't sit -- and likely they may need additional medical help. 

For people who are seriously depressed -- or whose depression involves too much internal focus and rumination -- meditation can make their depression worse. Early on, they begin to realize things about themselves they are uncomfortable with. 

Meditation provides true insight into why we behave as we do. There can be a shocking realization when you start watching your thoughts. You see the junk that's in there, and it can be very distressing. Every individual case is different. With depression, which can be so disabling and overwhelming, we need to use wisely all treatment modalities to give people the best outcomes. 

The Emily Dahl Foundation 
December 30, 2021