Awakening and Depression

What is depression?

Blah-ness. Dryness, emptiness, futility, disengagement. Painful to lift a finger. The opposite of love.

Here’s my description of what depression feels like.

By depression, I mean the mild to moderate clinical illness which has both physical and psychological symptoms and affects mood, thoughts, emotions and level of energy.

Weird and lost...
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Does Awakening overcome depression?

I had episodes of anxiety for twenty years, worsening over time. With this method, anxiety was released in a matter of days. I can say with confidence that anxiety is a thing of the past for me. There are occasions when I  feel the beginnings of anxiety—a jittery sensation in the belly. When I was unconscious, I gave no attention to this physical sensation, and it built up over time into an energetic feedback loop of physical sensations and thought-stories. (All emotions are in fact a feedback loop of thought-stories and body sensations.)  But with instant recognition, I can easily release anxiety before it begins.

Depression is another matter. Anthony de Mello tells a parable of a Zen Master who said: Before enlightenment I was depressed. After enlightenment, I am depressed.

In my experience, depression does not go away as we awaken, but the experience of it is very different. The sense of futility and sadness and desolation goes away. But physical symptoms such as insomnia and low energy can come up. What is very different is my attitude towards these. These show up as simply another experience. There is no fear and no aversion and no attachment. So what remains are physical symptoms and they don’t gell up into that dark morass that we call depression.

Does depression bring about Awakening?

Yes, it does.

I see depression as the first Noble Truth of Buddhism. It is our reaction to the delusion of suffering. Suffering feels very real, but it is brought on by delusion, and this confusion manifests as depression.

Another way to say this is that depression is when we nudge ourselves to awaken.

Yet another way to say this is to say that depression is the way some of us react to the insanity of being identified with  our thoughts and beliefs, separated from who we really are.

Does Awakening bring about depression?

Yes, it’s possible.

Many people report symptoms such as the Dark Night of the Soul, detachment and apathy, while awakening.

Apathy and detachment can come about when we first start waking up from the delusion of the ego. A crisis can also come about when we realize that all our intentions, even our best spiritual intentions, are suffused with the ego.

Feelings of apathy and detachment and desolation are temporary, but they can last a while. I’ve felt apathy and its cousins to varying degrees over a period of two years. When we recognize we are not who we take ourselves to be, we reject many beliefs and ideas and perspectives we’ve long held. Sometimes this is a relief, and intelligence becomes free and easy. Sometimes, it’s confusing and disorienting.

We begin to lose hold of the familiar. Relationships, interests, careers, really just about everything that we use to navigate the world with can change.

We can come to the conclusion that nothing really is important. Why should I care?

The answer is why not? Why shouldn’t I care and engage with experiences?

We don’t have to disengage from the world. We can simply stop seeking completion in the world.

18 thoughts on “Awakening and Depression

  1. Pingback: Awakening and Depression | beyond karma : Depression Page

  2. Evan

    I’ve never been seriously depressed (I’m glad to say) but I have several friends who are.

    The problem with seeing it as compatible with enlightenment that I have is that depression seems to be disengagement at some level. For those who are dealing with serious depression it seems to be an experience of separateness from life.

    But this is from an outsiders perspective.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Evan,
      Depression is indeed disengagement. It’s the kind of disengagement that people around the depressive cannot understand at all. It can be very difficult to engage, to talk to people, to keep up with what most people would consider reciprocal social interaction. This is the type of thing where many loved ones say in frustration, “just snap out of it” because of course there doesn’t seem to be a physical cause to all of this withdrawn behavior.

      I’m absolutely not minimizing the reality and difficulty which disengagement presents.

      In my experience, my own experience with depression and recovery seems to be aligned with being unconscious and awakening. Even now, I am careful to say that depression isn’t gone. The quality of it is different.

      Thanks for the insight, Evan. I hope you are well.

      peace and light,

  3. Janice R.

    Dear Mr. K.,
    something interesting happened to me this weekend. I was driving on a long distance road trip and when i am on the highway going 75-80 miles an hour I always have anxiety when I have to pass a tracker trailor. I have this feeling that I am going to lose control of the car and the truck and I are going to collide. But, what was strange was sure enough I had to pass this truck and I got mildly anxious, maybe like a 4 or 5 on the freak meter and then I started to think this anxiety is all my ego. My ego is telling me “Oh Lord, the truck is going to get me and I am going to die”!! Suddenly, my anxiety vanished. There was just this okay akinda feeling. My anxiety about the highway, driving the trucks was gone. I wasn’t totally okay but I wasn’t nuts either. So much better. I had a moment of awareness and then automatically breathed naturally. Thanks, Mr. K. not only did my anxiety get much better but when my anxiety is lessened my depressive times lessen.
    Have a great day and thank you so much for all your support and wisdom.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Janice,

      Often in emergencies, the mind stops. It’s a good experience because it shows us that all our anxieties are mind-created. We bring the entire the burden of our past, and pain and reactions and patterns and thoughts to bear down on this very present moment. It’s no wonder that we don’t see clearly.

      I glad you are safe and I am glad that you were able to experience the state of flow, or as some call it, “no-mind.”

      I hope you are doing well! Always good to hear from you.

      love and peace,

  4. Liara Covert

    Love how you invite readers to go within and listen to the signs their body creates to interpret a given situation. Ultimately, each person stands alone to work through whatever arises in his scope of awareness.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Thanks, Liara! You’re right, nobody can do this for us, we must do it ourselves. On the other hand, we are not alone in doing it.

      love and peace,

  5. Spikyface

    What if all this happens just as you are beginning your adult life?

    Relationships, careers, interests all fall away and you are left without any direction or real desires

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi spikyface,
      My depressive episodes started at the beginning of my adult life. And yes, they affect relationships and careers and interests and aliveness. It’s a deadly affliction.

      My advice to people dealing with these sort of affective illnesses (depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, etc) is to use everything which is available to you. Medication, therapy, community, family, and so on.

      And also explore the practice of releasing, awareness, and self-honesty, which is what I talk about here.

      love and peace,

  6. Elle

    My o my you could not be more correct when you talk about how disorienting it is when you realize the very things that you used to identify with the world and navigate there in are not who you really are. It’s to a point where I don’t know what to feel, I look at my spouse and want to cry, I have conversations with people out in public and want to cry, I am moved by the simplest things but also sad too, I can not explain this. I find the tiniest bit of light in conversing with people at the coffee shop, it’s like I am stopping to smell the roses more, way more present and in the moment than before. I look at children playing and tears come to my eyes because of the joy they exude. The act of not seeking completion in the world resonates with me, I am a college student and for a moment got lost in the thick of it all, this experience is truly humbling and very sobering…

  7. whitespy

    Kaushik, thanks for you sobering yet in many ways uplifting website. 6 months ago I was horrified to be led to the conclusion that “i do not exist”. that was the dark night of the soul. one day, 2 months ago, i saw through the illiusion. I fell…and crashed into reality. It still is new to me. Now my obsessions are gone, but also my zest for life. I feel apathy is on some level unavoidable. I have yet to move from the “why” to the “why not”. i do not want to fight apathy too much because I understand it must feel like a balloon suddenly getting zapped and it was all hot air. Hot air was what the ego was obsessing about. Very sobering, very disillusioning. On some level I kind of yearn for ego obsession madness in the past (wheres the thrill?!), but at the same time I feel I should feel lucky to have to an extent escaped this collective madness. Good luck to you.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi whitespy,
      The “I do not exist” is a valid technique, but I don’t recommend it any longer. You can see that the you in your thoughts does not refer to anything. That’s good, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

      Here’s what I wrote in another comment which might apply:

      My outlook is very simple these days. My mind was afflicted for a long time, probably since birth–afflicted with a wound which made me believe that life is separate from me. It made me believe that life is harsh, something to control, something fearful, something outside of me. And this is the premise that I looked at everything from–everything I’ve learned, believed, thought, felt, experienced, was suffused with this premise.

      When I saw this, there was a tremendous relief. I didn’t even have the solution–but just the understanding of this simple problem brought about a tremendous relief.

      Is there a solution to this problem?

      Yes, I believe there are at least two.

      One is that the simple recognition of this problem, in its clear and exclusive statement, brings about healing.

      Another is to look at you. This is what John Sherman and Nisargadutt and Ramana suggest. So I’m trying that.


  8. Kimberly McPherson

    This is a great post! I am going to share this link with my readers for I think they will learn so much from your site! I feel as if I am going through a spiritual awakening of some sort and I agree with you on how anxiety and depression can play a role in your journey. I am wishing you abundant blessings and sharing this on all of my social networks,

  9. Nini

    Thank you, just what I was looking for. I wanted to know is it just me or am I really feeling enlightened and depressed at the same time.

    You have explained it better than I could.

  10. Chris

    I have experienced this today after years of anxiety, depersonalisation, derealisation, panic, insomnia and a hundred other sensations.

    I realised that all fear is the source of all my suffering, and that fear is not real, it is an illusion, a deception, a simple too for teaching. Manifesting as an antialiased interpretation, a notion, a viewpoint.

    I wondered as I pondered this, why am I still anxious, I laughed as I was told the answer … Because I am.

    Why will I be anxious tomorrow, because I will.

    Why will I be calm tomorrow … Because I will.

    Nothing matters, when we see this truth we are free to love for no reason.

  11. d.badiali

    In order to get a being to wake up from the illusion of life as seen through a lower consciousness, the excitement of this material level must begin to wane.

    This is the paradox of depression.

    We are less interested in affairs of this level of consciousness, and have no real assurances of anything beyond it.

    The beyond is unknown, an abyss.

    We long to be excited about this base level of consciousness,as we perceive others around us to be.

    The pain of depression is this universe”s way of waking us up.

    It only follows that for beings who believe their lives to be working out well, it is not time for them to awaken.

    Depression is like the night before Christmas, only you don’t know Christmas is coming.

    Read Osho’s; “feel the pain of aloneness”

  12. Steve Eckert

    Amazing discussion. I have been very active in a particular practice of meditation for over a year now with the goal of self-realization. Not only depression showed its face but suicide became a very real fact … avoid the deep, deep depression. Both my wife and I have lost our interest in most all the activities we previously enjoyed and see little meaning in most human doings.

    But the smaller things are gaining in importance like interacting with plants, animals, the wind, the sun and moon. All these new dimensions opening up are truly amazing.

    Its strange how ‘Enlightenment’ is fostered but the negative effects are not discussed very often.

    Out of all Robert Adam’s devotees 3 of them killed their bodies through suicide on the path to ‘Enlightenment’. Somehow transitioning into that Void and emptiness is a venture through depression also.

    The meditation I practice induces very high states of bliss and my Guru says that when you feel and experience the depression to the fullest you will come out the other side into that blissful state. And this has happened to me….but it is very difficult to dive in and feel all the depression. I wouldn’t use medication.

    A couple of days ago I told a different teacher about the tremendous happiness and bliss that envelopes me and he said ‘that will leave too’.

    So for self-realization to be a reality the individual is going to have to face the dark things within his/her soul and also this is going to involve the destruction of many beliefs that they have accepted since childhood.

    Enlightenment and Self-Realization is a path that few can tread even though many ‘teachers’ are selling the idea that you can have it all. I think the more correct approach would be that you can lose it all. Because when you lose it all you lose your conceptions of what Reality really is and become a witness. Your free from the conflicts of the world.


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