Asking ‘oh-god-why-am-I-depressed’ is never helpful!

When things don’t go the way you want them to, and you are depressed, don’t hate that feeling. Accept it as your current reality. That’s the only way to be at peace with yourself.
No one likes to be depressed. And no one likes a depressed person around them. But depression is a natural human response to certain Life situations. You can’t get rid of it by fighting it.
The term depression is widely used to describe a state in which a person is unable to express himself or herself emotionally to the point that his or her Life is impaired or dysfunctional. Anything you don’t expect, but which happens to you, can push you into a depressive spiral – a job loss, a break-up, death of a loved one, a business or career set back, a health challenge or a show-down with a best friend. Common responses under depression range from rabid anger shown against rank strangers in unconnected situations to becoming totally reclusive. Suicidal tendencies may be evident in extremely depressive states.
Someone going through depression will normally dislike being so – yet will find it difficult snapping out of it. It is normally a cyclical feeling. You are feeling low because things didn’t go the way you wanted them to. Then you start feeling miserable that you are feeling low. You soon begin to hate that miserable feeling. But more than that you hate that everyone else – but you – is having a good time. Then everyone notices that you are feeling low. And they start advising you to get out of it. That’s the last thing you want. You know you have to get of that lousy mood. Because you don’t want it yourself. But because you hate being advised something that you already know, you resist, sometimes very subconsciously, climbing out of that rut. And whatever you resist, persists. So, your depression drags along.  
Some years back, I went to a close friend, who is also an eminent psychiatrist. Over several months, I was noticing that I was behaving rather irrationally at most times. I was getting angry with insipid things and picking up fights with anyone who even remotely said anything that I did not want to hear. One day I got into a brawl with an auto-rickshaw driver at the Madras Central Station. When I got back home, I felt stupid. I realized I needed help. So, I met my friend, this psychiatrist, who (after thoroughly reviewing my overall Life situation prevailing around then) said that I could be going through a mild, yet unique, form of depression. He said he could prescribe anti-depressants or he said I could employ my own “awareness” to reign in my emotions and “make peace with myself”. I chose the latter, obviously, and it worked well for me.
I still do encounter depressive moods time and again. But I have learnt that it is normal to feel and face depression. The key is to be awake and aware when depression strikes. When you are aware of what’s happening to you, you respond better. One good way to deal with depression is to accept it as a fact, as a reality, of your Life. To be depressed is not a bad thing. It is not a stigma. If you allow yourself to think deeply about your depressive state, you will soon realize that being that way is of no use. So, when you are depressed, just let it be. Face the reality that this is how you are feeling. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel reprehensive about it.
Depression cannot be countered. It cannot be got rid of by denying it. It cannot be met with more depression – asking ‘oh-god-why-am-I-depressed’ is never helpful! The best way (per my experience, and this view may not be subscribed to by others) to deal with depression is be aware that it is there and to just let it be – and to know that it will go, just the same way it came!

Take off that mask – and be yourself!

Stop living your Life for others. Do what you must do in a situation not what “you” believe society wants you to do.  
Through a conversation that I had yesterday, I was reminded of a very popular movie star that I once was coaching on “reinventing” himself. At 60, this star was long past his prime when he came to me. He wasn’t getting offers to play the hero anymore. And while his contemporaries were still relevant in the movie business, by opting to play supporting and career roles, my friend was not getting offers because he was adamant that he would sign on a movie only if he was offered the lead role. The movie star’s aspiration was to “reinvent” himself and become “relevant” among the new generation of movie fans. I understood from him that his burning desire to still be seen as a “hot” and “happening” movie star had led him to lead an extravagant – clearly beyond his means – lifestyle. Since he was not getting any movie offers, he had had no income to speak of for over a decade now. He had further leveraged all his assets – that he had painstakingly built during his heydays – to borrow money to sustain his lifestyle. He had 7 luxury cars, wore only expensive designer clothes and watches, lived in a large 12-bedroom bungalow with 15 helpers, and insisted on traveling first class on foreign vacations with his family, at least twice every year. When I asked him why he needed to live this way, he said, “I honestly don’t need all this for myself. But what will people think of me if they realize that I have downsized. I need to keep the show going to stay relevant.” I disagreed. I gave him a two-step plan: “First, accept any role that comes your way where you have a chance to display your talent. That will kick-start your economic engine. Don’t insist on hero roles. Next, clean up your debt portfolio by selling off your bigger assets to settle your bigger loans. Work towards a becoming debt-free over a fixed period of time.” He vehemently opposed the advice I gave saying: “Even if I am not enjoying it, and even if I have so much stress to deal with to keep my show going, I can’t do anything that affects my public image.” After just a few weeks of beginning to coach him, I gave up the assignment. I told him: “If you continue to do the same things, you will get the same results. To reinvent yourself, you need to stop doing a few things that led you to where you are.”
My movie star friend’s story is not an exception. While, in his case, it may be a lavish lifestyle, funded by debt, that he maintains to “look good” in front of his fans and society, each of us seeks social approval and works, often in vain, for it – in our own unique ways. If we think about it deeply, when we live – in any context – for the sake of others’ opinions of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, we suffer. This is because we are going against what we personally prefer, want and enjoy – and we live wearing a mask. That mask, always, hurts.
The truth is that society really does not demand that you wear that mask or veil. It is you who think, imagine, believe that these, often unstated, social norms must be adhered to. There’s a subconscious conditioning that has happened to you, as you have grown in your career, and your Life, that you must be this way or you must be that way. Nobody told you anything specifically. But you just imagined it to be so.
And, of course, some people can be uncharitable and obnoxiously remind you if you are not following social norms. We were once invited to a banquet in a 7-star hotel. Many of the other guests were good friends – all of them successful business people, professionals, actors and sports stars. Many also knew of our financial state – our bankruptcy. One of the guests did not hide his surprise at seeing us there.
“‘Aap, yahan?’ – You, here?” – he asked.
“‘Haan. Aane ki to aukad nahin hai, lekin aaye hain kyonki bulaye gaye hain’! – Yes, we don’t have the social standing to be here. But we are here because we have been invited!” – I replied with a beaming smile.
In any situation in Life, choosing to be yourself, unmasking yourself, is the best thing to do. Nothing wrong in being nice and wanting to please others or “look good” in front of them – but the key is, are you “feeling good”, are you doing what’s right and important for you? Choosing to be yourself may well cause a few ripples in the external situation that you may be placed in. But will give you great inner peace. Now, making that choice is a personal call, and a no-brainer, right?

If you love, love openly

When you understand the true meaning of love, you will go beyond its physical expression.
Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha: Rang Barse
Yesterday, I watched ‘Silsila’ (Yash Chopra, 1981, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rekha, Sanjeev Kumar) one more time. It’s a story of complicated relationships and of the people who are entangled in them. The movie made history not only because of the onscreen chemistry between Amitabh and Rekha but also because of the much rumored offscreen affair between them and the stresses between Amitabh and his onscreen wife Jaya (his real Life wife too). In one scene, in the iconic ‘Holi’song ‘Rang Barse’ (sung by Amitabh Bachchan himself), Amitabh hugs and kisses Rekha, much to the shock and dismay of their respective onscreen spouses, Jaya and Sanjeev Kumar – and to the surprise of the audience. While contextually, the hug and kiss are meant to only be a bold expression of the Amitabh-Rekha onscreen romance, there can be a spiritual interpretation to it too!
Here’s a Zen story, that I recall, to illustrate the point.

Twenty monks and one nun, called Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen Master.

Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.

Eshun did not reply. The following day the Master gave his customary morning lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written to her, she said: “If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now.”

The import of the story is that if you love, love openly. For long society has suppressed love. It is natural, it is human nature, for people to love other people. But society has placed a restriction. For ages now, society has proclaimed that you cannot love more than one. And that restriction has come about from what society has created again – the institution of marriage. Religion has made this even more complex and intimidating by introducing the concept of sin. So, if you love another when you are married to one, it is both illegal and a sin. This is because the meaning of love has been distorted. Love has come to mean something conditional – almost everyone is saying, at least through implication, that if you behave within the contours of a relationship, you will be loved by me.

So, Eshun’s open invitation in the Zen story, and Amitabh’s ‘daring’ act in the ‘Rang Barse’ song may alarm many. But, however difficult it may be to immediately relate to it or accept it, the truth is that it is they who personify true, pure love. As human beings, our true nature is love. We don’t have to do anything to love or be loving or become loving. We just have to tear down all the walls we have allowed to come up between us and our expression of love. Then love will transcend the physical plane and break through social barriers. Then we will love openly!


Reach out, forgive, seek closure, move on

Don’t let resentment and anger, over a betrayal, breed within you. Reach out, seek closure and move on.
Whenever you are wronged, especially by someone whom you have trusted, the hurt doesn’t go away easily. It continues to haunt you and causes you intense agony. People will encourage you to forgive. You too will want to move on. Yet there will be a struggle within you. And that struggle will make you feel miserable and suffer. You can go on suffering or you can seek closure and move on.
There are two ways to seek closure – either by forgiving (even if you can’t forget) and moving on or by reaching out, resolving and moving on. But move on you must. Staying there, suffering in your own hurt, makes no sense.
A friend of ours shared how he dealt with being betrayed by his own wife who had – and continues to have – an obsession for hoarding money. She apparently came from a wealthy family and also got a fortune by way of what her father had bequeathed her. Right from the beginning, she insisted on keeping “her money” in a separate bank account  which only she operated. My friend says that he did find her choice strange but he did not ever raise the issue. 13 years into their marriage, when their son, who was then 11 (now he is 28),  was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, the doctors advised an urgent, major Life-saving surgery. That surgery cost a huge sum. The wife apparently had lots of money sitting in her bank account and my friend’s business was doing badly. He had no cash with him. But, even then, his wife refused to bring forth the money required for the surgery. She told him that it was his responsibility to provide for the family, not hers. However bizarre and obnoxious he found the reasoning, my friend mobilized the required funds for the surgery from borrowings from friends. He says, after the surgery was over, he sat with his wife and told her that he could not relate to her anymore. He said their marriage was over. Yet, he said, they could live under the same roof, but separately. He recalls: “I forgave her. But even now I cannot forget the pain that her absurd choice, of not coming forward to support the treatment costs for her own son, caused. I have never had a conversation with her after that beyond muttering banal greetings. I just can’t. But I also don’t hate her. I understood, right on the day that she made her choice, that she was someone I could not relate to anymore. I left it there. And that’s where our relationship has since been.”
You may find this whole story absurd. I too was shocked when I heard it. But my friend’s attitude to seek closure – and not carry the resentment or grief in him – is remarkable.
Reaching out, forgiving and seeking closure may seem difficult. But only until you have not tried reaching out or forgiving. If you let the hurt grow, it will consume you. You can never forget the pain of what has been done unto you, but closure does ensure that the episode cannot grow in proportion anymore. Anger, grief and guilt are always about a past event. Staying in the past will only keep you out of the now. And if you are not present – in the now – you are not living! The learning for each of us here, from my friend’s story, is that no matter what happens, no one can take away your choice to seek inner peace by reaching out, by forgiving – even if you can’t forget – and by moving on.

The power of Compassion

To be able to connect with another’s pain is being human. Even if you can’t do much to help, wish that person well. That’s being compassionate.
There’s a lady who we often see at a community event that we go to. She’s a young mother, probably in her early 30s. Her 10-year-old is struck by muscular dystrophy. Of late he has not been coming with his mother. The other day she told us that her son cannot come to these events anymore because of the flight of stairs that he has to climb at the venue. Given his deteriorating condition, she said, he can’t even move, let alone climb. I have always found an intrinsic sadness in the lady’s eyes. Even when she is laughing and chatting enthusiastically, I have found her eyes to be searching for an answer – perhaps seeking to find out why her son is specially endowed?
We felt for the lady. We found ourselves powerless to be able to help her or her child in any way. So, we simply wished her well.
Pain is a queer phenomenon. Even when you make peace with your pain – by accepting it – it will still haunt you subconsciously. For people who are connecting with you, who are around you, feeling your pain all the time may not always be possible. But they sure do sense how much you are going through and how difficult it must be for you. It is human nature to feel another’s pain. But allowing that feeling to drive you to constructive action – not always with the potential to alleviate the other’s pain – is compassion.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to someone in pain is send them your positive energy. You don’t even have to be near the person. You can be in another city or even continent. But thinking about that person deeply, and the pain she or he is going through, and sending your positive energy helps greatly. You could send your energy through a prayer – if you do believe in the act of praying. Or you could just send out a wish into the Universe wishing that person well.
Compassion works both ways. It never is visible. You can’t see it or touch it. But it is very powerful. It will touch you. You will be able to feel it. When you are compassionate to someone in any situation, even without your ability to help that person physically, that person will feel good. And so will you.

Stay, happily, in a perpetual let-go!

Knowing, accepting and celebrating the impermanence of everything around us is a sure way to stay in a perpetual let-go!   
Over the last fortnight my phone crashed, our car suffered a break-down, and our TV conked out. For various reasons all three cannot be either fixed or replaced immediately. It was initially both disconcerting and frustrating to deal with this triple disaster. These are things we depend on and, often, mindlessly, take for granted. Their succumbing to wear and tear, which any piece of machinery is prone to, was not, I realized, the cause for my frustration. My inability to have them fixed immediately was.
That is when I read this inspiring story about the 43-year-old California-based beach artist, Andres Amador. Amador uses a rake to etch designs on to the beach during low tides. This art form of beach exploration is called playa. Raking exposes the wetter sand causing a color difference between the raked and the unraked sand. Some of Amador’s designs are massive – 300 ft x 500 ft. What’s remarkable – and amazing is – that while Amador pours his heart into each design that he creates, he has no problem in watching the waves come back up, when the tide returns, and wash away all his creations. He says, “For me it is more about the process and less about the result. When it is finished, I let it go. The only constant in this existence is impermanence. In the end our lives are all about the experiences we have had. And not about the things we have held on to.” Amador picks full moon nights to work on the beach, during low tides, and he uses Google Earth to choose the beaches he wants to work at. Why does he do what he does – knowing fully well that each of his creations will not last for more than a couple of hours after he’s done? He says, matter-of-factly: “It’s fun! I get to be at the beach!!”
I found Amador’s attitude to his art and to Life very uplifting. I thought to myself that here’s an artist, who “creates” works of beauty, of brilliance, (see his pictures sampled here and on http://www.andresamadorarts.com/ ), only to let them go. And here I was battling frustrations on things I have merely gotten used to depending upon. It was a humbling learning, and awakening, that helped me let go of those things I could not immediately fix or replace.
I have often, through my experiences, realized that our frustrations come only from our innate, subconscious desire, to be in control of everything. Technology has only made us even more parasitic. There’s an insatiable need, each of us experiences, for instant gratification. If something is broken, it needs a fix immediately. If something is not working out, we agonize over getting it to work. If we lose something, we grieve over that loss endlessly. All of these, and more, contribute to our unhappiness. Happiness really is about getting rid of – letting go – whatever we don’t have, isn’t there, can’t fix or have not got. We are unhappy only as long as we cling on to something. This is as true about our material assets as it is about relationships. When we get rid of the thought, the expectation, that something, or someone for that matter, should always be with us, we will be free. And happy.
Celebrating impermanence is not all that complex. It’s downright simple. If you think about everything – and everyone – in Life, including those people that you love deeply, you will realize that sooner than later, the waves of time will wash them all away. So, begin by stopping to think about anything that you have had to let go or can’t retain. Life’s most well-kept secret is this – as long as you are not clinging on to anything, even in your thoughts, you will not suffer!

On why hopelessness is not a bad thing

To be hopeless about a situation in Life is, after all, not a bad thing. It helps you gain great clarity about living Life – fully, in the now!  
I recently read the story of a lady who was diagnosed with last-stage cancer. She talks about how, when she first heard the diagnosis, she went from one specialist to another, hoping fervently that she would hear a different diagnosis and the prognosis would be positive. She continued to work at her job – and the stresses of both her health situation and a demanding job began to take their toll on her. Finally, when she met a very eminent oncologist, he told her that she had “only six months more”. The lady recalls that she was shaken awake from her “hope-filled reverie”. She says she had been hoping badly, madly, that she would be told that she would live longer. But when she was told of her possible expiry date, coming up in just the next few months, she decided to “live” fully – in the time that she had left with her! She quit her job, made a list of all the people and places she wanted to visit, took to painting (something she loved doing but never found the time when she was working) every day and chose to be happy over feeling mournful about her health. She explained that “as long as she was hopeful of being cured she was clinging on to a Life which she was hardly enjoying, but the moment she realized her health situation was beyond hope, she began to live her Life – intensely, joyfully!”

This lady’s experience teaches us something invaluable. It helps us understand that while hope is a good thing, in certain situations in Life, it may hold us hostage and blind us from seeing reality. Reality, however, cannot be escaped. So, while you live through certain unchangeable phases with unalterable realities in Life, being hopeful in a hopeless situation can indeed make you feel miserable. Your intelligence will tell you what the reality is. But hope will make you delusional – vainly wishing that the reality did not exist. This conflict will cause you to suffer – day in and day out. There’s a way to break this jinx. And that way is to simply accept a situation to be hopeless – when it really is so. For instance, if you lose someone to death – it’s pointless to hope for that person to come alive. Or if someone loses their limbs or eyesight or hearing or speech – it is futile to hope that it will be restored without a specialist medical intervention or, perhaps, a cosmic miracle!

Hopelessness is not about giving up. It need not only be about feeling desperate or despondent. It can, if you allow it to, help you see the reality as it is and can teach you how to face it. For, whenever you are hopeless about some situation, you can always ask yourself “what does this mean” and “what must I do now”. The answers you get for these questions can inspire to move on, in acceptance, and in peace.