Originally published in Natural Triad Magazine
John Douillard has been teaching Ayurvedic medicine, natural health, fitness, and nutrition for 21 years and has trained more than 2,000 Western doctors in Ayurvedic medicine. In this article, he discusses depression and anxiety from an Ayurvedic perspective, with a focus on the koshas (which translates from Sanskrit as “sheaths”) and which are described in the Vedic tradition as the layers of human consciousness that exist around the Self, like lampshades around a light bulb.
In the Beginning . . .
We spend the first two years of life communicating heart-to-heart with our parents and loved ones. No words are said, but communication is direct. Ideally, we live in a heart-centered world, where we are safe, full, complete, and content. The heart is the home of the “bliss sheath” (anandamaya kosha), which lies closest to our core Self.
Then, one day in preschool, we get our feelings hurt. Someone takes our seat or makes fun of us on the playground, and we are crushed. We quickly realize that this is not a safe world and that we have to protect our feelings. So we begin to employ our minds, the manomaya kosha, to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, the mind does too good a job at protecting us, and, over time, creates a seemingly impenetrable barrier, doing everything it can to keep all invaders out of our delicate heart space, including ourselves. From an innocent and natural desire to create protection, we cut ourselves off from who we really are.
Simply put, depression occurs when a person loses access to their delicate feeling level as a result of this barrier. For a sensitive person, who, by definition, has more innate access to their feelings, heart, and soul than most, to lose access to feelings is quite tragic and depressing.
Symptoms of Losing Access to Self
Fatigue is the first physiological response to a mind that has driven the body to exhaustion in the name of control and self-protection. Anxiety is a result of this exhaustion because the body and mind need energy and reserves to calm themselves down, stabilize moods, and initiate sleep.
As exhaustion persists in body and mind, we ultimately become depressed. This kind of depression is often not psychological, but physiological, due to depletion and exhaustion.
The good news is that addressing anxiety and depression is not a painful process of being dragged through the emotional mud; it is a joyful unveiling of your true, abiding nature—which waits inside all of us.
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Who’s In Charge Here?
Once the mind has taken over in an effort to protect the heart, it works to ensure that we will never notice that we have lost access to our inner joy, the Self. It diverts attention with powerful emotions like anger, shame, and jealously.
It seduces us through sensory worlds, drawing attention outward, away from the Self, toward the worlds of money, achievement, fame, food, and sex. And when all else fails, it calls on fear to seal shut the doors to our innermost Being.
The mind does a great job maintaining this ironclad protective shield, building and adjusting a personality to serve as a cover. This manufactured personality becomes our show to the world, a projected illusion we create to protect the delicate feelings of the heart.
Safely hidden within, we respond not to our own true nature, but to the needs, whims, and approval of mom or dad, siblings, employers, or friends. Soon we spend most of our time juggling responsibilities, pleasing everyone, disconnected from the true source of lasting happiness.
Taking the Director’s Seat
When your mind has the reigns of your actions in the name of survival, you become an actor in your personal movie, forced to adhere to the lines of a script. Soon, you will be more concerned with what people think of the movie on the screen, rather than going inward to create and direct it.
When the mind passes the reigns of control back to the heart, you become the director, editor, and creator of your movie. Your movie becomes your truth, expressing a natural state of joy, love, and giving, without the need to be loved or approved of.
Overcoming Fear: Be a Superhero
The only roadblocks to healing are fears. Our fears are the last illusion holding on for dear life to keep control of the mind. But once you confront a fear, acting on the things you are most afraid of doing, you can move through its illusory barriers. Perhaps the best advice my mother gave me many years ago as a teenager was, “Do the thing you hate and fear to do.”
Think Batman! He was afraid of bats. In order for him to become a superhero, he had to face and embrace his fears; so he moved into a bat cave. We can each take on our fears. One fear at a time, tackling small ones first, we can chip away until we find ourselves fearless and free.
Then, through the fear, we gain access to what Ayurveda calls your dharma, or purpose. Action from purpose is action free of needing the approval of someone or something. Something more powerful begins to drive you and you stop looking back for approval because the road ahead consumes you.
Depression and anxiety become like a bad movie, depressing because of the bad reviews. Once unattached to the fruits of your actions and motivated by the joy of a process tied to your purpose, states of depression and anxiety become easy to forget and hard to remember!