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Yoga Me Well Blog

The Buddhist and the Black Hole

It’s a relief to know that this ochre-and-orange robed monk was once hospitalised for depression. If you want advice on how to dig yourself out of a black hole, you need a man with a spade on the inside.

Lama Marut, formerly Brian K. Smith, is just the bloke. He’s the favourite sports coach you had when you were five: big like a bear (in a reassuring way), direct, fun and with an American accent that curls around his forthright southern charm. Last month [subs: September] at The Breathing Space studio in Prahran, he delivered a lively and provocative talk on “Depression: The Real Causes and Real Cures”.

For the millions of Australians who emerge time and again from the muck to consider their options – anti-depressants, big bucks on talk therapy, self-help books, and diet and exercise – a wise guy like Lama Marut has some straight answers for fearless seekers.

Get all the help you need, he says, work out what the “real conditions” are around your depression, like a dead-end job (“Why don’t we work as hard on our spiritual lives?”), or the inherited doldrums gene, but ultimately, you need to ask the big questions to find the cure. Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?

We’re living a consumer capitalist nightmare, he says, so overstimulated and busy entertaining ourselves for fear of boredom that we’ve lost the capacity to be still and to contemplate.

His condensed wisdom and wit on the subject spans the acquisition of patience, the opposite of the “anger turned inward” that lies at the nub of depression, according to Lama Marut (and Freud), and the value of an “ego-ectomy”.

“You pay therapists to make you feel better about yourself. Religion, offers free the idea that you should feel worse about yourself. Spiritual life is about being ego-less . . . if you want to be happy, stop worrying about your own happiness and start worrying about the happiness of others.”

“Real causes” of depression, he says, include the isolation experienced through not appreciating that we are all connected; not following through on spoken intentions and commitments; revelling in other’s misfortunes, and that ol’ consumer-capital chestnut, Envy, where the iPad-elated plunge into iPout Envy (Prius Envy, whatever) with ever-increasing obsolescence cycles.

In two entertaining hours with Lama Marut, how obvious the truth of the matter seems, and how simple applying the Buddhist antidote might be if only you didn’t have that nagging depressive tendency to feel like a cheese wad for not getting all this in the first place and then becoming consumed by fear that you never will! While diet and talk therapy lifted my grimmest turbulence, it’s spirituality that dissipates my recurring storms.

“Buddhists say regret is the only useful negative emotion because it encourages change. Foster good, healthy regret, but not guilt, which is just beating yourself up. Maybe if I beat myself up enough, I won’t have to change!” he responds with that lopsided grin, like a bear trying to smile. He knows all our cheats.

To avoid depression, he recommends accepting responsibility for your own happiness. Adopt the law of Karma (cause and effect)  “what comes around, goes around”, “you reap what you sow” (see reading list below). It empowers you to wield your free will through the understanding that your present actions create your future reality. Handing your life over to a god “to micro-manage” or to the random hand of Fate is one sure-fire way to feel helpless.

Perhaps the easiest curative measure to cultivate is a daily practice of gratitude, he says. Give thanks for the man who fixed your blocked sewer, the farmer who grew your broccoli, the dog that adores your very being. “You are the recipient of so much good will,” he urges, it helps to acknowledge it, continually.

Remember, too, your Buddha nature (you don’t have to be Buddhist to have one): “You have infinite potential to change”. When in the mire, know that “this too shall pass, you won’t feel like this forever”. “Change is the reality. The way to be a happier person is to embrace change. Expect it. Don’t resist it”, he says.

Learn to be more giving. Start slow, and give what is easy to give. Learn to think about other people’s welfare as much as your own, and then, perhaps one day, more than your own.

And finally, cultivate the supreme wish: “that everyone be free of suffering and that I be free of suffering so that I can be free to help others”.

Depression Busters

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. These psychologists, psychiatrists and scientists distil the anatomy of depression in a brilliantly accessible way and offer a clear process for beating depression. Includes a CD of mindful practices.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, by Deepak Chopra. Excellent beginner’s guide to living by the Universal Laws (eg: Karma).

The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross. Never underestimate the effect of a bad diet and poor sleep to ignite, and fan, depression.

Lisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, progressive relaxation instructor and writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

Liv Mitchell

4 responses to “The Buddhist and the Black Hole”

  1. Nona says:

    >Lisa, what a beautiful post – I love the message and authenticity of Lama Marut. Especially close to my heart is the message that we all have the infinite potential to change and that in finding our purpose and passion, we can be lifted from depression.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and light with the world.


  2. Lisa Mitchell says:

    >You are so very welcome Nona, and thank you for stopping by. I know you know what a privilege it is to share your passion with others, because you share yours so well. 🙂 [For those who don't know Nona, she's a most inspiring business mentor …]

  3. Tina Blackmur says:

    >Lisa, it's a while since I've read your blog, but I very much appreciated your wonderful writing and expressive wisdom in this one. Accepting responsiblity for one's own happiness is indeed empowering. Thank you for your wise words.

  4. Lisa Mitchell says:

    >Hi Tina, It's lovely to see you back and I hope life's flowing beautifully in your pre-Christmas with relaxed and cheery gatherings!

    Lama Marut was a gem, and his potted wisdom was wonderful and I was very grateful to be able to pass it on.

    Though I have to say, if someone's in the thick of a depression, those words can seem quite harsh. If I'd had more space for the article, I would have pointed out how equally important it is for people "in the pit" to live through that temporary crisis one minute, one half hour or half day at a time, to prevent the spiralling thoughts that keep one stuck in depression. You can't think your way out of it. It's about one step in front of the other, until one feels stronger to deal with the bigger issues that landed them there. Nothing can be resolved in that black place. Then, with strength on our side, we can learn to manage depression, to tune into the signs and take preventative steps before slipping into a funk. It's a journey, but for some people, it can be managed.

    It's wonderful though, isn't it, when we understand that life is a string of moments, and we can choose to make them happy or otherwise. My favourite saying this year is: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain."

    Til next, be well, Lisa 🙂

Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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