Preventing Depression Through Spiritual Growth

For me, adolescence was a time of seeking for spiritual guidance. My family wasn’t religious—my father, who had been raised Roman Catholic, didn’t want to saddle us kids with the restricting yoke of formalized religion. Nevertheless, our parents instilled in us a strong moral compass, and we were taught to respect God, nature and other human beings no matter what their race or religion.

That worked for me as a child, when Mom and Dad made me feel safe and had all the answers. By the time I was a teenager during the turbulent 1960s, I needed something more. I explored Eastern philosophies, wrote to the Knights of Columbus to take a correspondence course in the Catholic faith, and tried to meditate by staring at a candle.

None of these helped, and I remember feeling depressed about the human condition. I adopted an existential philosophy that accepted the apparent lack of control humans have over their lives. Fortunately, I had enough grounding in the love of my parents and my own strong sense of right and wrong that I didn’t get drawn into truly self-destructive behaviors.

Now I’m reading that adolescent depression can be linked to a disconnect from innate spirituality. In her best-selling book The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting and Lifelong Thriving, Dr. Lisa Miller examines the link between spirituality and health. As a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, she draws on the latest research and her clinical practice to support the premise that children with a strong basis in spirituality are healthier.

According to Dr. Miller, kids who feel connected to a spiritual experience:

  • are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances
  • are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers
  • are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex
  • exhibit significantly more positive markers for thriving including an increased sense of meaning and purpose, and high levels of academic success.

I think it’s important to note that Miller is not necessarily talking about religion here. She is talking about a spiritual experience that may or may not be connected to formal religion.

That rings true to me. For me, transcending the surface, active level of the mind to experience my innermost Self was the source of healing. When I started the Transcendental Meditation technique at age 19, for the first time I felt that I was having the transcendental, spiritual experience that I had always been seeking. Inner silence, inner happiness and inner peace became a daily experience for me. And when I opened my eyes, I felt connected to everyone and everything around me. I fell in love with the world and everything in it. It’s hard to feel depressed when you feel that connected, that happy.

TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explained that a spiritual life is one of integration, dynamic action, good health and fulfillment in the material sphere of life—complete integration of mind, body and personality. By experiencing the inner reservoir of pure consciousness inside on a daily basis, we are able to develop our full potential.

“By direct experience of transcendental Being through the inward stroke of action during meditation, a man not only gains spiritual freedom, but also greater success in the world,” he said.

He goes on to say, “Just a dive within the Self for a few minutes and the mind is infused with the nature of pure consciousness, which keeps it enriched through all the activities of the day. This is the way to live the spiritual life, which makes glorious even the physical and material aspects of life in the world.”

In my case, this experience of pure transcending fulfilled my spiritual quest and lifted my spirit. Many others have found that the transcendental experience enhances their understanding and appreciation for their religious faith—whether they are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims or Jews.

“Looking back over all these years, I can say TM has led me to better prayer, better service, and to be a better Jew,” says Rabbi Shainberg, an Orthodox Rabbi who has been practicing TM for more than nine years. “I’m more on my path to God than ever.”

As Rabbi Shainberg explains, “TM is not a religion . . . and it doesn’t profess to ever be one or take the place of one. It is a technique for you to go inwards and find your soul, find your silence, find your bliss as a human being—and become the person God truly wants you to be.”

Fr. Len Dubai of St. Victor’s Parish in Chicago has been practicing TM for more than 30 years. “Transcendental Meditation is a bridge to deepen my religious commitment,” he explains. “I meditate every morning before I celebrate Mass. I feel much clearer, much more centered, and much more silent inside . . . . It enriches and enhances our understanding and empowers our prayer and allows me to come in conscious contact with a power that is greater than ourselves.”

In our increasingly materialistic world, more people than ever feel divorced from cultural roots in spirituality, and that can have devastating effects on young and old alike.

Yet the simple technique of Transcendental Meditation can provide a way back, a way to experience the depths of spirituality.

This came home to me recently when I was writing an article about Native Americans, who traditionally have a deep connection to the land, to nature, and to their own spirituality. Yet they have suffered greatly from past governmental policies that forced them to give up their native languages and religious traditions.

Tribal nations today face high school dropout rates of 70 percent, a rate of alcoholism six times the U.S. average, diabetes rates of 66 percent and a school system so broken that a recent White House report declared Native American education to be in a state of emergency and allocated $3 billion to shore it up.

Prosper Waukon, an elder of the Winnebago Tribe in Northeast Nebraska, believes that the high rates of substance abuse, violence and diabetes that plague tribal nations have resulted from the loss of contact with their spiritual traditions. Waukon feels that getting in touch with the sacred is a key to healing, not only of diabetes but of other ills.

Indeed, when 300 school children in the Winnebago tribal school in Northeast Nebraska started to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, they experienced 28 percent less absenteeism than non-meditating students, and the meditating students’ scores on standardized tests moved from well below average to above average, while the control group’s scores stayed the same, as shown by research.

The elders who practiced TM also experienced remarkable results. They not only found their diabetes coming under control for the first time in their lives, but began to remember some of the traditional songs they had forgotten.

“TM has helped us get in touch with the sacred again,” says Prosper.

As Maharishi wrote in 1963, “Rejuvenation of body and mind are the special blessings of the experience of Being, and its influence transforms health, education and social behavior. It eliminates fear, tension and suffering, on both the individual and social planes, bringing peace in life . . . . the material and spiritual values of life are brought into harmony.”

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About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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