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Depression as a result of meditation

I've done a search on the topic, but the only thing that comes up is using meditation to cure depression. But I've got the opposite happening.

I enjoy meditating. Usually only about 15-20 minutes a day. As you know, meditation is cumulative. It takes practice to get into the groove and stop your mind from wondering. Whenever I get into a routine of regularly meditating, I increase my compassion considerably, which you would generally consider a good thing. But the result ends up making me considerably depressed. I see disheartening things (sometimes at work, or seeing a dead cat on the side of the road on the way to work) and I become immediately filled with sadness as a result of the added compassion and interconnectedness I've gained with those around me, and it typically doesn't go away (sometimes stays with me for an hour or so, sometimes a day or so, sometimes long enough for me to encounter another sad situation). The resulting compassion, connection with those around me, and ultimate sadness, eventually becomes a little bit much and forces me to stop meditating for a while (sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few months). The break ends up creating some mental distance, and I don't get as depressed (I end up seeing sad things for what they are, rather than internally struggling with them). When I end up taking a break from meditating, I end up missing that clear, focused mind and I want to start again. When I get back into a meditative routine, I get filled with depression again. And thus the vicious cycle.

I'm assuming this isn't normal.

Anyone else run into this? Any suggestions?

lobster

Comments

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    Have you ever tried changing up your meditation? And trying something more like Tonglen, perhaps? It is a practice in meditation of receiving and letting go. It kind of sounds like meditation is resulting in a bit of over-attachment to some things and then you struggle to let go when you see something sad. Tonglen might be able to help. Do you follow your thoughts down the rabbit hole when you see sad things? Wondering what happened and how and what it was like and the suffering involved etc etc? If the thought train is what is bringing you depressed feelings, finding little "rituals" to stop it helped me. When I see animals who were hit by cars (which happens every day where I live in a forested area) I usually say a quick "I'm so sorry you died in this way. Sending you blessings of peace on your journey." And then it doesn't stick with me. If needed, and if possible, I will move them off the road or shoulder.

    person
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It sounds to me like you might be meditating on the wrong things. Instead of just meditating your usual way (on the breath?), perhaps you might meditate on suffering and the Four Noble Truths.

    It always has a great grounding influence on me to meditate on my own suffering and the suffering of others. Life for everyone carries the hallmarks of unsatisfactoriness, there are causes of suffering in everyone's life. Some are resolvable, others such as certain illnesses, old age and death are not (excepting enlightenment).

    A calm, deep consideration of these facts will often bring peace, where before an excess of compassion just creates sadness in those cases where we are unable to express it.

    Kannon
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    @genkaku is right, of course. Meditation is meant to bring us in touch. Not to make us happy. Sometimes it is quite uncomfortable what we find. Having to face those things in the world is what it's all about. But do be careful with yourself, as some people are simply more sensitive to what they discover and it can cause them problems. Don't hesitate to seek help if you feel you need it. But truly seeing what the world is is a major part of meditation and Buddhism. And it's not always a happy place. Learning how to live in it anyways and maintain the calm of our mind is key. Working through it is the only way.

    DhammikaUkjunglistsilver
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    I agree with Genkaku and Karasti. To me, the purpose of meditation is to bring clarity of reality. Reality is not always pretty.

    Of course, the next step is to focus on what do with that new clarity, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant.

    Ukjunglist
  • @karasti said:
    Have you ever tried changing up your meditation? And trying something more like Tonglen, perhaps?

    I tried it a few years back, continuously for about a month. It made things significantly worse. Or I guess I should say significantly more "extreme." The amount of internal struggle I was having, connecting with people's pain (or more likely my perceived concept of their pain) was exacerbated. I decided to stop, and haven't gone back since.

    @Kerome said:
    It sounds to me like you might be meditating on the wrong things. Instead of just meditating your usual way (on the breath?), perhaps you might meditate on suffering and the Four Noble Truths.

    After my experience practicing compassion meditation, and its negative effects, I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that further concentrating on suffering and meditating on it wouldn't make things that much more worse. I don't know though.

    @genkaku said:

    I'm assuming this isn't normal.

    @specialkayme -- The fact that you assume it isn't normal is the only abnormal thing going on, from where I sit. If you assume that meditation is going to strew flower petals in your path and everything is going to be terrific all the time ... well, it isn't true.

    I in no way presume to be even competent at meditation, but I have been attacking this problem for almost 10 years now. I have no delusions that meditation is flowers and rose petals. I know meditation practice involves road blocks and obstacle courses that can't be "avoided" and need to be worked out.

    But the sadness I'm referring to as a result of my meditation isn't just sadness. It's true depression. To the point where I won't want to leave the house, or interact with people. I don't think THIS is normal.

    My most successful meditation string occurred when I was studying for the bar exam in the summer of 2011. I quite literally locked myself in a dorm room for two months and studied. I meditated every day when I woke up. I rarely left the campus, limited my interactions with other people (except for my fellow studiers during meal times and the 2 hour daily class), and limited my interaction with society as a whole (no internet except for email, no phone at one point at all, no radio, only 30 min of TV a day as a reward for focusing the entire day). During those two months I was able to use the meditation as a focus aid. It was an incredibly stressful and sad time of my life (I couldn't even spend time with my wife), but meditation helped me see it for what it was: stress and a sad time. Meditation helped me get through it. But every time before, and since, continued meditation practice has actually harmed me, or so I feel. Maybe that two month stretch was an anomaly, in that I didn't have much interaction with society so I couldn't internalize as much of other's pain. I don't know.

    In part, I can't tell if the "sadness" is more like a tunnel or a diving well. If it's more like a tunnel, I'll have to power through the darkness to make it to the light on the other side. If so, the saddest moment I'm encountering during my meditation practice so far may very well be the saddest moment I will encounter, as it all gets better if I just keep sitting. But if what's happening to me is more like a diving well, where there is no light at the end of the tunnel and it just keeps getting darker, they'll be a point where I've gone too deep and there isn't a chance to make it back.

    lobsterKerome
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited July 24

    I think the sadness has a 'wrong seeming'... Seems somethings wrong with it. There is something to like @genkaku says that stuff like that does just come up in meditation whether we like it or not. And I think that is linked with something with depression that giving space for everything to be there is helpful. Allow everything to be there and notice the space. But I think there is something to your perceptions and wanting to feel happy. That's the heart that wants to awaken. The heart wants to awaken and when it does some day then becomes helpful to all those around.

    Another line of thought is that compassion can get distorted into 'overwhelm'... This topic is the 4 immeasurable: metta, karuna, mudita, and upekka. Or kindness, compassion/love, joy in others, equanimity... So a distortion of compassion is overwhelm. Pema Chodron has a book where she talks about the 4 immeasurable or maybe a video. She says that sometimes the next immeasurable in line can help with the one before it. So with overwhelm notice the mudita or the joy that others have instead of just noticing their suffering. When you get hooked on that then notice the upekka or equanimity of things.. i.e. 'no big deal'.. When hooked on upekka (don't care or feel) then notice the karuna or kindness. When that seems forced go back to compassion.

    specialkaymeperson
  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    I think your depression is not directly related to your practice of meditation. The dredge of meditation is simply bringing up your internal substratum. So what will you do? A depression screening could be helpful. In the meantime I would ditch the meditation for another form of practice. Get clearer then go back to square one. Sometimes its easier to find a good counselor than a truly qualified teacher who is competent to speak about the Dharma Realm and its nature.

    KeromeVastmindkarastiele
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited July 24

    @specialkayme said:
    After my experience practicing compassion meditation, and its negative effects, I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that further concentrating on suffering and meditating on it wouldn't make things that much more worse. I don't know though.

    I didn't mean to imply meditating on actual images of suffering, instead on the concept of suffering and its inevitability as stated in the First Noble Truth.

    For me, the effect that meditating on the nature of suffering has is to bring compassion home, to enable me to be compassionate in an appropriate way towards myself and other sufferers while understanding that suffering is unavoidable. An informed, aware compassion, rather than the disheartened "idiot" compassion, no offence intended, and also to understand that compassion has to be balanced with wisdom. I would hope that would alleviate sadness and depression, and restore a balanced mood :)

    But I thought there were some excellent answers given by @genkaku and @grackle, it's very possible that meditation is bringing something to the surface which has been suppressed or hidden, and you may have to go looking for the source of the depression which perhaps has been there all along. Maybe it's a good time to focus on mindfulness, to try and boost the awareness of the internal process.

    It is interesting though, the effect of heightened compassion to the extent of taking on extra sadness is not an effect I've experienced. The way you describe it as a long term problem almost suggests that you are connecting too much with one of the immeasurables.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    If you have been battling this for 10 years, and have no answers but are concerned you could go down a dark hole you cannot return from, don't you think it's time to get help from people professionally able to look at what you are experiencing and help you figure out the cause of it? That's what I'd do at that point. It is definitely possible meditation is "simply" bringing up stuff that you haven't been able to realize you need to cope with. There is so much stuff form our younger years that we lock up, things we couldn't control about how we were raised and so on (even if our childhoods are what we'd call relatively normal or happy).

  • specialkaymespecialkayme Veteran
    edited July 24

    @Jeffrey said:
    Another line of thought is that compassion can get distorted into 'overwhelm'... This topic is the 4 immeasurable: metta, karuna, mudita, and upekka. Or kindness, compassion/love, joy in others, equanimity... So a distortion of compassion is overwhelm.

    Interesting. I'll have to look more into that. Thanks!

    @grackle said:
    I think your depression is not directly related to your practice of meditation. The dredge of meditation is simply bringing up your internal substratum.

    @karasti said:
    If you have been battling this for 10 years, and have no answers but are concerned you could go down a dark hole you cannot return from, don't you think it's time to get help from people professionally able to look at what you are experiencing and help you figure out the cause of it?

    I don't consider myself a sad or depressed person. At least normally. It's only after repetitive meditation that I have the ability to be affected that way. And even when I am and I get sad about an external stimulus, it isn't that I see something sad that causes me to think about a sad event in my own life. It's that I see something sad and notice it for what it is, something sad, but the concept that the world is full of sadness just doesn't go away.

    Does that mean it's internal? I don't know. But it seems a little conceptually odd to me to attend counseling to confront depression when I only get depressed because I meditate. To me that seems more like seeing a doctor about a faulty hand that keeps getting burned, but only whenever I put it on a hot stove. Or is my thinking irrational?

    *In retrospect that may be ego talking.

    @Kerome said:
    I didn't mean to imply meditating on actual images of suffering, instead on the concept of suffering and its inevitability as stated in the First Noble Truth.

    Ah, ok. I better understand what you were referring to. I'll have to think about that. Probably not a bad suggestion.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @karasti said:
    If you have been battling this for 10 years, and have no answers but are concerned you could go down a dark hole you cannot return from, don't you think it's time to get help from people professionally able to look at what you are experiencing and help you figure out the cause of it?

    Hmm as an ex-depression sufferer i think you are overestimating the capabilities of the professionals in analysing and treating hidden depression. If you are willing to commit to a year or two of psychotherapy, then maybe they might find and fix something, but it's still not a great chance especially with the effects of meditation mixed in. Very few therapists are at home with the effects of meditation, it's much more likely they'd recommend fixing the symptoms with an antidepressant.

    Fosdickspecialkayme
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited July 24

    @specialkayme We suffer because we cling

    Are you familiar with the five aggregates ?
    The deeper one delves into Anatta (gaining experiential understanding) the easier it will become to let go of unwholesome emotions, (nip the story in the bud so to speak, before it becomes a novel) ...

    So .....
    "Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (Nothing whatsoever should be clung to)..and this is where experiential understanding of the five aggregates comes into play...

    Also....
    When I come across road kill , I say a few "Om Mani Padme Hung" (The Jewel Is In The Lotus..or in their case "What they seek they already are!" )

    May you be well Metta

    Fosdick
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    @Kerome that doesn't mean one shouldn't look for a therapist that does. And yes, it can take time. My sister spent 2 years in therapy. It absolutely invaluable to changing her perception of the world and giving her tools to manage her highly emotional state that resulted in depression because of the way she saw and experienced the world. But she specifically sought out a Buddhist therapist, which she has done in multiple states that she has lived in.

    Here, it isn't all that hard to find alternative therapists if you know where to look. We have some that are nature therapists, art therapists, all sorts of things. I have no doubt there are plenty of therapists out there who are familiar with meditation enough too help someone delve into why it happens. that doesn't mean just any random therapist can do it, you'd have to seek them out. But they absolutely do exist.

    @specialkayme If meditation is important to you and you can't do it without suffering to that extent, then to me, yes, it would be worth seeking help. Falling into depression without being able to let go of the basic sadnessess of the world and life isn't really a normal reaction to meditation. The fact it's not a normal reaction is the part I personally would want some help figuring out if you've made no progress with it alone for 10 years. that's a long time.

    person
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited July 24

    I would say also (and you might be hoping for that here) but if meditation is bringing depression I would ask who gave you the meditation method you are using? Can you ask or write to that person and see what they say? If they don't respond maybe look for a new method from someone near or available to you.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    You 'enjoy' meditation? You don't enjoy the effect's of enjoying?
    OK. Depression for you seems to be about feelings.

    Find something else to enjoy:

    • Chi-Kung and Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation that balances the enjoyable with a more balanced set of physical responses.
    • Switch for a while to guided meditations specifically to clear or cope with depressive arisings

    • https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_reframing

    • Find a Buddhist teacher who does not suggest or require you to meditate
    • Change to walking meditation

    https://health.spectator.co.uk/what-mindfulness-gurus-dont-tell-you-meditation-has-a-dark-side/

    Hope that is helpful :)

    Vastmind
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited July 25

    @lobster ... gratitude for that guided meditation. 🙏🏻

    ' Time unfolding at its normal pace'. That sunk into me.

    I needed a back to basics on the breath....and passing thoughts. This did it.

    I'll be bookmarking this one. 🏞

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited July 25

    Compassion is one of the four sublime states, so yes it's a good thing! The others are Loving-kindness (metta), Sympathetic Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha). There are a lot of writings out there describing how they support each other.

    For example:

    Sympathetic joy holds compassion back from becoming overwhelmed by the sight of the world's suffering, from being absorbed by it to the exclusion of everything else. Sympathetic joy relieves the tension of mind, soothes the painful burning of the compassionate heart. It keeps compassion away from melancholic brooding without purpose, from a futile sentimentality that merely weakens and consumes the strength of mind and heart. Sympathetic joy develops compassion into active sympathy.
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html

    If they are not developed in tandem, they can become unbalanced, like you are finding out now. You have to develop the others, besides compassion, so they balance themselves out.

    lobsterperson
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited July 25

    Compassion should be balanced with equanimity (wisdom). Too much of one or the other will bring about disharmony in one's outlook (wrong perception).

    "By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

    "By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

    "'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.015.than.html

    The birth of a child, is, at the same time, the birth of a mother
    into the world.

    Child is the symbol of a mother. That love for the child, that
    tenderness of the heart which characterises a mother, is so sig-
    nificant that it is often associated with the change of red-blood
    into milk.

    "Metta" - usually rendered by that cross-bred term loving kind-
    ness, is the universal love for which the mother's love for her child
    is the unit. The Buddha speaking about metta says for instance,
    "Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of
    her own life, so should one develop a boundless heart towards
    all beings".

    A mother is not only born with the child she brings forth, she
    also grows up with the child she brings up. Her growth is in terms of
    the other three Divine Abidings or Brahma Vihara- compassion,
    sympathetic joy and equanimity. In bringing up her child, some-
    times a mother has to be stern and tactful. Her soft tender love
    matures into a compassionate sternness, when the child is pass-
    ing through the unruly boyhood and reckless adolescence. But
    that hardness of her heart melts at the correct moment, like
    butter.

    The child has now reached manhood. He can stand on his
    own feet with enviable self-confidence. The mother also grows
    up with sympathetic joy enjoying the fruits of her labours. Her com-
    placence, like curd, is serene and has nothing meddlesome about it.
    The bringing forth and the bringing-up is over. The time comes
    now to let go - of the attachments and involvements regarding
    the child. But for that separation too, the mother, now mature
    in her experience, is fully prepared with equanimity. Like a pot
    of ghee, she is not easily upset.

    Universal love, compassion, sympathetic-joy and equanimity are
    the four Divine Abidings a mother practises in a limited sense in
    the course of her motherly care for the child. Charity begins at
    home. These four are homely virtues in the first instance, to be
    remembered like milk, butter, curd and ghee. The four Divine
    Abidings are to be developed, however, in a boundless measure
    until one's heart is fully released in them. A mother bears testi-
    mony to the practicability and the reciprocal value of these
    Divine Abidings which hold the prospects of spiritual growth,
    peace and harmony for the society at large.

    ShoshinlobsterJeffrey
  • Doesn't seem like one could confuse depression with compassion, especially after ten years, so maybe it's just that...

    Jeffrey
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    But if what's happening to me is more like a diving well, where there is no light at the end of the tunnel and it just keeps getting darker, they'll be a point where I've gone too deep and there isn't a chance to make it back.

    I think one of the surest companions of those who interest themselves in spiritual practice/life is the realization that 1. it's not a bed of roses and 2. the fear that if I follow this path, I may evaporate, get deeply and irretrievably lost and become a first-class candidate for the nut-house. Point number two is a very large EEK because lurking below the surface is the desire to be who I am AND to tack on a little of that serene stuff called enlightenment. The question arises, "What if I go and never come back?"

    [A woman friend once summed up the meditator's quandary perfectly when, as a group of us sat around and admitted our Buddhist goals for the future, she said, "When I grow up, I want to be a rich ... sexy ... SAINT!"]

    Leaving aside the question of adequately defining who I am in the first place (not intellectual defining but real I-know-it defining)...

    There is some common sense that needs to be applied.

    There is nothing wrong with seeing a psychological counselor.

    It may be that loneliness is a problem ... go outside!

    Is meditation going to cure all ills or simply send me to the rubber room?

    If all of this and more like it becomes too pressing or depressing, then stop doing it. See how that works. And don't worry about if you "never come back:" As a friend of mine used to say, "wherever you go, there you are." Nothing fancy ... it's just the truth, isn't it? Never come back???? Where would anyone come back from? And where would they start from in the process of getting to a "there" they now cannot come back from?

    It all gets pretty complicated and swirly.

    Might use the time better in meditation.

    Or, seriously, not.

    Remember, without you, Buddhism would drop dead.

    No kidding.

    There was once said to have been a time when Gautama was asked to sum up his teachings short-and-sweet. According to the tale, he grew quiet and then, "summoning all of his powers," he replied, "It's not intellectual."

    Keromelobster
  • specialkaymespecialkayme Veteran
    edited July 25

    @karasti said:
    Falling into depression without being able to let go of the basic sadnessess of the world and life isn't really a normal reaction to meditation. The fact it's not a normal reaction is the part I personally would want some help figuring out if you've made no progress with it alone for 10 years. that's a long time.

    I don't consider myself a depressed person though. I don't think I'd call myself an optimist, but I'm a generally up beat person. When not meditating, I have no problem with depression or sadness. I may be viewing this incorrectly, but I find it hard to reconcile that I should pursue counseling to engage a problem that is only a problem as it relates to meditation and its effects.

    If your knees hurt after you run long distances, would you go to the doctor and inquire about degenerative muscular conditions? Or would you assume you're running wrong?

    If meditation is causing me problems, I find it hard to believe there is a psychosomatic reason internal to repressed memories that is causing it, and find it much more likely and probable that there is a meditation issue.

    But I'm not a psychologist, so what do I know :awesome:

    @seeker242 said:
    If they are not developed in tandem, they can become unbalanced, like you are finding out now. You have to develop the others, besides compassion, so they balance themselves out.

    Do you know of any meditative practices that you can point me to that might help?

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    @pegembara is that your own words? Wonderful!

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @specialkayme said:

    Do you know of any meditative practices that you can point me to that might help?

    This gives a good overview I think =)

    http://www.dharmanet.org/coursesM/16/bv0.htm

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    @specialkayme Actually, when my knees gave me trouble running I indeed went to the proper doctor to find out why before I caused further damage. In that case, it was a sports orthopedic doctor that I saw, and he told me what I needed to change, so I did. Quitting wasn't an option, as I love to run, so I wanted to resolve the problem so I wasn't #1 hurting myself and #2 making things worse for the future. If I had kept trying all sorts of different shoes and ways of running while I figured it out for 10 years, there is a very good chance I would have caused significant damage to my knee cartilage and I would have been unable to run anymore.

    I quite enjoy trying to figure things out for myself. Seeing a doctor of any sort is always a last resort for me for that reason. But sometimes, eventually, we need other input.

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    @pegembara is that your own words? Wonderful!

    I wish I were so eloquent. I keep beautiful insightful posts I find. Some of them, I don't know the original poster.

    Next time I will attribute to (unknown author).

  • @specialkayme This is a very significant problem. There are practices, but as a suggestion, you should find a teacher to talk to. I can, along with many others I'm sure, can recommend masterful teachers who can assess and help you - then send you merrily on your way.

    For one - you can talk to Lama Kathy (and her teacher). http://www.lamakathy.net/ I can provide an email address if you ask for it. There are others I would recommend too.

    Otherwise - if you are dedicated to self-help, perhaps Tonglen might provide the answer. Giving and taking practice - I have heard it works wonders with depression. There is also Vajrasattva practice and other cleansing practices that are available from teachers...I can provide info there too.

    I may have missed it if you have identified the root of the problem through Vipassana insight. Along side of the other practices that might be a balanced approach.

    Remember - I might be wrong and these are only suggestions. If I were you, I'd track down an authentic teacher to help. BEST wishes for your happiness.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Randy, it would probably evince more response for you to stick with current threads.
    The OP has not returned since posting this, and your counsel may never reach them.
    Look at the initial post's date, and the date of the final post you're subsequent to.

    If it's over 1 month/6 weeks, chances are it's dormant, not to say redundant.....

    Just to help...
    :)

  • Some really eye opening comments on this thread relating to the purpose of meditation, and that it isn't a means to sugarcoat reality, rather let reality emerge from the layers of ignorance, and then to work on things from there on out. This in itself is very profound to me at least, thanks guys

    lobsterKerome
  • Okay @Frederica. Thank you.

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