Existential Depression

Hello Gary, I’ve been visiting your site often over the past weeks, and I’m on the second session in your Self-Mastery program. I’ve listened to most of your free audio already.

My experience with spirituality thus far can best be described through the image of an abusive relationship. I can’t leave it now, but I feel it’s done more harm than good, or to phrase it more accurately, my mind has used it against me more often than not. It started about a year ago when I picked up and read the book “Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.” I’m 19 and a year ago I couldn’t have cared less about spirituality, but when I put down that book, I experienced a powerful episode of existential depression. It is the most acute emotional pain (fear) I can remember feeling. Of course, the irony is apparent on paper, but you are probably familiar with the tricks of the mind, which I am beginning to learn for myself. Despite trying to forget all about “awareness” and “waking up” (which filled my mind with a sense of both urgency and dread) I was compelled to read more on this subject, eventually reading lots of authors and teachers including Eckhart Tolle and Alan Watts. The probable cause for this is that I’m stuck in my life, GED in hand but procrastinating leaving home ad infinitum, with no job and two “wasted” years of doing nothing and knowing no-one my age. Reading lots of books in the hope one will “click” and solve my problems was the most likely motivator. I absorbed lots of useless knowledge but resisted the actual practice.

This tendency of my mind to turn the only cure into the enemy is a cause of a lot of anxiety and frustration in my life. Thankfully, I’m not as resistant to change as I once was, after visiting your site. I think you described it perfectly, I was trying to destroy the house I was standing in, without having another house to live in. The result is that more walls go up, even in completely ridiculous places, as I have described above. I had no idea what would be left after an “awakening” so I had all sorts of doubts and fears about becoming a different person, estranging myself from the rest of humanity, or eliminating my desire for self-expression. This desire is very close to my heart, I’m a very artistic and creative person, so I had major reservations about dissolving my identity, especially at an age where the very thing I’m expected to be doing is making one. The result? One confused and depressed teenager. :)

The closest thing to meaning I’ve ever had in my life is a feeling, the feeling I get when I get completely absorbed in music, a movie, a book or art of any kind. You know, when people talk about being “transported” when they listen to something so moving it can’t be expressed in words. I have no idea if this feeling is what those monks in India are looking for, or what spiritual teachers are talking about. All I knew is that I didn’t want to lose that. If that’s the house to go live in while I break down my fears then I’m packing my bags and moving in right away. But the mind has it’s ways, and would convince me that I was just fooling around in illusion, and that this feeling was to true spirituality as Coca-Cola is to spring water.

Sometimes I would sit and think, and realize I was being ridiculous, and experience relief. But the next day the depression and uncertainty would be back. The same resistance to change, the resistance to meditation, the resistance to anything that felt good. I became very cynical about my desires. I felt that I shouldn’t have them, or that they would just lead to suffering. I’m pretty sure I swallowed some bad advice along the road, or at the very least, made the mistake of not having a guide in this process. If the average spiritual seeker has positive associations around the words “nothingness,” “non-being,” and “detachment,” I was the opposite.

I could go on and on but you get the idea. I just don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore. I have a hunch that this is because I don’t listen to myself anymore, I’ll take anyone’s opinion but mine. It’s like brainwashing, or that’s what it feels like. I could always convince myself to be unhappy. It became so painful that I’m just now starting to get out of it, finally, with the help of your materials. You teach in a way that makes more sense to me, that’s more practical and less vague.

Any advice would be appreciated! If nothing else I hope this email can give you more insight into how self-defeating the mind can become, perhaps someone else will benefit from this, as I haven’t been able to just yet. Anyways, great site, I’m looking forward to the next session, and I’m now practicing with an open heart. Wish me luck!

Hi Existential,

Thanks for your email.  I know your situation and it isn’t comfortable.  Even if the clarity of your writing is refreshingly clear and insightful on your situation,,, it’s still emotionally binding.

I’ll keep my response on what to do about your “existential depression”  brief,,, so it isn’t lost.  Do the exercises in the Self Mastery course material.
You can’t think your way out of this one because the very thing doing the thinking is your mind.  It’s the part that is effectively corrupted with a computer virus so it’s not going to come up with a legitimate helpful answer.   Actually, as you have probably noticed,,, it will come up with thoughts about why not to do the exercises.  It also comes up with questions that aren’t helpful either.   So it is not about “thinking” or “knowing” an answer at this point,,, or any point.  The mind is off and running in a certain direction with this topic and it’s headed in a depressing expression emotionally.  It’s hard to change that direction by thinking.  It is much easier to change that emotional direction of the mind with actions.  That’s why the Self Mastery course has a lot of actions to take.
It’s about how you express your self.   You’ve already noticed the example of that when you are in your artists mode of expression.  When you are expressing as an artist, it changes how you feel.
So do the course exercises.   Money back guarantee:  If you don’t get legitimate value out of it in the first 30 days,, let me know and I’ll refund your purchase.  That’s not to say that there is a guarantee of results.  I give a guarantee on the value.  Individual results will vary with each person depending on how actively they apply the work, how well they resonate with my approach, and their desire for change.   Each person’s results will vary so I can’t guarantee a timeline of results.  I do guarantee the value.  If it doesn’t work for you, or you don’t find value in my approach in the first thirty days, email me and I’l refund your purchase.
On a more specific note:  The thoughts or questions that arise to invoke, or continue an existential depression are often like, “Does life have any meaning?”   “What is life all about?” “Is this all there is?”   “What is the meaning of life?”  “Why are we here?”  “Why am I here?”  etc.  One thing to notice with questions like these is that they aren’t really questions.   They are asked in a way that hinders us looking for any answers.  They hinder curiosity for an answer or deeper meaning because the questions come pre-loaded with answers.
When those questions are asked in the way they usually are, they have a certain tone, attitude, and assumption about what the answer is.  The answer isn’t spoken, but is implied in the inflection of the question.    And the answers that  are implied in the questions,,, are not true.
Perhaps listen to my podcast on hidden assumptions for some help on this trick our ego plays on our emotional well being.
Hope that helps.