Feeling Depressed? Maybe you’re just self absorbed. ~ Catrina McFate

Via elephant journal
on Apr 19, 2010
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“Everybody hurts, sometimes” claims R.E.M., and we all know it’s true.

But sometimes we just can’t seem to stop hurting and get out of our mental rut. It has been estimated by the Mental Health Association that some 19 million people in the US are affected by depression each year.

Why is this?

Spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, says that it’s because our mind is fixated on thoughts of,

“What about me?,” “What about me?,” “What about me?”

In fact, many spiritual teachers have said similar things. According to the great Indian Bodhisattva, Shantideva:

If you want to be happy, you should never seek to please yourself. Instead, we should seek to bring joy to others.

Buddha’s prescription for happiness is to forget yourself and love others. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says: People who have the tendency to use more self-referential terms (I, me, myself) tend to have more health problems and earlier deaths. Being self-absorbed has an immediate effect of narrowing one’s focus and blurring one’s vision.

A part of us already knows that self-obsession can lead to a downward spiral. The other part has a hard time letting go of our ego driven mindset because quite frankly, we are unaware that it even exists. Let’s face the facts of our inner world. When we are having a bad day, where is our mind? Are we aware? If we do become aware of our mind we find that it is usually not thinking about how to save the world or how to help others.  Most of the time, it is thinking things like, “Why did this happen to me?” or, “If I just get this over with, then I will relax!” or, “He/She always does this to me!”  We are victims of our own minds.  We could be in a tropical paradise and not care or notice because we are in an egotistical, self-absorbed, complaining mode. Have you experienced this?

So what is the solution? Here are a few key concepts that Sri Sri encourages us to remember:

1.    Things are always changing. Your mind and emotions will not remain at the same intensity or quality for more than a couple of days.

2.    When your ‘prana,’ or energy, is low your mind can get depressed. If any of the four sources of energy are not replenished or in balance your energy may be low. These are food, sleep, the breath, and a calm meditative state of mind. The subtleties to how these sources of energy work within each of us depends on our level of awareness and our experiences. Pay attention to how they affect your life and take an Art of Living Course to learn how to practice breathing and other techniques which increase the ‘prana’ and harmonize our inner and outer existence.

3.  Ask: “How may I be of service?” Ask this question everywhere you go. Helping others gets us out of our head and into our heart. It helps us to recognize that we all need help and have hard times. Isn’t that true? Also, notice how you take responsibility for the things you feel belong to you. When you have a sense of belonging to the whole world you will always find a way to be of service. And you will expand within, and return to inner happiness and flow.

What I like about these points and techniques is that they are so tangible, and allow us to get out of our head and into the real world.

All of this is taught in the Art of Living course. This is a course that’s for everyone—it’s about managing the ups and down in life which we experience within us. It’s about creating a smile that never breaks, by living fully in the present moment and feeling a sense of belonging to everyone.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, a large volunteer-based and quickly growing non-profit. In just under 30 years, the Art of Living foundation has reached 20 million people in over 140 countries (no small feat). His mission is simple: to create a lasting smile on everyone’s face. And…to create a violence-free, stress-free world. Sound too good to be true? Sri Sri believes it is possible and will happen. He tirelessly travels the world bringing his message of inner peace and outer dynamic social action to nation after nation.

In the early eighties, Sri Sri developed the ‘Sudarshan Kriya’, a powerful breathing technique taught in Art of Living Course. He says that just a few minutes of this Sudarshan Kriya practice done daily will cleanse our mind of past impressions and stresses, creating a sense of harmony in the body, mind and spirit.

The Art of Living course however, is not for the timid. It pushes you to question your personal comfort zone and encourages you to willingly stretch outside of it. It helps you to grow into the person you’ve always aspired to be, rather than staying stuck in the mud of old limitations. Sri Sri believes we all have that ability—we all have that ‘Bigness’ inside of us.

One of the best ways to discover it is through seva or selfless service; to always ask the question “What can I do for you?”

*** Warning / Disclaimer: This article in no way is intended to treat or cure an conditions or diseases. It is not written by a mental health expert, just a normal person who would like to put out a new perspective that may help someone (but there are no guarantees and it may take a long time to learn how to use the technique in here effectively). The technique of being selfless may only be effective as a preventative tool and may not be useful when you are already severely depressed. By no means, does this article cover the wide range of issues that come along with clinical depression or other forms of depression and was intended to only assist in the personal discovery of the average day to day sad feelings that people to often get. The author is making no claims that this is the only way in or out of depression or that depression is a simple topic.

Catrina McFate has been studying health and healing since she was 14 years old.  She is founder of Naturally Me Health Coaching (certified by the AADP) and is a teacher for the Art of Living Foundation.

srisri-banner-150x300Join Sri Sri for an evening of wisdom and meditation entitled World Peace through Inner Peace in Denver on Tuesday, April 20th at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center for Performing Arts, and in Boulder on Wednesday April 21st at Naropa University’s Nalanda Event Center. Tickets and information are available by calling 720-984-1108 or at www.events.artofliving.org.

The Art of Living offers yoga classes, evening and weekend workshops and grassroots service projects throughout Colorado, the US and in over 140 countries.  Get involved!

“Sri Sri Interviewed during Israeli Peace Mission”


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80 Responses to “Feeling Depressed? Maybe you’re just self absorbed. ~ Catrina McFate”

  1. sillysoul22 says:

    I am a fan of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and found this clip about what he thinks about nirvana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLKdPdWsEPo

    • Catrina says:

      Yeah. I saw this clip too. Looks like an interesting movie. Thanks for sharing.

    • catrina says:

      Just so you are aware. Every non-profit that does service projects gets its money from somewhere. One way we teach yoga and meditation in high schools all over the country is by events like this that raise money. I worked with almost entirely gang kids for about a year full time

  2. Excellent article Catrina! I appreciate that you are encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone. It is rare that the average yoga class encourages this anymore. I am grateful for my guru trainings & encourage people to be more open to this kind of study. In these yoga communities, I learned respect, service and being consious of others. All very important lessons that many miss these days b/c they are not raised in a spiritual tradition. Much gratitude for your eloquent & clear writing about this topic. Jai! Pranahttp://www.pranaheals.com

  3. diana mercer says:

    These are lovely reminders. Thank you.

  4. anti-miopic says:

    I hope I'm not flaming here, but I would like to log an objection.

    I think the kind of self-absorption being described here can indeed lead to a profound state of dissatisfaction, and perhaps feeling down or blue. Depression, as the Mental Health Association statistic refers to, is something largely different.

    A lack of connection or interest in others is a symptom of depression -and perhaps an exacerbating element- but, I'm not sure that it is in itself a cause. At the root is a loss in the connection to the authentic self. This is an element we can focus on, but to categorize depression as a simple lack of Prana or as an indulgent self absorption is a mistake.

    (I would suggest the work of Amy Weintraube or Richard Miller for further exploration)

    • JOHANN says:

      While I agree that depression can take many forms and can be caused by biochemical imbalances, I also think that a lack of prana is major cause of chronic sub clinical depression (ie lack of purpose, low energy) . Most people are unaware of the mental and physical food that they put into there minds and body and don't do any practice to recharge themselves. I believe meditation, advanced yogic breathing, exercise, and the practise of service all can be of help.

      with regard to the books you recommend I find it a far better to take care of myself then to create intellectual concepts around depression.

    • JOHANN says:

      While I agree that depression can take many forms and can be caused by biochemical imbalances, I also think that a lack of prana is major cause of chronic sub clinical depression (ie lack of purpose, low energy) . Most people are unaware of the mental and physical food that they put into there minds and body and don't do any practice to recharge themselves. I believe meditation, advanced yogic breathing, exercise, and the practise of service all can be of help.

      with regard to the books you recommend I find it a far better to take care of myself then to create intellectual concepts around depression.

  5. Greg says:

    This is disturbing.

    Sri Sri obviously intends to destroy the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S.

    If we can cure depression by taking our attention off our narcissistic self and by breathing…. how is Big Pharma going to survive?

    Sri Sri is a big butterfly beating his wings in the universe which causes corporate drug dealers to lose their footing and tumble. Bowing deeply to Sri Sri — keep flapping those wings!

  6. elaine says:

    Yikes! Yes. That is why I go through phases of dealing with deep depression. I'm self-absorbed. Narcissistic. All that stuff. Just ask all those who know me.

    I need time to think about how to comment on this appropriately, but I think this article is over simplistic and does a great disservice to those who deal with depression.

    In the meantime, perhaps some reading from Sri Sri"s detractors?


  7. This does not mean that the suffering person should be 'blamed' for the condition. It is intended to open up a very different approach to the problem using medtitation and emphasis on compassion and loving-kindness. These methods may neither be quick nor instantly effective, however, negative side effects are virtually unheard of; and who cannot use a bit of emphasis on loving-kindness?

    p.s. Also to note is that this article is dealing most with lighter forms of depression that the average joe gets; not serious conditions.

    • Daniel Moss says:

      I think the point is that self-absorption is one common cause of depression, but clearly not the only one. At the same time, I think anyone with depression can be uplifted through service… by shifting the focus from "what about me?" to "what can i do for you?"

      • elaine says:

        I can see where that can be occasionally true. But for some people, service is a way to run from dealing with what's going on inside. I see it often.

        • Yup. Apparently selfless service can be another form of narcissism and escapism. This is especially common in spiritual organizations and the Christian church.

      • Proper self-absorption can be a *cure* for depression.

        Narcissism should be differentiated from depression.

        • Catrina says:

          Yes this is true. Proper self love is important. If we don't attend to ourselves that can lead to a lot of trouble. What I was trying to focus on was the mind that is stuck in a "what about me" cycle. I also agree with you that selfless service can be used as an escape but the focus of this article was for those who are stuck in their minds only thinking "what about me". Narcissism and depression are very different things and I never claimed they were the same thing. What I was saying is that being stuck in your mind always asking "what about me" MAY be stopping you from letting your depression go and to turn it around and say "what can I do for you" can be used as a prevention.

          Is this more clear?

          Wow! I really never expected people to take a small article so serious and literal since most of elephant has a casual humorous side. It would be nice if commenters recognized there is a person behind all of this. If this was in person I don't things would have gotten so rude cause you would see the love behind my words and intentions.

  8. Brian Adler says:

    I love this. It is very true that without attention "me" and how "I" am doing, there can be no depression. I am both a therapist and someone who has experienced a lot of depression. It was also the focus of my thesis. I am very comfortable asserting both from personal and clinical experience that the recipe for depression is a) fixated attention on thoughts of self and b) beliefs about how life should be for that self that contradict reality (that impermanence/loss/suffering shouldn't exist).

    The 3 Noble Truths of Buddhism are

    1. no self exists (the sense of self is just a thought fixated upon)
    2. impermanence is inescapable
    3. suffering is inherent to birth, old, and death and therefor to human existence itself.

    In the depressed person, these truths begin to become more obvious than to the typical person. But the depressed person interprets it negatively, as a personal failure, So they contract like a muscle spasm instead of open up to the opportunity for greater wisdom (at first anyway). For this reason, depression often acts as a gateway to deeper understanding. That's what "Dark Nights of the Soul" are all about.

    I wrote this at the end of my BA at Naropa. I talk about how depression is actually an opportunity to better understand Buddhism if it is fully embraced. It also provides the only real relief from depression (relaxing the addiction to thoughts of self and the compulsion to try to make those thoughts secure and lasting).

  9. Sally-Jane Rowberry says:

    Sticking to the practical! What happened to the non-profit volunteer based organisation? Tickets $35 – $19? Im depressed!!!

    • Just so you are aware. Every non-profit that does service projects gets its money from somewhere. One way we teach yoga and meditation in high schools all over the country is by events like this that raise money. I worked with almost entirely gang kids for about a year full time, living off a very humble amount of money. Every organization needs a way to keep doing what it does. To expect less is ridiculous. People spend tons of money just to drink or go to the movie and dinner. This may even be cheaper than a night of that.

  10. GretaCargo says:

    The video and service to others are excellent lessons for many of us to remember the abundance of life we miss in moments of self-absorption. The manner in which self-absorption and depression are referred in the writing of this article is frankly disturbing. It simplifies a complex situation. Why not describe the relationship between self absorption and melancholy differently while accurately recognizing depression?

    I very much respect the approach of smiles and a richer life in serving others. For us practical types, it means making lemonade from lemons. Being part of a community is one of the most wonderful methods of healing; indeed light brings more light.

    For the very real situation of depression, seek out a qualified therapist who can offer or direct a vulnerable person to an array of possibilities (part of which might include spiritual practice). And take note that even a local zen center requests that depression should be handled by a therapist; their community welcomes those who work through personal challenges to achieve spiritual growth.

    In the interest of compassion for real conditions, please do not mislead.

    • Kev says:

      hi… I have been dealing with depression/anxiety almost all of my life. I recently went out with a girl and I don't want to bore you with the details but to be honest I am beginning to relies that she is right. whats the steps forward. I really want to tackle this head on. I am totally self obsessed and partially and I mean partially narcissistic in my ways… Its ruining my life….

  11. jody says:

    Goodbye Elephant Journal. With this article, you've shown just how far down the tube you've gone.

  12. jody says:

    I should add that I'm not disparaging karma yoga or mindfulness as transformational practice. These are both excellent suggestions, of course. But these are not unique to the teachings of Sri Sri, which, if you have a look at, really aren't much different from the teachings of his progenitor, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

  13. Here is an alternative view from a recent attendee of the Art of Living course who paints a somewhat different picture: http://artoflivingfree.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-sai

    [NB: this link and the content it links to are protected free speech under United States and international laws. The opinions expressed therein belong to the author of the article only (who is not me). Your mileage may vary, etc.]

  14. elaine says:

    Duff and Jody

    Thank you! You said it better than I ever could.


  15. mental health thx says:

    Depression is a serious and biologically based mental illness. Though some types of cognitive behavior therapies have proved effective in symptom relief, including an alteration in self-defeating thought patterns ( which, mind you, are ellicited in the first place by the presence of the disease), depression cannot simply be reduced to a mind over matter dilemna. Furthermore, it is naive and offensive to blame a pervasive and debilitating disease on mere self-absorption.

  16. I want to apologize for upsetting anyone.

    This was meant to be a slightly humorous twist to the everyday light depression we all get from time to time. A way to bring us out of our rut. I wanted a catchy title that would bring us all to read it. I also thought is was a neat way to look at how many spiritual teachers have a similar message.

    There was no intention to disregard more serious forms of depression, but rather to spark a question inside of us, "where is my mind?".

    In such a sort article it would be hard to cover all the complexities of an issue that is so huge.

    I am very grateful for everyones passion and experience with this topic. In no way should anyone take this message and be hard on themselves (which is in and of itself another way of being self absorbed). The point was to take this and see that being of service to others no matter where we are can lift us up. It was done only with love and no intention to upset.

    I also have deal with depression and a family history of serious depression. When we are in that state we can not pull ourselves out so easily. It is the prevention that is key and for me and my family being able to help others has been a key in prevention.

    Again, all apologies and love and gratitude for this experience. (it is way easier to have a conversation in person! lol)

    • elaine says:

      Yep! I agree, so much is not translated on paper and you can use the ":)" only so much. Far worse on twitter 🙂

  17. johann says:

    what proof do you have of that? Other this Blogspot blog. again when did second hand internet sources become credible? Is that were you get all your sources?

  18. jody says:

    The point was to take this and see that being of service to others no matter where we are can lift us up

    A good point to make. Another point to consider is that some so-called spiritual gurus use the idea of service to others as the lure. Your article seemed advertorial, and the advice given was at best, facile. But that's not your fault. You were only reporting what appears to come from a reliable source. That old saying about books and their covers definitely applies here.

    • Catrina says:

      just because some gurus do this does not mean they all do or that Sri Sri is doing this. Even though you did not agree with it or like it because of who said the quotes, you can not deny that it is useful information for many people and that gurus of many traditions have used similar words.

      Many people have also enjoyed the article and noted how it opened their mind. We all have an opinion and it is good to be able to share those opinions but the truth is that no one opinion can be truth here. We all have a history that leads us to believe what we do now. Our history has obviously been quite different.

      Relax and be happy! People will believe what they want in the end. Our minds change all the time, its a very unreliable source. lol! We all must agree to disagree and in the end see that we all have a good heart and good intention. Peace

  19. Greg says:

    Catrina, I thought the article was helpful and "on the money."

    It is ironic that supporters of the pharmaceutical industry (and its wholly-supported distribution network of psychiatry) would attack spiritual teachers who provide a more effective, long-lasting, and side-effect-free path to well-being.

    The Buddha, for one, taught the crushing nature of samsara. When one dismisses such sound education and practice with warnings that "depression is more serious" and it is "a complex condition" and it is a "biological condition", one simply comments on the overwhelming nature of samsara and on the depth of clinging and attachment to which a person can descend.

    The path out of the ditch is the same no matter how deeply mired in the muck one becomes. In my humble opinion, the bad advice is that of pharmaceutical psychiatry: "You have no control. Your condition is biological. Drugs are the only solution. You are only a bio-robot and we, the experts, must set your chemical mix in order for you to function." These concepts are damaging and promote more depression than they cure. A society addicted to anti-depressants is not an enlightened society and eventually no longer a free society.

    Keep flapping those beautiful wings Sri Sri.

  20. jody says:

    The path out of the ditch is the same no matter how deeply mired in the muck one becomes.

    Yes, through the muck. There's no going around it, as Sri Sri would like you to believe. His is a simpleton's path that only leads to his own glory, and a little temporary peace of mind for as much of your money as he can get.

    Caveat emptor.

  21. Lindsey says:

    Commoditizing a "way out" of the human condition of suffering (depression is one form) is pretty lame. Hence the "Got Inner Peace?" ad for SriSri's Boulder appearance on Facebook. Funny, the ad states "inner peace comes from within, not without." In that case, I really DON'T need to pay $30 to see Mr. Guru speak, for the truths are already inside my soul. Cool.

    • ellen says:

      If Mr Guru was a true man of integrity and had something useful to say, he wouldn't be demanding the $30 (an an ever increasing scale of fees) for something that you already have. This knowledge is open to all and belongs to all.

  22. Catrina says:

    despite what so many of you tried to do, which was ignore the sweet intentioned message and overload negative thoughts and emotions to readers about sri sri ravi shankar, the event in both cities was amazing. Lots of smiling faces and great meditations and useful, touching wisdom!

    And back to talking about the article….as a volunteer, being of service kept my mind in a much more healthy positive place. My family has a history of mental illness and keeping our minds focused on helping others rather than thinking so much about our lives and why we are the way we are has helped us all soooo much. Of course it is not the only thing but it does our minds and bodies good while giving us a deeper sense of purpose. From my understanding, all of our talents and gifts in life are to be shared with others and being of service helps us to do just that.

    • ellen says:

      Catrina, haven't you noticed the disparity? You are willing to share your talents and gifts freely, Sri Sri has set up a huge organisation to disseminate age-old human wisdom that belongs to no-one and everyone. His organisation gives away nothing, it charges megabucks for this knowledge that has been freely available for at least a couple of thousand years. His focus is on the power and money in this, not the dissemination of knowledge.
      Thats not a negative perspective, thats a business perspective, the same perspective that Sri Sri has brought to his enterprise.

    • Mrs. Just Saying says:

      See this is why I have a problem when people don't take the time to read through before publishing something for the world to see. I get that you were trying to be humorous and that you weren't referring to the crippling disorder of depression, your intention was to comment on people who have random bouts of the blues. If you had expressed that in the beginning of the article there wouldn't have been such an issue. When you leave room for people to make assumptions it doesn't go well.

      "despite what so many of you tried to do, which was ignore the sweet intentioned message and overload negative thoughts and emotions to readers about sri sri ravi shankar, the event in both cities was amazing" <—-Umm….wow that was rude! Clearly no one ignored what you had to say. As the author the onus is on you to get your message across to the reader. You can't blame the reader for reacting to a callous statement when you didn't take the time to clarify your intentions. Another thing I found interesting is that your first priority was to inform everyone that the event "was amazing". This just proves that there really wasn't much substance to this article other than to serve as an advertisement. Hopefully you received a decent payment for all of your troubles.

      I do find it extremely hypocritical that you demean people for being negative when you state that the only reason you provide service for others is because it makes you feel good. The purpose of volunteering your time is to help others not yourself. I work as a mentor because those kids need positive role models to guide them in the right direction. I donate clothing because it's senseless to throw it in the trash when someone in need needs it more than I do. I get my nieces together to make cards for the troops during the holidays because our troops deserve to know how grateful other people are for their service. Notice how every act of service I've participated in is done because of how it benefits others, not because of what I get out of it. Maybe writing just isn't your thing because if you were an experienced writer I wouldn't have to mention any of these things.

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  27. dmac says:

    She lives a very fearful life, and the fear is destroying our relationship. I have given her an ultimatum to change or i have to leave. We have gone to couples therapy she has been in her own therapy, she has books and cd's but she truly does not realize that her practice is in regulating her REACTIONS to things, not her listening to a cd. She reacts and responds in the same ways even though she KNOWS they are unhealthy. She knows she needs to sit down and calm down to get rid of her agitation, yet she will still choose to pace the room feverishly, working herself up even more. I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE her and i have had to tell her that her behavior and fear of losing me, will cause her to lose me- then that puts her in her cycle of fear and it spirals!! I say all this to say,

  28. dmac says:

    as she does her "practices," she has cultivated this, ME ME ME attitude. I think she truly struggles with being self aware vs self absorbed. If we are at a party, she will compare herself to others and create a story in her head about how they would be someone i would like, then she gets mad at me and i dont know why! If others dont talk to her, in my opinion because she has negative energy sometimes, she blames them, not the possibility that she is creating energy that others can feel and dont want to engage. She complains that others dont call her or try to be friends with her, but she NEVER reaches out to them and when they do call she doesnt answer. If i am upset, she will automatically think its about her and get scared and we will fight because she will start making accusations that she has created in her head.

  29. dmac says:

    How can i get her to communicate her feelings without being accusatory- to claim them as her feelings, so we can have a healthy relationship? She complains that we dont have sex, but she is constantly in a grumpy mood, or complaining or just plain irritable and always blames someone else, mostly me, for why she is feeling that way. IT will start with, "well, im grumpy because you…" or I was happy until you….or he or she…" Or" I wanted to say hello but they looked away and werent concerned with me…"
    UGH! i know this sounds like a lot! Because it is! i need help- we need help- she needs help but we havent found the right thing…suggestions????

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  31. Heather says:

    Brian Alder- You should perhaps have studied harder. There are four noble truths.

    1. Suffering exists
    2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
    3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
    4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

    You have completely got the wrong end of the stick. They actually bring great relief from depression as when you face your suffering, acknowledge it, then detach from it as outlined in the four noble truths, you can experience real freedom WHILE suffering still exists.

    This article is flawed on so many levels I don't know where to begin and could have severely detrimental effects on someone going through the grip of depression. This "guru" is a renowned fake.

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