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

Via 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”

About elephant journal

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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 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.

  32. Uma says:

    As far as I can see from this article, the only provocative part is the title. Beyond that rather loaded word "self-absorption" (which I can see would be offensive), the rest of the article seems to offer some spiritual perspectives on how to move out of a depressed state of mind. The writer did not talk about selfless service in isolation, but in the context of other spiritual practices, including understanding the nature of the mind (self-inquiry) and prana. Yes, depressed people need compassion (as does everyone). I don't see anywhere in this article a call for depressed people to beat themselves up.

    I've never been clinically depressed, but I have definitely gone through periods of intense sadness and loss of any motivation. I took off 6 months from university because I found myself crying all the time, holed up in my room, "licking my wounds" and feeling sorry for myself, or, in your words, undergoing "self-care." I was training in psychology at Harvard, and tried to get some context for myself through my academic studies, which were largely focused on CBT and other research-based methods. What pulled me out of my funk was not psychotherapy, or drugs, but a combination of yogic practices, spiritual perspectives, and community service. I cannot speak for clinical levels of depression, but for the everyday blues, this stuff works.

    I don't see how putting the Art of Living Foundation helps readers understand this issue more deeply. I don't know any spiritual organization that doesn't bring up controversy. In a world filled with so much negativity, any group that puts out positive messages are bound to stir things up. I know I'd rather spend my time spreading positivity than wasting my time (and other people's) bringing down groups or spiritual teachers like Sri Sri, who has clearly inspired this writer and many others around the world.

  33. Uma says:

    I think we'd all be hard-pressed to find guru-centered movements that don't have critics who claim real abuse, corruption, and cult dynamics. There are tons of sites attempting to turn people off from other large spiritual movements, not just Art of Living. And yet each of these movements have spread ancient wisdom and practices and lifted the minds and hearts of thousands of people around the world — many many more people have benefited from these movements than the few people who've gotten burned by them, and have spent countless hours creating blogsites to bring them down.

    Personally knowing devotees of almost every one of the following gurus, including Sri Sri, I can say that their lives have only been enriched by their relationship with these movements, these practices, and these teachers. The common message of all of these gurus is to love the Self and to see no separation between the body we carry and body of another; service and devotion are expressions of this. No one claims to be only ones saying this stuff – they're just saying it in their own way, and people resonate differently with different expressions of the same truth. Yes, there are flaws – anytime you have a group of people get together, imperfections arise. Some people become feverish, over-zealous, or (sadly) closed-minded to other people's spiritual paths. The same is true for political, environmental, or social movements. To me, it's not a reflection of the guru or the intention of the movement, it's just a few people who are struggling to figure it out for themselves, and are getting entangled in the maya along the way. Perhaps it's when people come into contact with a few overzealous individuals from these movements, their whole perception of the movement gets affected. I don't know what motivates people to exert energy bringing down spiritual movements. All I know is that I grow more when I have the humility to respect and love any being that teaches me how to realize my Self.

  34. Not all spiritual groups use high-pressure recruitment tactics and coercive persuasion to gain and maintain control over their members. Denial is not an adequate solution to these unpleasant realities.

  35. jody says:

    Uma, the internet is full of first-person accounts of the cult-like nature and practices of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living. If you'd like, I could look around and post a few of the more cogent passages. Just let me know.

  36. elaine says:

    An honest assessment is not a "diatribe of negativity"

    Comments such as Duff and Jody made are written more to assist others who want to explore groups like AoL with discernment. What they do IS very much positive work and they come from a place of hard won experience and compassion.

  37. elaine says:

    Who's claimed to be objective?

    The article was clearly an endorsement for AoL as much as it was about depression. Bringing to light the stories of others who have seen the negative side of AoL, hopefully encourages folks to be a bit more discerning.

  38. Uma says:

    I'm glad to hear that you find these practices useful, yourself. When I was speaking about my experiences struggling w/ my own sadness, I did not intend to put down CBT or any other psychological therapies. I was just sharing my own experiences grappling with what may be colloquially called (and what I believe the writer was talking about) "depression", not depression according to DSM-IV. I agree with you that for some people, an integration of psychotherapy, drug therapy, and spiritual practices can be just the ticket!

    You seem to be someone who honors yoga, meditation and spiritual perspectives. Our minds have a tendency to feed off of gossip and negative news, and we overlook all the good that exists within every individual and organization. If someone says something juicy and negative about another person, we immediately think "really? I thought something was fishy with that person" and sometimes even add our own spice to it! We seem to derive some temporary power by spreading this negative information based on third-hand opinions of people, when we don't even know the state of mind with which those people shared that information. I know that I've seen beautiful people get burned by this, and I choose to support and spread the good I see first-hand as my way of supporting truth, rather than getting caught up in other people's ideas of right and wrong.

  39. I practice Vipassana. Vipassana aims to "see reality as it is, not as you'd like it to be." In other words, one practices noticing that which is experienced as pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral with equanimity in order to transform clinging. It can be unpleasant to look at the abuses and corruption of spiritual teachers, but if one is getting involved with a spiritual organization it is important to me to do so with one's eyes open.

    You are absolutely correct that clinging to such unpleasantries can be problematic, and we should certainly be on guard for that tendency. It is also problematic to cling to positive news, to "love and light" and to ignore abuses in our communities and in our leaders. And it can also be problematic to avoid both in favor of "neutral" things, to avoid getting involved in the messiness of group membership and spirituality.

    If a friend was prescribed a drug without being warned of the side-effects and I knew that this drug was declared unsuitable by the FTC, I would feel a moral obligation to warn this person. While no drug is free from side-effects, some are reasonably safe for most people. Similarly, if a friend was talking about a spiritual group I knew had strong evidence of being a cult, I would feel a moral obligation to speak out. Would you?

  40. johann says:

    Do hate the dalai lama in the same way? He does public meetings with Sri Sri. Maybe you should write him a letter and tell what sri sri's up too. So have our last three presidents along with the other presidents from around the world. Dont you think the things your referring to would be on their radar? considering its just a google search away? Or are the part of the conspiracy? Is the mayor of New Orleans in on this too? he declared a Sri Sri day for all great work the organization did after the disaster they went through. Is everyone one in on this except you guys?

  41. Uma says:

    I see the same spirit in what you're expressing as in my own framework on transcendence – transcending the opposites that exist in the relative world, rising above cravings and aversions to live in Truth consciousness.

    Which is precisely why I am wary of such intensely negative slander you cite, because it seems to stem not from a wise, calm assessment of the organization. There is no FTC in this case, no objective measure of the Art of Living or any other spiritual movement, only people's opinions.

    Like you said, any organization (spiritual or otherwise) is messy, and the spiritual path in particular can rile up all kinds of emotions. We project onto each other, our teachers, and our fellow seekers whatever conditioning and emotions are bottled up inside of us. I would be of seeing such opinions as evidence of anything.

    In particular, I would be wary of using the word "cult," especially around any Eastern-based organizations. The West is not a culture of gurus, and is rooted in rebellion against authority and "groupthink." The East sees surrender and faith in Gurus not as a loss of free thinking or personal choice, but as a pathway to spiritual liberation. We must be very careful in looking at Eastern traditions from a Western lens.

  42. I accept the premise that there are healthier and less healthy versions of guru yoga, both east and west. However, if we ignore claims of real abuse, corruption, and yes cult dynamics (where this is accurate) because it is not expressed as politely as our high spiritual standards require, we become accessories to the crimes committed in the name of love.

  43. Also there is a contradiction in what you are saying here. If all we have is opinions, then no words could be considered slander, for slander requires stating something which is a verifiable fact but is false, stated with malicious intent.

    For instance, if SSRS did in fact manipulate the process of giving out the Nobel Peace Prize as stated in the specific communications quoted onhttp://artoflivingfree.blogspot.com/ , that is relevant information for a potential student seeking a moral exemplar to learn from. Whether or not these things took place are facts–what they mean to any individual involved are opinions.

  44. johann says:

    I actally agree that the article could have been more careful about the way that talked about depression. However your sources are clearly anti art of living, and not relating to depression.

  45. johann says:

    there base less slander. Again what experience do you have? I can find lots of stuff on the internet. Are you spiritual? if so what group are you part of? I'm sure I can lots of worth slander.

  46. johann says:

    I guess you missed my point. which is there nothing profound in your post. other then that you hate the art of living with a deep passion. Im still not clear why though? because you read a blog and felt the need to tell the world?

    I have no idea how things are going to get worse for me, your unfounded slanders does absolutely nothing to me. Just like you feel the need to talk negative about the art of living I feel the need to point out that your full of it and your claims are base on nothing but a blogspot blog that has 16 members anonymous sources. as I said sri sri spends his time helping millions, and millions will would vouch for him. Who would Vouch for you? again what do you do for the world? How did these million miss what is so clear to you? They and I according to you must be totally blind.

    In addition to work full time on sustainable start ups and being a credible member of many communities coast to coast (not just the art of living) I help coordinate youth leadership courses, courses for people dying of HIV, and disaster relief work. Yes all through the art of living. I have lot of people who can vouch that I'm not a all mess up and out to manipulate people to join a cult.

    Live in your bitter world and post what you want. At the end of the day nothing you said is credible and is merely second hand hear say.

  47. Uma108 says:

    Just a quick google search led me to blogsites criticizing these other Guru movements. For some reason, I can't post the multitude of sites that just popped up. Just look up "skeptic" and any of the following Gurus: Amma, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sai Baba, Parahansa Yogananda, Brahmakumaris, Swami Muktananda, Buddha. The list could continue, of course, but those were the Guru movements off the top of my head.

  48. Yes, good people join cults and abusive husbands can sometimes be nice guys–no argument there. But you seem to be ok with denying claims of abuse, which I find disturbing.

    Anyway, we'll have to respectfully disagree on this one.

  49. jody says:

    At the end of the day nothing you said is credible and is merely second hand hear say

    Fortunately, we have the readers to make that determination. 😉

  50. Im great grateful for that too. :O) I have Faith that not all people are looking for the negative and will see sri sri's work for what it is… amazing :O) and all the great masters doing work on this planet for that matter. Including many Buddhist, Christian and Muslim teachers and any others I my be forgetting .

  51. there no need to put yourselves down. I have no idea where all your anger toward sri sri is coming from. If someone from the art of living has done something to you personally I apologize for them. I can honestly say it is not it is not a reflection of his teaching. I'm open to all faiths and no one is better then anyone else. sorry if this article rubbed you the wrong way. It could have been more mindfully written.

  52. elaine says:

    This is where I am coming from. I grew up in a cult and my cult-dar screams when I see groups like this. I do not want this to devolve into a convo on what a cult is and are all cults harmful? When the radar goes off, and it can be any type of group, not just religious/spiritual, I need to honor that feeling and do the research for the benefit of those who are on the fence or may have doubts. Any open group will accept honest criticism, a closed group will not.

    My question to you, Johann, is why are you so threatened by the criticism of your group? And did you know that your responses are symptomatic of a cult member? One, you are so attached to your guru, you cannot hear any criticism of him. Two, that you feel responsible for the actions of other members.

    Johann, if this path is working for you, great! Keep on doing it! But others have not had your experience and their voices are valid as well and have a right to be heard.

  53. There have been cries of abuse, and actual abuse, in the spiritual communities I have been a part of. People I know personally have been hurt. Hence my concern.

    Be well my friend,

  54. Peace to you.

  55. I am neither confirming nor denying the claims made in the two websites I linked to, for I have no further information. All I did was provide links to another perspective.

  56. johann says:

    This has nothing to with my attachment to a guru. It has to do with my frustration about the way you were using this article as a segue into slandering an organization based on 2 blogsites that have not been validated. If you feel you have the right to make assertions about a teacher or the Art of Living organization, you should know first hand that your assertions are true, and aren't just basing it on a hunch.

    To clarify, I never said that I felt responsible for other people actions, merely that I was sorry if someone had a bad experience.

    Is this organization perfect? No. Are there some bad apples? I'm sure, not unlike pretty much every organization on the planet (not just in the spiritual world). Is it an abusive organization? Far from it. It is doing great work around the world which I can speak to first hand, and which has been recognized by global leaders – including President Bush, President Clinton, Ban Key Moon, Joe Biden, the President of India, the King of Ghana, Ruud Lubbens the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, as well as spiritual leaders from every faith, including the Dalai Lama, archbishops, rabbis, and imams. 15 Mayors have named a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day in honor of his work. Don't you feel the offices of these renowned world leaders would have done their due diligence in researching Sri Sri before inviting him to a) meet with them b) conduct peace negotiations to address major world conflicts, including Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine, and Sri Lanka.

    I feel strongly that people should be free to speak their truth. I just don't believe that freedom of speech means the right to slander without any basis in credible sources. If things that are abusive or harmful to people are happening, you should have no problem reporting them to the police and your statements should be able to stand trial in a court of law.

  57. johann says:

    To your comments about a cult, and usage of the word cult:

    "Catherine Wessinger (Loyola University New Orleans) has stated that the term "cult" represents just as much prejudice and antagonism as racial slurs or derogatory words for women and homosexuals. She has argued that it is important for people to become aware of the bigotry conveyed by the word, drawing attention to the way it dehumanises the group's members and their children. Labeling a group as subhuman, she says, becomes a justification for violence against it."

    Be mindful that blatantly throwing around the word cult and asserting that my behavior is "symptomatic of a cult member" is seriously concerning behavior, considering you know nothing about me. Other than that I'm having a frustrated response to cyber-bullying of an article that was poorly framed but harmless in nature and which clearly stated that it was not for people suffering from clinical depression. You used unverified secondhand accounts to slander a teacher who's doing good work in the world.

    Peace be with you.

  58. ellen says:

    Catherine Wessinger (Loyola University New Orleans) is a known cult apologist. The recognised definition of a cultic group has more to do with the methodology of that group rather than a bigoted bout of name-calling: http://www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html

  59. ellen says:

    Well put. Whether we call ourselves Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian, discernment and critical thinking are vital in the spiritual marketplace that these guys are operating in.

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