August 15, 2014

Compassion is the Cure in a Culture of Depression.


I am inspired today to spill some words onto the page, by the news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide.

I thought I would digress, but as many of you have felt, the story is nagging at me trying to resolve itself in my mind. I’ve seen a lot of posts on the web about how we need to reach out to those that are depressed and suffering.

I can’t help but see the dualism in this approach and that we have it a little backwards. I believe the reason the story has gone so media crazy is because this story is about us. It leaves a pit in our stomach because we know. We have been there.

We have seen the genius of someone riding the waves of life as a passionate expression of joy, and the wave that crashes on the shore before it’s time.

Three words have been on my mind since the news: passion, dispassion, and compassion.

From what I saw of Robin Williams, he had a passion for life that lit up everything around him. We all desire a passion like his, that flowed forth from every opening.

The definition of passion is strong and barely controllable emotion. This is great as long as we are on top of the crest, but what happens when we hit bottom?

Yoga instructs us to have dispassion. Not in the sense of indifference like we may think, but to not have attachments. This may be a difficult concept to grasp at first. For me, it has become not having an agenda. Not to chase the next high moment. When I don’t have an agenda I stop objectifying myself through addictions to soothe my cravings of being someone or someplace else. The result? We can show up wholly (holy).

The final word I have been contemplating is compassion. Compassion is to be able to witness suffering. Over all the qualities we are losing in our industrialized era, compassion is the most dangerous. Like a muscle, if we don’t use it we will lose it, even if it is our true nature. We are in danger of losing ourselves.

Almost 1/3 of the population 12 and over are on medications for anxiety or depression. This is an epidemic. We are anxiety ridden because we can’t handle our attachments, and depressed because we are not reaching out to others in an authentic way.

We are like virtual gods designing our lives on Facebook, emailing the co-worker next to us, even coffee shops (which used to be a place to discuss ethics and life) are now laden with tables for two, PC and me. We no longer “drop in” on our beloved neighbors and friends because that would be an invasion of privacy.

I long for the days when my grandmothers would sit around the table for hours talking sense and nonsense around cups of coffee and cigarettes. It may not have been green juice and yoga but they were strengthening their ability to sit with someone and witness each others’ lives, the true namaste.

How hard has it become for you to look someone in the eye and let them spill their sh*t?

I preach it because I live here too. As a yoga therapist, my compassion muscle has become really strong and it is healing me. I say healing because while we are here we still have work to do. If you want to be happy, be a witness to someone else’s struggles without judgement. When we sit together with all the good and the bad we become entwined, not entangled.

Nobody can save the passionate soul that decided to extinguish his own flame, but we can remove the smoke and mirrors obscuring ours. Reach out to someone and notice that the person being healed is not them, it is you, and them and you. We are all in this together.

Having the courage to love without expecting anything in return is the most healing action we can offer to ourselves. Long live compassion!



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Editor: Travis May

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gwen link Nov 15, 2014 8:46am

The results of Robin Williams autopsy revealed that he had Lewey Body Dementia and Parkinson’s disease. No illicit drugs were found in his system and prescribed drugs were found in proper doses. Lewey Body is debilitating and is also the disease Kasey Kasem suffered with. I think it’s fascinating that before the autopsy results became public record, the internet exploded with blogger’s needing to internalize a celebrity death and focus on this assumption that he was psychotically depressed. That depression got the best of him. That these blogs were tinged with a superior attitude in directing such “passionate” pity towards him. Maybe he wanted to end his life before Lewey Body incapacitated him. With a history of addiction and depression, a state like Oregon, who has death with dignity laws , would not allow a lethal dose of Barbituates to be prescribed to him if he wanted to go that route. We don’t know….Why did so many people with histories of mental illness themselves jump the gun and feel the “passionate” need to speak for him BEFORE medical science could offer something definitive. Hard science and imaging technology are leading Neurology towards a much better understanding of what’s actually going on with a person’s brain (and therefore their thought processes) than spiritualism, Codependence and its associated narcissistic need to “intuitively” read the minds of others- (out of “compassion” of course. ) Until neurology and technology offer humans a better view of the mysteries of the mind, we are simply left to do little more than speculate- which leads to debates like those in previous comments. And while speculation can spark the imagination of yogi’s who “dispassionately” glorify their craft in modifying their own self destructive behaviors, it does very little in creating an open debate on the fact that without an explanation from Robin Williams HIMSELF, we are left with little more than scientific fact, his personal admissions of depression and drug addiction, and a SURGE of passive aggressive “know-it-alls” who seek attention to their cause by using celebrity on whom to focus their posthumous “therapy” ….. Please be careful with impulsivity in self expression- especially with internalizing celebrity life experience. Wait for all of the facts to come out before you misuse your “compassion…”. This blog sounded more like it was capitalizing on a celebrity death in order to draw attention to the Yogi’s services than it did in actually applying what the blogger advertised.

Brian Westbye Aug 16, 2014 9:28am

Spot. On.

danivanimcguire Aug 15, 2014 9:48pm

Hi Valerie, Thanks for reading and sharing this reflection. I did not say that compassion could keep someone from killing themselves. Robin Williams' death presented me an opportunity to look at our wounded world and reflect upon what has worked in my own life. The three words I reflected on were huge in my recovery from eating disorders and depression. Depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety run like rampant flames in my family. I was put on prozac at the age of 18 before I had even begun to taste the ups and downs of life, which in turn just made me feel more trapped. Thankfully with practice my life turned from "I gotta get help" to "how can I serve", and suddenly the eating disorders and depression went away. That gives me hope for all of us. I have been able to serve people with depression and anxiety, as a yoga therapist, and have a good number of clients who have been getting their medications reduced or released from their doctors. The way I see it is, we have two options(and probably many more). We can feed the psychosis in our heads by writing and obsessing about it and how trapped/broken we are, like Wallace did, or we can look around to see who is lower than us. Not so we judge or feel better because it could be worse… so we can give them a hand, and both have someone to hold. Perhaps there is no quick fix for the power behind a building that is already on flames, however if we detect the smoke early enough we can do the daily work of getting out of own heads and into the power of our heart.

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Dani McGuire

Dani McGuire AKA Vani (meaning Saraswati) has practiced yoga since 1995, having studied Integral, Tantra, Ayurveda, Yoga Therapy, Prana Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. Her teaching is an alchemy of eastern philosophy and modern living. Using both life and practice as a way of inspiring self awakening, love, and devotion. She is creator of Sattva Vinyasa and Sattva Therapy. Vani has published 2 DVDs as well as mini online classes for your ayurvedic constitution. She is a columnist for elephantjournal.com, and founder of PranaYoga School of Yoga and Holistic Health, and PranaYoga Foundation. Dani leads teacher trainings, retreats, and workshops around the world as well as offering marriage, birth, and end of life support.