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Can your faith in religion be the cure for depression?


Many reading the above title may raise their eyebrows or shrug their shoulder and even dismiss the entire idea without thinking twice. I was one of them who would have had the same reaction many years ago. It is a quest I am still exploring as an individual who was battered by the illness few years ago. The thirst to explore the above gets intensified every time I work with my clients in their journey of recovery and every day in my own journey of recovery.


I am exploring three areas that are fundamental in the path to recovery i.e. Connection, Community and purpose. I would like you to read and explore these three areas in the context of your faith and the practices that you are familiar with as this is not about one particular religion. It’s about your journey of recovery.


Connection:


Loss of connection to ourselves can be cited as one of the main reasons for rise of depression. Loosing ourselves in our daily lives, moving from one task to another or climbing from one ambition to another may cause a total loss of connection with ourselves. I remember the days when I was a teenager, walking through the paddy fields holding on to a tray of colourful flowers filled with jasmine, frangipani, chrysanthemums that exuded distinctive aromas that was unique to each. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the exams or the fact that I had no money to take the bus the following day to go to school. I was connected to something greater than the life itself. Years later, with money and academic success, I found myself disconnected from the bliss of life and so have many of my clients that I have worked with. When they were happy and blissful, they all had something that they felt connected to that was greater than life. For some, it was the religion and for others it was nature. Religious rituals, stories, anecdotes, buildings are all a creation of devotion and faith and radiate such energy when we are in the presence of it. Is it possible that you could feel connected in the presence of such majestic yet soothing powers?


Community:


Isolation takes many forms including when you choose to isolate yourself in order to get things done such as writing a book or completing a thesis. I am not talking about sporadic moments where you choose to isolate yourself. Whilst there are various types of communities within our society fighting its way to being recognized, we are rapidly losing the sense of community which worsen depression. When we feel like we belong to a place where we feel safe to be ourselves, a safe place where rules and boundaries are clear, understood and agreed without having to sign agreements, for me that’s a sense of community. When you follow a religious faith, taking part in rituals, all people belonging to that particular religion coming together despite their differences, one can feel the belonging. Imagine a religious festival where everyone come together, cook, decorate, dress in a particular way, and singing the same prayer; what a wonderful feeling to be a soul amongst them? Our individuality is never lost in such communities, but it is strengthened by the sense of belonging. A spider web is only a web when all the threads are woven together. When one thread stands alone, it has no identity as a spider web. Having religious faith and taking part in its cultural rituals can give one a strong sense of identity of where they belong; an utterly satisfying feeling for one who feels lonely and depressed.


Purpose:


Many who have recovered from traumatic experiences in their lives have stated that finding a purpose and meaning as a key turning point in their recovery journey. I myself have found a purposeful and a meaningful way of living that made my recovery sustainable. A sense of purpose is not something that a religion or a faith can dictate us but it’s something that an individual will have to discover themselves. Being a Buddhist, I can say that Buddhism guides individuals to ‘be the light’ themselves. I believe that every religion in one way or the other guides us to do find the meaning and purpose. That’s why I believe that getting close to your religion or the faith will help you find that purpose. When you find the purpose in life, it makes you feel free. As Viktor Frankl; a holocaust survivor once said, ‘life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose’.


As in many quests in life, what makes you feel better is a unique process to you. I have somewhat autobiographically, mentioned one of the options here. Whatever the process you choose, it’s important to ask the question ‘why’ at the beginning. I use a cultural statement that I am used to hearing often; ‘too much is good for nothing’. Buddhism speaks about choosing ‘a middle path’ or a balanced approach. When you choose a process, it is important to realise that benefit will only come from exploring that with a balanced approach. For example, exercising is important but exercising excessively is an addictive behaviour and is a symptom of an underlying issue or many issues. Same principle applies when you choose to get closer to your religion as a way of recovering. Find a purpose, a connection and a community within your religion for the purpose of finding your freedom. For when you find that bliss, you can become unstoppable.



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