Mollie: Can you tell me when your depression began, as far as you know? Was there an event that brought it on?
Katie: My depression started as a teenager because I was bullied for being weird and different. But many years later, these were traits I slowly learned to love for how they caused me to break the mold and not always follow the status quo.
Mollie: What were the turning points for you?
Katie: Discovering the world of personal development was a big turning point for me. I discovered personal development when I started looking for the answer to the question, “How can a person be happy?” and realized that you have to create the changes in your own life that lead to happiness. I started reading books from people like Jack Canfield (The Success Principles) and also developing more of a spiritual practice and incorporating new things into my life like meditation, mindfulness, and teachings from the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron.
Mollie: What was your most effective strategy when starting out? Did the results last? What did you try after that?
I still do forgiveness work regularly. It’s like having a regular practice of gratitude or any other positive habit. Sometimes forgiving can be difficult, but you can remember the quote, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Healing your past is a good place to start, and from there you can add more positivity into your life.
Mollie: Do you believe that you were or are wired differently from other people? Meaning, do you have depression due to a chemical imbalance that is part of your DNA? Also, do you believe your depression can be healed completely?
Katie: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that, but I do feel that depression has both biological reasons and reasons caused by situations and circumstances in your life. I also think your beliefs, attitude, and thought patterns can have a big impact on how happy you are.
Mollie: Final question: On a scale of 1-10, how effective is forgiveness for healing depression?
Katie: I’ll give it a 7. It depends on what factors are contributing to the person’s depression, though.
1. Would I rather have clean carpets but constant carpet maintenance and a strict no-shoes, no dirty feet policy … or would I rather have stains on my carpet and a lot less hassle? (Or is there another solution, like dark brown carpet?)
2. Would I rather have a clean house with constant maintenance … or would I rather have a messy house but be able to let my kids do arts and crafts inside; let kids get head-to-toe dirty outside then track it in; not have to nag about chores all day; get less annoyed by kids being kids; let kids learn how to prepare their own food; let kids learn how to feed themselves; and not to mention spend a lot less time cleaning. (Or is there another solution, like teaching kids to do chores and exchanging chores for privileges?)
3. Would I rather have a nicely manicured lawn that I have to maintain weekly … or would I rather garden and rake when it brings me pleasure and exercise, and have lots of pine cones, leaves and dead grass in my yard, all of which are pretty in their own way? (Or is there another solution, like moss and clover instead of grass?)
4. Would I rather keep all bugs out of my house at all times but have to constantly nag the kids to shut the door … or would I rather leave the door open all day in the summer without a screen so that the kids are encouraged to go outside more often throughout the day? (Or is there another solution, like a screen with a magnetic closure that automatically closes behind you?)
5. Would I rather save time on cooking by going to a restaurant, then spend time driving, parking, ordering, waiting, paying, and driving … or would I rather spend the effort to throw together something at home, then linger after dinner at the table with the family?
6. Would I rather spend $30 extra for a restaurant meal … or spend $20 for an extra hour of housekeeping or nanny time?
7. Would I rather spend $1,000 on French doors for my patio … or use that money to buy 50 hours of household or nanny help?
8. Would I rather spend $3-5,000 on a family vacation to Mexico for a week … or $1,000 on a nice staycation for a week that includes long evenings with kids at the babysitter’s?
9. Would I rather buy and store a gas-powered lawnmower … or would I rather use a small push mower that I rarely need to sharpen and never have to buy gas for, and is much quieter and more pleasant to use and gives me some exercise?
10. Would I rather have a large variety of appliances that make various tasks easier and faster … or would I rather have a smaller kitchen with less cluttered cabinets and save time and hassle finding what I need?
11. Would I rather have a large, expensive house with high heating, cleaning and repair costs … or a house in a prime location with just enough room for the family to live closely and with less stuff?
12. Would I rather have three kids and spend more quality time with each … or would I rather have four kids and bring another life into our family and the world?
13. Would I rather make sure my kids go to several sports, clubs, or classes each week … or would I rather let my kids figure out how to overcome boredom on their own at home?
14. Would I rather clean up the food my kids spill under the table and move on to the next thing more quickly … or would I rather teach them how to clean up after themselves by taking away their food and waiting for them to clean it up before their next meal?
15. Would I rather drive my kids to the library … or would I rather walk them there?
16. Would I rather let my kids have three hours of screen time per day … or would I rather sit with them in the living room while they play and I read a book, not allowing them to interrupt me unnecessarily?
17. Would I rather buy a new fire truck for my child … or give him a box of recycled materials and help him make one?
18. Would I rather pick up all of the toys one by one when I need to clean the floor … or sweep them all into the corner with a push broom?
19. Would I rather spend an hour a week driving to and from a playdate that I don’t particularly enjoy … or would I rather find an activity for my kids that is within walking distance?
20. Would I rather pack the kids up in the car and take them to the park every day … or would I rather sit in the backyard for an hour to encourage them to join me?
21. Would I rather commit to doing a favor that doesn’t feel good to me … or would I rather take the opportunity to practice saying no?
22. Would I rather buy the new furniture that we supposedly need … or would I rather let the kids continue to destroy the old stuff and wait to get new stuff when they’re older?
23. Would I rather leave my cell phone in the bedroom till evening and miss a few messages … or would I rather be tempted to check my messages or to-do list several times per hour during family no-screen time?
24. Would I rather prepare all my kids’ food every day and prevent messes and wasted food … or would I rather teach them how to open the fridge, get a cup, pour the milk and put it away, then help them clean up the mess later?
25. Would I rather continue to change poopy diapers every day … or deal with potty misses a few times a week?
26. Would I rather help my kids resolve their every argument … or would I rather help them only when they ask me to and they are choosing to use their words?
27. Would I rather keep the family on a strict bedtime schedule and hectic morning routine in order to get them to school … or would I rather homeschool them and keep the schedule we choose?
28. Would I rather make my young kids do homework every night at the expense of family and free time … or would I rather let their grades slip a bit and let them play more?
29. Would I rather keep everything in my garage that I may need someday … or would I rather risk having to rebuy an item–either a new one or a just as good or better used one off Craigslist–in a few years?
30. Would I rather stand underneath my children on the monkey bars every time … or would I rather relax on the bench and let them fall once in a while?
These are just some of the ways I have rethought my cultural upbringing in the years since having children. Just an off-the-top list; I’m probably missing some big ones. The important thing isn’t how I answer these questions, of course. The important thing is that I ask them.
Recently I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In it he talked about one of his early memories of another yogi who couldn’t stand working anymore, so he quit and just meditated all day long from then on.
Damn, I thought when I read that. I still love working.
I have a long way to go.
Turns out I’m not a yogi yet. And let’s face it: I probably never will be. In spite of many past efforts–most of them enjoyable, even–sitting meditation just isn’t my thing. Working is. Doing is. Moving my body, getting stuff done. I know it’s not what spiritual people are supposed to say, but … I think I was meant to be a doer.
I think it’s my calling to be non-Zen.
And when I look hard enough, I find a little bit of encouragement for this seeming flaw. In Anita Moorjani’s Dying To Be Me, she makes an impassioned plea for people to find God in doing things they love–mundane things, sensual things, unusual things. Whatever makes you happy. And in several of Eckhart Tolle’s audio recordings he discusses this idea, too, saying that it’s actually better to live life and bring stillness to the living of it rather than becoming a monk somewhere. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to grow, he says. No need to seek a special kind of pain by sitting uncomfortably on an ashram floor. Unless you really want to, that is.
Finally, in In The Presence of A Great Mystery, another audio recording of Tolle’s, he makes another interesting statement. During the question and answer session a man asked him how to not fall asleep during meditation. First, Tolle answered that this is normal, that he’s seen many a monk sleeping during their 4 a.m. meditation session. But then he adds that what’s important in forming a meditation practice isn’t how long you stay in the state of no-mind, but how often you return. In other words, it’s better to hold short meditation “sessions” all throughout your day. “Even ten seconds is enough,” Tolle says.
Ten seconds, I thought. I can do that.
And so, that is what I am doing these days, and it seems to be working really well. My technique is this: I focus on the “inner energy” of my body, as Eckhart Tolle says to do. Then I repeat a positive mantra that feels good to me. As someone who has struggled with negative thinking patterns for a long time, I believe that this act is rewiring my brain to be more positive. In any case, as I meditate I feel calmer and happier by far, and I truly look forward to doing it whenever possible.
Sitting meditation is awesome, but it’s not for everyone–not for all times and seasons of life, at least. Working meditation, moving meditation–these are what I’m enjoying most these days, and what’s helping me the most, too.
The story of my depression starts way back in time, back to some of my first childhood memories. Since then I’ve made a great deal of progress–more than I once thought possible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have it.
Daily, there’s a routine: Get some exercise, some alone time. Take time to read and write and be with friends. Meditate as much as possible all throughout the day, and never, ever forget to be grateful.
Sleep well, and a lot. Eat healthy. Take medication. Stay busy. Get outside if you can. Take vitamin D, a multivitamin, a cold shower. Then get some more exercise, and meditate again.
Most of the time, this works. It’s work, but it works. So I continue on, and make slow progress. But recently I discovered a technique that is speeding up my results: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Here’s the Wikipedia definition of CBT:
• “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders.”
And here are quotes from several articles about CBT:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression … Cognitive restructuring refers to the process in CBT of identifying and changing inaccurate negative thoughts that contribute to the development of depression. This is done collaboratively between the patient and therapist, often in the form of a dialogue. For instance, a college student may have failed a math quiz and responded by saying, “That just proves I’m stupid.” … The “I’m stupid” response is an example of an automatic thought … The idea in CBT is to learn to recognize those negative thoughts and find a healthier way to view the situation. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-for-depression#1
• Dozens of randomized controlled trials (RCT) and other studies support CBT’s efficacy in treating major depressive disorder (MDD). http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/82695/anxiety-disorders/using-cbt-effectively-treating-depression-and
• A successful response to CBT in the acute phase may have a protective effect against depression recurrences. A 2013 meta-analysis that totaled 506 individuals with depressive disorders found a trend toward significantly lower relapse rates when CBT was discontinued after acute therapy, compared with antidepressant therapy that continued beyond the acute phase. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/
• The researchers found that patients with higher levels of connectivity between four brain regions involved in mood regulation were likely to achieve remission with CBT but have a poor response to medication, whereas those with weaker connectivity were more likely to remit using medication and not respond to CBT. http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/research-briefing/brain-scans-could-match-patients-to-best-depression-treatment/20202624.article
Here a few particularly difficult thoughts CBT has helped me overcome. Keep in mind that these are just some of the beliefs, not all, that have altered over the past few months using these processes.
My kids require too much attention. After doing CBT, this thought became: My kids require just the right amount of attention for them. And I require a lot of attention, too! Also, much of the day I’m doing other things–cooking, cleaning, hanging out with friends–things I’d do whether or not the kid were present.
I am sick of breastfeeding. This changed to: I am not sick of breastfeeding. It’s good for the kids. It’s nice downtime for me–I often get to read at the same time. Plus, it helped me lose my extra baby weight.
I am exhausted. This thought became: I’m not exhausted. I am not depleted of energy. There is a great deal of energy in my body for everything my body needs to do. I am thankful that my body notices when it’s time to sleep, and lets me know.
It’s an interesting process, this thought-altering work. Sometimes I can feel the change in my perspective right away. Other times, though, I only notice the change later, when the situation comes up again.
Every time I do it, part of me doubts it will work. Most of the time I’m surprised.
Early last year, I took a break from self-improvement for a while. I stopped trying to meditate. I stopped exercising.
I was just sick of it all.
Wellness practices are wonderful, when they’re wonderful. Other times they just feel like one more obligation. And then I got pregnant, and was sick for three months, and my only unnecessary activity was watching TV reruns. I took care of my family. I ate and slept. But I didn’t do a whole lot else.
Needless to say, this convergence of events brought on a depression relapse. Then November came. My first trimester sickness was over, and I was ready to take up my self-improvement efforts again. So I did something I’d never done before.
I started seeing a therapist.
When I called to make the appointment, the woman asked if I was suicidal. At first I didn’t answer; I just started crying. “No,” I told her. “I don’t want to kill myself. I just don’t really want to live.”
Apparently, that’s what three months without exercise or prayer will do to me.
My first appointment was in December, and I left it feeling quite hopeful. Julie told me that depression may be a temperament, a chemical imbalance, something that’s considered permanent. But many therapists believe that it’s not that simple, that there are other factors, too.
“So long-term relief is possible?” I asked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“It is possible,” she said. “A better question, though, is: Is it possible for you?”
She couldn’t tell me for sure if she’d be able to help me feel significantly better for a significant amount of time. “What I can say is that the things we’ll talk about have helped a huge number of other people in your place.”
“So what’s the plan?” I asked. “In a nutshell, what’s the strategy? Do you have some techniques in mind?” Partly, I was curious. Partly, I needed hope. And partly, I was doing a mental calculation, a cost-benefit analysis. With two kids at home, even insurance-covered therapy is a luxury.
Julie laid it out: We’d delve deep into my emotions. We’d analyze incidents that brought up feelings I’d rather not have. In doing so, I’d learn how to face them rather than stuffing them down. I’d also learn to be vulnerable.
“Studies consistently show that the happiest people are those that don’t push down their emotions,” she told me. “Letting yourself feel is the first step.”
And immediately upon hearing this, I knew she was right.
Here’s the thing: Her plan wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Nothing new or revolutionary. But for some reason, until that day, I’d never followed the advice. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid to feel bad. I just didn’t think it’d work. In the past, every time I’d decided to look at my pain, it just seemed to grow bigger.
So, I ignored them—at least as much as I possibly could. And then I tried to fix them, find a solution. But feelings, said Julie, don’t need to be fixed. They just needed to be felt.
A bell rang. A Buddhist bell. An Eckhart Tolle/New Age spirituality bell. All that “just notice the thoughts–don’t judge them” stuff kicked in, and I thought, Maybe the Universe is telling me something. So, soon after reading the books by Brene Brown that Julie recommended, I decided to delve into spiritual books again. I bought Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That. And I read Pema Chodron for the first time. These books were all about accepting where you’re at–even when you’re in a bad-feeling place.
I was ready to be well again.
Over the next few months, I resumed my meditation practice, along with my exercise routine. I went to therapy a few more times, too, and that helped more than I thought it would. I can’t say for sure which of these activities was the most significant part of my recovery, though I suspect it was the walking. But the spiritual practice I started with during that sensitive time helped a lot, too, and I still do it now sometimes.
I called it my “I hate this” meditation, and I came up with it one day at the gym.
I’d come there to exercise, of course, as well as do some writing, but I was feeling exhausted and just … bad. So instead of doing either, I sat on a comfortable chair and decided to rest for a moment.
I know what I’ll do, I thought after criss-crossing my legs and taking a few deep breaths. I’ll practice this vulnerability thing. I will think about my emotions. Feel them fully. Stop fighting my negative inner dialogue, and judging it.
I will let my bad feelings run free.
And so, that’s what I did. And not half-heartedly. If I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it right. I started a mental checklist of everything—every little thing—that I was hating in that moment. Anything that came up, I put it on the list.
The list got very long, very quickly.
I hated the gym. I hated cleaning the bathroom. I hated getting my kids ready in the morning. I hated the weather, and the way my pregnant belly felt.
I even hated my own pants.
Then something happened. Something I didn’t expect. The depression began to lift. The thoughts lost a bit of their power, their ability to produce fear. You might even say that by letting them run free, they ran away.
After all, I was facing them, and they weren’t that bad. They were just thoughts, you know? Most of them were unreasonable, many untrue. Some of them were even sort of silly. Suddenly I understood what some people call “the space between”–there was space between myself and my thoughts, like a cushion.
Half an hour into this negativity meditation, I moved past the initial lift and into an actual high. Or, not a high exactly—the depression was still there. But alongside it, coexisting with it, was some peace.
For the next two months, I continued my “I hate this” meditation until I didn’t seem to need it anymore. Soon after that, I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and that took me another step forward–but that’s another story.
“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.” ― Stewart O’Nan, The Odds: A Love Story
In the journey with and through depression, there are many, many turning points. It’s a spiral: You circle, and circle, and circle, but each turn is actually a move upward as well as back.
One of the turning points that I experienced recently regarding my depression was when I decided to appreciate the experience. Here’s how that happened.
One of the most difficult life situations I’ve found myself was my third pregnancy trimester with my third child. I was exhausted and very moody, and then I decided to take on an extra challenge: potty training.
Both kids needed help with this. Okay, not just help–total teaching. And even before beginning I knew how hard it would be. I knew that this was the time that I’d need to dig deep, really deep, so I could grow from the experience rather than just getting through it. My plan: I would appreciate my hardships.
I had just read Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That and I was determined to put his advice to the test. In the book he says that the most profound spiritual practice for him is to meet every situation that comes with one thought: I love this.
So I did. I remember one night in particular after an especially rough day that all I could do was sit out on the front porch, knees to chin, and cry. Well–that wasn’t quite all I did. I also reflected deeply on how much change I could feel happening inside. It felt like a wrenching, but also real change. Real growth. Growth that would not have come without a challenge like this.
At the end of that first week of potty training, I wrote the following journal entry:
Saturday: I am learning so, so much. Not knowledge-learning—really learning. Practicing. Changing my mind. Changing my habitual knee-jerk reactions. More specifically what I’m learning is:
How not to try to fix things all the time.
How to achieve inner peace in spite of turmoil and stress, and in the midst of it.
How not to try to fix things as my first impulse, but to first sit with the feeling, then fix it.
To truly love what is—meaning, to truly accept that my life will never be perfect and is not meant to be perfect, in spite of what some overzealous proponents of the law of attraction would have me believe. It’s not all about changing, fixing, getting, improving. It’s really all about acceptance.
Here is a summary of the past week and a half: poop on kitchen floor, playroom floor, office floor, friend’s floor, and in the bathtub; pee reminders/power struggles every 45 minutes for two kids; pee on every floor; pee in the bed; pee refusal temper tantrums two or three times per day; carpet cleaning; toilet misses; and a stinky bathroom for a week … learning how to say no more often; learning to be stricter and allow and ignore temper tantrums; and learning how to be more consistent with consequences.
What’s strange is that in spite of this, and in contrast to the depression I’ve been feeling so strongly lately, right now I’m happy. All week as the challenges came I took them one by one, and while doing so repeated a mantra in my head: This is the good stuff.
For the first time in my life, maybe, I’m really knowing the value of pain. Really loving the process even though it feels so unlovely at times. I’m realizing that I can be happy, even about my sadness. I am finally achieving inner peace.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. …Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Let’s face it. Alternative spirituality books are written for one reason and one reason only: to make us feel good. It’s not about self-improvement. It’s not about making the world a better place. We just want to crack the code for inner peace.
Fortunately for us, lots of them deliver. Not always as completely as promised, but let’s not be too picky. Most of us have a healthy number of issues to figure out. It’s a bit much for any one teacher to deal with.
Which is why many of us spiritual types read every good book on the subject we can find. Some give us practical techniques. Some shake up our entire perspective. Others simply offer a bit of hope.
And still others do none of the above.
In the following pieces, I offer my Inner Peace Greatest Hits–the spiritual-but-not-religious books that over the years have helped me become a happier, more fulfilled person. Each top-level entry links to a full article on the book that includes a personal anecdote and notes on the book.
Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Subscribe on the right for updates.
Self-improvement tips for the self-help obsessed: that’s pretty much what you’ll find here. Some are spiritual, some are secular, some are well-known and some are a bit kooky … but, in my experience, all of them work. At least, they work to some degree. (Even the kooky ones.)
78 Alternative Spirituality Life Hacks
The Spiritual Stuff:
Get a mantra–or two or three
Know the power of your mind
Know that you are strong, beautiful and holy
Don’t define your morality too strictly
Don’t put God in a box
Believe that you can
Read spiritual books
The Shallow Stuff:
Have nice friends
Buy new clothes
Get a (healthy) addiction
Play video games
Cut Your hair
Figure out what you want
Get what you want
Get a job
Get some money
Live somewhere you love to be
Travel, even if you don’t want to
Shop for friends
Get a hobby–or two or three
Sometimes, just take a long bath or shower
The Serious Stuff:
Pretend you’re already the best version of you
Don’t try to be funnier, cuter, happier or smarter than you are
Don’t believe all your thoughts
Understand human nature
Read books on psychology
Let yourself feel your feelings deeply
Cultivate a romance with yourself
Reconsider what you really need
Always get some perspective
Always tell yourself the truth
Find out who you are and do it on purpose
Be a real grownup
Get things done
Stop the little sadness before it gets too big
Sometimes, just give yourself a break
Read amazing, paradigm-shifting nonfiction
Throw out the blueprint
Don’t be too busy, but don’t get bored
Screw variety; do what works
Know when to try and when to just let things happen
Know that life is a game and play it on purpose
Be as intellectually flexible as you can be
Try, and try, and then try some more
Don’t expect too much of other people
Be passionate about a few wonderful things, and don’t hide your passion
Don’t assume anything about anyone, ever
Don’t hate optimists
Let people go that are gone
Beware of middle age and complacency
Make lofty goals
Keep a monthly checklist and put everything you need to do there, all in one spot
Find the beauty in your seeming flaws
Find the better-feeling interpretation in every situation
Find “flow”–at work and everywhere else you can
Notice your negativity
Don’t play the guilt trip game, especially on yourself
Do something nice for others at least once a week
Always do what you’re afraid to do
Don’t try to stand out for its own sake
Learn to love your own mistakes and to admit when you’re wrong
Contributor: Guy Hoffman. Guy is a full-time Florida-based artist and the founder of OmArtist.com, a blog dedicated to showcasing people who are creative with a purpose. Guy is an energy artist who creates figurative and abstract art with healing energy infused in each piece as he creates them. You can see Guy’s work on Instagram by following @creative365 as well as visiting GuyHoffmanArt.com.
My depression existed long before I recognized it. Here’s the short version of how it came to be.
First came my divorce in 2009. Shortly after that, in 2010, I became the caretaker for my mom who had a number of health issues. In 2013, about the third year into caring for my mom, I realized that something in me had changed. There were many times I felt that I was constantly moody, impatient and resentful, especially towards people in my family for not helping me with the care of my mom. I was sad, I felt alone and the things I loved doing (art, meditation, gardening, etc.) were dropping away quickly. I think that was the beginning for me but I hadn’t recognized it yet. In my head I just didn’t have time for anything else and when I did I was too exhausted to care. This would continue to get worse until 2016.
What happened next was my biggest fear come true. In December 2015 my mom was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. We were devastated. It was a week before Christmas and we carried on with our family traditions for the holiday, trying to make the best of the situation, but the reality was a lot to take for my mom and quite frankly for me, too. I watched her decline very quickly and the medical system had me so disappointed and so discouraged.
Cancer didn’t end up taking my mom from us. On January 22, 2016, she had massive stroke. She never regained consciousness and passed away the next day.
It wasn’t but a few days afterward that I fell into a darkness. Once all the medical equipment was removed and the house was quiet again, I was lost. I had been a caregiver for so long and now I was free of that responsibility. It was a blessing and curse.
I felt the initial relief of no longer having such an emotional and time-consuming care regimen but in the emotional mix, too, was the need to get used to all this time and quietness. A week later a friend asked me if I was okay. He said, “You haven’t been yourself for a long time. You haven’t created, written or photographed any work in so long and now you’re so sad, man. You need to get back to creating. You need to find your passion again and start healing.” Of course, he offered me any help I might need.
At first I didn’t listen to this advice. I was wallowing in my sadness. My dad had passed in 2010. I had this alone feeling that I can’t explain. My parents, the people who created me, were gone. My work at my job suffered. My physical health was declining.
In March 2016, six weeks after my mother’s passing, I decided to take a much-needed vacation from work. It was during that vacation that I connected with something in me that began the healing process. I felt like I needed to try to get back to some old practices and if I couldn’t make a change on my own I would need to get help.
I began to research natural and holistic practices that might help my depression. I improved my diet. I looked to nature for some help. There was some improvement. If I had to identify a turning point it would be sitting on a hill over looking a farm on a rainy day. I had been hiking and stopped to rest. I had been writing in a journal and I took it out and placed under my jacket to keep it dry while I thought about my next entry. Then, for whatever reason, I began to speak out loud. This speaking became an emotional conversation with my mom. I cried, then cried some more. This was the start of my healing. I could clearly identify how I was not living authentically. I knew what toxic things needed to be removed from my life in order to get healthy.
My recovery plan was to return to living in the moment. Mindful practices were the way forward for me. I resumed many of the practices that I had abandoned while being a caregiver. Along with exercising and eating right, I started meditating again. On a bad day I might meditate many times throughout the day.
Four months later I quit my high-paying but highly stressful job and returned to my creative practices. This is something that I am so grateful for. Art heals the mind, body and soul. I’m a testament to that.
For me, creativity plays a role in keeping me balanced. That depression I left behind still lives in me. If I deprive myself of creativity, I can feel it creeping back in. When my depression was at its worst, I was lucky
enough to realize that creativity would, at the very least, help me feel better in the moment. Then, when I returned to my creative practices I felt alive again. Without it I felt as though I had been missing this thing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I began to create again.
Today, my daily creative time is spent around drawing, painting, photography, writing poetry and many other creative practices that speak to me. I’m an explorer of creativity. For me there is a spiritual element to
being creative. There is a meditative quality to it that brings me joy. What better way to balance the darkness of life, than with the light of joy! What better way to live in the moment than to be fully engaged in the “thing” you are creating. I have used my art to express the nagging stuck emotions as well as the surprises of this beautiful life. In both cases I feel the benefits of creativity.
No one’s life is perfect, so whether I use my creativity to release darkness to allow my light to shine or just to express how grateful I am to be living a life that is authentic to me, either way I am left with this feeling of being grounded or balanced. For me that is what pulled me out of my depression. That is what continues to teach me how to balance all of the emotions, feelings, expectations and disappointments that I experience in
I think every human has the innate ability to create. Even those who say or think “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. People often want to narrow creativity to just drawing or painting but it has many forms. Everyone can find a creative endeavor to dedicate time to, such as cooking, decorating, art, music, photography, writing, crafting, coloring, gardening and on and on! There are so many ways to be creative, we simply need only try a few to see what we connect to or what makes our heart sing. That is the true power of creativity. It teaches us patience, acceptance, concentration, and it keeps us fully in the moment, to name but a few benefits. The lessons are endless but so is the feeling of joy once you find which creative practice really makes you feel alive. What makes me feel alive is to explore all things creative!
My healing began in March 2016 and continues today. I am aware enough now to know the difference between healthy thoughts and thoughts that can damage my healing. I know in my heart that the practices I do daily have everything to do with living healthy and depression-free but more importantly I know that the practices and the creativity are the way I live authentically. As long as I live in this authentic way I feel healthy and strong to take on any of life’s challenges as they come.
“Man will begin to recover the moment he takes art as seriously as physics, chemistry or money.” ~ Ernst Levy
There’s a fun spirituality book called Zero Limits by one of the speakers featured in the movie The Secret. It’s by law of attraction writer (and super nice guy–he once called my friend to tell her he liked her book) Joe Vitale. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
The book is autobiographical–more a memoir than a traditional self-help. I love a good memoir, and it’s an entertaining read. But even better, it’s practical; it gives an in-depth explanation of a New Age/New Thought-type process for altering your state of mind and your beliefs (and maybe your reality, too). I’ll get into that in a second, but first, a brief assessment for those of you who already know the book.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Yes. As a technique to deal with depression, Zero Limits can be awesome. I’ve tried it with some decent results. But be warned: the process is very similar to just saying mantras, and personally I’m not convinced these mantras are particularly special.
Have you tried it? For how long?
Yes. Not for long, though. Just a few days.
What were your results?
The first time I read Zero Limits, I was super excited. I wrote about this already, in You’re Getting Closer. That first night, I said the phrase over and over, and as I did so, my mood lifted and my head cleared. I entered into the state of meditation and stayed there.
The next day, however, the effect lessened considerably, even though I continued the practice. I decided that my belief in the technique, rather than the technique itself, had been responsible for my results. Since then, I’ve used the method just a few times, and never with the same commitment.
Personally–and this is just my opinion–I’d be more inclined to use the Zero Limits method on a specific situation or physical need, rather than as a way to heal depression. When I repeat a mantra in order to break out of a bad mood, I often end up more frustrated than when I started.
Is this spiritual practice enjoyable, though? Is it easy?
Yes and yes.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
Though there are other aspects to the technique, the main activity is repeating four lovely statements as often as possible–continuously?–throughout the day. They are:
Please forgive me.
I love you.
I won’t go into the philosophy behind the choice of statements here; for that, you can read the book. (And I recommend that you do.) The basic idea is that the statements have a cleansing power and can help you resolve any undesirable situation–like depression. By using them and visualizing a cleansing action (such as an eraser erasing a chalkboard), you rid the program from your mind that created it or brought it into your experience.
What’s the up-side?
Like I said, it is enjoyable. And it’s easy. And if you stick with it, you’ll likely see results. I happen to prefer other practices, that’s all.
What’s the down-side?
The book claims that the method is a version of an old Hawaiian healing tradition called Ho’pononpono. However, it’s significantly different from that tradition–a spinoff created by a kahuna named Morna. I’m sure Morna is or was inspired and wonderful. But I would’ve preferred she give her method a different name from the original.
The legend of the book and part of what makes it so popular is that Hew Len, the co-author of the book and of the method, emptied a mental ward of patients by using this method–nothing else.
What’s the bottom line here?
My super scientific, soon-to-be-patented depression effectiveness rating for the Zero Limits method: 5 on a scale of 1-10.
Where can I find out more?
You can read my book summaries and takeaways here:
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve always hated the idea of mindfulness. Here I am, all spiritual and New Agey and stuff, and I’ve never even initiated a conversation about it. Ridiculous, right? Here’s my excuse.
Until very recently, I knew nothing about this spiritual practice. It was just a vague term, and not an especially pleasing one at that. Whereas for some, the idea of mindfulness inspires a sort of beatific glow, for me, it was just another entry on the never-ending to do list of life. Just learning more about it seemed exhausting. Then I actually did learn more–and abruptly changed my perspective.
Right now, as research for this site, I’m reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin for the first time. Now a modern classic, this gives one of the more detailed, systematic (even medical) approaches to mindfulness meditation. It’s based on the successful hospital classes led by Kabat-Zin many years ago, with more recent additions in the revised version I’m reading. I’m also reading several books by Thich Nhat Hanh right now, and listening to an Eckhart Tolle audiobook. I didn’t think of Tolle as a mindfulness meditation teacher, but I’m seeing now that he is (though he might not appreciate the label).
Previously, I viewed mindfulness as a sort of bland, unoriginal approach to spirituality. I mean, it’s just so popular, right? Even non-spiritual people are doing it. After doing the above reading, though, I changed my mind.
Mindfulness, it turns out, isn’t what I thought it was.
I thought mindfulness was: Enjoying life.
Mindfulness is: Being aware of and accepting whatever thoughts come, whether or not they’re thoughts of enjoyment and appreciation.
I thought mindfulness was: Thinking pleasant thoughts about the ordinary things you see around you as you go throughout your day.
Mindfulness is: Feeling your “inner body,” as Tolle calls it–bringing your attention to the energy within you throughout the day.
I thought mindfulness was: Eating more slowly. Listening more carefully.
Mindfulness is: Being who you are. Doing what comes naturally to you when you’re acting from your highest self.
I thought mindfulness was: Not future-thinking. Not past-thinking.
Mindfulness is: Using your mind in the ways that it serves you. That includes some future- and past-thinking.
I thought mindfulness was: Being in a state of deep acceptance of what is.
Mindfulness is: Being in the state of meditation. Even when you’re not totally able to accept what is.
I thought mindfulness was: A politically correct alternative to more advanced ways of meditating.
Mindfulness is: As advanced as I ever need to be.
In other words: Before, mindfulness seemed to me both overly simplistic as well as impossible to achieve. Now, it seems to be exactly what I already do every day: meditating, appreciating, loving. Rinse, repeat.
I still don’t love the word mindfulness for some reason. At this point, the
guilt-producing mental associations still sully it. But I do like mindfulness itself.
Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Yes. For sure. Probably for everyone.
Have you tried it? For how long?
Possibly the main takeaway I got from my recent reading is that I’ve actually been practicing mindfulness meditation for at least four years now. I don’t do many long sitting meditations these days, but my main spiritual practice is to enter into a state of meditation–just a behind-the-scenes sort of sensing of the Divine–in the morning and to hold that place throughout the day. I certainly don’t always succeed in this (read You’re Getting Closer to see what I mean). But when I fail, I return. It’s my most consistent spiritual habit, and as it turns out, it’s nothing special–just what everyone is talking about: mindfulness.
What were your results when using mindfulness for depression?
At times, total transformation of my mood, immediately. Other times, frustration due to just not feeling it.
Is it easy?
For me, yes and no. It does take work, especially for the first several years of practice. It’s a tough habit to create and keep.
How long does the effect last? Does it keep working or does the effect taper off after a few weeks or months?
The mood effect does not taper off at all for me if I practice consistently throughout the day, week or month. And after a break–even a long one–I can pick up right where I left off.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
The answer to this question is different for everyone; there are so very many ways to be mindful.
For some, mindfulness is simply noticing what is and thinking thoughts of appreciation. For others, it is noticing unhelpful thoughts and letting them pass, turning their attention to their present surroundings instead. Right now, for me, my main mindfulness practice is to say a mantra many times throughout the day, as follows: I am sensing my inner body. I’m doing what feels deeply right. This reminds me to come back to myself, then check in with my intuition when making any kind of decision. It works wonderfully for me.
I also say, Thank you, God, and There is time for that, too. (This last because of my Type A accomplishment obsession.) And since I’m not so great at just thinking about trees or children’s smiles or whatever, I think thoughts of appreciation about these things. In other words, instead of saying to myself, Here are the trees. They are green and beautiful, I might say something like, I so appreciate these trees. I am so lucky to live here.
Does that make sense? For me, this subtle difference is huge.
Is this practice scientifically backed?
Yes. There are many books on the benefits of meditation in general, but mindfulness meditation is particularly well-researched. It is used outside spiritual circles–in hospitals, therapy practices and much more.
What’s the downside?
None that I can think of, except that it may take years and years of practice for it to feel natural and easy. At least, it did for me. And I definitely still struggle.
Contributor: Ingrid Vasquez. Ingrid is a freelance writer based out of Texas. She has contributed to Fox News and Cosmopolitan.com. I interviewed her over email after seeing one of her articles online about depression. You can start a conversation with her, too, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at @byingridvasquez on Twitter.
Mollie: How did your depression begin?
Ingrid: In high school I was a happy student. I wasn’t the popular kid, but I had a tight group of friends who I could depend on for anything. My life at home, though, wasn’t the best.
From a young age my parents never had the greatest relationship. It was a “stay together for the kids” type of thing. Also, we had money problems. I have memories of being told I was going to have to eat everything at school because we might not have enough money for food at home, but at the time it felt normal. In a way I’m blessed to say I was never truly made aware of everything we were going through because my parents would figure it out for my two siblings and me one way or another. I guess you could call this being sheltered.
But because of this, moving away from home was terrifying. It wasn’t that I missed home (as my family believed). I just couldn’t adapt to change and the things that were supposed to be so natural to me weren’t. I started to become afraid to talk to people.
I began my first semester of school just going through the motions. I wasn’t comfortable enough to leave my dorm room. I managed to go to all my classes but I couldn’t study. I went from being an A and B kid to being put on academic probation.
What truly became the breaking point was when I began feeling like everyone around me was looking at me all the time. I felt like each person that walked by me as I was walking to class was talking about me. Even if I sat in the back of the room I felt like people were somehow talking about me.
I stayed in contact with my friends from back home but depended on the workers in the school cafeteria to be my “social contact of the day” because they were literally the only person I would talk to. I don’t have many memories of speaking with my professors.
Mollie: How did this finally start to turn around?
Ingrid: Eventually, I decided to start therapy. I’m not sure what finally made me seek it out. I think at one point I was just walking by the building and decided to go in. However, once I began, I got very attached to it. I hated that it was only once a week because in my eyes, these were the only people who I could speak with and who wouldn’t judge me.
I got clinically diagnosed and was advised to take pills but decided on a different approach. Each week I attended my individual therapy session, two group sessions, and a yoga and meditation session.
The moment I felt a switch was one day late in my first semester when I was walking to my dorm listening to Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up”. Somehow, listening to those lyrics and someone literally saying “keep your head up” made me feel like someone had pulled a switch in my mind. I had a sort of out-of-body experience where I said, “What am I doing?”
After that, I continued going to therapy for two more years. I got steadily healthier. I started making friends, which helped, too.
Mollie: Are you still depressed?
Ingrid: While today I can tell you that I am not depressed, I like to refer to depression as a disease sort of like alcoholism. You’re going to have your relapses and boy have I had mine. But I can talk to people now, even though I’m still incredibly reserved.
I am in recovery.
Mollie: Is spiritual practice part of your recovery?
Ingrid: Yes. I still meditate twice a day for twenty minutes each time, as I did during my college years. From time to time I use incense cones during my meditation sessions, too. I’m also experimenting with healing stones.
Mollie: How do you feel during your meditation sessions?
Ingrid: It might be odd to say, but I feel out-of-body. I’m able to let go of everything else and just concentrate on me.
Mollie: How important is it to your mental health to keep up this practice?
Ingrid: People often say “go pamper yourself” and see that as a trip to the spa or going on a shopping spree. Those things are nice and can make any person happy, but meditation is a form of pampering yourself that is not only affordable, but truly your own thing.
Mollie: What do you recommend other people who are suffering with depression or anxiety do first? What is the number one thing that they can do for themselves, if they only feel able to do one thing?
Ingrid: I believe it starts off with therapy. I knew nothing about meditation, yoga, expressing my emotions, or anything else that could help without going to a source that didn’t necessarily have the answers, but could lead me in that direction. It is with that process that you’ll find your best form of medicine.
I understand therapy is such a tricky and scary thing for some people and don’t want to necessarily say that nothing else can be done without trying it, but I do feel strongly about its importance.
As I’ve mentioned before, online lists of spirituality ebooks are often pretty hard to navigate successfully. It’s a hunt-and-peck operation; the few great books that are free are often hidden under figurative mounds of overly difficult or overly simplistic material. For that reason, I created a list called Best Free Spiritual Ebooks. That said, there are likely quite a few more that I could add to this list, if I took the time to look through what’s available.
If you feel inclined to take on the project, here are a few places to start.
100 Free Alternative Spirituality Ebooks Websites:
Thanks to a hunch and a great title, I purchased Sex, Drugs and Meditation on Amazon–and liked it even more than I expected I would. So I wrote the author, Mary-Lou Stephens, to ask if I could interview her for this site and for an upcoming book of mine. She kindly agreed. (And she was even willing to challenge my beliefs below, which I loved!)
Mollie: Right now I’m working on a book about examining and questioning deeply-held beliefs. The top spiritual beliefs I’ve found within myself so far, which are explained further in the book, are: spirituality is good; life is a game; there are no rules; people are holy; absolutes are fine, but certainty is not; happiness is the truth; God is simply reality–nothing more; and acceptance is “where it’s at.” What do you think? Agree or no?
1. Spirituality is good.
To quote Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I don’t think spiritual people are better than non-spiritual people or vice versa. Many people live good, happy and useful lives without any sense of spirituality.
2. Life is a game.
Life is what it is. It’s what we make of it. We get to chose what it is through how we think about it. The word “game” to me is too loaded with meaning. It’s possible to cheat when playing a game, and there are winners and losers. Also, to me, a game is too impersonal, too superficial. Life is an ever-unfolding wonder. Sometimes games are involved. I love playing Scrabble, but life as a game? No, that doesn’t resonate for me.
3. There are no rules.
I believe in boundaries, good healthy demarcations, but are these rules? No. I believe in working out what makes life better for me and those around me and living within that paradigm. As I mentioned before, when I was growing up in a Christian household I thought I had to obey all the rules to be worthy of love, and there were a lot of rules. I didn’t feel loved, no matter what I did. In 12-step programs I discovered that working the steps made my life a whole lot better so I was happy to keep working them again and again. Working those steps made my life work. With meditation I have found that life flows a lot easier. I don’t work the steps anymore. I have no schedule of spirituality I have to adhere to. I just live.
4. People are holy.
I do believe that God is in everyone. We are all part of the One. But once again, “holy” is a loaded word so I’m going to disagree with this one, too!
5. Absolutes are fine. Certainty is not.
There are no certainties, no absolutes. Everything changes, all the time. It’s the nature of the Universe.
6. We have power.
Yes, we have power. We have the power of choice. We can choose what we say, how we respond, how we spend our time, how we treat others. This is power.
7. Happiness is the truth.
Totally disagree with this one. Happiness is a fleeting feeling. The truth is everlasting.
8. God is reality—nothing more.
God is a paradox, everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, immeasurable and infinite. God may not even exist. But there is a strong sense within me that s/he does.
9. Acceptance. It’s where it’s at.
Yep! I love acceptance. it gives me so much more space and time to do the things I love to do. I’ve stopped fighting. It was all useless anyway. In the end, even the victories I had mean nothing. Acceptance brings me joy.
Mollie: Do you practice acceptance of what is in a conscious way with the goal of greater inner peace?
Mary-Lou: I practice acceptance every day. It gets easier as I get older, or perhaps I’ve just had more practice. I don’t practice acceptance with any goal in mind. I practice it because it’s easier than any alternative I’ve found … and I’ve tried quite a few. Ranting and railing, pushing the river, complaining, playing the victim, playing the star, being a martyr … none of these proved very successful. Acceptance is a much more peaceful way to be. It’s not a goal, it just is.
Mollie: When and how did you begin this practice? How has it affected your life?
Mary-Lou: I first learned about acceptance in 12-step programs. The Serenity Prayer was a revelation to me. I always thought it was my job to change other people, places and things. When I discovered the only thing I could change was myself I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from me. I didn’t have to be responsible for all that stuff I thought I was responsible for; in fact, I couldn’t be responsible for it and didn’t have any business trying to be. I just let it all go. This gave me incredible freedom. As my meditation practice grew and became stronger so did my ability to be a witness to what was going on around me without having to buy into it. Being able to witness my own thoughts was an amazing breakthrough. I am not my thoughts … which is just as well because they’re crazy!
Mollie: Can you offer any advice to people who would like to learn how to be more accepting of hardship and to use it to their benefit?
Mary-Lou: Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame your karma. Things just happen. Most times it has nothing to do with you. It’s horrible and it’s hard but it’s not personal. God, the Universe or karma are not out to get you. Learn the lesson and move on. Also, don’t expect to get over hurts or grief quickly. You won’t. And some things will be with you for the rest of your life. Once I learnt to accept that, I was a lot more peaceful. I used to think I had to rise above the bad, forgive everything and everyone, not have any negative thoughts, blah, blah, blah. Now I know I’m not perfect and I don’t expect to be. Some feelings stick with us for a reason–as a warning or as a blessing. Many situations I’ve been through have helped me to relate to others better. They’ve also been beneficial when offering a shoulder or an ear.
Mollie: What are a few of your foundational spiritual beliefs?
Mary-Lou: When I was growing up my parents were heavily involved with the Charismatic Christian movement—lots of speaking in tongues and prophesying, healing and excitement. As a child I was very much wrapped up in that world … a world where God was love but also any negative feelings or misgivings were pushed away and ignored. If you felt bad, clearly you weren’t praying hard enough. As a teenager I felt bad all the time and so became increasingly disenchanted with those that were reaching to heaven but ignoring what was going on at their feet.
In twelve-step programs I was told I could believe in a God of my own understanding. God could be a color, the sun, the wind or anything I wanted, just as long as God was a power greater than myself. This was liberating. Slowly, and with a few missteps, I developed a relationship with a God of my own understanding, one that had nothing to do with religion or other people’s beliefs. This God was a God I could rely on, lean on, talk to, be reassured by. I didn’t have to be good for this God to love me. I didn’t have to do penance or chant the right prayers or go to church. This God loved me just as I was, no matter what I did … but living a life of good thoughts and actions helped me love and live with myself.
These days, God just is. God is in everything, everywhere—a benign, loving presence. This gives me a sense of peace.
Mollie:What are the specific spiritual practices that you prefer (i.e., journaling, meditation, etc.)?
Mary-Lou: I used to use specific techniques—journaling, meditating at a set time for a set amount of time and the like—but now acceptance, witnessing my thoughts and meditation are all part of my day. I don’t put them in specific time slots. It’s more like breathing. It just is without me having to do anything.
Mollie: What do you mean by witnessing your thoughts?
Mary-Lou: I observe my thoughts and decide whether or not to engage with them. This is a benefit of meditation. In meditation I don’t try to stop my thoughts (impossible!). Instead, I watch them as they do their crazy dance. The more I observe my thoughts, the more I realize how funny they are. And to think they used to rule my world. No wonder I was so unhappy. I believed what I was thinking was true when most of it is just reaction and craving. Life is a lot more peaceful now and although peace and happiness might have been my goal when I first started meditating I don’t think about goals at all anymore. So many goals are counter-productive.
Mollie: Do you practice acceptance of what is in a conscious way with the goal of greater inner peace?
Mary-Lou: I practice acceptance every day. It gets easier as I get older, perhaps because I’ve just had more practice. I don’t practice acceptance with any goal in mind. I practice it because it’s easier than any alternative I’ve found … and I’ve tried quite a few: ranting and railing, pushing the river, complaining, playing the victim, playing the star, being a martyr … none of these proved very successful. Acceptance is a much more peaceful way to be. It’s not a goal, it just is.
Mollie: When and how did you begin this practice? How has it affected your life?
Mary-Lou: I first learned about acceptance in twelve-step programs. The Serenity Prayer was a revelation to me. I always thought it was my job to change other people, places and things. When I discovered the only thing I could change was myself I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from me. I didn’t have to be responsible for all that stuff I thought I was responsible for; in fact, I couldn’t be responsible for it and didn’t have any business trying to be. I just let it all go. This gave me incredible freedom. As my meditation practice grew and became stronger, so did my ability to be a witness to what was going on around me without my having to buy into it. Being able to witness my own thoughts was an amazing breakthrough. I am not my thoughts … which is just as well because they’re crazy!
Mollie: Can you offer any advice to people who would like to learn how to be more accepting of hardship and to use it to their benefit?
Mary-Lou: Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame your karma. Things just happen. Most times it has nothing to do with you. It’s horrible and it’s hard but it’s not personal. God, the Universe or karma are not out to get you. Learn the lesson and move on. Also, don’t expect to get over hurts or grief quickly. You won’t. And some things will be with you for the rest of your life. Once I learnt to accept that, I was a lot more peaceful. I used to think I had to rise above the bad, forgive everything and everyone, not have any negative thoughts, blah, blah, blah. Now I know I’m not perfect and I don’t expect to be. Some feelings stick with us for a reason—as a warning or as a blessing. Many situations I’ve been through have helped me to relate to others better. They’ve also been beneficial when offering a shoulder or an ear.
Thanks to a hunch and a great title, I purchased Sex, Drugs and Meditation on Amazon–and liked it even more than I expected I would. So I wrote the author, Mary-Lou Stephens, to ask if I could share a true law of attraction success story from the book on this site. She kindly agreed.
Here is the story of how Mary-Lou got started in her long, fulfilling radio career after years of playing in bands. It begins when she runs into an acquaintance, Chris, just after her band broke up.
“I knew Chris, one of the announcers, would be [at the event]. He’d interviewed me about my music a few times and occasionally played my songs on his program. We had formed a friendship.
“He was pleased to see me, even in the circumstances, and suggested we meet up for lunch while I was in town. Later that week we ate and talked about life and death. I poured my heart out about the band breaking up. I told Chris how it had left me devastated and unsure of what to do next. Even though . . . my troubles seemed trivial, it still hurt . . .
“When I finished he paused, looked at me and uttered one life-changing sentence. ‘Mary-Lou, you want to be in radio.’
“I knew he was right. It was a pure light bulb moment. I could feel the glow above my head.
“‘I do.’ It was astounding. ‘But I didn’t know that until right now. How did you know?’
“‘Because I know radio and I know you. It’s a perfect match.’
“It was true. I came alive when I was being interviewed in a radio studio. I loved the sense of performance. I’d performed all my life in one form or another. Radio condensed performance down to one person, one microphone, one listener. A pure connection. I’d almost forgotten that I had presented a show on community radio in Hobart when I was in my early twenties. It was supposed to be an arts show. I interviewed musicians and bands. My natural curiosity was given a legitimate outlet. But when I left Hobart for acting school in Melbourne I never gave radio another thought.
“I stayed in Hobart for a few more days and caught up with a friend. She suggested we check out the short films being shown at the AFTRS graduate screenings. AFTRS was the most prestigious film and TV school in Australia and she was keen to see what the new young filmmakers were doing. During the intermission the dean talked about the school.
“‘The Australian Film, Television and Radio School . . .’ he began. And that’s when I stopped listening. Radio school? It was always called the Film and TV School. I knew people who had studied there. I’d even been to the campus in Sydney, and no one ever mentioned a radio component. Until that night I’d never realised the R in AFTRS stood for radio.
“This was too close to be coincidence, only days after Chris had told me I should be in radio, this was a sign.
. . .
“Within a week of arriving back in Sydney I bumped into Simon. He and I moved in the same circle of musicians and artists.
“‘I’ve been trying to track you down,’ he said. ‘I’m now the program director for a new aspirant public radio station.’
“‘What’s that?’ I heard the word radio. The rest was unfamiliar.
“‘We don’t have a full licence yet but we’re working towards it. At the moment we broadcast in two to four week blocks whenever we’re given a frequency. I was hoping you’d present a show for us. Are you interested?’
‘”‘You want me to do a radio show?’
“‘I think you’d be great. What do you say?’
“Within a week of discovering my true vocation I was being offered a gig on air. Another sign. A miracle! I said yes.”
For more information on this law of attraction author and story, see:
It’s not really New Age. (No one seems to love that term, do they?) It’s not really New Thought, since that’s more specific. And it sure as heck isn’t Buddhist, Christian, Jewish or any other more easily defined belief system.
It’s the brand of spirituality we sometimes call “spiritual but not religious.” Even though we know that it’s a terrible term. I mean, it’s a good, accurate way to describe my philosophy and that of a rapidly growing segment of society. But man, is it a mouthful. Maybe we need to use the acronym instead: SBNR. Okay, maybe we don’t.
Let’s do “alternative spirituality” instead.
Here, then, is my Other Best Alternative Spirituality Books list. It follows on the heels of a handful of other, more specific Best Alternative Spirituality Book lists. This is the stuff that is not easily labeled–the stuff that bookstores don’t quite know what to do with, the stuff they might stick in the Spiritual/Inspirational or the New Age category and call it good. Of course, there are plenty more books on my lists that could fit into this category, too. However, if there’s a more specific list on my site that fits it better, I chose to just keep it there.
I chose the books in the first section because they inspired me deeply, changed me for the better and helped me find greater inner peace. The second section features many of the other general inspirational books I’ve come across but may not have read yet.
By the way, don’t let the title fool you: This is one of my favorite book categories. These books are a bit different, but in a good way.
Other Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.
The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction, Byron Katie Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie, Byron Katie I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them, Byron Katie and Michael Katz A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell A Mind at Home With Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart and Turn Your World Around, Byron Katie What I Know for Sure, Oprah Winfrey The Shack, William Young Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis Heretics, G.K. Chesterton
Other Recommended Alternative Spirituality Books:
Various Audio and Video Recordings, Byron Katie and Byron Katie International
Question Your Thinking, Change The World: Quotations from Byron Katie, Byron Katie A Friendly Universe: Sayings to Inspire and Challenge You, Byron Katie Loving What Is: 52 Meditations on Reality (Card Deck), Byron Katie Byron Katie’s “Katieisms”: Inner Wisdom Cards (Card Deck), Byron Katie and Hans Wilhelm
The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, Gary Zukav The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav Thoughts from the Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Thoughts from the Heart of the Soul: Meditations for Emotional Awareness, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Self-Empowerment Journal: A Companion to The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Spiritual Partnership, Gary Zukav Soul to Soul, Gary Zukav Soul Stories, Gary Zukav
Don Miguel Ruiz:
The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery (Toltec Wisdom), Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship, Don Miguel Ruiz The Four Agreements Companion Book: Using The Four Agreements to Master the Dream of Your Life, Don Miguel Ruiz Prayers: A Communion with Our Creator, Don Miguel Ruiz Wisdom from the Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz Wisdom from the Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide To Inner Peace, Don Miguel Ruiz The Toltec Art of Life and Death, Don Miguel Ruiz
A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a “Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson
The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles, Marianne Williamson
Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships, Marianne Williamson Imagine What America Could Be in the 21st Century: Visions of a Better Future from Leading American Thinkers, Marianne Williamson Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens, Marianne Williamson A Woman’s Worth, Marianne Williamson Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, And Making Miracles, Marianne Williamson Illuminata: A Return to Prayer, Marianne Williamson The Gift of Change, Marianne Williamson
David R. Hawkins:
Power Versus Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior, David Hawkins
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment, David R. Hawkins Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: Live Your Life Like a Prayer, David R. Hawkins Success Is for You: Using Heart-Centered Power Principles for Lasting Abundance and Fulfillment, David R. Hawkins The Eye of the I: From Which Nothing Is Hidden, David R. Hawkins Truth vs Falsehood:How to Tell the Difference, David R. Hawkins I: Reality and Subjectivity, David R. Hawkins Dissolving the Ego, Realizing the Self: Contemplations from the Teachings of David R. Hawkins, David R. Hawkins and Scott Jeffrey Discovery of the Presence of God: Devotional NonDuality, David R. Hawkins Reality, Spirituality and Modern Man, David R. Hawkins Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships, David R. Hawkins Along the Path to Enlightenment: 365 Daily Reflections from David R. Hawkins, David R. Hawkins and Scott Jeffrey The Ultimate David Hawkins Library, David R. Hawkins When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You: Finding God’s Patterns for Healthy Relationships, David R. Hawkins Breaking Everyday Addictions: Finding Freedom from the Things That Trip Us Up, David R. Hawkins Never Fight Again . . . Guaranteed!: Groundbreaking Practices for a Win-Win Marriage, David R. Hawkins The Power of Emotional Decision Making: Using Your God-Given Emotions for Positive Change, David R. Hawkins Stumbling Toward Obedience: Learning from Jonah’s Failure to Love God and the People He Came to Save, David R. Hawkins The Clear Pathway to Enlightenment-Four CD Set, David R. Hawkins Project Y: The Los Alamos Story. Part I: Toward Trinity. Part II: Beyond Trinity, David R. Hawkins and Edith C. Truslow In the World, but Not of It: Living Spiritually in the Modern World, David R. Hawkins Healing and Recovery, David R. Hawkins The Discovery: Revealing the Presence of God in your Life, David R. Hawkins Normal People Do the Craziest Things, David R. Hawkins
Remembering Wholeness: A Personal Handbook for Thriving in the 21st Century, Carol Tuttle It’s Just My Nature!, Carol Tuttle The Path to Wholeness: A Guide to Spiritual Healing & Empowerment for Survivors of Child Sexual & Spiritual Abuse, Carol Tuttle
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho Burn, Baby, Burn, Evan Griffith Indigo Adults: Understanding Who You Are and What You Can Become, Kabir Jaffe and Ritama Davidson Personal Development for Smart People, Steve Pavlina Human Design: Discover the Person You Were Born to Be, Chetan Parkyn and Steve Dennis Understanding Human Design: The New Science of Astrology: Discover Who You Really Are, Karen Curry Human Design: The Definitive Book of Human Design, The Science of Differentiation, Ra Uru Hu and Lynda Bunnell The Open Secret, Tony Parsons Butterflies Are Free to Fly, Stephen Davis The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts Keys to the Ultimate Freedom, Lester Levinson Past the Gate, Esther Teule God Goes to Work, Tom Zender The Outlook Beautiful, Lilian Whiting Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, Scott Peck Messages from Water and the Universe, Masaru Emoto Add More Ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, Gabrielle Bernstein
In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky Grace, Gaia, and the End of Days: An Alternative Way for the Advanced Soul, Stuart Wilde Live Your Bliss, Terry Cole-Whittaker What You Think of Me is None of My Business, Terry Cole-Whittaker The Future of Love, Daphne Rose Kingma Mystery Teachings From the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology, John Mihael Greer The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein Living in the Heart: How to Enter into the Sacred Space within the Heart, Drunvalo Melchizedek Adventures of the Soul: Journeys Through the Physical and Spiritual Dimensions, James Van Praagh The Sculptor in the Sky, Teal Scott The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose, Janet Attwood and Chris Attwood The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman Living A Course in Miracles: An Essential Guide to the Classic Text, Jon Mundy PhD Kinship with All Life, J. Allen Boone The Reconnection: Heal Others, Heal Yourself, Eric Pearl The Seeker’s Guide, Elizabeth Lesser The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life, Wayne Teasdale
In the very famous book by Robert Cialdini called Influence, he tells a story that has been co-opted many times since, and now, I think I’ll do it again.
Beginning in the year 1961, Yale University conducted a set of frightening psychological experiments on a mix of average people. Bear with me a few moments—this is a little complicated. (But worth it.)
In each iteration of this study, three roles were played: the subject, the button pusher, and the director. The idea was simple: the button pusher would attempt to teach the subject, who was sitting in a different room, a set of word pairs. Then the button pusher would test the subject’s learning ability. When the subject responded incorrectly, the director (wearing a white lab coat) would tell the button pusher (the actual subject of the experiment) to deliver electric shocks of increasing intensity to the subject by—you guessed it—pressing a button.
Of course, the set up was a bit of a sham. No actual electrical current was delivered, but the subject made a convincing show of suffering, anyway.
The results of the study and subsequent studies shocked the researchers and the public alike: 65 percent of the button pushers complied with the researcher’s demands and pushed the torture button until the highest level of pain (an excruciating 450 volts) was delivered repeatedly—despite the fierce cries and protests of the subjects.
When the results of this study were announced to the public, they apparently caused quite a media frenzy. Respected analysts and psychologists made pessimistic observations about the evil inherent in human nature and society. What the journalists apparently did not reveal, however, was this:
The button pushers were in absolute anguish a great deal of the time.
They paced. They protested. They cried—even grown men cried. They begged not to be required to go on.
They didn’t want to do it at all.
In Influence and other analyses of this fascinating study, a clear conclusion is drawn: People in general put a great undue trust in authority. We listen to our leaders—or the people we perceive to be our leaders—and do almost anything they ask, whatever the consequences may be.
And I agree with this idea. In fact, I could not possibly agree more. However, there is a second conclusion to be made, and personally, I think it’s even more important than the first: People are almost totally unaware that the source of their greatest anguish is not other people.
It is themselves.
At any point in time during this experiment, any of the button pushers could have ended the torture of both the subject and themselves by doing one simple thing.
They could’ve stopped pushing the button.
Here’s the thing: We are powerful. Our minds–our beliefs–are the source of our greatest pain, as well as our only true joy. And yet, as many times as we New Agey-types say this, repeat this, remind ourselves of this, we often seem to forget it.
When I first came across Byron Katie’s website, there was a prominently displayed quote that went something like this: “The Work has one purpose: To end suffering.”
And I thought, Yeah, right, you guys. Everything I need to end suffering is right here, on this website.
A reasonable reaction, maybe. But that was long before I ever put The Work to the test.
What is The Work?
For those of you who are not familiar with The Work, here is a brief description from thework.com: “The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.”
The questions are:
Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
Pretty simple, right? And yet, The Work is one of the most powerful spiritual techniques I’ve ever tried. It combines well-known cognitive psychology principles (CBT is similar, and similarly amazing), neuroscience (brain rewiring theory, and all that), and–you guessed it–spirituality to address anything and everything that ails you.
And it delivers.
Can you be more specific?
Here are some of the negative thoughts I’ve freed (or partially freed) myself from through this method, just during the first two months of practicing it:
I’m not thin enough.
I’m not accomplishing enough.
I’m annoyed by [insert person’s name].
I’m angry at [insert person’s name].
I want to work more.
I don’t want to breastfeed anymore.
Another thought that I’m not totally rid of yet, but that I’ve already made inroads against: “I am depressed.”
Really? That doesn’t seem possible.
What do you mean, you’ve freed yourself from these thoughts?
I mean that when they come, they don’t feel as strong to me anymore. They are there, then I recall The Work that I did on the thought and how I turned it around, and it sort of makes its way through me to somewhere else. They’re not quite real anymore. I don’t take them so seriously.
And for depression, a condition that may be physically-based? Does it work for this, too?
Absolutely. I can honestly say that before The Work and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very similar but not quite as powerful as The Work, I was never entirely convinced I could one day be completely free from depression. Now, I am.
But it will take time. This is not an overnight miracle cure. It takes, as the name suggests, work. Depression has made such deep inroads–superhighways, really–in my mind. All that needs to be slowly undone.
If it’s this amazing, why doesn’t everyone know about it?
People find The Work when the time is right. Also, Byron Katie’s ideas are pretty darn controversial. In her world, the problem is never the other person; it’s always you. “No exceptions.” Change your perspective, and you won’t suffer anymore, she says–no matter what anyone else does to you. A lot of people are stuck in victimhood.
Anything else we should know?
I cannot do The Work justice in this blog post. Rather than attempt the impossible, then, I direct you to one of my favorite Byron Katie YouTube videos ever (and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve been binge-watching them every chance I get). In it, Katie helps a distraught woman plagued with guilt over a relationship mistake see the truth of the situation.
Me: Sometimes, we’re happy just because we’re happy. Other times, it takes a lot of work. What do you tell people who, unlike you, struggle with negativity and other emotional stuff on a daily basis?
Leta: My advice is to love what is. Just that.
Me: How? Can you give me a much clearer, more practical idea of what’s going on in your head as you are loving and appreciating throughout your day? Maybe a small example of a few moments inside your head?
Leta: Often, my head is just saying, “I love God.” I have thoughts. I’m human, after all. But my head is empty probably a lot more than most humans.
I will meet people I don’t like. I will encounter things and situations I don’t like. They may even be grotesque to my sensibilities. However, I am challenged to love the divine within all things. I am challenged to be One with all things. I am challenged to broaden my perspective so that I find the divine innocence at the heart of everything. I am challenged to love and accept everyone, even people I don’t like. If I meet someone I don’t like, I ask myself if this is a situation I can change. Am I willing to put forth the effort to like them (which would mean changing everything about myself, going into another personality and being someone I am not)? The answer is no. However, I can see the divine innocence in them. I can understand them and love them even though I may not like them. None of it scares me. I love it all. I have a relationship with myself that allows for constant self-inquiry leading to understanding and love that takes me beyond the disconnected to the connected. I have so much fun.