Medication or Meditation: Was ist Das?

One of our gentle writes asked me to write a little about meditation vs. medication. If you read much in the way of comments here, you will find that many of the readers here have a much lower view of pharmacology and medication that I do. That’s okay, I can take the heat.

One does not have to do much research to discover that there is a whole field of study on the relationship between meditation and depression. Some of the articles I found after a quick search are HERE, HERE and HERE. One of the things we have to establish is what is really meant by meditation.

Meditation can mean everything from yoga, visualization techniques, Cognitive Therapy (my personal favorite), and a world of other types of meditation that may or may not have a religious element to them. Probably the common element among them is using some method to cleanse or clear the mind, to focus on one thing, and through this process to change one’s thinking. I won’t claim to be an expert on non-Western forms of meditation, but I know just enough to be dangerous.

Here are a few preliminary observations from a Lutheran perspective:

  • Evaluate whether the technique works within the framework of a religious system that is contrary to Christianity. Some types of meditation are benign; others have a totally skewed view of human spirit (usually a variation on denying original sin). Does the form of meditation have aspects of it that just don’t sit with the theology of the cross? Is meditation seen as a way of supplanting prayer?
  • What are the expectations of the writer/teacher/guide who is leading the meditation? If there is talk about being a disciple of a certain form, I would start to get nervous.
  • Does the form have history, is it established and recognized at least at some level by professionals in different fields? While this isn’t absolutely necessary, if something is written off as complete quackery, it may be because it is.

My therapist has used and is a proponent of cognitive therapy or cognitive reframing. We have also used some basic relaxation techniques to help deal with anxiety. I’ve found them both to be extremely helpful. Are they THE solution? No? Can they replace medication and other means of help? Not for me. If you don’t have the energy to get out of bed, it is very difficult to imagine having the energy to meditate, no matter how relaxing or liberating it may be. I can know something is good for me and still not be able to do it.

Anyway, those are a few initial thoughts. What are yours?

-DMR

2 thoughts on “Medication or Meditation: Was ist Das?”

  1. Thanks for this post, DMR! The links are very informative, and are helping me clarify what has been going on in my own experience with depression. I just printed the second link, the article by Jack Rucker, and have been highlighting ideas in it that stand out to me:

    “…..the interconnectedness of all aspects of the complete person.”

    “…..negative behavior and actions to our mind and body can rewire our brain to a state of addiction.”

    “…..our body can become addicted to emotions and strings of emotional responses.”

    “….when we are not present with our body and mind in each moment, we become more open to our subconscious bringing about these strings of events.”

    “Mindfulness-Based-Cognitive Therapy…..aimed at training recovering depression sufferers from relapsing by disengaging themselves from thinking that may lead to relapse”

    “Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention….to the present moment.”

    “…..what meditation does for you is to ‘defragment’ the hard drive that is your brain.”

    “…..the need for us to pay attention to all aspects of our ‘self’.”

    “If when we are not mindful, our brains will seek to fulfill our emotional addictions, we must seek to create behavior that rewires our brain.”

    ************************************************

    DMR, if you feel medication helps you and you can afford it, then more power to you. I simply have a lifelong aversion to medication. During the labor and deliveries of my children, I was determined to get through it all with no medication. What carried me through the pain was Lamaze focusing and breathing techniques (you bet I was praying, too). Since then, I have heard Lamaze techniques denounced as un-Christian!

    Research seems to show that the solution to depression is changing the physical wiring of the brain. Both medication and meditation are capable of doing that. In the article, Mr. Rucker speaks of “mindfulness”……paying attention to the present moment. I think that’s the key, and your post has made me realize how it works in my life. It may sound silly, but for me, the secret is blogging. About a year ago I started a blog. Now at all times I’m aware of every aspect of my daily life, even the smallest details, because I’m constantly trying to shape a blog post in my mind. Even when frustrating things happen, or I fall into thinking about unpleasant past events, I can use that thinking for a purpose……to shape thoughts into a story. Instead of stagnating in my mind and causing a depression, my never-ending whirl of thoughts are being channeled out a window and into a blog. What I’ve discovered is that I could care less if anyone reads it…..my satisfaction comes simply from putting my thoughts into written words.

    In this way, I’m attending to my mind, which is what a depressed person needs to do. As Christians, we’re bombarded with the idea that we must always think of others first, and be kind and helpful to everyone. But, we can’t help anyone else if we ourselves are in an unhealthy, depressed state. You have to take care of yourself first, before you can be of any benefit to anyone else! This is sometimes difficult for Christians to comprehend, I think.

    Also, in the third link you posted, the article begins with the author’s description of a mental breakdown. Oddly enough, after my own breakdown, I used that same word “deflated” when I was telling someone about it. I called it a completely deflated ego, like an airless balloon, absolutely down to nothing. That’s how I viewed all of us inmates in the psychiatric unit…..as a bunch of deflated balloons.

    Back to mindfulness……I think its the key to taking care of yourself mentally. Like I’ve indicated, meditation and medication are not the solutions for me. Maybe you view medication as a good thing because its similar to receiving Communion. Think about it….help coming from outside of you, instead of from anywhere inside of you. But, maybe, to truly heal from mental illness, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work inside of ourselves, trusting in God’s grace at the same time.

    Yes, I’ve been in that place where its nearly impossible to even get out of bed. That’s when “take one day at a time” becomes “take one minute at a time” or “take a few seconds at at time”. I remember the paralyzed feeling. When black thoughts kept pushing into my mind, I kept saying over and over, “The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd.” I never want to be in that place again.

    Keep the insights coming, DMR!

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Medication or Meditation: Was ist Das?

One of our gentle writes asked me to write a little about meditation vs. medication. If you read much in the way of comments here, you will find that many of the readers here have a much lower view of pharmacology and medication that I do. That’s okay, I can take the heat.

One does not have to do much research to discover that there is a whole field of study on the relationship between meditation and depression. Some of the articles I found after a quick search are HERE, HERE and HERE. One of the things we have to establish is what is really meant by meditation.

Meditation can mean everything from yoga, visualization techniques, Cognitive Therapy (my personal favorite), and a world of other types of meditation that may or may not have a religious element to them. Probably the common element among them is using some method to cleanse or clear the mind, to focus on one thing, and through this process to change one’s thinking. I won’t claim to be an expert on non-Western forms of meditation, but I know just enough to be dangerous.

Here are a few preliminary observations from a Lutheran perspective:

  • Evaluate whether the technique works within the framework of a religious system that is contrary to Christianity. Some types of meditation are benign; others have a totally skewed view of human spirit (usually a variation on denying original sin). Does the form of meditation have aspects of it that just don’t sit with the theology of the cross? Is meditation seen as a way of supplanting prayer?
  • What are the expectations of the writer/teacher/guide who is leading the meditation? If there is talk about being a disciple of a certain form, I would start to get nervous.
  • Does the form have history, is it established and recognized at least at some level by professionals in different fields? While this isn’t absolutely necessary, if something is written off as complete quackery, it may be because it is.

My therapist has used and is a proponent of cognitive therapy or cognitive reframing. We have also used some basic relaxation techniques to help deal with anxiety. I’ve found them both to be extremely helpful. Are they THE solution? No? Can they replace medication and other means of help? Not for me. If you don’t have the energy to get out of bed, it is very difficult to imagine having the energy to meditate, no matter how relaxing or liberating it may be. I can know something is good for me and still not be able to do it.

Anyway, those are a few initial thoughts. What are yours?

-DMR

2 thoughts on “Medication or Meditation: Was ist Das?”

  1. Thanks for this post, DMR! The links are very informative, and are helping me clarify what has been going on in my own experience with depression. I just printed the second link, the article by Jack Rucker, and have been highlighting ideas in it that stand out to me:

    “…..the interconnectedness of all aspects of the complete person.”

    “…..negative behavior and actions to our mind and body can rewire our brain to a state of addiction.”

    “…..our body can become addicted to emotions and strings of emotional responses.”

    “….when we are not present with our body and mind in each moment, we become more open to our subconscious bringing about these strings of events.”

    “Mindfulness-Based-Cognitive Therapy…..aimed at training recovering depression sufferers from relapsing by disengaging themselves from thinking that may lead to relapse”

    “Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention….to the present moment.”

    “…..what meditation does for you is to ‘defragment’ the hard drive that is your brain.”

    “…..the need for us to pay attention to all aspects of our ‘self’.”

    “If when we are not mindful, our brains will seek to fulfill our emotional addictions, we must seek to create behavior that rewires our brain.”

    ************************************************

    DMR, if you feel medication helps you and you can afford it, then more power to you. I simply have a lifelong aversion to medication. During the labor and deliveries of my children, I was determined to get through it all with no medication. What carried me through the pain was Lamaze focusing and breathing techniques (you bet I was praying, too). Since then, I have heard Lamaze techniques denounced as un-Christian!

    Research seems to show that the solution to depression is changing the physical wiring of the brain. Both medication and meditation are capable of doing that. In the article, Mr. Rucker speaks of “mindfulness”……paying attention to the present moment. I think that’s the key, and your post has made me realize how it works in my life. It may sound silly, but for me, the secret is blogging. About a year ago I started a blog. Now at all times I’m aware of every aspect of my daily life, even the smallest details, because I’m constantly trying to shape a blog post in my mind. Even when frustrating things happen, or I fall into thinking about unpleasant past events, I can use that thinking for a purpose……to shape thoughts into a story. Instead of stagnating in my mind and causing a depression, my never-ending whirl of thoughts are being channeled out a window and into a blog. What I’ve discovered is that I could care less if anyone reads it…..my satisfaction comes simply from putting my thoughts into written words.

    In this way, I’m attending to my mind, which is what a depressed person needs to do. As Christians, we’re bombarded with the idea that we must always think of others first, and be kind and helpful to everyone. But, we can’t help anyone else if we ourselves are in an unhealthy, depressed state. You have to take care of yourself first, before you can be of any benefit to anyone else! This is sometimes difficult for Christians to comprehend, I think.

    Also, in the third link you posted, the article begins with the author’s description of a mental breakdown. Oddly enough, after my own breakdown, I used that same word “deflated” when I was telling someone about it. I called it a completely deflated ego, like an airless balloon, absolutely down to nothing. That’s how I viewed all of us inmates in the psychiatric unit…..as a bunch of deflated balloons.

    Back to mindfulness……I think its the key to taking care of yourself mentally. Like I’ve indicated, meditation and medication are not the solutions for me. Maybe you view medication as a good thing because its similar to receiving Communion. Think about it….help coming from outside of you, instead of from anywhere inside of you. But, maybe, to truly heal from mental illness, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work inside of ourselves, trusting in God’s grace at the same time.

    Yes, I’ve been in that place where its nearly impossible to even get out of bed. That’s when “take one day at a time” becomes “take one minute at a time” or “take a few seconds at at time”. I remember the paralyzed feeling. When black thoughts kept pushing into my mind, I kept saying over and over, “The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd.” I never want to be in that place again.

    Keep the insights coming, DMR!

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