The Elements of Mental Well-Being
BY OLUBODE SHAWN BROWN
I once experienced a bout of depression. It lasted for just one day yet it helped me to begin to imagine what a prolonged experience of depression feels like. I remember needing to escape my body as it had become uninhabitable and every place in my mind echoed with thoughts of hopelessness.
I was terrified. I don’t know what caused it, why it passed, or if it would return.
With the personal crisis of a friend and the recent publicized passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who many think had the money to fix it all, I am now more curious to know what depression is, not just as an artifact, but what causes it, what is the environment –the terrain that breeds it and what can I do to promote better mental well-being. Perhaps you have some of the same questions.
Here is what I am discovering and the practices I have been applying and re-engaging.
According to Harvard Medical School
“It’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.“
Add to this: one’s social environment, smoking, lack of sleep, diet, recreational drugs, social media and television in excess, broken relationships, seasonal changes, and noise pollution and the result is a seemingly un-ending list of causes. Net net, a unique combination of factors to which we are all vulnerable causes the experience we call “depression,” so mental hygiene — like brushing one’s teeth is essential.
Below I have used the five elements of nature to help discover a complete and manageable set of rituals that honor our general well-being. Mental health is one component. Here at BLOOM, we believe that using these simple elements as metaphors can help us explore new paradigms for balance and well-being. Our premise is this: if these elements support all life, maybe as metaphors, they can help us better celebrate the experience of living.
Below are the elements and their metaphors, as aspects of a five part paradigm of well-being.
MINERAL is metaphor for our VOICE – that which we hear that helps us to remember our true nature. It is the activated voice of our “bones” — the home of our unique self-expression. When we hear our voice and speak it, we come alive.
NAURE is a metaphor for CHANGE. It is like the air we breathe, it adapts, transforms and is boundless. When we allow change we are free.
FIRE is a metaphor for VISIBILITY – that which allows us to create, to see and be seen exactly the way we are. When we allow it we experience the ability to co-create our world.
WATER is a metaphor for CONNECTION – that which allows us to feel our deep connection to each other and our own subconscious. When we allow it, we are never alone.
EARTH is a metaphor for HOME – that which can be touched with the five senses and gives an experience safety and belonging. When we allow it we are always at home.
The research suggests that our susceptibility to depression in part has to do with our genetic make-up. But does our genetic make-up make us hardwired for depression or any genetic disease for that matter? Here I found the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton helpful in answering this question. Here is what he suggests:
“A person’s perception, not genetic programming, is what spurs all action in the body: It’s actually our beliefs that select our genes, that select our behavior.”
What we believe about who we are, suggests what genes are activated. So my take-a-way, is to ensure that I am regularly addressing my ideas of who I am. Am I my genes, or am I the one who is choosing with greater consciousness which genes I activate?
Regularly up-grade your identity.
Continue to go within to hear and amplify the highest experience of yourself that you can. I do this in silence and reflection. From the inside begin to actively feel the experience you want to cultivate. This is how I believe we select our genes – by listening deeply beyond words to our own essential nature. Next, use this feeling tone as a guide to move consciously outside of your familiar roles – into the unknown. As you go, practice gratitude in all things, it’s a mood stabilizer. Live your life in the present moment; this moment is all there is.
Everything changes. According to Dr. Chentsova-Dutton who specializes in how depression is viewed in various cultures around the world:
“ [Globally] the themes of depression tend to revolve around loss…teaching people that this very complex social, cultural, and biological phenomenon is entirely biological can backfire. It encourages people to ignore environmental factors and instead relate to depression as a characteristic of themselves and their biology.
We are constantly changing, and I would add, we in various stages of grief. These days, things are changing more rapidly, these changes are communicated instantaneously through social media, and the demand for our immediate responses and choices is unrelenting. How do we cope with the stress-inducing change?
Allow everyone and everything to change
What we allow to change changes us.
We can only cause as much change as we allow.
Allow new people and things to come into your life. Allow departing things and people to leave your life. Allow as much room for decay as you do for what’s new and alive. Challenge your barriers, as it’s the only way to discover your limits. Notice the things you think you know for sure, get comfortable with the idea that you don’t know, and don’t know that you do not know. While you are free to change your mind and your direction at anytime, locate the harmony between yourself and others. As a practical step, begin to spend more time in nature, it is a reminder of the real pace and process of change.
Indeed, our idea about who we are is reflected in how we see and think about the circumstances of our lives.
“We see things not as they are, but as we are.”
Choose your thoughts carefully.We do have the ability to shape our narratives about our lives. What I do know is that, the change from victim thinking to generative thinking can only be based on one’s actual experiences of one’s self. This is not just simply done by positive thinking. What you think is a function of who you are, and as I mentioned above, our identity is to be regularly deepened. Thoughts come and go, but we are unable to let go of thoughts to which our identities are attached. The more lovingly we perceive ourselves, the more powerful and creative our thoughts become. As you deepen your ideas about who you are, you will begin also to make the world visible to you, as your thoughts.
Use your thoughts as a creative force.
Begin to actively create your life visibly as a work of art with your thinking and speaking by choosing and speaking the thoughts that are most empowering for you. As you grow in this practice, notice how your thoughts change. Though you are not your thoughts you have the ability to choose which ones to entertain and use creatively. Allow yourself to be seen from all angles, while being open to seeing life differently and learning about new perspectives –new ways to seeing and thinking about things. You become visible to yourself and your world as you activate all your gifts. Notice where you abdicate the creation of your life to others and why. Begin to think creatively with your heart, its wisdom is pure and its strength invincible.
That depression can be triggered by the impact of stressful life events needs no justifying research. It is our lived experience that divorce, financial worries, toxic relationship drama, the loss of a home have triggered bouts of depression. We each respond emotionally to what happens around us in different ways, and quality of our emotions impact the bio-chemistry of our organs.
There are five basic emotional responses triggered by life’s circumstances.
- IRRELEVANCE – feeling unheard
- HOPELESSNESS – feeling stuck and out of control
- INVISIBILITY – feeling rejected and worthless
- LONELINESS – feeling abandoned and betrayed
- HOMELESSNESS –feeling unsafe within and without
These five basic emotions, if unchecked, are surrounded in cascading waves by three powerful and more generalized emotions – SHAME, ANGER and RAGE. Often these three are directed inwardly at oneself and outwardly at the world. They are the pre-cursors to the slow, less dramatic, not as widely publicized suicide that many of us perform and the disruptiveness that we often exhibit to the people around us.
So feel all your feelings
Begin to notice where you are confusing your feelings with the feelings of others. Practice compassion. Say exactly how you feel to yourself and others. Be open to the fact that the emotion is temporary and so is the circumstance to which it is attached. As you grow deeper in self-awareness be around people who can connect with you at the depths of your own journey. You are not alone.
The state of our bodies – what we put in them, how we move and where locate them on the planet determines the quality of our well-being.The ways we interact with our bodies and the earth is all interconnected.Where you are located on the planet – your physical cultural environment makes a difference. Around the world people relate differently to depression and suffering. The changes in weather can trigger depression. Not being in places where there are strong communal and family ties do matter. How you organize yourself and mange your time and your living environment matters. These are the tangible, time-space things that ground us.
Be mindful of where you are on the planet. Geography matters. As needed, go to places where you can have the biggest and highest perspective on things. Develop regular time-based practices around the things you say are important to you. Consciously choose how you spend your time. Clean your house and clear clutter. Make sure to get a regular medical check-up and follow-ups. Be mindful of what you eat – nourish yourself well. Move your body to increase your personal sense of alignment and balance.
Before you go –a word of caution.
I do not believe we are fundamentally broken and in need of fixing. We were born with the seed of wellness within us. What is offered here, are tools with which we can cultivate our well-being. Unpacking your essential health, means throwing out every lie you have been told, every role that was not meant for you —the behavior you put on to make you fit in and look good and feel good, the one you adopted to shield yourself from further hurt before you found out how invincible your really are. So, rather than a prescription of behavior with which to fix yourself, consider these as ritual tools to nurture, honor and celebrate the essential health that we do have. And being well is our first priority.
Olubode Shawn Brown, is the author of BLOOM The Essential Journey — A new Guide to Balance Growth & Well Being. It is guidebook for a movement of people who are seeking to live more authentic lives as we deliver our gifts to the planet. He is the facilitator of the BLOOM FREEDOM FESTIVAL. Learn more about this event @ bloomlivefree.com