3. The habit of depression. If you have ever lived around an alcoholic or any other addict, you know that there's a predictable pendulum swing in their behavior. When sober or off the drug, they sincerely repent and never want to return to their habits again. But these good intentions fly out the window when addicts are faced with the temptation to drink or shoot up or overeat or fly into a rage, depending on what their habits happen to be. Willpower disappears, the habit takes control and only getting a fix matters.
Depression also has its addictive side, in that sadness and hopelessness take charge. "I can't be any other way" is the common cry of both the alcoholic and the chronically depressed. In every case, there's a "good me" and a "bad me" warring against each other. For the alcoholic, the "bad me" drinks while the "good me" is sober. For the depressed person, the "bad me" is sad and hopeless while the "good me" is happy and optimistic. But, in truth, both sides are the "bad me" because it casts its shadow over everything. The best moments are a prelude to a relapse. The "bad me" is going to win in the end; the "good me" is merely its pawn.
The war is unwinnable, in short, which is why the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, and why every so-called victory is always temporary. When a war is unwinnable, why fight? The secret to beating any habit is to stop fighting with yourself, to find a place inside that isn't at war. Meditation opens the way to finding such a place; all the world's wisdom traditions affirm that there is a core self that is at peace, calm, silent and full of joy and reverence for life.
When people frown and tell me they don't believe in meditation, my response is that they must not believe in the brain, because four decades of brain research has proven that the brain is transformed by meditation, and now there's newer evidence to suggest the genetic output also improves. That is, the right genes get switched on and the wrong ones switched off.
But breaking the habit of depression involves both inner work and outer work, as follows: