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Reiki and Existential Depression

As published on Reiki Rays, July 19, 2020… Article by Kathleen L. Johnson, M.A., RMT

               Depression is a word familiar to us all and is a mental health condition experienced by countless individuals in varying ways and degrees of severity. It is so widespread that it’s often referred to as the common cold of mental health. However, this metaphor fails to address the scope of depression; it is not limited to the mind but instead affects all aspects of one’s being and is indeed a holistic disorder. From a mental health standpoint, traditional clinical depression is characterized by persistent feelings of deep sadness, despair, irritability, agitation, and frustration. These feelings may manifest in a myriad of symptoms: decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities, sleeping and eating disturbances, fatigue, low motivation, concentration and memory difficulties, unexplained physical pains and symptoms, and in some extreme cases, suicidal thoughts or attempts. No one is immune from depression, yet women experience it two to three times more frequently than men. (1) Medical research has revealed multiple causes of depression, some of which include genetics, hormonal imbalances, external situations, seasonal changes, and low self-worth. At present, there is no cure for depression, and current treatment modalities often include medication and various forms of psychotherapy, which can provide relief from symptoms for many people.

               However, there is another largely unknown variety of depression and for which medication and traditional counseling methods are often ineffective. Existential depression can occur when the individual begins to question their very existence and ponders weighty life issues such as, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?  Who or what am I? Is there anything beyond this life? Does my life even matter?” In examining these existential questions, the individual may begin to feel that life is essentially meaningless, which can then lead to existential depression in some people. Unlike traditional clinical depression, existential depression involves a hopelessness intimately related to the fact of one’s actual existence. Because of this, existential depression can be considered a manifestation of a spiritual emergence or crisis.

               Symptoms of existential depression can mimic those of clinical depression, but may also include:

  • An intense desire to explore profound questions about purpose, meaning, life and death
  • Losing interest in everyday life, because it seems meaningless
  • Experiencing numbness or emptiness
  • Intolerance for others’ behavior, impatient of others
  • Frustration and anxiety about the world and society in general
  • The feeling of being a misfit and misunderstood
  • An increasing desire for solitude and isolation, and disconnecting from others

               Although external events can trigger existential depression, it often appears to be uncaused, making it difficult for traditional therapies to be effective. As stated above, it is an indication of spiritual emergence, and as such, can herald a period of significant spiritual growth in the individual. Existential depression is not well-researched but is receiving more attention these days, and it has been noted that certain types of individuals are more likely to experience, and suffer from, existential depression. (2,3) These individuals tend to be highly sensitive, intuitive, empathic, creative, and are acutely attuned to their inner and outer worlds. Unsurprisingly, Reiki practitioners, and healers in general, fall into this category and are therefore more susceptible to existential depression. They experience the world in a very personal way, often carrying others’ burdens (many times unwittingly), and easily absorbing their energies. These highly sensitive souls feel and sense the world in ways that others cannot, sometimes to their detriment. As one of these souls, and a Reiki practitioner, I can attest to the sometimes-painful sense of aloneness and being misunderstood, even as I search for meaning in a troubled world. I am also deeply and personally affected by national and global strife, the struggles of those marginalized by society, and, indeed, all the pain and suffering rampant in today’s world. If you are reading this, you likely resonate with these experiences.

               Current theory postulates that existential depression often stems from disconnection to one’s genuine, or authentic, Self. (2,3) Misalignment with one’s higher authentic Self creates a type of cognitive dissonance; the sheer discomfort and anguish of this psychological dissonance can effectively “force” the individual to move toward alignment with the authentic Self, thereby reducing, and ultimately resolving the conflict.

               As the individual continues to grapple with the existential issues of life, death, and the meaning of it all, it becomes possible to move toward a deeper understanding of who we truly are, and in so doing, grow as a spiritual being inhabiting a physical body. Although this process can be quite challenging to navigate alone, the presence of Reiki in our lives can be nothing short of miraculous (and sometimes lifesaving) as we make the journey back to ourselves.

               Almost all of the Reiki practitioners I have encountered throughout the years share a similar story about how Reiki found them. Without exception, Reiki entered their consciousness and lives during moments of protracted and painful crisis -very likely an existential depression. My personal experience was much the same, but Reiki lifted me from the depths of despair and transformed hopelessness into a measure of joy, as it helped to bring the Light back into my life. (4) Years later, I know without a doubt that Reiki finds us when we need it the most.

               So, why does Reiki enter our lives during these times of existential angst? Because, in its unerring wisdom, Reiki knows when we are ready for a way forward in the search for Self, for authenticity. Its timing is impeccable, its support eternal. It is there for us – to shepherd us through darkness, and return us to the knowledge that the darkness itself is an illusion, and that the Light from which we came is always shining brightly within ourselves.

               Reiki is an unfailing antidote to existential depression as it patiently encourages and guides us to realize, accept, and embrace our innate divinity. In so doing, we become ever closer to the most profound truth of our existence – that each one of us is a Spark of the Divine, created by divine love. It is only up to us to allow it into our lives, to let it lead the way from despair and meaninglessness to hope and promise.

               It is important to note that existential depression can commonly recur on our journey toward awakening and authenticity. However, as someone who has experienced existential depression multiple times, I take comfort in the knowledge that with Reiki by my side and in my soul, I am moving ever closer to realizing my authentic Self. This knowledge illuminates the way forward even during the darkest times.

               Armed with the knowledge that existential depression is a manifestation of spiritual emergence or crisis is empowering and often oddly comforting, as is approaching it as an opportunity for momentous spiritual growth when encountering complex existential issues. As we struggle with questions about the meaning of life, the inevitability of physical death, and the possibility of existence and consciousness beyond the material world, Reiki re-frames them as vehicles that move us ever closer to the truth – that we are each a spark of the divine Source, eternal and immortal. This is not to suggest that navigating existential depression is an easy task – it is often immensely daunting. However, it is when we feel rooted and stuck in the most challenging circumstances that we may find the seeds of tremendous growth and evolution. Reiki provides these seeds of authenticity as it supports, guides, and comforts through difficult circumstances, and leads us ever closer to our inner Light.

            As such, Reiki occupies a pivotal role in managing existential depression, not only as a powerful tool but also as a steadfast ally on the journey to our authentic selves. The following information examines Reiki’s role and function during a period of existential depression.

As previously stated, a period of existential depression is not always limited to a single event; for a majority of individuals, it is a recurring condition, appearing during times of extraordinary internal stress or dissonance (2,3), when one senses a disconnection or misalignment with the true Self. This sense of being other than who we are creates tremendous internal chaos and, for many, may result in an episode of existential depression. In my experience, these feelings of inauthenticity and disconnection undoubtedly triggered my initial period of existential depression many years ago. However, I did not recognize it as such at that time. It was only after years of recurrent depressive episodes, followed by traditional treatments that were mostly ineffective, accompanied by an increasing sense of isolation from the “real world,” that I finally recognized these periods of darkness for what they were – a manifestation of chronic internal conflict between who I was and who I thought I should be. This life-changing realization coincided with the arrival of Reiki in my life, an event which I eventually recognized as completely purposeful and timely.  Although I had yet to learn that Reiki finds us when we need it the most, I gratefully clung to its comfort and loving guidance during those days as it gently led me away from darkness and pointed me toward the Light. With Reiki’s assistance, I have learned a great deal about my inner and outer worlds since that time, and now recognize that a period of existential depression heralds yet another opportunity for spiritual and personal evolution. Although it would be a stretch to say I welcome these periods of existential depression, I know that Reiki will guide me through them as I make progress on the journey to myself. And, with the passing of each episode, I sense the Light in me growing ever brighter.

            While one is in the throes of existential depression, Reiki’s power lies in its ability to shift our perspective from hopelessness to joy, despair to courage, apathy to passion. And remarkably, as our perspective shifts, so does our balance as we center ourselves and move nearer to our authentic selves. Reiki is a steadying hand, an anchor in stormy seas, and a soothing balm for our wounds.  It is an indispensable support system during existential depression and is available to us by merely allowing it to help.

In my years of experience as a Reiki practitioner, as well as a veteran of many bouts of existential depression, I have become familiar with how Reiki’s power can successfully shepherd us through the most challenging times. The following suggestions have been, and continue to be, enormously helpful for me.

Note: This information is not an attempt to diagnose or treat depression, and is based upon my experiences with existential depression. It is NOT intended as clinical advice. If you believe you are experiencing depression, please seek professional help from a qualified mental health practitioner.

  • Self-Reiki – Its importance cannot be overstated, and in my opinion, is the “gold standard” for self-care. A consistent regular practice of self-treatment elevates our vibration, increases immunity, fosters a strong relationship with Reiki, and provides a depth of understanding of our physical and subtle bodies. The self-treatment need not be a complete session; the point is to practice self-Reiki every day. My self-Reiki typically consists of a few minutes each morning before I arise, and another ten minutes or so at bedtime as I prepare for sleep. I will also add in a few minutes of self-Reiki while I relax in the evening, or if I’m feeling particularly sad or anxious. Incorporating Reiki into one’s daily life fosters and promotes a resilient outlook, even during stressful and troubled times. One of my recent articles offers suggestions for implementing Reiki into our everyday lives.
  • Receive Reiki from Others – Receiving Reiki from other practitioners carries all the benefits of self-Reiki, as mentioned above. An additional benefit is that another practitioner can often provide a more objective assessment of one’s energy field and offer helpful information and impressions received during the session. And, the connection with another like-minded individual is also very healing and comforting. Arranging Reiki “trades” with other practitioners is a wonderful way to improve one’s health and wellbeing on all levels. These days, I regularly trade distant Reiki with two practitioners; the benefits are simply remarkable, as are the close connections forged with these individuals.
  • Invite Reiki into Your Meditative Practice – Many Reiki practitioners, including myself, have a consistent meditation routine. Inviting Reiki to be a part of your daily meditative session adds a healing element to an already beneficial aspect of self-care. Also, it has been my experience that combining Reiki with meditation can effortlessly lead to deeper insights and realizations while in the meditative state, both of which are invaluable while contending with existential depression. Inviting Reiki into this intimate experience promotes a stronger relationship with Reiki, which leads to higher levels of awareness and increased receptivity to its guidance.
  • Balance Your Chakras with Reiki – Although a Reiki treatment works to heal and balance the chakras, there are times when they need additional balancing, especially during times of great distress. Intentionally balancing the chakras with Reiki can provide a healthful boost for your subtle body when you need it the most. There are numerous articles and videos available that describe various techniques to balance the chakras with Reiki. Finding those that resonate will help to maintain your physical and subtle bodies in optimum condition.
  • Stay Grounded with Reiki – As Reiki practitioners, we are well aware of the necessity for remaining grounded, especially before, during, and after a client’s Reiki session. Grounding the client is also an integral part of a thorough and complete Reiki session. But staying grounded is not limited to the context of a Reiki session. Intentional daily grounding practices are necessary for maintaining balance and centeredness. This is especially critical for Reiki practitioners, healers, and intuitive, empathic individuals who experience energies in a very personal, and sometimes painful, manner. And when one is grappling with existential depression, remaining grounded becomes a top priority. Fortunately, Reiki helps to keep us grounded even in challenging times and is always available to keep us centered, connected, and balanced. Simple techniques such as the “tree root” method can quickly and easily help us to ground and stabilize. Clearing our energy with Kenyoku also serves to ground, as it removes unhealthy energies that may be stuck or clinging to our subtle body.
  • Reiki Breathing – As we know, breath is life. When gripped with anxiety, sadness, or fear (such as during existential depression), we tend to breathe shallowly and incompletely, which exacerbates and extends the unpleasant feelings. Once again, Reiki can step in to alleviate the discomfort and return us to a more balanced healthy state. Reiki breathing techniques combine the healing power of Reiki with cleansing breaths to calm anxiety, relieve sadness, and reduce fear. I have found Reiki breathing to be of enormous help during periods of existential depression and anxiety; it soothes and comforts as it replenishes oxygen and releases unhealthy energies. Numerous videos exist online that depict various methods of Reiki Breathing. Allow Reiki to guide you to those that are best for you.

As stated above, these suggestions have proven helpful for me time and again. Above all, however, it is essential to invite Reiki into all aspects of your life. In so doing, you begin to forge a strong relationship with this remarkable energy and gift. As your relationship with Reiki develops and thrives, so does your ability to receive and understand its unfailing guidance and direction. Remember – Reiki always works with each one of us in the way that is right for each one of us. Its loving guidance sees us through even the darkest of times, and always reminds us that we are Light, and as such, will always return to the Light.