Depression : how meditation can cure a depression?
Neurologically speaking, on a very simplistic level, we can say that a depression occurs when the cerebral cortex (the part of the brain that plays an important role in consciousness) thinks a negative thought and manage to convince the rest of the brain that this thought should be treated as a real physical stressor. How does the cortex achieve such a disastrous job? Research seems to point in the direction of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). The ACC helps integrate thinking and feeling. It has all the characteristics of a brain region you would like to switch off when you are in the middle of a depression. The emotions the ACC seems to be concerned with are the negative ones. The ACC also turns on when people feel left out and excluded.
How to switch off the ACC? This problematic region of the brain, the ACC, might hold the solution. It is shown that it deactivates during task that demand attention. So when you intentionally put your attention on an object (whatever it might be, the breath, closing a door, listening to sounds around you, really tasting a good glass of wine) the ACC stops functioning. Then negative emotions disappears. On the other hand when people refers to memories or free planning, we could say when the activity of the brain is free-wheeling, the ACC fires up intensely. When we are lost in random thinking this region lights up.
Meditation and mindfulness is all about intentionally bringing our attention on an object and stop the random thinking. Meditation can cure depression. Although we must add that depression is a serious affliction. Meditation can help for sure. Though in situation of repetitive and severe depressions, some public health institution (the National Health Care System of England for instance) has expressed concerns regarding meditation as a tool to cure depression. So please be aware that consulting your physician and the help of psychotherapy can be very beneficial. In case of a first and not severe depression although meditation has proven to be beneficial.
From a more monastic point of view, the Buddha said that in life there is suffering. Indeed people who have add to deal with depression get to know first hand what mental suffering means. We suffer according to the Buddha because we crave sensations. We reject the unpleasant ones, wanting the pleasant ones to stay with us for ever. This is a big mistake according to Buddhism. This foolish desire traps us in a constant state of discontentment that wreaks havoc in our mind. This gives rise to the sense of ME. Buddhism says that this sense of ME is an illusion, a pure sensation that rises and ceases all the time. People think that this ME is the same from the cradle to the grave, actually it changes numerous times through an hour, a day, a year and imagine how many of these different ME can rise through a life. To be able to observe a thought for what it is, just a thought. A body sensation for what it is, just a body sensation. To see that they simply rise and cease in an endless dance, stops our constant desire to change what is rising in the mind and brings contentment. It brings an end to this belief that there is a constant, unchangeable ME living this life. There’s just a sense of Me that keeps rising and ceasing and is never the same. This is the ultimate of insight for Buddhism, the realization that nobody lives this life. The end of suffering, and the end of depression.