Shakti—becoming immune to anxiety and depression4 min read

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If we look at anxiety and depression as states of mind, then there are two ways we can overcome them. One way is to work on removing their causes—psychological and physiological. The other way is to cultivate qualities that are incompatible with these states. We can remove the darkness, or we bring in the light and the darkness will disappear on its own.

In this article, I’ll explore how cultivating purpose and empowerment not only feels great but can, to some degree, make you immune to anxiety and depression. The stronger these qualities are in you, the more immune you become.

We all understand what cultivating purpose means. That is the heart of Mindful Self-Discipline, which is about living an aspiration-driven life. But what about empowerment? That is the word I use, for lack of a better term, to refer to a group of qualities that give us inner strength—such as confidence, courage, optimism, focus, ownership, energy, and determination. This inner strength is both the cause and the effect of living inside out.

To use the chariot metaphor, empowerment is the capacity of the charioteer (higher mind) to actively control the horses (lower mind). The horses of your mind may be depressed or anxious, but a trained charioteer can take them out of that state, guiding them to a noble and engaging pursuit.

In the spiritual traditions of India, which philosophically underpin my work, the word for this is shakti—often translated as energy, power, or creative force. In my work in personal development, I chose to adopt the word “empowerment”. I am aware that in a lot of self-help books this means something far shallower and more cliché, yet that word is what we have to work within the English language.

The Antithesis to Anxiety

We cannot feel hot and cold at the same time or tired and energized at the same time. Likewise, we cannot, at the same time, experience anxiety and also the states that are the antithesis of anxiety—confidence, courage, relaxation, optimism, and acceptance. To the extent that we bring in the qualities that are the opposite of anxiety, anxiety will disappear.

The initial focus of my career as a meditation teacher and coach was to help people overcome anxiety, using a mixture of tools from mindfulness and other modalities of inner work. As I went deep into that topic, I eventually learned the formula of anxiety:

Anxiety happens when the perceived danger is greater than your perceived capacity to deal with the danger.

In other words, anxiety is a state of perceived disempowerment.

That means we can overcome anxiety by fixing our perception of the danger (which is often exaggerated) or by increasing our capacity to deal with the danger. You overcome that state of disempowerment through either awareness or willpower.

Here is where shakti or empowerment comes in. The more empowered you become, the less reason you will have to worry and fear. A lion is never anxious, because he knows his power—so he moves about in the jungle carefree. Likewise, the more you cultivate your shakti, the less anxiety you’ll experience.

There are many ways to become more empowered, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to explore them all. Here is a quick list so you can know what to look for:

  • Cultivating empowering mindsets
  • Developing virtues such as courage, optimism, and self-belief
  • Strengthening your willpower through self-discipline
  • Facing your fears
  • Raising your energy levels through martial arts, pranayama, qigong
  • Certain mantras
  • Affirmations and visualizations

Having a clear aspiration in life also helps. When you embrace an aspiration fully and let it lead your life, you naturally feel more empowered. Purpose also gives you shakti.

The Antithesis to Depression

The state of depression is often characterized by apathy, boredom, hopelessness, rumination, sadness, loss of interest in activities, and not finding anything pleasurable. For some people, it can also include feelings of guilt, self-hatred, and fatigue.

Each of these states, moods, or emotions have their opposite. So, by applying the same principle, we can bring in the opposite quality to diminish depression—perhaps even to completely remove it.

Having a strong sense of purpose, and feeling empowered within yourself, tick several of these boxes. It makes you more engaged in life, hopeful about your future, and focused on taking positive action in your life. You feel more energized and happy to wake up to another day, every day—because there is something exciting that you are pursuing in your life. Something you deeply care about and that gives you a sense of meaning.

Parting Thoughts

I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. Yet the challenges of depression and anxiety are as old as mankind. They existed much before modern medicine and psychology claimed it as their territory. In this article, I shared an approach to overcoming depression and anxiety that is rooted in ancient wisdom traditions—the cultivation of purpose, shakti, and positive states of mind.

Now, as usual, my questions for you:

  • What negative states of mind are you struggling with?
  • What are the states, qualities, or emotions that are its opposite?
  • What will you do to start cultivating them?
Going Deeper

Once you identify the qualities you want to cultivate, you can use the techniques of Kindle the Virtue and Absorb the Virtue. You will find an explanation for them in Chapter 38 of Mindful Self-Discipline and the step-by-step guided meditations for them in our app.

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