Bipolar Disorder — Medication vs. Meditation
A devotee just was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has begun mood stabilizing medication. Although the episodes are mild, kriya tends to put her into mania. This person always found it difficult to spiritualize activities. Depression typically follows her during the day. She has always thought it was her fault that she couldn’t live joyfully and maintain a kriya practice. How should she approach an inner life?
I’m sorry to hear about your friend. Bipolar disorder can improve over time, through working with a doctor and also working with meditation. Having worked with many hundreds of Kriya Yogis over the years, this type of situation is the one where I recommend the most care. Kriya practice shouldn’t cause mania, or the manic side of bipolar condition. If it does, then one shouldn’t practice the Kriya technique. Hong-sau and other meditation practices can be very helpful for calming and centering the mind, along with balancing the extreme ups and downs that you mention.
That said, I’ve seen that the best way to work with the Kriya technique when the mind is so extremely fluctuating is to practice it more with a sense of devotional self-offering, and less with intense willpower. Even then, one should be careful to be watch one’s mood and do only a moderate amount of Kriya.
I have seen people who have been diagnosed as bipolar and started medication eventually find the right balance of medication and meditation. In every case, though, people should be working with their doctor instead of trying to use meditation only, as a form of self-medication. It may take your friend some time, but it is certainly possible and even hopeful. Physical activity and an attitude of karma yoga in one’s service can also help change the balance of karma that causes mental imbalance.
A friend of mine was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about a year and a half before he came onto the spiritual path, and he told me the following:
In the beginning it was very challenging for me to meditate, but I worked with an Ananda minister to figure out ways of adjusting the techniques that would help me be more grounded. Certain spiritual practices did make me feel unstable, particularly in the beginning, so I backed off from those and just did what I could. Always I have taken medication and still go in regularly for testing and check-ups, especially if I seem to be in a challenging time. I saw a therapist for years and with many people it would also be good to do that regularly. I feel stable now, but it is basically by God’s grace that this is possible. Ultimately meditation has been a great aid to my mental health and spiritual life.
He added that these teachings were very helpful because they help us become more balanced and centered over time.
Sometimes people feel that they can dispense altogether with medications and replace them entirely with meditation. Do this only under the guidance of your doctor. Several years ago my wife Maria told me an interesting story. While she was out for an evening walk at Ananda Village she met a woman who seemed extremely distraught. Maria approached her to see if she could help. After some discussion, Maria realized (intuitively, I think) that the woman was having some sort of mental episode, perhaps due to thinking that she could stop taking medications because she was visiting a spiritual place.
With some strength, Maria asked her, “Did you stop taking your meds!?” (“meds” are medications) The woman responded with a surprised, “Yes” – and said she thought she didn’t need them since she was visiting Ananda and meditating more. Maria made the woman promise her to go back to her room at our retreat center, The Expanding Light, “Right now!” and take her medications.
About a year later a woman who I didn’t recognize came up to me at The Expanding Light. She somehow recognized me as Maria’s husband and asked me to give her a message: “Your wife saved my life.” The woman had apparently been feeling such despair that she thought she might take her own life.
So, someone with bipolar disorder should continue to work with their doctor, while they also tentatively and over time introduce a meditation practice into their lives.
The grace of God and the Guru also enters into the picture. By opening ourselves up to their grace, it’s possible to cause changes in ourselves that would seem impossible.
Remember, every spiritual effort that we make will bear fruit in some way. Unlike worldly endeavors, no spiritual effort is ever wasted.
You can also have your friend contact me, if they like, and I can put them in touch with someone experienced in these things that can help them.
with prayers for your friend,