Lisa Miller on Depression & Spiritual Awakening: Two Sides of One Door (Transcript)

And lying there in our multiple rounds of IVF, my husband and I looked at each other. And he said it first. We knew there was a child out there for us. We made our way to a wise woman and hovered around her table, the daughter of a once clergyman. She looked at us and said, “Frankly, what is it that you are looking for in your child?”

And I leaned in and said, “Well, I don’t care if this is a boy or a girl. I don’t care what race this child is. Just please, a child who can love.”

And my husband jumped in and he said, “Well yes, all that, but kind of a girl.”

What we knew in common was that the voice that said you will never be parents, the voice that came from being alone in darkness was now a voice that said parenting is love. It hurts so much to not be loved. All he wanted was a mom, all I wanted was a child. What would have made us family was love. Parenting was love.

This was depression as a portal to a world of connection, a world of love, a world in which we walk a spiritual path. This was depression as only one side of the door. And on the other side of the door was illumination, warmth, light, and spiritual path, a spiritual passage.

Now, as a clinical scientist, it was clear to me that anything true through yet another human lense of knowing can be again shown. The certainty I had that depression and spirituality are two sides of one door seemed well within reach of science. And so my lab, together with that of Myrna Weissman and Brad Peterson and Rafi Bancell, did the science: two sides of one door — where is it in the brain? Where is depression as the portal of the spiritual path, not the disease? And we found it.

And we found it in broad and pervasive regions of the cortex. We welcomed into our lab deeply depressed people from families loaded up with generations of depression, and similar people with families loaded up with generations of depression who through their journey of suffering had reached a foundationally spiritual path. People whose lead foot was now depression for having traveled the darkness.

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And what we found was that in precisely those regions of the brain which atrophied and withered in lifelong depression. For those people with a strong personal spirituality, there was a thickening of those very same regions. The cortex was thick as if you were looking at a tree in the Amazon versus a tree withering under the cold and drought. Two sides of one door is in us. Depression is not always an illness. It can be. We can need to be rebooted or recalibrated or medicated. It can be. But very often, depression as everyone will face it is core to our endowment, and core to our development.

My husband and I continued now with this knowledge: that we were on the spiritual path in search of our child. It was clear that our suffering was not for naught, it was not an empty symptom, and with the awareness that we were “becoming,” the presence came back. The presence asked the same question in a deep and profound way. And my answer was honest, which is I am getting there. I can feel we’re down the road. There is the possibility of spiritually evolving into the person who would answer yes. But no, I’m not quite there where I would still adopt a child if I were pregnant.

My love has grown, but is my love that great? Not yet. And so we continued, and I found myself in the community of those who for generations have known that depression is but one side of the door, and spiritual awakening the other. Seated on the floor of the “Inipi”, the sweat lodge, among the Lakota in South Dakota, I joined the circle of women.

And here, each woman talked about the suffering which had brought her to our collective prayer. ‘My son, he’s 40. He has not come home to his family.’

‘My son, he’s 14, and he’s starting to use substance.’

I, in turn, shared that I was searching for my spiritual child. Together, we prayed and we sent it up. We sent our prayer both for one another, ourselves and the collective, up to Great Spirit, “Wananchi.”

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That night, a call came. They had found him, that very night on the other side of the earth. We have found the Miller’s child was the message. There are great girls and we can sure find you a girl, but this is the Miller’s child, and this is a son.

Well this time, clinical science had something to say to the spiritual path. When we looked at the women who, through suffering, had come to a spiritual path, with nice thick cortexes, they also had another quality: the back to their head gave off a certain wave length of energy that we call alpha. And it’s also found on the back of the head of a meditating monk.

Alpha has another name, it’s Shuman’s constant. It’s the wavelength of the earth’s crust. The spiritually engaged brain vibrates at the frequency at the earth’s crust. From the Inipi across the globe was found Isaiah, in through this matrix of consciousness, love, this sacred field that is in us, through us, around us and covers all living earth. This is the world in which we live — a world in which we’re never alone and in which there is guidance, trail angels, helpers and healers. And through the field of love comes just the person, the guy on the bus, the medicine woman, just that living being, the duck, the wise, generous animals, our sisters and brothers.

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