Moving Through Depression, Anxiety & Stagnation by Finding a Path with Heart

Finding a path with a heart takes some work but can help you overcome difficult emotions like depression and anxiety. There are steps you can take to find your path today!

Are you on a path with heart - one with meaning and purpose? Are you struggling with difficult emotions like depression and anxiety?

Man-Finding-Path-e1332620912990Are you numb and tuned out? Some emotional pain is unavoidable as you travel through life’s many directions and try to figure out your unique way. Sometimes it is painful when you are doing the right thing. Other times you may encounter anxiety and depression because you are off track. A more basic question is: are you even trying to find a path with heart, one that leads to your full potential as a unique human being, or have you given up on yourself or lost touch? The great Mahatma Ghandi once said: “He who loses his individuality loses all”. Frequently people settle thereby diminishing themselves and what they have to offer to others. They end up doing what was expected of them by their family, friends, or community—or they take the easy way out, resulting in suffering and diminishment of the human spirit.

A path with heart is living in harmony with your unique inner spirit. It is that sense of aliveness that gives your life purpose, meaning, and direction. Hence, it is a deeper, more encompassing process related to being alive in all the different aspects of living: work, relationships, family, hobbies, interests, drives, etc. It is both the deepest sense of you as an individual as well as your distinct way of connecting with others. Some people describe the process of finding a path with heart as “the individuation process”. Dr. James Hillman, well known Jungian Analyst, writes about individuation using the metaphor of the acorn. The mighty Oak Tree originates from the tiny acorn—the full potential of that tree is contained in its seed, the acorn, which can grow into a unique tree (no two oak trees are exactly the same). If the acorn is not planted in the right place, attended to properly, given enough sun and water, it will never grow. The same is true for you—there is an inner kernel or acorn that is unique to your own spirit, your own self, your own identity, that needs caring and nurturing to develop. That kernel is in a way like a blue print for your life, except it is not totally fixed or fully determined, and develops with proper care—but if you do not follow it, your life will not develop as it should—you become out of balance and do not become true to your distinct inner nature.

Tuning into the unique rhythms of your inner self is the task of a lifetime—it is never too late (or early) to start and it never truly ends. Sometimes emotions like depression and anxiety are clues that you are missing this path, out of sync, as if a part of you knows you are off course and objects, sending neurotic waves of anxiety and depression. Other times you may feel numb and detached. Are you “checking out” with substances, like alcohol or drugs, or through other numbing pursuits like excessive TV viewing, gaming, overeating or other soul killing activities? Sometimes being true to yourself can feel like you are betraying others, thus bringing up guilt and more anxiety. Never forget the famous words: “to thine own self, be true!” If you are not true to yourself, who else is going to do this for you? Being true to yourself is not always easy.

Finding a path with heart or consciously following the individuation process can be facilitated by making a deliberate decision to do so. To better help you tune into your inner process, here are a few suggestions. First, value yourself enough to put a priority on YOU. Joseph Campbell used the phrase: “Follow your bliss!” In other words, find out what moves you, look inside at what is important to you and START doing those things immediately. This is your one and only life. Do not cheat yourself or sell yourself short.

Second, and related to above, ultimately you must realize that a path with heart is specific to you and no one else—you must find your own way. Do not let other people define this path for you—if you listen closely, attending carefully to your own experience, eventually you will connect with an “inner voice”, an inner sense of your own conscience, apart from what “society dictates”.

Third, start writing down your dreams. Keep a dream journal. Your dreams are more important then you may realize and represent parts of you that emerges when your defenses are down, expressed in their own symbolic language. By writing down dreams, you connect with your deepest inner self. Just making this connection is important, regardless of whether you understand your dreams or not. Eventually they will begin to make sense to you as you develop a kind of dialogue with your unconscious psyche. Fourth, in order to tune into a path with heart, you must understand the life that you have lived, what it is, as well as the major influences that formed who you are—this will allow you to make better choices about where your life is going and how you would like it to form. One technique for facilitating this process involves writing out a detailed Timeline or Lifeline to help you get started. In a previous article, The False Self Depression Syndrome”, I have made other suggestions that are useful here as well—be honest in your interactions, meditate, and engage in some creative endeavor.

Finding and then living a path with heart can involve making difficult choices and requires carefully turning inward to really look at your life. Sometimes painful feelings are encountered during this process. In this capacity as a depth oriented psychologist, having integrated a variety of healing techniques into my therapeutic approach, I may be of assistance. Please feel free to call if you or someone you know could benefit from my help. Thank you for reading this article and I hope it was helpful!

Dr. Eric Ryan
Dr. Eric Ryan is a psychologist in private practice in Santa Rosa California. He is currently the Training Director for the Post Doctoral Residency Program at Kaiser Psychiatry in Santa Rosa and was previously the Chair for the Anxiety Disorder Best Practices for all of Northern California Kaiser Psychiatry.


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