Bipolar disorder—once known as manic depression—is a serious mental condition. The alarming highs and lows associated with the problem are controlled by powerful drugs, but neuroscientists are at a loss as to what is actually going on.
Most assume it’s a genetic problem, and some believe it could be caused by a chemical imbalance. But new research suggests it is neither of those: instead, there’s a very strong link to ‘adverse experiences’ that happened to the sufferer in childhood.
Bad experiences such as neglect and abuse before the sufferer reached the age of 19 nearly triple the chances of bipolar disorder, researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK have discovered. Emotional abuse seems to have the strongest connection, raising the risk four-fold. 1
Earlier research they carried out suggested that schizophrenia could have the same cause.
If they carried on looking, they’d discover that almost every mental problem—such as depression and anxiety—has the exact same genesis. ‘Bad’ experiences and trauma leave an energetic imprint that find expression as emotional outbursts, negative thought patterns—and so-called mental problems.
And if therapists and researchers were to look closer still, they would see that this energy creates the ‘problem’ first, and then the ‘person’ who identifies with it, owns it and feels responsibility for it. The path goes something like this: adverse experience (and why we have adverse experiences in the first place will take too long in this short blog to explain), which leaves an energetic residue, which is expressed as an emotion or feeling and eventually a thought, and which creates a ‘self’ that has the problem.
Without clearly seeing this process, deep and lasting transformation is difficult because the person who is depressed or has bipolar disorder—and who goes for therapy—is merely an extension of the problem itself.
I want to be happy. I want to be rich. I want to be acknowledged. I want to be fulfilled. I want a better job, a new car, a bigger home.
We all have these thoughts, but we probably don’t spend too much time pondering what this ‘I’ actually is.
It can’t be our body, because that doesn’t have many of those desires, other than to be healthy, eat, sleep, be warm and suchlike.
Perhaps it’s our brain. But does a brain have ambitions or desires to be rich? We could argue that a brain wants to be happy and content, perhaps, but that then opens up the can of worms about identity. Am I nothing more or less than a brain? And as there are drives that we have that would be alien to the brain, it seems we can’t be that either.
Then, perhaps, I’m a soul. But even this doesn’t fully pass the test. A soul doesn’t desire money in the bank, or a promotion, or a nicer house, or a better car.
While it’s very difficult to know who actually I am, we’re all convinced that it points to something that is essential, the real me. This I is constant, it makes decisions, it has needs. The assumption also implies that this I is in control and a problem-solver.
So, if that’s the case, try the three-question challenge (and if your assumption is correct, you should be answering ‘yes’ to each question):
Of course, few —if any of us—will give a ‘yes’ to any of the questions. We don’t decide what we dream, we’re not in control of our moods, and we never want to have negative, self-limiting thoughts. But that’s what happens.
Instead, these thoughts, dreams and moods happen to us, and over which we have no control.
So what’s going on? I could coin a movie title and say ‘It’s complicated’, but that immediately defines it and you’ll see it that way. So, let’s just say it’s amazing, fascinating and once you get it, you won’t want to stop looking.
So here it is. You are an expression of three time sequences: the present, past and what I call the potential (which is out of time, and in Eastern religion is the silent watcher, the seer behind sight, the hearer behind hearing). You can have more than one sequence expressing itself at the same time, but usually one will be dominant. The expression creates a ‘you’ in that moment, so, for example, an expression from the past may generate a feeling of anger, and that anger will create a ‘you’ that will define itself as ‘I am angry’.
This is why you can have many desires, ambitions and needs; they come from one or more time sequences. These feelings from the time sequences create emotions and thoughts, and these thoughts create a you, hence the central koan in my book, The Untrue Story of You: the thought thinks the thinker.
Waking up psychologically or spiritually begins when you start to see these processes at play.
Have fun with it and let me know if you’re starting to see these movements of thought for yourself.
I’ve been enjoying Sarah Bakewell’s new book At The Existential Café (Chatto & Windus), which explores the origins and development of existential philosophy.
It traces the movement’s beginnings back to Kierkegaard, and how Husserl and his student, Martin Heidegger, developed it further, but the book’s main focus is on Jean-Paul Sartre and his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir and their own particular take on the philosophy.
At its heart, Sartre’s existentialism proclaims that we are essentially free, but the idea is so terrifying to us that we find comfort in habits and responsibilities.
I take a different view. We are potentially free but we are enslaved by our past. The past lives us and through us and into the world. While this energetic process happens, we will repeat the same mistakes and see the same old patterns recurring in our lives.
The past builds because we are not fully conscious when we experience some traumatic event; by ‘unconscious’, I mean that we are fully body-centred at the time, and we see things entirely from our personal perspective and not from the ‘middle-ground’, the space between the players in the drama.
Freedom from the past is the only metaphysical freedom, and that is possible when we fully see, with great clarity, the processes of time, its energies that create thought, filters and even the ‘I’ that I think that I am.
When we are free of the past, we fulfill our potential as creative beings, without fear.
It’s blindingly obvious (when you think about it): depression is the result of events that have happened in our life. It’s not caused by our genes or by some chemical imbalance in the brain—it’s caused by the memory of difficult, traumatic, life-altering experiences.
Psychologists have finally admitted this week that this is, by far, the over-riding cause of depression, and research funding on seeking out a genetic cause should be stopped.
I could say the same for the billions spent on antidepressants, which are supposed to correct a chemical imbalance—a dubious theory that has never been proven, and, indeed, has been roundly discounted by psychiatrists.
This realisation was the key to understanding my own depression, and which was the catalyst for my book The Untrue Story of You. From recognising that depression was an expression of memory, I then had to figure out what memory is.
Essentially, it is energy, and is the residue of an event that was not fully witnessed, as I put it. In other words, its genesis is a partial experience seen only from my perspective.
As I didn’t choose to suffer depression, I had to assume that this energy of the past not only inhabited me, it formed me, and, ultimately, was me, which is why my book begins with the koan: The thought thinks the thinker.
Most therapies are based on the misunderstanding that the problem (in this case, depression, but it could be anger, paranoia, addiction, and so on) is different from the sufferer. The sufferer is the manifestation of the problem, and is an extension of it. Therefore, any attempt by the sufferer to modify or improve his or her behaviour is a further movement of the problem itself.
Some improvement can be made, but only when it is seen with great vividness that the sufferer and the problem are one and the same that profound and lasting change is possible.
It’s been called ‘therapy wars’: the Freudian psychoanalysts have been trying to win back ground taken by the newer upstart, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has become the standard treatment for everything from anxiety and depression to procrastination.
CBT is considered by its detractors to be something of a quick fix, and one that is overly simplistic. Unhappiness, for example, is caused by irrational beliefs, and once we see those beliefs for what they are, they disappear, and we’re happy.
The Freudians argue that things aren’t that easy: you can’t escape your past without a great deal more insight and struggle. There’s also the strange, contradictory and idiosyncratic nature of our mind that often seeks out what is not always the best for us. Our conscious mind is only the tip of a giant iceberg, with our unconscious being the real controller.
It’s an interesting debate, but the two therapies—and indeed any psychological therapy—make the fundamental mistake that the patient is an autonomous entity who happens to have anger issues, for instance. The person can work on his or her issues and improve.
It’s not an issue of ownership: I don’t have anger issues—the anger issues are me. There is absolutely no difference between the energy of anger and you, a construct that is created by the energy itself. First is the anger, and the energy creates an ‘I’ who owns the anger. Any attempt to improve or change the situation is an extension of the original energy itself.
Although these therapies can modify behaviour, true transformation comes about when we clearly see these processes at play.
John, an old friend and work colleague, died the other day. Only he knows what death is, and what is beyond our death, because he has joined the millions before him who have made that journey. For us, death is the greatest mystery: it takes away someone who had been a son or daughter, a husband or wife, with all the experiences of their life, and the quirkiness of their personality, their traits, habits, their ways and demeanour, their little kindnesses. All gone, in the twinkling of an eye.
So what has happened? We know that the body and form we identified as ‘John’ has died, and with it has gone the personality that was associated with the body. What more can we say with any certainty? Surprisingly little.
We can’t say, for example, that consciousness dies with the body. There have been so many documented and proven examples of our consciousness existing outside of the body, such as in cases of near-death experiences (NDEs), remote viewing, telepathy, and so on.
The only way to understand these phenomena, that transcend space or time, or both, is by seeing that ‘we’ are inside consciousness, and not the other way round. Consciousness is not a by-product of the brain, as most assume.
So why doesn’t it feel like that? As we live and have experiences, we increasingly see things from the perspective of our body, and this starts to build an energy centre that creates a sense of a ‘you’ in the process.
As children, we are closer to this timeless, disembodied consciousness, but the shift begins when we have traumatic and unpleasant experiences that are body-centred.
Understanding this, we can also begin to glimpse what ends when we die.
Marcus Aurelius, the go-to philosopher for the pithy quote and the Facebook meme, said something that rarely gets highlighted, but I think is especially profound. It’s this: The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
Not one of those quotes that hits you between the eyes, perhaps, although it did so for me, but that’s perhaps because it touches on some of the essential points in my book, The Untrue Story of You.
‘Unpacking’ the comment (as philosophers love to say) the first important phrase is “victory”, so what is this victory? There is only one victory worth having: victory over ourselves. Why should that be? As I outline in my book, ‘we’ are the creation of the past, which arises as emotions and is translated into thoughts.
Until we see this process, we are victims of the past, destined to recreate past actions over and over again.
So, turning to the next phrase, the organization of the non-obvious, what is it about ourselves that is non-obvious? Well, for one, the very idea of the self itself seems obvious—to the point that we just assume there is an autonomous and constant self in control—but it isn’t obvious at all. In fact, the longer and closer you look, the more opaque it all becomes. Eventually, you will see there is nobody there!
The other non-obvious thing, leading from that insight, is that there is no thinker, only thoughts. As I say in my book’s central koan: The thought thinks the thinker.
And so, when you see these things with absolute clarity, when you see what thoughts are, where they come from and what they are doing—when you have organized the non-obvious—only then will you have victory over yourself.
If you live in or around London, you may want to catch me and my wife, Lynne McTaggart, at a workshop we’re holding on Saturday, December 5th.
It’s a one-day workshop that features some of the work we’ve done together, and it’s the first time we have presented it in the UK.
Called ‘The Process’, it fuses our work into a powerful synthesis that gives you the tools to help you overcome the past that shapes ‘you’ and makes you what you are and the life you’re leading. It’s especially helpful if you feel you’re in a rut or trap, or if you are making all the old mistakes over and over again.
It’s being organised by Alternatives, and it’s being held at the Heythorp College in London’s Kensington.
We hope to see you there.
To find out more and book your place, go to:
If you suffered physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence when you were a child, you are far more likely to suffer from migraines as an adult. This might be dismissed as mere coincidence by those who believe every ailment must have a physical cause, but those of you who’ve read The Untrue Story of You know different.
At the heart of the book is the Time-Light theory—that the past lives on in us as an energetic entity, and one that influences our lives, our world and our health.
There’s plenty of research in the book to support the theory—and now more has been added by researchers from the University of Toronto. After analysing the health profiles of 12,638 women and 10,358 men over the age of 18, they found that those who had suffered abuse as a child were 64 per cent more likely to suffer from migraines if they were a woman and men were 52 per cent more likely.
The researchers said the association was “surprising” and it still remained strong even after they had accounting for every possible variable that might have otherwise skewed the results.
The take-home message for the researchers was that psychologists and doctors need to be more aware of childhood abuse and the likelihood of illness as an adult.
Or they can come to fully see and forgive their past as explained in The Untrue Story of You….
(The University of Toronto study can be found at: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2015; doi: 10.1111/head.12614)
Everything is energy (hold on to that idea). Yes, everything is energy, even including your thoughts.
If a thought is energetic, what it is and where does it come from?
All thoughts come from the past. That past could be one second ago or a lifetime ago, but it has to be from the past. That’s easy to see with some of our thinking; the chattering type, for instance, is always a movement from the past to an imagined future. Watch it carefully, and you’ll see.
Even ‘good’ thinking, such as problem-solving, has to be from the past.
This constant energetic movement from past-to-future creates a sense of a substantial ‘you’, although this you is never defined. It’s the biggest illusion of them all.
If you are fully present, you aren’t thinking. You are either dynamically observing or acting.
So thought comes from the past, but what is it? It’s an emotional imprint from an experience. As energy, it has only one of several ways of expressing itself: through another energetic form that we call the body, and this can manifest as disease, or through another energetic form we call the brain, and becomes a thought, and eventually into another energetic form we call the world.
So the past can create illness, it creates thought—and indirectly ‘you’—and ultimately the world you inhabit. The past creates patterns in your life, which is why people repeat old mistakes.
Seeing this process with vivid clarity is the surest way to escape the past that lives through you. We’ll look at that in more detail next time.