Lysan van Winden reviewed Modita van Zummeren’s recently released book, and after an interview with the author wrote an exposé about her life as a doctor, sannyasin, therapist, and healing from depression.
Depression has become part of our society nowadays: about one third of the population falls prey to it sooner or later. The origin of it often remains enigmatic and the standard treatment rarely brings real improvement. The prescription of antidepressants is commonplace and the disadvantages and side effects are taken for granted.
Twenty years ago the German physician Ruediger Dahlke established that, although all psychoanalysists (Freud and his followers) are certainly able to explain a lot, the therapeutic practice has in fact failed, and traditional behaviour therapy offers little solace. In Dahlke’s view the reason for this is that both approaches have too much a male yang-approach, while the soul, on which they try to get a grip, is a female yin-world which benefits more from spiritual and humanistic methods.
It is high time for a new look at depression, both at the causes and at the search for an effective treatment. This fresh look is to be found in the book Depression, a stepping-stone towards bliss by the (no longer practising) Dutch medical doctor, Modita van Zummeren.
Modita van Zummeren is a sparkling woman, charismatic and young of spirit, who looks much younger than her age – more than fifty years old. Her lively and involved way of speaking prepossesses any discussion partner in her favour, while at the same time you feel really seen by her. It is hard to imagine that this same woman suffered regularly from major depressions until a few years ago: depressions which she had had since she was sixteen, and which she succeeded in overcoming finally, bypassing the medical circuit.
An account of this difficult but fascinating process forms the first part of her book. In frank and personal terms, Modita gives a glimpse into her own past and that of her parents, and how this affected the development of her depressions. Next she goes into the subject of the search she undertook for meaning and for a solution to her complaints. She became a doctor and initially wanted to specialize in psychiatry. That however, was a big disappointment for her because of the unlilateral approach she found there – although it did help her to know the problems from both sides.
She completed her medical studies despite a great deal of effort and resistance. During her training she was already critical of conventional medicine and she decided to approach it in a different way as a doctor: not to focus on fighting with diseases, but on what promotes health and wellbeing.
It soon became clear to her that the usual approach of medication and therapy often didn’t work for depression, and she went looking for alternatives. In the meantime she had started to meditate, which brought her a lot in those periods when she was not feeling too down. Later she complemented this with Gestalt Therapy, for which she also did a training, and with emotional bodywork. She submitted herself to a rigorous self-examination in which she was continuously wondering: “How do I connect with people and how do I behave? How do I stand in the world?”
A key reversal in Modita’s life came at the moment when – driven by an inspiration – she bought a book by Osho. Although she was very critical in the beginning (“that’s the man with all those Rolls Royces”) she was open to what he had to say and was soon taken by his words and his approach. Osho had already left his body five years previously, but what he transmitted was fully alive. Modita travelled to the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune and came into contact with an approach to the human being that moved her deeply. She felt seen, in her individuality and in her soul, and discovered the healing effect of Osho’s various meditation techniques.
Even though her depressions did not yet belong to the past, it was clear that this was her track. Back in the Netherlands she kept occupied with what she learned from Osho and started facilitating meditations herself. She discovered how much joy this gave to her.
“Osho is my master,” she says with some caution. “Not that I follow him – though I have often tried this in times that I was depressed. Then it gave me a sort of straw in the wind. But Osho doesn’t want followers, he wants to inspire people to think for themselves and feel what is their own individual way. The first time I heard a recording of a lecture from him, I cried deeply. I recognised a lot in his words, I felt seen. Osho helps me to let go of the things which don’t belong to me – which I have adopted during my upbringing – and to reach the core of my being. And that is not only Hallelujah, it can be joyful but also quite painful sometimes.”
Finally this proved to be one of the ways that brought her definitive healing. Only now that this healing is a fact can she see how differently she stands in life:
“It’s a huge difference,” she says. “A 180-degree turn. Even compared to the relative good periods between my depressions, it still feels like a turn of at least 120 degrees. I was always trying so hard to hold on what gave me a good feeling and was actually dependent on that. Now I feel comfortably in my body and feel connected to the Earth, to my home, Nature and the people around me. I am no longer dependent on people or things outside of me. I am rooted just where I am. I don’t need to be in India any more to feel good. Therefore I am closer to myself, but at the same time I am less concerned with myself. There is more space to turn towards others, to move also outward and make real contacts.”
Asked about the cause of the large number of depressive symptoms in the current time, Modita says: “Nowadays there is so much emphasis on ambition and career, you have to achieve something in life – not only in the work area but also socially. You must always renew things. Besides that, there are so many stimuli that we easily lose the connection with ourselves. You also see more and more young people getting depressed while they are still in school because of the feeling: “I will never be able to live up to this.” The complete educational system is too heavily focused on performance and speed; you have to graduate quickly. You can also see how many people compare themselves with others. That is harmful; you move further away from yourself then. And there is social impoverishment: people seek more privacy and that can be good also, but we have lost the embedding into a larger connection which family and religion used to give in the past. Thereby we miss the hold of being embedded in a larger whole.”
Does Modita have any advice to psychiatrists and other helpers who work with depressed people?
“Be curious about the other. Let go of what you know about depression in general, but look at this specific person. Pay attention to someone’s social network, his home situation and family context. And also see the influence of somebody’s culture and family history. Wars in the past can still have an impact in a family for generations. In addition, it can be good as a helper to show something of yourself in the contact with the depressed person, to show your own vulnerability. And don’t come immediately with medicines. If medication is already the case, look for possibilities to phase them out with the help of therapy.”
What is exactly that new approach that Modita van Zummeren has developed? First of all she ascertains that it is of essential importance to accept the depression. It is also important to take responsibility for one’s own life and for one’s own way, and to become conscious of this responsibility. Antidepressants inhibit this consciousness and are therefore already counterproductive.
A second important handle which helps to understand and overcome depression is Family Constellation. In a constellation the interrelationships among family members become visible, which can give suprising insights into how one’s own role in the family system has been determining for psychic patterns.
“It’s always a question of whether you could really be a child when you were small. Children too often place themselves in a caring role and try in this way to take the problem of the parent on their shoulders, to take it over. It can also occur that a family member of a former generation, who was depressed and whose depression has not been acknowledged, is ‘followed’ by a child, by which means the child tries to make this depressed family member still visible in his own life. So the depression doesn’t necessarily have to belong to the person himself, and Family Constellation can make such an entanglement visible. Such an insight often has a very healing effect.”
Essential in Modita’s approach are Osho’s Active Meditations. In her book she comprehensively pays attention to the effect these meditations have. She describes in particular the Dynamic Meditation, which she herself still does on a daily basis. Besides that she covers Osho’s Meditative Therapies: Mystic Rose (where laughing, crying and witnessing in silence are deeply experienced), Born Again (which brings us in contact with our inner child) and Reminding Yourself of the Forgotten Language of Talking to your BodyMind (focused on healing physical complaints through communication with the subconscious).
Further, the focus is on healthy nutrition, physical exercise, walking in Nature, the words of Osho, contact with others and insight into oneself. Although all of these things have a therapeutic function, they form at the same time a broad foundation on which a person can build up a new life. Not as a temporary solution, but in the form of concrete new habits. Probably someone who has been healed in this way will integrate at least some of these methods permanently in his or her life.
Modita van Zummeren has also done that herself, and whoever meets her radiant person sees with their own eyes what an inner richness it has brought. She is living proof that her approach works, a woman who walks her talk. She stands simultaneously powerful and vulnerable in life, a wise woman with a warm interest in her fellow men.
In her work as a doctor, Modita was appreciated for her holistic approach and out-of-the-box thinking. But finally she decided that the doctor’s job wasn’t her mission. She specialised in facilitating meditation courses and silent meditation retreats and did trainings for facilitating Family Constellations.
She continued working on the theme of depression – initially in dealing with her own problems, later focusing on designing a programme with which she could help others. Her book is the result of this. It is recommended not only for everyone who suffers from depression, but also for the people around them and for health professionals. It helps the reader to see specific problems with different eyes. It is easily accessible and very easy to read.
For those who have become inspired by the contents of the book, Modita has developed an online course to guide them in overcoming their depression. The course starts five times a year.
It turns out that the book encourages many – including people who are not depressed. They find recognition in the book, start to see things in their own lives with different eyes and draw strength and courage from the book. Several readers have indicated that it has inspired them to really follow their passion – to write a book, search for another job or whatever suits their own flow of life. For that reason alone the book is a real asset.
Review by Lysan van Winden
‘Depression: A Stepping Stone Towards Bliss’
Beyond Depresson with Consciousness
by Modita van Zummeren
Available as paperback and Kindle from amazon.com – amazon.co.uk – amazon.de – amazon.in – and in your country
Dutch original available from bol.com