chilling out

Mindfulness #5: Creating a Team When You’re Depressed

Our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class has come to an end. There were tears and hugs when we said goodbye.

Nine weeks ago we looked at each other with minds that were wary, scared, curious, self-conscious. Today we are Sangha for each other, and we will miss each other. And we will miss our teacher. Today many of us are scared to be without each other. I’m scared.

I wonder whether I’ll keep up my meditation practice, or whether it will wither on the vine. I wonder whether I’ll grow to loathe it – that thing I’m not doing for myself that I know I should do. I wonder whether I’ll keep the progress I’ve made or slide back. I wonder whether I’ll keep progressing.

I wonder whether “it’s worked,” whether I’ve avoided another major episode of depression. And I know the answer isn’t written. Doesn’t exist. I wonder whether I’ll wither again.

“Find yourself a Sangha,” our teacher told us. Find yourself a group to practice with. You need a group. You need a team.

Find yourself a Sangha.

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Mindfulness #4: Six Weeks In

Grandpa 1I’m six weeks into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. It involves two and a half hours of training every Saturday morning, an hour of meditation every day, and a day-long silent retreat. I’m doing this to feel better, to avoid another relapse into deep depression.

The phenomenally good news is that I think it works. The bad news is that it requires constant upkeep.

I’ve become slower. I no longer rush through my days. Even on my way to work, I take time to enjoy the feeling of my feet on the pavement. (Also apparently there’s something to enjoy about feet and pavement.)

Grandpa 3I’ve become calmer. I watch bad (and good) thoughts go by, recognizing their impermanence, their fluidity. I don’t follow them as often, reacting to them as if they were true.

I worry less. I panic less. I’m closer to the source of my happiness being inside me.

Instead of dwelling on the things I’ve lost, it’s easier for me to rejoice in what is left. My grandmother died five years ago yesterday. I loved her fiercely and miss her every day. Therapy and meditation have helped me to mourn her loss a little less. Instead I rejoice in the fact that my grandfather is still with us – singing “I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah…” to my little dog Bebop.

I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Grandpa 2

First photo by jencu on Flickr.

Second photo by Richard BH on Flickr.

Third photo by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr.

Mindfulness #2: A Crappy Day Gets a Second Chance

A New Chance

A New Chance

The other day I woke up in a bad mood. You know the feeling. Bad dreams, groggy, a sense of loathing of the day to come. Shower? Oof. Walk the dog? Eugh. Fuck.

I was sitting on my back porch having a cigarette and feeling shitty about the fact that it looked like today was going to be a bad day. I was especially disappointed because the day before had been pretty good, and I was sad my streak was over.

Here is the moment.

Here is the moment when I felt my mindfulness training start to work.

I thought, “I feel pretty shitty right now. I feel like this is going to last the whole day. I’m mourning a day I haven’t had yet, but the day doesn’t have to go that way. My thoughts and fears about how my day will turn out are not necessarily true – they’re just thoughts and fears. I can, just as we do during meditation, start over. I can let these thoughts and fears pass. Notice them, note them, and let them pass. I can start over. I can have this moment, unburdened by the nightmares that are in the past, and unburdened by the workday that is in the future.”You Are Here

I thought about my body – a little tight from sleep, maybe, but not in pain. I thought about my dog on my lap. Adorable. I thought about the dawn that was happening around me and that didn’t seem to upset me.

I can’t explain it, but it worked. My day became very similar to the good day I’d had the day before. I was able to shower and walk my dog without dragging myself. I was able to get to work just fine, even a little proud. I was able to move through my day without the sense of loathing that was leftover from my nightmares, without the anticipatory dread about trouble that hadn’t arrived yet. – That? That is a BIG deal for a depressive.

I got a glimpse of what it’s like to give each moment a chance, to accept and let go.

And I’m really grateful for it.

Also grateful for: Bebop

Also grateful for: Bebop

First photo by Steven Christenson on Flickr.

I found the second image in a great blog called A Beautiful Revolution. You can find it here.

I took the third picture of my dog, hamming it up.

Chilling the fuck out

I’m reading a book on mindfulness and depression. The authors posit that people are more vulnerable to depression and relapse when they spend a lot of their time in a ‘comparing’ state of mind – that is, when you’re noticing the difference between how things are and how you’d like them to be. They contrast that with a ‘being’ or ‘observing’ state of mind, which is characterized by noticing the present moment and accepting it for what it is.

Comparing state of mind? That’s me.

It makes sense to me that you appreciate any given moment less when you’re preoccupied with changing it, when you’re comparing it to the past or planning ways to make it different in the future. It makes sense to me that a ‘comparing’ state of mind would be exhausting, because the call to action is constant. A ‘being’ mind sounds like a welcome relief – peaceful and calm.

(I’m reminded of my attempts to notice those moments when I feel like my mind can rest.)

To develop their mindfulness-based treatment plan to avoid relapse in people who have had depression, the authors looked to a program designed for patients with chronic pain. Instead of fighting the pain, the patients learned to regard it with a gentle, kindly awareness.

(I’m reminded of my friend who eventually came around to loving the mean voice.)

This approach to avoiding relapse does not emphasize the content of your thoughts, such as getting over your specific triggers. Instead it tries to change the relationship you have with your thoughts. It tries to help you understand that not every thought reflects reality. Not every thought deserves a reaction.

My Dog: Not Excellent in the Fetch Department. GENIUS at Chilling Out

My Dog: Not Great at Fetch, GENIUS at Chilling Out

I realized after (during?) my first(?) major episode in college that what I needed, in a very serious way, was to chill the fuck out. Mindfulness-based approaches to depression seem to be saying the same thing.

When you can spend less time fighting and more time with a gentle awareness, it makes sense to me that you’ve made a big step toward resilience – a step toward the source of your happiness being within you.

Sounds nice, right?