meditation

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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Mindfullnes #3: The Beauty of a Gentle Sway

swayWhen we’re recovering, we’re frustrated by the sway. Frustrated that recovery isn’t a straight line toward Better. Frustrated that some days, some hours, some thoughts still hurt like hell.

When we’re meditating, we’re taught that our minds will wander, it’s the bringing them back to the breath that matters.

I learned a standing yoga pose the other day that put all this into stark relief. Place your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart, hands hanging at your sides.

You’ll notice as you stand there that you’re constantly, very slightly, losing your balance and regaining it. You’re swaying. Allow yourself to sway. Notice that your body knows how to right itself, simply by tensing the muscles of the feet, the legs.

Instead of thinking of recovery as a frustrating, up-and-down hike to someplace called Better, I like to think of it as a gentle swaying motion. Constantly losing and regaining my balance, in cooperation with my body and mind, I’m able to stand tall.

Photo by HomeSpot HQ on Flickr.

Thank God for Google Wormholes

Your brainThrough a sort of depression google search wormhole, I came across a book called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. (It’s the book that made me realize that depressives should skip the first few chapters of every book on depression because they’re almost always focused on validating depression as a disease. The goal seems to be convincing the reader that depression is SUPER bad, which, for those of us in the thick of it, is super depressing. Nowadays I start at the chapter where they start to talk about getting better.)

That book led me to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who, in addition to being an extremely well respected author and practitioner of mindfulness-based therapies for the chronically ill, seems to have taken his wife’s name when he married. My kind of guy.

It turns out that Kabat-Zinn is co-author of a book called The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness, which I highly recommend. He’s also the creator of a course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which uses meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to treat everything from high blood pressure and chronic pain to depression and panic disorders.

So I signed up for the course and during my introductory meeting with our instructor, after explaining my situation, I asked him why he thought I should take his course. “You need to rewire your brain.” he answered.

Huh.

So I’m currently in my third week of the eight week course and am struck by how simple and straightforward it is on one level, and how complex and contradictory I also find it. Focus on the breath but don’t strive to focus on the breath. Relax but stay awake. Clear your mind but be aware of your thoughts. Do this every day for an hour but be easy on yourself and take life as it comes.

More on that later. In the meantime, I am both thoroughly enjoying the course and struggling with its teachings – which I’m pretty sure is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (though, of course, there is no “supposed to”).

A final book recommendation – Kabat-Zinn’s bible of mindfulness: Full Catastrophe Living.

Photo by Hey Paul Studios on Flickr

The Benefits of Routine

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

I’m not a routine-y person. I’ve liked to think that I allow subtle differences in my mood or context to affect my actions instead of categorizing the situation and fitting a predetermined set of actions on top.

But.

During a recent visit to a friend with a one year old, I was struck by the benefits of routine, for parents, kids, and depressives. When it comes to recovering from depression, there seem to be two major upshots to routine. The first is that it reduces the amount of decision making energy you have to expend. (Check it out: New research implies that we tire of decision making and get worse at it throughout the day.)

Those of you who’ve been depressed have probably experienced this – even small decisions can be exhausting and completely deflating.

When I’m in my routine, I don’t have to worry about whether or not to eat or meditate. I make just one decision every morning – to do the thing I promised myself I’d do: stick to my routine.

The second cool thing about routines is that you get to perfect them over time. If you notice that you feel particularly tired on Tuesday afternoons, you can build in extra sleep on Monday nights. You get caught off guard less often because your routine includes all the really necessary activities like eating, sleeping, and resting.

The tricky thing, as with trying anything new while depressed, is the possibility of failure and the disproportionate disappointment that can come with. I recommend introducing just one activity at a time. Once you do that thing every day without struggle, introduce another. Try to be patient with yourself. You’re beautiful and complex, and this shit ain’t easy.

 

Photo by freeparking on Flickr

Thoughts Are Not Convictions. Feelings Are Not Beliefs.

I have felt the need to answer for my thoughts. Big thoughts – about what others should do with their lives. Little thoughts – that the woman walking slowly in front of me is a moron. Thoughts that I don’t act on because I know they are unfounded.

Mean thoughts make me ashamed. Hopeful fantasies are embarrassing. So I try to unwind them, to sort them out and figure out their meaning. I have conversations, sometimes fights, in my head with the objects of my thoughts, defending them, apologizing for them, trying to explain myself.

It’s a lot of work and you know what? It sucks.

Thoughts are not convictions. I didn’t tell my friend what to do with his life because I know that if someone knows what’s best for him – it’s not me. I didn’t so much as scowl at the woman on the street. I just had a thought. If I’d let it, it would pass into the ether, surrounded by billions of thoughts, true and untrue. Valid and ridiculous. Lovely, silly, sad, and sane.

There are things you can do to improve your internal monologue, to make your mind more peaceful or kind. But you will never control every thought. And you do not have to answer for things you cannot control.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Note them. Try not to push them down or drink them away. They also pass. They’re not laws of physics. They’re not character traits or even stances. They’re just thoughts and feelings.

Choose the ones you like. Choose the ones you like and pursue them. Hang on to them and learn about them. Do things to help them happen again.

The rest? Take note, then listen to the “singsong wisdom in the sound of letting go.”*

 

Let Go

 

Quoted from the poem Wish by J.M. Morea in her book where the ending begins

Photo by David Goehring on Flickr