Waking in Depression: The Way In

Our beautiful minds are vast and embued with great power. As such, they are a reservoir of great potential. However, we generally ignore this potential in lieu of problems we feel need to be fixed.  The problem is these problems tend to birth more problems until our identity is fixed with fixing things. Our attention becomes focused in tighter and tighter loops and our life reduces into simple iterations of routine.

 

We are caught between the great human potential inherent in all of us and an existential sleepwalk that holds us in lock step. Imagine the power of the universe locked in our laundry closet. At some point something either breaks out or breaks down. But who has time to break down these days? So we soldier on, ignoring the gnawing until we collapse.

Depression is a common and even reasonable reaction to living a life on  everyone elses terms. The root of depression may not actually be fear, but the anger we feel from shortchanging our lives because of that fear. Trying to get away from pain, we actually cause more pain. By trying so hard to be good, we end up living a false life. We have been duped by a cosmic shell game bartering reality for an anxiety dream. We cling to external things to help us fix the mess and in so doing forget the one person who can actually help us. The only person who can help.  The one who has been there all along.  We forget ourselves. When we shunt part of us away out of embarrassment, we become cut off from our inherent power. We begin to believe there is something wrong with us, and that we should be disappointed with ourselves and embarrassed about our depression.

In this way, our depression becomes solid. Our confidence erodes as we feel we are losing a battle.  We fall inward and becoming so small the day itself  feels too big. From this point of view, the potential of the mind must appear dark and forboding. In reaction to this fear, we shrink our awareness in an ostrich like effort to avoid pain. But, as we are occluding awareness, our fearfulness actually begets more fear. This denial of life not only robs us of joy, it also leaves us very vulnerable to manipulation.

 

Ancient humans fought for survival, hunted and gathered food. They died easily and lived short lives. Yet those lives may have had more contentment, community and connection than ours. Perhaps being disconnected from pain we are disconnected from an essential part of ourselves. We relagate pain into the darkness and take refuge in the light. We take solace in being right, even as a part of us suspects the opposite.

 

Our lives move more and more quickly these days. However, the nature we come from, is very slow.  The earth moves at its own pace, in its own way. The same with the heart. The faster we move the less we are able to feel the earth beneath us. And this has to threaten a more ancient part of ourselves, a deeper and intuitive part of ourselves. Whether we are aware or not, this spiritual dissonance causes an internal friction. On one hand, we feel we should be doing so much more. On the other, we’re already working too hard. Caught in this zero-sum vice, our heart, art, compassion and the life part of living have become lost. Placing our hearts on hold, we barter creativity for security causing ourseves and others great pain.

 

This reduction of our life dampens something inside. We can choose to be mute only so long before we forget how to sing. We can stay hobbled only so long before we forget how to dance. We can shut down life only so often, before we lose our will to live. We have told ourselves no so often, we simply shut down in response. So we retreat in fear, collapse inward and, wrapped in the fabric of time and space, hide ourselves from ourselves by becoming consumed in ourselves.

 

Man, it’s actually quite brilliant.

 

Crushed beneath the weight of “me” our mind begins to compile a ledger of all the things left wanting, undone and unfulfilled in our life. Our life force turns inward and the mind turns vicious. The power and potential of our mind is turned against the only foe it feels it can defeat: itself.

 

But, there is a way out. And the way out begins with the way in. By sitting IN our pain, we can become comfortable enough with suffering to find the space within. There is always space. But, in our fear we cling to the familiar and play the same song with such volume we drown all alternatives. However, by training the mind to stay, simply stay, and hold space for our experience, we find we can sit with greater and greater challenges. Eventually, we find a profound stillness. It is within that stillness that we begin to see in the dark. In fact, we become so familiar with the terrain of turmoil, that we learn to walk in the dark. At some point, we may even learn to dance in the darkness finding grace in our simple tenacity.

 

You see, it will eventually occur to our wounded mind, that we are sill here. One we’ve abandoned hope and surrendered to the great despair, we see that being with ourselves is all we have. Ground zero. Right here, right now, just so.

 

Meditation practice will not cure depression. Nor should it. But, a consistent daily practice will strengthen the mind, giving us the bravery to enter the dark, the resilience to remain with ourselves and the wisdom to find the love we need.

 

The love we need.

 

The love we have been looking for all along. The love that no one else can give. The love we learn to give ourselves by simply being here. There is something supremely powerful about beginning to feel lovingkindness for our incomplete life, bruised heart and tattered mind.  We can do this without turning the lights on, forcing a smile or turning the volume down. We can do this simply by being here, and not changing a thing. We can forgo trying to be good and simply be human. And humans suffer. When we connect to our suffering, we are connected to all of life, for all of life experiences suffering.

 

When we find love in the depths of despair, we find an Unconditional Love that compares nothing and accepts everything. Then we have a gift forged in the flames that no one can take from us. Our gift of unconditional love.

 

In the Shambhala teachings we say that practicing lovingkindness is to “place the mind of fearfullness in the cradle of loving kindness.” Learning to open the heart to the sadness of our spirit and finding the strength to hold space for our pain is a profound statement. And that profound statement is an acknowledgement of life itself.

 

Learning to hold ourselves with open arms, reduce the harm and find a connection to all beings is the way of the Bodhisattva.  In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition a Bodhisattva is one who has vowed to forstall their own salvation until all beings are free of suffering. They have vowed to venture into hell to liberate all beings.  We can find strength in this. There have been such people. And there are such people. Those willing to face the darkness and stay there until they get it. And then, be willing to look outward and bring that strength to the world. That is the way out. Benefit for the world. And, if not the whole world, then our world, 0r community. Someone else. Benefit to others is the best way to value yourself.

 

And, it is the way out that comes from finding the way in.

 

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