“Dharma is not a therapy. Quite the opposite, in fact, dharma is tailored specifically to turn your life upside down—it’s what you sign up for.” Dzongsar Jamyang Khysentse in Not for Happiness
For a week in August, I got to a low point that I haven’t been near for 18 years. It was very surprising and took me a while to recognize. This blue funk (an expression my mother used) was probably caused by a concoction of work stress layered with tons of shit-happening-to-my-friends and then some physiological stuff on top. Inspired by a friend who just gets busier when he’s down rather than lying on the sofa (my previous modus operandi), I went to work and on the weekend forced myself to go out for walks as well as meet with MF to talk about it. At times it felt like a herculean effort just putting one foot in front of the other.
The feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction that led to my simpler living epiphany is something I neither want to subdue with meds or with alcohol or distract myself from with a mid-life crisis (you know, like replacing your job, spouse, car, or house and then discovering the new one has similar issues to the old one). It signified a need to look at my life and possibly make changes in a careful and planned manner. I feel the same about this recent funk. It just emphasized for me how important it is to work towards the simpler living goal and make more time for what is important.
Positive psychology, particularly Learned Optimism, was the tool I used to crawl out of depression years ago. Meditation was one of the tools I discovered afterwards that has helped with prevention. A few times this year I have written in my journal that self-examination “saved my ass” or “blew me away again.” This is because the skills I’ve learned through years of meditation enable me to often see why I feel a certain way and help me chose how to react. But what works for me isn’t a prescription for anyone else. When people talk about depression in Shambhala classes, along with being impressed by their courage, I am always a little nervous too. Nervous that a student might suggest meditation as a med-free quick-fix cure for depression. Oh boy is it not.
When I was depressed in my 20’s, I felt like there was something wrong with me and felt shame that I, with an easy middle-class life in a developed-country, could be unhappy. There were two huge differences in my recent experience down in the hole. First, my meditation practice gave me a glimpse of my thoughts as transient while I was down there. Second, I talked about how I was feeling – both while I was down there and immediately afterwards. My recent experience after two decades reminds me how to open my heart more to those who suffer from depression and close my mouth more to my opinions and generalizations. It’s one thing I can’t simplify.
References and Recommendations:
- Disclaimer: This post is about my own experience and is not a recommendation for clinical depression. Please see a professional.
- MF = manfriend
- Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices by Dzongsar Jamyang Khysentse
- RSA Shorts – The Power of Empathy based on a Brene Brown lecture.
- Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman