This morning I woke up with a feeling of depression. This is not unusual for me. Perhaps you can relate. I have struggled with depression for my entire life, since I was a small child. I really don’t know why and I sort of don’t really care why anymore. Nonetheless, I have had to find a way to work with it because it has bordered on being debilitating at many different points in my life.
The feeling I woke up with this morning was very familiar. A kind of heaviness in my body and a sense of being weighted down. A kind of mental activity I know quite well—that no matter where I looked in my life: my work, my relationship, my bank account, my home, my body, my future—it all looked bleak. Very bleak. Whenever this happens I dive into stories about how it got to be this way. True stories, I might add. I missed this opportunity. I made that wrong choice. My abilities are limited. Yes, true—on one hand. And utterly meaningless on the other.
Fortunately, I am old enough and practiced enough to recognize (at some point…) that my mind is playing a very unpleasant trick on me. I catch myself. At this point, a number of options are possible.
There are schools of thought that suggest that the negative stories we tell ourselves are basically made up in the first place and we should make up positive ones to replace them.
I’ve tried this. It doesn’t work.
What seems to work much better is to let go of stories of all kinds and take a fresh start, moment to moment.
There are two ways of liberating ourselves from negative thought patterns. The first is to find whatever therapy or therapies work for you and attempt to figure it out that way. This is very wonderful. The second way is to liberate each negative thought on the spot and with this second choice, meditation is very, very helpful. It trains you to observe your thoughts as they arise and make a choice about where to place your attention.
For me, one of the most deceptively simple pieces of advice for working with strong emotion was given by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan meditation master who transmitted the Shambhala teachings. It was this: “You could always just cheer up.”
When I first heard that, I was kind of offended. What do you mean, “cheer up?” It sounded like what people used to tell me when I was little, some variation of “why are you always so serious?” or “You’re too sensitive. Get over yourself.” Stuff that used to make me really mad. But CTR did not mean this. He meant you could always simply let go of what is plaguing you—no matter how heavy and sorrowful—and take a breath of fresh air.
You could try it. I’ve tried it countless times. When I catch myself falling into a pit of despair over loved ones who are suffering from illness, for example, or my finances, also suffering from illness I might add, or my ability to make my dreams manifest—I say to myself as I plummet, “you could always just cheer up” and, amazingly, even if it’s only for a moment, I do. It has nothing to do with talking myself out of what is bothering me by convincing myself that it will all be ok for this reason or that. It has nothing to do with fake-deleting negative thoughts and fake-inserting wishful thinking, aka positive thoughts. It has to do with letting it all, all, all go and reconnecting with—well, what would you call it? The present moment. Nowness. Space.
You could do it too. It’s really, really simple to get the sense of how. Have you ever been in a fitness class, for example, where they tell you to tense up your shoulders…hold…hold…hold…and then release? When you do this, there is a sudden rush of clean energy. You can also do this with your mind. When you feel really drepressed—or grief-stricken or angry or disappointed or what have you—you could tune into it. Intensify it. Locate it in your physical or emotional body, or in the environment—and then intensify, intensify, intensify—LET GO. Try it. See what happens. What happens for me is there is a sudden rush, even a tiny one, of life force and renewed energy.
The therapy path for working with depression meets depressive patterns as wave forms. Which is awesome. In this way, we can work with the ongoing and pervasive presence of negativity. The cheer-up path for working with depression meets such patterns as particles. We can work with each one in the moment it appears. Together, these two approaches, wave and particle, can create quantum change in our relationship to depression. Check it out.
And know this: it all begins with catching yourself, with the ability, no matter how momentary, to know what is happening in your own mind–as if a lightning strike suddenly lit up a dark valley and you see exactly what is going on. Then you can step outside of your heavy, believable, painful, oppressive thought patterns. With this step away, you introduce a moment of possibility…of change…of a fresh start…you cheer up. And everything is possible.
This ability, of course, is the fruit of meditation practice. Your practice teaches you how to do this. Please sign up for The Open Heart Project to receive meditation instruction videos 2x weekly via email.
PS After making this video, I saw that my reason for depression was my hairdo. Dude, I need a haircut.