I have been having a bout of depression which has completely wiped out any ability to actually accomplish much in terms of actual work. As someone who has a long history of clinical depression and have had really had great luck with working medication, this has in some ways been a bit more difficult to deal with. There are a lot of contributing factors to this depression, and it took me awhile to recognize it for what it was. What has been helpful during this is that I have developed enough habit energy in my practice that I have managed to not lose much momentum in that arena. In fact, because my practice has been functioning, I think it has contributed to some amount of security in what often feels anything but that.
Key factors in my personal expression of depression is an extreme sense of “going it alone” and every instance my mind has to prove that I have no one who cares about me, or makes me a priority is taken. Every lack of phone call or text, every instance of not being included or invited… All add to this sense of isolation. The more that this isolation takes hold, the harder it is to do the things needed to feel less isolated. Practice invites us to face into the storm of this emotion. Attempting to not add to it, while also not creating a sense of clinging empowered by aversion is not always easy. Recognizing that this is simply the current clouds that my mind is perceiving and no more real than any other thoughts, is helpful. I have experienced what happens to my mind when I “answer” each thought with some oppositional thought, and found this simply leads to the thoughts returning stronger and louder and with more tenacity. I have developed enough habit of self-compassion that I can just allow the thoughts to pass through the mind, not just in meditation, but in a lot of the moments that make up a day.
Another key factor of the depression has been worry. I am concerned about having enough money to survive. I don’t make enough teaching, I only have one person offering generosity through Patreon. I see other peers being far more successful, and struggle to put food on my table. My disability doesn’t really cover my expenses, (or perhaps barely do), and coming off of disability is difficult and fraught with missteps which could lead me to a loss of much needed benefits. There is also the historical and ongoing difficulties with specific institutions and people involved in my practice. How am I to continue my training when it feels completely unsupported. The sense of betrayal, loss, grief, and ableism that feed a sense of insecurity and worry. I practice with this in the same way that I practice with the isolation and loneliness. I turn towards it and allow the thoughts to be there, without giving them ground to gain traction. Knowing some are “true” and some aren’t is irrelevant when I simply experience the experience I am experiencing. I do my best not to add to the particularities of the stories, using the practice of precepts, while also not denying the experience of the moment. I speak often of not being dragged around by the stories of my experience. This is exactly this practice.
There is a lot of suffering happening in the world right now, a lot of which is morally and ethically unacceptable to me. Racism, Sexism, Genderism, Classism, Homoantagonism, Ableism, and the ilk all are contributing to my sense of upcoming doom. My commitment to living in a way that uplifts those on the margins and that attempts to practice using my personal privilege in service to those who are oppressed can contribute to shame, guilt, worry and the like. I want to live not in opposition, but in support of those at the margins. This is not an easy stance even in the best of mental stability. My depression creates a sense of overwhelm and inability to notice the opportunities that are present in each moment. To practice with this is to utilize the words of my friend Darlene Cohen, “What else is there?” I attempt to use the pause between each breath to question what else is there besides my emotional response. What else is there besides my habitual response, or the pull of my desire to “fight”.
While all this has been happening, I have finally connected with a new Psychiatrist who is helping me to adjust my meds. There is a biological component to my depression that needs to be addressed. To practice with a mental illness does take some effort and is not going to be solved simply by seated meditation. Sometimes meditation actually does more harm to me than good. I have to watch my practice and my depression so that I am responding in each moment with compassion, and intentionality. Learning to listen to what my body and practice is telling me and differentiating that from the stories my depression may be telling me. It has been my experience that this is the call of practice even without depression as a factor. To learn to hear with one’s heart/mind rather than habitual tendencies. This is the way of the Buddhas.