This morning, in the first moment of awareness of being conscious, the first thought or emotion that enters my head is a crushing weight of depression. This is the first act of awareness as soon as I wake, after I leave the blissful state of sleep where we are innocently free of all the heaviness of the world.
It is an interesting transition for me. During periods when I deal with feelings of depression, I notice that when I first become conscious in the morning, there is that heaviness, that dread.
Lately though, I have noticed that... I have some capacity to ... get on with life, as the case may be. As I lay there in the morning, aware of my depression, I start to think about what I am doing, what I am creating, I get up, I get moving, I start to feel better, I start to feel “fine”. I do believe that the depression I deal with from time to time, is mild compared to the monsters that some people are working with. My heart goes out to them. I know I have it pretty easy in this regard.
This has not always been the case. There have been periods where the depression has been crushing and I can’t move or remove myself from my bed.
I read a post lately somewhere, someone posted about how depression is like… being stuck at home in a blizzard, in a snowstorm. I will share that at the bottom of this blog post because I think it is awesome. This is exactly what it feels like sometimes as many of you can attest.
Nowadays I feel so relieved and deeply grateful that somehow, this is not as debilitating as it used to be for me. Somehow, someway I have acquired the skills or retrained my brain to interrupt the rut of depression that used to be so mind numbing. Is it the yoga? I’d like to think so. Is it the meditation? I believe it is. I have been practicing more or less for over 20 years... these things are accumulative I believe.
Somehow, through the process of observing my feelings and sensations through the challenges of the physical poses and sitting down and watching the circus of thoughts and emotions, the somersaults and acrobatics that my mind goes through when I try to meditate…. Somehow consciously watching this all go on and cultivating my ability to just witness it all arise and then fall away, has developed this muscle to recognize, even just a little bit, that all of these reactions and mental emotional balderdash is not my true nature, it is not actually “ME”.
It is all just a product of my psycho-emotional processes, trying to make sense of my world. It is a result of a lifetime of accumulated traumas and hurts and heartbreaks, big and small, that has coloured and filtered the way my mind now sees the world. It is through this lens that my mind interprets every day interactions and events and constructs my “reality”.
Neurons that fire together, wire together
By the principle of neuro-plasticity, they say “neurons that fire together, wire together”. That means that… if I grew up in a home full of love, support, stability and nurturance, my brain would become wired for that. My personality would be formed from that. I would become, myself, a loving, creative, happy type of human being.
But when there is trauma present, especially re-occurring early childhood trauma, where there is abuse or neglect, a child will grow to be an adult who is fearful, angry or violent themselves. The brain gets wired for that.
So the good news is that we can RE-WIRE the brain if we don’t like the way it has been wired.
By the theory of neuroplasticity, the brain can CHANGE, according to what we surround ourselves with, what thoughts we entertain, what influences (ie. Yoga and meditation) we subject ourselves to.
We can re-wire our brain with just a simple gratitude practice. Interrupting negative thought cycles by replacing it with a thought of gratitude, or even pausing in the middle of those negative thoughts and taking a deep breath in through the nose and a long, sighing exhale through the mouth.
Sometimes we KNOW we are letting our minds go “down the rabbit hole” so to speak, dredging up and reliving those harmful thoughts from the past, remembering that person who supposedly wronged us and dwelling on those events. We KNOW, intellectually, that entertaining those thoughts may not be the best thing for our health and wellbeing, not just mentally/emotionally, but also physically, as our physical wellbeing is so greatly affected by our mental/emotional state.
We can actually develop a practice or habit of recognizing when we are indulging in those thought patterns we know are not helpful and we can actively put in place a practice of creating a “break state”, where we take a deep breath and let it go and/or replace it with a moment of gratitude. We can essentially re-wire our brains this way. Yoga and meditation serve the same function of rewiring.
Meditation, Yoga and brain trainers
Through the process of TRYING to meditate or develop concentration or one pointed focus, we STRENGTHEN our ability to control our own minds, to direct our minds onto what we CHOOSE, rather than being at the mercy of whatever direction and wild roller coaster ride it wants to take us on. Through the slow, sometimes frustrating, diligent practice of trying to meditate, we slowly train up that muscle of concentration and control that allows us to direct the brain where we want it to go and since our reality is created by our thoughts, if you think about it, this is a pretty important skill to learn to cultivate I would say.
What does this have to do with FINDING CENTRE?
Well, finding centre is the idea of being centrally focused inside ourselves, rather than outwardly focused all of the time. It is the idea that when we have ourselves firmly rooted within ourselves and we find that, internally, at least, the weather can be calm and the water still and smooth INSIDE, then it doesn’t matter if it is chaos all around us, in the world, in our work, in our families. It means that… we have a sense that all is ok, because all IS ok, within us, from a place of being centrally focused. It is in THIS thought, that in those early hours of consciousness, I find true solace.
When I wake up and my mind wanders to the outside world, to all my problems, issues, difficulties that we each face each day, I get overwhelmed, but when I pause for a moment and pull my awareness back into myself, back into the place I just left where I was in blissful peaceful sleep, where I was completely one with everything, connected and perfect, I anchor my awareness in THAT, instead of the muck my mind wants to wade into “out there”.
What happens with trauma is that outside events, circumstance or people, often when we are at a young age and our brains, beliefs and emotions are still forming, have caused a threat to us, caused us pain or threatened our wellbeing, either physically or in some other way. Often these outside forces are family members or people who are supposed to protect us or whom we are supposed to trust. These happenings create in us a feeling that we cannot trust the outside world, that the outside world is unsafe and may be out to get us. It creates in us a feeling that we can not let our guard down even for a moment. We are constantly on alert and focused outside of ourselves, on the outside world, hyper-vigilant, looking out for potential dangers or threats to our safety. We become externally focused almost exclusively, not focused within. Our wellbeing is not centrally focused within or dependent upon ourselves, it is dependent on external circumstances being a particular way, but that is how it is for those who have suffered trauma. The trauma causes us to be focused outwardly, on the lookout for danger, rather inwardly, where there can exist a constant state of peace, safety and calmness.
When this programming follows us into adulthood, when we can’t process it and re-wire it, OF COURSE we have feelings of depression, anxiety and fear. Of course! How else COULD we be, in this case?
So the FREEDOM from that is re-centering ourselves and re-connecting our sense of wellbeing to our internal state. Instead of depending on external circumstance to provide our sense of wellbeing and ok-ness, we learn that that lives inside of us. It is located, within. We don’t need the external world to look a certain way for us to feel calm, centered, relaxed and even happy, that is inherently our true nature, as human beings, if you can believe it.
This is the story of the Dalai Lama. Even whilst exiled from his home country, persecuted for practicing his spirituality and religion, even when faced with violent and often unsafe conditions, because of his internal practice, because of his practices and meditations, his “home” was located within himself, and no one could take that away. He took his peace with him where ever he was.
Our true nature is peaceful, happy and calm. This is our birthright. Events and circumstances may challenge this in our lifetime, that is our work as human beings on this planet, our job is to come back to, to cultivate, to come back to “home” within, to find our centre and to live from that place, to share our calm, to share our stability so that we may be of service to others in this chaotic ridiculous world.
Let’s face it, the world, truly is, going to hell in a hand basket (pardon the expression). All WE can do is get ourselves anchored within our centre, through practices, through meditation, through grounding in nature, so that we can somehow be helpful as humanity goes through this incredible fire of transformation.
When I wake up in the morning, this is what I become aware of. I become aware that I have just left the beautiful, peaceful, innocent state of wherever I go in my sleep, where there is no ego, there is no fear, there is no worry, there is only light. I wake up on this planet in this body with this brain that both, have their challenges and imperfections. I try to wake up with this memory that within, I am pure, within, in my centre, I am completely not separate from all of creation but that I am this integral, even IMPORTANT piece of the overall matrix that we call life, in all its complexity. And I am a part of the whole, inside, we are all one.
These truths are what make getting out of bed bearable, leaving the house doable, and once I do that, I realize that there are all kinds of wonderful things to enjoy out there in the world. What I choose to focus on, grows larger, bigger, more. So I let my thoughts turn away from dismal things, that we are ruining the planet, that there is suffering and ignorance beyond belief in this world, and I let myself focus on the light. I feel from my core that I am connected to all things and I begin to view it all as a bit of a game, not so serious, but rather humorous. Our sense of self importance as human beings, our drama, our seriousness, MY seriousness, it is all rather comical when you loosen it up and look at the bigger picture. I choose to focus on the solutions, for myself, for those in my sphere than I can positively impact.
My job is to connect with my centre where I can recognize that I am part of the one, whatever you want to call that, god consciousness, the divine, creation, whatever, and move through my days from that place of CENTRE, that place that is pure, that place that is dialed in and connected. In that place, we are all the same.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi
HOW DEPRESSION IS LIKE A SNOW STORM
Now Anthony Bourdain.
When you have depression it’s like it snows every day.
Some days it’s only a couple of inches. It’s a pain in the a**, but you still make it to work, the grocery store. Sure, maybe you skip the gym or your friend’s birthday party, but it IS still snowing and who knows how bad it might get tonight. Probably better to just head home.
Your friend notices, but probably just thinks you are flaky now, or kind of an a**hole.
Some days it snows a foot. You spend an hour shovelling out your driveway and are late to work. Your back and hands hurt from shovelling. You leave early because it’s really coming down out there. Your boss notices.
Some days it snows four feet. You shovel all morning but your street never gets ploughed.
You are not making it to work, or anywhere else for that matter. You are so sore and tired you just get back in the bed. By the time you wake up, all your shovelling has filled back in with snow. Looks like your phone rang; people are wondering where you are.
You don’t feel like calling them back, too tired from all the shovelling. Plus they don’t get this much snow at their house so they don’t understand why you’re still stuck at home. They just think you’re lazy or weak, although they rarely come out and say it.
Some weeks it’s a full-blown blizzard. When you open your door, it’s to a wall of snow. The power flickers, then goes out. It’s too cold to sit in the living room anymore, so you get back into bed with all your clothes on. The stove and microwave won’t work so you eat a cold Pop Tart and call that dinner. You haven’t taken a shower in three days, but how could you at this point? You’re too cold to do anything except sleep.
Sometimes people get snowed in for the winter. The cold seeps in. No communication in or out. The food runs out. What can you even do, tunnel out of a forty foot snow bank with your hands? How far away is help? Can you even get there in a blizzard? If you do, can they even help you at this point? Maybe it’s death to stay here, but it’s death to go out there too.
The thing is, when it snows all the time, you get worn all the way down. You get tired of being cold. You get tired of hurting all the time from shovelling, but if you don’t shovel on the light days, it builds up to something unmanageable on the heavy days. You resent the hell out of the snow, but it doesn’t care, it’s just a blind chemistry, an act of nature. It carries on regardless, unconcerned and unaware if it buries you or the whole world.
Also, the snow builds up in other areas, places you can’t shovel, sometimes places you can’t even see. Maybe it’s on the roof. Maybe it’s on the mountain behind the house. Sometimes, there’s an avalanche that blows the house right off its foundation and takes you with it. A veritable Act of God, nothing can be done. The neighbours say it’s a shame and they can’t understand it; he was doing so well with his shovelling.
I don’t know how it went down for Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade. It seems like they got hit by the avalanche, but it could’ve been the long, slow winter. Maybe they were keeping up with their shovelling. Maybe they weren’t. Sometimes, shovelling isn’t enough anyway. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but it’s important to understand what it’s like from the inside.
I firmly believe that understanding and compassion have to be the base of effective action. It’s important to understand what depression is, how it feels, what it’s like to live with it, so you can help people both on an individual basis and a policy basis. I’m not putting heavy sh*t out here to make your Friday morning suck. I know it feels gross to read it, and realistically it can be unpleasant to be around it, that’s why people pull away.
Food writer Anthony Bourdain tragically took his own life over the weekend.Source:News Corp Australia
I don’t have a message for people with depression like “keep shovelling”. It’s asinine. Of course you’re going to keep shovelling the best you can, until you physically can’t, because who wants to freeze to death inside their own house? We know what the stakes are. My message is to everyone else. Grab a f***ing shovel and help your neighbour. Slap a mini snow plow on the front of your truck and plough your neighbourhood. Petition the city council to buy more salt trucks, so to speak.
Depression is blind chemistry and physics, like snow. And like the weather, it is a mindless process, powerful and unpredictable with great potential for harm. But like climate change, that doesn’t mean we are helpless. If we want to stop losing so many people to this disease, it will require action at every level.