I started reading about meditation and mindfulness when I was about 18. I had pervasive feelings of sadness, as well as anxiety, which had lasted most of my life, and I had an inkling that if I could just learn to dwell in the present moment, without ruminating on the past and future, it would help me to overcome my “difficulties”, and perhaps learn how to be happy, or at least, not miserable.
One of the first things I remember reading on the subject of mindfulness was Wherever You Go, There You Are by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. I was interested in learning to practice meditation, but I never quite caught on to Buddhist-style meditation. Simply sitting, trying to calm myself and pretend I’m a mountain or something does noooot work for me. My attention span just can’t handle it. Much more recently, I’ve learned to use mantra and have finally opened the door to a meditation practice that I can stick with.
However, I haven’t completely thrown mindfulness out the window. It just took me a really, really long time to get the hang of it. Jon Kabat-Zinn participated in the writing of another book, The Mindful Way Through Depression. I read this one when I was a little older. I distinctly remember, it was back when I started working for the TEA in 2007 and I was going through a bad episode, and I was desperately trying to learn how to concentrate on staying in the present moment as a way to alleviate depression. It simply would not click at the time. Honestly, I think I was too depressed. As Mindful points out, it is difficult to undertake the hard work of reworking your thought patterns when you are caught in the death spiral of depression: you are sad, you are exhausted, you stop taking pleasure in anything, you stop engaging in activities that keep you connected…and thoughts of worthlessness and cynicism take over.
From The Mindful Way Through Depression: “When depression starts to pull us down, we often react, for very understandable reasons, by trying to get rid of our feelings by suppressing them or by trying to think our way out of them. In the process we dredge up past regrets and conjure up future worries. In our heads, we try out this solution and that solution, and it doesn’t take long for us to start feeling bad for failing to come up with a way to alleviate the painful emotions we’re feeling. We get lost in comparisons of where we are versus where we want to be, soon living almost entirely in our heads. We become preoccupied. We lose touch with the world, with the people around us, even with those we most love and those who most love us. We deny ourselves the rich input of the full experience of living.”
This perfectly describes my experience. One example of a typical depressive thought pattern, for me: I get depressed when it is summer, or when it’s endlessly sunny. The only thing I can come up with as a reason for this is that I feel that I am supposed to be happy that it’s sunny, and everyone else is happy about it, and yet I feel as crappy as usual. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. Often such thoughts will come to me when I’m driving, or some other time when I’m alone with my thoughts. When these thoughts strike, what I am feeling is not only the emotion of that moment, but the weight of all the previous moments when I had such awful feelings. Therefore, I am experiencing the misery of not just the present moment, but of all the miserable moments. I then start to feel bad about feeling bad. I try to think my way out of depression, and tell myself reasons why I should not be depressed.
I don’t know when, exactly, I came up with my own little personal mantra to get around this shitty spiral, but here it is: “This is not then. This is now.” When I have a moment of depression, and I feel the weight of the years trying to bear down on my brain, like I have allowed them to do for so long, I just say my little mantra to myself. It helps my brain to understand that I am not required to feel all the ugly feelings of sadness from childhood onward all at once. It also helps me understand that the feeling will not last forever. Even if the feeling you have in the present moment is not good, you can handle it…as long as you are not experiencing ALL of your bad moments, ever.
People who are not depressed must already know the trick of getting around this. I don’t know why some people are capable of learning this so much earlier on. Probably something to do with the personalities we are born with, the environments we grow up in, etc…I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now. The old thought patterns are there. You can’t change the past. But you can change your reaction to them. In the present moment. Let thoughts come up, don’t run from them. Avoidance is repression. But just remind yourself…this is not any other time. This is not then. This is now.