The year 2001 was a very difficult year for me personally. The year began with a high note, I had a new job and I was quickly moving towards becoming a manager, or so I thought. Soon after the shock and awe of September 11 and the few months that followed after, I found myself a laid off employee, my wife of many years surprisingly wanting a divorce, and my mother suffering an early death from lung cancer.
No one knows what the future has in store, and all of our attempts to control our fate sometimes come to nothing. Strangely, early in January I had a nightmare that three tornadoes were moving towards my house. I believe that sometimes our subconscious tries to warn us that trouble is ahead, but we are too busy to heed the warnings. All of these events hit me hard and I found myself facing a severe depression. It felt like crawling in the dark. Through this night of the soul and the pain and anxiety that came with it, I found myself questioning it all. The grief and eventual anger just made me feel numb. Eventually I found the mental health and support I desperately needed in a friendly therapist and was able to make sense once again of the world,
So you see I’m not a stranger to depression. The old black snake lay dormant in my subconscious and scarred me with its fangs when I least expected it. The shadow, the proverbial dragon of mythology and Jungian psychology is a part of all of us. Unaccepted, hidden and often denied. But it is there none the less. It’s not possible to save the princess unless we are willing to confront the dragon and fight it. The weapons are found within, on the rainbow bridge of our consciousness. Depression was for me a struggle for meaning and my human survival.
Needless to say, I found myself full of bitter regret. I questioned my actions, God, and my faith and values. Then shame from the past came to visit me in its ancient burning wagon fast on the road to oblivion. I contemplated death, mine and the world I had known. I also understood the vanity of all my endeavors and the evil cruelty of human beings, including my actions of the past. I struggled and argued with God and eventually found my way out of the hole I had dug myself into through self-love and acceptance. I came to re-asses my values because I understood that they were more the product of my emotions than my intellect. I consulted with my heart and decided to be a warrior and to fight.
The fight was against my family of origin’s shame and also societal labels. The fight was also against all the “shoulds” that controlled my life in the past. Ultimately the trauma of my youth raised its ugly head as memories came flooding in, ready for me to make sense of them. The young mind preserves memories and sensations during traumatic events to be presented in the future when the mind is ready to accept and dissected it. This happens because available cognitive skills can be put to good use then to understand the situation.
Depression in itself carried a message. The message once understood contained the seed of healing. I recreated my life. I went back to college, I earned a Master’s degree, I found meaning in sacrificing for the ones I love and made new habits. The dark night of the soul and the pain that it brought led me to new, positive relationships and sent me directly to work in the service of humanity.
The most effective tool I found in my search was Mindfulness Meditation. It assisted me in developing empathy and understanding for others’ situations. It also helped me to control my negative emotions, such as hate, envy and shame. It gave me a measure of control and also of confidence. The intense passions I sometimes felt became compassion as in turning poison into medicine.
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy has been helpful in assisting to reduce the effects of depression in individuals suffering from chronic conditions. The main aims of Mindfulness are to generate compassion in the heart for all living beings and also Wisdom in the mind. For youth, practicing mindfulness can just be a way to improve their mood. For adults, it can be a direct mind encounter with the causes of our pain and how to unblock our mind’s obstacles to happiness.
The use of psychiatric drugs for severe cases have a justification. However, in a society that highly values the avoidance of pain and death, it becomes easy to engage in drug-seeking behavior. The mind creates suffering and joy. Effective healing happens when we create positive qualities over time. The only way I know how to do this is through “The practice” of Mindfulness meditation. It is in our Mindfulness practice that we labor to develop qualities of compassion, loving kindness, accountability in speech and action and the courage to transcend our fears and hatreds.
In the words of the ancient psychologist that is now known as the Buddha: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense.” Not needing to be cynical or distrusting, the practice speaks for itself. The sitting, the chanting and the mantras that help to stop the monkey mind will lead you to healing your mind, but only after much practice and effort.
Finally, in an increasingly cynical and alienating society that breeds more and more victims with its illusion-based technological creations, we can encounter ourselves anywhere by connecting with the flow of life and come to the realization that all things are interconnected. We can do this through the path within, the path of true awareness. Mindfulness is that healing path. Happiness is not found outside of ourselves, in materialism. Peace, happiness, contentment and joy are found only within. Once found we can change ourselves and impact the world in a positive manner.