Sunday, February 19, 2012

Investigating the Depression

Only one who has encountered clinical depression, can really understand the torture of living day in and day out with a a mind that has turned against itself. I endured such hell after the birth of my first daughter, many years ago. Looking back, I wish I had had the gift of mindfulness to fall back on then. Now, it is my privilege to accompany others as they go through the darkness. Almost always, our joint journey involves mindfulness. And I bring U Tejaniya along:
I began practicing at age fourteen, so long before I experienced depression I’d already devel- oped the ability to regard anything that came up in my mind and deal with it objectively, without getting involved or taking it personally when ugly stuff came up. When I became depressed I could apply all these skills. I’ve been depressed three times. The first time I made a strong effort, just snapped myself out of it. And the second time, too. But each time the depression came back, and each time it came back stronger. The first two times I overcame depression, my recovery didn’t last long. I know now that the first two times I’d used effort but no wisdom, no understanding. During the last depression, I had no energy left in me to make the effort. Depression followed me everywhere.
The key for me in dealing with my depression was right attitude. I realized I’d have to use my wisdom to learn about it, understand it. By just recognizing the depression and being present with it. I would just recognize that this was nature, that this was just a quality of mind; it was not personal. I watched it continually to learn about it. Does it go away? Increase? What is the mind thinking? How do the thoughts affect feelings? I became interested. I saw that when I’d do the work with interest, my investigation would bring some relief. Before that I’d been at the depression’s mercy, but I learned I could actually do something. I was choosing to be proactive, to find out about depression, and then it lightened. That was the main thing, complete acceptance. I saw I was helpless to do anything, so I just let it be there. But I could examine it, do something with myself. I couldn’t do anything to it, but I could investigate it and come to know it.
Bottom line is, there is hope, even for the seemingly most intractable depression. 


  1. You know, I was diagnosed with clinical depression once, and I'm trying to remember what that felt like; I remember the events- missing work for up to a week at a time, sitting on the couch in a writhing mass of anxiety, and a thought, over and and over: "I want to go home." (but there was no home!)

    Practice has more than helped. But I can't see where, when, or how. I do know that when I least feel like sitting is when I most need it, and Suzuki Roshi calls that desire not to sit Bodai Shin- way seeking mind- and we should answer it by taking our seat, upright posture, and see what happens...

    Lovely to find your blog! I did an insight meditation retreat once, very good practice.

  2. Is mindfulness also useful for other problems such as self-harm?
    I started self-harming a few years ago and I'm much better by now, but no matter how hard I try, I can't stop doing it or thinking about it.
    I have mindfulness while I'm doing it, I don't even try to be mindful, it just happens. Instead of focusing on my breath I'm focusing on my pain, and I'm not thinking my thoughts, I just watch them as they come and go.
    Sometimes I'm also aware of what triggers me and how I feel, I usually recognize the key moment when I get the urge to do it, but that doesn't stop me from doing it. I am usually able to decide whether I'll do it or not, but the problem is that sometimes I can't find a reason not to, so I end up self-harming anyway.
    Being more mindful and not taking anything personaly has been helpful in other aspects, but with self-harm nothing seems to work...

  3. Pigasus, I am so glad you found mindfulness along the way. And I am sure the memory of your passage through the darkness has brought you the gift of compassion towards those also in the darkness.

    May you continue to be well!

  4. 'Anonymous', have you heard of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)? If not, you may want to find out about DBT groups in your area, and possibly attending. DBT has been shown to be particularly effective for self-injury behaviors.

  5. I've encountered depression in the past, but all while not changing any another aspect of my life, drinking(not alcoholic, then), having anger issues, and frustration issues...but had enough mind intact that while talking to my Psychologist at that time, that her job is to help me understand the triggers that made me depressed. And after one month, a light bulb came is up to me to change, and she was giving me pointers to see myself. Needless to say, it is not an instant change....I was creating more than half of all my misery, I had to change a lot....which takes time. But, yes being comfortable with a life of ups and downs was a start.

  6. I've heard of it, but unfortunately I live in a little town so it's impossible for me to attend to any group. I don't even get to go to a psychologist, so whatever I do to get better I have to do it by myself.

  7. Anonymous, may I suggest you look into online learning options for DBT? Here is a good place to enquire at: (Dr. Marsha Linehan's website, she is the originator of DBT)

    And also, you may want to look into remote psychotherapy.

    I hope this is helpful. I wish you all the best!

  8. Albert (Was Once), thank you for sharing. Yes, mindfulness practice coupled with psychotherapy, and cognitive therapy are powerful allies to overcome depression.

  9. Thanks for the link, I'll check it out!

  10. Thank you the sharing, a very beautiful text.

    I have had several severe clinical depressions, and meditation/mindfulness have been a tremendous support (although it seems my ugly unwanted teacher is not quite done with me yet).

    But, after many 'dances with therapy', I now have really good hopes of incorporating therapy with my practice after finding a therapist who starts from the point of the natural qualities of being (very Buddhist inspired), rather than the stories/pathology.

    To be honest, it is just so refreshing to have a therapist who is not insisting on me feeling anger towards my parents. It finally opened me up to become accepting of my own 'failure' (I mean, most people have a depression once or twice. But for me its like I made a career of it...)

    It really dawned upon me today that the very fact that I have been urged again and again by different therapists to feel angry at my parents (who did not always make the bar on parenting largely due to situations outside their control, but definitely loved me) made it actually even more difficult for me to be at peace with myself and my illness. (I mean, if they already failed, how much more did I who did not grow up in such challenging times/circumstances.)

    I am so happy mindfulness is making an entry in psychotherapy (they have regular courses at the local hospitals here). Therapy definitely has its place, but in the end stories are only one part of reality and can in themselves become quite limiting and heavy, weighing you down rather than help you move on.

    The hard part is that, no matter how you turn it, whatever the story is, in one way or another I have to learn to become comfortable with being severely uncomfortable. It takes a lot of gut, kindness and just plain willingness to drown and die on the spot if must be. But finally there is a sense in me that deep down I actually do have what it takes.

    It took me 12+ years but I am finally beginning to trust that there is such a thing as Buddha nature, not as a nice feel good concept but as a very alive reality inside me, right here, right now, in the midst of whatever there is!

    There were many times when I felt Buddhism really stunk, because if you can't even bear the thought of having to live one more day, one more hour for that matter, many more lifetimes is just plain cruelty. But having met some Dharma, and sort of feeling truth there, I just did not dare to run the risk of getting into lives even worse than this one... I was definitely a grumbling believer.

    But it grew on me and it was actually in a morning meditation that I experienced some being content/happiness for the first time in 5 years or so. I did not know what to do with it, jumped up from the pillow right away, I had become so estranged from that feeling!

    Many years later, still much to learn. Really not loving the nasty teacher still, but definitely very respectful of the lessons taught and learned. Secretly still hoping to graduate some time soon. But ever so slowly learning to stay. A little bit.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And yes, some forms of psychotherapy can keep a person stuck in a rendition of the self that only serves to perpetuate depressed mind states. What mindfulness does, is help free one self from unhealthy mind habits, and from the thinking mind itself, that which causes us most, if not all of our suffering. This being said, there is a place for feeling the old anger from earlier days, but that is a very small part of the journey. It needs to be experienced consciously, and then seen for what it is, an overgrown habit, that needs to be dropped.

    May you be well, may you continue with your practice.