"One day a monk asked the great master, ‘How can we avoid hot and cold?’ He said, ‘Why don't you go somewhere that is neither hot nor cold?’ The monk asked, ‘Where is a place that is neither hot nor cold?’ The master replied, ‘When it is cold, be completely cold, when it is hot, be completely hot. '" (Dogen, Shobogenzo, Vol. 2 Translated by Kosen Nishyama [Sendai, Japan, Dihokkaikaku, 1977, p. 33]
This story illustrates the connection between spirituality and depression. To me, it brings up what was the most difficult aspect of my own former depression, which was my constant attempt to escape the sadness. I believe this is a natural tendency, as very few people want to feel sad, and our entire culture seems based on the “pursuit of happiness. " Ironically, what I found was that when I accepted the sad feelings, breathed into them and gave them space in my body and mind, they began to loosen and dissolve.
Also, what I learned was that an event during the day might trigger a surface feeling, anger, or anxiety, mostly. I learned that these were “surface" feelings, often masking deeper, more “difficult" feelings like abandonment, or profound loneliness - something all of us encounter at various times in our lives. Once I began to become familiar with these deeper feelings, usually stemming from incidents in my childhood, but sometimes simply a result of the human experience, they became less intense and stopped interfering with my daily life.
That doesn't mean that the source of my sad feelings dissolved. It was still very necessary for me to explore these feelings, mostly in therapy. What was interesting to me about my therapy was the realization that my feelings were layered and complex - which helped me to develop a curiosity about them. The more I learned about myself, the less afraid of my feelings I became, which encouraged me to explore my feelings more deeply and as a result, develop compassion for myself. Developing compassion for myself was a crucial step in healing my depression.
When having a difficult day, I find it helpful to have some quiet time to meditate on my feelings. I allow my mind to follow the string of events that led to my anger or anxiety and then consider what these events remind me of - usually an event from my childhood - and by focusing on these feelings, I am led to underlying feeling. I breathe in and allow myself to feel the underlying difficult feeling, visually giving myself the “space" to hold it. I spend several minutes doing this until the space that I hold the feeling in feels expansive and the negative feeling has dissolved.
What I've learned is that we all share similar feelings even though our particular experiences are unique. When I am feeling particularly sad or distressed over an event, I consider other human beings who are feeling the same way that I am feeling at this very moment, and this helps me to feel less alone in my feelings.
By focusing on the feelings that unite humanity, I automatically connect more deeply to the human experience, and this feeling of connection helps disengage depression.
Lisa Fyfe, M. S. , is a former high school English teacher turned stay-at-home-mom. Her interests include natural health, nutrition, and parenting as a path to spiritual growth. She is a Reiki Master, essential oil healer, and also runs a website that documents her natural recovery from depression, at http://www.holistic-treatment-for-depression.com