Meditating through Depression – 2

Here are more journal excerpts from many years ago about my first experiences working with meditation to deal with depression. Unlike Revellian, as he explains so well in a recent comment here, I have not so far cultivated meditation as a long-term practice and discipline. Nevertheless, from these first attempts I found a method that has helped blunt the deep stress and anxiety that accompany depression. Sometimes it can even bring me out of a deep downswing.

Today I tried meditating while getting one of my periodic bone scans – one grisly aftermath of a cancer exam. Has it metastasized to the bones? If so, likely an agonizing death ahead – but fortunately that’s not probable. This is the second one, and the first only showed the widespread spots of arthritis that one day will give me a lot more pain than they do now. To do the scan I have to lie down on a narrow gurney and be absolutely still while this big machine moves slowly over my whole body, just an inch or so away.

So I worked at meditating during the scan and that made the time pass very quickly. It also distracted me from the fear of the machine’s humming invasion that recorded every inch of my body’s deepest structure. I couldn’t help but think of death while this was happening, and even the narrow gurney reminded me of how small a body gets when the life is gone. I strained to hold still since there was nothing to rest my arms on, but I finally figured out that I could keep my hands from slipping off the cold side bars by tucking the thumbs just under my hips. Still I couldn’t get a restful position for my elbows. So I closed my eyes and meditated on loving kindness and tried enumerating the things I was worried about and afraid of. Those fears felt more distant then, not as urgent – more like empty shapes or brief flashes rather than stabbing realities. After the scan, I felt a peacefulness that made it easier to hear whatever the results might be. Once again, I was clear of any sign of cancer in those aging bones.

  • I am trying to meditate and observe my feelings and thoughts and judgments and just note them. They’re they are. That is a wonderful part of this practice – in a way it helps internalize the therapist who is getting an objective view of you and so able to help identify what you are doing. I can observe what flows in and flows out and, while I’m doing it, enter into the peaceful but alert state I achieved during the bone scan. I only wish I could sustain this – perhaps I will internalize the discipline after a time. I wonder if the practice could help root out the deepest depression, for that strikes at a level far below thought or feeling within a deep hard structure of the brain. After decades of residence there, it just won’t move.
  • These last two days I have been meditating for forty-five minutes at a time. As my therapist says, that sounds like a lot of minutes, but it’s nothing – and he says it is work, with a capital W. You can’t play it like ping pong. You have to do it. He himself plans to spend a year in a monastery before too long. I see better now that following an emotion with detachment brings you into its midst – you can even move around inside it, so to speak, taking its measure, observing what it is about but without being dominated by it. The key is that distance, that stance. I am not sure I can or even want to maintain that as the norm, but it is helping me see how I put my life and reactions together. I am always amazed at how much time I spend tearing myself down, and in meditating I can see myself doing this more objectively. That alone helps me to stop the torment of that inner ripping. This practice isn’t yet helping get to the depression in a sustainable way, but achieving that would take much longer. I just wonder if it is possible to go that far.
  • Lately I have been meditating irregularly even though it has become a crucial centering activity. I’m not cultivating much of a discipline about it or having a sense of developing skill in exploration of consciousness. This is the trouble with depression – when it takes over, all the defenses I have don’t just fail. I forget all about them, as if I had never known what they were. Except in those worst times, there are mantras, and a prayer I have developed over time, that help bring balance into my life. Concentrating on breath gets me deeply into that different space.

The guidance for meditation to calm nervousness and fears is this:

Mindfulness of fears and nervousness

Number them

Focus on breath

Note them in turn, return to breath

Awareness of breathing – acknowledge breath by saying: in/out
Focus on center of chest – go way inside – explore the feeling.

And the simple lines I go over and over as part of the meditation on loving kindness are these:

May I be healed

May I feel love

May I experience myself for what I am

May I accept myself

This next is a meditative prayer that formed gradually while I was trotting up and down arroyos in the foothills near our old home in northern New Mexico. It is influenced by Lakota practice, but out of respect for those traditions, which are not mine, I do not use them directly.

I pray for all I am related to throughout the world

for I am a part of all life

now, through the past and into future time.

I pray for the earth, surrounded by the great directions,

the eastern white light of the new day

the yellow warmth of the south

the west’s returning red

the sacred night of the north

and the rooted earth below me

the flowing sky above

and here the center of the world,

all embraced by the greatest spirit of God.

I pray for all life and living spirit

I pray for the creatures of the earth,

for the winged beings and the sea swimmers

for the crawling creatures and for those that run

and for the beings that stand upright on the land

I pray for the flowing waters, the surging mountains

for the open plains and bounded valleys,

for the seas and the oceans of air we breathe.

I pray for my family and the love flowing through us

I pray for the friends I have known,

for all the communities I am a part of

and for the nations of the world,

that peace may become their way of life.

I pray for humankind.

I pray for forgiveness from those I have hurt

and pray I may forgive those who have caused me pain.

I pray that a growing love may fill me to overflowing

through the enduring grace of God.

I pray for all I am related to throughout the world,

for I am a part of all life

now, through the past and into future time.

Some Rights Reserved by kevindooley at Flickr

20 Responses to “Meditating through Depression – 2”

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  1. Dereck Coatney says:

    I’ve never meditated for the purposes you did here. I do however, practice something a lot like meditation (it might even be meditation for all I know, which is little); in order to get into a productive state of mind to think more deeply about certain subjects, I settle into a deep world of very internalized thinking. What’s remarkable is how much I recognized, while reading this post, my desire to remain in that state of mind, just as you did during your scan. I also understand what you meant when you labeled your state as “peaceful but alert.” Fascinating.

  2. Shinade says:

    Hi John, I also am dealing with all of the issues you speak about here. And your imagery is fantastic in relation to the feeling.

  3. John D says:

    Zathyn – Wow! Thanks so much for saying that. I’m deeply impressed at the powerful survival abilities you have shown – that’s an example for me as well. You have far more insight about what you’re going through than I ever did at your age. Keep on keepin on!

    Dereck – That’s very well put. Meditation is a more structured way of reaching that state. More commonly, I do exactly what you describe – there’s an instinctive way I sink into myself and get onto a different wavelength. It’s very much like the intense, focused state I get into when I’m writing. Thank you for your comment. I’m just getting into your blog and look forward to the exploration.

    John

  4. http://zathynpriest.com/blog says:

    Your strength has always been an inspiration to me, and I’m sure to many others.

  5. John D says:

    Thank you, Helen! What a total and wonderful surprise. I will spread the good feeling to other blogs, though it might take me a while to make all those choices. I hope this will start us on a great conversation.

    John

  6. Helen says:

    Hello,

    You have been awarded the Lemonade Award. Please visit the following link for more information:

    http://neferiti-thesearchforself.blogspot.com/

    Respectfully,
    Helen

  7. Hello,

    You have been awarded the Lemonade Award. Please visit the following link for more information:

    http://neferiti-thesearchforself.blogspot.com/

    Respectfully,
    Helen

  8. Hello,

    You have been awarded the Lemonade Award. Please visit the following link for more information:

    http://neferiti-thesearchforself.blogspot.com/

    Respectfully,
    Helen

  9. Helen says:

    Hello,

    You have been awarded the Lemonade Award. Please visit the following link for more information:

    http://neferiti-thesearchforself.blogspot.com/

    Respectfully,
    Helen

  10. John D says:

    Shinade – Thank you – and I hope it’s more the meditation issues rather than cancer that you’re dealing with. I think it’s no accident that the images fit the feeling – of course, they don’t always. But when they do, they seem to flow on their own out of some deeper awareness that links to the feelings directly – that’s all nonverbal and below the level of anything I’m conscious of.

    Thanks so much for coming by. I look forward to getting more deeply into your blog.

    John

  11. John D says:

    Thank you, Gianna – I’ll look up that book. I agree that prayers and meditations like this do send vibes out to the world. And they help to create peace within as well. The key part of ceremonies of the Dine people is to remind an ailing person of the place they hold within the physical and spiritual worlds. Recounting that huge context, which is obscured or forgotten so easily, helps rebuild my connection with everything and everyone around me. It works!

    John

  12. John D says:

    Laura – I’m so sorry you lost a friend to cancer. These online friendships are really precious, and I know I don’t want to lose any of them for any reason. Thank you for your comment on the blog. I can’t take credit for the theme design, though. It’s a beautiful one to work with. Hope to see you here again.

    John

  13. John D says:

    Stephany – I’ve been free of cancer for a dozen years now, and I’m very grateful for that. Thanks for your comment about the prayer – that’s something that’s been with me in one form or another for the past 20 years, and it’s always had a wonderfully calming and centering effect. And the breathing is so important – it’s good to know it’s been so helpful to you.

    Luv – John

  14. Gianna says:

    this is very beautiful John…

    the last part, the meditative prayer made me think of Lovingkindness meditation a form of Buddhist meditation… in which words are spoken in your mind as well in a meditative fashion a little bit more like mantras…but they have meaning and signficance like your poem…though your poem is much more beautiful poetically…Sharon Salzberg has written a book by that name with a forward by Jon Kabat Zinn.

    Basically it’s sending out meditative good vibes to yourself, everyone in your life, everyone in the world and the planet…it’s a form or prayer I guess…I like it and do it sometime when meditating.

  15. Laura says:

    Your blog template is gorgeous. I love the shades of deep orange.

    Glad you don’t have more signs of cancer. I lost an online friend to cancer this year. I had known her a long time.

  16. Stephany says:

    John,

    I’m relieved for you that you are cancer free, that is wonderful and I can imagine laying there for the bone scan would be a mix of fear and spirtual feelings all at once.

    The meditative prayer you posted is really lovely, thanks for sharing that.

    If it was not for deep breathing the last several years I never would have made it many of those hard days that’s for sure.

  17. John D says:

    Thanks, Melinda! I still have a lot to learn about meditation – I hope you’ll share your insights about it. I so appreciate your compassion and the total honesty and wisdom of your reflections on your own life. (Talk about having been through a lot!) I’m learning from your blog all the time, and I’m so glad we can get to know each other through this community.

    John

  18. John D says:

    Revellian – I’m also grateful to have found your work and look forward to a good friendship. Blogging and the community I have found through it have had such a powerful and healing impact. Meeting so many perceptive and compassionate people makes all the difference in my own recovery. All the best to you.

    John

  19. Melinda says:

    John,

    This post moved me to tears–what a lot you have been through and are going through. I also meditate and it has really helped me stay focused and balanced–it has saved me through some very tough times. Take care, friend–

    Melinda

  20. What beautiful prose John! I’m really happy to hear you are clear of cancer, that is a frightening experience. Thank you very much for mentioning me, and I look forward to a great friendship.

    I know depression well, but it still gets me and when it does, I have a difficult time with it. You are definitely not alone! One thing so great about blogging is there are some wonderful people in the world and I am so thankful to know some of them – and thankful to have met you. Have a good weekend my friend!

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