In sorting through boxes of old papers today, I came upon part of a meditation and some journal notes from the period in my life when I was recovering from a cancer operation. I was dealing with depression at the same time and searching for new approaches to healing beyond the physical treatments and medications that comprised the aftermath of major surgery. I was trying to deal more with depression than cancer since the surgery had been successful.
What I found was a part of the Loving Kindness Meditation, as that had been taught to me:
May I be healed
May I feel love
May I experience myself for what I am
May I accept myself
As I have written in an earlier post, I felt my ability to deal with cancer directly and with a strong spirit came from a sudden and powerful burst of basic life force when the voice of depression was trying to lull me into using cancer as a way of ending my life. I just refused to let myself die. That resurgence of spirit carried me through the operation and its immediate aftermath, but as more normal life returned the underlying depression reasserted itself. It wasn’t long before I was searching for help again. I found it with a therapist who made extensive use of meditation. I was open to that approach since I had been reading about buddhism and healing approaches based on meditation, such as that described in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living. His description of mindfulness and healing was more accessible than others I had read.
He distinguishes between healing and curing. Healing captures for Kabat-Zinn the ability to see things differently, to experience wholeness. Meditation is the method to attain an inner stillness in which you can grasp the fullness of your being and transcend fears and boundaries of both mind and body. As he puts it:
Moments of experiencing wholeness, moments when you connect with the domain
of your own being, often include a palpable sense of being larger than your illness or
your problems and in a much better position to come to terms with them.
… We are not meditating to make anything go away.
I meditated every day, often on long walks into the foothills near our New Mexico home. Those hours helped me first quiet the intense anxiety I was feeling (for me that’s a common part of what I go through in long depressive periods). Here is some of the guidance the therapist gave me for dealing with nervousness – an essential step before I could hope to reach an experience of the wholeness of my own being. My being was constantly zapped with electricity from all directions – the anxiety was like a dense and turbulent cover for whatever I was feeling.
Mindfulness of fears and nervousness
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 here is what I wrote one day in the midst of this work with meditation:
Crying so much in the last twelve hours, it feels like the beginning of healing. To know that I have finally hit my deepest feelings breathes relief right through me. It is all right to feel overwhelmed, to feel grief, to let it sink in that this is not an adventure or diversion, but it is really all of me. I know that I can be helpless and sad in the face of this reality. The self hate seems so rooted in the what the buddhists called the eight worldly concerns (I wanted to call them griefs) – attachment to getting material things, aversion to blame, attachment to praise, etc. Perhaps now I can feel myself touching bottom and can begin to see where I really am – what my hunger and hurt are all about. What I learn. What I die for and live for.
Finally feeling/ knowing I am sick is the beginning of healing.
Ultimately, meditation helped me see clearly the forces of anxiety, shame, self-hatred, fear darting about in me like wild birds suddenly caught in the confines of a room. Lightening-like breaks for escape, flying bodies crashed into every barrier, shot-like bursts away from a strange human waving them toward windows, caws and shrieks of panic filling the air. In meditative walks, I could finally see them as separate from me and sweep them for a time from my soul. But only for a time.
Even though the fears and anxieties and the depressed feelings of self-hate would come back again and again, something changed within me. I lost the belief that I consisted solely of those maddening furies. I could believe that I was more than the sum of those parts of depression, and this new belief was the most powerful change that meditation helped me to achieve.
The force of belief is everything in trying to overcome depression. Until I could stop believing that what I thought of myself when depressed was true, I could not begin to turn things around and heal, or experience the wholeness of my own being. Rachel Naomi Remen captures the power of belief well in her quietly remarkable book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.
What we believe about ourselves can hold us hostage. Over the years I have come to respect the power of people’s beliefs. The thing that has amazed me is that a belief is more than just an idea – it seems to shift the way in which we actually experience ourselves and our lives. According to Talmudic teaching, “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” … Sometimes because of our beliefs we may have never seen ourselves or life whole before. No matter. We can recognize life anyway. Our life force may not require us to strengthen it. We often just need to free it where it has gotten trapped in beliefs, attitudes, judgment, and shame.
What role has meditation played in your efforts to overcome the effects of depression and its related disorders?
Image Credit: Some Rights Reserved by Denis Collette at Flickr.