For a long time, I found it hard to relate to the idea of living in the present moment as a method of recovery from depression. The present never seemed all that attractive when I felt smothered by its darkness. That’s the way it had been in the past, and it seemed there would be a lot more present moments like those in the future.
Letting go, living only in the moment, opening to the timeless present, finding that the eternal truth was already in me – it sounded so effortless, requiring just a change of perspective, a choice to live differently. And that’s the way it was too often portrayed in the mass marketing of New Age culture. So I resisted looking into it more deeply.
Not so long ago, I decided to fight off my resistance and take a serious look. I started reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and once I got past my mental battles with it, I found a lot that resonated with my own experience.
Like many, I’d had a few important healing experiences that had drawn me into a different consciousness, one free of a sense of time as well as depression. Some of these had occurred suddenly and unexpectedly, as I tried to describe in posts like this one, but others had come more intentionally while I was immersed in the act of writing.
When I could bring all my energy to it – putting aside the innumerable distractions – I experienced a different state of mind and feeling, a sort of alternate wavelength of living. My concentration was so complete that mental chatter stopped. The words became transparent as they brought out ideas I hadn’t thought about before.
It’s still like that. There’s no awareness of time, no judging and no depression fighting me every step of the way. As I’ve written here before, there is only a richness of that moment of living, a feeling of oneness with a larger self, free of the usual constraints that narrow my experience. It’s not like a high to meet an uncontrollable craving or ease an inner pain. It simply is.
Those were the moments that most resembled Tolle’s sense of the Now, but he goes far beyond isolated moments of insight to a sustained being in a present that has no measurement in time. It’s a state of oneness with all life, without the boundaries that cut us off from each other. Such a state is part of many traditions – Buddhist, Hindu as well as mystical forms of Christianity and Islam.
That’s well beyond my experience, and, as Tolle and every other writer says, it’s impossible to put that state of being into words. I’m much more concerned with Tolle’s method for cutting through the resistance that blocks out such a level of consciousness. That’s what hit home for me because it’s similar to the way I’ve freed myself from depression.
The method consists of detachment from thinking that narrows the sense of who we are. Depression was a powerful force in my life because I identified myself so completely with it. I believed it defined me accurately; there was no healthier self apart from it. Whenever I felt better, I still believed in my own inadequacies. Depression wasn’t the problem. I was.
Until I could detach from that identification and see that I had all the symptoms of a condition known as depression, I couldn’t begin to heal. But when I could separate myself, I could observe what it was doing and work on ways to stop it.
Tolle applies a similar approach much more broadly to get at basic ways of thinking about life that conceal its spiritual reality. What I find most relevant to dealing with depression is his discussion of breaking the hold of time. What he means by this is psychological time.
Living within the boundaries of psychological time means preoccupation with memory and anticipation.
As it concerns depression, it’s the constant obsessing on all the failures and disappointments of the past, recreating old patterns of behavior and becoming consumed by anxiety about what will happen in the future. When I’m locked into that frame of thinking, all I can see in the present is what my depressed mind wants to see – reflections of the same worthless life I feel I’ve always lived.
As Tolle emphasizes, when detached from the patterns of psychological time, it’s possible to accept them – not to be swept under again – but to see them as an observer and find out more about the way they’ve shaped and limited life. Then it becomes easier to experience the present without projecting pain, without pulling it into the past. For Tolle that leads to the spiritual state of being he calls eternal.
For me, detachment has led to freedom from depression and the ability to experience the vitality of living. That’s nowhere near the eternal, but it’s plenty for now.
What has this concept of the Now and living in the present moment meant to you? Has it helped undo some of depression’s damage?