Stopping Time, Stopping Depression

Are you ever able to get away from time in the sense of measuring what you do, day in, day out? I can’t seem to escape it very often, but I’m convinced that doing so is one of the ways I get myself out of depression. Of course, the clock is omnipresent, and almost all activities in the daily world are measured against it. Most people, with their usual ups and downs, adapt to schedules for everything. But psychologically, in a depressive mind, time is another weapon. It is the constant reminder, as it keeps on going, that I am not doing enough, that I am not getting things done, that I can’t do the job, that I’m not measuring up, and on and on. I feel time as relentless pressure, nonstop stress, an overlay on reality full of warning reminders wherever I look. And as writers like Richard O’Connor and Robert Sapolsky keep telling us, living in a state of constant stress brings on the mood disorders as brain chemistry goes on overload.

There are times, though, when stress stops, time stops, inner voices meet their match and shut down. It happens to me not by changing a negative pattern of thinking but by listening to something other than thought. Today, I’ve been recalling and reliving one of those moments, the first one I was really conscious of, when by chance I seemed to step right out of time.

When my wife and I first moved to New Mexico, we often drove out to explore a countryside so different from what we had grown up with in the East. We were still getting used to seeing a mountain range fifty miles away, to a wide dry rangeland spotted with twisting juniper bushes, the winding arms of cholla cactus and stunted pinon trees, the nourishing grasses clustered to conserve moisture, the land rolling up toward the foothills and clear mountains flanking either side of the Rio Grande Valley. But I still carried my worries, stress and downward spirals with me so I would soon get anxious while driving in this leisurely way, even if we were seeing so much natural beauty around us.

On one of these excursions, we headed south from Santa Fe to see a village full of beautiful adobe houses in an oasis of tall cottonwoods. As we drove back – and I was relieved to do so since I felt the pressure of time and the need to get something done that day – we followed a dirt road for many miles. At one point, my wife rolled down the window and put her head out as far as she could. She started saying something to me and waving an arm. “What are saying? I can’t hear a word!” She ducked back in the window and blurted out, “Stop – just stop! Stop the car! Here, here, here – right now!” Edgy to get back home, I didn’t want to slow down for a minute, but I pulled over because she was suddenly possessed by – I didn’t know what. As soon as I stopped by the dusty roadside, keeping the motor running – she popped the door and wandered around the car, as if looking for something. She walked about ten feet away, then came back and pounded on my window. I rolled it down to hear her. “Turn off the engine! You have to! Turn it OFF!” Reluctantly, I shut it down, and as soon as I turned the key and silenced that rumbling thing, I realized what it was and just stared at her. “Hear it? There’s not a single sound!” I got out of the car and listened hard.

For the first time in my life, I heard a silence so complete it was like an utterly different experience of being alive. Not a sound, not a distant engine, a plane overhead, a hammering or a human voice. The wind was still, the birds were quiet in the middle of a sunny day. Nothing. It stopped me, stopped everything in my busy mind and drained the tenseness right out of me. I just stood there with L, absorbed in the silence. It had a physical quality that calmed me, and I felt not just restfulness in the midst of it but something restoring me as well. The sense of time steadily beating in my thoughts a rhythm of what have you done, what are you worth, what will you do – all that was gone.

When time stopped, there was no depression, no anxiety. There was only a feeling of wellness and contentment – even a sense of fulfillment. Whatever presence or energy was circulating there, it brought the word “soul” into awareness for the first time in years. It was a feeling of connecting, of bonding, but with what? That was a question I asked later. Then and there I just floated in that feeling, not having to ask anything about it, not trying to explain it. I do not know what that is, but the experience, when it happens, is one of the richest in life that I know. It restores, it calms, it erases without conscious effort all stress and awareness of time and limits and schedules and tasks and deadlines. And it dissolves depression.

In finding a daily way out of depression, the rich if unusual moments like these are among the restorative experiences that keep telling me I’m more than the dark condition I fall into. Visualizing and reliving them leads me back to the sense of timelessness that strengthens an essential inner resilience. So that is becoming part of my practice of wellness.

I’m sure you’ve had experiences like that. My question is – does it help your healing to recall and relive them, whether by writing or in some other way?

Image: Some Rights Reserved by jurvetson at Flickr

10 Responses to “Stopping Time, Stopping Depression”

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  1. Donna says:

    I had not read this post before. But I recognize the description of the moment of timeless silence. Once was in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona when I was 12. I was dumbstruck. You know films when the person in the foreground is completely still while the background expands into an unrecognizable blur? That was it. The world around me expanded like a great galaxy being born and I was at the center. Stars, space, time, my life unwound into another universe. It was almost like being born and taking my first breath in a new atmosphere: air instead of amniotic fluid. I was out of the womb of depression (even at 12) and into…I don’t even know where. A place I cannot describe. Everything was gone but a sense of suddenly beginning. It impacted me so much, so deeply that I still to this day would like to go back. I want to live there. Even knowing everything, including me, will have changed over time, I have some connection with the place. I have never been there but that one time. But every time I see a picture of a saguaro cactus or any desert of the American Southwest I feel spellbound. Like your experience, it takes me out of time even to see a picture. As if my mind expands enough for everything to have its rightful place, even depression and anxiety. Thank you for reminding me.

  2. Kathy says:

    Love this thread. I advocate thought-stopping to others, but rarely remember it for myself.
    Depression defined as the difference between what you expect and what you have.
    I am thinking of depression in a computer analogy. My unresolved or unrecognized background subconcious is constantly in motion so that my minute to minute functioning is slowed and unresponsive. Too many start-up programs!! I need to clean my registry. My bios are all fucked up. No energy.
    So the moments of bliss are when your entire focus becomes the minute to minute without all the background noise.
    This is why thought-stopping or changing-the-channel is effective.

  3. John D says:

    Thank you for those beautiful thoughts. Water is a powerful presence. I often think of the state I get into as one taking place in a different medium like water – fluid, where there are no barriers between me and what surrounds. It is incredible that depression can just disappear. It shows how much the mind/spirit can do if we could always get to those special places.

  4. bluerose says:

    I experience what you described when I scuba dive. Please excuse my language, but for me, it’s like shit floats. As soon as I’m below the surface, I leave my depressed world behind, and enter into the most serene place on earth.

    My art, my writing, and my dreams all reflect the impact this has had on me. I use all three to help me in my therapy, because they help me to focus on the positive. I think of it like this: If I’m in a body of water that is completely still, with no current, and I propel myself in one direction, I can continue in that direction for quite a while with no effort, because of the way that the water moves around my body. But, changing directions is difficult, because of the momentum and having nothing to push against. Focusing on the positive helps me to change directions. It’s what propels me into clearer waters, and often leads me to discoveries about myself.

  5. Evan says:

    For me it’s about contrasting it with a less satisfying present.

  6. John D says:

    Brenda – There are lots of things besides depression that can get those thoughts going about time and never doing enough. Most of the social messages we grow up with are about proving our worth, with the implication that we aren’t OK as we are, that we have to do something to show we’re worthy of our place in the world. If you don’t have all the other symptoms, it’s probably not depression. The technique you use to cut off that line of thinking is exactly what I use – though I haven’t had a name for it – til now. Thank you!

    Evan – Is the regret about missing that experience or contrasting it with a less satisfying present? I’m working on a post about longing for that incredible state. Once I knew what it was, I wanted it back. But I can’t will it to return.

  7. Evan says:

    For me it is refreshing to recall those incidents if I get the feeling back. Remembering them with regret doesn’t help at all.

  8. Brenda says:

    I have rarely thought of myself as depressed (usually I’m quite the opposite), but some of your words here have given me pause. In particular your line about depressions “as the constant reminder, as [time] keeps on going, that I am not doing enough, that I am not getting things done, that I can’t do the job, that I’m not measuring up, and on and on.”

    I have to consciously employ a technique called “thought-stopping” so that I don’t have this very same inner dialogue! Well, thought-stopping and affirmations. I always thought that the mental chatter was my inner perfectionist, but whatever it is called, it is certainly self-defeating … and it’s interesting seeing the ways it can be overcome!

  9. John D says:

    I’m glad you recognize something in this experience. You seem to have approached that calmness in a different way than I have – going from the painting to thinking about the type of place you are visualizing. I went from the experience of a number of places to a state of mind that enabled me to start writing. There is a power so many people report experiencing in nature, and I’m trying to get at what that power or energy is. It’s often associated with a place, but it’s more than that. I’m sure many can feel it without first contact being made in a physical location. I know it as the form of spirituality than has really gotten inside me. I hope we can stay in touch about this.

  10. I have never read anything that described what I feel so perfectly. I stumbled on your page and really related to what you’ve written about time. Constantly feeling behind some clock, not doing enough, being effective. I feel like I have gotten close to putting my finger on the problem and in some way I have always felt it is getting too far away from nature that screws us up. I have never thought of myself that way – as needing to be away but the times I am in a situation where I am truly away from everything I feel a relief. I think it is being unable to filter the way others can. But I paint, and I have fixated on imagery that is somehow important to me – which has also always been puzzling to me because my paintings are sort of barren landscapes. I feel drawn to a sort of landscape and I think it is the depiction of the kind of calm silence you describe. I have never thought that visualizing or imagining this land could be enough, that I would never be able to find myself actually in this peaceful place. I think that is why my imagery has been so important to me. I always explained it as being a place where there is history or a sense of the layers of history or life – and that was why I stayed with it but what you describe is also it – an escape from a chaos of mind.

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