February 25, 2011

Winston Churchill’s Black Dog of Depression doesn’t like haircuts.

I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.

I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train.

I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.

A second’s action would end everything.

A few drops of desperation.

~ Winston Churchill

6 Ways I hope to Tame my Black Dog.

Winston Churchill—one of the greatest, fallible, romantic, vital and charming figures in modern history—was known to suffer from highs and lows. Lows so dark and so steadily recurring that his depression came to be known as his “black dog.”

While I feel fortunate to be rather up and outward, generally, when I was younger I would frequently go a good day or two, once every while, lost in my mind of solid sadness and defeat. Over the years my Buddhist training, meditation, and particularly Kasung work—as well as my naturally growing up and finding a vocation and avocation in which to pour my considerable energies—have helped me to fall into such solidity only very occasionally. My red tick hound not-at-all-depressed dog, Redford, and his consistent desire to get outside to run about and pee on everything also helps force me out, when I’m feeling like cocooning myself in my home/office—which, when it was under foreclosure, wasn’t exactly a warm nest.

Lately, though, due to a particularly heart-pulling, open, raw situation, I’ve been down. I’ve been down and down and down.

Not just sad, but stressed and in physical pain—to the point where I meditate and do tonglen but instances of difficulty keep recurring and sending me deeper. And so, with the encouragement of a friend, I’m reconnecting formally with a meditation instructor, and for the first time in my life seeking therapy (something I’ve had less than less-than-zero desire for, historically), and recommitting myself to my Buddhist path of service and meditation practice.

But what makes all of this relevant and useful, hopefully, are a few easy suggestions by others that have helped me and might help you, should you find yourself down and out.

> As a friend said, the other day, in a reply to one of my posts about depression, “the black dog doesn’t like haircuts.” I finally did so, yesterday.

> Another friend, Robbie, suggested shaving (I finally did so, yesterday, hacking away my scraggly red beard).

> Another friend suggested getting dressed, properly, instead of living in sweatshirts. My parents’ Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, often said that sweatshirts and such baggy clothing weren’t advisable, they allowed the ego to be too comfortable and hide out. He advised wearing slightly too tight clothing, which encourages one to sit up straight and take good posture.

> His son, my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, has noted that posture is 50% of one’s state of mind.

> Working directly with one’s state of mind, for a few minutes each morning and evening, or more of course, no matter what, every day, twice a day (or more of course).

> Eating real food instead of the crap you naturally want to eat when you’re down.

> When all else fails, take a hot, hot bath. Epsom salts are nice, and cheap.

Finally, never give up on yourself, even if you feel like doing so.

So, yesterday, I scheduled a haircut. I didn’t want one—I liked my shaggy sideburns and all. But I knew it would uplift and open me up. And so, yesterday, after the haircut, I had to bathe and shave off the half-beard I also felt attached to. And that’s the funny point about depression—we may hate being in it, but we’re attached to it, too. We self-medicate in whatever ways, but we don’t often have the will or inspiration to do those simple things (like exercise, or meditate, or just get out, or eat real food) that would uplift us.

What else, in your experience, helps uplift and open and make sane and heal up?

Yesterday. Today. Still tired, wiped out, stressed, but…my black dog has nowhere to hide.

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