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Meditation and Depression
Keeping a topic of meditation in mind when depression is intruding is easier said than done; but it is possible.
If we know the basics of meditation, but are not sure how to deal with negative emotions when they overwhelm our meditation topic, we may wonder whether we should fight or run.
Neither option is effective. If we fight, we are breaking an important tenant of meditation, which is not to set one thing against the other. If we run, we break another tenant, which is to be patient and fearless. Bravely gutsing it out may seem best in theory, but when in the thick of depression, it is not an attractive option. Despite knowing better, we will likely head for the exit door rather than grit our teeth and bare it.
During testing times, a little skill-in-means can help allot and get us through difficult sits. Tantra offers tools that are effective for dealing with afflictive emotions and depression.
Let us imagine we are meditating, but our thread of awareness is repeatedly broken by a particular thought or disturbing emotion. What is happening is the thought that is intruding upon us is stronger than the thought resting on the meditation topic. The reason we cannot get the intruder out of our mind is because our meditation skill is insufficient to absorb our mind so completely that nothing can compete with it.
One thing that helps to be aware of is that an invasive thought is invasive whether it is a thought of loving kindness, the Buddha, or Christ, or a thought of anger, jealousy, hate, and so forth. It is tempting to allow our mind to wander to “good” thoughts thinking they are “okay,” and get bummed and block or discard “bad” thoughts, but they are both in the same category when they distract from our meditation topic. The only difference is that the afflictive thought may have us fighting or running, while the “good” thought may have us willfully indulging in distracted meditation. In either case, we lose because we have lost focus on the meditation topic.
A tantric solution (especially for painful and negative thoughts) would be to consciously break the thread of awareness on our meditation topic and switch the topic to the afflictive thought. Let us say the afflictive thought is rage toward someone, then we would kick out the mantra or whatever technique we are using (of the zillion techniques out there) and replace it with an image or a feeling connected with our rage. That image or feeling should be held just as we would our meditation topic.
Bringing whatever is disturbing our meditation into the meditation is therapeutic and powerful therapy for the mind. When we temporarily sideline the meditation topic and take company with the intruder, paradoxically, we will find that we are unable to hold onto whatever it was we were trying to get rid of! It too slips through our fingers just as the meditation topic did before we switched tables.
Our demons are demons because we see them that way. When we have a fatalistic attitude toward negative thoughts and emotions it puts us in a hopeless position. It is exactly what our demons want. Yet, when we approach disturbing emotions as no less an object of our awareness as our preferred form of meditation, they lose their power over us.
One of the hardest things to deal with is depression and everyone tries to escape it. But depression too is a great meditation topic and placing our mind calmly on the feeling of depression and holding it there undistracted for 10 or 20 minutes or more daily is the best way to dissolve depression. By allotting a period of time each day to meditate on our negative emotions, we will discover depression’s transitory nature. When we find that we cannot hold on to it consciously if we try, that realization spells the end of depression
Doing the above practices is not as easy as it may sound. It requires reflection on the fact that we have created the conditions we are enduring and not blaming others or our circumstances.
Meditations are not good or bad. They are like the weather. We get out and do what we need to do whatever the sky is offering. Meditation is like that; we just do our part without getting attached to pleasant or unpleasant experiences.
We have the tools to deal with whatever our karma throws at us. We just need to be consistent and believe in ourselves.