You are both depression and mindfulness
Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Photo ID 152245828 © Patrick Daxenbichler | Dreamstime.com
This title belongs to an insightful talk by Zen Master, global spiritual teacher and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, from his Dharma Talks Podcast – which I recently felt drawn to listen to after a particularly horrible day in my head. I highly recommend the Dharma Talks podcast for those of you who have a relatively long commute to and from work, as I do. The talks are long and windy but full of zen-like wisdom, the kind that sneaks up on you, uneventfully. His voice is also so calming that whether I’ve drifted away at points or not (a reflection of the nature of my mind, rather than his teaching), or whether he’s reached the core teaching or not, I arrive feeling calmer and more peaceful.
I left for work that morning, motivated by one thing, and one thing only, the flat white I was going to get from the bearded hipsters at my local on the way to work. I ask for it to be made at 70° (5° hotter than their usual brew) so that it lasts longer. Which is about 5 minutes. With the highlight of my day over, I had 85 minutes left of my commute to work to contemplate my misery. [It was a long list that morning which I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say, it ended with the big “what the f**k is the point of it all?” question.]
Thankfully, the day was filled with meetings, in which I was playing an integral role. Meetings are a great distraction from mental noise (and misery – real, or self-generated) because if you care how people perceive you in your work environment, which I do, you have to act like you are engaged, and the benefit of that is that faking it can lead to making it. So, meetings = win. Meetings over, and with the long commute back home ahead of me, I thought instead of putting myself through the mental misery of the morning drive, I would rather drown my thoughts in a useful podcast.
In this particular podcast, Hanh talks about addressing painful feelings like anger, sorrow, fear. His advice is basically this:
Invite mindfulness in, to exist alongside the painful feeling. Don’t fight the feeling, or try to suppress it, just use mindfulness to recognise it. If you do that long enough, this mindfulness, which is really just recognising the nature of what is without trying to change anything, will lead to:
A few minutes = relief from the painful feeling
A bit longer = concentration
A bit longer = insight/understanding
By the evening, my misery had turned to anxiety. I was just about to reach for the wine bottle when I remembered the podcast, and where I’d left off. So, I tentatively chose Thich to join me at dinner, rather than red wine (which I also consider a Zen Master, global spiritual teacher and peace activist). And I don’t know if it was his voice or the task of inviting mindfulness in, but within 5 minutes my anxiety had dissipated. Fast forward a few days later… and I tried to use this technique to shift me out of anger, but it didn’t work to the same degree. Like anything, this takes consistency and practice.
The point here, and Hahn does speak to this, is that the practise comes from a place of “non-violence”, we are encouraged not to fight the feeling, even a feeling as intolerable as depression. By inviting mindfulness in alongside depression, or anxiety or whatever other unbearable experience you’re currently living, you’re training your brain to acceptance. To accepting your reality, whatever it is. And inviting a radical faith, that will ultimately find you freedom. And given that Hahn is about the calmest, happiest looking person I know, I think it’s worth a go.
To find Thich Nhat Hanh’s free Dharma Talks go to https://www.podbean.com/podcast-detail/6unpr-349cf/Thich-Nhat-Hanh-Dharma-Talks-Podcast. Also found on Apple and Android.