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Spiritual awareness and depression: my experiences

Most people have triggers and issues that pull them into spiritual unconsciousness over and over again. For me it is depression. I have made the decision to mention it here because it’s something I need to write out so that it doesn’t fester in my mind. As I’m sure others with depression are aware, when those feelings are stuck inside you, they hold more power to suck you in deeper and deeper.

I am a very self-aware individual due to my long-term meditation practice and dedication to self-development. For that reason I have been able to study my mind and body, if not during a period of depression (although recently I have been able to do this) but after the darkness has lifted a little bit. From these inner explorations I have found that, perhaps inevitably, my depression is multifaceted. It is biological, mental, emotional and spiritual. Quite often it coincides with a significant worsening of my physical health, since I also suffer with a debilitating chronic illness. This may happen overnight and the root cause does not appear to be triggered by negative thinking or difficult emotions.  I believe the link may be inflammation, as is the case for other chronic illnesses that are associated with depression. But I am not a doctor; all I know is how I experience the link.

Once the depression takes over (as that is how it feels, like I have been taken over) I have to remain exceptionally mindful in order not to let the negative thinking take over and pull me further the black hole that is depression. During a typical episode, I wake up and experience the usual heaviness, fatigue and pain that is part and parcel of my physical problems, however, with depression in the mix it’s as if a thick grey curtain has been pulled over me so that I no longer sense any light. I have no desire or motivation to start the day, even though I force myself to get up and walk my dog who thankfully gives me that incentive to move.  My body has slowed down, I have no appetite, I couldn’t care less about doing the things that I enjoy despite my ill-health, such as playing the piano and reading. When I close my eyes (as I always feel exhausted) my mind pulls me back into various memories of the past, nothing difficult or substantial since I have spent years working through issues with a lot of success, but snippets of people or places, good and bad, as if to convince me my life is over now and all I have is the past, as hard as it often was. Other times it pulls me into the future, convincing me that I am doomed as every terrible thing that could happen, will, or reminding me that everything is temporary and there is no security to be found.  Sometimes I end up crying (often a difficult thing to do when really depressed, actually) when I picture life without my dog, or without any material security at all.

If I remain unaware at this point, a running commentary starts to accompany my bodily misery, such as ‘I don’t matter’ or ‘no one cares’ or ‘I’m so lonely’. If my mind really deteriorates which to be honest it has done a lot lately, I start to reinforce those painful thoughts by looking up quotes and images of depressed and lonely people.  I may listen to sad music that reinforces my depression and before I know it I’m questioning the point of my life, of all life despite my spiritual experiences, and feel profoundly separate and disconnected. Meditation feels pointless even if I could focus which I can’t, I can’t resonate with spiritual quotes or texts, can’t talk to anyone as they wouldn’t understand, and I feel the deep pain of inner emptiness. I have not gone as far as thinking about suicide, but I have found myself hoping that my life is not going to be a long one because I simply can’t bear this any longer.

How do I deal with this? Well as yet, I have no easy answers, but most often what happens is that a trickle of self-awareness seeps in and I’m able to step back, usually just for a few seconds, and realise I’ve spiralled into spiritual unawareness. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks before I have this moment of awareness, other times it can be just a day.  But regardless of how long it takes, there comes a time where I catch myself and witness what I’m doing. By witnessing, I don’t mean I can always pull myself out. I’m not talking about solutions or cures. Depression is an extremely complex illness and I have come to believe that it may not leave me completely, especially if there is a biological association with my existing problems. But there is freedom to be found in stepping back, remembering that I don’t always feel like this. Once I embrace this knowing, it becomes far easier to resist being pulled back into the darkness.

Just as the mind is enticing and addictive, so is depression. I find myself taking an almost masochistic pleasure in my painful feelings, needing to indulge them for all they’re worth. As I surrender into the misery, there’s a weird kind of relief that I don’t have to do anything more. No more effort, no more fight, no more craving, just nothingless. I can find others with depression and share how horrible it is. I can assume the identity of a depressed person; it’s a suit that is well-worn and understood. I will belong there in the hellpit. I can go back to sleep for ever and ever…

Only I can’t. I have awakened, and as many spiritual teachers say, once you’ve awakened you never really go back to sleep. You may try, but you never really can. This is absolutely true of my experience. This is also why I see a spiritual side to my depression, or what is called a dark night. There is a biological root to it, but like with many depressions, from my personal understanding, there takes many triggers and environmental issues to reinforce their role in someone’s life, which are unique to everyone. For me, depression is a recurring issue, and perhaps there is a message there in learning to understand how to deal with it and accept why it is in my life. After all, it is part of me, and born from a series of wounds that demand attention. There may come a time when I no longer need my depression, or I can hope.

In the meantime, I am meditating regularly, watching my thoughts and emotions, and reminding myself that everything is transient, including a depressive state, and I am aware of it all flowing before me like a river down to the sea of life which encompasses every thing and rejects no thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The light never goes out

Although I am more of a summer person, I do love the prettiness of autumn colours;  the rich red and earthy browns everywhere.  I see and experience each season for its unique part of the wholeness of life, as well as its reminder that forms are transient and ever changing.

However this year I have been aware of a sadness in me as the season turns. I have found myself shedding a few tears as we say goodbye to bright summer days and hello to cold, dark winter evenings.

Thus I am reminded of my favourite quote ‘In the depths of winter I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer’.

I often use the quote symbolically, but here it is greatly relevant to me in its literal form too.

Even when the light and warmth of the Divine appears to have left us, it never really has. Even when we are lost in the clouds of illusion, we only need to see a tiny sparkle of light behind the greyness to know that we are always okay in the truest sense.

The process of awakening is perhaps straightforward for some, but for others it is full of peaks and troughs;  sudden realisations among the pain and longings and attachments that we can’t let go of. It’s all okay, all of it, even though it may feel sometimes like we’re not getting anywhere, or have outright failed in our intentions.

More often than not lately, I find myself back in the dark night, wanting something to be different, longing for some particular path that will lift me out of this experience and into the light once more.

This will never come because…I am the path. I am the light. And so are you.

It’s easy to forget this and fall back into illusion. Yes, fall (sorry, I know I’m overusing this image, but it is relevant).

It is easy to look in the wrong place, to rely on some external path or solution, or simply to rely on what our senses tell us, not what exists within our hearts and inner wisdom.

And so, the evenings draw in, yet we can be reminded that the light that we are never goes out.

 

 

 

 

The story of my heart

I’ve never been someone who likes a lot of ‘stuff’ per se. But over the years I have accumulated a massive amount of personal bits in the way of stories, poems, diaries and books. I have loads of books that I owned and read as a child and am struggling to part with. However lately I have felt the need to ‘declutter’ my life and get rid of what is outdated or I simply don’t want or need any more. I’ve made a good start in giving some of my books to charity and throwing away a few really torn ones. What I can never part with is the stories and journals for they reflect the totality of who I am; the young lonely child, the confused and depressed adolescent, the struggling adult…all leading to who I am today. The story of my heart.

All my writing means more to me than any material stuff ever could. What this says about me and my attachment to my identity is perhaps a topic for inner exploration. For what seems to bother me, a lot, is what will become of my stories and journals when I die? This seemingly rather odd question was emoted in last night’s dream:

I was in a public library, having travelled there by coach. I carried with me a large red folder bulging with old discoloured paper upon which I’d written some of my many stories as a child. In contrast, the library was very colourful. There was a lady at a desk. I went up and showed her my folder of stories. I wanted her to take them, explaining there was no one else. Perhaps they would be useful for the library?I told her that once I left the Earth I had no close family to speak of, no one who would want my writings. No one who would read them.

I wanted the lady to care about them.  I wanted them to be useful somehow. I wanted them to mean something.

I woke up with the raw feeling of something deep and painful prodding closer to the surface.  My death has never bothered me; in some ways I even welcome it. I love the thought of freedom from current limitations, to find out for myself what it means to be out of the human realm.

But I care about my life at the same time. More than that: I care deeply about the people I have been, and never will be again. All my writing serves to reflect the person I was at the time, and for a very long time I rejected her because everyone else did. Now I care about her. I care about all of me. It saddens me to think that when the time comes that I will die, everything that I have written, the deepest outpourings of my heart, will be likely burnt or thrown away by some unfortunate person left to sort out my belongings -perhaps a member of the local council if I’m really unlucky – and gone forever.

Does this mean that none of it ever mattered?  That my life meant nothing? I hope and trust that it does not. And I think the library in my dream symbolises that. For what is a public library but the accumulation of all human knowledge and wisdom and perhaps in a more mystical sense; the Akashic records. I hope that my stories and journals and diaries, which are not good enough to ever be published in any conventional sense, will nonetheless have contributed something valuable to…what, I don’t really know. The human race. The human heart.

On a base level maybe I am simply saying I hope that my life mattered, that everything I felt, experienced, loved and dreamed mattered. Matters. Everyone wants to feel that they matter. For many this is already known and reflected in the amount of people who will miss them when their time comes. That is not true for me, but I hold onto my spiritual understanding that each of us are valuable and part of the Whole. And that none of what we are or do is ever wasted.

 

 

 

 

Holding Texas in my heart

I haven’t updated my blog much recently; I’ve been reading others, but I haven’t had much inclination to post anything myself. I don’t want to write for the sake of writing but when the need takes me. Today is one of those days.

I feel almost guilty sitting in my nice home on a hot and sunny bank holiday Monday in the UK all the while watching horrific images on my TV screen of what the people of Texas are going through right now for no other reason other than the fact they live in Texas.

I have tried to imagine my entire street,  community, town under water and the pain and devastation of that, but it is beyond my ability to imagine. However,  as a fellow human being, I do know fear and suffering.

Among the helplessness I feel at knowing there is nothing I can do, it occured to me that the one course of action that remains open to me is to open my heart and express love and compassion for all those affected.

It’s not much I know; it isn’t going to rescue people from flooded homes or help build new ones or stop the rain from falling, but it’s all I have to offer.

Texas, I feel your pain. I am hoping and praying you will all be safely rescued and you find support, shelter and love from those around you in the time to come.

 

Our tiny Earth

Tears in my eyes..

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero […]

via Carl Sagan ~ Look at that dot — Herzzentrale

The eye of the needle

Jesus Christ was believed to have said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now I am not rich, very far from it, but perhaps Jesus was talking about richness in terms of accumiliating things; thoughts, beliefs, objects, people, and of course money.

As I grow in awareness, I realise just how much I have accumilated and how difficult it is to let go of certain things. In addition, my ego, the lower self, constantly seeks to acquire more things, particularly a new belief system, a new attachment, a new identity. Something that provides reassurance that it is ‘somebody.’

I become lost in that ‘somebody’. I am desperate for more things that will strengthen it. I look for a structure with which to construct a new identity, not realising that I am trapping myself more firmly inside it.

After a period of time, these days of far shorter duration, I realise I have become lost. I become still. I meditate and focus on God who I wanted all along but my separated self decided was in a distant place, inaccessible, hence the need for a belief system to conceptualise Him.

Through meditation, I realise I am the witness to it all. I am the Experiencer, I am connecting with the Kingdom within myself. In dropping all the things my lower self acquired I am nobody, but I have gained it All.

To see this requires a very deep concentration and a desire to surrender to the unknowable. Here, the needle provides a perfect metaphor; easy to miss, frustrating, of little interest or concern to the ego. But that little needle symbolises my all seeing eye, the path to awareness.

My dark night

Despite my spiritual awareness, there are times when the darkness descends. I imagine that is true for most people, if not all. In recent months this darkness has at times become so pervasive that creates my experience of a ‘dark night.’

During this dark night of the soul, feelings and emotions seem to possess my very being. The main ones are despair, loneliness, lack of motivation, loss of meaning, and even lack of faith in spirit. Whilst I can look back at my experience of feeling connected to Spirit and the faith, love and joy that results from that, it no longer touches the darkness. I am in an unreachable place and even begin to doubt everything I have ever experienced.

Simultaneously, I am struck by the most intense yearning of my life; a desire to find union with the Divine. My fear is that such a state is lost to me forever and as such I sometimes find myself finding a pseudo comfort in earthy matters believing that perhaps that is all the meaning there is after all. Of course, none of it ultimately satisfies, so I go back to hoping, praying, that I can reconnect somehow,  but often feeling more lost than ever.

I have learnt to ride these feelings out. I sit with them in meditation, allowing the fear, the loneliness and all the rest to be there, and invite them to show me what I need to see. I imagine a speck of light guiding me forwards, bringing me to this point in my awareness. I can’t see it, but I trust that it is there.

In moments of trust and pure surrender, I am suddenly lifted into the golden light of awareness where everything makes sense and I know it’s all fine; it always was. My dreams point to this light; they remind of me that love is the ultimate truth and that we are all connected, all One, even when that knowledge is forgotten.

 

 

 

Shining Divine light in the darkness

candle

This evening I light a candle of peace and love in the memory of those who died, were injured or otherwise traumatised by the events in London today.

I am not going to speculate on why it happened, for that is not for me to do.

I find it helpful to remind myself that the light is always stronger than the darkness, even when it seems to be very much the opposite.  And the best thing I can do for this world is not give into fear but hold onto my knowledge of Love, the Divine consciousness that gave rise to this world and is a constant presence if one can only awaken to realise it.

 

 

 

 

Everything is passing though

images

A train has long appeared in my dreams as a representation of life’s journey. I see myself sitting on many different seats, looking at many different views, holding many different emotions. Sometimes I am not on the train, but at a crossing, waiting for it to pass by. Other times I am running for the platform, praying I don’t miss it or get on the wrong one. As a child, I feared the train moving off before I could jump off behind my mother, or get on behind her; other times I tried to reach the communication cord. Even worse, sometimes I was on the railway line, about to get run over by a fast approaching locomotive. Over the years trains have taken many different forms; old-fashioned steam trains, modern trains, morphing trains, trains full of white doves, trains rusted and heavily buried under woodland.

Trains carry perfectly the notion of an evolving consciousness and its many sights and experiences over the course of a human life. Taking it further, I can understand the train symbol as a reminder that everything is passing by in its own timeframe; thoughts, emotions, people and animals we love, daily experiences. Of course,  some last much longer than others and some last for the duration of our own lifetime, for better or for worse, in accordance with our consciousness. But eventually everything slips away like images from the train window as we reach the final destination; there the journey as a human being, at least in this current form, will end.

That is no longer a depressing thought for me. In fact I find it comforting. It reminds me of the preciousness of this life and the beauty of the natural cycle. It is humbling indeed to realise that I will never see a certain person again as they existed in this life, or that this might be the last day I walk my dog. Life is a series of moments, like views out of a train window, each of them unique and precious and yet infinitely ungraspable  – the more we try to cling onto a particular view, the faster it eludes us. Eventually we realise that it is futile because we are constantly moving, evolving, that is the nature of life.

For my dad, who loved trains so much. RIP.