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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 19 EMAIL YOUR QUESTIONS TO TEACHERS@THEBUDDHADHARMA.COM ZENKEI BLANCHE HARTMAN: Since my per- sonal practice these days has gravitated so strongly toward the cultivation of metta, or loving-kindness, my first response is to rec- ommend that you regularly give yourself as much metta as you can muster, especially when you are feeling depressed. But I know that major depression is a serious illness and I am not trained to treat it, so I turned to two of my good friends who are trained and licensed psychotherapists as well as lay Zen teachers for a more informed response to your question. One suggested that it’s good to practice with others at least three times a week. You don’t want to become isolated. She also explained that much of depression is brain chemistry, and that if you get your heart rate up for twenty minutes a day by brisk walk- ing, biking, swimming, or running, you will increase your serotonin and dopamine levels as well as produce endorphins. All of these, she says, will help undermine your depression. She pointed out that it’s helpful to be mindful of what you are running in your head. If you are getting caught in negative loops, it’s good to pause when you notice it, then congratulate yourself for having noticed and find something (anything) that you can appreciate in your surroundings, even if it’s just a pleasing color. It’s helpful to continue this practice of appreciation whenever you think of it. My other Zen psychotherapist friend explained that sometimes meditators blame themselves for feeling depressed, as if they were in control or the cause of their depres- sion (“I’m in pain and it’s my fault”). She points out that many of us have learned that feeling bad means we are bad, and so we may try to get rid of or fix or talk ourselves out of an experience that may be numbing for some and excruciating for others. She notes that an experienced teacher will invite a student to accept what is happening as what is happening and not put a story on top of present experience. The teacher can offer this as a supportive step toward accepting a discouraging internal experience as it is—dis- couraging—while acknowledging that this is difficult for most of us because our common human tendency is to run away from pain. She cautions that when we are engaged in honest meditation, we may discern that meditation is not at all helpful with the pain we are feeling right here, right now, and that (LEFT–RIGHT):BARBARAWENGER,JANINEGULDENER,MARYLANG ZENKEI BLANCHE HARTMAN is former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center GESHE TENZIN WANGYAL RINPOCHE is a lineage holder of the Bön Dzogchen tradition of Tibet NARAYAN HELEN LIEBENSON is a guiding teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center ASK THE TEACHERS How does a meditator deal with episodes of major depression? Q