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Buddhadharma : Spring 2012
SPRING 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 61 down. I declined. Still under the covers, I listened as the voices receded into the dining room, and then the silence of the empty kitchen pulled me down into another long, aching sleep. When I woke up to go to the bathroom, I discovered a tray with dinner outside my door, and a small flower in a vase. I started to cry because I was hungry, but I couldn’t enjoy the food my sangha gave me. I wasn’t ungrateful; I was depressed. Six months into my stay at the dharma center, I had decided to go off all my psychiatric medication. Despite my best efforts, my attempt at “unmedi- cated spirituality” was a spectacular failure. Yet I did everything right! I researched the withdrawal process and worked with a psychiatrist to titrate down, milligram by milligram, each of the pills. It had taken months to accomplish this. With each reduction of the chemicals, I increased my practices: an hour of yoga, an hour at the gym, daily mindfulness meditation and prayer, eating only whole foods, going on retreats. To help my brain, I added nutritional supplements, and with the direction of an herbalist, took pungent cap- sules that made my burps taste like compost. W hen I lived at the dharma center, I slept in a room directly above the kitchen. Our center also had a meditation hall, a shrine room and a dining room on the bottom floor, but it was here, in my room above the kitchen, that I felt the deepest pulse of the community. In the mornings, the smoke offering seeped into my dreams, along with rhythmic chanting as a housemate with a melodic voice started her day. At night, I could hear the lama and other resi- dents preparing food. The smell of sweet sautéed onions drifted up though the old floorboards, along with laughter and the occasional scrape of chairs and rattle of dishes. An old, tarnished cowbell heralded din- ner, and my typical response had been to burst from my room, moooo-ing like a hungry cow. Not anymore. Now it was hard to move from my bed. As soon as I came home from work, I crawled under the covers with the lights off and lay there, alternately sleeping and listening to the humming of the household. Shortly after the cowbell there was a knock at the door. A house- mate, Sophia, wanted to know if I was coming My Practice Without Meds After years of treating her depression with medication and therapy, Kiera Van Gelder turned to Buddhist practice to heal. But when her depression and suicidal thoughts returned, she was forced to reevaluate her view of an unmedicated spiritual path. ILLUSTRATION KIM SCAFURO