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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 85 |summer 2005 depression. I pursued vipassana with zeal, sitting many retreats. Meditation helped me learn to slowly decrease the severity, frequency, and duration of my depressive episodes. I began therapy about a decade into meditation practice and for the last fifteen years, the two have worked in tan- dem, like a healing tag team to unwind the tangle of the depressive thoughts. Therapy and meditation superbly balance each other in their insights: therapy addresses areas that meditation can miss (family pat- terns, underlying beliefs, and thought hab- its), and meditation addresses areas that therapy can miss (subtle nuances of how thoughts and conditionality arise). And yet, despite the strong mindfulness I developed over decades, I still encoun- tered bouts of suicidal thoughts. After talking with my endocrinologist, I decided to try medications. I figured I had noth- ing to lose, except, of course, my pride at being a medication-free meditator all these years. Swallowing my pride, I swal- lowed a small dose of Zoloft. Medication became the crown jewel of my years of meditation practice. on the medication, for the first time in my life, I saw what it was like to be outside the depressed mind. I immediately thought, “oh my god, this is what it’s like to be normal!” It was as if all these years people had been describing a sunny day to me, and I’d been imagin- ing what that was, but not really quite knowing, and now, here was a real sunny day. Finally, it was clear. From this mo- ment on, I knew where I was trying to get to; I knew what non-depressed mind felt like, and looked like, and I began to orient myself on remembering this. I only stayed on the meds for about one year after this insight, because once I knew how to find the joyful mind, the mind- fulness helped me stick with it and that was really all I needed. The last step in my journey has been to see that the depression, the joy, the process of working with the mind, the healing itself, is also empty. In working with teacher Adyashanti this year, he told me, “There is no way out.” This got me angry, and I said, “How can you say this! The Buddha found a way out of suffering.” And he replied, “This is all there is. This is it.” later, after some frustrated thoughts, I saw that I was using my spiritual practice as a way to get away from depression, not with sui- cide as my maternal lineage had done, but with the hope of moving beyond it to some enlightened place of peace. With my teacher’s challenge of “no way out,” I was able to see that I could let the whole project of depression and “somewhere to get to” drop away. I learned I could rest in who I was, as I was, depression or not, and it was fine. I didn’t need to keep tweaking and fixing things. I saw that depression has never been, nor ever will be, who I am. Amy Schmidt Barre, Mass. DEPRESSIoN HAS DESTRoYED my life on four separate occasions. When it strikes, everything falls apart. I can’t function. I lose my job, my bank account, my home, everything. Whatever I have accomplished, it all goes down the tubes. I am therefore highly motivated to find a remedy. I’ve been practicing meditation for twenty-five years. I think I’m finally see- ing the payoff (if there is a “payoff” to simply sitting there with nothing in par- ticular happening and nothing to achieve). My particular depression is biological in nature. I will probably have it as long as I ride around in this particular body. Yet there is a certain pattern to my depres- sion as an activity. To the extent that I follow the pattern, the depression turns heavy and destroys me. To the extent that I abstain, it comes and goes. Every thought I have is self-referential. Every single one is about what I want, what I hate, what I believe. Even the ones that seem to be about something else are presented to my mind from my own view- point. It’s all me, me, me. Every time I let go of a thought or a feeling and return to the object of medi- tation – no matter what the object is, no matter what the distraction is – I’m letting go of a little piece of my own storyline, clumps of thought and feeling, and just more ego. Can I let go of that entirely? Not really. Not fully. Not yet. But every time I sit down and get quiet, I’m work- ing on it. John Peddicord Baltimore, Md. I WISH I CoUlD SAY that when a golf- ball-sized tumor was found in my breast, I was able to go home and meditate and loosen the grip of the emotional reactions that overwhelmed me. I did try to sit. But, as I awaited surgery, the emotions of hope and fear became so strong that even ordinary household tasks seemed overwhelming, and the slightest thing sent me into floods of tears. I was full of regret at not having practiced more when I had more favorable circumstances. My panic and depression only increased as I felt my practice slip away. To my chagrin, I got through the pre-surgery anxiety on valium. I am the mother of a young child and it became quite clear that I needed help, chemical and otherwise, in order to be there for him during this period. The night after the surgery, I unexpect- edly found a new resolve to resume the path of meditation practice. Trying to distract myself from the pain and shock of surgery, I turned on the television. A special on the AIDS epidemic in Africa poured forth a tale of suffering and woe that made my own plight seem like a peb- ble on the beach. My chief terror since the discovery of my tumor was that I would leave behind a motherless young child. Now the pain of millions of motherless children was streaming into my living room and into my heart that had been locked tight to others since the discov- ery of my tumor. As my heart opened, I remembered again something that I had forgotten, in my panic and depression, the heart of meditation – love, compas- sion, and bodhichitta. My terror at leaving a motherless child is, I have learned, a basis for connecting to all sentient beings who have been a mother to me “from time without begin- ning.” And this, I feel very fortunate to have realized, is a great place to start into the most profound and healing medita-