Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not yet.

Ellie J B, modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 10:13 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 10:13 AM

Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not yet.

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/24/11 Recent Posts
I hope this question is appropriate for discussion here, if not if you are willing to PM me about this please do.

I am aware some of this has already been discussed in a previous thread of a similar title:-

Dark Night vs. Depression

but that thread moved into a broader discussion so I have instead decided to ask this in a new thread here and hope this is ok.

Put simply my question is this.
In the last year I experienced quite serious depression I have had treatment, including counselling and medication both of which are now finished and I am now recovering well. There is still some "personal stuff" I need to work through; although I am not fully recovered but I am certainly doing ok.

I would like to establish a more formal meditation practice with an aim of being able to be more aware of sensations and thoughts as just passing impermanently thus being less caught in them and having more energy / time to live life to the full, to develop greater compassion for myself and others and live in ways that do not harm myself or others, and generally to eventually live in the now (rather than spending time focused on past or future).

However, I am concerned that it may be inappropriate for me to pursue this further at the moment in that I may not have a clear enough resolve about why I want to do this, so I may with time blunder into Dark Night territory and this might bring back the depression with a vengeance.

So should I be wary at this stage and not start practice until I am very clear on why I want to do this / my depression recovery is closer to complete.

Or should I go for it on the basis that the overall benefits will be great, and that if I do hit Dark Night territory having now read 'Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha' (which I have done) and also checking out other resources on this site (still to do) I am now prepared for what might follow and the adventure is one worth pursuing.

If I should go for it - Daniel Ingram's book mentions all sorts of practices, and I have experience of some, are any particularly recommended to start out with?

Here's some general background in case you need it to advise further - otherwise please ignore.

I am a novice and as yet I think fairly unskilled meditator. I have been trying various practices mainly concentration on the breath, some body scan work, some metta practice and some noting of thoughts and sensations (this has been fairly informal but is something I try to do at odd moments during the day - e.g while having a shower, while washing up, while walking to the train etc)

I have been doing this for around 4 years and have never established a regular formal daily practice where I have sat for 20 minutes plus a day every day. (I did manage to have a regular practice for about 8 weeks at one stage using guided tapes) but never managed this on my own form more than about a week.

I have also attended a local meditation centre and meditated with others at one stage doing this regularly once a week for about 15 weeks.

I'm not sure I have yet got close to the Dark Night unless I have somehow blundered into it. My depression symptoms and stages, of the most recent serious depression, do chime very closely with the description of the Dark Night up to re-observation (getting all the stages at once in a very annoying way), and did occur having been on a day retreat and having started to meditate more regularly BUT I think this may be coincidence. I suspect I just had depression, it's just that the Dark Night stages had some strong parallels with my experience of depression - which is interesting, but would mean I have still to reach the Dark Night.

In particular I am not aware of having experiences suggesting crossing the Arising and Passing Away. I think I am too novice a meditator to have reached this stage through meditation / concentration practice, so I would have had to have blundered into the Dark Night through some other method (which might have happened I can't be sure - but presumably I would have had to blunder into the Arising and Passing Away first and wouldn't I have noticed this as being quite different to standard personal angst?). (For various reasons in recent years I have done lots of reflection (thinking about) suffering, impermanence and the nature of 'self' (not no-self - I don't think I understand this concept properly) in an informal and sometimes rather unskillfull way - but I'm not sure if you could classify any of this as any kind of insight practice in any way.)
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 12:05 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 12:05 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hello Ellie,

Ellie J Bates:
Put simply my question is this.
In the last year I experienced quite serious depression I have had treatment, including counselling and medication both of which are now finished and I am now recovering well. There is still some "personal stuff" I need to work through; although I am not fully recovered but I am certainly doing ok.

I would like to establish a more formal meditation practice with an aim of being able to be more aware of sensations and thoughts as just passing impermanently thus being less caught in them and having more energy / time to live life to the full, to develop greater compassion for myself and others and live in ways that do not harm myself or others, and generally to eventually live in the now (rather than spending time focused on past or future).


First of all, I'm happy to hear that you feel like you're making progress to recovery from a nasty bout of depression. Having made it through this time around, you may look back at this current period of recovery and remember that depression doesn't have to last forever. That's encouraging.

There's a saying that gets thrown around dharma scenes, which I think is attributed to Chogyam Trungpa; that is, "If you haven't started a practice, best not to. If you've already started, best to finish" (not an exact quote). I think this may be relevant to your situation.

Based on your stated goals, which are, "being able to be more aware of sensations and thoughts as just passing impermanently thus being less caught in them and having more energy / time to live life to the full, to develop greater compassion for myself and others and live in ways that do not harm myself or others, and generally to eventually live in the now (rather than spending time focused on past or future)," I don't know that starting an intense meditation practice is necessarily the best way to achieve this result.

There are lots mindfulness-based therapeutic practices that help people to develop more tolerance for physical discomfort, as well as to defuse one's identity with their thoughts. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one such approach, and there are lots of self-help resources available that are quite good. I believe something like this might be less risky than a full-fledged insight practice, and may provide the results you are seeking.

On the other hand, if you have a strong desire to start a deep practice, you're going to do it whether it is recommended or not. It's almost like the spiritual path just arrives, and we just start following it, come what will. If you're going to practice, there are going to be both perils and promises, pains and pleasures, misfortunes and fortunes alike.

But if you choose this way, you don't have to go it alone. There are many resources available, including books, spiritually minded therapists, communities, and forums like this one. I would be happy to recommend resources that work(ed) for me, so feel free to ask if anything comes up.

Full disclosure: I am currently a graduate student of counseling psychology and training to be a professional counselor.

Hope this helps!

-Jackson
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Jake , modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 1:53 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 1:53 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Hi Ellie!

First off, I think Jackson's response was as usual very comprehensive and thoughtful.

The only thing I would add at this point is that there seem to be other ways of practicing-- even intensively-- which in my experience don't tend to produce as bumpy a road as the straight up Theravada insight which is generally practiced (in various styles) by participants here. For instance, some Tibetan approaches to shamatha/vipassana (calm abiding and clear seeing, respectively) meditation, in my experience, provide a sort of inoculation against some of the intense ups and downs that often occur with an intensive insight practice. Also, these gentler forms of shamatha and vipassana seem compatible (to a point) with the kinds of therapeutic styles Jackson recommended such as ACT, or such as Gestalt therapy.

Basically the shamatha approach would be to sit still and allow thoughts and feelings to arise and pass as they do naturally while attention is gently directed at the physical senses and breathing, and inner body sensations. Any time you notice that you've become engaged in a line of thinking, in the content, gently acknowledge that and return to being attentive to the broader dimensions of the senses, body and breath. No attempt is made to enter an altered state, but rather what is being cultivated is a capacity to see the difference between the physical sensations, inner and outer, and the mental-emotional interpretations which arise in response to present sense impressions or spontaneously as a mental-emotional habit. When this distinction becomes more clear, we can discover that there is a "basic goodness" (as the famous Mr. Trungpa also said;-)) to being alive, conscious, sensing and breathing which is independent of the content of our mental-emotional stories. We can find a stability (a calm abiding here-and-now) that is already present here and now in our grounded human embodiment, as if our body is a stable mountain, our breath a wind, and mental-emotional movements just clouds passing by. I have found this approach to shamatha meditation extremely helpful in dealing with depression and anxiety.

This is because in my experience those mental-emotional movements (inner talk and images coupled with feelings of pleasure and pain and neutrality coupled with tensions in the body) seem to present in at least two different ways. One, our usual default setting, they become the filter through which we experience the world within and around us. We seem to BE an entity composed of thoughts and feelings, inside the body, looking "out" at the world. So happy thoughts and feelings, the world looks good, and depressed thoughts and feelings, the world looks depressing. But in the other way of presenting, when we've discovered and cultivated a bit of calm abiding as per above, thoughts and feelings cease to "filter" experience as much and start to present more as just another facet of experience. We may discover that what we are is not some entity inside looking out, but something more mysterious and inclusive and stable. Like clouds passing by a mountain, we can see our mental-emotional interpretations as just coming and going against a deeper background of basic goodness (the feeling of well-being that naturally arises when we cultivate appreciation for the simple things here and now like being alive, sensing, breathing, being conscious in a naturally relaxed and open way...). So when anxious or depressed thoughts and feelings predominate, there can still be an appreciation for the fact that these thoughts and feelings don't have the definitive "say" on what our life is in this moment. No matter how black and white they may want to make out our situation, we gain a sensitivity to the ambiguity and nuance of things, and gain greater tolerance for mixed feelings and conflicting thoughts. We can catch glimpses of the mountain, the valleys, the sky, the sun and moon behind the shifting clouds of positive, bored and negative moods.

This practical approach to shamatha is very gentle, yet it also will tend to produce insight into the emptiness of self-- the way that inner words, images and feelings are just more natural phenomena like weather, rather than somehow constituting a stable, self-existing "mind", or "self", or "soul". It is possible that by cultivating calm abiding and gentle insight into the emptiness of self *before* going into a hard core Insight practice aimed at perceiving finer and finer gradations of impermanence/vibrations a la MCTB, one's experience of the path may be far more workable and less volatile-- certainly, this has been my experience, both before and after focusing on MCTB style hard-core noticing of sensations.

So in summery, it sounds to me like you are pretty motivated to engage a serious, dedicated practice. I can't pretend to know whether or not you *should* do so! And in any event you'll decide for yourself, of course. But I thought you might appreciate an alternative approach to serious, committed, daily sitting practice which I personally have found to be less volatile than other approaches. This is not to say that "stuff" won't come up with this approach-- just that there is something about the initial orientation of this approach which seems to inoculate a practitioner against the kinds of disorientation and magnified suffering which can arise when there is little appreciation for embodiment, for basic goodness, little trust in mind and body, and unquestioned belief in a solid separate self as the basis for engaging in a hard-core training in noticing impermanent sensations!
-jake
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 4:31 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 4:31 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Jake, that was a really good post.
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Jake , modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 5:19 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 5:19 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Thanks End. I like what you've been doing lately with "sutta jhanna"; I recognize a lot of that approach from my experience with Tibetan teachings (which generally, especially on Dzogchen and Mahamudra levels, strongly discourage 'absorptive' forms of concentration, and point more to the innate clarity of natural sensate consciousness).

Actually I wanted to edit to add, but will just add here, that because it is so intuitive to me to relax those bodily tensions which I mentioned briefly above as partly constituting the mental-emotional proliferations, I forget when talking about this to emphasize how essential it is to the process of shamatha I'm talking about. The result as I've experienced it so far is a gradual dropping away of inaccurate body image, and a healthier, "cleaner" sense of the body-as-a-whole. Interestingly I think this supports and is supported by making wholesome changes in diet and exercise, which latter are also Extremely Important in working with depression and anxiety.

But yeah, perhaps the heart of this practice is to release those mental-emotional proliferations and relax these tensions, resulting in an increasingly palpable sense of peace-as-the-body, if that makes sense; the body makes peace with itself when it stops reacting with tension to mind-movements that support the solid, separate sense of self, and things can become very still, open and clear in a very refreshing yet completely down to earth, ordinary way, which I think conduces to psychological balance and well being. Mental-emotional waves lose their teeth and start to seem a bit cartoon-y. It's amazing how seriously I once habitually took them, and still do on occasion!
Tom Tom, modified 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 7:28 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/29/11 7:28 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Taken from someone who has previously been diagnosed with various mental illness and in and out of various hospitals psychiatric and otherwise (7 times or more), I can say that (for "me") the dark night is not the same as depression.

I struggled a lot with depression for many years, though I have not experienced depression since I began meditating about 4 years ago (and at this point can't really fathom the phenomenon of "depression" happening again). In hindsight it may be that I was struggling unskillfully with the insight stages and didn't know what they were. At least that could have been an aspect of it.

In my experience, depression is simply pathological un-mindfulness. The mind gets so locked in on something that isn't in the here and now that it becomes close to impossible to bring it back to the "present" through force of will. The Dark Knight is not this.

In it's more extreme forms, the dark knight is like a carnival ride through a haunted house. Thinking in hindsight this aspect would sometimes mix in with my already present "depression" to make it worse. I've also gone through long phases of being disgusted with reality, thinking this was due to the depression. In my long bouts with depression the dark knight aspects would come and go, but the depression (pathological mindlessness) would often remain.

When I began meditating, it was nothing near the level of MCTB. It was more like "training the puppy." Every time the mind wandered I would try to bring it back to the present. It took a couple years of daily sitting (one hour or more) to get to the point where I could actually "be" in the present to some extent. My mindlessness was that bad. It was only after a couple years that I began to be able to access jhana or think about insight practices (I didn't know what either were or that they existed until about two years of meditating daily)......I couldn't have done them anyways as insight practices assume a base level of mindfulness for them to work. Otherwise, it's "training the puppy."

I've also come to the conclusion that there may be several ways of experiencing depression. My hunch is that what most people call depression is simply a severe and pathological lack of mindfulness, but there may be other varieties. Kenneth Folk at www.kennethfolk.com has talked a lot about how he struggled with depression all the way up to the moment he reached arahat-ship. This to me suggests he wasn't experiencing depression in the same way I was when I was younger, as he was likely still mindful for most of his experience, yet still depressed. I have no idea how this is possible and makes me think he must have suffered from a different experience of the label depression than I am familiar with.

Do what you need to do to rid yourself of your suffering. I have found it helpful not to fall into the mainstream "mental illness" is to be treated just like "physical illness" (like having diabetes) paradigm trap that tends to bind most people diagnosed with "mental illness" in their suffering. But that's just me.
Ellie J B, modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:02 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:02 AM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Hi Jackson, Jake and Thomas,

Thank you all for such thoughtful and detailed replies and encouragement that if I do decide to take this further I won't need to do it alone.

Jake, your description of shamatha approach is exceptionally helpful, thank you so much for this.

Thomas, I agree that depression may manifest itself in different ways, I had very intense bursts of it for a few hours at a time, now I still have a legacy of lethargy that is taking time to lift, but the intense bursts of misery and disgust that were very difficult to handle are gone. I do like your description of depression as 'pathological unmindfulness' it's a description I can relate to. As far as my own practice goes I think I am still very much at the 'training the puppy' stage.

Jackson, I am very familiar with Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) techniques, and have read an amount of the self-help material related to them. I find them very useful and use some of them on a daily basis - it was here I first came across the concept of noting. I am still seeing an ACT trained counsellor on occasion as I continue to seek to resolve some of the remaining "personal stuff". It was encounters with ACT and some other psychology based writings (mainly of the self-help type but written by professionals) around the potential of various mindfulness techniques to potentially help depression that and led me to begin to wonder 'so what is all this buddhism stuff, this is apparently based on'?

I had already encountered some introductory writings on Taoism earlier in my life. Buddhism sounded similar, which got me interested - and this search for more information has led me to read more widely around this including attending introductory courses on buddhism and meditation run at a local buddhism centre, and also to reading Jack Kornfield's The Wise Heart, Sharon Salzberg's Loving-Kindness and Pema Chodrons The Places That Scare You, alongside other writing on Compassion by British and American psychologists.

So there is definitely a part of me that is interested to know more, and somehow now I have encountered this collection of knowledge and teachings I can't just let it go.

Originally I came to writing on mindfulness (e.g. Jon Kabat-Zinn) looking for a way to better deal with chronic pain, and looking for a fix for anxiety. The depression manifested later and I was interested to find that mindfulness techniques were being suggested as useful to it as well. The practices I have used so far have been brilliant for living alongside chronic pain and also partially useful for anxiety, ACT techniques have also helped.

Initially I think maybe I was hoping for some kind of magic complete fix to depression and anxiety from somewhere (and I looked in many places for this). I no longer expect this in any way, but do feel I that my investigations into mindfulness and buddhism have opened up a deeper understanding of the value of appreciating life on a moment to moment basis and I am very grateful for this.

I also find that I do not think my fascination with various Buddhist and Taoist thinking is ebbing, so it maybe that "a strong desire for deep practice" - thank you Jackson very much for writing about this - may yet manifest itself. I may be now too far along the practice road to stop...I may need to finish...

So your replies help me to bring into focus two things,

- I am not ready for any kind of 'full-on-intensive' (not sure if this is the right phrase but I hope it makes sense) insight practice yet, but,

- the gentler shamatha approach is something I want to find out more about and may be will wish to try out.

I will reflect carefully on this.

Thank you again, for such a considerate response (and if anyone else would like to chime in with any thoughts please do).

Ellie.
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Jake , modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:44 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:44 AM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Ellie, if you decide to experiment with a regular practice of whatever kind I'm sure you'll receive a lot of helpful feedback at DhO if you choose to share your experiences while getting a gentle practice up-and-running (as this outset of a practice probably benefits most from coaching IME-- no need to reinvent the wheel or struggle trying to get something off the ground).
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:54 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 9:54 AM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Ellie,

Your reply is very encouraging. emoticon

The books you're reading are terrific. Jack Kornfield's writings have been invaluable to me over the years.

It really sounds like you're in good hands. You have resources to fall back on when things get tough, and that's important.

Feel free to drop by the forums any time you want to chat about practice or to receive some friendly support.

Best!
-Jackson
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Andrew , modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 7:56 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 7:56 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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As samatha is my main practice,( no matter what I try from week to week in other things), I can assure you it is not in and of it self 'gentle'.

It will rock your boat like anything else if done right.

Here is the thing, you have got it right, you know you will not handle a serious practice, and any attempt to go gentle is actually not samatha but some other form of relaxation technique.

What happens when you sit and watch breath and relax into that? I'll bet you can't actually do that at all.

I'll bet your mind wanders all over the place, you shift your posture endlessly, all those prickly feelings will rise in the chest and you will be anything other than relaxed looking at it.

The deal with proper tranquilty practice is this, you go through dark night before you start. You work out why you cannot be alone with yourself for 30 mins first. Most people are simply far too selfish, full of wild ideas and desires. That was me anyway.

If you do it right it will hurt and challenge all those nice ideas you have about what you are and what meditation will do for 'you'.

This is my experience by the way, 8 years of fruitless sitting (depression) in the method of watching the breath, before finally 'getting somewhere' this year. And even then only just an inch.

If you want to strip your reality of it's suffering, there is no gentle approach. It will hurt.
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Jake , modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 8:16 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 8:16 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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In my experience the volatility of a method is directly linked to the degree of aggression we direct towards ourselves in trying to change our experience in some way. Rather than going through "dark night" prior to shamatha, I would say cultivating an attitude of getting to know oneself, honesty, integrity, self-acceptance on a psychological level, and generally friendly good intentions towards oneself (and especially those aspects of oneself one is going to encounter in cultivating meditation, such as mind-wandering, physical discomfort, etc) is the best preparation.

Gentleness doesn't mean painlessness, necessarily, it just means minimizing the self-inflicted suffering that is a (misguided) heroic struggle of one half of our nature against the other half! ;-) On this path we will have to come to terms at some point with suffering, and how that functions, and this can be very difficult at times. But I notice that certain approaches to practice seem to actually amplify and magnify suffering: we sit down to practice and end up reproducing all the suffering-inducing ignorance (dualistic tension) of everyday life in the hot-house of sitting practice ("why isn't my mind still? isn't it supposed to be still? why is my knee hurting? shouldn't a good meditator have X experience? why am I not having that experience?").

It is quite possible to go about it another way: to use sitting time to cultivate equanimity, mindfulness, and a sensitive appreciation for the palpable goodness of being alive (and this then becomes a sort of space or context for examining the details of suffering without being overwhelmed by them).

And I would add one more thing: I think that our intention, and the (degree of) clarity and integrity of that intention and willingness, has a lot more to do with what we get out of practice than the amount of time we spend practicing. One can sit forever when sitting is an expression of a fundamentally divided nature at war with itself and never find peace, no matter how far one goes with cultivating a broad spectrum of fancy states and stages. But a human being whose sub-personalities (to use a term from Psychosynthesis) are more or less on board with the intent of cultivating an appreciation for the basic goodness of life will be able to engage formal practice in a more holistic way, with greater integrity, and that will be a great benefit when shit starts to "come up" (and thus, the process can be a lot less dramatic than some make it out to be).
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 8:22 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 8:22 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Andrew, you are right to point out that it is difficult for some people to get to a point where they can calmly sit and experience ease, relaxation, pleasantness, and so on.

When one gets to that point, the practice will likely be an unequivocally positive influence in one's life; before that point, it may be difficult.
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Andrew , modified 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 10:47 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/30/11 10:47 PM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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"Some people" who find it hard would in my opinion definitely be those who are depressed. Sort of like the whole generating happiness first thing. If you had told me that up front I would not have listened. I would not know how to listen to such advice.

It comes down to whether or not there is a self in the real world. If there is a core entity that can make that decision to 'not be aggressive with oneself' then all good. If in fact we are unbinding the layers of 'I conceit' then no instructions are one size fits all. There is way to much variation in how that 'I' is formulated. In buddha dhamma terms, karma is a bitch. So yes, make 'karma' your friend, be gentle as best you can, relax, relax, relax, - but it will hurt. Maybe now, maybe later. Maybe all the time. Of course as soon as you can 'deliberately' generate happiness, do so. You will need it.

The gentleness manifests at different times in proportion to how unselfish a person is,i.e. how much shit has been dealt with, how much is left to go.
That is essentially why the path puts moral training on such a pedestal, and that is simply choosing your conditioning. Somehow..

For me I would put a 'direct pointing' session first (I do not exist), but that is just my opinion on what may have worked better for me. Things definitely took off in a more productive way after that. Though who can really say? Each story is individual. I definitely found sitting down knowing that 'I' was a fiction a whole lot easier.
Ellie J B, modified 10 Years ago at 12/1/11 4:08 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/1/11 3:54 AM

RE: Depression vs Dark Night - to establish a regular practice or not

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Hi Andrew,

Andrew Jones:


Here is the thing, you have got it right, you know you will not handle a serious practice, and any attempt to go gentle is actually not samatha but some other form of relaxation technique.

What happens when you sit and watch breath and relax into that? I'll bet you can't actually do that at all.

I'll bet your mind wanders all over the place, you shift your posture endlessly, all those prickly feelings will rise in the chest and you will be anything other than relaxed looking at it.



Thanks for the points you make (which are very well made - and all those made by everyone in the discussion following) and I hope things continue to improve for you.

What's interesting is that for me I've found sitting and watching the breath and relaxing into it quite easy, though I get distracted a lot I found I could return and relax into it quite well (back to training the puppy), so relax into breath, distracted by sound bring attention back, relax into breath hmm there's a batch of thoughs, bring attention back, and so on. On some occasions I have been very relaxed and been able to sit very still and for at least 45 minutes, though I have found this easier meditating in a room with others than on my own. As I often experience little bouts of physical pain and itching (due to a chronic health condition), I've got very good at going or there's some pain, ahh it's that sought of pain, it's just there in my body but not somewhere else, now it's moved, now it's gone, now it's back and so-on and not getting caught in it. So actually for me this type of attention on the breath and physical sensation is ok, and I often do it for odd minutes through the day, and in fact with physical pain I now do it completely instinctively with virtually no effort.

My problems came with metta practice, I had a lot of problems with self-compassion (and this continues to be a work in progress), this is no doubt being related to various past background "personal stuff". My last year of sorting out my depression has been a lot about being able to be compassionate to 'self' (akin to the first stage of metta practice) which initially I found extremely difficult to do. It was metta practice that for me threw up a ton of uncomfortable emotional reactions, not sitting with the breath. It was also the experiences while doing metta practice that caused me to abandon all meditation practice for a while, while I got some of said "personal stuff" sorted through conventional pschological approaches.

That said maybe, I've found concentration on breath and bodily sensations ok, because as described before, my depression was never experienced as a steady continuous thing, it always arrived in waves which would with time disperse and I was conscious that the depression was rolling over me and that there were times when I still felt fine. Maybe because I experienced depression like this sitting with breath was ok. Metta wasn't ok as while doing it many unhelpful mind stories and commentaries got going, and this seemed to amplify the emotional reactions (i.e. a whole jumble of thoughts, images and physicial sensations) that were at that time difficult for me to handle.

For me personally, I'm not looking to be free from suffering or pain, nor expecting meditation or mindfulness will fix my pain and suffering somehow, I just want to be able to sit beside the moments of suffering (and also joy) of myself and others compassionately, wisely and gently and thus go about life as skillfully as possible. I can do this sometimes now, but all too rarely.

I agree, in that I don't think any approach to meditation will ever be completely safe or easy and care is needed and maybe for some (possibly including me) simple relaxation techniques may be the best way to go. However, in my experience getting to understand and appreciate more about life and living never is safe and easy and this hasn't stop me so far, as despite the challenges so much of life is just so fascinating and beautiful, so it's likely I'll pursue all of this further.

Best,

Ellie

[edited for typos - probably still missed some]

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