Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is how it is

It's been over a month since I've written, despite my goal of posting once a week.  But while my first impulse is to berate myself for being a slacker, I'm trying to accept that life gets in the way of my best intentions sometimes. 

This fall has actually been pretty tough on me so far.  I came back from vacation totally broke, and then got stressed about being broke, so I've been working a lot in order to replenish my bank account.  I didn't think this would be a problem since I enjoy my job most of the time.  But teaching takes a lot of energy because I have to be "on" all the time.  The extra hours looked good on paper, but I pretty quickly hit a wall as to how much I could actually teach before exhaustion set in.

Add a sudden cold snap with sub-zero temperatures, and no surpsie: I got sick.  A  cold, the flu, or perhaps the 'crud' as a friend recently referred to it; surely my body telling me to slow down.  I canceled some classes, stayed in bed, read a lot, watched tons of movies and American TV shows online (Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice marathon!).  All in all the normal things you do when you get sick.  

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line stagnation set in, and I couldn't get past the wanting to stay in bed feeling.  A few days of well-deserved bed rest morphed into a deep depression, of the kind I hadn't felt in quite a while.  And the worse I felt, the worse I felt - a vicious circle that left me completely stuck, emotionally and physically. My bedroom was both my sanctuary and my prison, and despite kevin's best efforts to get me outside, I persisted in burrowing myself under the covers and feeling alternately angry and sorry for myself.

The reason I started meditating was to help me cope with moments like these, but I was even resiting any kind of mindfulness practice. My zafu sat in the corner untouched, and the timing of my bi-weekly meditation group meant that I went 3 weeks without seeing my sangha*, during a time when I really could have used the support.  I normally have a hard time practicing on my own, which is why the meditation group is so useful.  Yet I was still furious with myself for my inability to meditate, which made me feel even worse.  I couldn't accept that I was having such a hard time because I thought that I should have been past such difficulties.  I had mindfulness tools now, why wasn't I using them?  The only thing I still seemed to be good at was beating myself up...

Luckily, my meditation group finally met last week, and I was able to get myself there.  I still had a hard time meditating, but it helped to just be with the sangha.  However what really got me out of my slump was the mindfulness retreat in the countryside that I attended last weekend.  I was still feeling pretty stuck and didn't want to go, but I had already sent in my check for the housing, so I forced myself to prepare my contribution to the vegetarian potluck (a mediterranean rice and lentil salad plus my zucchini brownies).  

Since nothing seems to happen by chance, the theme of the weekend was reconciliation.  In between lots of different kinds of meditation and bodywork like Chi Gong, a Dharma** teacher named Marc spoke to us about conflict resolution.  While I thought we would learn about resolving conflict with others, and we did, Marc's main lesson was that we must first come back to ourselves.  Before we can hope to resolve a conflict with anyone else, he insisted that we must first understand what we are feeling:  "Why am I angry...hurt...afraid.  What is this about for me?"

One way this understaning can arise is by coming back to our breathing and observing what comes to the surface when we quiet the mind.  And once we recognize how we truly feel, the next step is acceptance.  No  matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable the feelings may be, we must tell ourselves: "this is how it is right now."  Once we can accept that, we can let go of those feelings instead of berating ourselves (like I so often do) or burying the feelings as deep as possible.  And finally we must forgive ourselves.  Marc's point was that it is only when we are able to reconcile with ourselves that we can think about resolving a conflict with someone else.  

 In my case, all of my conflict was internal, which meant that I was the one I had to make up with.  So during those two days of mindfulness I worked on accepting my anger at my depression and my sense of my own weakness, as well as the underlying sadness itself.  And slowly but surely, a huge weight was lifted and I felt like I could breathe more easily again.  I let the anger go, and once that went the sadness fluttered away like a bird let out of its cage. 

It's as easy as that, and just as hard.   I'll probably spend my whole life learning this lesson, but I'm lucky to have teachers like Marc to help me along the way.  

*   A Sangha is a community of people who practice mindfulness, anything from a Buddhist monastery to a meditation group like the one I participate in. 

** Dharma in this sense refers to Buddhist teachings or philosophy


ShaneHolden said...

Depression can be difficult to bear any time it strikes, but it sounds like your mindfulness practice helped you through it with flying colors!

I just recently found your blog, as I have been very interested in traveling to France for quite some time now. I love reading, it's inspiring to see another person overcome the struggles of life with such a wonderful technique - and, of course, learning about the culture of France is wonderful, too! I wish you luck in all your endeavors.

Diana said...

Hi Shane, Thanks for reading and for your comment! Sorry I didn't respond earlier, things got a little hectic for a while but hopefully now I'm back to blogging regularly.

Take care!