by Susan Piver
All my life, I have struggled with depression. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had to meet and figure out how to work with the heaviness and darkness of depression. Perhaps you can relate.
One thing that makes depression so difficult is that you feel trapped by it. Everything is colored by a dark lens and you feel that you have no options. The world becomes very, very small and dank. It is truly awful.
What to do? Well, of course if you’re clinically depressed you should continue with your medications, therapy and, if you’re able, some exercise. Meditation is not necessarily a replacement for those things. OK?
And although sometimes we really do need to kick our own asses, is also not always useful to try to talk yourself out of your difficult feelings – or attempt to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Of course we should work directly with our situation and attempt to create an inner attitude of positivity, but when we use such skills as a weapon against ourselves or from a sense of self-dissatisfaction, they tend to backfire.
What is helpful is to relax. Although it sounds counter intuitive, when we open to and lean into our experience, a kind of shift seems to take place on its own. First, simply acknowledging what we feel is relaxing in itself. You are human. It is okay. Second, when you look just below the surface of depression (which seems stiff and impenetrable), what you will find is sadness, which is raw and tender and completely workable.
What is the difference between depression and sadness? Feminist icon Gloria Steinem gave the pith transmission during an interview about the death of her husband. The interviewer asked if she was depressed. “No,” she answered. “I’m sad.” The interviewer wondered wondered what the difference was. “When you’re depressed, nothing has any meaning. When you’re sad, everything does.”
In depression, you can hardly feel anything. Your heart is closed. Your emotional range is very narrow. But when you’re sad, everything touches you. You cry so easily. You feel things intensely, and not just your own struggles, but everyone else’s. There is no barrier. Your heart is so open.
Though it may feel quite disorienting, this rawness is actually a very important threshold:
When we’re open, we can be touched. When we’re touched, we can respond genuinely. When we’re genuine, we can love and be loved and our real life can actually begin.
That is how important sadness is.
We live in a world that rejects sadness as an indication of failure or a problem to be got rid of. But when we relax with our own sadness, in a sense, we come home to ourselves. So the next time you begin to feel depressed (or if you’re depressed right now), try to investigate what is just underneath your depression. To do so, it helps very much to relax.
And this is where you meditation practice will truly help you – it teaches you exactly how to relax in this way. By sitting with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without trying to hold on or reject but simply to be with them, you cultivate the experience of just being yourself. No more, no less. This turns out to be the most relaxing thing of all.
Please know that in addition to all the other great things your meditation can do for the health of your body and mind, it also teaches you how to be fully and properly and awesomely sad.
Have anything that helps you when sadness kicks in? Please share below.
About Susan Piver:
Susan Piver is a Buddhist teacher and the New York Times bestselling author of six books, including The Hard Questions (Tarcher) and the award-‐winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life (St. Martin’s Press). Her latest book is entitled The Wisdom of a Broken Heart (Free Press).
Piver has been a student of Buddhism since 1995, attended a Buddhist seminary in 2004 and was authorized to teach meditation in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage in 2005.
She teaches workshops and speaks all over the world on meditation, spirituality, communication styles, relationships and creativity. She wrote the relationships column for body + soul magazine, is the meditation expert and contributor at drweil.com, and is a frequent guest on network television, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today, CNN, and The Tyra Banks Show. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TIME, Parade, Money, and others.
In 2011, Piver launched The Open Heart Project, an online meditation community which with nearly 5000 members who practice meditation together and explore ways to bring spiritual values such as kindness, genuineness and fearlessness to everyday life.
Susan’s Website features wonderful (free) instruction on mediation, and is gob full of great wisdom like the above – we’re big fans!