Tara Brach: Healing Depression with Meditation, Part 2

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[flute music] Namaste and welcome. So it’s nice to see you all and also to feel
our extended field of people listening to the podcast and those who have joined us on
the live-streaming. We’re doing the second class in a row on depression. And when I’ve done a kind of a hand raise
it’s pretty much everybody – and I can say this for myself – everyone I know has had
some experience of depression. Many have had major depression, and all of
us know someone, usually someone very close and dear, who has suffered a lot from it. So it’s this really ubiquitous part of our
culture and it’s an important question: How do we find depression as a portal for spiritual
awakening? How does it fit and be included and be addressed
on the spiritual path? And so this is part two in that. And as I described in the last one: many,
many different causes but generally some form of stress where it’s too much trauma, poor
parenting… it leads to a severed belonging, a loss of connection. And it’s connection with aliveness, a connection
with love and other people, often it’s a connection with our own body, connection with all of
the potential of who we are, so it’s a real kind of severing, we are no longer part of
the flow in those moments. It’s a very stuck, contracted, internalized
feeling. And I likened it to a log jam when… especially
I think of the North West where these logs are floating down a river and they get jammed
up… and in that log jam in terms of depression it’s the jamming continues, it reinforces
itself with looping thoughts, rumination, you know, “What’s wrong,” it sustains
itself with the whole experience of the emotions that go with that and with the physiology. So, for instance, you can start having a sinking
feeling and that’ll generate more thoughts about what’s wrong and that then creates more
feelings and more of that physiology of depression. It keeps circling. One of the big things that keeps depression
cooking is that it then leads to behaviors that actually reinforce depression, that keep
us isolated in different ways, you know, withdrawn, sleeping, addicted in certain ways. Rita Rudner is one of my favorites and she
says, “I love to shop after a bad relationship. I don’t know, I buy a new outfit and it makes
me feel better. It just does. Sometimes if I see a really great outfit I’ll
break up with someone on purpose.” So we have our behaviors. So when we think of this log jam and how log
jams end up being broken up so that the logs can rejoin the flow of life, sometimes the
image is of a guy standing at the bend of a river with a long pole and if he finds certain
logs that he can push a little, everything seems to re-arrange itself. So when we think of treating depression it
is kind of like that. Some people can treat depression – really
kind of pull out – with the log of exercise, you know, doing really good exercise, and
for many medication becomes one of those logs that’s moved, for many people therapy, for
almost everyone deepening relationships – that’s a big one. Meditation – learning to pay attention in
a wise way to the present moment, cultivating love, cultivating loving-presence, it is not
sufficient in treating strong depression. We need relationship and we often need therapy,
so other things are needed. So it’s not sufficient; but it’s essential
if the depression is going to be a portal to really waking up, to true healing. So that’s kind of the frame I’d like to offer. Not sufficient, we need other things, but
absolutely essential. The reason? One of the reasons is that a key-part of depression
is a kind of hopelessness and a stuck-ness and when we start learning how to shift our
attention, shift out of the incessant thoughts of “Something’s really wrong with me,
I’m really the one that’s flawed,” if we can start shifting that, if we know how to
start paying attention to loving-kindness – which we’ll explore some – we actually change
our biochemistry, the mood in the body changes, it’s empowering. This is one of the reasons meditation is essential
that when our well-being isn’t hooked to a medication or another therapist, something
we have to pay money for, that we ourselves sense, “Oh, there is a way to evolve my
own psyche.” So that’s one reason. The second reason is: It’s only by learning
to pay attention in the present moment to what’s actually here with real kindness, right
here, that we actually experience a shift in identity, a radical shift in identity from
being the limited, flawed, depressed self to really being the space, the compassion
that everything is happening in. It’s not any more about moving a log, it’s
about realizing that we’re not just the river, we’re really all water and all earth and all
sky. We’re the whole universe of formless presence
that things are happening in. And that shift in identity is what liberates. So we’ll explore tonight a bit about both
how we can empower ourselves, learning to move the logs, and shift our attention. And one of my favorite examples of shifting
things is of these two guys – we call them Sol and Mort – who are coming out of a religious
service and Sol is wondering if it’s okay to smoke while he is praying. And Mort says, “Go ask Rabbi Schwarz, he’ll
tell you.” So Sol goes to Rabbi Schwarz and he asks him,
“Rabbi, can I smoke while I pray?” And Rabbi says, “No, my son, you can’t. That’s utter disrespect to our religion.” He goes back and he tells his friend what
the good Rabbi said. And the friend said, “I am not surprised. You asked the wrong question. You have to shift how you are paying attention
to this. So let me try.” So Mort goes up to Rabbi Schwarz. He says, “Rabbi, may I pray while I smoke?” To which the Rabbi eagerly says, “By all
means, my son, by all…,” you know. So we flip things around. We shift our attention. Of course that example doesn’t totally really
nail it but it was fun anyway. So we’ll be exploring what we call “gladdening
the mind,” shifting our attention to create a different body-mind experience. And the second piece will be a full compassionate
presence with reality just as it is which is the liberating piece that really shifts
our identity around. We started last week with the importance of
intention. And we have to keep coming back to it because,
if you’re caught in that depressive space and I asked you the question, “Well, what
really matters to you?” generally the mood of depression is, “Nothing
matters.” And yet, if we really ask and keep paying
attention, there’s something in us that wants to get better, that intuits that there’s something
more in life, there is something there, there is some tendril that’s still there and if
we can find that, that “what really matters” and even sense a tendril of it, it energizes
the movement towards freedom. So we covered that in the first part of this. The other piece we covered is really getting
the skill of recognizing fear-based thinking, “Okay, thinking, thinking, come back to the
senses,” and this is one of the basic skills in meditation that we train in. So then we move on, as I mentioned, tonight
to gladdening the mind. And these are ways of paying attention that
re-connect us with positive emotion. I saw a cartoon many years ago and it had
a dog lying on a couch and had his ear buds in and the caption was, “Positive mirroring”
and what was going on in his ear buds was, “You are such a good dog, you are such a good
dog, oh you are such a good, good dog,” you know. So it’s not necessarily that we are at the
level of telling ourselves affirmations like “We are getting smarter and prettier every
day” or whatever. But it’s being able to step out of limiting
thoughts and regard ourselves with kindness. That’s one approach – gladden and open our
heart and mind. So that’s what we’ll be doing. And then again we move from that – because
we have a little more access to resourcefulness – then we can start very directly, courageously
contacting what’s here. Does that make sense these two parts that
we are talking about? Another word on contacting what’s here is
in the example of the story with one man who was struggling with depression and anxiety
– they often go together – and shame and so on. And his therapist encouraged meditation. He said, “You’ll feel better,” you know,
so he encouraged him to go to classes and he said, “Go to retreat,” you know, “you’ll
be better.” So he goes to this retreat and he comes back
and he said, “It was really difficult. You know, I got in touch with fear and I really
was caught in it, there was a huge amount of fear, and then shame and then I felt sadness
and there was… phew… self-aversion. And you said I would feel better.” And he said, “Yes. You are feeling your shame better and you
are feeling your sadness better and you are feeling your self-aversion better.” And the truth is that when we begin to bring
mindful presence to depression, we can feel more strongly what’s there and the way through
is through. But as I mentioned for many people if there
is a really strong current of depression and we prematurely try to feel it, we can sink
into it too much. Hence this is why we are starting tonight
with gladdening the mind. Oh yeah. This cartoon. Therapist is saying to this very, very, very
depressed person on the couch, “And how does your crippling depression make you feel?” So that’s the sinking in. Gladdening the mind has often been described
in positive psychology as a really key part of healing because – and we know this from
kind of evolutionary science – we have a negativity bias anyway. We see the world and we spend a lot more time
thinking about what’s going to go wrong, what’s around the corner that’s really going to nail
us, then we go around saying, “How is today going to be the best day of my life?” you
know, we don’t do that as much. And if we have ninety-eight experiences that
are really positive with a dog and twice a dog scares us, what do we remember? And this is the way our survival brain is
designed is to keep on looking towards what went wrong to protect us. And of course with depression it’s even more
so. We are entirely geared to look through that
lens of what’s wrong. So just as physical exercise can shift our
bodily state, attending differently can shift our mental state. And the first place I’d like to pay attention
to in terms of gladdening the mind is the practice of gratitude. There’s been a lot of research in the last
five years on gratitude and depression so it’s particularly interesting to me that,
you know, it does show that the practice, the intentional practice, of gratitude relieves
depression and, in addition, it increases happiness. And for those with illness, it creates more
optimism and hopefulness. And you can see the shift in the brain that
when you practice gratitude practices, then an activation of the left frontal cortex which
correlates with positive emotion and a kind of quieting of the limbic system. This is Father Gregory Boyle, he says in a
much more… if we shift from science to spirituality he says… He is describing the block to divine love,
he says, “Our marriage to the pain we carry and the lament that accompanies it” – that’s
the block – he says, “with grace we come to know that lament can’t get a foothold if gratitude
gets there first.” So gratitude. In training in gratitude the trick is to get
a state of gratitude to become more of an ongoing trade. Because we all know we are happiest when we’re
feeling appreciation. But then that negativity-bias takes over again. So the skillful way about it is that when
you do have some tinge of appreciation, to get the knack of pausing. Let’s say you see something beautiful and
you go, “Wow, that’s really pretty!” or there is an actual sense of wonder or you sense
somebody that you deeply care about and sense their goodness just get a kind of feeling
about it – when you’re touched by something stop, pause, and for fifteen to thirty seconds,
actually pay attention to what it feels like in your body, kind of marinate in it. And the reason is that when we have negative
experiences they go right into the implicit memory, in other words they are stored and
they keep coming back, when we have positive experiences they don’t, we just kind of skim
through them. And so in order to have it enter the implicit
memory you have to pause for fifteen to twenty seconds and really feel it in your body. And there is more and more really good neuroscience
on this. So what are the ways that we begin to rev
up the gratefulness muscle. Well, for some people – and this is the research
has looked at the strategy of simply journaling, like it can even be as little as once a week
journaling five things that you are grateful for – and that can make a difference, a sentence
each. A lot of people I know like having a gratitude
buddy and you just do an email every day at the end of the day and just say one thing
you’re grateful for. You don’t have to say anything else, you don’t
have to acknowledge their email, nothing, you just do it, and now and then you check
in. Another one is described as a gratitude visit
and I’ll read it to you. “Write a three-hundred word letter to someone
who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and
how it affected you. Deliver it in person preferably without telling
the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there read the whole thing slowly
to your benefactor. You’ll be happier and less depressed.” One month of doing this and there is some
powerful re-arranging. This is Seligman who describes this in “Flourish,”
his book. When I lead day-long and weekend workshops
there’s one meditation I try to do every time if I’ve time. And it is with people in pairs asking each
other the question, “Please tell me, what do you love?” Then asking it again and again and again. And I watch the group in pairs doing this. And I’ll watch the faces. And I feel like I’m the one that gets, you
know, the best treat from it because to watch faces start to light up with what they love,
I think is the most touching thing in the world, it’s just beautiful. I can feel my oxytocin and my endorphins,
you know, all that going. My own practice is I often do gratitude-walks
where I’ll go out in nature and when I’m… you know, some mornings I get up and I’m feeling
kind of grim because my body doesn’t feel good and I’ll have a lot to do and so I’ll
just dedicate the walk to gratitude-walk and anything that comes to mind I’ll kind of mentally
whisper it and say “Thank you,” like anything I can come up with – “Thank you for my
dog keeping me company. And thank you for the feeling of the wind. And thank you for the stick that’s helping
me to break the…” – there are webs everywhere… I am sorry spiders… but they get all over
me so I… So I’ll just “And thank you for Baby Mia,
my grand-daughter. And thank you for Jonathan, my beloved.” I’ll just keep doing it, you know, and a lot
of the times I am just saying “Thank you” because I woke up out of thoughts and thank
you, I am back again, you know. It always works. It just does. It works. I’m not in the same state. The deal is, no matter how forced gratitude
is, deep down our heart does feel appreciation and love for life and it gets us down to that
place. So we’ll pause here. We’ll do a little touch of gladdening our
mind with gratitude. You might sit up however you are comfortable
and close your eyes. And we’ll do just a gratitude sit where just
to bring to mind – and I invite you to whisper and don’t worry about other people nearby,
they’re not going to be able to hear you, but just whisper what you’re grateful for
and say, “Thank you.” And you might whisper a person’s name and
say, “Thank you,” and see what happens. Names of people, things you’re grateful for
in your life. You might start with the words “I am grateful
for…” Once you are off and running just naming the
things you’re grateful for and then see how sincere your thanking can get. And you might ask yourself, “What am I most
grateful for really?” And sense the innocence in your heart when
you say “Thank you.” And then just let your attention go to the
quality of presence when you’re grateful, what it feels like in your body, in your heart. You might even sense, “Well, who am I when
there’s a heart full of gratitude right here?” One gratitude researcher says that if you
going to sleep and you want a good night’s sleep, instead of counting sheep, count your
blessings. Now similar to gratitude – another way to
gladden the mind – is practicing loving-kindness. And the traditional practice is to offer blessings
to ourself, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I feel safe. May I feel filled with love.” Whatever the blessings are – and then to offer
it to other people that we know, people you don’t know. And, again, even if it’s mechanical, deep
down we care about caring and so it starts to access that care. And what we’re doing is shifting the patterns
of thinking and feeling and we’re expanding ourselves from moving logs in that way. So that’s one way to do it. And you can just right now again close your
eyes for a moment and just offer the words, “Please may I feel happy.” And say it a few times and notice what happens
when you say it and you’re really sincere, like you’re offering it in a way that comes
with real caring, “Please may I feel happy.” And you might sense that when the sincerity
is there, there’s a softening, the armoring starts to dissolve. So there’s many resources to support you in
the loving-kindness practice and that one is quite beautiful. But you can also do it with other people. And this is where we can do meditation practices
with others and get the benefit of the relational field too. There’s a story: In one African tribe when
somebody behaves in a way that creates separation from others and they’re troubled and they’re
breaking rules and customs, they call together all the members of the tribe and they form
a great circle and that person is in the middle and everyone in the tribe tells that person
what’s good about them. They tell story about kind and generous things
that person has done in their life. And so this ritual recitation can last for
several days. And when it’s over the circle is broken and
everyone celebrates as the person feels they are welcome, they are belonging again. And I don’t know whether this is true or not. It’s a beautiful story. But it speaks to a truth which is that when
we are depressed there’s severed belonging, we do not feel like we belong, and when others
in some way let us know they offer their metta, they let us know our goodness, it reconnects. I’ve shared here before that in the Buddhist
tradition we have spiritual friends groups, they are called Kalyana Metta, and some of
them meet every week, some of them every other week – that’s more common – and they meditate
and they share what’s going on. And in one of them, one of the people in the
group – and this is a story that was shared with me – was very depressed, a lot of self-castigating,
you know. So the group went around. And at one point one of them had the idea,
“We’re going to give you a little bit of a reality-test and we say what we see in you.” And so one of them said, “Oh you got a lot
of insight, you really are tuned to what’s going for other people.” Somebody else said, “You are honest. You will cut through. You’re courageous with what you said.” And somebody else said, “You know, yeah, you’re
really for real, you say what you feel, you don’t hold back.” Another said, “Your humor slays me.” And, you know, it kind of went like this. One person said, “I love the way you hug. I feel safe in your arms.” Well, this person wrote them down because,
as happens, they just were bouncing off, she could not take anything in, but she wrote
them down, and she didn’t tell the group members but over the next month or two she read them
all the time, that was her metta; in other words she took them and she offered that kind
of seeing the goodness, metta, to herself and came back to them and said, “You know,
I’m more than the flawed self, my flawed self, but it was hearing it from you that helped
me get in touch with it.” In fact, on Valentine’s Day, you know what
we did when we were second grade, those little cards we gave, well, they all gave cards with
little messages with the goodness in each other. But it reminding me of one of my favorite
quotes from Arne Garberg, he says, “To love someone is to learn the song in their heart
and sing it to them when they have forgotten.” So loving-kindness practice: we can do it
for ourselves to gladden our mind and we can do it with each other. “My great hope,” writes Maya Angelou, “is
to laugh as much as I cry, to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the
courage to accept the love in return.” So this is the field that we can gladden our
hearts in. So I want to move from gladdening the hearts
to how do we be with, how to we stop controlling and be with. And we’re going to be using the RAIN of Compassion
as a way to be with depression. And the value of it? Like why do we want to be with this suffering? Some of you might remember the story of the
wise sage that lived far in the wilderness and people would have to track through forests
and over mountains and so on to see him. And when they’d come to his hut he’d swear
them to silence and he’d give them a question and that is, “What are you unwilling to feel? What are you unwilling to feel?” That is the liberating question. Because when we are depressed we don’t just
try to bury the pain, we also bury our aliveness. And it’s not until we are willing to touch
the layers of pain that are there under the depression – the grief, the hurt, the fear,
the shame – that we can reconnect with the aliveness. It’s the pathway back to aliveness, to contact
what’s there. But it requires a lot of compassion, a lot
of presence. So I’m going to give you an example of one
woman who worked with RAIN to begin to tap into those layers underneath the depression
and find some healing. And she was young. I actually met her, she was sophomore year
of college and she had to leave college because she had plunged into a really big depression. And before she left she was studying child
psychology, she had tutored disadvantaged young people when she was back in high school
and now she was working in a clinic teaching emotional resilience – really cool stuff
– and that’s when she felt most alive. But right at the beginning of the new year
she crashed because her high school boy friend who was still her boy friend in college broke
up with her. She just completely crashed. And she lived at home. And for three months – she came back home
– and for three months she just basically ate and slept and wandered around the house
when her parents were at work. That was it. And finally she started working with a good
therapist, started going for some walks in Rock Creek, you know, and started meeting
a couple of friends from high school. So the point I met her – she was climbing
out but she was in a major depression, this is major depression. And when she told me her history it was not
her first round of major depression, which is often the case because it’s recurrent. And one of the big questions with recurrent
depression is… let’s say you climb out, what’s the way of being with your life that
can prevent going down again? So this was what we were looking at because
she was just beginning to climb out. So she had had a major depression back in
early high school, similar thing, several months where she just couldn’t keep going. She was really afraid about going back to
college because, even though she was depressed she wasn’t in as deep a slump, she had this
critical voice that would go on a rampage and run her into depression. And she said, “All it’s going to take is I’ll
start thinking about Zack again.” – about her boy friend, you know. She said she’ll start thinking about why he
left, you know, and her critical voice would say, you know, “You’re too insecure, you’re
needy, no one else is going to be with you!” or else she would, you know, try on a pair
of jeans that were too small and all of a sudden her body, undesirable, or she, you
know, missed some questions in a quiz but… This voice would get her and just really bring
her down. So she needed something. She needed a way to work with herself so that
she wasn’t at the mercy of those voices and she could start getting at what was under
the depression. So I agreed to teach her RAIN. And this is what she worked on. So here is how RAIN works. And for those of you that aren’t familiar:
It’s an acronym… Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. It’s really how to bring mindfulness and compassion
to the moment. Recognize and Allow, Investigate and Nurture. So for her critical thoughts, that was her
queue. And she’d recognize, “Okay, critical thoughts
are going on.” And allowing doesn’t mean you’re going to
let yourself be swamped by them and believe in them, allowing means that you’ve recognized
them and you’re going to pause and just let everything be for a moment. Because we can’t interrupt and change the
log jam – the patterning – if we’re continuing to react. You have to pause. This is radical. So Recognize and Allow. She would pause. When you do that you can then make what I
call the “U-turn,” you can then start turning the attention like this, from the thoughts
to “Okay, what’s really going on under the thoughts,” that’s the question. So that’s what I asked her. I said, “Okay. Under those critical thoughts, what’s going
on? Check your body. Check your throat, your chest, your belly. What are you aware of?” And she said, “Well, it’s dark, heavy and
closed down.” Okay. And I asked her, “Well, where does that happen?” And she goes, “Right here.” And I said, “Okay. Keep your hand there. Keep exploring that area.” And I said, “If this dark, heavy, closed down
place could communicate, could express itself, what would it do? What would you notice?” And she said, “Well, I see myself in it. I see a little child crouched inside the darkness.” So I said, “Well, how come she is in the dark?” And she goes, “Well, she doesn’t want anyone
to see her.” I said, “What does she believe would happen
if others saw her?” And her response was, “They’d see something
is wrong with me, that I’m in some way completely flawed or broken and they wouldn’t want to
be around me.” They wouldn’t want to be around her. “How does that make the little girl feel?” And this is when she started filling up with
tears. She said, “Well, makes her want to stay in
the dark so nobody will see her because it hurts too much for people not to love her,
it’s like dying.” So I asked her, “So what is it like Geraldine”
– was her name – “to sense this younger part of you who feels unlovable?” And she was weeping then and she said, “She
is just a child. She didn’t do anything wrong. It’s so sad to see her.” And I asked, “What does she most need from
you?” And she said, “She wants me to see her and
know she is there. She wants to know I care.” So now that’s the investigating, you know,
she is investigating, she is feeling these feelings, she is sensing a child in the dark,
a child that feels unlovable and the child needs her care, okay? Now we’re going to shift to nurturing. And I said, “You know, in some way call on
the wisest part of yourself for now, for this.” And I told her about future self. I said, “For you it might seem like your wise
self or your highest self or your Buddha nature, could be your future self, who you sense you’re
becoming that’s really the most awake part of you.” And she liked the future self. So I said, “Okay. Now just inhabit that future self and” – her
hand was still here and I said – “and just offer what the child needs.” And so she started whispering, “I’m here. I want to be with you. I’m sorry it’s so hard. I care.” And she did that. I let her do that for a while because that’s
nurturing and often it involves a hand on our heart and a message. And after she had done that for a while I
just said, “Now… You don’t have to do anything more. Just sense the presence of your future self
and just relax, just rest in that awareness, get to know it. Nothing to do.” This is what I call “after the RAIN.” After you’ve done all the recognizing and
the allowing and the investigating and the nurturing. This is a key, key part of healing. You just rest in the awareness that’s here. Don’t race past it. Just rest. Get to know it. Because that formless, kind presence is more
the truth of who you are than any story of a depressed self or an anxious self. And the more you get to know that, the more
freedom there is. That’s what she did. And before leaving she told me – I want to
share that with you – she said, “I wish my future self could enroll in my place.” Which made a lot of sense. But then I shared with her that really the
more you do RAIN the more you’re actually inhabiting and living from your full potential
which was motivation for her. Depression is a trance. If you’re depressed right now and you’re listening,
it’s a trance-state. It’s a trance because it’s a kind of stuck
place that’s looping and smaller than the whole of your being. So the question is: How do we bring a presence
to what’s here in a way that can help us to reconnect with that wholeness? And it has to be kind. It won’t work unless it is kind. Now one of the challenges with depression
is that all of us go through losses whether it’s the pain and loss of love, feeling that
we didn’t have the love we need when we were very young or the loss of a relationship that’s
really, really important to us as we’re adults or the loss of our health. We all go through losses. And if we don’t grieve the losses, like open
to the rawness of that pain, it becomes depression. If we don’t open to our fears, it can become
depression. If we don’t open to the sorrows, it becomes
depression. So the teaching is whether it’s on our own
with RAIN or with others with some similar process of presensing we need to commit ourselves
to being with the raw-ness of our experience so it doesn’t get covered over in trance. Does that make sense the importance of it? Now sometimes we have to gladden our minds
first. Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity. But the key is that we have to be true to
the feelings that are here. So I want to share with you as part of closing
now a story that I read in Frank Ostaseski’s book “The Five Invitations” that I think really
describes beautifully the power of not short-changing the real feelings. He describes… He got a call and he was asked to come over
to the home of a family where a young boy had just died And this is Frank’s work, working
with death and dying. So he goes to the house. And he says, “I arrived at the house a short
while after the call. The dispirited parents greeted me and showed
me to the boy’s room. And walking in I followed my natural inclination. I went over to Jamie’s bed, leaned down and
kissed him on the forehead to say hello. His parents broke into tears because, while
they had cared for him with great love and attention, nobody had touched the boy since
he died. It wasn’t the fear of his corpse that kept
them away, it was the fear of the grief that touching him might unleash.” So I want to keep reading. “I suggested begin washing the boy’s body. They gathered sage, rosemary, lavender, sweet
rose, petals from the garden. They moved slowly, setting the herbs in warm
water, collected towels and some wash cloths. After a few moments of silence the mother
and father began to wash the little boy. The started at the back of Jamie’s head and
moved down his back. Sometimes they would stop and tell one another
a story about their son. At other times it became too much for the
father and he’d go and stare out the window to gather himself. The grief filling the room felt enormous like
an entire ocean crashing upon a single shore. The mother examined and lovingly cared for
each little scratch or bruise on her son’s body. When she got to Jamie’s toes she counted them
as she had done on the day he was born. It was both gut-wrenching and extraordinary
beautiful to watch. From time to time she would look over at me
as I sat quietly in the corner of the room a beseeching question filling her eyes, “Will
I be able to survive? Can I do this? Can any mother live through such a loss?” I would nod in encouragement to continue at
her own pace and hand her another wash cloth trusting the process. I would feel confident that she would find
healing by allowing herself to be in the midst of her suffering. It took hours for the parents to wash their
son. When the mother finally got to the face of
her child which she had saved for last she embraced him with incredible tenderness her
eyes pure reflections of her love and sorrow. She had not only turned toward her suffering,
she had entered into it completely. As she did the fierce fire of her love began
to melt the contraction of fear around her heart.” So this is Frank’s comment. He says, ‘Can you imagine yourself living
through what these parents did?’ ‘No,’ many of you will say, ‘I cannot.’ Losing a child is most people’s worst nightmare. ‘I couldn’t endure it. I couldn’t bear it,’ you may think. But the hard truth is: terrible things happen
in life that we can’t control and somehow we do bear them. We bear witness to them. When we do so with the fullness of our bodies,
minds and hearts often a loving action emerges. Our presence awakens the fullness of loving.” I wanted to share with you this story because
under depression is pain we’ve pulled away from because it felt like too much. And the healing – this is the kind of the
heart of the Buddha’s teachings – is that the suffering comes because we pull away,
we push away, we contract, we grasp onto something different, we try to control. But it’s only when ultimately we stop the
controlling and really open to life as it is with our whole presence, our whole heart
– as that mom did washing her baby’s body – we are touching all our parts of our own
psyche with that tenderness, that something very radical happens and we shift from the
self that was in trance – anxious and depressed – to a space of love that is timeless. That is the shift that liberates us. You might close your eyes for a moment. We’ll close together. The poet David Whyte writes, “Those who
will not slip beneath the still surface on the well of grief, turning downward through
its black water to the place we cannot breathe, will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear, nor find in the darkness glimmering the small round
coins thrown by those who wished for something else.” We have been exploring together how depression
is an expression of being cut off and that we can deepen our attention in ways that help
us come home again. And it begins with intention knowing it matters
to us to live from our fullness. We learn to wake up out of the thoughts and
say, “These are just thoughts, I don’t have to believe them.” It supports us to gladden our minds not to
manipulate but to re-connect with our own potential for joy, for humor, for perspective,
for gratitude, for love. And in the most profound way, depression becomes
a portal to freedom when we sense what we are unwilling to feel and bring our full kindness
and presence to that. Namaste and thank you for your attention.


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