How to be grateful for depression

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I can look back on my episode in the depths of despair with gratitude. Without that period of madness, my mindfulness practice would have remained in the ‘should’ pile alongside many other I’ll-get-round-to-it-when-I-have-the-time projects. Broken into a million pieces, you tend to only pick up the bits that are truly important to take with you into the next phase of the journey.

I feel quite sorry for the mildly miserable, they might never be down enough to be forced to look for another way; sleepwalking through a life of grumpy discontent. No, I am glad to have been painfully depressed, stabbed and prodded into wakefulness. I had no other choice to commit to a practice, I could no longer be ruled by my thoughts. And, oh, the joy of contrast; in the moment of becoming the observer and recognising your own power to sit back, to watch, to choose, to bask in separation. How quickly our relationship with our thoughts can shift, and how remarkable this shift can be. Suddenly the world, once dark, appears in full beautiful colour.  It is like when you misplace your keys in your living room, you know they are in there somewhere so you really open your eyes and look. And with this new way of looking, really looking, something happens. Familiar items within the room suddenly appear to you with a vibrancy and clarity as if they are being seen for the very first time.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth; I just wouldn’t want to go out and breathe my un-meditated breath on anyone. An un-meditated me feels a bit gross, sloppy, unfocused, easily carried away by the rivers of thought. For those people that manage to feel sane without meditating I salute you, I am not sure how you do it. Meditation isn’t the only way of being mindful, but it is the best way to start cultivating it. I love to learn and during my first flushes of falling for mindfulness my appetite for knowing all there was to know on the ‘subject’ was ferocious. I devoured book after book at breakneck speed, it seems funny to reflect back on all that striving. What meditation teaches us when we sit and look is that we already know everything we need to know. Whilst we have a very human need to learn, it is in unlearning we find the being bit of ourselves. Like all things we try to attain, we can get lost in doing mindfulness, but quietly as we practice, we realise mindfulness instead. And with each realisation another layer of ourselves falls away, we see things a little more clearly and the subtle hum of happiness begins to beam through into every part of our being.

Being terribly depressed was one of the best things that could have happened to me. All pain is a messenger, and the message I had ignored for too long was that I was on the wrong path in my life. I see this time and time again with clients who come to me looking to overcome depression. So strong the pull of how we think we want our lives to look, we begin to override our internal sat nav until we can no longer hear the voice of truth within us, we become lost to ourselves. So the messenger of emotion ups the anti, louder and louder pain shouts, our heart beats faster and anxiety rings in our ears. When we really hit rock bottom there is no choice but to finally ‘get the message’ and from down there we get a chance to truly begin again.

How beautiful this principle of beginners’ mind, we really can give ourselves permission to start over, with each new moment comes a new beginning and each mediation a place to get familiar with beginning again and again. When in meditation we forget to begin again; frustration, anger and boredom arises as holding up a mirror to us until we see what we are doing to ourselves. To see that reflection is such a teaching, I am chuckling to myself as I write this because an old earworm has returned to sing the Radiohead lyrics to me; ‘you do it to yourself you do and that’s what really hurts’. This full human experience really does hurt sometimes, it can be so painful and yet so exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. It is so hard for the mind to accept these two opposing truths and that’s ok too – because not all things can be figured out on the level of the mind. If you are in pain you know you are alive, and being alive is certainly something to feel grateful for. So feel pain, but know that you don’t have to feed it with your thoughts. Instead of mindlessly scattering seeds for the crows to peck, we can consciously plant seeds that we gently cultivate.

Depression is a pushing downwards, low thoughts take us on their repetitive downward spiral into lower and lower mood, the body joins this journey like grabbing onto the back of a conga line – with each kick a release of stress hormones, a slumping of posture, a reducing of immunity, forwards and downwards we dance. We lose ourselves in the dance, we become the dance and the dance becomes us, smothering and suffocating in its embrace. In meditation we sit in separation, thought comes and goes and when we don’t engage we see this separation for ourselves. Thought only becomes thinking when we choose to get involved with it. In stillness, free will is placed right under the spotlight of our attention. As thought forms float through we begin to see them for what they are, they are just thoughts and they are not us. And so the grip lessens, our relationship with our thoughts changes and release arrives.

We have the power to choose to act in ways which lift us in an upward direction, to embrace more of those things which make us feel alive and move away from those that deplete us. I used to be very busy trying to control the universe, it was exhausting. These days I choose more carefully the parts I play and try to be playful in the playing of them. I particularly enjoy being DJ when it comes to choosing what song to play in my head, if you don’t like your thoughts you can always change the record.

That’s not to say that the cloud of depression never floats into my life to obscure the view, but nowadays I see it for what it is – just a cloud. Mindfulness has made me recognise my own innate strength, I feel content in the knowledge that whatever the storm it will pass and that I have the power to weather it. The sun is always shining behind the clouds.

This article by Frances Trussell was originally published on ‘everyday mindfulness’

You can now also follow Frances on Twitter @francestrussell and Facebook 

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This is the summer of your life

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On childhood summer evenings I would sit by the breeze of my open bedroom window listening to the symphony of the season. The laughter of those children still allowed to play out, the kicking of balls in the park and shouting to friends. Birdsong soared high amongst the barbecue smoke whilst the clinking of glasses accompanied grown-ups chatter below.

How bittersweet those balmy nights, a loveliness and still a longing. A longing for a time when the days would be mine, the laughter my own in a no-bedtime, no-rules, me-time-all-the-time kind of way.

So now, I have arrived. And you have too. Here we are, exactly where we wanted to be back then. This day is ours, this night is ours and it’s us who makes those rules. We made a promise to ourselves that when we got here we would embrace those evenings with all our being, feel the warmth of the sun on our face, that now would be that time.

And yet, how easy it is to shift those jumper goal posts, lost in the mourning mind of summers gone or the longing mind of summers to come. But it is not going to get any better than this, now is the only place we get to experience anything because it is always now. There will, of course, inevitably be the perfect-house-bigger-garden summer that lives in our heads. The one where a slightly thinner and more attractive version of ourselves has our hair windswept whilst driving our top-down Aston Martin. The next holiday, the next job, the next relationship, next month or next summer, that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The wanderings of the mind can trick us into believing that the next lick of the ice cream will taste better than this one. So remember to savour the flavour of this moment. There is little point saving happiness for best like Grandmas crockery.

Feel this summer, own it, squeeze the juice out of it. You have arrived at your destination; this is the summer of your life.

It is always the summer of your life should you choose it to be.

Building Sandcastles

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I love a new pair of shoes as much as the next girl but today I was shoeless, sand between toes and surrounded by the sounds of the sea and children playing. None of us can take ourselves too seriously on a trip to the British seaside. There is no glamorous way of hobbling over the pebbles to paddle in the freezing English Channel, or of eating sandy sandwiches huddled behind a wind-break. I will never forget jumping waves as a kid with my Nan, she let out such a yelp of excitement with one leap she lost her false-teeth to the sea. They might still be out there somewhere chattering away on the cold sea bed.

It is the things we do, not the things we have that make this life. So well trained we are in our principle occupation as consumers, like little ants we work away eyes down and focused on those prizes. It is easy to forget the ‘being’ bit of human-being until we allow ourselves the opportunity to be and to feel human again. Our culture places so much emphasis on the accumulation of ‘stuff’, yet what is the stuff that really matters when we look back over our lives?

Some things cannot be bottled or bought, the re-discovered pleasure of digging in the sand, the triumph of creating our moated island decorated in shells. The satisfied sadness when it’s time to say goodbye as the sea arrives to claim our spoils and the night to take our day.

All of our castles are made of sand and the tide of life will come to wash them away. When we are not so weighed down by stuff it may be easier to ride the waves.

Life is short

Bus

So there you are, body walking along the road but mind somewhere else altogether. Wandering in thought, worries, projections of the future; predictions for how things might or might not work out, catastrophising. All of these ruminations are just bad guesses, terrible guesses in this case because BOOM there you are gone. You didn’t even see it coming – the bus that hit you. And so it is with life, and death, however we might try to map it out, we can’t ever know for certain what’s just around the corner. What a waste of life worry is. If only we’d been present for the walk, if only we’d showed up and paid attention to what was actually going on around us rather than being lost in the ‘if only’ of the mind.

A family friend died this week, too young to die by the expectations we set for such things, but death has no regard for expectations. My news feed swells with photographs and memories shared, the pain and beauty of how precious life is. We are remembered when we die not for our inner world of thought but for our outer world, for the moments in which we touched people. The laughter we shared, a look, a smile, the way that we held them, for the moments that we were alive for them.

Life is short, be alive while you are alive, make the moments count.

This Blog will change your life…

“Do you have a blog?” clients have been asking for some time and my answer has been a big fat no, until now.

Both trained journalist and meditation teacher, blogging would seem like an obvious thing to do. And yet I find myself uneasy to add to the barrage of distractions which might be stopping us from engaging fully with our direct experience of life.

I have an admission to make… I too check my phone and social media far more often than I would like. I am drawn in by those catchy titles promising hidden gems of knowledge to improve my life. Well let me share with you the little gem that’s right here, hiding in plain sight; Life is always the thing that is happening right now. So, I wont find what I am looking for on my phone on anyone’s Twitter feed or status update nor on the pages of any book because someone else’s words paint a second-hand picture of the world, a pale imitation of the vibrant truth we experience when we commit to being here now.

Life is now and it is going to happen whether you choose to pay attention to it or not. I hope you make the choice to be concious of the moments of your life as they arise – this moment is your life.

find out more at: http://www.mindfullyhappy.com