Manic-Depression for Fun & Profit

Manic-Depression

Manic-depression runs in my family. For some of my relatives it has been a crippling condition. For some it has been lethal. For myself, it has been a long standing condition that colors my reality-tunnel in a number of ways. Thus far I have not had to medicate to manage the condition. I have nothing but good opinions about using meds to deal with clinical depression in all it’s forms. The careful use of prescribed pharmaceuticals have been a great relief for several of my family member, as well as several of my friends. I have simply fallen on the portion of the spectrum where the use of medication is not indicated. So far. Depression can be a progressive disease, and I often take stock of my fluctuating moods to see if I might need that help.

That is not to say that I do not self-medicate to a degree. I do. Mostly that self-medication comes in the form of daily meditation, and frequent journaling. Some may not think of these activities as self-medicating, but I do, and having these tools has helped me a great deal.

This post isn’t about medication though. It’s about a shift in how I operate within a context that contains manic-depression. I have come to see that I have been on a particular cycle that is less than fruitful. One of the less-than-skilled ways in which I operate during the manic cycles it to spend money. Often a bit more than I actually have. That leaves me with the depressive cycle for earning money. Not such a good combination.

So, I am building the habit of reversing this trend. I now focus on doing work that pays when in a manic phase, so that I can enjoy the afforded comforts during my depressive phases.

This all seems like a complete no-brainer, but then again most good epiphanies do in hindsight.

I would not have been able to see this pattern were it not for journaling and daily meditation. I guess they worked! 😉

Photo Credit: Rick Stegeman

Meditation with a K.I.S.S.

Meditation

Recently I had occasion to do the math on how long I have been meditating daily. Of course the number of days is listed via widget on the very site, but I wanted to be able to state it in years. I’ve been meditating for a bit over 7 years and 4 months. Whew! The reason was someone had asked on Facebook for opinions about meditation. I offered mine, and was immediately embroiled in a conversation about why I was wrong. It was quite amusing.

Meditation is a very personal thing. I do happen to think there is a set of activities that qualify as meditation, and as well as a set of activities that do not. That being said, it takes on flavors as needed for each individual practitioner. I feel it’s important to honor that distinctiveness. If we don’t, it’s all to easy to fall into fundamentalism in our practice.

For myself there is a good working definition of meditation. It’s lightweight enough to allow for variance between the needs and proclivities of the practitioner. It also has enough structure to not drift into allowing anything to fit. To come up with it I held firm to the philosophical guideline of, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” This definition is what I tell everyone who asks my advice on meditation.

Here it is – Meditation is staying in one place, for a stated duration of time, moving as little as possible, attending to the contents of the actual moment and situation of the practice period.

Like I said – simple. The one thing I add to this definition, as advice for beginning meditators, is this: The only way to do meditation wrong is to not meditate. As far as I am concerned, if you are intentionally doing something that fits at all into the definition I gave, you are meditating. Once you’ve got a regular practice going (whether that’s once a day, twice a week, or once a month) there are refinements we can get to. Until you’ve got a regular practice going, this bare minimum is sufficient.

As for whether people should meditate, I’ll leave you with this quote by a Zen master, “Everyone should meditate for ten minutes a day. If you are too busy to meditate ten minutes a day, then you should meditate for one hour a day.”

Taking Time For You To Be With You

Beach Meditation

Interested in meditation? Let’s chat about it.

Today, I am taking a suggestion from Teresa (who commented and made a request over at 1000dayvow.com), and writing in a general way about my experiences with meditation to ground some possible expectations.

You can check out my other posts on meditation on this blog here. And you can read an interview I recently gave for elephantjournal.com, How to Bring Discipline to Your Practice.

One thing that is up for debate is exactly what meditation is. In my opinion, like so many things in life, there is no one thing that meditation is.

This would be my current working definition: Meditation means taking time to be consciously with your self.

It seems to me that all of us, to one extent or another, and with differing degrees depending on the occasion, navigate through life primarily through heuristics. We learn short cuts that we can rely on (more or less) to help us cope with the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that life can present us with. When dealing with all of that, it can get easy to forget the original source of a particular short cut, and keep using it past it’s due date. We can also loose ourselves behind a set of easy assumptions about what & who we are.

Meditation gives us a chance to cut through that.

By sitting consciously with our own being, keeping our awareness strong, focused, and present, we begin to peak past the wall of habits and presumptions. We can examine where we operate purely mechanically, and where we get creative. We can differentiate between what was installed by others, and what we came to ourselves. The meditation practitioner gets the chance to make informed choices as to which habits to keep, and which ones to discard or revamp.

In one version of the Buddha’s story, he did exactly this. When under the Bodhi tree, exploring the middle path he came to see the trends that were running his life. Some of those had negative connotations. By becoming consciously aware of those negative impulses, he was able to re-wire his system for more positive impulses. In one formulation, it is said that he saw that behind every negative action was a positive impulse. If that positive impulse could be exhumed from the layers of habit, examined, and honored, then the same actions could result in positive consequences. Yelling at a child to save them from grabbing something hot goes from a punishment and an infliction, to an act of compassion. The scream of derision and blame becomes a shout of warning and love.

All of that is imminently possible with meditation, and this shows just one of the many benefits that can come from the practice.

To get more on point with what I think Teresa was asking though, I will share some of my specific experiences.

Let me start by saying that it’s a vast area of exploration. The amount going on in the inner space, as far as I can tell, rivals all of what’s going on in outer space. I am not talking about just our immediate occupancy. I mean all of reality. In a way, each of us seems to be not only a mirror of reality, but in a sense a full version of it. The clearer you can make that mapping of the inner space to match the outer space, the less bumpy the ride.

In my time on the meditation cushion I have had lots of wild rides. I’ve also had sessions that were barely removed from naps. My favorite times are the ones with no fanfare and simple plain attention.

I’ve had my life pass before my eyes.

I’ve had previous lives pass before my eyes.

I’ve meditated on cushions, pillows, dust, towels, benches, beds, chairs, logs, boulder, bean bags, grass, and dirt.

I’ve twitched and spasmed and moved to internal energies balancing themselves.

I’ve been taken on tours “back stage” of reality by a threesome of energetic beings who have been visiting me since I was 12.

I’ve had plenty of lower back and knee pain. (Remember to stretch!)

I’ve ceased to exist as a personal noun.

I’ve cried, and laughed like a fiend.

I’ve doubted that anything good would ever come out of the practice.

I’ve been assailed by thoughts galore!

I’ve seen the source of hundreds of my habits and been able to (slowly!!!) modify them over time.

In the eternal wisdom of RAW, I’ve seen beyond doubt what a Cosmic Schmuck I can be. (Often!)

I’ve spoken to myself when I was a frightened child, soothed the historical pain, and let that child sleep safely.

I’ve been to places I was afraid I would never come back from. (Pro tip: Go further! Safety is one more step.)

And through it all, there I was. Before, during, and after.

In a sense, meditation is like going to a movie, either one that you have not seen before, or one of your favorites. No matter how many trailers you’ve seen, or how many times you’ve seen the movie before, you have not seen this play of that movie until you go see it. Once you do you may be swept away on an existential roller coaster with mighty peaks, and abyss like depths. Through it all, it’s just a movie, and when the timer rings (or the incense burns out, or the audio track ends, or whatever you use to demarcate your practice) you will be there and the movie will be a memory.

I want to also say that I categorically deny that meditation is a path to awakening in itself. Meditation gives us a skill, and an opportunity. It can also be a support structure for awakening. There can be awakening openings that occur during meditation, but as far as I can tell there is not really a causal connection. Meditation provides a context, and an equanimity, with which to come to terms with our awakening.

Those are my ruminations on meditation for today! I hope you enjoyed them!

Drop me a comment and let me know what you thought! Peace!