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Pulling Up the Roots of Depression - Blog by The Mindfulness Poet

Pulling up the Roots of Depression

A gardener will tell you that cutting off the heads of weeds only means that they’ll come back. To get rid of weeds you have to pull up the roots. It’s hard work, but to truly get rid of something you have to find and remove the cause.

Depression offers the same choice: a quick fix that looks good or an open ended search for a trauma that’s been buried? Life seems busy and it’s easy to opt for the quick fix with the self assurance that “I’ll sort all this out when things calm down.” Which never happens, of course, so we just keep mowing the weeds and slowly the garden dissolves into chaos.

One ‘quick fix’ for depression is ‘medication as a lifestyle’. Medication for my depression served me well as a short term way to calm a very distressed mind – and it did so by masking the symptoms. But at some point it became obvious the old patterns were still lurking underneath and would be reappearing soon. You can only mask symptoms for so long. And that’s when a choice had to be made: do I go inwards or outwards?

Go inwards and dig up the roots? Or go outwards and try and look normal, go back to work, back to routine, back to “I’m fine”. But I’m not fine, and the more I try to appear fine the worse it gets. I’m beset by bursts of rage, feelings of hopelessness and a deep underlying fear that sucks the life out of everything but the weeds. What now? Do I increase the medication dosage? Try some new exciting drug that everyone’s talking about? Or stop taking the drugs and face withdrawal and all its horrors?

When consciousness becomes crippled by the simple fact of existence – which is depression – there is something deeply awry. Deep problems imply deep causes, which suggests deep work. The roots of depression go into dark places, places that most of us have spent a lot of effort trying to avoid. To go back seems the opposite of healthy, and yet that’s where the roots lie. That’s where the end of suffering will be found, there amidst the frightening, irrational world of habits and identity.

Without therapy, without searching for the roots and bringing awareness to them, it will only be a matter of time before the depression reappears. Without bringing mindfulness to my inner state, to the world of emotions and the raw sensations of the body, the cause remains and therefore the effects will inevitably continue.

But in the space left by the removed roots of weeds there is a huge opportunity for healing and discovery. To quote Thich Nhat Hanh “in the garden of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully.”

Buddha Wasn't a Buddhist - Blog by the Mindfulness Poet

Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist

Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. He was someone whose life was transformed by a profound experience of inner peace. For the rest of his life he would share that experience, his insights and his suggestions with anyone who was interested.

Buddhism came after he died. It was made from the remembered words of a man who used countless examples and analogies to deliver one simple message: without inner peace, life is suffering. Connecting with an inner experience of peace satisfies a deep hunger, which makes the other aspects of our life SO much more straightforward.

The inner peace is in there; in Buddhism there is no concept of some fatal flaw within us that needs to be remedied. Rather, our inner peace is obscured by the “fluctuations of consciousness”. In the same way that clouds obscure the blue sky, our inner peace is obscured by agitated thoughts and emotions.

Most of what Buddha talked to people about was the obstacles to deeply experiencing inner peace. Anger, self-obsession, greed and the like. Overcoming them was his main topic of conversation because in their absence you will naturally find your inner peace.

Buddha – when asked – gave guidance or instructions as was appropriate for the person he was talking to. He wasn’t downloading a uniform model, he was responding to the human needs of the person in front of him. The words he gave where suitable for them.

But there was one piece of advice Buddha gave to everyone: test what I say by putting it into practice, don’t just talk about it. Practice and if your experience of inner peace deepens then you have started on the path to nirvana. And if it doesn’t, abandon the practice and try something else.

A common question modern people ask: “Is Buddhism a religion, a philosophy or a practice?” The answer is yes. From the raw material of Buddha’s carefully remembered words you can create your own personal path to inner peace.

So for a religious person, their is plenty of religious buddhism to help move your consciousness into a more peaceful state. If you are of a contemplative nature, there is plenty of Dharma to help shift your point of view into a bigger, calmer picture. And of course there is the minimal model: “focus on your breath – in this moment – and be grateful”.

They are all potentially paths to inner peace. You will only know what satisfies your deep hunger – religion, philosophy or practice – if you try them out and see what happens.

Humbled by the Sugar monster - Blog by The Mindfulness Poet

Humbled by the Sugar Monster!

One of the most humbling moments of my life was a recent sugar fast. No chocolate or cake; no fruit (full of sugar); no bread (turns to sugar in the body); no carbohydrates (starchy veggies like potatoes and pumpkin) because they turn to sugar too. It was to be only protein and leafy green veggies. I had never been on such a diet before, and hoped it wouldn’t be too annoying.

It was terrible.

The first day was unsettled, the second was worse and the third was full on depression, a trip down memory lane to 20 years ago. Life was meaningless and I was doomed to fail. I talked to the naturopath and she said bluntly ‘Brendan you have a slime living inside you, a fungus, a mold. It lives on sugar. When you don’t feed it, it gets cranky.’ The resentment at this manipulative parasite gave me the willpower to soldier on.

I realised all my life I had used sugar to manage emotions. Stressed? Have something sweet! But when the sugar wasn’t there all hell broke loose. This was worse than giving up cigarettes! My favourite quick fix was gone and I was left in sugar cold turkey.

After day 3 or 4 things settled down a bit. Not suicidal anymore. But very aware of my body! I clearly felt every twinge, ache, pain and knot. I was worried I’d picked up some terrible rheumatic fever, but after a day or two I realised ‘No, this is the normal sensations of the body that sugar has been filtering out’. Turns out I didn’t need to do another Vipassana retreat, just stop eating sugar for a week and the body awareness is vivid!

Ego loves sugar! It amplifies thoughts and sensations and creates an urgency that self-obsession feeds on. I have a wish, it MUST be fulfilled, NOW! No wonder our society has egomaniacs in charge, a sugar culture positively venerates them as role models.

By the end of the fortnight salad has started to taste really good. Without sugar hogging the limelight my taste buds could find delight in simple foods. My wife and I both felt better and after the diet ended our eating habits stayed changed, simply because we enjoyed the new diet more. We started back on carbs, but in much reduced amounts. And sugar is creeping back in to the diet because that’s how it goes. I’ll keep an eye on that.

It was very humbling discovering an addiction I didn’t even know I had. Very useful too; the chocolate section at the supermarket has lost much of its interest for me, and now I’m exploring the joys of oat bars. Small mindful steps, one moment at a time.