Overwhelmend by depression and despair
OVERWHELMED BY DEPRESSION AND DESPAIR?
Many people are reporting feeling depressed right now. It is the “new normal” in a completely unfamiliar world. Both introverts and extraverts report this feeling. Introverts recharge their energy by being alone, still, and having time to think. For those introverts that are lucky enough to be in their safe-havens’ away from the frenetic energy of others, this has been a time for reflection, awaking and re-alignment with purpose. But even these lucky ones amongst us miss the company of others. Mankind is gregarious by nature. Have you ever wondered what makes us cross a street to say hello to someone, no matter the nature of the relationship or when last we saw them? When we see a familiar face our brain releases oxytocin. This is a feel-good hormone that creates the warm, fuzzy feelings of love, social bonding and well-being. For those who are more extraverted and who need to recharge their energy through contact with others, or introverts who are unable to get space and time for their safe-haven, lockdown is a more serious challenge.
The fact is that we are in lockdown in one form or another, worldwide. The news, advice and opinions are over-whelming and we struggle to make sense of it. It is quite natural to find ourselves becoming depressed and despairing. This is situational depression. We have seemingly lost control over our lives and our future is unpredictable. The actual emotion underlying this is anger. Anger that cannot be expressed, turns inward and expresses as depression. We must ask ourselves, what in turn underlies anger? If we sit long enough with that question, we will find that it is fear. Basic, raw, primal fear for survival. It is instinctive. Mankind has built social, economic, financial, cultural beliefs, systems and processes etc in order to keep us safe, in order to reassure us that all will be well. But these, no matter how powerful they may seem, are simply constructs. The truth is that we never had control and could never actually predict anything. We just tried to feel safe. We gave these constructs of ours so much power that they seemed like truth. All it took was one small virus, invisible to the eye, to sweep all these constructs away. What will remain when this is over? We tell each other that life will be different after this, as if reassuring each other, but we don’t know how it will be different. We have a longing for it to be better, but we don’t know how. We are reaching with our minds, trying to find the security of being able to know the future. But it is not there. We simply don’t know.
How then do we cope with this depression? Firstly, and most importantly, we must acknowledge it, face the reality of it without judgement, shame or blame. See if you can sit with it. Allow it to wash over you. Delve deeper, go into the roots, allow the anger to rise and then turn into fear. Take your time, no need to rush these emotions, just let them rise up naturally, as you are ready to look at each one. Acknowledge each emotion with deep respect and humility. Our emotions are a gift to us, they are a feedback mechanism that we can use to help us make sense of our world, if we are willing to feel them.
Secondly, in order to do this, it is often helpful to focus on our breath. If you practice mindfulness or meditation of any sort, you will find these helpful. If not, you can start with a simple exercise now. What all these formal practices have in common is the simple act of noticing your breath. You sit in the moment, still, noticing where you are, your body, your surroundings. No need to take up elaborate seating or doing complex movements to do this. No need to do anything. Now, simply focus on your in and out breath. Just as it is. Again, no need to change it, just notice it. See if you can feel your in and out breath at the nostrils. See if you can hear your breath coming and going out. On the outbreath, relax the body. Your mind will jump to other things. That’s alright, just gently return to your breath. You may feel the need to take a deep breath. A good long and slow breath. Let go of all the tension in your body on the outbreath. You may start with just a few minutes and finding it helpful, you may wish to make this a daily practice or even explore a formal practice. Through breathing like this, allowing ourselves to sink into the safety of the present moment, we can let go. And when we do this, oxytocin rushes through our brains, just like in social engagements.
Now that we are feeling better, let’s gently think about the situation that is creating so much fear. It is a wild jungle out there but taking our lead from Stephen Covey we recognise that what is happening in the world is outside of our control. It falls into the circle of concern, where we are simply reactive. To spend energy there is pointless, it just drains us and disempowers us. So thirdly, a good initiative is to decide what media is reliable and put yourself on a responsible diet of being informed but not overwhelmed. Now we can turn to the fourth step. We are ready to focus on our circle of influence. This is where we have control, either direct or indirect control. By focussing here, we can make a difference, especially in terms of what is in our direct control, as we can be proactive. Like dealing with our emotions and observing how they are impacting on those in lockdown with us.
So how should we think about the virus and the global impact? Should we just pretend it isn’t happening? Our starting point is to remember that we are all spiritual beings no matter what nationality we are. What is happening right now is large scale human suffering. Let’s find that place within ourselves where we can feel compassion for others. Allow yourself to feel it, let it wash over you and out into the universe, reaching every single one of the nearly 8 billion people on this planet. Yes, you can send compassion and love out through your own vibrations to everyone on the planet. Yes, you can make a difference like this.
From this place of compassion, we can be compassionate with ourselves too. Acknowledge that the lack of control, predictability, even the ability to know what to do next, what decisions to take for self and those we love, is extremely hard. Let this go. Now we find our natural inclination to hope that we can do certain things arises; that we can keep earning a living, that our families will be safe. Margaret Wheatly teaches us to let go of hope. Hope is not our friend. Hope has a twin which is called fear. A simple example can illustrate this: even though I hope for rain this evening, I fear that it will not come. To be released from fear, we need to be willing to let go of hope. This is radical.
Letting go of hope creates a huge vacuum. We will kick against it, we will point to other teachings that tell us to be hopeful. But when we are taught to be hopeful, it is within a framework of faith and trust. When there is faith and trust, there is no place for fear. We place our faith and trust in the divine and step forward in life with a new-found confidence that no matter what, we will cope, we will deal with it. We always have. Trust the divine, trust yourself and be confident.
Quieting the body and the brain, we allow our higher spiritual being to take the lead. This is the place where wisdom resides. We now look at our lives from a place of compassion, faith, trust and confidence that we are safe, no matter what tragedies we may face. We have always been safe. We can now turn our energies to the question “what is my life’s purpose”. It will be one of service to others in some form. That purpose we can now serve with compassion, starting with those in lockdown with us.
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