Trigger Warning: Depression
“Meditation can help.” Bland, trivial advice that always conjured my false smile and a lukewarm promise to give it a try. To someone who has struggled with depression since age 12 and had tried it all, this recommendation felt as useless as my high school counselor giving me a pamphlet on depression and ushering me out of her office to get to the next student. All I had to do was sit and clear my thoughts? That was the answer to happiness? Too simple. I’d pass. Of course, my superficial idea of meditation didn’t even begin to touch on the actual practice or philosophy. At the time, I felt too tired and weary to challenge my perception. So perhaps that’s why stumbling upon real meditation felt like kismet. I hadn’t been seeking understanding, but it seemed to greet me when I was ready to receive it.
“Meditation can help ..." this recommendation felt as useless as my high school counselor giving me a pamphlet on depression and ushering me out of her office to get to the next student.
My epiphany came in the form of the book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. If you haven’t read it, here’s my plug: It’s a nonfiction read that illustrates a condensed history of humankind. It begins with the first stirrings of life on earth and extends to the tech boom of now. The book is an eye-opening composite of human behavior, and it’s revelatory to spot how evolution has led to a severe cry for addressing mental health. In other words, it makes genuine sense as to why so many of us struggle with depression, anxiety and all that jazz! The foundations of our society laid the groundwork for darkness, my old friend. As I neared the end of the book, there didn’t seem to be a lot of room for Harari to address the one big question: “What can we do about the hole we have dug ourselves into?” I was confident Harari would sign off with, “Life’s a bummer. Good luck!” But in his last moments, he delivered advice and a call to action. He echoed my perplexities: In this day in age, how do we find purpose? Happiness? How do we honor our existence? How can we find peace in modern society? His answer: meditation. My first thought: Not him too! The rest of the book had been brilliant, so I decided if this genius was smitten with meditation, who the heck was I not to read on?
Harari explains the ideology behind the practice: Suffering is not found in discomfort, grief or lack of purpose. The root of suffering is the chasing of feelings (happiness, joy, love, etc.) and the inability to accept change. We are rarely satisfied, because even in a moment of delight, we are frightened it will leave us. We continue to chase the high. In moments of sorrow, we spiral, feeling as though we will never escape the weight. And to be real, that was my actual daily experience. Chase the high and then feel dead inside. But how do we escape the feelings vortex? By embracing the imminence of change, and finding serenity.
I know. This sounds real nice and wise as philosophy. But how do we get the ball rolling and say hello to the sage within? Enter Meditation. The practice is about observing yourself -- your mind, body, feelings, the noises and temperature around you. Your collective experience of the present moment. You’re not trying to force anything to happen. You’re just being. This was a truly wild concept, when I first began. It was so unlike anything I’d done before. I’d sit in a relaxed, upright position, close my eyes, and a million thoughts would flood my head. It’s a thousand degrees in here. I forgot to pee before doing this. That mosquito isn’t sucking blood, it’s sucking my soul right out of me. I’m supposed to be meditating and I’m thinking about dementor mosquitos. I’m the world’s worst meditator. Meditator. Medi. Tater. I haven’t had tater tots in a hot second.
But the good news is that’s fine! Thoughts, feelings, experiences will come. We learn to observe them and let them go. I see them, honor them and let them pass. It can be the most profound experience, and one that has given me the courage to not let my feelings, my circumstances or anything external overwhelm me. Some days are harder than others. Life, you know? But gentle practice is encouraging and brave. We face another day, and from my own experience, we begin to welcome and be grateful for another day. Another moment. Another change. Another adventure.
My ability to be in the moment continues to transform. My practice teaches me forgiveness and self love. To be OK with wherever I am today. Not trying to force myself to feel differently, but to simply be. I’ve finally begun to feel a sense of ease with my emotions and thoughts. They will always be with me in this life, and it’s become a curiosity of mine to see how they will change. Because, of course, they will. As does everything. Each moment is a wild ride, and there is a certain peace in that knowledge. I always encourage cultivating a variety of tools for our personal journeys: journaling, therapy, medication, physical activity, etc. Whatever floats your boat. Meditation is one thing I’ve added to my tool box, and I’m so grateful for it. Should you try it, I hope you will find peace, too.
I’ve enjoyed these resources as guidance in my meditation practice:
JunaBlu Self-Worth Meditation (available in the JunaBlu shop)
Sacred Ancestry, Connect to Your Soul Meditation (available in the JunaBlu shop)
Sam Harris Waking Up App