Carrie Coe Phillips is a 23-year experienced art teacher and a ten-year experienced meditation teacher. She’s been a meditator since high school and a Buddhist since her college years, and her insight comes from a deep well of knowledge, reading, tutelage and of course, spiritual practice. She is a beautiful friend of mine, too.
I interviewed her several times this year. Here is part of our conversation.
Mollie: Do you have inner peace?
Carrie: A lot of the time, I do. It’s not all of the time. I deal with fear, health concerns. And I have backup for that–when I put it to use.
When I first started meditating, I felt ecstatically good. When you’re young and healthy, you feel totally in your life and loving it. These days I can say that the journey is not about happiness. It’s about self-discovery, about opening up, and about making yourself available to others.
Mollie: Is it possible for anyone to find inner peace?
Yes, it is. Through meditation. I believe they must meditate.
All of us need brief interludes of non-conceptual experience. If someone wants a genuine spiritual path then I would include shamatha practice as well. (Not all meditations perform the same service. The one I’m speaking of is Calm Abiding or resting the mind, shamatha in Sanskrit. This is where the mindfulness movement found its source.)
Everyone is so absorbed in overwhelming struggles, getting just a slight view of “no-self” is helpful. Even someone with the least bit of curiosity can easily experience a shift in how they view what’s going on.
What do you mean by “no-self”?
The “no-self” that I speak of is from a basic tenet of Buddhism that proposes the lack of inherent existence in all phenomenon. Briefly, all things exist relatively. Everything that exists does so in reaction and relation to something else. There is how things appear and how things truly are from the perspective of enlightened mind. When we loosen our grip on a solid-self through meditation, and also through a combination of contemplation on the study of and or listening to the teachings of qualified teachers, then in my experience the path to “freedom” reveals itself in a myriad of ways.
Mollie: What would you say to someone who is struggling with depression?
I’m not a stranger to depression, and I have two close family members that have struggled with depression most of their lives. Both have a daily meditation practice. My best advice is, don’t use your meditation for your depression. Use your depression for your meditation.
Mollie: Interesting. What do you mean by that, exactly?
I mean that if you’re looking to meditation for happiness, and you hit a bump in the road–then what do you do? Do you give up? Do you find something to blame? Look at depression as something to meditate with rather than looking at meditation as something to cure depression.
Meditate on depression means to be with it, not to contemplate it while meditating. You can add a brief contemplative practice before or after your session of meditation if you like.
Mollie: What else? Any other thoughts on depression?
Carrie: The advice that I take from Pema Chodron is to lean in to the sharp points. If you’re feeling this wretchedness anyway, what have you got to lose by opening up to it and saying, “Okay, here I am, give me your worst”? You feel whatever you’re feeling and don’t reject it. If you can do that even for five seconds, the next time it may be seven seconds. And you’re on your way.
Life is all about patterns. These patterns, whether negative or positive, are reinforced when you’re distracted. But when you watch the patterns, meditate, your mind slows down and they start to weaken. You come back to the present moment–often some sensation in your body–and watch that. Some say to feel your inner body (“What’s my toe doing right now?”) and others follow their breath, but if you have a strong sensation happening anywhere in your body, you go there. If it’s distracting enough that you aren’t able to focus on the breath, go there. This includes heart-based feelings like sadness.
Don’t go to the depression with concepts. Go to it without labeling it. Just notice the primary feeling–where it is in your body, how it feels, Just notice and send gentleness . At this point, it may be uncomfortable but it’s no longer fear-producing. And it’s the fear of that pain that makes it seem unbearable, not the pain itself.
Pema’s first teacher–and author, artist, poet and great meditation master–Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said: “Put the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness.” Love yourself, however you find yourself. Identify yourself as part of all the other living beings that you’re practicing love for, too.
In short: Make friends with your depression.
Read the rest of this series at Spiritual Practice Success Stories.