I guess you could say that I’ve always been a flinger. I don’t sit around on my hopes like eggs waiting for them to hatch: I try stuff, and see what works. I massage them. I incubate them. I try prayer and meditation. When that doesn’t work, I start tapping on the shells. Eventually, I might throw them against the wall and watch them crack, and though I realize this isn’t progress, I feel better.
I fling. I’m a flinger. And when it comes to my problems, I fling even harder and with more conviction.
Depression isn’t an egg, of course. (Oh, how I wish it was.) Depression is a wall—one much stronger than I. Standing in front of it, though, I do what comes naturally. I pick up any tool nearby, and have at it. I make cracks. I wedge the cracks. I break the wedge. Then I try again. My efforts are formidable, but so far, they haven’t been enough. Since early childhood, depression has been part of my life–the “black dog” Churchill referred to, though in his case the dog came and went a lot whereas for me, the dog stays. It stayed through elementary school, when no one seemed to know anything was wrong with me, including myself. It stayed through middle and high school in spite of my self-diagnosis and plan for change. It stayed all the way through college and through my early relationship with my husband–times that should’ve been the best in my life. It stayed as my career matured and as my babies were born, and today, after years of medication and spiritual and physical effort, it is still with me. Relief has not been relief except by degrees, and mostly, I’m okay with that. Acceptance of my condition doesn’t seem to be my problem, exactly. A high degree of drivenness and a suspicion that the condition is curable might be.
The dog is just a dog. It’s familiar. It’s not crazy-making. It bothers me, but I can still function. At forty-one I realize that roughly half my life is over, and what I’ve done already I can do again. I’m strong. I have resources. I’m better by far than I used to be. But some people are good at taking their wins and taking a break. I am not.
Which is why I’m back at the wall, flinging even more. Working up a list of stuff I haven’t tried, or tried enough, and making preparations. In this book, I share my personal history of depression, but more interesting than that is the main storyline: everything I’m doing this year to treat the problem. Following my three other self-improvement memoirs that also use a one-year theme, Fling Therapy is the story of the year that I tried the hardest to overcome or further alleviate my depression. Some of the things I write about aren’t new to me: brisk walks, cognitive therapy, meditation. Others are: energy healing. A full counseling program. New medications. For a while I even quit coffee. There’s also a lot in here about something that still scares me a bit: psychedelics. Will I try them? If I do, will I write about it?
In addition to the journal, I share relevant research, a comprehensive-as-I-can-get-it list of depression treatments and several interviews with people who have had some success with their depression battles. My hope in writing this book was, of course, that my renewed efforts would yield significant, positive results. But I also wanted to highlight what I’ve already done that’s been helpful. Though as I said before I’ve had depression since childhood, for the past decade or so, I’ve been mostly well. Some might contend that this is mostly due to medication, and they wouldn’t be wrong, exactly; medicine works pretty well. But it’s not everything. Living well is the rest. And that is what I try to do every day.
My black dog–a heaviness in my chest–is always there. No one would mistake me for an ebullient person, but I’m stable, functional and grateful. The word that best describes me today is content, and that’s pretty good, though I’d prefer “at peace.” Eventually, I’d like to be truly happy some of the time, understanding that times of pain are important, too.
Overall, though, happiness isn’t what I seek. I used to say that I wanted bliss, but I don’t anymore. I just want to not be at least a bit depressed all the time. I want to be able to enjoy the things I’ve worked hard to obtain: my stable marriage, my happy kids, my fulfilling work, my beautiful home. I want to be able to sit the yard I care for, listening to my children play and feel … light. At peace. Not heavy, at least sometimes. If I can achieve that, it will be worth a good deal of flinging.
I’m doing it again: setting aside of year of my life to work on a single self-improvement goal. Past goals have been more spiritually-focused, but this one is arguably even more important: I’m throwing every treatment I can find at my depression, and seeing what happens.
Medications. Exercise. Spiritual practice. Alternative healing methods. Therapy. And more. I’m attempting each, and writing about what helps, what doesn’t … and what might be of help to other people.
Between my month-by-month account, I offer an as-comprehensive-as-possible list of depression treatments. I share my research in the great hopes that others out there will find what works for them, even if it’s not what works for me.
Stay tuned to this blog for my series, Fling Therapy: One Year of Throwing Everything I Can Think of at My Persistent Depression.
Mollie: I want to talk to you about a huge topic, depression. So many people experience this, some for many years. I have struggled with it my entire remembered life, and am currently seeking total recovery. My first question is, what is depression, exactly? What causes it?
Anonymous: Depression is caused by pushing down your energy, suppressing it.
Mollie: What is the primary technique you recommend for overcoming depression?
Anonymous: Meditation is essential. The kind I practice is dynamic meditation, which incorporates physical activity and helps us expand our energy. This expansion and release can help with depression.
Mollie: Some people say it helps to welcome the depression, to allow it rather than to fight against it. What do you think? Does this work? Or should I just ignore it, not give it a voice? For me, it always seems to get worse when I focus on it, but maybe I need to do so anyway as a first step towards acceptance?
Anonymous: Don’t suppress it. Give it a voice, but don’t give the labels and thoughts that accompany it a voice.
Mollie: So I should meditate on the depression?
Anonymous: Don’t meditate on depression. Meditate on what we call depression–the physical and other sensations you are experiencing in that moment–without labeling it. Don’t make it into something. Don’t put mind on it. The mind is creating the depression, and the mind is trying to get rid of it? No. That can never work.
There’s a saying I like: Not knowing is the most intimate.
Mollie: So do you think that if I do what you’re saying to do–meditate on the primary feeling of the depression, without suppressing it–that I will eventually overcome the depression?
Anonymous: I believe that this and active meditation can help people in your situation. But ultimately you need to do what works for you.
Meditation teacher Osho once said, “If you don’t feel much better after having meditated regularly for a time than you did when you started, your meditation practice isn’t working.” When I heard that I remember thinking, “What do you mean? Of course my technique is working. I feel better–a bit.” Later I understood what he meant.
Don’t stick with a practice for thirty years hoping that one day you will start feeling what you want to feel. Try something else.
Mollie: What if I can’t find something that works? Should I just accept that I am a depressed person right now, and make peace with it? Sometimes I’m able to do that.
Anonymous: I would tell you to work toward true acceptance, which comes when you disidentify with the mind. Not mere acquiescence.
Acquiescence is not acceptance. Acceptance is open arms. A full embrace. It is the knowledge that this condition or situation is an absolutely essential part of your healing. If your life was totally working the way it is right now, you wouldn’t be seeking the way you are right now.
Nothing fails like success.
Mollie: So, this disidentifying with the mind stuff. Can you tell me more about that?
Anonymous: The mind is an optical illusion. It feels like there’s a thinker, a mind, but really there are just thoughts. The mind is not real. You are real.
Mollie: What does it feel like to lose your mind identification?
Anonymous: It feels like you’re floating. You’re not pushing, you’re not pulling. But as long as you’re identified with the mind you are not floating. You are pushing and pulling.
Mollie: So the mind is this huge, powerful force that works against our emotional well-being nearly every moment of our waking lives. This just seems seriously unfair. Why does it have to be this way? Why does life have to be so full of pain?
Anonymous: Because it is. And so, you have two choices. You can choose to be a victim. Or you can choose not to be. You can believe that life is working against you. Or you can believe that you are just unconscious, and the Universe is doing everything it can every single day to wake you up.
Contributor: Gary Leigh. Gary offers energy cleansing, past life therapy, Bach Flower Remedies and more. Visit him over at psychicsupport.net.
When I was around nine years old, I began to hear thoughts in my mind that were talking independently. I would have conversations with them and eventually they got to the point where they would talk full-time. I don’t recall what was said now, but I do remember there were a lot of them and that they all became overwhelming.
As you can imagine, I assumed I was making this all up and it was just in my imagination.
Then around age eleven, I started to feel what I can only describe as a clawing sensation in my mind. It’s a very difficult thing to put into words, but it was highly unpleasant. It felt like something was trying to take me over. Not so much possess me, but eradicate my being.
Every day this would grow stronger until I was constantly engaged in my own hidden, private battle. As I could not really explain what was going on, I never told anyone around me until one night, when I was thirteen, I was staying with my mother at a friend’s place. I told her what was going on and instead of dismissing it as rubbish, she took it seriously. She had no answers, though.
But a month later, we went to visit these people who also happened to be Jehovah Witnesses. One night, she told them what I had told her, and the next day, they sat me down and told me that Satan was trying to get my soul and I needed to ask God for help.
So I began to do that and the attacks would stop for a short while, only to return a little stronger. So many times a day, I would say, “God help me, Satan be gone.”
In the meantime, I would carry on with my life as normal, and no one ever knew what I was battling. Over the years, I started to become weary and at the same time, more persistent with fighting Satan and attacking him back as best I could.
It was an ever-perpetuating circle and I was losing. Eventually, at age twenty, I had an epiphany that if fighting Satan with hate made him stronger, then maybe love would have the opposite effect. So I said to him in my mind, “You can join me, but only in love.” Then I sent him thoughts of love, compassion and peace.
The change was instant. The attacks stopped immediately, never to return–something I had never imagined was possible. At first I was cautious, just in case they returned, but instead of my old mantra of “God help me and Satan be gone,” my new one was a constant “Love and peace, love and peace.”
And that’s when my spiritual journey really started to take off.
Incidentally, this is a perfect example of the saying “What you resist, persists and what you look at and make your own disappears.”
What began after that was years of spiritual study and pursuit. I read everything I could find for answers to how the Universe worked, but true information was limited back in the 80s. Still, I slowly began to piece it all together. It took decades before I finally started to really remember who I was and why I was here and most importantly, why those attacks had happened.
Today, I practice sending love out daily. It’s a state of being now. It’s a message I’ve been trying to get out there for a long time. Especially for those so called spiritual warriors who believe that attacking and destroying the darkness is the answer. It’s not. You’re just feeding them a feast.
But love is only one part of the solution, which is why it doesn’t always produce the serenity that you desire. You also have to heal from past traumas and shift your perspectives.
True love is unconditional. It’s not judging others. It’s being there for all regardless of who they are. It’s compassion, healing and caring. But that does not mean you allow others to use, abuse or attack you. It’s standing in your own power and healing the lines that cause the attacks to begin with.
P.S. I can often do in a session or two what others tell me they have not been able to achieve in years of therapy. I heal the soul rather than treating the symptoms. If you would like to learn more about my services, visit psychicsupport.net. For full details of my journey and experiences, visit thephoenixarchives.com.
Contributor: Author Leta Hamilton, whose books include The Way of the Toddler and a four-book series called 100 Daily Messages.
Mollie: Tell me what your definition of meditation is—just your own. (Don’t cheat.)
Leta: Breathing with presence and awareness of breath. Breathing intentionally. Breathing and knowing that you are breathing. Breathing in and out with a mindfulness about the breath. Then, as you move through your day, things come and go and you are present to them. Life becomes a walking meditation.
Mollie: Describe for me your meditation practice.
Leta: I do a sitting meditation of five minutes a day where I am just sitting and breathing. Sometimes it lasts longer, but it’s always at least five minutes. Then I go back to my breath at all times of the day. I am praying consistently throughout the day. Not a prayer for something, just prayer. Life as a prayer. Life as a meditation. I pray peace, as my being-ness in the world. I pray in my heart with the mantra God, God, God. I say, “This—this—this is God.” I love what is and if I don’t love something, I watch myself as the observer and notice that I am not loving it and I love that I am not loving it. I step back and watch myself be in a situation and I love that.
Mollie: What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?
Leta: Breathe. Breath is so important. Just listening to yourself breathe in and out, in and out, in and out. That is enough. Five minutes of just breathing. Then, notice your breath throughout the day. Always go back to the breath. Remember to breathe consciously, mindfully and with presence. When you think of it, breathe. At all times of the day, remember to take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. You are breathing, breathing, breathing and suddenly, life becomes the meditation. Meditation and prayer come together in harmony because you are no longer praying as a plea for something to change, you are being the prayer.
Mollie: How long have you been practicing meditation?
Leta: Meditation has been in my life since my second child was six months old and my first was three and a half. That is about eight years. We used to walk William to his preschool and I would go walking with Oliver after drop off. He usually slept in his buggy and I would sit on a bench outside if the weather was decent or roll him into the apartment and sit on the couch if the weather was bad.
I would just sit and breathe. I continued with this practice when we moved into our new house and began to make a habit of getting up in the early morning hours before the children awoke. I sit on the couch and I just breathe.
If I don’t get up before the kids, I will look for another opportunity in the day to sit and breathe for five minutes.
Mollie: Have you had any unusual experiences during meditation?
Leta: After I’d been meditating for a year or so “religiously” (every day), and while I was reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, I had a very profound personal experience where I felt a presence in the room with me as I meditated. I cannot explain it other than to say that it felt real. Though I could not prove it was there, or point to any evidence of its existence, I felt the presence of another being in that room as clearly as I felt the presence of my own body.
This presence stayed with me—strongly—for a full week. After that week, it went away, but soon after that another “outside of me” thought came into my consciousness while I was meditating: to go to the computer and type in the word “Michael.” I did so, and onto the screen came a dozen or more images of Archangel Michael. At that moment a voice over my right shoulder said, “Leta, this is Archangel Michael and I have come to work with you.”
I did exclusive work with Archangel Michael for some time and then, while driving home one day from a meeting with a friend, I heard, “Leta, this is Gabriel and you are also working with me now.”
I cannot explain these experiences rationally. They are not rational. Yet to me, they are as real as the experiences of giving birth to my children. They opened up a new path of expansion for me.
Since then I’ve had other experiences that are not rational, either, but are also real. One night, for example, I was awoken in the middle of the night by my husband, who was looking towards the ceiling of our bedroom and saying, “What the hell!” When I looked up, I saw a geometric figure of light that was directly on top of us. It had patterns and intricacy that was beyond a moon shadow. He got up and went to the bathroom, and the light went across the ceiling and out the window. I said, “I saw it too,” but we never spoke of it again. This was the beginning of another “opening” to other dimensions and ways of communicating with non-physical realities.
Another experience: Once, I was in the car and out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a child. I thought it was one of my children hiding in the backseat and I called out to them. However, when I looked behind me, nothing was there except the invisible presence of something.
“Okay. Who is here with me?” I asked.
The answer came in the form of a light being I can only reference as an elf. It sounds crazy. However, to me, it was as real as if I’d gone to Middle Earth and met the Elfin Kingdom itself! I sat there in the car and had a conversation with this elf who was telling me that I was now open to receiving messages from the elemental light beings who reside on this planet in non-physical form.
I have conversations with trees that are real. They talk to me and tell me what is up with my life from the perspective of a tree, which is a very long perspective considering how long trees live. I have also been visited by the trees in meditation and taken on journeys that expand lifetimes.
Mollie: Have you ever been healed, bodily or otherwise, during meditation?
Leta: Through meditation, I have been able to receive the lessons my body parts want to teach me. I also have been expanded so dramatically that I can now communicate with angels and light beings throughout the cosmos and consciously extend my energy out in all directions and to every corner of the Universe.
Due to meditation, my inner world is just as exciting as the outer experiences of my manifested reality in form. I cannot say that everyone will have my experiences if they meditate, but I can say that what you are opened up to through meditation is so interesting, so mind-blowing and so much fun that it becomes your joy to be with yourself.
How many people can say they are truly in love with who they are? I am. I believe that the greatest healing this planet can experience is the healing of Self-Love. I love myself more than I ever thought possible. I also love what is. And that, in itself, is a great healing for the planet.
Mollie: What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they grouped together as a recognized belief system of any kind?
Leta: Put simply, All That Is is spiritual.
I believe in the sacredness of the dirty diapers and the dirty laundry as well as that of the holy ceremony. I believe that if anything, the dirty laundry is more sacred than the holy ceremony because there is no pretention in it; it just is. Laundry is laundry. How you perceive the task of doing the laundry is either awakened to its beauty, its enlightened nature, its perfection, or not.
There is no established belief system or religion to which I subscribe. I am not Christian. I am not Buddhist. I am not Hindu or Muslim. I am the one who believes in the sacredness of dirty diapers and dirty laundry. I am the one who believes in heaven right here, right now, from the inside out. I am the one who works diligently to remove all beliefs so I am left with nothing—the great nothingness of my being. I am the one who examines my beliefs, my stories, and removes them one by one until I am left with only what is.
I am not here for people. I am not here to be anything to anyone. I am not here for my kids. They come for me, so I may learn from them, but I am not here for them. I nurture them to adulthood, but they don’t rely on me for anything, cosmically speaking.
I am here only for the earth. I am here to raise her vibration, to bring her peace, to place her at a higher vibration in the galaxy and beyond. I am here to be a peacemaker for the earth. If that helps humankind as well, it is a blessed byproduct. First and foremost, I bring peace to my Self so the earth may be more peaceful and thus raise its own vibration, one human loving him or her Self at a time.
Mollie: What’s the best thing about meditation for you?
Leta: I have enjoyed making meditation and contemplation the way I am in the world. I exist with my family and do all the usual mom things, but at the same time I’m never more than a breath away from a wonderful lightning bolt, an “ah-ha” moment where I suddenly understand something about humanity or the people around me or the universe in a way that was mysterious a moment before. It is fun!
Mollie: We all talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?
Leta: Being in touch with God is being aware of the active, vital force within the Self—the electricity charge that animates the Self. It’s what is “behind” the manifested personality and the persona you call “you” in a conventional setting. I am alternatively relaxed, rested, overwhelmed, calm, angry, loving and all the other emotions of the human, life-on-earth experience, but none of them touch my trust and faith in the God that is always present in me as a living force.
For me, God is not a belief or an idea or a concept. It is a vibrating Life Force that I feel real-ly, as a real experience. It is like the Chi of Taoism. That is the only way I know how to come close to describing it. Images of God from my childhood of the man in a robe with a big white beard are nothing next to this force, which is faceless, formless, timeless and infinitely expansive. It is like I have electricity running through me all the time and it makes me feel very much a part of the cosmos—no matter what may be going on in the world around me (think: laundry, dirty dishes and chaos!).
Mollie: What about when you’re depressed or angry or a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?
Leta: I rarely feel that I am in a bad mood these days, but that does happen sometimes. Then, meditation does make me feel better. I notice the bad mood and am grateful for the feeling of being in a bad mood. I remind myself that it is only the biggest and best blessing a person could ever have! Through all of these different feelings and emotions, I am given the opportunity to love God more, to experience the life force that is within me even more broadly and to expand into new understandings I didn’t have before. I am grateful for all of it. There is always another night’s sleep to come my way and a fresh start in the morning. I always have the opportunity to see myself from a deeper perspective and observe what is going on as I am angry, grumpy or whatever. I can notice at any moment how I am feeling and honor that immediately. When I am frustrated, I am lucky to have that emotion! All of it is a great blessing and I am grateful to be alive.
Mollie: How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?
Leta: Meditation feels good all of the time, as does contemplation. Contemplation is a way of pondering through your day seeking greater understanding of all things around you. It is a way of going through life with a sense of humility so you are always ready to learn and expand. Humility is a great force because it gives you the space to learn and grow. What you discover is beyond explanation. It is bliss, pure and simple.
Mollie: What makes you continue to meditate?
Leta: Connecting to God, this life force I have described above, keeps me meditating and contemplating every day. I love how I feel inside. I love that in a moment I can go from “AAAAAHHHH!” (think: four boys all complaining about something at the same time, a house that was clean two minutes ago and is now a disaster, a dog that is barking, a husband who is not feeling well and a thousand other things that could be considered “my day”) to “I love you God. I’m so grateful. Thank you.”
Gratitude is always just a breath away. That is a really great feeling. I am beautifully blessed. There isn’t a lot else to it. It is incredibly difficult to describe. I don’t know if I have done it very well. I experience all the things that all humans experience, but I have a relationship with the inner divinity of Life (I call it God) that is hard to describe, but incredibly rewarding and incomprehensibly blissful.
Mollie: Is there anything else you would like to communicate to the reader?
Leta: I would want people to know that humility and surrender are great and powerful forces. They allow us to be moved in life to new vistas that are more glorious than anything we could have imagined. They allow life to work its magic on us. They create space for joy in IS-ness. They make the things we don’t like seem like gifts (and gifts they are). They give us room to unwrap the gift and see it for the beautiful thing it is. They keep us on our toes, looking for new understandings, broadened perspectives and inner growth. They enable us to go from, “I don’t understand this!” to “Oh, yeah, I totally get that” in about a millisecond (once we are practiced at it). I count humility and surrender as my very best friends in the non-physical realms. They make me laugh, cry good tears when I need them and have fun in life. So. Much. Fun!
I’ll give you an example. After I read over this interview to give my final approval before publication, I realized that I sound like a crazy person! I’d put myself in a hospital for deranged people if I weren’t so functioning and normal in every other way! Even though the things I wrote are true for my experience, I feel very exposed in the re-reading of them.
So, I come back to surrender. I come back to knowing that these feelings of vulnerability are perfect. It is a perfectly normal thing to feel outside of one’s comfort zone as you go into new places in your inner journey. These feelings are okay. I am allowing this interview to be whatever it is meant to be, whatever will serve the highest good, despite some complicated emotions about it and my feeling of lack of control. This is surrender. This is humility.
Contributor: Anthony Amrhein. Anthony became a trained New Thought minister, then served at the Center for Spiritual Living and the Beloved Community of Spiritual Peace Makers. He earned a degree in psychology and gained thirty years’ experience in the field of substance abuse counseling. Finally, he studied under enlightened master Gesshin Myoko, Master of Sound Yogi Russill Paul, Vipassana master S.N. Goenka, and Zen master Dae Gak, traveling often throughout the United States, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Costa Rica on his quest to experience the truth. Here is the interview we did for my book, The Power of Acceptance.
Mollie: What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they grouped together as a recognized belief system of any kind?
Anthony: No. I do not have a belief system. I relate most closely with the “crazy wisdom” of Zen. I call my meditation practice “the un-meditation”. For me, true religion is like a cheesecake. And the various religions are like the toppings on the cake. But no matter what the topping, when you bite down into the center of it, it tastes like cheesecake.
Mollie: How long have you been practicing meditation?
Anthony: I learned zazen from Gesshin Myoko in 1977 or 1978 and, over the following three years, practiced daily for weeks at a time. I would falter for weeks at a time as well until 1987. Since then I have been practicing zazen daily. I have also experimented with over 130 different types of “formal” meditation practices. Since they all produce the same result, I always return to zazen.
Mollie: What made you continue to meditate after the experience in 1978?
Anthony: My ego would not let me quit. At the time, I wanted to be enlightened for all the “wrong” reasons. What I got instead of that enlightenment was “nothing” other than peace and a lot of laughs.
Mollie: Tell me what your definition of meditation is—just your own. (Don’t cheat.)
Anthony: The word “meditation” is so loaded with preconceived ideas that I rarely use it. If I had to define it, I’d say this: Meditation is nothing more than sitting still and taking a good look at how the mind operates. In silence without the distraction of body movement it becomes easier and easier to see how emotions, desires and ignorance arise. Just a glimpse into the nature of the mind reveals that the mind is a conditioned phenomenon that operates in a series repetitive loops regardless of whether your true nature is watching or not. Your true nature cannot control these thoughts nor can these thoughts control your true nature. Thus these thoughts dissolve without attention and one’s life can change completely. Thoughts are chaotic but the space in which they occur is imperturbable joy and peace. That is just the way it is. Everything turns upside down. What was once interpreted as excruciating psychological pain can become quite beautiful when fully allowed to move within this space.
Mollie: Describe your meditation practice. Do you focus on a thought or image, or just not think at all?
Anthony: I just sit still. It’s the practice of allowing what is … whether beautiful or not, whether blissful or not.
Mollie: Is there a learning process to meditation?
Anthony: Not in the sense that you acquire something. My view is that it is more about letting go of the many conceptions we are addicted to rather than about acquiring some special skill. Simultaneously it is also a learning process in that we learn to trust what is and let go of any attachment to the idea that any person, place, or thing could be permanent. When the mind is still it becomes undeniably clear that our ground of being is fluid and moves. It is not something concrete or solid. I believe that is the significance of Jesus walking on the water. It was a demonstration of the fluid nature of our ground of being.
Mollie: Have you ever experienced a healing through meditation–bodily or otherwise? Can you tell me about it?
Anthony: Yes. I have been healed from a lot of drama. One day I decided to read the Bible. When I got to the ten commandments I realized I hadn’t disobeyed them in ages, but not because I had awakened and become a saint. It was because the drama wasn’t worth the momentary pleasure.
For me, it is as though the future and the present are the same. They occur simultaneously for me. This true of all things including financial prosperity. Because of this conviction, I experience the consequences of my actions in the Now.
My future is real. The only thing missing is time.
Mollie: How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?
Anthony: It is very rare that I experience either feeling during meditation. For me, the whole practice is about not superimposing any value judgments upon what is.
Mollie: What about when you’re depressed or angry or a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?
Anthony: Depression, anger and bad moods are valid sensations in my book. I sense that all enlightened masters have these physical-plane experiences. The difference is in their impermanence.
When an enlightened master gets angry, it’s like when a dog barks at the mailman. As soon as the mailman turns the corner the dog immediately goes back to chewing its bone without a second thought.
From my perspective, so-called negative experiences should be welcomed like old friends. We need to take very good care of these sensations like they are small children and experience them fully without resistance. Then these physical sensations dissolve all by themselves, seemingly through no effort of our own. But we have to learn to just sit with them, whatever “they” are.
Mollie: We sometimes talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?
Anthony: Well, I think these are probably both just irrelevant delusions. I once had a very real vision of Buddha. I was very excited and could not wait to tell Gesshin Myoko. She listened very attentively and laughed quite a bit. When I was finished telling my story she looked me straight in the eye and with deep sincerity and slightly sad concern said “Don’t worry. That will probably never happen again.” Then she burst out laughing.
I was so upset. I thought for sure having a vision of Buddha meant I was totally enlightened.
Mollie: What’s the best thing about meditation for you?
Anthony: This one is going to sound odd. It’s the discipline. There are benefits to doing at least one “formal” good thing for oneself on a daily basis that are ineffable.
What is your ultimate life goal?
Anthony: My ultimate life goal is to enjoy free time with the people I love. So I measure wealth and success in terms of free time rather than money or possessions.
Mollie: What is the goal of your meditation practice?
Anthony: That’s an easy one. There is no goal. I call it the un-meditation. There is nothing to gain but there is something to lose. The sensation of fear, for example, has completely disappeared from my body. But that was not a goal. It was a side effect. So when I sit I have no expectation. For me, meditation is nothing more than the daily discipline of knowing I did something good for myself. Meditation is simply a process of tapping into and paying attention to “what is” and experiencing the subtlest sensation of “what is” that the human body is capable of in this particular moment. And sometimes “what is” is not particularly pleasant. But that is irrelevant. What is important is to just sit with it. In many ways meditation is more like coming home to the body after having had a long day dream about somewhere else.
Mollie: Why don’t more people meditate?
Anthony: Without some sort of disciplined practice people cannot stand witnessing what their mind is actually thinking and doing. It is out of control. The average person finds lack of control very irritating.
Interestingly, the discipline does not have to be meditation. It could be dance, aikido, tai chi, yoga, baseball … just about anything. However, one has to find and practice their one thing. After about five years everything else falls into place seemingly through no effort of their own. It takes about five weeks of sitting meditation every day for twenty minutes a day to begin to see the beginnings of profound changes in one’s attitude and outlook on life.
Mollie: What is one of your so-called “success stories” regarding meditation?
Anthony: I’ve had so many, all completely different yet somehow all the same. A common denominator is that at the time I was experiencing the “divine” or “inexplicable” they seemed completely ordinary. I noticed nothing special until after the experience was over. I was completely incapable of forming any sort of reflective judgment what so ever because “what is” had my undivided awareness.
An example: I was sitting on a beach in Costa Rica. Behind me was an infinity of forest. The waves were gently lapping. Suddenly the thought occurred to me “God, haven’t I done everything you asked for twelve years now? Why can’t you let me repeat the bliss of my very first spiritual experience?” I was counting on God’s grace, but nothing happened.
Somewhat disappointed but also resigned and accepting, I stood up and began to walk. I looked down at my watch to see how many minutes of meditation I had “banked” into my spiritual war chest. (Are you hearing the subtle arrogance in all of this?) It was then I noticed my watch had stopped.
I began walking into the woods. As I did so, I found I could hear different creatures and miraculously locate them in space. Not only was my sense of hearing heightened, I saw more than the usual eight to ten shades of green. I felt I could literally see thousands of different shades of green so that the defensive camouflage of the insects and animals was no longer effective. I could easily see everything naked where it stood. But it all seemed perfectly normal. Everything was just being itself.
On that trip I was showing my aunt and uncle around Costa Rica. This heightened awareness experience lasted another three weeks. We had conversations that were typical yet somehow profoundly intimate. Everything just flowed. My uncle who is a self-made man and slightly on the crass side was overwhelmingly gentle and kind to both me and my aunt. It was as though he felt heard for the first time, if that makes any sense. Everything had a spontaneous yet purpose-filled sensation within it. Even the rocks felt alive. The trees were treeing, the waves were waving, the rocks were rocking and so on.
Then, it happened. We were headed back home. First we drove down the sandy beach road. Then we drove down the bumpy gravel road. Then we hit the pavement. Then we crossed the bay on a two and a half-hour car ferry. Then we stopped at the first light. Nothing yet. I was still in “flow-bliss.” Then we came to the second light. While waiting for it, it suddenly occurred to me that I am a business owner and I had important things to do when I got home. That was my first reflective thought involving the perception of future time and immediately I felt it enter my body. It was the physical sensation of fear. Almost immediately I realized I had been in the Zen Zone for the past three weeks and was amazed. It was my first thought of the past. Suddenly I had left the eternal and was back in the tyranny of time. I was “re-burdened” with the foolish concerns of the ego.
Believe it or not, almost exactly one year later I was sitting on that same beach when my watched stopped again, and again I fell into the bliss state. As before, I did not recognize I’d been in it until it ended with the idea of “I am important.”
Contributor: Evan Griffith, author or Burn, Baby, Burn: Spark the Creative Spirit Within.
Mollie: How long have you been practicing meditation? What was your first experience of meditation like?
Evan: In my teens in the ‘70s, my very conservative yet searching Christian mom brought me to a yoga class that ended with meditation. Later in high school and college I sporadically experimented with meditation. By my senior year I became so enamored with the possibilities that I created an independent study course in Human Potential with a friend—approved by the college!—that focused heavily on exploring different types of meditation, yoga, guided imagery, affirmations, New Thought books, sleep experiments and more. It sounds so normal now, but it felt daring at the time, a little less than four decades ago.
The most memorable early meditation I can recall was with a candle—simply focusing on the flickering flame. We were high so it really doesn’t count. But it intrigued me enough to want to try it in a normal state of mind. Once I did so, mind-altering substances utterly lost their appeal. To me it was the difference between a sloppy beer-party tryst and falling in love. Deep, life-long, love.
Mollie: What made you continue to meditate?
Evan: From my earliest meditation attempts in college, I took to it right away. Even while experimenting with different forms of meditation, I felt profoundly at home in the process. From then on, meditation was a part of my life—though I didn’t develop an ironclad daily meditation process until many years later, after an intense spiritual experience.
Mollie: Have you ever experienced a healing through meditation, bodily or otherwise? Can you tell me about it?
Evan: I’ve experienced many healings that I associate with meditation—bodily, financially, creatively, relationally. I even credit it with helping me find my life partner.
The first time I realized meditation could be used for healing was while reading a magazine. I think it was a yoga magazine, or Oprah’s magazine—something with a cool spiritual slant. There was a brief article about how meditators could stop headaches.
Immediately, I sat up a little straighter.
I’m a meditator! I thought. Why can’t I do this?
I decided to try their simple process: After my first inkling that a headache was coming on, I stopped everything and got into a meditative space. After going deeply into my meditation, I brought my conscious awareness into, rather than away from, the point of pain. Then I visualized conduits and pipes running through the area of pain with pressure building up in them. Then I imagined myself turning a valve to off gas the pressure, releasing the tension, releasing the pain.
The very first time I tried this, it worked! Maybe only a month or two into experimenting with this game I never had a headache again.
Techniques like these are counterintuitive. We’re always shrinking from pain. We unconsciously tighten up around the pain points, in an attempt to block them. But meditators—people with sufficient practice accessing that deep state of consciousness where reality plays out fluidly within the body-mind—can transform the pain with their focus.
Incidentally, I’ve described this process to a number of people over the years. I’ve never seen it work for a non-meditator.
Regarding other types of bodily healing, years ago I settled into a simple pattern whenever I would feel some kind of distress coming on: At the earliest opportunity I would drop into meditation and bathe the area with love and healing. Then that night before falling asleep, sitting in bed, I’d drop into meditation again. At the end of my usual meditation practice I would envision healing … and then fast-forward to the morning. I’d see myself waking up and feeling wonderful—amazing—having almost forgotten that I even had an issue. Then I’d see myself remembering the issue and smiling, thinking to myself, Oh yeah, that’s gone. Love that process. I love how things work out so freaking well when I set the intention deeply.
With this, I’d lie down and drift off to sleep.
This process has worked astoundingly well for me, to the point where I can go years without getting sick. It’s only when I get cocky about it and don’t go as earnestly deep in my visualization that I seem to have issues.
Mollie: What is meditation to you?
Evan: Single-pointed stillness. More specifically: An enveloping shift sparked by single-pointed attention in silent stillness. You start with you and your little mind silent and focused, and when it goes well you spring through a cosmic bliss portal.
Mollie: Describe for me your meditation practice. Do you focus on a thought or image, or just not think at all?
Evan: My favorite practice is what I call “love zazen.” In zazen you sit comfortably and attentively. As thoughts come, you notice them, then let them go.
My method is similar: First, you sit quietly and comfortably, engendering a feeling of love or appreciation in yourself. This becomes quite easy once you get the hang of it. If you’re having difficulty with it, though, conjure up someone you adore. Or something you relish doing. Or a favorite place, a treasured memory, or an experience charged with affection. Focus on that person or experience until you feel washed in appreciation or love. Then focus on the sensation, and let go of the image that sparked it.
Next, begin to observe your thoughts. One by one, notice them, then consciously fill them with the love you’re feeling. Often thoughts of things you’re keenly grateful for will come up. Love and appreciate them. If a thought about some difficulty in your life arises, let your loving appreciation sensation surround it, too. Find something to appreciate about that difficulty. Appreciate the hell out of it! As you do this, whatever rises up in your thoughts will whisper away, and you’ll be left with just the loving appreciation sensation.
I swear by the moons of Jupiter that I’ve resolved more issues this way than by any other method. If I miss a day of this practice, I miss it in the way you miss a person; I’m actually sad about it.
Another favorite meditation of mine is a listening meditation—simply sitting comfortably erect, and listening. You become attentive to the sounds surrounding you, as well as the sounds and feelings within you. If you’re out in nature you might hear a brook, birds, a dog barking, squirrels skittering along tree branches, wind picking up and dying down, blowing through and around what surrounds you. If you’re in a more urban environment, you’ll hear cars and people and snatches of conversation. You’ll hear sirens or music or doors or creaking. I’ve practiced this in New York City on Ninth Avenue with jackhammers going—it still works. After a while you’ll start hearing the beat of your heart and the coursing of blood through parts of your body. A little while longer and you’ll swear to God that all the sounds are being orchestrated together. You begin to feel part of a great symphonic movement that is being played through all the elements of Earth.
Mollie: Is there a learning process to meditation?
Evan: Yes! It’s primarily learning to relax into the process. And learning that sitting in silence for five or twenty minutes—whatever your commitment—is meditation. Regardless of outcome. Many people think they’re doing it wrong … they’re not. Sitting softly erect, going calm, slowing your breathing down, focusing on the method you’ve chosen is all it is. Even when you feel unfocused much of the time. With practice, the pauses in between mind sparks become longer, more sensuous. You begin to feel the space between your thoughts … and it’s voluptuous. Rapturous even. In time that spaciousness envelops even your thoughts. It’s a loving saturation that comes to permeate the entirety of your being. Soul, mind, body, the external world … they all meld into that loving, saturated emptiness. I use the term emptiness because that space is devoid of markers. It’s a complete absence of all the things we normally associate with existence. And yet emptiness doesn’t do it justice. Because it’s also dense with life energy.
Mollie: What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?
Evan: I would tell them to take it easy. Flubbing it is meditation!
Pick whatever method feels natural to you and go for it. Fifteen minutes of Internet research will reveal at least fifteen different methods. There’s no wrong way to evolve your way through your meditation practice. Try as many methods as you need. You’ll find yourself coming back to one or two favorites. That’s your cue. Explore those that intrigue you most.
Mollie: Sometimes we talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?
Evan: It’s like sex. There’s a commonality. But within that commonality there’s a widely diverse experience, from rote to ecstatic.
Belief matters, even in meditation.
Intention and expectation frame the meditative moment intensely. Once I believed it possible, asked for it, and then went into meditation allowing for a deep spiritual connection, that’s what I got. My God was it ever mind blowing. Even now, sometimes it feels as though my neural circuits are being overloaded, in the best of ways. As though my own wiring is being rewired into something better.
Mollie: Do you have a particularly fond memory of a meditation experience?
Evan: Here’s a funny experience that happened with my friend Gil, who was in the independent study course with me. In a book we read by channel Jane Roberts and spiritual entity Seth we read that in a rare instance someone expands too quickly in consciousness—and then bursts out of existence. It’s as though their body was not equipped to handle the sudden energy surge.
This became a running joke with us. As in, “Watch out, I’m feeling the meditation vibe tonight; I might combust at any moment.”
Late one night we both decided to go down to the lake and sit on a berm and meditate.
That night was windy as hell. In Florida we get these intense storms, and this was the precursor to a particularly intense one. No rain yet, just wind that was whipping limbs and trees around. We settled down to meditate, but after a short while I became uneasy—wildly uneasy. It just felt off, eerie. We were in the pitch dark, side by side just a couple of feet from each other. The wind had picked up even more. I wasn’t gripped with fear as much as foreboding, as though something terrible was about to happen.
I opened my eyes and glanced at Gil. I could only see his silhouette, but he seemed to be deep into his meditation. Not wanting to disturb him, I silently got up and headed back. My girlfriend was in my dorm room and I spilled out how relieved I was that she’d shown up—I was that unsettled.
Maybe five or ten minutes later, Gil comes bursting into my room, flinging the door open so violently he almost destroyed it.
“Whoa, Gil, what’s wrong?” we both blurted out. As soon as Gil could regain his breath, he huffed out: “Jesus, I thought you had combusted!”
Mollie: How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?
Evan: It always feels good to me. I drop very quickly into the meditative moment. I almost never find myself itching to stop soon—but I would certainly allow myself to do so if I were having difficulty.
I don’t set a timer or have any kind of prompt that ends a meditation session. I simply stop when it feels right. Consequently, a meditation can be just a few minutes to twenty, thirty or even forty minutes long. Most of my night meditations probably last twelve to twenty minutes.
During the day I am apt to drop into very short visualization-type meditations to suggestively pre-cast how I’d like an impending experience to turn out (a meeting, a negotiation, a conversation, an activity) or to ask for guidance or a solution to an issue. Sometimes I may be getting away from meditation and more into asking. I guess you could call it prayer. But I see it all as part of a continuum so I rarely make those kinds of distinctions in my own mind.
Mollie: What about when you’re depressed or angry or in a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?
Evan: Some form of meditative or contemplative or envisioning moment is my go-to method for any and all stresses. As well as all joys and triumphs and satisfactions. There’s nothing in my life that I don’t take into my practice of silence. It is that helpful.
The more I bring with me into the silence, the easier life unfolds. It’s that simple.
It is so effective a process for the turbulence that comes my way, that I know almost no other way to deal with issues. I say this with great respect for the importance of exercise, sleep, nutrition, expression and loving relationships as other pillars of a well-lived life.
I’m powerfully drawn to writing meditations as well. In fact, many days a week I write a Vision Page in the mornings. I also practice moving meditation, most commonly through walking. While driving I often speak affirmations aloud.
Mollie: What’s the best thing about meditation for you?
Evan: That it is so interwoven with the “rest of” my life that I can take it with me wherever I go.
Contributor: Art and meditation teacher Carrie Coe Phillips
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?
Carrie: 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”?
Carrie: 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?
Carrie: 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?
Carrie: 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. Leaning in to what you would normally reject turns ego upside-down. It widens your comfort zone and increases possibilities for learning and change.
Within ninety seconds of any emotion or sensation, if the emotion or sensation isn’t fed by concepts or belief and is allowed to be experienced as the primary sensation regardless of content, the source, or preferences, it is going to change, to morph, to decrease, to leave, perhaps increase briefly, but nothing remains the same. Not a thing is static.
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.
Contributor: Art and meditation teacher Carrie Coe Phillips
Mollie: How did you come to meditation?
Carrie: When I was a teen I was in a very troubled environment. I wanted to run away but I was smart enough to know I didn’t want to end up in a ditch. I had a friend whose mom had a safe-feeling home. In that family the aunt was a TM (Transcendental Meditation) trainer, and I watched as they all started getting into meditation and becoming even closer as a family. I took the training and found it was very simple. From then on, I never went back.
I did TM twice a day for twenty minutes for four years solid. It launched me into the next phase of my life in a way I could never have predicted. It helped me get to college and start earning my own money. It also helped strengthen my self-concept as an artist, and to deal with my mother.
For example, one day my mother (who didn’t like me meditating) burst into my room and got right into my face screaming. But because of my practice I was able to just open my eyes and watch the experience. Eventually she stopped, and ever since then things were different between us.
Other curious ways that TM helped me as a trouble teen: I left harmful friends; gained kinder, more positive ones; my grades drastically improved; I developed as a painter to the degree that knew I was an artist and would pursue it as a vocation; without guidance from others, or financial help, I managed to earn save and direct myself into a good college.
Most importantly, the meditation taught me to stay in my family home environment until it was the right time to leave. I turned my bedroom into my art studio, developed my interests and relationships and gained some self-control. To stay at home was to change my experience from the inside.
Mollie: Why do you like Buddhism? What makes it better for you than a more open-ended approach to spirituality?
Carrie: I like it because it goes right to the root of the problem. Some spiritual systems try to prescribe cures for every different thing that ails you. But there are only so many fixes. At some point you just have to get down to the root. Buddhism does this. It addresses anyone, no matter where they’re at or how unique their circumstances are.
Buddhism is a very simple but very profound thing. You can describe it in just a few words, and then you can spend a very long time trying to figure out what those few words mean.
Mollie: In Buddhism, are there rules for inner peace?
Carrie: Somewhat. In Buddhism there is a progression of truth, each stage of which is revealed to you when you’re ready. This is still relative truth, and it is the path to enlightenment. If we were already enlightened, there would be no need for this path; however, from where we are it is quite valuable.
As far as following rules in Buddhism, it’s not a contract or deal. There are rules to follow like guidelines. Relative truth is the path and we recall the ultimate until the relative is no longer fully operational. Grasping and fixation just drop off by themselves if you don’t give up.
There is a quote from Padmasambhava, who Tibetans refer to as a second Buddha: “Keep your actions as fine as dust and your view as vast as the sky.” This means that we carefully follow the guidelines while also holding onto the vast view, which is ultimate truth.
Mollie: What is the ultimate truth?
Carrie: Good question. The ultimate truth is emptiness with awareness, a nondual non-conceptual wisdom. Another way of describing the inexpressible is a Timeless Awareness. There are elements of love and compassion to it, too, and wisdom, which is the ultimate compassion.
Mollie: And what are the rules for inner peace?
Carrie: “Do no harm, do good, train your mind thoroughly.” This is one of my favorite quotes of Buddha because it outlines the path. Of course we practice all three from the very beginning. But hidden here, also, is the path’s three vehicles. “Do no harm” refers to the set of beginning or foundational teachings and guidelines from the Buddha that refer to daily habits of life and mind. “Do good” is a different group of teachings that focuses on others. It is a more expansive view of your practice and of the world. “Train your mind” refers to a third group of more esoteric teachings that focus on yet other methods for reaching enlightenment.
Mollie: If someone is interested in learning more about Buddhism, where should they start?
Carrie: It doesn’t hurt to start with meditation. Meditation is the heart of Buddhism. One thing I would point out, though, is that if you’re using meditation just to feel better, it’s not Buddhism. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but for Buddhists, meditation isn’t meant to be a way to feel better, or calmer, or to relax. The intent is to wake up, to increase your awareness, to let the mind unfold and show you its natural stability, its natural clarity and insight. With that, with time, there is an opening of the compassion, of the heart, and struggling does eventually abate.
Mollie: What, exactly, does meditation involve?
Carrie: There are four parts of meditation practice according to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I’m paraphrasing from his book Journey Without Goal:
1. Recalling the instructions and applying it (i.e. holding the posture, returning to the breath or other object of the meditation, not fixating on thoughts, getting to the cushion with consistency, or not giving up);
2. Relaxing (it’s built in);
3. Not judging, being gentle with yourself; and
4. Having a positive attitude that something good will come from this activity.
Mollie: So why meditate, then, if not to feel better?
Carrie: Many many people these days come to meditation to feel calmer or better. More come to it or to Buddhism out of loss or grief. Generally speaking, seeing your own dissatisfaction is enough to begin meditating.
I can say that with meditation you will feel calmer, better and more aware of everything, including your environment. Some find their clairvoyance, but these are fringe benefits.
Why not set out with a greater motivation than feeling better, with the motivation to wake up to your world? Meditation is a path of realization.
We meditate to know the truth. We do it because we suspect there might be more to life then then what we presume.
What books or other sources do you recommend?
The Lion’s Roar, an online magazine, is my my pick for you and your readers–handy, frequent, free, and packed with inspiration and wisdom. Also see:
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: This book might be advanced but I’ve returned to it many times. Different chapters at different points on your spiritual path give up its mysteries.
Pema Chodron, an important early student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and an American nun: Anything she has written or recorded will be helpful, especially one of her earliest books for people struggling, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s books, including Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, in particular for working with anxiety, which he describes having had a serious case of. He is also part of the interface of neuroscience and Buddhism. Look for him on YouTube.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s two titles, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind, and Emotional Rescue: How to work With Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion Into Energy That Empowers You.
For basic meditation instruction with a modern take on a spiritual path for beginners and intermediate study, read Turning Your Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. Also, his book Running With The Mind of Meditation for those on the run.
Contributor: Art and meditation teacher Carrie Coe Phillips
Mollie: Some forms of spirituality are more rule-based than others. In my limited experience with Buddhism, it seems that it is somewhere in-between the extremes: not particularly dogmatic, but at the same time, often prescriptive. What do you think?
Carrie: It can be dogmatic. It doesn’t have to be.
Mollie: Has there ever been a time in your life when you truly questioned everything that you believe? How did you circle back to where you are now? Tell me the story.
Carrie: Every so often I wonder why there has to be so many images in Buddhism. Coming from a background in which there’s a restriction against statues and images, it bothers me a bit.
I get different explanations for why they’re there. One is that historically the statues weren’t a part of it, and they were only added later after the Silk Road opened up (due to the influence of Greek imagery), and therefore they aren’t a needed part of the practice. Another is that the images are representations of enlightened energy, an enlightened mind. There is a myriad of methods for people at different stages of practice; some work for some people but not others.
Mollie: What if you’re wrong? What if after death you find out that Buddhism is just partly true, or not true?
Carrie: The Tibetan Buddhist teachings on both the death process and the afterdeath process are unlike any other teachings. There are very careful instructions on what to do. I have complete faith in these Tibetan teachings.
You know, when you meditate with some consistency, your mind will want to wake you up to the truth. Then, when you look around, when you listen to or read what’s been written by other meditators, and your truth matches the other person’s truth … now you are on to something. You have insight.
Mollie: What do you mean by insight? What kind of insight?
Carrie: By insight I mean a momentary flash of wisdom. You might not even recall it but it changes you on a deep level. Buddhists also call it clarity.
Mollie: Do you have clarity? How much do you have, would you say?
Carrie: Sure, I have some. There’s no way of telling how much. I can say that the more I meditate the more the chances are that I will.
Do you mean do I have flashes of insight? Sometimes. It’s not something you go looking for; you can’t direct it. And as I said before, the difference between ordinary insight (which will also increase with meditation) and true spiritual insight is that you will probably not remember true spiritual insight after it happens.
In a desperate attempt to cure myself of my depression, I read everything I could on the subject. I took the psychological approach as well as the religious approach. The stronger the depression, the more aggressive my search. Self-help courses and recovery groups brought minimal relief but never a cure. Each improvement was eventually followed by a setback.
I began to believe that I was inherently flawed. It was even suggested that I was possessed by an evil entity, a thought I rejected. And yet, when the feelings were at their strongest, I doubted myself and believed I might be. I became even more frightened.
One day, I realized just how terrified I was. Desperate feelings require desperate measures: voluntarily I went in for psychiatric evaluation. I began weekly therapy and was prescribed a drug which altered my mood almost immediately.
I gained many insights during therapy, but eventually the prescription drugs caused me to experience the side effects of hyperactivity, chills and headaches. I felt as if the cure was worse than the disease itself and so I took myself off the drugs without consulting my doctor (something I don’t recommend). I did, however, continue therapy.
I thought therapy had solved my problem with depression until I had an extremely devastating setback and experienced the worst depression of my life. Suicidal thoughts began to intrude into my mind, and yet no matter what, I would not surrender. I lived with my depression for years, just tolerating it. If depression was going to slowly squeeze the life out of me, I decided, it would do so without my help.
I struggled through, day after day, hiding my depression from everyone, but when I got home and I was alone I would realize I was exhausted. I just wanted to lie on the couch and do nothing. I felt hopeless. After many years of living this way and contrary to professional advice, I isolated myself, knowing when I was alone with my depression, I felt it the strongest.
One day I realized that I was at a standoff with my depression. It wasn’t getting any worse and it wasn’t getting any better. So, I decided to start analyzing what was going on with me. I knew I couldn’t feel any worse, so I might as well treat my condition as a mystery that needed solving rather than a problem to fear.
First, I went back to the basics. I looked up the word “depression” in Webster’s dictionary and found the definition: a disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, excessive sleep, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Yes, I agreed, the dictionary was intellectually correct. I experienced all of those things, but when I explored my feelings, I made some amazing discoveries.
One of my discoveries was that my depression was actually made up of a variety of strong unexpressed feelings interwoven together. These feeling included unexpressed anger. This entanglement of unexpressed emotions left me feeling like a net had been dropped over my spirit and pulled tight. The more I struggled, the more entangled in them I became.
Instead of judging my feelings of depression, I decided to observe them. I noticed that I was afraid of my feelings. I also observed that throughout my life whatever I feared eventually became my enemy. How did I make my depressed feelings my enemy? I did it by accepting someone else’s belief that my depressed feelings were dangerous. By accepting this belief unedited, I erroneously concluded that my feelings could lead me to killing myself. In making my feelings the enemy I gave them power over me; the moment I did that, they dominated and controlled my life for over thirty years.
After this realization, I decided to start allowing the feelings to come without being afraid of them. If depression was going to defeat me, I decided, I wanted to feel it absolutely. I was tired of running from the monster within.
This one change made all the difference.
Today, I view depression in a totally different way. I believe that my inner guide uses depressed feelings to let me know when I’m off track in my thinking, trying too hard, headed in the wrong direction, or not taking proper care of myself. I no longer struggle with “depressed feelings.” When they come upon me, I embrace them, and in embracing them, I can hear the message of guidance and advice that is being directed to me. When I hear the message accurately, the depressed feelings leave me, and I am filled with an exuberance and a renewed passion for life.
My advice to others experiencing depression: Allow your depressed feelings to harmlessly pass you by like clouds in the sky. You do this by choosing to intensely feel what you are feeling without judging what you feel in any way. If you are willing to let your feelings of depression become your friends–if you are willing to learn from them, embrace them–you too will once again be excited about living life generously and passionately.
In life we are either expressing ourselves or depressing ourselves. These days, when an occasional feeling of depression washes over me, I ask myself which thoughts and/or feelings am I depressing. Once I discover what they are, I express them, release them, let them go. I set them free so I can return to my natural state of mind which is happiness, harmony and peace of mind.
Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.
Mollie: Tell me about your meditation practice.
Subhan: I teach and practice active meditation techniques that incorporate body movement. The reason I chose these techniques is that when I first attempted meditation many years ago, I couldn’t do it; it was torture. I hated sitting still. One day in the midst of this learning process I went to a bookstore and asked the clerk what I should read about meditation. He directed me toward Osho, and as soon as I started reading it I knew his was the technique for me.
Our lifestyles aren’t what the monks of the past knew. They carried water, chopped wood and worked hard all day, which helped them release their emotions, allowing their minds to become less active. Then, when it was time to be still, their bodies were ready for it. We need the same kind of emotional release in order to ready us for stillness, for what I call “the Grand Canyon of silence.”
I invite you to go to our center’s website, worldofmeditation.com, or to osho.com to learn more about active meditation techniques like dynamic meditation and no-mind meditation.
Mollie: What about people who do have active lifestyles? Would you still recommend these practices?
Subhan: I would recommend that they try them. And that they try other techniques, too, until they find what works best for them.
Truth is what works.
Mollie: What is meditation?
Subhan: It depends on what you mean by the word. The meditative state is the state of relaxation, awareness and no judgment. It is the state of not thinking. Watching the thoughts, watching the mind, is the technique you use to get to that state. You know your meditation technique is working when, for a flash here and a flash there, you arrive into the state of meditation.
There are many, many people who are trying meditation techniques that don’t get them to the state of meditation. They may help them feel a bit better, but they don’t separate them from mind and therefore aren’t going to get them to the awareness, silence and stillness that they’re looking for.
Mollie: What do you tell beginning meditators about meditation?
Subhan: First, I tell them that meditation is not separate from life. The technique of meditation is something you have to create time to do, but the meditative state has to be part of all the rest of your life or there isn’t any substance to it.
Mollie: Any other basic advice regarding meditation?
Subhan: I often tell new meditators that in order to finally get what you want, you have to get enough of what you don’t want. Here’s what I mean: For each of us spiritual seekers there came a point at which we realized that everything we were told about the way happiness works, the way the world works, isn’t true. We did everything our parents and our society told us to do, but we were still miserable and unfulfilled. When we had enough of the anxiety, the fears, the worries, the difficult dances in relating with other people—the stuff we didn’t want—then our quest for true happiness began.
I often see new meditators give up very quickly. Partly this is because they don’t want to experience the emotions that meditating brings up in them, and partly it’s because they haven’t had enough of what they don’t want yet. They’re not ready.
Mollie: Okay. Now, let’s address the proverbial elephant. Are you a guru?
Subhan: No. I’m not a guru. I’m not a teacher. I’m a sharer. And who knows? Maybe even that’s saying too much. The truth is I have not a clue who “I” am
Any time there’s a notion of who “I” am, it usually gets shattered.
Zen masters say, “Not knowing is the most intimate.” It sounds odd, but the moment you finally stop projecting your ideas of who someone is upon them, when you finally decide to not “know” them (according to the mind), is when you experience the greatest possible understanding of who they are. This is also true of oneself.
Mollie: Are you special?
Mollie: There is nothing about your past lives, maybe, that makes you further along the path than others?
Subhan: I don’t play that game. Some people get involved in past lives, but I am more interested in this life!
I appreciate my own uniqueness and the uniqueness in every person. And I have no interest in trying to change them. I do have a mind that wants to try to change others and change the world. I was a lawyer in the past and I still have the mind to go along with that. But that mind is not me. I allow Existence to be.
Mollie: Existence being your word for God?
Subhan: There are many words. I like Existence. I like many others. What I know is that I’ve experienced moments of connectedness with something that feels so big, so vast, so beyond anything the mind can comprehend, that I just know it is real, whatever it is called. And then there are times when those moments are gone and the mind takes over again.
Mollie: Do you have challenges?
Subhan: Oh, yes. I love challenges. When I remember that I have support, they are wonderful.
Mollie: What do you mean by support?
Subhan: I mean things like meditation, relationships with people who are also on the path of discovery, and the words of spiritual teachers and mystics, and their books and recordings on spirituality. There are many more.
One of the great supports is to stop doing what you don’t love to do. Not filling up your life with have-tos.
Mollie: Are you enlightened?
Subhan: No. Yes and no. We are all enlightened, but most of us are also still identified with the mind, which conceals the enlightenment. I am often identified with the mind, too.
Mollie: How does one become enlightened?
Subhan: There is no way to teach that or describe that. It is a quantum leap. After having tried everything possible for six incredibly difficult years to disassociate from his mind, Buddha came to the point where he recognized the impossibility of getting somewhere that is not the mind. He sat under the Bodhi tree and surrendered—and then it came. He entered the no-mind space. Osho describes a similar giving-up experience leading to his enlightenment.
Until that moment of true letting go, we only get very brief glimpses of enlightenment. When this happens it looks so close, but it’s still very far away as long as the mind is there.
It’s a quantum leap. It’s illogical. You can’t get there by trying, and you can’t get there by not trying! What a paradox!
Ah, reincarnation. It’s the concept most associated with New Age spirituality, and one that when I was religious, I most loved to hate.
Now, I just love to love it.
This affection doesn’t make me an expert on the subject, of course; I’m a cafeteria-style, spiritual-but-not-religious type, not a Buddhist. I just know that reincarnation means I have other chances at this Earthly life thing. That’s enough information for now.
Sign me up. Details can wait.
The books on this list are those I’ve personally come across on this subject. I look forward to learning and reading more.
My favorites so far: Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss and The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation by Bruce Goldberg.
Best Reincarnation Books is part of a larger project, a curriculum I’m writing called Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday. Like this list, it’s an ongoing, possibly unending, project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.
Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives, Brian Weiss Spiritual Progress Through Regression, Brian Weiss Regression to Times and Places, Brian Weiss The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation, Bruce Goldberg
Other Recommended Reincarnation Books:
Messages from the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love, Brian Weiss Through Time into Healing: Discovering the Power of Regression Therapy to Erase Trauma and Transform Mind, Body and Relationships, Brian Weiss Only Love Is Real: A Story of Soulmates Reunited, Brian Weiss Messages From the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love, Brian Weiss Mirrors of Time: Using Regression for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Healing, Brian Weiss Same Soul, Many Bodies: Discover the Healing Power of Future Lives through Progression Therapy, Brian Weiss Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past Life Memories, Brian Weiss Only Love is Real: A Story of Soul Mates Reunited, Brian Weiss Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased, Jamie Turndorf Your Life After Their Death: A Medium’s Guide to Healing After a Loss, Karen Noé The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived, Lee Carroll Indigo Adults: Understanding Who You Are and What You Can Become, Kabir Jaffe and Ritama Davidson The Disappearance of the Universe: Straight Talk about Illusions, Past Lives, Religion, Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness, Gary R. Renard
Leta: When I am in a meditative state, which is to say, breathing with depth instead of shallow breaths, feeling connected to All That Is, feeling in a state of bliss, feeling “in the flow” and all the other ways we express the experience of being ease-filled … I discover that my thoughts and myself are two distinct things. I can be meditating and suddenly realize that I’ve been thinking thoughts the whole time, but that they feel as if they have arrived from an infinite field and are not a part of me (the essence of me) at all. It feels as if the “me” is infinite space and the thoughts are energy signatures that come from the outside in, but are not mine. They may, of course, have everything to do with this lifetime as I am experiencing it, yet there is a depersonalization to it. They are not the essence of me.
Therefore, the relationship I have with thoughts is that I have them, but they are not from me. They just are. They bounce in from the infinite field of consciousness and become personal to my life experience, but are not personal, nor are they “me,” nor are they “mine.” They just are. I have a distance from them. They occur, but they are not personal. They come and go, but it is like the bouncing ball, not an internal foundation of my being. I am the observer behind the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. I am distinct from the thoughts. No matter how personalized they feel (and of course they are very personal to what is going on in my life experience), they are profoundly not personal, not me at all. They have no relation to who I AM. They are. That is the best way I can describe it.
Mollie: In other words, while meditating, you are almost entirely separate from your ego? Can you describe that feeling a little more?
Leta: It is a very strange phenomenon. When I am feeling vast, I fall into that vastness and lose all dreams, ideas or hopes of being anything other than completely anonymous as a human. I go into this vast space inside myself and everything I need is there. I have everything. I have the impulse to disappear completely.
How this plays out in my life is that I have no desire to be present on social media. I cannot nor do I want to explain myself to anyone. There is no desire to even talk to anyone. I am here for those who want to talk to me, but I am not in defense mode. I only care to listen and speaking feels like a kindness I do for the benefit of all humankind as we do this thing together–as a species–of evolving. The thing that is missing from my life is the desire to be anything other than what I am right now or anywhere other than where I am right now. That is not to say I don’t have stress or feelings of overwhelm. However, I am grateful for them as I am experiencing them.
I don’t know how else to describe it. No explanation is ever going to be enough. It is felt, not explained. I cannot talk about it. I can only feel it. When I try to talk about it, like right now, it feels so inadequate and off-base. It is only an approximation of an approximation.
Mollie: I don’t think I’ve ever lived a single moment without desire. That must be amazing.
What is your greatest, most helpful spiritual practice in life?
Leta: NOTHING is what I insist is my greatest experience! Nothing is NO-THING. It is surrender and surrender and surrender until your heart is so full you encompass everything. You become no-thing and have room for everything. It is the galaxy I am talking about, the vastness, the opening up to galaxies and the whole universe. It is everything because it is nothing.
This admission feels vulnerable because I don’t want anyone to be denied the experience they are having right now, to ever think they are experiencing anything other than perfection every moment, no matter how unpleasant.
I want everyone to have their own experience, because it is theirs to have and it is perfect just as it is.
Contributor: Travis Thomas. Travis is a corporate trainer and performance specialist who created Live Yes, And. In 1999, he found improvisational comedy and it changed his life. Since then he has used the principles of improvisation as a tool to help individuals, companies and teams with personal development, culture, mindset and collaboration. He is the author of the book, Three Words for Getting Unstuck: Live Yes, And!
I learned about Byron Katie for the first time from a friend. I tried reading a book of hers but the concepts didn’t click until I listened to an audiobook and could really hear the coaching. I have been doing her method, The Work, on and off for about eight years. My other spiritual practices include meditation, prayer, and listening.
I wanted to share an example of how The Work helped me in an important way about seven years ago.
I just finished the first year in a new job and I spent most of the year feeling under-appreciated and under-valued. I saw my immediate boss as inflexible, obnoxious, and wrong most of the time. I disagreed with how he went about things and it seemed he never really cared about my opinion.
As the year came to a close and we were preparing for summer break, I realized that if I wanted to last another year at the job I needed to do The Work. I filled out a “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet (I know, it sounds strange; see TheWork.com for more information) and landed on the statement “My boss (I’ll call him Carl) should listen to me more.” It was clear to me that this was true because I knew I had a lot to offer and a lot of expertise, but it was also clear to me that Carl didn’t really want to listen to me.
I took the statement to the Byron Katie questions. I answered Question One pretty quickly. “Is it true?” Yes. Moving on to Question Two: “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” Well, I thought I could, but for the sake of this exercise I chose to be open to the possibility that maybe it wasn’t absolutely true. So okay, no, I couldn’t be absolutely sure it was true. Question Three is “How do I react when I think that thought?” That one was interesting: When I thought that Carl should listen to me more, I wouldn’t listen to him, either. I would disagree with everything he said and did, never giving him the benefit of the doubt or credit for the three decades of work he had done in this field.
I wanted him to value me more, but I didn’t value him. I wanted him to respect me more, but I didn’t respect him.
This was a huge eye opener for me. It was so clear that I had shut off my willingness to see any value in him, so of course I wasn’t going to feel any in return.
Then I came to Question Four, “Who would I be without that thought?” I knew the answer: I’d be an awesome team player. In fact, I would be his biggest cheerleader. I would be patient, enthusiastic, positive, selfless, and compassionate–the person I really wanted to be.
The turnarounds were also interesting: “I should listen to Carl more.” Yes, I clearly wasn’t doing that; what would it look like if I really listened to his ideas? The next one was a biggie, too: “I should listen to myself more.” That is the one that stung most. What all of this angst really boiled down to, I realized, was me not valuing my own ideas and having enough confidence in myself to present them without fear, oversensitivity and intimidation.
But it was easier to blame Carl instead.
The following year, I decided to change my attitude towards Carl, to be his biggest cheerleader and genuinely love him for all of the love he brought to the job, even if I disagreed with some of his choices. I worked on being open-minded and patient, as well as just liking him as a person. It should come as no big shock that our relationship changed quickly. Almost overnight, Carl started asking for my ideas all of the time. Soon I became his go-to guy, and we developed a wonderful friendship.
I ended up staying at that job for two more years, and enjoyed a wonderful and harmonious experience there. I remain friends with Carl to this day.
Mollie: Can you tell me when your depression began, as far as you know? Was there an event that brought it on?
Katie: My depression started as a teenager because I was bullied for being weird and different. But many years later, these were traits I slowly learned to love for how they caused me to break the mold and not always follow the status quo.
Mollie: What were the turning points for you?
Katie: Discovering the world of personal development was a big turning point for me. I discovered personal development when I started looking for the answer to the question, “How can a person be happy?” and realized that you have to create the changes in your own life that lead to happiness. I started reading books from people like Jack Canfield (The Success Principles) and also developing more of a spiritual practice and incorporating new things into my life like meditation, mindfulness, and teachings from the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron.
Mollie: What was your most effective strategy when starting out? Did the results last? What did you try after that?
I still do forgiveness work regularly. It’s like having a regular practice of gratitude or any other positive habit. Sometimes forgiving can be difficult, but you can remember the quote, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Healing your past is a good place to start, and from there you can add more positivity into your life.
Mollie: Do you believe that you were or are wired differently from other people? Meaning, do you have depression due to a chemical imbalance that is part of your DNA? Also, do you believe your depression can be healed completely?
Katie: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that, but I do feel that depression has both biological reasons and reasons caused by situations and circumstances in your life. I also think your beliefs, attitude, and thought patterns can have a big impact on how happy you are.
Mollie: Final question: On a scale of 1-10, how effective is forgiveness for healing depression?
Katie: I’ll give it a 7. It depends on what factors are contributing to the person’s depression, though.
“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.” ― Stewart O’Nan, The Odds: A Love Story
In the journey with and through depression, there are many, many turning points. It’s a spiral: You circle, and circle, and circle, but each turn is actually a move upward as well as back.
One of the turning points that I experienced recently regarding my depression was when I decided to appreciate the experience. Here’s how that happened.
One of the most difficult life situations I’ve found myself was my third pregnancy trimester with my third child. I was exhausted and very moody, and then I decided to take on an extra challenge: potty training.
Both kids needed help with this. Okay, not just help–total teaching. And even before beginning I knew how hard it would be. I knew that this was the time that I’d need to dig deep, really deep, so I could grow from the experience rather than just getting through it. My plan: I would appreciate my hardships.
I had just read Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That and I was determined to put his advice to the test. In the book he says that the most profound spiritual practice for him is to meet every situation that comes with one thought: I love this.
So I did. I remember one night in particular after an especially rough day that all I could do was sit out on the front porch, knees to chin, and cry. Well–that wasn’t quite all I did. I also reflected deeply on how much change I could feel happening inside. It felt like a wrenching, but also real change. Real growth. Growth that would not have come without a challenge like this.
At the end of that first week of potty training, I wrote the following journal entry:
Saturday: I am learning so, so much. Not knowledge-learning—really learning. Practicing. Changing my mind. Changing my habitual knee-jerk reactions. More specifically what I’m learning is:
How not to try to fix things all the time.
How to achieve inner peace in spite of turmoil and stress, and in the midst of it.
How not to try to fix things as my first impulse, but to first sit with the feeling, then fix it.
To truly love what is—meaning, to truly accept that my life will never be perfect and is not meant to be perfect, in spite of what some overzealous proponents of the law of attraction would have me believe. It’s not all about changing, fixing, getting, improving. It’s really all about acceptance.
Here is a summary of the past week and a half: poop on kitchen floor, playroom floor, office floor, friend’s floor, and in the bathtub; pee reminders/power struggles every 45 minutes for two kids; pee on every floor; pee in the bed; pee refusal temper tantrums two or three times per day; carpet cleaning; toilet misses; and a stinky bathroom for a week … learning how to say no more often; learning to be stricter and allow and ignore temper tantrums; and learning how to be more consistent with consequences.
What’s strange is that in spite of this, and in contrast to the depression I’ve been feeling so strongly lately, right now I’m happy. All week as the challenges came I took them one by one, and while doing so repeated a mantra in my head: This is the good stuff.
For the first time in my life, maybe, I’m really knowing the value of pain. Really loving the process even though it feels so unlovely at times. I’m realizing that I can be happy, even about my sadness. I am finally achieving inner peace.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. …Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Let’s face it. Alternative spirituality books are written for one reason and one reason only: to make us feel good. It’s not about self-improvement. It’s not about making the world a better place. We just want to crack the code for inner peace.
Fortunately for us, lots of them deliver. Not always as completely as promised, but let’s not be too picky. Most of us have a healthy number of issues to figure out. It’s a bit much for any one teacher to deal with.
Which is why many of us spiritual types read every good book on the subject we can find. Some give us practical techniques. Some shake up our entire perspective. Others simply offer a bit of hope.
And still others do none of the above.
In the following pieces, I offer my Inner Peace Greatest Hits–the spiritual-but-not-religious books that over the years have helped me become a happier, more fulfilled person. Each top-level entry links to a full article on the book that includes a personal anecdote and notes on the book.
Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Subscribe on the right for updates.
Self-improvement tips for the self-obsessed (like me): that’s pretty much what you’ll find here. Some are spiritual, some are secular, some are well-known and some are a bit kooky … but, in my experience, all of them work. At least, they work to some degree. (Even the kooky ones.)
78 Alternative Spirituality Life Hacks
The Spiritual Stuff:
Get a mantra–or two or three
Know the power of your mind
Know that you are strong, beautiful and holy
Don’t define your morality too strictly
Don’t put God in a box
Believe that you can
Read spiritual books
The Shallow Stuff:
Have nice friends
Buy new clothes
Get a (healthy) addiction
Play video games
Cut Your hair
Figure out what you want
Get what you want
Get a job
Get some money
Live somewhere you love to be
Travel, even if you don’t want to
Shop for friends
Get a hobby–or two or three
Sometimes, just take a long bath or shower
The Serious Stuff:
Pretend you’re already the best version of you
Don’t try to be funnier, cuter, happier or smarter than you are
Don’t believe all your thoughts
Understand human nature
Read books on psychology
Let yourself feel your feelings deeply
Cultivate a romance with yourself
Reconsider what you really need
Always get some perspective
Always tell yourself the truth
Find out who you are and do it on purpose
Be a real grownup
Get things done
Stop the little sadness before it gets too big
Sometimes, just give yourself a break
Read amazing, paradigm-shifting nonfiction
Throw out the blueprint
Don’t be too busy, but don’t get bored
Screw variety; do what works
Know when to try and when to just let things happen
Know that life is a game and play it on purpose
Be as intellectually flexible as you can be
Try, and try, and then try some more
Don’t expect too much of other people
Be passionate about a few wonderful things, and don’t hide your passion
Don’t assume anything about anyone, ever
Don’t hate optimists
Let people go that are gone
Beware of middle age and complacency
Make lofty goals
Keep a monthly checklist and put everything you need to do there, all in one spot
Find the beauty in your seeming flaws
Find the better-feeling interpretation in every situation
Find “flow”–at work and everywhere else you can
Notice your negativity
Don’t play the guilt trip game, especially on yourself
Do something nice for others at least once a week
Always do what you’re afraid to do
Don’t try to stand out for its own sake
Learn to love your own mistakes and to admit when you’re wrong
Contributor: Guy Hoffman. Guy is a full-time Florida-based artist and the founder of OmArtist.com, a blog dedicated to showcasing people who are creative with a purpose. Guy is an energy artist who creates figurative and abstract art with healing energy infused in each piece as he creates them. You can see Guy’s work on Instagram by following @creative365 as well as visiting GuyHoffmanArt.com.
My depression existed long before I recognized it. Here’s the short version of how it came to be.
First came my divorce in 2009. Shortly after that, in 2010, I became the caretaker for my mom who had a number of health issues. In 2013, about the third year into caring for my mom, I realized that something in me had changed. There were many times I felt that I was constantly moody, impatient and resentful, especially towards people in my family for not helping me with the care of my mom. I was sad, I felt alone and the things I loved doing (art, meditation, gardening, etc.) were dropping away quickly. I think that was the beginning for me but I hadn’t recognized it yet. In my head I just didn’t have time for anything else and when I did I was too exhausted to care. This would continue to get worse until 2016.
What happened next was my biggest fear come true. In December 2015 my mom was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. We were devastated. It was a week before Christmas and we carried on with our family traditions for the holiday, trying to make the best of the situation, but the reality was a lot to take for my mom and quite frankly for me, too. I watched her decline very quickly and the medical system had me so disappointed and so discouraged.
Cancer didn’t end up taking my mom from us. On January 22, 2016, she had massive stroke. She never regained consciousness and passed away the next day.
It wasn’t but a few days afterward that I fell into a darkness. Once all the medical equipment was removed and the house was quiet again, I was lost. I had been a caregiver for so long and now I was free of that responsibility. It was a blessing and curse.
I felt the initial relief of no longer having such an emotional and time-consuming care regimen but in the emotional mix, too, was the need to get used to all this time and quietness. A week later a friend asked me if I was okay. He said, “You haven’t been yourself for a long time. You haven’t created, written or photographed any work in so long and now you’re so sad, man. You need to get back to creating. You need to find your passion again and start healing.” Of course, he offered me any help I might need.
At first I didn’t listen to this advice. I was wallowing in my sadness. My dad had passed in 2010. I had this alone feeling that I can’t explain. My parents, the people who created me, were gone. My work at my job suffered. My physical health was declining.
In March 2016, six weeks after my mother’s passing, I decided to take a much-needed vacation from work. It was during that vacation that I connected with something in me that began the healing process. I felt like I needed to try to get back to some old practices and if I couldn’t make a change on my own I would need to get help.
I began to research natural and holistic practices that might help my depression. I improved my diet. I looked to nature for some help. There was some improvement. If I had to identify a turning point it would be sitting on a hill over looking a farm on a rainy day. I had been hiking and stopped to rest. I had been writing in a journal and I took it out and placed under my jacket to keep it dry while I thought about my next entry. Then, for whatever reason, I began to speak out loud. This speaking became an emotional conversation with my mom. I cried, then cried some more. This was the start of my healing. I could clearly identify how I was not living authentically. I knew what toxic things needed to be removed from my life in order to get healthy.
My recovery plan was to return to living in the moment. Mindful practices were the way forward for me. I resumed many of the practices that I had abandoned while being a caregiver. Along with exercising and eating right, I started meditating again. On a bad day I might meditate many times throughout the day.
Four months later I quit my high-paying but highly stressful job and returned to my creative practices. This is something that I am so grateful for. Art heals the mind, body and soul. I’m a testament to that.
For me, creativity plays a role in keeping me balanced. That depression I left behind still lives in me. If I deprive myself of creativity, I can feel it creeping back in. When my depression was at its worst, I was lucky
enough to realize that creativity would, at the very least, help me feel better in the moment. Then, when I returned to my creative practices I felt alive again. Without it I felt as though I had been missing this thing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I began to create again.
Today, my daily creative time is spent around drawing, painting, photography, writing poetry and many other creative practices that speak to me. I’m an explorer of creativity. For me there is a spiritual element to
being creative. There is a meditative quality to it that brings me joy. What better way to balance the darkness of life, than with the light of joy! What better way to live in the moment than to be fully engaged in the “thing” you are creating. I have used my art to express the nagging stuck emotions as well as the surprises of this beautiful life. In both cases I feel the benefits of creativity.
No one’s life is perfect, so whether I use my creativity to release darkness to allow my light to shine or just to express how grateful I am to be living a life that is authentic to me, either way I am left with this feeling of being grounded or balanced. For me that is what pulled me out of my depression. That is what continues to teach me how to balance all of the emotions, feelings, expectations and disappointments that I experience in
I think every human has the innate ability to create. Even those who say or think “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. People often want to narrow creativity to just drawing or painting but it has many forms. Everyone can find a creative endeavor to dedicate time to, such as cooking, decorating, art, music, photography, writing, crafting, coloring, gardening and on and on! There are so many ways to be creative, we simply need only try a few to see what we connect to or what makes our heart sing. That is the true power of creativity. It teaches us patience, acceptance, concentration, and it keeps us fully in the moment, to name but a few benefits. The lessons are endless but so is the feeling of joy once you find which creative practice really makes you feel alive. What makes me feel alive is to explore all things creative!
My healing began in March 2016 and continues today. I am aware enough now to know the difference between healthy thoughts and thoughts that can damage my healing. I know in my heart that the practices I do daily have everything to do with living healthy and depression-free but more importantly I know that the practices and the creativity are the way I live authentically. As long as I live in this authentic way I feel healthy and strong to take on any of life’s challenges as they come.
“Man will begin to recover the moment he takes art as seriously as physics, chemistry or money.” ~ Ernst Levy