Mindfully Confronting The Beast Within

Individuals who suffer from depression are some of the more self-judging people you will ever meet. Sure they judge others and the world (we all do this right?), but the sharp point of a depressed person’s judgement is always directed straight at themselves. It is important to understand that along with being an actual illness of the brain, depression is a mood disorder. People with depression experience a fluctuation in mood states, which just like the direction of the wind are as susceptible to quick change without a moments notice. Few things can put a person in a bad mood as quickly as self-judgement can. For a person with depression, good can turn to bad at the drop of a coin. It’s a chicken and the egg predicament: what comes first the judgement or the depression?

Depression was found by the World Health Organization to be the single most disabling disease. More than heart disease, cancer and diabetes, depression can totally knock a person out of the game. Dr Peter Kramer, who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University and wrote a groundbreaking book on depression called “Against Depression”, sees depression for what it is. ”It is fragility, brittleness, lack of resilience, a failure to heal,” he writes. “It is sadness, hopelessness, chronic exhaustion allied with corrosive anxiety, a loss of any emotion but guilt, of any desire but to stop, please stop, and to stay stopped, forever.” ”Depression is a disease of extraordinary magnitude,” he says, and ”the major scourge of humankind.” This scourge is what I call the beast within.

Buddhist psychology talks about “mind consciousness,” which is the main area where we focus our attention. In Western psychology “mind consciousness,” is referred to as the conscious mind. Feelings and thoughts are in our conscious mind from moment to moment whether we are aware of it or not. In Buddhist psychology the belief is that if we are not aware of the thoughts and feelings that are present in our “mind consciousness,” we are being run by them. Our most deeply ingrained and chronic issues are the result of having no ability to control or regulate our feelings and thoughts. Our chronic and habitual patterns (which are the result of our past conditioning) are in charge. When judgement towards one’s self, one’s life situation and others takes hold, depression is often an outcome that becomes inescapable (unless the person has an ability to become aware of the feelings and thoughts that are present in their “mind consciousness”). By becoming aware of thoughts and feelings, depression is not eradicated, but the individual is able to get control over the beast so it does not ravage everything and everyone in their life.

Daniel J. Siegel, Director of the Mindsight Institute, Co-Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and the author of several books, writes:

Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way. Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.

Through mindfulness practice, it is not that the individual becomes less judgmental, but they become more aware of when judgement is present in their consciousness. Mindfulness is a practice of being aware of what we are feeling and thinking, when we are feeling and thinking it. As a result we can avoid the messy outcomes that judgement often creates. In Zen, this process is referred to as being aware of the thought-feelings and allowing the thought-feelings to melt away slowly in the light of conscious awareness. If we are able to not get swept away into mindlessness by our thought-feelings and instead are able to slowly allow the thought-feelings to melt away in the light of our conscious awareness, we can then discover the great power of simply being present (non-reactive) with what we are feeling and thinking.

Normally, individuals who are in the throes of depression are colonized by their feelings and thoughts. The moment we are able to create some space around the thoughts and feeling, by paying attention to our breathing, feeling sensations in our bodies, being aware of the anger or judgement that is present, we are then able to become aware of more than just our thoughts and feelings. We are able to create a space or an opening within which the negative thoughts and feelings can simply rise up and then melt away, over and over again. This is what it means to be mindful.

Judgment, anger, shame, guilt, sadness or despair is one form of energy. Mindfulness is another form of energy. When the energy of mindfulness is able to make contact with the energy of thought-feeling states we are then able to rescue ourselves (and others in our lives) from the beast within. Like Zen Master Bu Mun often says, “Don’t give back the pain more than it gives you.” When we are able to be fully present with out judgement, shame, despair or anger along with the energy of mindfulness- the beast loses its grip over us because we have developed the ability to just let the pain (judgement) be there until it melts away.

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