Retreatant: I have a simple question. What is reality
Godwin Samararatne: At the moment, reality is just seeing, just hearing the sounds, just the breathing going on.
(From “Discovering Meditation”, by Godwin Samararatne)
What does it mean to be in the moment?
I realised this theme came up several times in my blog.
Like, the time I went on a solo day out in my home country.
There was also the time I held a cup of cold water in my hands and stood still, basking in the present.
Being in the moment was in my list of top 20 important things I learned in my twenties.
Come to think of it, it was implicit in last year’s birthday letter to myself. I didn’t write that letter to my past or future self, as many others had done. I wrote it to my present self.
Being in the moment means being in the reality of my present state. Observing the things going on around me. Feeling my breathing. Observing my thoughts: what are they? How do my thoughts interact with each other? What kinds of emotions and stories arise from these interactions?
It’s hard to let thoughts come and go, without reacting to them. Or passing any kind of judgement (“Why am I still feeling this way, I should have moved on by now?!”). Especially if there are all sorts of thoughts whirring through my mind. Thoughts that, if not handled well, can spiral into anxiety. Or worse, depression.
I’m still not a pro at this. But I try my best.
Therapy helped me understand myself better
I thought that since I was not suicidal or hurting myself, I was fine. I figured I could handle everything myself.
But she convinced me otherwise.
So, for the first time in my life, I went for therapy this year.
Therapy helped me be more aware of the emotions running through my mind. I learned to pause and ask myself “what am I feeling right now?”. Then, “OK, what triggered this feeling?” Followed by, “what can I do about this?” I learned to ask these questions of myself gently, without judgement.
Last month, I asked my therapist, “You’ve known me for a few sessions now. Tell me, what’s my problem? Was I truly depressed?” She replied, “What you struggle with, is that you get so anxious about things.”
She’s right. My thoughts tend to get blown out of proportion in my head. It might start with say, a rejection. The rejection whirls around my head, turning into something like, “I’m not good enough.” “I’m ugly.” Or worse, “I’m cursed.” Then I feel depressed and withdraw from people.
I still go for therapy, but less frequently as I can handle myself better now. I don’t expect to be “cured” for good. My ex-colleague told me that depression is like the flu, it comes and goes. The important thing is that I am more mindful of my thoughts and have better control over how I react.
The key to managing difficult emotions
… is to not suppress them.
My best friend, who is a clinical psychologist, taught me this a few years ago. Therapy reinforced it several times.
But Morrie Schwartz from Tuesdays with Morrie has the best explanation:
If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.
But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what the pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.’
Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, ‘All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.’
Kindness and compassion
My mental health struggles helped me recognise that everyone is fighting their own inner battles. Even if they seem cheery and easy going on the surface. Even if they seem to have the perfect life. Even if they are way more experienced and worldly than me.
When I started sharing with a few friends and colleagues about my depression, no one reacted with shock or disgust. In fact, everyone either had been through depression themselves, or know someone who did.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed about. Everyone struggles, and sometimes, the struggles can be too much to bear. Some people are lucky to have loved ones who help them through their pain, others cope with their pain in their own ways. I’ve learnt not to be too hasty in judging. I try to give everyone the benefit of doubt and assume good intentions.
2019 was the year I decided to take concrete action to help myself. Therapy was a big action. But there were the little yet important things too, like standing still to soak up the present. Becoming kinder to the people around me.
Self-care is an ongoing journey. I planted the seeds in 2019, and I look forward to the blossoming that 2020 and beyond will bring.