Mental Wellness

As several of us enter the dark days of winter and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lurks – I thought I would share some thoughts.

I am obsessed with mental health and wellness, especially combating depression, and therefore am a great proponent of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). In most societies people have to act like they have had the happy pill. We need to give ourselves permission to be sad. However, we also need to recognise that depression is not just sadness. It is despondency. If you have never walked in the shoes of someone with depression (and I have, early on in life) then you cannot know the feelings of anxiety, negativity, pessimism, lack of self- worth and hopelessness that comes over one. MBCT was something that I stumbled upon quite serendipitously when I suffered 30 years ago. It came to me through a most obscure source and I did not even know it was called that until several years later. I interpreted J.Krishnamurthy’s teachings (and if you have read them you wil know why I call them obscure!) which I absorbed through his books and in-person lectures, to mean just that. The phrase that stuck with great resonance was this, “the thought is not the thing described”. And just like that light bulbs went off in my head and I was able to separate perception from reality.

However, mere words can do nothing. Two derivative practices have endured for me. One, a discipline of noticing the filters through which I observe my actions, thoughts and feelings, clouded as they are by past experiences, learnt stereotypes and fear of the unknown. Two, facing all thoughts, feelings and sensations without trying to shut out those which evoke unpleasant bodily reactions – a churning in the pit of the stomach, tremor, racing pulse or dry mouth. I suffered through it all. Those initial years were tough. I needed the strength of my own conviction that this was the only way to live and I had to soldier on, one excruciating minute at a time. Thankfully today MBCT is a credible field gaining every day.

Simply defined MBCT “involves observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them. During a practice session, when the mind wanders, the meditator ideally takes note of where it goes, and calmly returns to the moment at hand, perhaps focusing on breath, bodily sensations or a simple yoga move” (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/03/cover-mindfulness.aspx).

I have had several people speak to me about symptoms which could amount to depression. While I am not one for labelling anything, I think it can be liberating for an individual to know that their “sadness” is not a character flaw but possibly a physiological condition made worse by an unconducive environment (represented by life’s stressors). They can be proactive. We don’t still know what MBCT does to the structure of the brain and physiology but it does dramatically and pleasantly alter how we react to our experiences.

No reason – I just felt compelled to share these thoughts today. There are number of youtube videos on MBCT which can give you more information. However, feel free to ping me if you want suggestions. Keep well!

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