Thursday, April 24, 2008

Depression and Meditation

This morning (actually yesterday morning--I wrote this in a notebook first), I got up for morning (Fajr) prayer, and instead of going back to bed in despair, to avoid all of the challenges of the day and my possible failures of them, I remembered my One Spirit Interfaith Seminary training, coupled with something a friend said at the last meeting of the Rumi Circle (a Muslim prayer circle in Montreal):

When you are feeling some "bad" emotion or are going through a hard time, don't run away from it. Just sit with what you are feeling and know that it will pass eventually.

So this morning, I felt depressed, and I sat and let myself feel it. I felt scared, but instead of covering it up, running and hiding and sleeping, I felt it.

I eventually sat and meditated, allowing those feelings to take the stage and be tasted, rather than boxed away. What I realized is that I give too much credit (and responsibility) to what I'll call my ego. Because of the way I used to operate--being the best at pretty much everything at school was the only option--I have this feeling that if I don't succeed, it's because I haven't pushed myself hard enough. Since failure to do certain things then (be productive early in the morning, get a book published immediately, etc.) is seen as a personal lack, I avoid even trying in order to avoid such a possible conclusion.

But in my meditations I realized that it's not me at all, in this sense of the word. Everything is a gift from God. For some reason this lesson was flowing into me out of the bookcase during my meditation, but anyway...

It seems trite and sentimental, now that my fears and insecurities are arising again as I write this message, safely formulated and packaged. But it is a deep and powerful truth, one which is felt best when it arises organically. But I'll try to bring it to life here.

For example, the morning is God's gift. It is not a challenge to me to be productive or a taunt I need to hide from by going to sleep. It is a loving present from the Creator. As are my meditations, my writing, my breath. When I see these as loving gifts, I can open to them and use them--and myself--gently. Even my depression and fear can be a gift, if I sit with them and use them to open myself to the flow of God's grace.

Two more things. Forget about feeling guilty for not being more God-conscious earlier; that defeats the purpose of this new awareness, which focuses on gratitude for the moment rather than serving your ego--don't let it trick you back into its chains! And I say this to myself. Secondly, this is a gentle process. After many years of just not getting it, I finally learned to meditate by reading the Golden Compass trilogy. While I'm not signing up for many of its more interesting points of theology any time soon, it did have some wondrous advice on the meditative state of mind. When Lyra uses her alethiometer, for example, she must feel her way into a state where she is open to its message, clear-minded and expectant, but without trying to force any particular outcome or answer. This open, in-between state I find perfect for meditation and religious contemplation, emptying myself of my ego and not grasping for something else to fill the void. A teacher of mine was once told by someone that she should not always be rushing around, looking to make herself a new image. Instead, she should stay empty for a while and let God show her the truth of who she really is. But be gentle, this truth is subtle and, for most people (for me), is long in discovering and embodying.

So as I sit with my sense of failure to write the "perfect" blog post, I feel the morning sun on my back, hear the birds sing as they gather breakfast or coo on new-laid eggs (like the pigeons on our balcony), and I know that attempts and mistakes are gifts from God. I don't fully understand it, but I can sit with it, in gratitude.


Caminante said...

Salam Katie!
Your post came just in time after receiving a not-so-happy email from my supervisor :(
Now tomorrow will be a new day, insha'Allah and hopefully I won't roam around the house feeling miserable :(
I'll think of you and God's gifts :)

Finally, realizing that buying The Golden Compass was not a total heresy and waste of money also helped :)


Me :)

Magda said...

Salam Katie,
A friend, Sertach, shared this blog with me and I don't know you. However, your entry on "Depression and Meditation" also came at a right I'm not having the greatest day today. So thank you. :)

I'm actually a convert to Islam...and it's really nice to see "Muslim writers" out there...:) as I'm creative in many ways myself.



P.S.: I would love to hear more about your can email me at

JUHI said...

I so hear you. I go through the same insecurities, of not doing enough, as if I need to keep doing something or the other to justify my existence. Sometimes, one just needs to let be. To understand rather than question. To feel, rather than allow them to lead you to despair. Indeed, life is a gift from God, to be enjoyed...

Kelly said...

Interesting post, Katie! (Found your blog via Rashed, who commented on mine.)

I find it fascinating that "The Golden Compass" helped you to learn to meditate. I taught a tutorial on "His Dark Materials" last year and plan a reprise this fall. I think it is a magical trilogy--the best children's literature has to offer.

Ellie said...

Hi Katie,
This post reminds me of this talk I went to at work about how Buddhist meditation and mindfulness therapy help people who suffer from depression, etc. It sounds like the right way to go.