Someone asked me “if that shit is what comes up when you meditate, don’t you think you should stop meditating?” This is an excellent question and got me to pondering.
All kinds of things come up during meditation: happy things, boring things, shitty things, profound things, hallucinatory things, banal things, pain things, and, if you keep going, nothings. Why keep sitting when what comes up is painful, awful, or unpleasant?
Well, it’s kinda like a fart: better out than in. It may be stinky and embarrassing but not letting it out leads to all kinds of real problems.
The thing with depression is that it’s kind of like having a really bad case of gas. You can’t stop farting and no one wants to be around you cuz you stink. And you really don’t feel too good about yourself either—contrary to popular belief your own does *not* smell like roses.
I have simply gotten to the point where I no longer care to hide my condition. I have been ashamed of my mind for almost all of my life, starting from when I was my daughter’s age.
When I was four years old, my mother took me to a psychiatrist to find out why I was such a difficult child—”why you are such a fucking brat” were her words. Years later, when I was in my late twenties, my aunt told me that the diagnosis was “There is nothing wrong with your daughter, she’s just extremely bright.” My mother never told me that part of the story. She always implied that there was something wrong with me, that I was a bad kid.
Now that I have a four-year-old daughter and my mother’s dream/curse of “I hope you have a child _just like you_” has been realized, I’ve come to a conclusion. My mother was full of shit. There was nothing wrong with me. I was, just like my daughter is now, going through the lovely four-year-old stage of angry defiance and tantrum-throwing to discover one’s limits. Annoying and frustrating to be sure, but normal and typical behaviour for the age and stage.
It would be very nice to simply let all of this go and move on, but I have a problem. Child abuse and depression have been shown to cause changes in the brain itself. In other words, my mother took a perfectly wonderful little girl and broke her brain. And now that girl is grown, she lives with the results of that every day. And some of the results are the post I wrote on Wednesday night: my mind spews shit, sometimes more virulently than other times. My practice of depression has been to acknowledge those thoughts:
- I hate myself
- I should kill myself
- I should harm myself
- My life is shit
- I am worthless
- Everyone would be better off without me
- I’d rather be dead
and then let them go. Again and again and again and again. My psychiatrist tells me not to expect that they will stop. Abuse and depression have altered my brain so that these kind of thoughts tend to be my first ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to any kind of stress.
And that’s the cruel reality of child abuse. It’s why so many victims grow up to abuse themselves—the pressure of these kinds of thoughts, day after day, year after year, can easily drive a person to violence and/or drug abuse. Hey, can you blame me for often preferring to get stoned and stay stoned? It is one way to make the thoughts stop. Last year, when mom was dying, it seemed like the only relief available to me. Whether that is true or not is highly debatable, but I believed it and it was so.
Sitting is a practice of being present with what is. In my world, what is is often painful. This is one of the reasons I find it easier to sit with others. When the shit storm hits, it is so extremely easy to quit sitting if I am doing it alone. (Hey, I never said I was a good Zen student!) I don’t know how all of this is going to pan out, but I do know that I’d rather sit through it than smoke it all away (although some days I question this!).
So although I’m tired and stressed and still recovering from being sick, I will keep practicing, even when I sit with shit. After all, it’s better out than in.
Happy solstice. May we all celebrate the return of the light.