I have been reading a wonderful book about meditation and running called Running with the Mind of Meditation, and I wanted to share a few passages from the book with you. The passages are from a chapter titled “Happiness”. But first, let me give you some background on why this chapter may have resonated so strongly with me at this time.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life. There are times that I consider myself ‘in remission’, and times when the disease (yes, I do consider it a disease) grips me and puts a strangle hold on my life. I am currently experiencing one of those times. To give you an idea of how I experience depression, I will describe what life is like for me on a typical depressed day. I wake up, but I am not refreshed, and my brain feels like someone has wrapped it in cotton. It is hard for me to organize my thoughts, and therefore difficult for me to focus and get things done. I am easily irritated by little things, and big things are downright show-stoppers. You know those depression medication commercials where the people walk around with paper plate smiley faces that hide their frowns? Yeah, that’s totally how I feel.
During these difficult days, I become obsessed with happiness. When will this be over? When will I feel better again? Mentally I pick apart each facet of my life, trying to find the thing that caused this dissatisfaction. The problem with doing that is, not only do I usually overestimate the part played by each little thing in causing my depression, the act of dwelling on it only makes me feel more miserable.
A few weeks ago, I was rather dejectedly reading Running with the Mind of Meditation when I came upon this short paragraph, which stood out like a lighthouse beacon to my stormy mind:
“Happiness is not a goal, but a by-product of mentally and physically healthy activities. If we engage in these, happiness of mind and body will ensue” Author Sakyong Mipham goes on to say that making happiness your main objective is sure-fire way to ensure you won’t reach it.
So if striving towards happiness is fruitless, what can I focus on? Sakyong Mipham has an answer. “The secret to long-term happiness is engaging in activities that are healthy, mentally and physically….Mental happiness comes from mentally healthy engagements, such as love, generosity, and compassion. Mental unhappiness comes from self-centeredness, anger, pride, extreme mental states, excessive emotions, and too much discursiveness.” (Discursiveness is too many competing thoughts-I call it mental garbage.)
I can exercise-move my body-which is positive. I can eat healthy food and drink enough water. I can think positive thoughts. One thing I have done in the past that I am going to start doing again is to write a small journal entry every day. In it I describe two things that made me feel positive feelings that day, and I rate the intensity of that feeling (on a scale from 1-100). The rating helps me find something to record each day, even if it only made me feel mildly happy.
I can meditate. Meditation is a form of mental exercise. Like training the muscles so they get stronger, we can train our minds to become stronger as well. By focusing the mind on something, whether it be the breath, or a topic such as love or compassion (my favorite is peace), we rein in our minds so that we are more able to control them. It’s kind of like taming a horse. The tamer the horse is, the more work we are able to do with it.
Making happiness a side-effect of good living, rather than the main objective of life allows me to relax (I no longer have to stress about being happy). Focusing on actions I can take to positively affect my life creates real intent–something tangible. And by making happiness more of a means to an end, and not the end itself, I can focus more on a much more important goal–wholeness.
I will probably always have depression and anxiety, as long as I live this mortal life. However, I find encouragement knowing that, when the bad days come, I can do something to ease my suffering. And in sharing my experiences, I hope I can help someone else who is struggling, too. Namaste, friends.