Two words that might mean very different things to different people. They really are some of the most importand things to try and keep hold of when living with depression I think.
I find it very very easy to let my eyes lose focus. I mean that both literally and figuratively. I can find that the computer screen in front of me is blurred and my mind is wandering. It has happened without me realising until it actually has happened. It can happen when I am working, when I am playing on the computer at home (I am a 12 year Everqeust player…), and even when I am driving if the road is long and straight. Not enough so I worry about veering off the road, but enough to have that slight feeling of “otherness”, of not being quite in the same place. Wooly.
It’s detrimental. When it happens I find it really difficult to get back into the here and now, it’s like my eyes enjoy the relaxation and don’t want to have to work again. It’s the same with my mind; it’s happily off thinking about whatever, and doesn’t want to come back to the present time and place to concentrate on the task at hand.
There is a (very) short story from China that a Zen master had a pupil who asked him “What is Zen?”. The master replied “Wash your bowl”. The pupil was naturally very confused by this, but with a little explanation it makes perfect sense.
Wash Your Bowl
The best life is one that is lived consciously, Zen masters would say. You choose what to do at this moment, so do it. No, don’t do it, BE it. Commit 100% of your consciousness towards whatever you are doing in this very moment. The Zen approach is that nothing exists except this one moment. There is no past and no future, just now. If you waste the now dreadming about tomorrow or reminiscing about the past then you are wasting your life. Tomorrow can’t be changed by dreaming about it, and yesterday has gone and can’t be changed.
So wash your bowl. Sweep the floor. Write the report. Cut the grass. Research the paper. Do whatever it is you are doing to the exclusion of all else.
Of course this is all well and good, but how does it refer to me, and in particular my depression? I find that it is actually very useful. Part of the way that my Black Dog attacks is through downtime. Inactivity feeds it like nothing else (Well with one exception but that is for another time). If I have something that holds my attention then I am far less likely to slip downwards, and here is the wonderful thing – you can choose to be interested.
If you decide at the beginning of a task (and that could be any task, from washing your hair to writing a discourse on modern fundimentalism) that you are going to devote the whole of your being towards it, then you will do it better than you have ever done it before almost by default. You will also, for the period the task takes, have no other cares in the world. This is the key. If you can direct the whole of your being towards one thing, there is none left for anything else, the depression has nothing to get it’s teeth into. Even better, it is something you can practise and get better at.
So wash your bowl.
This post is already quite a bit longer than I had planned, but I would like to spend a little while just talking about perspective.
It is very easy for any of us, especially those of us with a condition like depression, to lose sight of where we are in the world and what the rest of the world is doing. I can be incredibly selfish. Especially when I am down, I tend to think that everything is my fault and anything that does wrong in the house is down to me in some way. This is actually quite self indulgent. I don’t know about you, but my depression sometimes feels like a wooly duvet, and it actually feels good in a strange way to wrap myself up in it. Again, this is very selfish and self indulgent.
Trying to get some sort of perspective is helping me when I am in the situation described above. I am not there yet, but I have had a few instances recently when I have been able to catch myself on the brink of a downward spiral and not quite tip over the edge. For me it meant taking a deep breath and being mindful of what had just happened that I was getting worked up about, and trying to put it in it’s rightful place. If it’s something I have done, I try and think about the actual consequences rather than the hyper elevated situation my mind plays out and presents me with and which starts me spiralling. If I have (for example) put the washing machine on without any soap in it, or even without any clothes in it (Both of which have happened whilst in a bif of a “fog”) then that could easily start me off sliding. I might stand and stare out of the window whilst my mind plays scenes in front of my eyes of my partner shouting at me for being stupid, of dirty clothes that I can’t cope with. I might sit on the floor with my back against the counter and stare into space, unable to even comprehend what I have just done. I might stay like that for a long time.
If, however, I can get there before the pooch sinks its fangs in, and actually talk to myself for a few seconds. To tell myself that the absolute worst that could possibly happen is that I have to wash the clothes again, wasting a load of water (Not ideal from a financial or moral standpoint, but not the end of the world) and some time, then I can sometimes make myself see that this is just one of those things that happens.
No one was hurt, nothing was damaged, it’s OK
It doesn’t work every time, and I suspect I haven’t done a brilliant job of describing what I mean, but I hope you get the principle.
Well, if you got this far; Thanks and Well Done!! As always, comments are welcome so please do dive in and let me know what you think, if focus works for you, or you have tried it and it makes a difference.