Are current events getting to you? Getting you down? They are me.
Just a few recent items: The “killers in high places” (as Leonard Cohen calls them) are still murdering their citizens; priests and football coaches are abusing their kids; the black rhino is now extinct; our “leaders” are arguing like children while our house is burning – on and on…
I reckon it’s always been like this, but in the past it wasn’t in our face all the time. Now it is. The media is relentless.
There’s LOTS of good stuff happening out there too – of course there is – but that’s not what they’re feeding us.
What they feed us is fear and hatred – it’s a lucrative product for them.
While online recently, a pop-up offered me a brief questionnaire: 10 questions to check for signs of depression. I said to myself, “What the heck, I’ll have a look”. As I moved through it, I said to myself “Whoa!!! I’m checkin’ off too many yesses here…Uh Oh!”
What to do?
Jennifer Berezan, a beautiful, beautiful spirit, who recorded a totally wonderful CD called “In These Arms,” suggests on one track that our sorrow for all of this might serve us as “the door to an open heart.” It’s a short track – have a listen:
(BTW, the usual caveat: If you are reading this in your email, links often don’t work. If that’s so, click on the title of this post, which will take you to my site, where the links will work.)
Well, without, in the least, judging anyone who needs, and benefits from meds – if you and your doctor agree that it’s working, of course, you absolutely need to do that – I’m generally not one for pills myself. I don’t like pills much.
Indeed, on the subject of pills: Although I KNOW I’m not even on the same planet with Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Tennessee Williams and countless other creative geniuses and thinkers who suffered from depression – either on the extent of their suffering or their immense creativity…
I nevertheless do sometimes wonder whether I would ever have had the huge privilege to enjoy their priceless gifts of “Ode to Joy”, “Starry Night”, and “The Glass Menagerie” if these works of genius – and innumerable other masterworks which have enriched my life immeasurably – had been created by artists in all fields of endeavor over the centuries, who had access to Prozac.
Unquestionably, these artists paid a big price. I owe them so much gratitude.
All of which segues perfectly to the actual topic of this post, and a response to the question I asked above: So, what to do?
I recommend this menu: an appetizer of “metta” practice, followed by gratitude practice as the main course, and service practice for dessert.
I’ve found out that even one of these helps me, but these three combined help a lot to snap me out of my “funk.”
“Metta” Practice – Metta, a word in ancient Pali roughly translates as loving- kindness. It begins with the cultivation of loving-kindness towards yourself, then your loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings – not only the humans. You can do this inside a meditation practice, if you have one, or just cultivate this as a state of mind.
If you listened to just the one short track from Jennifer’s CD, (the entirety of which, is itself a beautiful manifestation of Metta practice), you may have caught the words: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be safe. May all beings, everywhere, be free.” That pretty much says it all.
Gratitude Practice – This one is soo powerful! The title of this post echoes the words of one of my teachers (Norman Fischer) at Zen Center. In a recent Dharma talk he referred to Gratitude as “basic hygiene for the heart”. Wow! That got my attention.
And, recently, I heard Dr. Andrew Weil being interviewed on NPR about his latest book, “Spontaneous Happiness”. He was talking on the subject of non-medication solutions to various illnesses, and on the subject of depression, he went right to the topic of gratitude.
One of his suggestions was the following: Just before turning in a at night, jot down a number of items, events, realizations, or insights from your day which you are grateful for, no matter how small. Weil maintains that there is clinical, mathematical proof, that this works to alleviate the symptoms of depression. People DO feel better after doing this exercise for a few weeks.
This should be sooo easy: If any of us is paying the least attention to what we are doing all day, and to what’s going on all around us all the time, there are countless things – big and small – to be grateful for. The trick is to bring our awareness to them.
Some easy “gratitude examples”:
-to my creator for the spectacular lunar eclipse show I attended at 5:00 AM last Saturday, and my front row seat on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean
– for the privilege of living in this paradise
– for the privilege of living
– to you, dear reader, for reading this
– for my wish to, and my capacity, to write this
– to my creator, for my fingers
– to, and for, my guests at Martin’s Soup Kitchen
– for having the energy to serve them
Get it? No problemo finding stuff to be grateful for.
But, just in case you need daily inspiration to prime the pump, check out this website created and run by Steve and Jarl – two dear souls and cherished friends. It’s called “Gratitude Twenty Four Seven”. It’s at www.gratitudetwentyfourseven.com. If you decide to sign up, a tip or teaching on gratitude will pop up in your mailbox every day. Have a look!
Service Practice – Our dessert course! Soo sweet! If there is one thing I have learned from my volunteer work at Martin’s, (and believe me, there’s way more) is that service work takes your mind off yourself, your problems, worries, whatever, and makes you focus on others. No matter how tired I feel when I arrive, I am energized and “high” when I leave. Every time. And every volunteer at every non-profit that I have ever worked at walks around with a big smile pasted on their puss.
Lincoln was right: It really does “feel good to do good”.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer is quoted as having told his students: “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
And Rabindranath Tagore summed up the connection: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
Finally, from Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Feeling blue? Do service. I guarantee results.
This whole post has been a practice tip, but on the topic of gratitude, and guaranteed to make you feel really happy and uplifted, I’ve embedded here a link to an exquisite video sent to me by a wonderful coaching client – a great lady.
It was created for TEDx by filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg. It’s titled Nature, Beauty, Gratitude. It runs just a few seconds shy of 10 minutes. Take the time. You’ll be happy you did. Really!
Here’s the link:
Oh yeah – and don’t forget to turn off the fear and hatred box!
Until we next meet, dear reader, I offer you my greatest love and respect.
And please, be kind – and grateful – to yourself.