The Practice of Unifying Principles


puf-thumbnailUnifying principles can take time to ripen, to become clear. And that is just fine. As you do the practice of Unifying Principles you are likely to find that they become more poetic and on the dot. Once you get the hang of it, the exploration can be pleasurable and relieving.

There are Unifying Principles that I share in my work that are often helpful for those working with mood disorder recovery. I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you. Please feel free to try them on and make them your own.

Come to your senses.
Mood disorders can result in a kind of thought traffic jam in your head. This is an invitation and reminder to come out of thought and into the world of your senses. Cook a meal, look at the leaves on a plant, peel an orange, massage your feet. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, it is possible to come to your senses. How does your big toe feel against the shoe or sock you are wearing right now?

Don’t make it harder than it is
The mind of depression will tell us that tasks are extraordinarily difficult if not impossible. Pay attention, see what is true. Challenge the thought. I find this Unifying Principle helpful for those of us who procrastinate.

Keep the project moving forward
There is a tendency especially with depression to discount the positive and focus on what is not done, or what is not good enough. “Keep the project moving forward” is a big view question. Maybe plans did not manifest in a certain sequence or with a certain outcome, but is the project (which is often living our lives) moving forward.

What do I need to break new trail
Going to the gym, buying new clothes, joining a group – all of these activities can potentially feel overwhelming. Acknowledging that a step feels very big and then seeing what support is needed can create movement. For example, I sometimes send folks to the gym to get the feel of the parking lot, the building, the front desk. There is no requirement to exercise because they are breaking trail. We will strategize together to see what might work. Perhaps going to a social function and making an agreement with oneself that you only need to stay for half an hour is a way of breaking trail.

Shorten the loop
Okay, this is a favorite for me. So often we expect ourselves to just change, to drop a way of being or doing that we have carried for years. That is not how change usually happens. Instead, we “shorten the loop.” If our habit has been to feel upset for a week after a disagreement with our significant other, to be able to reduce that to four days is shortening the loop substantially. The goal is not to “stop doing that!”; the goal is to shorten the loop.

Concept vs. reality
We always imagine what an event will be like: a new job or home, college, a movie, a meal. Pick anything you like. The reality is always different than our idea. I work with grad students in internships. Their idea is usually “This is going to be great!” And they are correct in the sense that it usually is great in the end. However it is also scary, irritating, boring, inspiring, and so on. When we actively engage in the texture of an event, there is so much more than what we have created in the movie of our minds with us in the lead role.

If things are getting thick, shift environments
People with depression will describe difficulty getting up in the morning, isolating, slipping into default activity because they do not know what to do with themselves. Shifting environments can be extraordinarily helpful because it creates contrast. A walk around the block, a trip to the local bookstore, yoga stretches in your backyard. Shifting environments can wake us up enough to choose a direction.

Change often happens on the periphery
We live in a society with a mostly linear orientation. Am I better, is the medicine working, is it over yet, did I do it right. Recovery often percolates off to the side in moments we might tend to dismiss. I put clean sheets on my bed and they feel glorious, sitting in the sun at the lake felt like good medicine, my friend called and we had a good chat. This Unifying Principle is a relative of “Come to your senses.” Relax and allow healing to happen in many ways and many moments.