Depressed mind produces negative, self referential, semi automatic thoughts. Negative and self referential means the thoughts are some variation of I am bad, inadequate, defective, damaged. Semi automatic means that the thoughts sneak up on us. It is the low murmur from the periphery, not the conscious voice of day to day commentary.
These thoughts make us feel bad and feeling bad produces more of these thoughts. This vicious cycle hinders depression recovery.
So how to work with thoughts?
River of thoughts
All thoughts arise, dwell for a bit and subside. Even depressive thoughts. Some stay longer than others. Some are fleeting. On Tuesday I have a great idea for a business. On Friday I look back in my journal and it is clear to me that that was a fleeting thought. Depressed thinking may recycle more frequently and pack more of a punch.I will always be alone, I’ll never get a job, I am a loser. Nonetheless, they are thoughts. Sentences floating across our mental screen.
In order to see the nature of thoughts, we invite and develop observing mind. Quite simply we make a radical shift in order to examine our thoughts. We move from I will always be alone to I am aware that I am having the thought that I will always be alone. This “I am aware that I am having the thought” is like a cosmic crowbar that creaks open the space between our selves and our thoughts so that the light of day can shine. It is a subtle but powerful declaration that my thoughts are not me.
This crack of possibility that my thoughts are not me allows some fresh air. To move from I am the only one on the planet who is this messed up to I am aware that I am having the thought, makes us ever so slightly more open to the environment. We breathe, we examine our thought like a specimen in a lab and eventually look up to see who and what is “out there” instead of being caught in the eddying “in here.”
Coming to our senses
That shift from in here to out there involves coming to our senses. Like waking from a dream we shake our heads and orient to a larger environment. Rather than swirling in the river of thought, we climb (or crawl) up onto the bank of the river and observe. We have an opportunity to feel the air, hear the rushing waters.
Potential for the pop
When we can come to our senses, thoughts can pop. Some thoughts are more tenacious than others. But others are like a precarious house of cards just waiting for the slightest breeze in order to topple.
Let me give a silly example.
I was having a meeting with a group of students about their satisfaction or lack thereof with their program. It was a give and take discussion, emotion was strong. I was responding to students inquiries with some intention to be thoughtful, attentive and grounded. One silent student seemed to be getting agitated as the discussion continued. Foot tapping, frowning, sighing, eye rolling. My concern grew and my attention was drawn to this student. Usually this man was quite comfortable expressing himself. I started to have all sorts of thoughts about how upset and angry he must be and what that was most likely about. I kept hoping he would jump into the discussion but he did not. Finally I asked him what was up.
I had coffee before class and I have to pee.
There’s the pop. I took my interpretation of his behavior to be reality. As he became more agitated I asked myself what is going on. When he shared his experience which had absolutely nothing to do with my thoughts the whole thing collapsed.
The pop can happen when we receive a piece of information that challenges and collapses our thoughts.
Summary not taking things personally
Now here is the cool thing. All of these five aspects reinforce one another. It’s a package deal. We can practice many many ways in our daily lives to enhance our sense of connection and awareness.
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