Each day, I try to spend at least 1-hour of time to myself in moments I've learned to call “Time-in”.
There are two facets of mindfulness positively related to well-being that I try to prioritize during this hour:
- Acting with awareness.
- Non-judgment of the inner experience.
I usually start shortly after breakfast with a meditation practice, but that only accounts for 10 or 15 minutes of my time. I spend the rest of my hour in simple appreciation and awareness of my thoughts - no matter what arises.
When I was much more depressed, I thought I would spend my time better doing other things. Like answering emails or applying for new contracts. But there was no time allocated for self-inquiry. I thought I spent my entire day in my mind, so why would I need more time allocated to it?
As I've studied the mind and integrated the wisdom of neuroscientists like David Rock and Daniel Siegel, I've learned that time spent in reflection increases the ability to be present with reality and reduces psychological stress by improving behaviors that maintain or improve well-being.
It's the nature of the depressed mind to look inward and believe its limited sights are permanent restrictions. As if it's a problem of their design - we are born and told that we cannot lose our minds because it's the only one we have to use.
What an individual with a depressed mind doesn't perceive is they are not using their minds - they are being used by their minds.
We find ourselves at an age within a generation where we only value one thing: a cure to our stress and the distress of our so-called modern life.
As if these things are new to us - as if the technology or the politics of today's life created these problems inside of us.
As if the printing press did not distribute terror on a mass scale.
Even before that. The writings of Marcus Aurelius and other stoic philosophers tell us as much as we need to know about the distractible mind.
In the same breath from lungs halfway around the world, we can recall words that tell us depression and anxiety is not a new state - it is the natural state.
"Like a fish out of water, Thrown on dry ground, This mind thrashes about, Trying to escape Mara’s command." The Buddha, from The Dhammapada, Gil Fronsdal, Translator*
Gautama Buddha described the state of mind of most men as being a fish out of water. Not out of its element - the fish lives within its element regardless if it's in water or on dry ground - but flailing and thrashing as to jump indiscriminately to avoid the nonrandom power of death or desire.
What the Buddha recognized was the struggle to breathe - the reaction when confronted with a circumstance we do not enjoy - exhausts and kills the fish. By calming and silencing its nerves, the fish can focus its energy to ease back into the water.
We can adapt this analogy to the mind through all men in all periods.
Awareness of our natural state and acceptance of our suffering.
Anti-depressants are not about what we put into ourselves - they are more to do with what we focus our attention; it is the output of the mind that becomes the anti-depressant.
The trick to easing your suffering is to peel back the story and the language you are using to describe your state. I believe that anxiety and depression result from overactive egos. And I define the ego as a physical thing - a set of connections that are “always-on” in our mind. The neuroscientists call this our default mode network.
By ruminating and engaging in language, it constantly involves us in our problems and ultimately our suffering.
Learning to take a step back, breathe, and let go of the language that keeps us sick is the answer. But it's merely an answer.
Time-in is not a cure - because it will never cure us of innermost language - but a remission to the endless, negatively biased self-talk that keeps us thrashing about.