I don’t feel depressed anymore

Last night it suddenly hit me that I don’t feel depressed anymore.

I’ve been so focussed on feeling good I didn’t even notice. But there it is: I don’t feel depressed!

Twenty something years of focusing on things that felt bad, enough to make my emotional “average” a negative one.

Two-ish years of learning to feel less bad, then better, ramping up into my thirty day Happiness Challenge and now my easy-going “feel good all day” theme.

So yeah…there it is. Who would have thought that the secret to no longer feeling depressed was to focus on feeling good instead?

It’s obvious in hindsight, and it also seems incredibly easy and straightforward now too. I know it didn’t always look that way, and that’s also testament to this amazing change.

For anyone else suffering from depression, well, I was deeply cynical about this “positive thinking” stuff too. But I can appreciate now that I have steadily and consistently trained myself to focus on thoughts that feel better and better, with the promise that it’s my thoughts alone which create my reality.

A cynical view is that my depressed perspective was “reality” and I’m now simply deluding myself.

But I can’t pick out a single thought that would constitute “delusion” now, nor is there a single thought responsible for my better mood.

I just feel better without even trying, but I know that this is due to all my work retraining my thoughts to uplift me rather than bringing me down.

The power of inspiration

I’ve been learning martial arts for 23 years, and in the beginning I was inspired by the thought of mastering these arts.

But as a beginner I tempered my inspiration, mindful of the gap between reality and expectations.

Inspiration kept me going but “realism” held me in check. As years passed I ceased to be a beginner, but I felt further than ever from the mastery that inspired me.

Disappointment crept in, and I grew embarrassed and then ashamed at my lack of skill.

Why was I not progressing? Why did I feel like a perpetual beginner? How could I have so little to show for my years of effort?

Realism and self-sabotage

When we pit inspiration and realism against each other we unwittingly bind and sabotage ourselves.

The more inspired I was, the more harshly I criticised myself for falling short of my ideals. I didn’t know how to draw on inspiration without then beating myself up.

I thought inspiration was about realistic hopes and goals and measurable progress, and in a sense that is true; but inspiration is also the fuel and the transformative power and the inner knowing that makes the goal achievable.

Inspiration is not motivation

I’m now learning the difference between inspiration and motivation. Motivation is what moves you into action. My goal of mastering Kungfu motivated me to practice.

But inspiration is much more than just movement into action. Inspiration informs and guides action with greater insight and wisdom than we could deduce on our own.

Motivation can set you on a path but inspiration creates a path all of its own.

Rediscover inspiration

Inspiration itself is ultimately about feeling good.

When I’m inspired I feel excited and satisfied, enthused and revitalised. My body feels more energetic and alive. My mind is clearer and more alert.

And when we feel this good it means we are in tune with our desires, our own inner being, and our “God’s-eye-view” of life.

So find your inspiration, revel in it, and feel it renew and guide you on your journey.

Count Your Blessings Day 10

Getting picky!

I can feel all of this work coming together.

I’m laughing a lot more and feeling good a lot more.

I’m really sensitive to “old stories” that don’t feel good.

In fact some things that felt good before – like my morning routine of getting my son ready for school – don’t feel so good now.

I want it to be an easier, more enjoyable process for us both. And it’s as if being happier has raised my expectations.

I don’t want to rush, and I don’t want to feel pressed or pressured. So I won’t.

It actually doesn’t matter if he’s late for school. What matters is that he gets enough sleep and we have a good time together.

What I love is walking him to school, playing the feeling game together, talking about how good the day is going to be.

I love the trees along our walk, especially the enormous fir tree in front of the old college.

I want to live among trees like that. That’s my dream.

I wrote all that just minutes before waking him up. While his breakfast cooked I helped him get dressed, and now he’s 90% ready, with 10 mins to go, and he’s still able to watch his favourite YouTube channel.

It can be easy, if we allow it to be! And we allow it by focusing on what we want and really feeling it.

Later

The walk was fun. If I focused on getting there my son got slower and more tired. But if I focused on enjoying the walk myself he sped up to walk alongside me.

We ran into an old friend on the way there and she stopped to chat as we walked along.

I’m now sitting in a garden beneath the amazing fir tree while I finish this post and ask myself “what next?”

What next?

I was contemplating wrapping up this Blessings series because I missed a day and wasn’t sure how to keep it going.But I can see that’s coming from a feeling of worry, when really there’s nothing about blogging that should inspire worry.

So I’ll keep letting it evolve and see where it takes me.

For now I think my original purpose has been served. Counting my blessings changed my perspective of what blessings are and how many I have.

It’s beyond counting now. Yet the focus on appreciating what is in my life is still valuable.

For appreciation to become my dominant feeling I need to practise it.

Melancholic learning styles

I’ve had a few people turn up here searching for problems that a melancholic might experience in learning.

I tried writing a reply, but the attempt to be thorough killed my motivation.

So there’s the first clue: motivation for a melancholic is vital.

I learn best when I have a single burning question to answer, an intuition to explore, or an idea to develop.

So I really get Confucius:

The Master said, “Ts’ze, you think, I suppose, that I am one who learns many things and keeps them in memory?”

Tsze-kung replied, “Yes,-but perhaps it is not so?”

“No,” was the answer; “I seek a unity all pervading.”

An alternative translation refers to a single thread that binds all of his knowledge together. That’s what melancholics need, I think, at least when we’re trying to learn.

A single thread

A few weeks ago after martial arts practice, I asked a friend about his learning process.

His explanation of how he learns was completely foreign to me.

He said that the martial art we learn is made up of lots of different components that need to be developed in parallel. When he focuses on any given component he can tell that out of ten repetitions, some will be better than others. That gives him a clear sense of how he needs to improve. He simply knows what direction to head in.

By contrast, I find it confusing to think of lots of different components that each needs strengthening. I prefer to think of these components coming together to form a coherent whole. And this means having a highly-developed theory of how the martial art works. I seek a unity, all pervading.

Likewise, the idea of simply recognising when one repetition is better than another is outside my experience. I don’t know what direction to head in unless I have a theoretical framework to guide the way.

Why do I need strong theoretical support for a physical activity?

Well, remember that the melancholic is characterised by being unexcitable, with enduring impressions. It’s hard to learn anything when you aren’t excited, and that’s why melancholics need a strong motivation in the form of a question, an idea, or a problem to solve.

Without these things, the pointlessness and tedium of study and practice becomes unbearable. It is so much harder to retain 100 pointless facts, than to solve an interesting problem, even though you might learn the same 100 facts along the way.

With physical activity the approach to learning is similar. Instead of pointless facts, we have an array of sensory data that makes no sense without a theoretical context (like a question or a problem) to help us shape and frame it.

Without a theoretical framework, all the information from my body streams in like a torrent, and I can’t tell what is relevant and what isn’t.

There are days at training where my whole theory has burst like a bubble against some countervailing revelation from my teacher. I try going through the motions, but it feels as though I have no idea what I’m doing.

After a while I remember the parts of the theory that haven’t been shattered. I slowly piece it back together and try to reconcile it with the new data. Eventually I’m back on track.

From an outsider’s point of view it would look like I’ve suddenly forgotten years of training in an instant.

So that’s one aspect of the melancholic learning style. It sounds pretty bad.

The positive side of it is that once you’ve mastered your theoretical grasp of the subject, you know it inside-out. You can take it places no one else may have even thought to take it. And you can quickly see the connections and the contrasts with other theories, systems, and ideas.

In other words, whatever you have learned becomes a part of the greater all-pervading unity.

Who practices?

I started reading books about mysticism and religion when I was a teenager. They appealed to me because they seemed to offer the ultimate self-control, insight into the true nature of reality, and freedom from suffering and pain.

It wasn’t until very recently that I found a book on mysticism which explained the path in sufficient depth and detail to make a difference. But at the same time, those intervening years were full of the kinds of life-events that made me ready to hear the same teachings with greater clarity.

I had finally realised that what I viewed as self-control was actually an undesirable state of inner tension, that wanting to be free from suffering was driving me to reject reality, and that seeking to understand everything was just a subtle way of seeking control.

So I found these deeper teachings and practiced them. The core of it was a practice of recognising all one’s reality – both internal and external – as consisting to the best of our knowledge in the form of mental impressions.

Taking a Cartesian angle: is there anything that is not – to the best of our knowledge – a mental impression?

This doesn’t mean that there is no external reality, or that things are only mental impressions. The point of the exercise is simply to recognise that mental impressions are the total of our experience.

This teaching runs very deep. Subject-object dualism, cause and effect, imagination and sensation, the persistence and identity of objects over time, all of these are experienced as mental impressions.

The only thing that is not experienced as a mental impression is our consciousness of mental impressions. Consciousness is like the eye that can see everything but itself. Yet we know it exists because we see by it.

This radical teaching and mode of practice reduces our experience to the simple dichotomy of forms and consciousness – where consciousness is experienced as empty of forms.

But since the forms themselves lack substance and permanence, this distinction is ultimately insubstantial. Hence the Heart Sutra:

O Sariputra, Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.
The same is true for Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.

Now take a moment to consider the nature of these teachings. They arose from the experience of some individuals, were written down, transmitted, and communicated broadly.

People hear the teaching, but it only takes root in them if they are ready for it. In those who aren’t ready, it is misinterpreted, dismissed, forgotten, or ignored. In other words, it is like the parable of the sower who sows the seed that lands on different kinds of soil and is eaten by birds, strangled by weeds, or on good soil grows up strong.

Some of us wish we are ready when we really aren’t. The difference between wanting to be ready and actually being ready is like night and day, especially when the teachings themselves pertain to the illusion of a self who is in control – a self who may even be full of the desire to be ready.

If we put aside the illusion of self-control we can see that reality is shaped by profoundly complex causes and effects. From this point of view, being unready is simply the outcome of various causes; readiness too is just the further development of additional causes.

You can’t make fruit ripen faster on the tree, it’s ready when it’s ready.

At some point we can therefore ask ourselves “who practices?” or “who is practising this teaching?” The answer that comes to us is as if the teaching is practising itself.

These moments of clarity do not last for me. I’m told they one day become permanent, but only when we are ready. Only when there is no more sense that clarity might vanish and be lost.

I need more practice.