Walking The Big Black Dog

I haven’t written any new posts for a while for a few reasons. The first being that I was
spending time with family during the holidays, and not really doing any blog-worthy,
“touristy” things. Which was just fine.
The second reason was that for most of the time since my last post I was wrapped in a
funk that was tough to shake off. I couldn’t really see the point of writing, or of anything
in general. The things I usually enjoyed held little interest, nor did I have the energy to
take part in them. I walked around feeling like I was wearing one of those lead aprons
you wear during X-rays. Most of the time I spent wanting to stay in bed, curled up in a
ball. While I don’t drink, I could see the appeal. Everything was just…meh.
After I left Tisarana Monastery in Canada, I had a lot of time on my hands to ruminate
over a recent loss and betrayal of friendship. Instead of continuing the work with
feelings that came up, I used the spare time to distract myself: watching movies,
surfing the net, reading, eating tons of holiday sweets, and just hanging out.
I was walking “The big black dog” (as Winston Churchill called it) of depression. I hid it
from my family (although no longer, as they follow this blog) because who wants to be
a downer during the holidays? But there it is.
I also struggled with sharing it with others because there’s this held perception that as
a Buddhist, if someone is “doing well” in their practice, then they won’t have any
depressed thoughts. Like we’re all supposed to be shiny, happy people, 24-7.
It was good to spend time with family and friends though, and it kept me going. Having
people around you who love and support you goes a long way.
I also had the chance to talk with a few Buddhist friends and discovered that they too,
on occasion, had dealt with the same issues – even friends who have practiced for
years. Discovering the shared difficulty and shattering the perception of a “perfect
practitioner” was immensely helpful. I wasn’t alone after all, despite what the mind was
telling me.
At the end of the year, I returned to Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery to help with the
winter retreat. I’m now on the retreat schedule of increased meditation, and have been
tweaking my practice by including more body awareness, and refraining from investing
in the stories that depression tells the mind (at least sometimes). It does help. I’m
finding that Buddhist practice isn’t a guarantee against depression, but it gives me
great tools to work with it. I’ve also been walking more, doing more yoga practices,
taking vitamin B12, using a SAD light, and ruminating less (mostly).
Also key has been remembering that this is not “me”. It’s a “tropical depression” in the
sky of who “I” am, of time and space. It won’t last forever, and is passing through at its
own speed.

All of the things above have helped, and while I wouldn’t say I’m back to being a
“shiny, happy person” (if that truly exists), the forecast now is fair to partly sunny. I find
myself laughing a bit more often, and am at least more peaceful. I’ll take it for now.
My next post will be about the monastery where I’m staying, and what I’m currently
doing. But for now, I wanted to share what had been going on. I almost didn’t make
this post, but I decided that there’s strength in sorrow shared. If there’s someone out
there that can benefit from knowing that they’re not alone, then it’s worth having
people know I’m not perfect.
Ok, you probably knew that already, but it’s tough to drop the ideal sometimes. Thanks
for bearing with me.
Be well and…peaceful.

Author: mettatsunami

In 2009 I was working full time in medicine, and living a life that was alienated from what I truly valued. While volunteering with a local hospice, I began to wonder: "What would I do differently if I had six months to live?". This began the impetus to change direction. While it has been a case of two steps forward, one step back in many ways, there has still been slow movement in the direction of a more authentic life. Since the pivotal decision to change direction, I have been a Buddhist nun, returned to lay life, changed Buddhist schools, returned to medicine part time, and then full time, quit again, traveled extensively, trained in yoga, spent time in several Buddhist monasteries, and am in the process of how to live according with Buddhist and yogic practice and values, and how to streamline this life into something worthwhile. In the Theravadan Buddhist practice, one of the daily reflections is "Has my practice born fruit with freedom or insight, so that at the end of my life, I need not feel ashamed when questioned by my spiritual companions?". That is my practice. My goal in this blog is to share the journey along the way.

13 thoughts on “Walking The Big Black Dog”

  1. Thank you for sharing your feelings and what you have been enduring. You certainly hid it well while you were here during Tkanksgiving. I am sure going through your belongings that had been ruined during the “flooding” didn’t help, however the Thanksgiving dinner at Seven Springs may have helped to bring a bit of joy. Know we love you and had we known your state of mind would have taken that “black dog” on a few walks in the woods with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mom. Actually, letting go of things is always helpful, so I didn’t mind. And spending time with people I love is always good, even if I don’t always share what’s going on. Love you

      Like

  2. Hi Denise,

    Thanks for your update and honesty, with full appreciation and understanding. You definitely are NOT alone!!! I was wondering what you’ve been up to and where you are. I’ve had two friends who recently have been or are still in India… one with 100 photos of all her cooking classes, the other with many animal photos. So interesting the different perspectives and interests.

    Maybe you know I spent 5 weeks in S. Africa, also visiting Namibia and Lesoto — fascinating and learned so much, yet all I can think about is those living in the segregated “townships” – some 1.5 million — back at the end of Dec.

    Right now I’m at MGH, waiting on upper left lobectomy of my sister – and last week it was my ex husband having quintuple bypass surgery…… So lucky to be here and have medical help available.

    What I”m energized about is becoming a volunteer chapter leader for Dinging for Women. If you have access to internet – check it out. It encompasses so many of my interests – http://www.diningforwomen.org

    Sending you all my strength and healing thoughts – for all that you have seen, been endured and will be.

    love, gail

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Denise,

    Thanks for the update. Up or down you’re still a great person and it’s nice to know how things are going. It sounds like the weather is improving. The days are sunnier and getting longer. And with patience the rain will give rise to flowers again. Be patient and keep in touch. tom

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was despair that brought me to ardently practicing Buddhism. My husband suffers from SAD and depression, the things you described…. no reason to get up, walking the dark dog, unmotivated. I found that Buddhism, particularly the Ajahn Chah lineage approach, gives me tools, or treatments, to emerge from those dark and despairing places. I continue to learn more. And spiritual friends along the way are, indeed, vital. May you find solace and cure, to deal with depression when it arises, and to believe in the lightness when it arises.

    Liked by 1 person

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