December 2016 By Suzy Singh Suzy Singh offers an account of a young girl’s struggle with and journey through depression thanks to empathetic counselling Her petite form deceptively hid the turbulent storm she was carrying within. “I feel so angry,” she muttered, trying hard to disguise her anguish. “It’s like there is a bottomless hole inside me and I’m sinking into it real fast. No matter how much I struggle, I can’t resist its pull.” Her eyes brimmed with the tears that were threatening to overflow. “I’ve just been so depressed this whole week. The sinking feeling in my chest is always there, the panic is unbearable, the utter and complete hopelessness about life is so dark and yes, the worthlessness and frustration, it all makes me so aggressive,” she broke down. “And then… I just end up hating everyone for making me feel this way.” Hers was not merely a battle with the mind; the body was protesting too. She had never before experienced such severe attacks of acidity. The migraines had become persistent, and the tiring struggle with constipation every morning made her dread the rising sun. Her only escape was to hide from the world by burying herself in bed, but life wouldn’t allow that either. She still had to drag her body to work, do chores around the house, and tolerate unpalatable people all day. Besides, sleep had become an unfaithful friend. Her frustration, we discovered, was emanating from her fixed perception about how people should be and behave. “They can’t treat me like this,” was her constant refrain. Together we examined her need to control people. “Deciding how others should or shouldn’t be, presupposes that you know better than they do,” I counselled. “Besides, it also invalidates their free will. It’s like wanting to direct their lives, isn’t it?” Silence punctuated our discussion as the import of my words shifted her perception. “Well I do behave like that sometimes. Do you think I’m trying to play God?” She was beginning to see that this wasn’t about others but about herself. “But, this is how I make sense of the world. I need to put people into boxes so that there can be some semblance of order. If I don’t do that, there will be chaos. By defining how people should behave, I create order in my life,” she defended her case. This was a telling revelation. “The world we live in,” I explained, “is governed by its own dharma or operating laws. The first law states that the universe is constantly in a state of chaos. Everything is forever changing, moving, shifting. By wanting to order the world, you are opposing this universal law. The false belief that you can organise and control life by creating fixed rules about how things must be is perhaps the underlying cause of your migraines. What would happen if you were to let go of these dogmas, this need to structure your world?” “I will lose complete control.” she exclaimed, aghast. “I am scared of chaos. I’d much rather stay in my own box than venture out. It feels so unsafe out there.” It became apparent to me that some childhood trauma had caused her to shut down her boundaries, making them impervious to people. The world clearly didn’t seem like a safe place to her. I had to think of some other way of helping her break out of the box. “When a seed begins to sprout,” I continued, “the plant grows deep roots into the soil seeking nourishment, but simultaneously it also grows towards the sun. Similarly, we humans need to connect both with our own selves by going within, but also with other people by collaborating, sharing and engaging with them. By creating these high walls around yourself you have cut off an essential source of psychological nourishment that can greatly nourish you if you choose to engage with and accept people just as they are. This is important for your own growth,” I insisted. “I don’t want to grow, I’d much rather shrivel up and die,” she announced with disturbing certainty. The death wish was a common unconscious urge in depressed people. I had to carefully carve out her despair by using empathy and logic. “Help me understand why it feels so hard to let go of that box?” I asked in the gentlest, most loving way. She looked at me with fearful eyes and mumbled, “If I get out of the box, others will hurt me and I will die.” This then was her great dilemma; if she stayed in the box, she would starve herself of emotional and psychological fodder, but if she stepped out of her carefully created boundaries, she was certain of being wounded. I could see why she had chosen to stay locked up. “What’s the point of this life,” she broke down and cried, “it’s all so futile.” Her cheeks turned a deep shade of red. I placed my hand over hers as tiny rivulets flooded her cheeks. This was not an easy question. I too had introspected upon it for many days before the answer had unfolded. Perhaps if I gave her the gift of my insight, her anguish might not be so unbearable. “For a long time, I too wondered about the futility of all human efforts,” I said, holding her limp fingers between my hands, “and it often made me feel sad and hopeless. But recently I came upon a story that cleared my confusion. It spoke of an interesting ceremony performed by monks as a way of contemplating the truth about life. During this ceremony they spent several days painstakingly creating the most intricate and beautiful designs or mandalas in sand and then swiftly destroyed them upon completion. If one focussed solely upon the futility of their hard work, it could break your heart. But on introspecting upon its deeper meaning, a powerful lesson unfolded. I realised that the purpose of all human endeavours was simply to participate in the creation and dissolution of things, without attachment or self-importance. This was the second law of the universe, that creation and dissolution are inevitable and cyclical processes. And that the only way to live, was to embrace these cycles without attachment or resistance. That insight simplified so many things for me. It taught me not to be possessive about people and relationships or even my creativity and efforts. As a result, I was no longer driven by the compulsions of perfection. As long as I did things well, I could let them be, without obsessing about making them better. I no longer sought meaning in everything. It was okay to let things be. Patience became a better friend when I understood that everything would eventually come to pass, both the good and the not so good. So if people hurt me, I could choose to forgive them and let my resentments dissolve. If I made mistakes, I could apologise and be free again. When negative feelings arose in me, I acknowledged them without resistance. Humbly receiving the gifts of self-knowing they brought me, I bid them farewell soon enough. If anything stayed with me too long, I knew my dance with life would stop. So I became careful about not letting these destructive emotions get stuck in me. When happiness arrived, I enjoyed it and let it pass. When frustration visited, I listened carefully to the many interesting things it told me about myself and let it pass. And this is how I continue to practice now, allowing the many emotions and situations that come up, to flow through me, letting them all pass, so I can keep dancing on. “But then, what is the meaning of life?” she protested. I laughed, “Life, my dear one, is simply meaningless. There is no meaning out there in the world; it’s we people who attach meanings to things and situations. When we make a cruel interpretation about an experience, we suffer. If we make that interpretation positive, life doesn’t seem so bleak anymore. Our ability to think and reason is best employed in determining whether our thoughts, beliefs and actions are in alignment with universal laws. This is the only responsible way to face our fears. It isn’t you, but your meaning-making mind that keeps you stuck in that box. If you learn to dance with life, letting all things flow through you, nothing will appear to be permanently good or bad, because everything will simply pass. It will come, and it will go. And there will be no more painful experiences or terrible interpretations left to hoard. ” “So all I need to do is let things pass?” she repeated after me, astonished at the simplicity of it all. “Yes,” I murmured, “the truth is always simple. It’s just we who make things more complex than they really are.” A faint smile touched her lips as her mind awakened to this possibility, “I see what you mean… I think I get it.” As I waited patiently for her to integrate this insight, she went from looking relieved, calm and relaxed to being agitated once again. “Oh, my God,” she exclaimed, hitting her fist forcefully against her thigh, “I’ve been such a pain collector all my life. Can you believe I have wasted 32 years doing everything wrong? God, I’m just so angry with myself now.” She bent over and buried her head between her knees. “There’s another universal law I haven’t spoken of yet,” I continued, “and that’s the one you are opposing now.” She looked up, almost begging me to stop. Her unkempt hair and liquid eyes made me want to gather her in my arms. “As within, so without is the third law of the universe.” According to this law your inner feelings and thoughts create your outer reality and experiences. If you are angry inside, you will attract situation
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