Read an Excerpt
In the middle of the path through life,I suddenly found myself in a dark wood.
Dante, Divine Comedy
When, I was seventeen,, I went on a canoe trip with two friends in the wilderness of northern Ontario. We were on our own, with little more than: our canoes and- some dried rations. None of, us were experienced travelers.
We thought we could do the, trip without any, help, relying on nothing more than our own resourcefulness and some good maps. But five days into the trip, we found ourselves utterly lost. We looked to our maps and we backtracked over our path, but still the landmarks we expected were nowhere to be found' A long, rapids and waterfall were not where they were supposed to be, and there seemed to be a lake where one shouldn't have been. We were lost in unfamiliar territory, and our maps, and all the other resources we depended on within ourselves, were useless.
When at thirty-seven I found myself in a severe depression, the experience was much like being on that camping trip. I was again lost in unfamiliar territory, in a frightening yet beautiful place. All the landmarks were gone. Obstacles suddenly appeared where they, shouldn't have been. The maps I had come to depend on showed nothing of the territory in which I found myself. Worst of all, I didn't even know myself that I was lost. And if I didn't know, how could anyone else know or offer help?
I had always depended on my practice of Buddhism to help me in difficult situations. But in this case it didn't seem enough, or relevant to what I was going through. Depression had stolen the life out of all I had foundlife-giving, and spiritual practice was no exception. Yet there seemed to be little that religious, or, spiritualteachings had, to say about the experience of depression.
That isn't surprising, given the fact that so, much of spirituality is based on the idea of transcendence and escape. And if there is one thing depression is not about, it is, transcendence It is instead an experience of being, stuck in the mud, unable to rise up, through the muck like the lotus flower so often used as a metaphor in spiritual teaching.
But I had always believed in a spiritual practice that was about settling deeply into life going into the depths if necessary So I persisted, trying to find a way to connect, this. Practice to what was, happening with, me. Ultimately I discovered that in the downward movement of depression I could settle more fully, into my life, and that in that; settling there was great opportunity, for learning, opening, and growing.
My practice and path are. Zen Buddhism. I found I was finally able to bring my depression into the vastness of my practice and I learned that others can, too-whatever their own spiritual leanings.
Depression is an illness not just of the body and mind, but also of the heart. Depression offers us an opportunity to deepen our spirit, our lives, and our hearts. There is much that we can learn about ourselves and our world through this journey. Through attentive, compassionate practice With the depression, it is 'Possible to experience an even deeper healing, and grow in our spiritual lives.
This book is a, guide to the wilderness that is depression, written by someone who knows, the territory and has seen that a map alone, is, riot enough. Itis a guide towing our own inner resources, and to learning how to read and listen to the signs around, us. It is ultimately a guide to growth, insight, and, realization.
There is a story about Buddha in which one of his students asks him a highly speculative, theoretical question. Buddha: responds with a story of a man, who has been shot with a poisoned arrow.
Buddha then asks, "Would this man say, 'I will not allow this arrow to be, removed until I know from what tribe the man who shot it came; or from what family he or what he did for a living, or what wood was used in the shaft'? In the same way I have not answered those who want to knowis the universe finite or infinite, is there, a God or not, or other such questions. And what have I revealed? The cause of suffering and the path to its relief."
It is in this spirit that, I make the offering ~6f this book, in the hope of giving practical help to others in the pain of depression. May you use this book to guide you through that, pain, and perhaps through the greater suffering of this life we all share.
A Note on the Explorations
The explorations you will find at the end of the chapters are opportunities for you to more deeply investigate the ideas in the chapter. They are not something to feel guilty about not doing, or failing to do "right." Use them if they resonate with you if not, move on. They are invitations, not prescriptions.
Most of the meditations and visualizations are based on traditional Zen and Buddhist practices. You may find they work best for you if you do them in a quiet place, sitting straight-backed on a cushion or in a chair, but again, use them in a way that works best for you.
The verses are based on traditionalpractice poems called gathas. Rather than prayers or affirmations, they are used to bring us back to the present moment, and to help us: remember how we want to live when faced with an obstacle or opportunity.
The other explorations are also for you; to take or leave, as you see fit. Be; gentle with yourself. Remember, this is your path, to walk, and you are the one to decide which way to take.
I wish you well on your journey.