Much of our unhappiness is caused by the rejection of life as it happens to us. We decide that we simply don’t like how things are turning out.
If we suffer from depression, we may wake up with a sense of dread. Before we have fully woken up, the body kicks in with a feeling of foreboding. No course of action seems right; no decision seems easy; nothing that previously gave us pleasure, does so now.
THE COGNITIVE BASIS OF DREAD
Although dread often feels illogical, there is often a rational thought pattern underlying it. If we have recently suffered a loss, such as a bereavement, then our body and mind will be primed towards concepts of loss. Equally, if we know that we are financially vulnerable, then a sense of vulnerability can form a persistent part of our psyche, which it is hard to shake.
In this sense, when you suffer from fear or dread, you need not criticise yourself for being illogical. In a way, you are being very reasonable, and your mind and body are trying to recognise the potential losses involved in living your life. If you had no natural aversion to loss, then you would walk off cliffs, eat poisonous food, and walk into extremely unhealthy situations, without a second thought.
THE COGNITIVE MANAGEMENT OF DREAD
When dread has taken over your life, however, it is counterproductive. Your body’s chemical systems, for instance, become so used to negative signals, that they forget the more positive signals and their effects.
In this case, you are going to have to find some ‘cognitive medicine’, a way of counteracting your negative thinking with something that releases you to feel more positive emotions.
MEDITATING ON EMPTINESS
One technique which many have found useful over the centuries, is meditating on emptiness.
The technique involves sitting peacefully, and contemplating the fact that all our thoughts are mere assumptions. If we can do this, it releases us from the restrictive prison of our usual thought-cycles. We observe our thoughts passing by, but we do not get over-attached to the stories we tell ourselves.
One of the most tiring things about depression is the endless replaying of negative stories. We find reasons to feel that the world is irritating, disappointing, dangerous. If we can get better at meditating on emptiness, then our usual negative stories cannot take hold.
ACTS OF COMPASSION
A second technique is undertaking acts of compassion.
This involves escaping our obsession with ourselves, by focusing our help and attention on others. Like meditating on emptiness, compassionate acts release us from our mental prison. Self-interest, with all its suspicion and over-watchfulness, cannot get a foothold.
Try to watch yourself for five minutes. I am choosing a very short time frame, because it can be extremely difficult to do.
During those five minutes, simply sit and watch your own thoughts. See what and how you think. What stories do you play in your mind? What dramas do you rehearse time and time again? Let them go as soon as you have seen them for what they are.
Much unhappiness is caused by fear and dread. Dread is a logical aversion to loss, but if it takes over your life, then it upsets your life balance.
Learning to meditate on emptiness can have powerful medicinal effects. In particular, it can break a cycle of over-negative thinking, by helping us realise that our thoughts are only assumptions.
Acts of compassion can also have powerful positive effects, helping us to escape the prison of our own self-interest.