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Beyond Boredom and Depression
Beyond boredom and depression sounds like an
interesting topic. Of course, you never know what is going to be beyond it
- it could get even worse - but I'm sure that most people expect it to
mean going beyond in the sense of getting better.
This talk will be mainly a reflection on very common human experiences that we have. Boredom, in particular, is an experience common to all people, but I think it is becoming much more commonly experienced amongst people in modern society, especially young people. Depression is also a problem for many people, so I thought this topic would provide the basis for some interesting reflections for you. I certainly don't want to put myself forward as an expert. I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist, so my definitions won't be definitions in the medical sense, but rather statements by a human being who has observed and contemplated feelings, emotions and states of mind, and has tried to understand these states and how to deal with them.
Boredom and depression are actually two quite different states. Boredom is a relatively simple state of mind. The state of depression is quite a different matter, a much more complicated emotional area. It is much more difficult to deal with, both in discussion and in practical treatment. Nevertheless, I will try to deal with both in this short talk.
Boredom simply means that we are not interested. The situation, the way things are, is of no interest to us. We say we are bored, or most often we say, "This is boring. This is a really boring place. This is a boring movie. This is a boring talk. This is a boring book. That is a boring person"... and so on. We keep pointing out there. The quality of being boring is seen as something external. This is the first thing I would like to challenge. I disagree with this statement that the quality of being boring is something external. "There is nothing boring" is a correct statement, as is "everything is equally boring." They are both correct statements in accordance with reality.
Boredom results from nothing other than one's own mind. There is nothing boring, but there //are// bored minds. The mind is bored. This is very important for us to appreciate and consider, otherwise we will always be saying, "This is a boring place, something is wrong with the place. This is a boring book, something is wrong with the book, let's get another one. Fix up the boring book by throwing it out and getting another, more interesting one." That is how we approach life. We treat boredom by changing the circumstances, trying to make them more interesting. We never really address the true cause or essence of the problem.
Boredom is subjective
To illustrate this I will relate an experience of mine. As I've sometimes mentioned, I am fascinated by science fiction. I was watching a science fiction movie on television, and I was really enthralled. The movie was so stimulating, the adrenaline was flowing and I was fully awake and alert. Then I noticed the man sitting next to me - he was dozing off! How could he possibly fall asleep? The movie was so interesting, but he was bored. That is a very interesting thing, isn't it? It shows that it is not the object that is boring, but the mind that is bored, the mind is not interested in that situation, that condition, that experience. Boredom is a very subjective experience, a very personal state. You will find that this is true of most things. You read a book and find it interesting, but someone else can't get past the first page. "It's so boring, how can you possibly read this?"
So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not interested or stimulated, and doesn't like what the present contains. You want something else, you are bored. You say, "This is boring. This is not boring", but it would be more correct to say, "The mind is bored." The mind is bored because it doesn't want this situation, it wants something else, it wants to be somewhere else; it wants to have something else, to experience something else, someone else, somewhere else...
It is very important to understand that the source of boredom is within your own mind. The consequence of not understanding this is that you will forever be trying to avoid boredom by finding new situations and new, exciting experiences.
But where do you think that is going to take you? Have you ever noticed that with today's youth, fifteen and sixteen-year-olds, everything is so boring? If it lasts longer than five minutes it's boring. It must be hell being a teacher, because it is so hard to keep the students' attention. Why should they have to pay attention for fifty minutes and learn something? You have to find all sorts of gimmicks, tricks, games and other ways of entertaining them so that they will last the fifty minutes.
Teachers tell me this when they invite me to give a talk at a school. They say that the students' attention span is very short and not to be upset if they become restless and start to talk as they are always like that. It's not a very nice thing to have to say about your students, is it? Actually, when I go to give a talk, the students are always quite interested because I'm so weird-looking. The teachers always ask, "Are you going to bring something to show them in order to keep their interest?" I don't have to take anything except myself, that's enough. I sit there looking so strange in this garb, with no hair, talking about something so unusual, that they generally do retain an interest and pay attention. Fifty minutes isn't too long for them in that situation, but for normal lessons, Social Studies, Arithmetic, English, Chemistry and so on, it is very hard for them to last fifty minutes. I think they are trying to reduce the periods to only thirty minutes.
Why are they so easily bored? Have you ever considered what they are fed on? Have you ever considered the speed and the greed of the sensory stimulation that youth is fed on? Watch television. I don't watch television very often, but when I do, I feel I am being bombarded because it is so fast. The amount of sight, colour and sound, particularly in the advertisements, flashing on, bombarding, is so fast. So much is happening in thirty seconds. Do you know how much is compacted into thirty seconds? You are flung through the air, surfing on the waves - all in thirty seconds! The movies are also very fast, a kind of fast lane experience; very exciting and sensational, and compacted into such a short time. So when students have to sit listening to someone talking about chemical reaction, they get utterly bored. Just the thought of doing something that takes an hour is so boring. They are simply not used to the slower pace because the sensory stimulation of the present age supplies so much so quickly.
When you wake up in the morning and put on the radio you can hear what is happening all over the world. In ten minutes you know what has happened in the last twenty-four hours. How many channels can you get on television? I don't know, but with this new-age television so much is available. And music! When you put on the radio there is so much music, and it's so fast, with such high energy.
All this simply means that you start to become jaded, your senses become dull. Because there is so much stimulation the senses cannot remain sensitive, otherwise it would be overwhelming. For me, watching television is overwhelming. I'm tired after half an hour because the sensory stimulation is so intense. To watch television regularly you have to become less sensitive. The result of this is that it takes a lot more to stimulate the same reactions, to stimulate the same interest. You need ever more and more stimulation to generate interest, excitement, and the buzz of life.
To illustrate this point I draw your attention to what you take to be ordinary. You go home; you've got a television, a radio and a car. You're going to drive home or perhaps you'll go on the bus, train or tram. You don't think it is anything special, do you? It's pretty ordinary - a boring ride on a tram. At home you open up the refrigerator; you've got cold drinks, fruit. You flick a switch and a light comes on. You go to the toilet, flush, and it flushes. Turn on a tap - water comes out, hot and cold. It is all very ordinary isn't it, and not very interesting.
Now imagine a man from say, one hundred years ago, in the same situation - his eyes would be popping out of his head: "Look at that! What's that? A car! And it goes, you can drive it! A television, a refrigerator, electricity... fantastic, magical!" It is magical. Flick on a switch and lights go on. You don't even have to get up now, just sit down and flick switches. That's magical; sit down, flick a switch and the television, the video, or the stereo go on. You can switch on so many things from your seat. You can drive home, flick a switch and the door opens like magic!
People who weren't used to this sort of situation would find it incredibly fascinating - indeed overwhelming. They wouldn't be the slightest bit bored. They probably wouldn't be able to sleep due to the excitement. Imagine them walking through your house: they would be so excited at all the gadgetry, all the things you've got in your house, they wouldn't be able to sleep tonight. Do you think they would be bored? Is your house boring? How many times have you felt bored stiff in your own house? The fact is, most people do feel bored quite often.
The point is that it is not necessarily the situation which is boring, but the state of mind which finds it ordinary, no longer stimulating, no longer interesting to know. The situation doesn't excite, it doesn't arouse any sort of interest in us, so we go into a passive state of boredom, thinking, 'I want something else, I want to experience something else, I want to be somewhere else. I am bored.' This is a very common experience.
The way we normally treat this is by finding new experiences, seeking something new. That is what we are being encouraged to do, to get something new. You are bored, so you go out and get something new: new dress, new wardrobe, new car, new video, new movie. In order not to be bored you just keep on getting something new.
What is this process and where is it leading us? What is it doing to us? It is making us less and less sensitive, less and less content, and less and less able to feel the zest of being alive, except in rare situations when we find something new, when we go somewhere new. The result of this is that most of life becomes boring. More and more of life is going to become boring if you continue to follow this trend.
Rich people, people who have been everywhere and done everything, quite often feel bored. It is so hard to find something that will stimulate them. Once you have eaten every type of cuisine, once you have been to every restaurant in Melbourne, it must be very boring. "Where can I go to have an interesting night out?" Once you have seen every programme... "Oh dear, nothing interesting on television. So boring." You become more and more bored because you've become more and more jaded, more and more insensitive, dependent on more and more stimulation. The youth of today suffer from this. It is not only the youth, but the youth are going to feel it more, because they are being raised with such a high degree of stimulation.
People quite often ask me about the monk's life, especially when I give talks to students at schools. They ask me what I do. Well, we get up at four in the morning and we meditate.
"What do you do when you meditate?"
"Oh, we just sit still with our eyes closed."
"What do you do after that?"
"We have a cup of tea and then we do some chores, sweeping and cleaning up, we eat one meal a day, read a little in the afternoon."
"What about sports?"
"Oh no, we don't play sports."
"No, we're not allowed to have entertainment, no singing, no dancing, no music, no television, no movies..."
"No movies! Don't you get bored? Isn't it really boring? Do you just sit there all day in the forest? Don't you have parties?"
"No, no parties."
"Isn't it boring? Don't you get bored?"
"Oh yes, it is very boring conventionally speaking, completely boring. It's designed to be completely boring, a perfectly boring life - until you become a teacher, then you don't have time to get bored, unfortunately."
Do monks get bored? Certainly, everyone who comes to stay at the monastery gets thoroughly bored, and what happens? Do we play music for them, or take them out to the movies to get rid of the boredom? No. Why? Boredom is a state of mind, and it is very important for human beings to understand their minds. You don't need to find distractions in order to get beyond boredom. If you understand what boredom is, you need no longer be troubled by it. The source of boredom is in the heart, in the mind, in that sense of wanting something else, needing something else, wanting something new. This is the thirst that in Buddhism we call //tanha//, craving.
What is the most desirable thing in the world?
One type of craving is for sensory stimulation, and that thirst can never be fulfilled. What, for you, is the most desirable thing? It is very subjective, everyone will have a different answer. I was once returning from Thailand on my way to Bangkok airport and, as is well known, Bangkok has terrible traffic jams. We were caught on a highway in a car and I had a severe case of diarrhoea. There had been an accident and we were stuck chock-a-block. The road was full of cars and there was nowhere to go, no bushes, nothing - I was stuck there. It was a very unpleasant and tense situation, thinking of what could happen. I can tell you in all honesty the most desirable thing to me at that time was to get to a toilet. That was the most desirable thing in the world to me at that moment, the one thing I really wanted. Everything else had gone out of my mind.
So the most desirable thing is the one thing that you want now. But of course, it is never the same for very long, it changes. No matter what you want, once you get it you don't want it anymore. You want something else. Even if you don't get it, the desire for it may last a bit longer, but soon you will want something else.
Craving is never faithful to its object. It always wants something else, that is its nature, that's what craving is - thirst for something else, never for what you have already. That is why you get bored with anything and everything. It doesn't matter how interesting or fascinating it is, you will get bored with it, just as you got bored with driving a car, with television, with movies, with refrigerators, even with electricity. You even get bored with a talk on Buddhism. You get fed up with it, bored. Flying in an aeroplane becomes boring. If you were to get an opportunity to fly a rocket to the moon every week you would get bored with that, too. Craving knows faithfulness to no object. It always wants something new.
You will become bored with everything, because the mind has the disease that leads to boredom. The disease is craving. Try to recognise that this becomes a kind of addiction. Sensory stimulation is just like a drug: the more you have, the more you need. You smoke only ten cigarettes, you soon need twenty. You drink only two cups of coffee, soon enough you need four. I can speak from experience - I like coffee. Yes, you get used to it, then you need a bit more to receive the same stimulation. It is the same with everything.
As long as we function from craving, from thirst for stimulation, we will always experience boredom and we will always need something else. If this is not understood, not addressed carefully and wisely, we will become less and less contented, less and less sensitive, less and less able to enjoy life, and more bored.
Have you ever considered that perhaps we need not be bored with any situation? If we have some understanding and control over the mind, maybe we don't have to be bored. Without changing the conditions, we can overcome boredom. Could it be just a matter of changing our attitude? Could it be simply seeing the way things are now and being able to accept them as they are, without being overwhelmed by an excessive thirst for something new? Then, in that moment of accepting the ways things are now, we can experience fulfilment and peace.
Everything is interesting if you look closely and open your mind to it. There is fascination in the smallest thing: a grain of sand, a flower, the light of the sun through the trees, the stars at night, in the silence or in the noise. It can all be interesting once the mind arouses that interest. Notice that the mind arouses interest rather than arousing craving for something else. The mind can generate interest with equal ease. If you generate the interest, you have the gratification of being interested. In other words you feel alive, you feel animated, you may even feel excited.
I always talk about this when teaching meditation, because one of the techniques we teach is concentration on the breath. Often people comment on how boring and how un-spiritual such meditation is. At a talk in Perth entitled "Introduction to Buddhist Meditation", I was teaching meditation on the breath. At the end of the talk, one woman said, "Why don't you teach a more spiritual meditation?" So I thought I would answer in a way that would lead to a follow-up question. I said, "Oh but the breath is the most spiritual thing there is." She replied, "Oh, really." and didn't ask anything else, which was quite disappointing.
She just took it for granted, but the breath can be very spiritual. It can be very interesting, even enlightening. If you arouse the interest, it is the most interesting thing there is. As you arouse interest and your attention becomes focused and sustained, you can experience rapture, joy and bliss. These things arise from the intense interest of the mind, which is independent of its object. It is something that arises in your mind and you can generate it. A neutral object such as the breath can give you the bliss, the rapture, the experience of joy and happiness that the most fascinating sensory experience can no longer give you.
Getting beyond boredom
So, how to get beyond boredom? It requires development of this inner resource, the ability to generate energy, the ability to arouse interest within one's own mind and not fall victim to the obsessive craving for something else.
It is always something else, someone else, somewhere else; never now, never this. You may be eating a marvellous meal, delicious cuisine, but already you are thinking about the movie you are going to go to afterwards. You go to a park with beautiful flowers and you look at them. At first you are struck by the colours and shapes, but within a few moments you are thinking about something else. How short our attention span is: beautiful things only hold our attention for a few moments. What hope does the ordinary object have of interesting us?
We need to break away from this obsessive craving for something new. It is just a habit, that's all it is; just a habit, a conditioned reaction of the mind. It can change, we can break that habit. We can arouse interest in whatever we wish to be interested in. We can arouse and sustain attention. That is one of the basic practices of meditation and concentration. We train ourselves to arouse interest, to sustain interest, to sustain attention on something, usually the most ordinary thing.
That is why in Buddhist meditation we do not give you fascinating meditation objects. What good is that? You develop nothing from within yourself. No doubt you could concentrate on an exciting new movie. Most of us could sit quite absorbed in a movie for two hours without even noticing the time. But you'd get nothing from it except a cluttered head, a bunch of memories, and no resource of independence. However, if you can arouse that interest, that intensity of attention, even for five minutes, on a neutral object such as the breath, you then have something very powerful within you. You have a resource which can serve you well and bring great joy and happiness to your life. This is very important. Boredom is a state of mind which occurs when the mind has lost the ability to be interested, to be sensitive, to be contented with what is.
Relatively speaking there are situations that are more stimulating than others. I don't deny that, but the source of the problem is within. If we continue along this path of seeking more and more stimulation, it will become more and more difficult for us to find that sense of joy, or rapture, that sense of being alive. We will instead become more and more bored and jaded.
The way to recondition the mind is to change our attitude. Why is the life of a monk designed to be so simple that people often experience boredom? That is good, because then they will understand boredom, see the source of boredom and get over it; not by changing the conditions, but by changing the attitude in the mind and the quality of mind. It is very important for us to understand this. Once we understand this we can avoid being bored even in ordinary situations. At the very least we can be contented and peaceful.
Contentment means to be peaceful, not to be irresponsible, lazy and indifferent. Contentment in Buddhism means to be at peace with the way things are, perfectly sensitive and open, whether the conditions are stimulating, unstimulating, pleasant or unpleasant.
This is a training of the mind and meditation is a tool to help that training. We have to take charge of our own minds. The addictive power of craving manipulates us into continually thinking, "I don't like this. I need something else." That is a creation of the mind. Wrong view and wrong thought create those states of hunger and need. We can change that if we take hold of the mind, if we develop sufficient control of our thinking. Thinking is nothing extraordinary, you can control it. Just to be able to control thought and say "No. stop." Just stop and be peaceful, you can do it. Stop proliferating and thirsting for something else. Take an interest in this, then there will no longer be boredom. There will be peace and even intense interest.
Once you understand what I'm driving at, just to change in attitude will help a lot. Just a simple shift in attitude, realising that you don't have to be continually stimulated by something new in order to be happy, you can find peace and contentment right now.
Depression is more complicated than boredom. When you are bored you may often become depressed. Depression is not associated with wanting something different, unlike boredom which is very straightforward - I don't like this, I want something else. Depression is a heavier emotional feeling, usually associated with sadness and a sense of despair. It's like a dark and heavy weight; all seems dark and hopeless, there is not much light, not much energy.
When you are bored you usually have energy: "Well I'll just go and do something else." You don't want to be bored and you have the energy to do something about it. But when you are depressed you haven't got the energy, you've lost hope; it's so overwhelming you just feel like sinking.
Depression can arise due to many factors. Emotional difficulties, such as a failure, or a relationship that goes sour, or strong criticism from people you love and respect, can easily bring you into a state of depression. Instead of reacting with anger you begin to think perhaps they are right. Depression is a very low feeling, a sense of hopelessness.
If you are chronically bored and you know there is nothing else for you to do, then not only are you bored, you are also depressed, because you have lost hope. So depression is quite a heavy burden. It takes away the energy of life. It takes away hope and zest; it is a dark, low feeling. Different degrees of depression are quite a common experience for all of us, for some more so than others.
What do you do about it? Obviously, because it is a complicated state, the answer is not so simple. There are many aspects to it, but this evening I would like to offer some techniques gleaned from one of the Buddha's teachings which can be used for dealing with depression.
One of the teachings that the Buddha gave is called the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. These are seven spiritual qualities that are cultivated in order to move towards enlightenment. Although the Seven Factors of Enlightenment are fairly special qualities which are developed along the path to Enlightenment, I would like to talk about them in a more mundane sense, as qualities that can be used effectively in dealing with depression. My definitions of these factors may not convey the full extent of their profundity, but you may find them useful in your everyday lives.
There are seven factors, but this evening I will only speak about three, because these three have the effect of uplifting, energising and exhilarating the mind, and thus are a very good antidote for depression.
The first of the three factors is investigation of Dhamma, or you can say, investigation of reality, of nature, in accordance with the way life is. For example, you are in a position where somebody starts criticising you and pointing out all your faults. If enough people criticise you, you begin to believe them. Once you start believing it you can get depressed. If you don't believe it you just fight back: "What are you talking about, I know better than you. Who are you to tell me?" You are not depressed, you are angry, fighting back. But as soon as the possibility that they are right and you are wrong starts creeping into your consciousness, you can get depressed. You start thinking about it: "Yes, I really made a mess of everything. I'm really hopeless." And it really is hopeless. What can you do now? It's too late.
Seeing the way things are
This sort of attitude and response is due to our not understanding the nature of life. What is the nature of life? Life entails praise and blame. People will always be praised, they will always be blamed. You'll always get some praise, you'll always get some criticism, regardless of where you go or who you are. Wherever you go, whoever you are, you never escape it. Listen to what they say about God - some praise him, some curse him. Even the President of the United States - some are shouting his praise and some are ridiculing him. Everybody is the same, even a Buddhist monk. When I'm with Buddhist people they are usually very nice to me. When I'm amongst some other people or when I'm walking around the streets they don't say very nice things. Praise and blame, it is the way of the world. No one can escape that.
Investigating your own nature is like investigating the nature of life. You're not perfect... well, what do you know, you aren't perfect! Have you ever understood that? You are not perfect, you do make mistakes. You don't always see everything totally and clearly. Sometimes you misjudge, sometimes you make real blunders. Yes, you are human, everybody makes mistakes.
Some people, especially Buddhist people, think the Buddha never made a mistake in his whole life, because he is supposed to be the Buddha, omniscient and omnipotent. But one particular incident recorded in the scriptures has always intrigued me and made me feel much better when I do make mistakes.
On this occasion the Buddha was teaching a great congregation of monks. The meditation he was teaching wasn't mindfulness of the breath. It was something much more specific. One of the meditation techniques which the Buddha taught especially to monks and nuns is the contemplation of the body. Sometimes it is called the reflection on the repulsiveness or unattractiveness of the body. In this meditation you mentally dissect the body and see it as an unattractive object, as a bag of skin full of various impurities. Beginning with the hair of the head, the contemplation goes right through the body, describing all the things inside. It sounds pretty gruesome when you start dissecting it. The Buddha gave the monks this very good meditation, exhorting them to practise diligently while he went off on retreat, leaving instructions that nobody was to disturb him except the monk who was to bring his food once a day.
The Buddha left the monks to their meditation. They did meditate, and very diligently. They meditated and meditated on the repulsiveness of the body, and many of them started to develop a very great disgust for the body, this bag of filth: "Oh, when will I be free of this body? When will I be free of this filth?" This was the view they developed. Actually it was wrong view, it is not the true objective of this meditation technique, but without guidance, this can happen. It is just a change in perception, from beautiful to ugly. They saw the body as disgusting.
Some of them were so disgusted with the body that they went to a hermit who was leading some kind of meditative life. They said to him, "Listen friend, we are thoroughly disgusted with this body, why don't you do us a favour and kill us. If you kill us, you can have our robes and our bowls." He was a bit simple: "Are you sure that would be a good thing? Would that be of value to you?" "Oh yes," they replied. "that's really what we want." So the hermit picked up his sword and killed the young monks, thinking that he had done a good thing.
However, when he thought on what he had done, reflecting that killing a human being was a bad thing to do, he began to feel regret. As he went to the river to wash the blood off his sword he was full of remorse. At that moment, as the story relates, Mara (*) manifested in the water as some kind of deity and spoke to him, "Oh no, great sir, that was a most noble and meritorious act of yours, in that you helped those young men to cross over the ocean of samsara and become liberated. That was an act of great merit from which you will derive great benefit, both now and in the future." He became quite excited about making great merit. Thinking he should make more, he went to the monastery of the Buddhist monks, brandishing his sword and going from room to room, calling, "Who wants to be led across? Who wants to be liberated?"
The story states that in one day he chopped off many heads and killed dozens, hundreds of monks. All this was supposed to have happened without anyone reporting the matter to the Buddha. After the time set aside for his retreat, the Buddha came out of the forest, and as he walked through the monastery with his attendant Ananda, he looked around: "Ananda what has happened? Why are there so few monks here? Where have all the monks gone, Ananda?" Only then did Ananda tell the Buddha what had happened.
The Buddha then convened the monks and said, "Monks, you had better change the meditation." He then proceeded to instruct them in the meditation on inhalation and exhalation, mindfulness of the breathing. The Buddha stated that this meditation was much better and gave a whole list of its advantages.
Now whether this story is an historical event or not, I do not know. However, since it is part of the scriptures it indicates that even the Buddha could have misjudged the results of his teaching. I have never had such a thing happen to me, but I think I would be very upset if I taught something and it resulted in such a way. So from this story, it seems that even the Buddha could have made what we would, conventionally speaking, call a mistake.
Well what do you know - so you do make mistakes! Perhaps the way that you brought up your children... maybe you were not the perfect father, the perfect mother. Well, you are not perfect, you are not omnipotent, not omniscient.
Investigation of Dhamma means investigating the nature of life; life is like that, it is dualistic. There is praise, there is blame, there is success, there is failure. We don't know everything, we are limited in our view, we make mistakes. Yes, that is the way it is. The understanding of the way things are makes us begin to appreciate the way nature works and helps to raise us up. Then we don't feel so downtrodden when things go wrong, when we fall, when we are criticised or are sick.
These days if you are told that you have contracted cancer, not only have you got a physical problem, but you start feeling depressed and guilty: "Oh cancer, that's caused by tension and stress - there must be something wrong with me mentally." So what? You're not perfect, you aren't enlightened. We do make mistakes in life.
This understanding of the way things are, appreciating the state of nature, understanding our own mortality and our limitations, means that we won't be so oppressed or depressed by situations. This is the way the world is. As soon as you realise that you are not perfect, that you do make mistakes, a burden has been thrown off. This results from having an appreciation of the way things are, from investigating, looking closely at the nature of life and our humanity, the nature of the body and mind.
This is an example of what in Buddhism we call investigation of Dhamma, the first of three important factors that can help overcome depression.
The second factor is energy, arousing energy, which is similar to arousing interest. We have to be able to arouse energy in our lives, we can't just wait for energy to flow into us, just as we can't wait for something to interest us. We have to be able to arouse energy ourselves. Get up and do something. What do you do if you are depressed? Get up, arouse the energy to try something. Do something good. Do some gardening, go for a walk, get some fresh air and sunshine, go and look at the trees and listen to the birds. If you just arouse a little bit of energy, it will help you to generate a bit more energy, and that uplifts you and gets you out of the depression. Anything that is energising can help. Don't just wait for life to put energy into you, you've got to put energy into life; generate it from within yourself.
In the same way that I was saying that we can arouse interest during meditation, we can arouse energy in our daily lives. If we are depressed we can arouse energy. Do something for someone else. Go to the Buddhist Society and do something for them. Do something for the community, because when you generate the energy to do something for someone else, something good, the depression very rapidly becomes less oppressive.
The next factor is rapture or joy. When we arouse energy we arouse interest. In meditation, when we arouse interest in the object, the mind becomes full of joy as a result of the concentration. So too, if we arouse energy and interest in our lives, doing that which is good, that which is of service, the heart experiences joy. You feel joyful when you do good things. When your life is of service you feel fulfilled.
It's amazing, isn't it? When you are completely selfish we feel utterly empty and miserable; when we are living our life so that it is of service to others, cultivating goodness in its various forms, strangely enough we feel fulfilled, we feel joyful, we feel self-respect. Arousing energy to get up and do something good makes you feel joyful because that uplifts the mind. It is not like the happiness of gratification. Happiness in its ordinary sense sometimes makes you feel down, especially when it is associated with unskilful, unwholesome things. You don't feel joyful. You may feel excitement and pleasure, but not joy. Joy in this sense is always associated with goodness, because it makes the mind feel light. There is self-respect and joy in the heart.
These three qualities can help you deal with or rise above depression. Investigate, really get to know the way life is. A lot of depression is due to the fact that we just don't appreciate, or haven't come to terms with, the nature of mortality, the nature of our lives. The more we understand that, the less we suffer from depression. That is the way things are. If we can arouse energy to do that which is good, it brings joy. This can be done in our everyday lives and it can be done in meditation. If you do it in meditation the mind will no longer be depressed. If you do it in everyday living you will not be afflicted by depression.
Sincere thanks to Antony Woods (Sydney, Australia) for
making this digital copy available
(Binh Anson, July 2004).
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last updated: 11-07-2004