An Approach To Depression: Welcoming An Uninvited Guest
9th February, 2011
"This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond".
Rumi - translation by Coleman Barks
The relatively recent incorporation of mindfulness into therapeutic treatments for depression and related anxiety, draws from Buddhist thinking dating back 2,500 years. Described by the Oxford English Dictionary as: "The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard", mindfulness can be a powerful tool to combat the negative thought processes such as rumination, cathastrophizing and self criticism that are common to sufferers of depression. It helps ground a person in the here and now, accepting what is, without avoidance, judgement or interpretation.
To be mindful takes a certain discipline. For most of us, moment-to-moment awareness is a fleeting experience. For some it feels like a completely alien concept. In truth, however, it is a very human quality and simply the act of becoming fully conscious, aware of our breath, our sensations, our feelings, and most challenging, our thoughts; not lost in thinking but aware of and observing from distance, the busyness of the mind. This inspirational poem by Rumi, the 13th-century persian poet, sufi mystic and theologian, invites us to go further than merely becoming aware of our feelings, but to welcome them, even if they are ‘a crowd of sorrows’. This can often seem perverse to those who come into therapy seeking to get as far away as possible from difficult emotions such as sadness, anger and fear,
Through our feelings and emotions we experience ourselves in the world and can orientate ourselves towards or away from what we want, love, despise, are enchanted or repulsed by. When primary emotions are layered beneath or complicated by thoughts and interpretations about, for example, sadness, then secondary emotions such as disappointment, despair, misery, gloom, the sort of moods often associated with depression, may become prevalent.
In depression, the sufferer who feels sad will more than likely start thinking negatively: ‘I hate feeling this way’, ‘I am weak’, ‘I have nothing to feel sorry about - others are much worse off than me’, ‘who wants to spend time with a miserable so and so like me?’. These self reproachful internal dialogues that perpetuate a sense of feeling down trodden and stuck are what needs to change as part of the process of combating depression.
Getting to really know your emotions; these guests referred to in Rumi’s poem; acknowledging, inviting and even welcoming them, is an act of self-acceptance that can bring real peace and reconcile the internal conflicts which are common to depressive states. ‘Each has been sent as a guide from beyond’ the poem states. You did not invite these guests, they simply come as a natural response to what happens around us. They are our essence, which, if turned away from the door, avoided or denied, will leave us feeling detached and empty.
Think of them as cartoon characters, animals, mythical figures... whatever helps you build a relationship with them based on interest and curiosity rather than judgement and self reproach. They may not all be pretty, but by welcoming and befriending your 'unexpected visitors', you can bring harmony to this guest house, to this being human.
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