Six weeks or so ago I was really depressed. Couldn’t figure out what to blame it on, so I chalked it up to brain chemistry. But finally, after mainlining children’s movies all of one weekend in an attempt to lift my mood, I realized it was because I was listening to that voice again.
No, I’m not schizophrenic. Probably.
Call it whatever you want – American Zen guide Cheri Huber calls it the voice of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, but you could just as easily call it satan (which I’m not capitalizing because that suggests respect). It’s the voice that doesn’t want you to be happy, that doesn’t want you to succeed. It uses the word “should” a lot. It whispers so quietly you don’t even realize it’s talking, so you think those feelings of inadequacy or anger or unhappiness are coming from you, but they aren’t. Not the real you. Not your soul.
There’s a Zen proverb I love: “Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.” Usually, when I feel overwhelmed and not up to dealing with my life, I can remember it’s because I’m getting in my own way, not staying in the moment, and allowing myself to be critical of experience because it’s not what I “expect” or “want.” But sometimes I forget the things I know because the voice catches me at a vulnerable moment, and I start judging. Judging leads to expectation, which leads to more judging when expectations aren’t met, and before I’ve even realized it, I start setting myself up to “fail” so I can dislike myself for failing.
Some people can will themselves out of situations like that. My mom could, but she approached life as if it were a battle she was determined to win, and it took me 45 years to stop comparing myself to her, my way to her way, and thinking of her way as the “right” way. It could be argued that it was right for her, but the only thing I ever saw it bring her was a sense of righteousness – an emotion I distrust to this day, since I’ve found that the more righteous I feel, the less reason I have to do so – so I’m inclined to think it wasn’t a terribly effective life philosophy, even for her.
Anyway, I came out of the black tar-fog again. Not because I fought it and won, and not because it magically went away. The sense of despair receded because I stopped listening to the voice telling me I’m not enough, I’m doing it wrong. I took a step back and changed the conversation. First I asked “Enough for what? For whom? Who’s deciding I’m wrong or right? And by the way, how can I do it wrong when there aren’t any rules, eh, smart guy?” Merely asking these questions shut the voice up long enough that I could truly think again, and it was then I remembered to shift my focus to gratitude, to sufficiency. I remembered to be present for what is instead of constantly time-traveling to the future and the past to bemoan what’s gone or wish for what may never come to pass, to stop judging everything and get out of my own shadow.
I remembered to be thankful.