I am depressed. My life is not going very well. I’m in both physical and psychological pain. I meditate regularly and I think I’ve accepted my situation and practice the teaching of “it’s just the way it is” but none of that has made a difference. I am depressed, frustrated, and often angry.
Acceptance Isn't Working
Dear Acceptance Isn't Working,
The problem here are the labels your thinking mind places on things. When we practice acceptance or “it’s just the way it is,” it’s critical to understand that regardless how these words sound in English, this is not about resignation ... accepting one’s lot in life as being bad, pain, etc. It’s about accepting or viewing everything about yourself and the world around you without any judgment value labels. If you are still applying labels, as it appears from your letter you are, then you are not really practicing acceptance or “it’s just the way it is.”
How do you not apply the labels that are part of your habit energy, that have become instinctual? It comes back to being present free of the intervention of thought. And for that one needs to be aware so that you do not follow your thinking mind when it wants to apply these labels. View it with compassion, but say that you’re not going there, that you are seeking guidance from your true Buddha nature, knowing that these labels are all learned experience and have no intrinsic value.
Having said this, I must admit from personal experience that applying this practice to matters that hit very close to home when the going gets rough is very difficult ... both being aware and not following your habit energy. And these of course are the situations that cause us the most agony.
Part of my answer to you lies in the answer I gave to “Consumed by Fear.” But you need to go further to the issue of labels, because it is the application of these labels that causes our reactions. For example, if you call something “pain,” there is no way that you will be able to keep yourself from running from it or trying to stop it because it’s a biological imperative. The trick is to stop naming it “pain.” Yes, this is thought, but it’s so instinctual that I find it productive to deal with it as a separate issue.
When I was dealing with this same issue, I applied the lessons I had learned in dealing with the weather. Before you react with “huh?”, please read on.
Think of almost any element of weather … heat, cold, rain, snow. These are very objective, measurable facts. Yet one person will thrive in a particular weather condition while another can’t stand it. Our reactions to the weather are entirely subjective and change from person to person. What causes these differing reactions? It’s our learned experience. Whether it’s the weather we grew up with, whether it’s how our parents or peers reacted to the weather ... a variety of learned inputs form our individual response to the weather.
And this subjective view in turn causes many of us suffering. How often have we been in a weather situation that we didn’t like … whether high heat and humidity or unrelenting rain or snow … which had the psychological impact of making us miserable and depressed?
What has happened is that our learned experience has caused us to put mental labels on everything that we experience … labels that something is good or bad … which interfere with our perception of the true quality of things. When a sensory image goes from the eyes, nose, or ears to the brain, it is these labels that impact how the images are received. Our conscious mind does not receive them neutrally.
The point here is that heat, rain, cold, snow, etc. are neither good nor bad … they just are. Our perception of the “lousy” weather may seem very real to us, but it’s all a function of our mind and thus illusory, not a reflection of reality.
Once I understood this deeply, my relationship with the weather changed completely. Now I never apply a label to the weather and I see the beauty to the texture of each day’s weather, regardless its nature.
And so it is with all things. Whether it’s your income status, your occupation, your weight, or whatever ... your feelings or perceptions of these matters, the labels you apply to them, are a function of your learned experience from family, peers, and the larger culture. They seem very real, but they have no intrinsic value or existence.
So when I was reacting to some matters that hit much closer to home with fear and anxiety, I realized that beyond being present in the moment free of thought, I needed to apply the lessons of freeing myself from labels. I consciously went through the types of feelings I was having and saw that these too were just labels that I instinctually was applying. They had no more intrinsic value than the labels that I had applied to the weather.
Then, it was up to me to make the choice not to apply the labels but to see things as they are free of the intervention of thought. Which I have for the most part been able to do. You can too.