SAD, Depression, and Woogity Support

2017/01/03

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. Close in numbers would be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and of course there is some overlap. (If you’re unfamiliar SAD is essentially a temporary form of depression brought on by reduced sunlight in winter months)

Before I go farther I’d like to make two things clear. Depression is a mental health condition, it is an umbrella for a variety of neurological conditions where the brain cannot produce or process certain neurotransmitters most commonly associated with happy moods and motivation. Depression isn’t feeling bad or sad, it’s not just an emotional funk to snap out of, it’s a literal physical condition in the brain. You can no more cure depression with thinking happy thoughts than you can cure anemia by thinking iron-laden thoughts. Secondly what I will be discussing is not, in any way, meant to supplant medical treatment. What I discuss can help manage depression in some cases, deal with the edge of it, but it will not cure it, and shouldn’t be assumed to be a replacement for proper medical treatment. Like any medical condition you can do magickal workings to help support it and the medical treatment, but a serious condition will not be cured by magick alone.

I’m part of this statistical group. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and have for almost 20 years. I deal with it better now than I did even a decade ago due to three things: light therapy, medication, and woogity. I want to share what techniques I’ve found work the best for me, and while these are more specifically how I manage SAD, I believe they may be of some relevance to people with depression.

First and foremost the best technique for managing depression I have is my meditation practice. Specifically anapana/vipassana meditation. While part of a bigger rant, let me say that all meditations are not equal, and not useful, and in this situation anapana has what we’re looking for. Anapana has a variety of benefits not found in more generic meditations but this is overlooked by pop-science articles that claim colouring books are just as good, as they they measure things like heartrate and brain waves, ignoring the point of the meditation. Relevant to SAD/Depression anapana helps you identify thoughts, chains of thoughts, and where they come from. This is very important because sometimes when in a depressive episode it’s hard to know where a thought comes from, do you really not want to go to that party cause you won’t have fun, or are you thinking that cause you’re depressed? Anapana can help you see where that thought comes from. Anapana also teaches you to catch distractions and thoughts as they form and redirect your focus. Again this is useful for a depressive episode because it is common to get caught in depressive loops, and not necessarily realize it or be able to break it. This helps you learn to catch the mind, and redirect, if only for a little bit. There are a lot of great resources to learn about anapana, I’ve written about it before and there are of course youtube tutorials.

The second technique I use is Pore Breathing and Compacting. This goes to the cause of SAD, a lack of sunlight. Sit comfortably somewhere you can see sunlight, if you can sit in the sun that’s best, and in a pinch you can do this with artificial lights and connect to the Sun energetically, but doesn’t seem to be nearly as potent. Perceive your body as empty and hollow, it’s like a clear crystal vase, no muscles, skeletons, or organs inside, no channels or energy centres, just a clear crystal surface in the shape of your body. Now as you breathe in, draw the light into your body, it travels in with the breath but also through the surface, it remains inside on the outbreath held in by the crystal and your will. Repeat this, increasing the intensity of the light until after several minutes you are as radiant as the sun yourself. For you first few times, I recommend stopping here, just breathe normally for a bit, and open your eyes and go about your day.

For a more advanced version once you’re radiant it is time to compact that light. On each in breath the light contracts, pulling into the centre of your chest a little, staying there, slightly smaller, as you breathe out. Each breath pulls it a little bit more into the heart centre, and a few minutes you should have a radiant brilliant pearl in your heart centre. Leave it there, and over the day it will dissipate slowly letting solar energy into your body.

A small warning with this technique though, Solar Energy can make it a bit hard to sleep, at least until you get used to it. So you’re better off doing this in the morning or early afternoon.

As said, these are in no way replacements for proper medical treatments, but I’ve found these very useful to supplement my medical work around my health, and perhaps they can be beneficial to some of you.

If you have any recommended supplementary techniques that have worked for you, I would love to hear them, and I’m sure they might benefit other readers.

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Silence, Self, and Socialization: Krishnamurti- Right Education and Meditation

2014/06/15

One of the degrees I just finished was related to how people learn and process information. Below is my final essay from a course studying the philosophy of schools as a system and individual education. We read Plato, Dewey, and Krishnamurti in that course, for their opinions on education and schooling. Yes, I mean that Krishnamurti, Madame Blavatsky’s pet. His belief is that schools are completely and utterly wrong and misguided, we teach the wrong things and the wrong way, and all schooling really should be is a place to nurture people to their true self. No math, no science, no English, no history, just learn who you are…and when you can’t get a job…I’m not sure. Anyways the final project was personal (rather than academic) in which we were to reflect on a “learning experience” and how it relates to one of the authors we studied. I wrote upon the first time I did a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat and related it to Krishnamurti’s idea of a true self hidden by social conditioning. This is longer than most posts, but I felt there was no where good to divide it. I’ve reformatted it when I could to include information from the readings or a previous essay of mine that would have been known/contextual to the prof. This is basically me looking at the value of meditation and isolation in regards to understanding/experiencing/revealing the self. I think this is something crucial to being a magickian of any value, and something a lot of occultists overlook, or claim they have done without doing so with any real effort or result. So while it’s geared to a prof dealing with education, read it as a magickian and question what would happen if the world fell away, and who would remain?

Theosophy's "World Teacher" and a total babe

Theosophy’s “World Teacher” and a total babe

“The individual is of first importance, not the system; and as long as the individual does not understand the total process of himself, no system, whether of the left or of the right, can bring order and peace to the world.” To Krishnamurti there was no more important concept than the self and self-knowledge. To him all the problems of our world essentially can be laid out at the feet of self-delusion; a misunderstanding of who and what the self is, and how the self is connected to others. This philosophy led him to advocate schooling as growth, not a method of schooling that is indoctrination and conversion, but an education that is first and foremost about the self, and developing the self.

While I cannot help but find his text idealistic, and perhaps even hypocritical due to his time and support with the Theosophical Society, I also cannot deny the wisdom of what he says. Perhaps it is idealistic to think humanity as a whole will ever reach the state of self-abnegation Krishnamurti hopes for, or that by having “right teachers” all other problems will fall away, but idealistic or not it is a start. “Right teachers” and “right education” may not solve all the world’s troubles but it can start the change. He claims that “[t]he responsibility for building a peaceful and enlightened society rests chiefly with the educator” which is a daunting responsibility for anyone who wants to be a teacher, but he is largely right. Outside of the family, teachers are the most influential socializing force in the life of the student, in some family structures they may be more influential, and if this teacher isn’t the right kind of educator, then the student receives the wrong education, and the wrong conditioning.

When I did social work I focused on oppression and realized how much of all the racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ablism, transphobia, and other oppressions were rooted in socializing and conditioning, often unconsciously. There is a difference between knowing a candle produces heat and feeling the flame, and there is a difference between knowing how conditioned we are intellectually and experiencing that conditioning. Experiencing the social conditioning is exactly what I feel happens when I’ve undertaken ten day long vipassana meditation retreats, or when I’ve spent time in retreat at temples. One might argue not all conditioning is bad, but I’d argue that all conditioning is false and restrictive. This is much the way that Krishnamurti sees it, something restricting the self from understanding the self; conditioning is all the masks and distractions we put upon ourselves and others and that prevent us from a true engagement or understand, preventing personal freedom.

king of spades tom“Freedom comes with self-knowledge, when the mind goes above and beyond the hindrances it has created for itself through craving its own security.” Only by being aware of our conditioning can we overcome it, only through overcoming our conditioning can we see the self as it truly is. My qualm with Krishnamurti’s text is he advocates this state of self-knowledge but gives no vehicle for its development. Personally I’ve found this self-knowledge, at least to some extent, within vipassana. Vipassana, meaning insight or seeing deeply, is the meditation attributed in mythology to the historic Buddha, though it predates Buddhism as a social-religious institution and the practice of vipassana requires no belief in or understanding of Buddhism, and as such is a secular practice. I do not attest that vipassana is the only way to gain insight into the self, for that would be arrogant, assumptive, and do what both Krishnamurtia and Buddha reject and that is set one “belief” system against another.

Writing the memoir on a vipassana retreat and analyzing it is quite difficult, for parts of it are very abstract. Part of the trouble in writing the memoir is one of the reason that the retreats are so effective: the monotonous repetition of the days, all the same with no variation. I’ve explained the value I’ve found in vipassana retreats and personal practice as an experience in deconditioning, over the course of ten solitary days, where all you can do is meditate/breathe, sleep, and eat, there is nothing to distract you from yourself. After a time you are left with only one object, yourself. In that time, in that place, everything you think and believe becomes a question. It is so radically out of the ordinary to do nothing but focus on your breath for ten days that you can’t help but evaluate and doubt the self. Some of this is conscious, and some of this isn’t, which is what makes this so hard to write about. As I sat in the meditation hall fear and grief crept up on me as I wondered what would happen if my fiancé died while I was in retreat, and slowly this faded away. Not the thought that it was a possibility, but my self-investment in the possibility faded.

If someone died while I was in retreat, there is nothing I could do, and there is nothing my awareness of the event could change, so I had nothing to do but keep breathing. Some people think this may be a cold reaction, but I find it is a truly logical and loving one. Part of my conditioning is to think of people as “mine”; my mother, my sister, my lover, my friend, but that thought is just limiting them and me. While I was in retreat an estimated one and a half million people would die across the world. The only real difference between these people and the people above is I don’t consider them “mine.” Another part of my conditioning is to think I can dominant and control the world [Edit: Not in the paper, but this idea is compounded as a magickian obviously]. I can influence myself and my reactions and actions in the world, but I can’t dominate it and control it. This illusion of power is one of the vices that Krishnamurti sees as inhibiting the free person from accessing their own potential for growth and in retreat in various aspects I came to grapple with some of this illusion of control. What happens when someone lets go of that illusion, if only for minute? There is a peace, and an ability that Krishnamurti values, to not impose a false-self upon the moment.

That was a clearly defined experience for me, the object of the experience is easily pointed to and traced back to me –lover, possession, attachment, dominance– but others are more nebulous experiences that can’t be pointed to in the same way. Slowly during the retreat there was a dawning of self (or non-self) awareness. So much of “me” is made of what I’ve learnt from everyone else; in fact most of what is “me” isn’t me, it is everything but me. Waking up at 0400 is not a pleasant experience for a night-owl, but over the retreat 0400 quickly became an easy time to wake up, because I’m not a night-owl, that’s a label of convenience placed upon me due to when I find it easiest to operate in our society. Being an avid reader, an athlete, a musician, a child, a sibling, a friend, a lover, political identification, gender, race, class, sexuality, likes and dislikes; all of these are to some extent a conditioning, a mode of thought and identification placed upon me, without others to reflect them these identities are meaningless. More importantly in many ways all of these are restrictions keeping me from being or perceiving the self that I am. Yet in silence over ten days, with no distractions, these labels, these conditioned ideas begin to fall away. Manners, mores, social patterns, ethics, morality, in that same silence these get challenged. How much of what is thought of as right is objectively right, and how much of what is right is what teachers, family, friends, religion, media, and society have said and implied is right? How much of the identity is something “real” and how much is convenient labelling and conditioning?

breakthroughI have no answer for these questions beyond the vague: “A lot more than we realize, and a lot more than we are willing to admit.” I feel through vipassana I’ve been able to grapple with some of this conditioning, see who is left when the world falls away. In this way I feel that I’ve been granted access to Krishnamurti’s “right education” in some ways, not in the system he saw it embodying, for that is something required to be on going and from an early age, but through a type of deconditioning or deinduction. Rather than being granted an education that taught me “to question the book, whatever it be, to inquire into the validity of the existing social values, traditions, forms of government, religious beliefs and so on” or “to discover the true values which come with unbiased investigation and self-awareness” I was, and am, given the opportunity to retreat from society, the source of this conditioning and restriction, and for a short period at a time deal only with me. This let me cultivate my own understanding and freedom, rather than be coerced into a social conformity, understand my own values and define them in absence of an imposing social force. In solitude from others, life, and society, the self can become the focus and one can see the distractions and conditioning that hide the self, from society and ourselves. When in the throes of life we never have the chance to deeply question what we feel, what we think, what we want, because we’re too busy doing what we think we want, or reacting in the ways we’re supposed to feel and think.

This is the conditioning that Krishnamurti finds so damaging. While his idealized education may not be realized, he is quite right that in order to truly develop and nurture students the teacher “must be aware of our conditioning and its responses, both collective and personal” or we will only perpetuate the systems of dominance and oppression, restriction and devaluation. While many of us like to think we understand how much of our life is based on societal conditioning, we don’t, and for me it was the strange alien world of ten days of meditation that began to shake my identity, to thrust my awareness against the cage of my ideals, wants, and beliefs and force me to look at them. It was there I got to try to see how many of these concepts are me, how many of them are valid, and how many of them are damaging memes that if I want to be a “right person” or a “right educator” I need to confront and eliminate.


Welcome to Your Mind (Part I)

2012/06/24

(This entry is based on a recent workshop I presented with a friend of mine. It is partially written from my notes, and partially transcribed. While my friend’s section of the workshop on Zen was fascinating I’ve left out his section as it is his intellectual property and I am not a Zen Buddhist so would feel ill-equipped to discuss it)

It seems no matter where you are in the spiritual/occult community one piece of advice always comes up: meditate. “I don’t know what to do about this.” Meditate. “I can’t see or hear the angels clearly.” Meditate. “My energy is unfocused.” Meditate. “Who is my spirit guide?” Meditate. “I keep getting distracted from my practice.” Meditate. Meditate, meditate, meditate. This is the piece of advice I see over and over and over and over again. Pretty much whatever the problem is, someone will suggest meditation. Don’t know how to meditate and you ask them? Their response? Meditate!

What is meditation? People toss around that word, and they don’t explain what this is, how to meditate, and it gets really frustrating to watch as it’s repeated like a mindless mantra. It’s counterproductive to toss out this advice repeatedly. So while there are many reasons to meditate, one of the reasons I wanted to teach this workshop was to actually share how to meditate in some different forms. Not all meditations do the same thing, or appeal in the same way, that’s why I’m presenting a variety of forms.

Taken from http://www.children.dhamma.org/en/teens/what-is-anapana.shtmlTo start off with I’ll be discussing anapana meditation, which is the earliest documented form of meditation within Buddhism. Mythically according to Theravadan sects it is considered the form of meditation that Siddhartha Gautama used to achieve enlightenment and become the Buddha. The name just means breathing, as that is the focus of the meditation, and it is sometimes called anapanasati meaning awareness of breathing.

The basic theory behind anapana meditation is that we’re a bundle of corrupted karma and sankara, in modern terms you could roughly say neurosis and conditioning, which isn’t to remove the spiritual aspect of karma/sankara but more explain how they affect our life. They interfere with our emotional and mental well being, and when we let them interfere we actually reinforce them and increase them. By becoming aware of them we can let them occur without feeding them. It is as if they are fuel to a fire, every time we act on this karma/sankara we toss more fuel into the fire, but if we just observe them at let it occur then the fire consumes the fuel rather than being fed more. Anapana is a very grounded meditation, it works off the idea that we can’t meditate on abstract ideas, so we meditate on the body and sensations because those are relatively concrete. Instead of meditating on our emotions, we focus on where and how the emotions interface with our body. Karma/sankara act as conditioned responses, and the majority of our actions are based in them, but by releasing them we develop a greater ability to choose how to act, rather than reacting.

To perform anapana sit comfortably. Any seated posture will do as long as it can be maintained and is comfortable. Picture a triangle starting at the top of your nose between your brows, going down to the corners of your mouth, this is the arena that we use for anapana. Breathe normally, don’t try to breathe deeply, or slowly, let breath happen. Now observe physical sensations within that triangle, what do you feel? The subtle shift in temperature as you breathe in and out? The soft rush against your nostrils? An itch on the top of your nose? At first you may not feel anything, that isn’t because there is no sensation there, only that your mind is too unfocused to feel something so subtle. Don’t count the breaths, or think “In-Out,” just let them happen. This entire meditation is about observing and letting happen. If your nose itches don’t scratch it, don’t get annoyed, just “watch” the itch with your awareness. Any sensation you have, don’t reject it, don’t accept it, don’t react, only observe it until it fades away. As you gain greater focus change the arena, only do from the nostrils down, or eventual just observing the nostrils.

Now rather quickly you’ll realize you stopped paying attention to your breath and that’s okay, simply note that you are distracted and resume the focus on your breathing. To keep the mind focused on the breath for a while is a challenge, you may not even make it ten seconds, and that’s fine, as long as you realize you got distracted and bring your attention back. Like physical sensations don’t judge these distracting thoughts, or the act of distraction, don’t get upset you’re failing, because you’re not, simply bring your focus back to the breath. A teacher once told me “true meditation isn’t the ability to control focus, but the moment you realize you’ve lost focus and regain it.” You will get distracted, a lot, but when it happens bring your focus back to your breath, and you’ll find after a while you’ll get distracted less, and catch your wandering mind sooner, it just takes practice.

There is an advanced “sibling” of anapana called vipassana, but you can’t perform vipassana without having a really good handle on anapana. Vipassana means clear-seeing, and if you’re proficient at anapana, you can move onto it. Much like you focused on just your nostrils in anapana, in vipassana you pick a general area of the body (scalp, face, neck) and observe the bodily sensations there. Then as you become more proficient you shrink the area of focus until you’re watching your body in segments as small as a finger nail, and seeing what sensations arise there. To give a sense of how proficient one should be to begin vipassana, if you attend a retreat at a Vipassana Centre run by S.N. Goenka, for three days straight, over twelve hours a day, you practice anapana, only after that intensive (and it is intense) can you even struggle to begin vipassana. So don’t think you can jump into vipassana right away, and if you think you can and have, you’re deceiving yourself about the level of focus and awareness you have developed.

Next entry we jump ahead a few centuries and start spreading the love.


Day-After-Wednesday Webshare: Police, Prayers, Angels

2012/02/02

Once upon a time Wednesdays were the best day of the week for me to do this. Two years in a row I didn’t have school Wednesday, and the symbolism was good. Now I work Wednesdays and either volunteer in the evening or go to temple, so webshares are less common and occasionally a bit backdated.

Also both law enforcement experts and astrological “experts” are not really giving this much credit the Chatham-Kent police department sorted people arrested by their Sun Signs. Of 1986 people arrested the largest group, with 203 people, was Aries, and the smallest, with 139, was Sagittarius. I agree with the assessment, it’s not so much that Sags don’t commit crimes, we’re just smart enough not to get caught, or talk our way out if we do.

Memoire of a Vipassana Retreat, it’s a nice read about the experience. I’ve done these retreats before, they’re awesome and intense. If I can swing it with summer school I hope to lock myself inside a silent cell with no control over my life for ten days over the summer.

Frater Barrabbas has done several posts on the Nephilim. This is the first post for those of us who like our angels a bit lusty and warlike.

The controversial figure of Dorje Shugden has his own graphic novel depicting his origins and trying to establish his legitimacy. I’m not expressing an opinion on him one way or the other (like a pregnant mother I’m just not qualified), just thought it was an interesting text, explains some of the basics of the history of Tibetan Buddhism and where Dorje Shugden fits in, though they leave out the current Dalai Lama denouncing him.

An article comparing some modes of Christian Prayer to Buddhist meditation. Oddly enough I came across this entry and another mention of the prayer form in the same day. I recently taught my very Christian mother anapana meditation (her request), maybe I should let her know the connection it can have to her prayers?

There is a growing movement of Pagan Atheism, specifically in recon schools, this is a great post about the ideas of magick in Paganism and that it is alive, and to keep it there. Also relevant in general to the problems in the magickal (oc)culture.

Sarah V. from Invocatio writes on Mysticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Note this is an undergrad paper, it’s not a quick easy read, it’s about 22 pages, but for those interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the angelic revelations from those sources it’s a worthwhile read.

Interesting reading on money gods, and if the old gods and their methods still count. I had wondered this in regards to the digitalization of money, but this if far beyond what I had considered. Great food for thought.

The Shem ha’mephorash have been swimming around lately. For an interesting guide on working with them check out this haven’t tried it yet. I use my own methods, but plan on doing so when I get some time.

Lupa writes about cultural appropriation for artists (and occultists in many ways) who work with dead animals. Really good and thoughtful. Cultural appropriate is overlooked a lot in the occult spheres (well in general) so it’s nice to see someone talking about it and rationally engaging some of the issues.

How to make a tincture youtube video. The set/series also includes oils and stuff like that. It’s meant for a more herbalist audience, but it’s good information for those of us who make use of magickal oils, philtres, potions, and whatever. (For now I’ll just stick with my vodka steeped in a human skull mixed with spices)

I love this type of stuff. Polyphanes made a Greek Sigil Wheel ala the Rosy Cross. I’ve Greekified the Qameas before, but I really like this, and I’m sure Polyphanes would love to hear about people’s results in experimenting with it. (Makes me wonder if the Mantra Wheel I recently made for my lama could be used in this fashion. Stacking letters would make it hard.)

Lastly this is the reason I’m posting my webshare now, rather than scheduling it for next Wednesday. The Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile has called for an international vigil for Tibet next Wednesday on the 8th. He has also essentially recommended cancelling Losar (New Year, February 22) because of the Chinese pattern of reacting non-favourably/violently to expressions of Tibetan culture.


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