There is such a thing as bliss.
One can feel it when life goes well. A new love, a new baby, the delicate colors of dawn, and quiet contemplation can all activate it. We know it well; we seek it. It feels warm, full, and embracing. When we are fortunate enough to be wrapped in bliss, we feel safe and stable. The feeling may last a moment or a month, but it is welcome the entire time. We miss it when it leaves us, as it inevitably must.
There is such a thing as depression.
We feel it when life fails us too many times. Too much hardship, too much death, too much negativity can all summon it to our door. Many of us know it too well. It ruins our enjoyment of life and makes us question our worth. When entangled in depression, we feel beleaguered and pessimistic. Nothing lifts our spirits, not even our loves, our offspring, or the loveliness all around. The world appears lifeless and gray. The feeling may last a day or a year, and we resist it the entire time. We feel relief when it leaves us, as it inevitably must.
At present insomnia dominates my experience. I get so little sleep, and feel so tired as a result, that depression hovers near from morning to dusk. I exercise vigilance to avoid the bleak thoughts that seem so appropriate when my mood dips. To keep from trashing my life with my thinking, it is sometimes safest to simply silence my inner voice. As I once said in a Tweet, “if you can’t think anything nice, don’t think anything at all.”
There happens to be an upside to sleeplessness: one finds many hours during the night for meditation. In fact, if I don’t exercise my meditative skills when laying awake in bed, I can get lost in regret, fear, and doubt. Better not to think than to face those demons.
So it’s good that I’ve gained enough skill from meditation practice to actively quell my thoughts. It is no longer difficult for me to stem the flow of discursive thinking to a mere trickle. So I avoid falling prey to anxiety and remorse. I can sit with the depressed feelings and simply observe them without letting them color my worldview.
And this is key. Because the worst thing about a depressed mood is how it taints one’s interpretation of life. Events and sensations that might normally be neutral, or even enjoyed, are viewed negatively. And experiences which are unfortunate seem catastrophic. Better not to interpret, better not to think.
On the other hand, if depression is experienced with neither thought nor interpretation, it reduces to strong feeling. Not pleasant, but bearable. The sting in low moods comes from what they make us believe more than how they make us feel.
In fact, if we allow the intense sensation of depression to flow through mind and body without words or valuation, eventually it acquires a surprising quality. Unresisted, it starts to feel a bit like bliss. Depression, after all, represents a high energy state that vibrates the entire system—just like pure pleasure.
There is a big difference between bliss and depression, however. Bliss embraces. It is like dwelling at the bottom of a valley. There is stability plus peace, and mental explorations feel safe.
In contrast, to reside in depression and feel it positively is to balance on a knife blade. It is like tiptoeing along a narrow, rocky ridge-line, where the slightest misstep can end in destruction.
To speak in thermodynamic terms, bliss is a stable equilibrium, but serene depression is an unstable one. Stability confers safety; instability demands care. To maintain the unstable equilibrium of wordless depression we must squelch every needless thought, and keep the mind as still as possible. We must resist interpreting anything. It takes a meditative approach and an steadfast refusal to avoid explanations of feeling.
Not long ago I finally learned firsthand that with practice and care it is possible to sit with depressed feelings, silence the mind, and feel nothing but powerful energy. No fear. No regrets. No doubt. Just waves of emotion and, ultimately, acceptance.
One walks the high wire and needs to step cautiously. Every word of discursive thought carries danger. But by maintaining a silent mind one can experience depressed energy without judgment, which alters its tenor. One must perfect one’s balance, but one can find within the darkest of moods a beacon of golden light.