Days of Dryness in Your Practice
There are days of dryness in the Buddhist tradition. These are the days where no matter what you do, mindfulness will not manifest, your mind worries about things that really do not matter, and you seem to dry up as far as progress goes. In the worst situations this dryness can last for weeks on end. Thankfully, for me, that rarely happens.
Illness, Medication & Meditation
I come from a place of dealing with severe depression and stress anxiety, so maybe I suffer ‘days of dryness’ more than others, but I believe that we all experience this condition on occasion. It can be incredibly frustrating, but that frustration is yet another opportunity for practice. Dryness is not a sign of failure, it is just a sign of Samsara getting the better of you for a while. Samsara has a habit of doing that when you are not alert or ‘on top form’. It will creep up on you when you are distracted and not paying attention. Samsara is waiting there, just behind you, waiting for that moment of distraction, ready to leap forth and drag you down and make you feel despondent. It’s a bit like Darth Vader waiting in the background to make Luke Skywalker’s life a misery just when he doesn’t need it, or Voldemort spoiling a party for Harry Potter!
Medication plays a significant part in my life. It is ruled by multiple tablets at various times of the day just to keep my mind stable. Tied in to all this is my wish to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, so even without getting out of bed, I have a busy day. Please do not think I feel sorry for myself. In fact I have overheard more than one person voicing that they think depressives ‘just feel sorry for themselves’, and that is so far from the truth! We do not feel sorry for ourselves, we have a mind that has stopped working properly.
My condition and medication does make meditation difficult, but if I can manage my condition through CBT and breath meditation, then I believe I make reasonably decent progress. I can feel good, I can feel at peace, I can feel comfortable with my mind. It is just the odd occasion, usually when I first wake up, that I know I am going to have a difficult day. But I must admit I assume that is much the case for other practitioners, so I do not feel sorry for myself. I just know that I am going to have to put a bit more effort into the day than is usual.
Samsara is something we all experience every single day, and it is something we must all deal with every day, but if we can put it to the back of our minds and focus on the here-and-now, then we will all make progress toward Nibbana. Mental illness does make the trip more difficult, but so long as you are aware of your limitations then there is no reason you will not make good progress. Counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) are well worth considering. I have been through both and they have both helped me immensely. Again, they are not signs and symptoms of failure or weakness, but signs of strength in the fact that you realise you need help and you are willing to do something about it. The road to Nibbana is too precious to ignore, and something like depression or anxiety is not an excuse to ignore practice. In fact, after experience, I would say it is an even greater reason to practice because the results are so beneficial they far out way any doubts and problems you may have on your journey.
What to Do?
The best thing I have found over the last few months is to not worry about progress. If you start worrying then you will tie yourself up in knots and make a possibly sad situation even worse. Just occasionally you will have to ‘take a day off’, or even a week, and get absolutely nowhere. Just accept it as it is. As Ajahn Sumedho is often quoted – “It is what it is”. Sometimes life is just the way it is and there really is nothing you can do about it. Trying to fight the dryness will be like trying to go five rounds with Mike Tyson. You’ll come out tired, battered and bruised, and you will have achieved absolutely nothing. So just take the day off. There is an old British saying for situations like this… ‘Take Three Deep Breaths’. Believe me, it works. But don’t try to do any more than that, otherwise if you do then you’re in for potential trouble, and a lot of disappointment.
This post is about depression; the clinical type, not your day-to-day sadness. This is not to decry the effect of the day-to-day type but the clinically diagnosed depressive has far more profound effects to deal with than the daily ‘feeling down’ type does. It is a medical condition that the sufferer has next to no control over.
Depression can lead to all sorts of neurosis and dysfunctional thought. Suicidal thoughts are common and self harm are constant risks. Trying to follow the Noble Eightfold Path is a real trial in self-control, but, obviously, a very worthy one. Even though I deal with the above conditions, I am ‘with it’ enough to know what is good for me. This is part of the reason I have started this site. The more I read and write, the better my grasp on reality becomes.
So, with all the above in mind
May ALL beings live without fear and find their path to Nibbana.