How I lost everything

Meditation and the art of beating depression

“Someone once asked the Buddha skeptically, ‘What have you gained through meditation?’

The Buddha replied, ‘Nothing at all.’

‘Then, Blessed One, what good is it?’

‘Let me tell you what I lost through meditation: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.’”

—Excerpt from The Dhammapada
Until I lost everything, I spent a period at the Zen monastery depressed. After the initial high of being there and the thrill of learning new practices, tools, and skills had passed – I was left for months on end with a feeling like I was in my own Groundhog Day. I would wake up wishing I was out in the world so I could meet new people, talk to them, buy stuff, and lead a normal life. My daily struggle involved trying to find anything good or meaningful in the senseless tasks I would repeatedly do. “Alex, please work in the Kitchen today. In lovingkindness, Work Director.” I could have saved them paper and effort if I’d re-posted that note back on the message board to myself for another five years.

Funny enough, when I had the opportunity to visit my family for a week once a year, I chose to stay in silence instead of doing what I had longed to do. At first, I’d drive out to the mall because I was dying to go there. I’d make it as far as standing in the middle of the Best Buy with all the latest gadgets surrounding me – and I would feel empty. What was the fascination with all this stuff? I saw the people roaming the aisles like automatons, miserable and addicted to this junk. So I’d walk out empty-handed and confused. The kicker was, no sooner was I back at the monastery when the same longing for stuff returned. “You need this; you want that.”

That’s when I saw the irony of depression. I discovered that my attention was addicted to the story of how I was not getting what I wanted, how I was alone, and how there was nothing here for me.

The training I undertook was nothing short of mastering where my attention stayed. As long as it remained with me, there was no room for anything else. Like a dog with a bone, I kept my attention directed to end this cycle.

That’s how I lost everything.

(Please enjoy this cartoon I drew while I was at the monastery. When I saw how depression worked, I wanted to share my insights with others in the medium I loved the most!)

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