“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!)