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Mindfulness for Just About Everything - Questions and Answers

by Paramabandhu

Mindfulness for Just About Everything

Question and Answer Session

by Paramabandhu

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/talks/details?num=OM778

Talk given at San Francisco Buddhist Center, 2006


1: Two books to reference on mindfulness

Audience Member: The reference to the two books, one of which we might have out
here, could you repeat what those were?

Paramabandhu: The two books I referred to were 'Living with Awareness' by
Sangharakshita [Windhorse Publications: http://www.windhorsepublications.com], and the
other one is by Bhikkhu Analayo and it's called... I can't remember! But it's something
about mindfulness, anyway. It's got a nice picture of one of the stone Buddhas from Sri
Lanka on the front cover! ['Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization' – from
Windhorse Publications: http://www.windhorsepublications.com]


2. Working with depression: discrepancy monitor and rumination

Audience Member: I was thinking about 'stickiness' and this idea of staying with your
negative experience, if your difficult experience is depression. There is this tension that
I'm sensing, which is – you know – you talk about how these things are a 'spiral'. So how
are you 'with that' without going down that road?

Paramabandhu: Ok – so how can you be with negative or difficult experience when you
are prone to depression? I mean, first...

A.M.: – It's when that's the difficulty.

P: Yes – I mean I suppose the first thing to say is that this has only been shown to be
useful for preventing recurrent depression in people who are currently well. So I think, if
you at a particular point in time are very very depressed, so that you can't go on with
your daily activities, I think this sort of approach isn't terribly helpful. You need to do
things like activate yourself – you know – do things... probably distract yourself to some
extent – yup?

However... if that isn't the case, but nevertheless you start noticing a depressed mood
coming on, I think the way to 'be with it' is to investigate it. And I think particularly the
body is very useful. So you can investigate, 'well, what is that like in the body?'

Because basically what happens with depression is that there's two things that tend to
happen with depressed moods: there is what is called a 'discrepancy monitor' – so people
who tend to get recurrent depression have this tendency to compare themselves with,
usually, some kind of ideal, and usually they come out not very well. It's almost like
there's a sort of antennae looking for, 'oh, I'm not doing that as well as I should be', sort of
thing.

And then the other thing is that there is a tendency to rumination. 'Rumination' is sort of
going round and round a problem, and the idea of rumination, or why you do it, is because
you are trying to solve a problem: you're trying to solve the problem of why there is this
discrepancy. So, it's like: 'my mood's gone down, I'm feeling depressed... why am I feeling
depressed? Oh, no, what have I done? Does this mean I'm getting depressed again? Oh,
dear...' – etcetera.

And the rumination, as I say, tries to solve [the problem], but actually it makes the mood
go down. They have done little studies where they get people to do problem solving, and
rumination comes out as being... a bad strategy, basically! [LAUGHTER]

...So you need to cut out of all that. So when we're 'staying with' that, we're not staying
with rumination; we're not staying with the discrepancy monitor. We are stepping out of
that. But we can, as I say, particularly investigate the physical sensations. That gives
another way in – a way of actually being with the experience without getting sucked into
it.


3. Knowing what you can and cannot change – considered action

Audience Member: I heard what you just said... [inaudible] ...you know, there's
something a little bit dangerous, in a way, because when you get depressed and you are
with your thoughts for any length of time, and maybe... You're giving very nice examples
of something that may bother you, but if you have things in your life that are traumatic or
cruel or life-threatening, or, you know, a lot of things that are not nice...

Paramabandhu: Mm...

A.M.: ...and they would cause one to be angry or depressed... they are outside things that
you don't have control over, for instance...

P: Mm...

A.M.: ...and... some take action... but I don't think sitting and experiencing yourself – it
may not be, in that moment, the thing to do.

P: Mm...

A.M.: ...The other thing is, I would think that at some point you really need to – like you
said – re-route your thoughts. And like you said, maybe it's true that if you are in a
certain mood this is not a good thing to do, because you are 'with your thoughts' to the
point of those thoughts becoming dangerous to yourself. You know – there are thoughts
that feed on... even if you intend this meditation to interrupt them, which is what I hear
you saying... and maybe that's good practice. But this 'investigation' is very innocent, it
sounds so innocent, like you investigate in your conscious... but, you know, for me,
maybe I think I'm conscious and maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm only conscious of some
things and maybe I'm not conscious of other things, because... well... I'm not sure. But,
you know, in some ways, thoughts do become sort of your own enemy. You know –
they race themselves, they take on a life of their own... and what you said I thought was
very interesting, that you do that to try to solve what it is. And maybe this is not the
thing to do for everyone... I don't know...

P: ...Can I pull out a couple of things from what you said there? I think, first of all, just to
reiterate: if you are in a really depressed mood, then doing mindfulness meditation isn't
going to help – yeah? – because you need to activate yourself.

The second thing is: you've also said that sometimes there will be real, serious big events
that have happened in your life, or maybe are happening in your life. What I would say
about that is, in a way, that comes to the fourth point about making wise choices. So –
you know – there is a time for sitting meditation, and there's also a time for taking action.
I don't know if you're familiar with the Serenity Prayer – which I can't remember now! –
but it's something like basically knowing what you can change and knowing what you
can't change, and learning to be with what you can't change, and taking action where things
can be changed. But the point that I was making is that the important thing about taking
action is that it is considered, rather than just a knee-jerk or habitual thing which you may
have tried many times before and which hasn't actually got you anywhere.

So you somehow need a new way of doing things. And I think meditation can offer a
space which can allow those possibilities to arise. Again – but if you are in a reasonably
ok state of mind, so you're not just going to go further down into the pit.


4. Difficulty doing mindfulness work when actively depressed; noticing subtle
shades of pleasant and unpleasant

Audience Member: I recently took the mindfulness thing that they have here for
depression. I'd been in a pretty significant depression for the last three years, and I had
some considerations about it because I didn't realise until I'd started the course that they
didn't actually recommend it if you were currently depressed – I didn't know that when I
signed up. But when I talked with my doctor, she said that at the U.C. San Francisco –
U.C.S.F. – they were actually seeing that it was very beneficial for people who were
actively depressed. So I continued with it.

But I do have to say that there were certain aspects of it which I still find extremely
difficult to do, because I am depressed. One of the things they have you do is a 'pleasant
events' diary, and I can't even imagine what that is! I don't have a list, because everything
is very flat. So I can see, abstractly, if you could imagine, if you have a sense of joy about
one activity as opposed to another, it would be easy... and I read their lists and I thought,
'are they out of their cotton-pickin' minds?' – you know – what is pleasurable about
whatever this list was? – I can't even remember, some of the things were so... weird to
me!

I guess I am just trying to say that for me as a person who's depressed, meditating,
listening to the thoughts... I don't want to listen to those thoughts! I don't want to have
anything to do with them because it's just like what you said – the rumination. Whether
it's a particular thing ...

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