My message today is meant to be personal. I may not know you as an acquaintance or a friend, but at some level I do know you, and at some level you know me. Sure, there are things we'll never know about each other, but there are also things that link all of us together, no matter our age, gender, nationality, politics or spiritual beliefs. We are inseparably connected.
This morning I awoke feeling low. I could use the word depressed. Negative thoughts had taken over my brain—and not remotely for the first time. I was feeling so low I forgot to say my prayer of thankfulness upon awakening, which I wasn't even aware of until an hour later. This sudden awareness reminded me to say it, because even on my feeling low days, at a deeper level I can remember I am truly blessed to be alive. Interestingly and frustratingly, this deep wisdom of my uncountable blessings does not automatically eliminate the negativity. But (and this is an extremely important but) the morning gratitude prayer elevates me to another level of awakening. The level of choice. Despite all the demons partying around in my seemingly defenseless brain, I remember: It is my brain, after all! And it is also true that many of us require additional interventions to manage our depression than the ones I am about to share with you. Asking for help can be our best friend.
I sat up and began to consciously breathe. Prior to this moment, my breathing was unconsciously shallow—way up in my chest. Not much oxygen. I slowly brought my breath down into my abdomen, breathing through my nostrils...and ever so gently up to my sternum. There was an immediate shift. Nothing too dramatic, but surely immediate. Subtle but obvious. My mind still entertained some negative junk, but at least I was observing the junk and was not entirely the victim of it.
Then I began my daily mantra: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you...for specific people in my life, for all the opportunities, for the simple things that keep us alive, like air, water, sunshine, food...the list is infinite. I begin to feel high.
You get the point.
I do my best to aggressively steer my thoughts away from the darkness and redirect them toward the light.
Still, even with the breathing and the gratitude, peace did not fully arrive. Negative thoughts and feelings know what the heck they are doing. They are skilled at their one and only purpose in life: to keep us separate us from the light. But things were getting better. The benefits of my discipline were surely in progress. In these electronic days, we live in a "right now" world. Click the button and bingo—we get what we need. Concepts like in-progress, evolving, and patience are not our culture's strengths. However, every meaningful success in life requires all three of these age-old ingredients.
The cooling fire in our wood stove needed a fresh log. This task has always been a ceremonial act for me. The log I chose to pile onto the awaiting coals was once a tiny seed. It then, blessedly, spent many years growing its roots, branches and leaves. Subsequently it provided the oxygen, stabilized the soil beneath it and fertilized this soil with its fallen leaves. Homes and nourishment for countless animals and other plant-life followed. And now. . . it is warming my chilly home. Thank you, wood. Thank you, seeds. Thank you, trees. What a journey. From a tiny seed to a 100-foot-plus tree, to a gentle house-warmer. Negativity is fading and I am now able to begin experiencing the joy of our beautiful world, where miracles surround us every moment.
Negative thoughts make their way into every one of us. That's life. Managing these thoughts is one of our challenges. Sweet prayers, breathing gently through our nose and into our abdomen, and consistent gratitude are powerful antidotes.
Another is awe.
Eyes see. Ears hear. Skin feels. Noses smell.
Our hearts, minds and souls are able to take us to realms higher than our senses can.
Take time and fly there every day...at least once a day for the rest of your life.
- Burt Gershater is a local therapist, mentor, leadership trainer, and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]