Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin

If I had read Philip Martin’s Zen Path Through Depression when I was actually in the depths of a depression I would have found it too frustrating to finish it. Why? Because I would have found myself saying, “I know this already. Why am I reading this? I have other things to do.” And the fact is, the advice here parallels how I have had to approach my own depression at times.

Contrary to the usual suggestions to either medicate or work through and move on the emotion, Martin encourages the reader to sit with the darkness, neither embracing it nor resisting it. And this is where I would have missed out on the powerful significance of this slender volume. It is not enough to allow yourself to be with the depression but to also know that there is a danger to this, an implication that can conflict with the Buddhist message of ahimsa. When someone who is struggling with depression stops fighting it and allows the emotion to be present, there is always the awareness that this is, in some way, an invitation for self-destructive thoughts, including suicide, to take hold. However, ahimsa, the precept of non-violence which includes not harming one’s self, is underpinning the person’s meditative practice then the danger is lessened, albeit not fully removed.

Depression is a risky business and this is the first book I have ever read where the author’s experience of depression and understanding of how to work with depression to reach a deeper awareness of one’s self resonated so fully with my own experience and understanding that I found myself sighing with contentment and appreciation as I read through the book.

There are some meditation exercises which would be better explored on cd (my usual complaint about such things) but there are a lot of exercises that do not require a cd. For example, in one chapter Martin encourages the reader to think about what he/she uses to avoid experiencing the depression. For one hour or even one day, the reader is told to not give into the temptation of avoidance. The questions Martin asks the reader to consider after doing this can easily be addressed in a journal.

One of the things I am striving to do is reduce my book collection by half. This is easier said than done when I am reading books that I simply refuse to surrender by giving away. And so I confess, this book is one I will keep. I know that there will come a time when I will need to return to the pages, to work through another dark time in my life and it would be nice to walk through that valley with the words and awareness of another.

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