After I ran away from my university job, I spent a couple of years dealing with depression. I took a lot of long hikes, played a lot of music, took painting lessons, filled several journals with unhappy ramblings, and tried a number of other things to lift my spirits. I did slowly get better, but an unhappy veil seemed to follow me around like a big cloud. This frustrated me: I didn’t recall feeling that gunkiness surrounding me before graduate school, or even before I tried the tenure track nonsense, and I knew, somehow, that I could get back to a better happiness set point.
Maybe it just took time, but two books in particular gave me tools that I needed to start unwinding the strings that bound me: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz; and Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron.
When I look back at these books now, they seem to contain a sort of universal wisdom, but at the time their insights were new to me. Pema Chodron’s book, in particular, gave me a road map for walking through my emotions. Her gentle words about having compassion for ourselves and others were what I so desperately needed. Not to blame myself or anyone else for all of the fear and anger I felt, or for the way I ran away from confrontation, but to just let emotions rise to the surface and then look at the thoughts behind them.
Both Pema Chodron and Don Miguel talk about the dream: the fact that we don’t see reality as is it, but through our own beliefs. I found this just so very powerful.
I melded their ideas into my own process. I did a lot of walking. As I wandered along, I would find myself thinking about some incident that had upset me. It might be something recent or something from long ago. I would think about whether my reaction was valid, and when I learned that behavior. I learned to recognize that response had served me as a child, to protect me, but now it no longer did. I would thank it, and then let it go.
Each time, I suddenly remembered some fun thing that I had forgotten all about but that happened around the same time as the event that had seemed so awful. Once, I remembered going to the Smithsonian with my family. Another time, I remembered a camping trip. These lost memories brought joy and healing along with them. I gradually felt better: less depressed, less angry, and better able to cope with life.
However, one day it seemed like I had taken this process as far as I could. I can’t explain why, but it no longer worked, yet I hadn’t finished. It would take more keys to the locks inside me before I felt ready to open to my path.
- Don Miguel Ruiz (beingmedium.wordpress.com)
- Here’s Why So Many Women Leave Science And Math Careers (businessinsider.com)
- The Wisdom of No Escape (kenyatta2009.wordpress.com)