Metaphors and meditation

If you’ve ever suffered with depression, chance are, you’ll have your own unique metaphor to describe it. It might be a black dog or a shadow or a giant. The monsters, trolls, beasts, and imps that have invaded and retreated from the minds of the melancholy could populate a seven-volume fantasy saga. (I would read it). This urge to personify mental suffering seems to stem from a natural human desire to make something terrifying and abstract knowable and concrete. In giving it human or animal characteristics, we give it weakness, and limitation, and manageability.

At the moment, I’m picturing my thought stream as an unruly horse that I’m desperate to control. Without any warning, it suddenly bolts from the stable, and rears up in a field of bad memories. It gets spooked, canters into a river of defeatism, and stands there braying uselessly.

I know the only way to control this unhinged beast is with mindfulness practice. I know I shouldn’t have given it up as soon as I started to feel better last time. I wonder what on earth I did with my meditation cushion, then remember it’s being used to hold a load of politics books upright in the living room. I grab it and let them fall like dominoes. I sit on it, close my eyes, lasso the wild horse, calm it with slow breath, and ease it, gently, back into the pen.

There’s no point trying to change the horse’s behaviour. It will pelt for the horizon, churning up the terrain of my mind as it does so, given the slightest chance. This old mare is born to be wild. But there’s another part of my mind, a quieter part, that feels young, pliable, able to grow stronger, and to take charge. This part is dogged, determined, disciplined. It’s this part (the inner stablehand, if we’re running with the metaphor theme) that I’m training when I practice mindfulness.

But it also takes doggedness, determination and dedication to take time out from the wild distracting plain of the world to return to the safe, confined pen of mindfulness, morning after morning, time after time, until the practice itself becomes as ritualistic as breathing. The challenge of making oneself meditate is the challenge of meditation itself, writ large: returning, returning, and returning again.

Perhaps self-love and affirmations and visualisations all those other pleasant-sounding things are not the most important tools in recovery this time, I think, as I settle down to practice. Perhaps self-discipline counts for more.

This time, I’ll commit.

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