By Alex Chong Do Thompson
I sit cooped up in the house—my mind begins to tear away at itself.
Looking out of the window, the grey winter skies dampen my mood. There’s an abrupt knock at my door. I answer and see Depression standing on my porch. He wears an expensive suit, and there is almost no emotion on his face. The cold day grows even colder. He walks into the house and embraces me in a hug. My body goes numb. I try to hide from him, wrapping myself up in thick blankets and lie on the couch without moving. I hope that if I’m quiet enough he’ll get bored and go away.
Depression is a patient beast.
When I refuse to speak with him, he simply sits down at my desk and whispers just loudly enough for me to hear. He tells me that it’s pointless to get up. He reminds me how cold and uncaring the world can be. “Trust me. It’s much better in here. You’re much safer alone in your house; with the lights off and the curtains closed. Just stay in here… with me.”
We stay like this for a while.
I hear another knock at my door. Anxiety walks in without waiting to be invited. Her frazzled hair and threadbare nightgown fill me with panic while my thoughts degenerate into static white noise. There’s so much to do! I have a report to finish for work, and there’s that book that I want to read. I wonder if anyone commented on the Facebook post I’ve been following… Oh shit! I forgot to walk the dog.
I literally run around in circles attempting to do one thing, but then change my mind and to do something else. Anxiety doesn’t miss a beat. She runs in circles with me rattling on about protests, wars, grocery lists and a million other things that need my attention. I turn on some loud music to distract myself from her ramblings, but it doesn’t matter how loudly the stereo plays…
Anxiety still makes herself heard.
Without warning, Anger appears in my living room. I have no idea when he arrived, but it feels as though he’s been here from the beginning. I don’t have time to ponder this; however, he pulls out a laptop and starts playing videos for me to watch. More specifically, he plays an endless loop of all the injustices that I’ve suffered in my life. I sit silently as the screen shows a bully stealing my Game Boy in Fifth Grade. Next, I relive an argument that I had with a close friend. Finally, I’m on the verge of screaming as the laptop shows me riding my bike and almost getting hit by some guy in a Hummer. “There was plenty of room on the road,” I mutter to myself, “Why the hell did he have to pass so close to me!”
Anger offers “helpful” advice. “You should do something to get back at that friend of yours.” I nod ruefully. My mind becomes filled with thoughts of revenge. “Maybe he’s right,” I think to myself. “I shouldn’t let people walk all over me.” I look over at Anger sitting on my couch. He’s wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off and a trucker hat.
The logical part of me knows that his suggestions never lead to anything good, but it’s hard to hear that part of myself when he’s around—his presence shuts off my ability to think clearly. Instead, I stew in the unfairness of life and how others have done me wrong. The more I dwell on the past, the stronger he becomes. In this way, he derives great pleasure from my pain.
Anger looks very pleased with himself.
That being said, this isn’t my first rodeo. I know bad things will happen if I don’t take action quickly. I stop what I’m doing and open the door that leads to my basement. It’s wet and cold down there, but I like to imagine that Bodhidharma’s cave had a similar mystique. It’s why I carved out a small corner and created a meditation area. That’s where I’m heading as I walk down the creaky, wooden steps. Depression, Anxiety, and Anger follow close behind me.
They know what’s coming, and they aren’t going down without a fight.
As I do prostrations in front of my altar, Depression whispers, “It’s late. Why don’t you just skip it tonight and go to bed early.” When I take my seat on the cushion and begin chanting Namo Amitahba Buddha, Anxiety taps my shoulder and recites a list of tasks that won’t get completed if I stay down here too long. When I close my eyes to begin meditating, Anger jacks his laptop directly into my skull so that painful memories flash nonstop on the backs of my eyelids. All at once, I’m sad, scared and pissed off, and in this sea of mental confusion, I focus on my breath.
I breathe deeply, and connect with the feeling of air moving in and out of my lungs. However, my emotions don’t like being ignored, they grow louder in their protests. Depression tells me I’m worthless. Anxiety calls me a failure. Anger pokes me in the chest and questions my manhood.
I block them out and continue concentrating on my breath. Eventually, something shifts. The more they scream, the less I can hear them. I keep breathing and revel in the newfound silence. If my emotions are a hurricane, then I’m the eye of the storm.
Time passes and my alarm sounds. Has it been 30 minutes already?
I open my eyes and recite the four Bodhisattva vows. Then, I look around. Depression, Anxiety and Anger are still here, sitting quietly against the wall with their eyes closed. Upon closer inspection, I notice their appearances have changed. They were solid and substantial when I started my meditation, but now that I’m finished, they all seem faded and less real. Intuitively, I know that they can’t hurt me anymore. “They’re like old tigers who’ve lost their fangs,” a voice whispers from deep inside me. I nod in agreement, a feeling of peace flows through my body. Smiling broadly, I do three final prostrations before the Buddha.
Thereupon, we all walk wordlessly up the stairs.
Alex Chong Do Thompson is a former Marine who now earns his living as a Business Analyst. He splits his free time between social justice work, cycling, and deepening his meditation practice. Alex has been a Zen practitioner since 2013, and he is training to become a lay minister in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. You can read more of his writing by visiting his blog.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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