I’m speeding along on time’s highway towards the 50 year mark. Looking back the years clump together into themes, and I rarely reminisce upon themes that no longer seem relevant. Yesterday I mentioned to Cody that my natural authoritative command over a new puppy must have come from dealing with girls, and the years I’d spent raising and training my son. And yet I could not remember how many years that was – I so rarely think about those times it took some time to remember them at all.
There was a period in my teens and early twenties when I was manic depressive, slightly anorexic and a bit OCD. I also had periods of debilitating social anxiety. Being inside my head was often quite painful. The thoughts would race around in ways that were uncomfortable. I contemplated suicide often.
Nowadays I’m noticeably happy. I haven’t had any mania for I don’t know how long – 27 years maybe. No OCD. Thoughts are comfortable. I’m habitually at ease, and often consciously noticeably content. I can feel blisses at times, but this is qualitatively different than the manias.
And I remember what I had to do to make the changes.
At the age of 12 I became interested in self directed mind control in the form of auto-hypnosis, and I practised that regularly. At 16 I switched that habit of mind training to meditation practices. This interest grew, perhaps with the help of my OCD tendencies, and at 21 I was living and meditating full time in a Buddhist monastery, and when not there was a hermit in a forest meditating 8 hours a day.
I can remember the precise day of the tipping point that marked the disappearance of the debilitating social anxiety. I had come out of the forest towards the end of another long retreat – this one was 11 weeks. I recall my attitude change towards the puppy that had ran up to greet me; I was warm and playful. I recall my attitude change towards everyone in the monastery; I was warm and playful. And I recall people being surprised and making comments; there was something markedly different about me now. This was no personality change similar to the contrasts between manias and depressions. This was now a stable new mode of being, and was calm and content and at ease.
But oh, the price for it. Hours upon hours upon months into years of painful sitting still with diligent attention, staring at carpets and floors and walls and out through the meditation cabin window that I had hauled in through 3 feet snow over a long mountain pass trail to install in an abandoned uninsulated hunters shack.
Meditation can be a type self enforced hell. It can also grow on you and be addictive and pleasant. But for most of us it is at least initially uncomfortable. And when you set a schedule to sit still for 1 hour, you’re going to come up against physical, as well as mental discomfort. Ramp that up to 4 and then 8 hours a day, and then continue that for weeks and then months and then more months, and that discipline will at times be a hardship.
I suppose the OCD tendencies helped to cure me of OCD.
These days I’m off a regular meditation schedule, although I do continue to try to work on regular mindfulness awareness throughout the day, and have a regular standing movement awareness practice that is meditative. I have not been troubled by runaway thoughts in quite a while, so there is no urgency to correct a troubled mind.
Life is genuinely and consistently good.
And I’ve found new focuses to increase overall happiness. Focuses that were discounted or dismissed within the Buddhist community I had invested so much of my identity with.
As a teen I was also often troubled by a painful feeling of being shivering cold whenever I’d hear certain sounds, such as the sound of Kleenex rustling. That and the painful thoughts in my head led me to believe that it would be cruel to have children, as this pain might be hereditary. And apparently manic depression is hereditary; if you have it you certainly will have forebears who also had it.
And yet I’ve put myself on the trajectory towards attaining smart and beautiful wives to bear children. From what I’ve seen in meditation communities, the desire to do intense meditation for very long periods is quite rare, so this cure might not apply to my own children. I suppose I could only hope they get just the right amount of OCD along with the bipolar problems in order to doggedly apply themselves to becoming better.