How a woman's struggle with depression taught her about faith, prayer, and when to stop meditating
BY: Susan Moon
And so, by trial and error, I learned to construct my own spiritual practice, according to my needs and abilities. I was learning to trust myself.
Every morning, as soon as I got out of bed, I lit a candle on my little altar and offered a stick of incense. I made three full bows, then stood before the altar, my palms pressed together, and recited out loud my morning prayers, starting with a child's prayer a Catholic friend had taught me:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side
To watch and guard, to rule and guide.
It was comforting to ask somebody else, somebody who wasn't me, for help. Prayer was something I missed in Zen practice as I knew it, so I imported it from Christianity and other Buddhist traditions. I prayed to Tara, Tibetan goddess of compassion, to fly down from the sky, all green and shining, into my heart. I prayed to Prajna Paramita, the mother of all Buddhas, who "brings light so that all fear and distress may be forsaken, and disperses the gloom and darkness of delusion." These words (from the ancient Prajnaparamitta sutra) reminded me of the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." I said this too.
Then I took refuge in Buddha, dharma and sangha, saying the words out loud, whether I felt anything or not. Taking refuge is an act of faith. I followed with my own translation: "I take refuge in my own true nature, I take refuge in things as they are, I take refuge in the community of which I am a part."
|It was comforting to ask somebody else, somebody who wasn't me, for help. Prayer was something I missed in Zen practice as I knew it, so I imported it from Christianity and other Buddhist traditions.|
That I had shaped this practice for myself gave me confidence. And the early morning incense smoke, though it was thin and drifting, provided a hint of continuity for my days. They seemed, after all, to be days in the same life. One person's life: mine.
Faith is an attitude emphasized more in Christianity than in Buddhism, but it's there in Buddhism too. Faith means faith in yourself, in the practice, in the ancestors, in the teaching. Faith means believing that everything is unfolding as it needs to unfold, and that your own life is part of that unfolding.
Once, when I called Zen teacher Reb Anderson in despair, he came to Berkeley to see me. We sat on a park bench in a children's playground, and he told me, "Try to remember that the universe is already taking care of you." In the following months, I repeated this mantra to myself over and over: "The universe is already taking care of me."
Now, almost two years out of the desolation, I still don't understand what happened, and I wish I did understand, because I don't ever want to "go there" again. But I do know some of the things that pulled me through, including nature, the love of friends and family, poetry, medication, therapy, my own form of prayer, and learning to trust myself. I am grateful many times a day for my mental health. Even on days when I'm the most lonesome, or the most afraid, there's somebody home inside myself.