Suffering Zen

How a woman's struggle with depression taught her about faith, prayer, and when to stop meditating

Continued from page 2

Sometimes it was like being in heavy surf. A wave of pain would grow, crest, and break with a crash, grinding my bones against the rocky bottom, and then I'd get my head above the water just in time to notice another, bigger wave coming.

But I wasn't on the rack. I wasn't in the surf. I was in the zendo. Around me sat my dharma brothers and sisters, hands in their proper position. As for my hand position, I dug the nails of my left hand deep into the palm of my right hand, feeling relief at the physical pain, and momentary proof of my existence.

Sometimes being on the meditation cushion was like being in heavy surf. A wave of pain would grow, crest, and break with a crash, grinding my bones against the rocky bottom.

On the morning of the fifth day--after fleeing the zendo several times in agony--I called the Zen Center and said I wasn't feeling well--an understatement if there ever was one--and wouldn't be sitting the rest of the sesshin.

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I thought I had failed in my practice--20 years of it!--and was bitterly disappointed in myself. Only now do I see what a growth it was: not to be ruled by dogma, to be compassionate with myself, to take my spiritual practice into my own hands. I didn't sit zazen for some months, and now I know that stopping was zazen. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after the depression subsided that I saw that choosing not to sit took as much faith in myself as choosing to sit.

Buddhism teaches that we have "no fixed self." There is nothing permanent about me. During my depression, I wasn't my "self," as we say. I didn't seem to have a self at all, which in a way cruelly mimicked this central point in Buddhist teaching. There was nobody home, and it was terrifying. I felt angry at Buddhism, as if to say: You told me there's no fixed self, and I believed you, and look where it got me!

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Susan Moon
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