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Thread: Sitting with sadness

  1. #1

    Sitting with sadness

    Hi all,

    Christmas is a tough time for me. While there are many positive emotions, there is always also a deep emotional intensity to this period. I'm an expat living in Korea and I'm generally unable to get back home to be with family, so there's an element of homesickness and regret. I also feel strongly the absence of beloved friends who I can't be with, for whatever reason. Each year I try to make less of a fuss of the Christmas period, but this emotional intensity invariably arises regardless. It feels like something that must have become hardwired through a childhood of festive over-excitement!

    My question to the sangha is about how to handle this during zazen. When I sit these days (and during any Christmas period in the past few years), I generally very quickly find some very strong emotions arising, and an overwhelmingly deep sense of loss and sadness - enough to bring me to tears - is among the most frequent. I find myself faced with a choice - refocus on something like my breath, and try not to engage with this very distracting wave of emotion; or go the other way and stay with it, even though the end result might be more like me just having a good cry on my cushion than it is like zazen! Neither option feels much like a "middle way".

    Gassho,

    ST,

    Peter

    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk

  2. #2
    Hi Peter,

    l think that sadness, homesickness and the blues is very common at the time of year. l think it is called "seasonal affective disorder."

    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-...s/syc-20364651

    Being far from home in freezing (!!) Korea can't help.

    So, here is my advice: Sit for 10 minutes or however long one can and just be sad. Try not to grab onto thoughts or wallow in the sadness, but let the sadness be the sadness ... as if watching a sad movie or play as an audience observer.

    Then, get your darn ass up off the cushion and go be with some friends, meet some new people, find somebody to love, plan some great new projects for the New Year and start to get to work on them, call home, go see a funny movie, eat some of that great Korean food (hopefully with those new friends and lovers). Do whatever trips your trigger. Go have an adventure (not hard given your surroundings), or visit some place ... even if not far away from where you live ... that you have never been before. Do the other stuff they recommend in that article too if it gets really bad, but otherwise don't worry to be a little blue sometimes.

    Gee whiz, you are alive and in one of the most exciting places in the world having a great adventure. lt is the New Year. Be grateful to be alive.

    Tomorrow, repeat as needed.

    That is my advice to you.

    새해 복 많이 받으세요

    Gassho, Jundo (over to the right of you in Japan)

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-30-2019 at 12:15 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    I second Jundo's suggestion of looking into SAD. I had it back when I was working in a windowless office in the US and didn't see much sunlight for several weeks before and after winter solstice. For a few months I would be depresed, then get better with spring. Although it seemed silly at first, I started spending a couple hours each evening sitting near a bunch of grow lights with indoor plants and spending time outdoors on the weekends. There wasn't much of an immediate effect after each session, but as I continued to do it, the blues became milder. As I now live closer to the equator and work from home, my winter blues are extremely mild.

    I think you might not be merely watching the sad feelings, but engaging with them on some level, which is why they become intense. I am no expert, but I have sat while just feeling things, and sat thinking I was passively observing feelings, but actually meddling with them and making them stronger! The difference is very subtle, but profound. And even if you are truly just observing the sensations, it is quite normal for emotions to arise while sitting. Just sit with it all. Crying on the cushion is just fine.

    Hope you feel better soon,

    Nanrin

    Sat today

  4. #4
    I also agree with Jundo's post. I have dealt with SAD for years -- not a question, it's a known entity for me, as is MDD in general.

    Jundo's advice to you is spot-on, in my opinion.

    Sometimes sitting with the feelings, letting them through, and watching them pass -- is a good thing. They have their say, and they leave, and it is lessened. Other times, if we do this too much, the feelings take up residence and decide to stay for a while. The feelings eat all the food in the fridge, they move their friends in, and before you realize it, SAD has become your roommate and is planning your life and deciding your agenda. Don't let that happen.

    Living in Korea How exciting! Go out and live your life! This is the best time to do it.


    kim
    st
    Not all who wander are lost. (Tolkien)
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  5. #5
    If you feel sad, it's ok to be sad. If you want to cry on the cushion, cry on the cushion. (Of course, I don't know the depth of what you're going through, so if you need help getting through this, by all means seek it out. )

    I second what Nanrin says about sitting with a light; they make SAD lamps for this purpose. I sometimes read with one in the morning; I don't know if it helps or if just making time to read is good for me.

    And if it makes you feel any better, the holidays bring out these kinds of emotions in a lot of people. A lot.

    Gassho

    Nenka

    ST

  6. #6
    Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. Yes, it's easy to get wrapped up in thoughts about the past at this time of year. I appreciate the reminder to live in the present and focus on the future, too.

    Edit: on the topic of SAD - it's all too common back in the UK. I've often taken St John's Wort - a traditional herbal remedy - to counter it, as many people do at home. I'll have to get someone to send a bottle.

    Gassho,

    Sat today,

    Peter

    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk
    Last edited by pthwaites; 12-30-2019 at 02:07 PM.

  7. #7
    Peter, how long have you lived in Korea, and what brought you there? (Not a Koan, just a straight question. )

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Jundo,

    In my early twenties, I fell into language teaching as a way of travelling a little. Then I met my (now) wife in China, realised that I loved teaching, and have thereby only rarely felt much desire to go "home" for more than a few weeks at a time - I last lived in the UK 16 years ago. What brought me specifically to Korea was simple career progression. I've lived in China, Oman, Malaysia, and now Korea, where I'm a professor of English Education.

    I don't know much about your own experience of expat life, but you're definitely right about it being an adventure, and there have been lots of high points. But I think also that expat life tends to be a bit more intense than life closer to home. It's a wonderful learning experience, and making a life out of an unfamiliar cultural context is richly fulfilling. But there's also less of a support network, so low points can hit that little bit harder. Hence Treeleaf, I guess.

    Gassho,

    Peter





    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk

  9. #9
    BigDavid
    Guest
    When I first rejoined treeleaf I just had some CT scans done. On them they found spots on my lungs and kidneys, among other things. So, I began stinking thinking, one day I was obsessed with pessimistic thoughts, so I sat shikantaza, and cried my eyes out.
    I still don't know what is going on with me, health wise. But, it felt good to sit, and just release some bottled up emotions; and I no longer allow those specific emotions bother me. It is what it is, right now I can't do anything about it, so I just accept it for what it is.

    Gassho
    David Somers

  10. #10
    Peter,
    This is a very common thing that you're talking about. One of those light boxes is supposed to be helpful. I also find that, if possible, some moderate physical exercise helps. Getting the heart pumping and the blood flowing kicks my endorphins in and can improve my mood.

    Gassho
    stlah
    James

  11. #11
    I also find that, if possible, some moderate physical exercise helps. Getting the heart pumping and the blood flowing kicks my endorphins in and can improve my mood.
    I second what James says.. Perhaps Korean QiGong or a simple breathing exercise may help too.

    Gassho,
    Washin
    st-lah
    Kaido (有道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    ----
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything what I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Washin View Post
    I second what James says.. Perhaps Korean QiGong or a simple breathing exercise may help too.

    Gassho,
    Washin
    st-lah
    Even 20 minutes of fast walking or a bike ride is good for me. Helps knock off those Christmas cookies too.

    Gassho
    STlah
    James

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by pthwaites View Post

    I don't know much about your own experience of expat life, but you're definitely right about it being an adventure, and there have been lots of high points. But I think also that expat life tends to be a bit more intense than life closer to home. It's a wonderful learning experience, and making a life out of an unfamiliar cultural context is richly fulfilling. But there's also less of a support network, so low points can hit that little bit harder. Hence Treeleaf, I guess.
    Well, I have been in Japan for 30 years this year. After a number of years of also bouncing around, living quite a few places and countries, plus a few years of going back and forth between Florida and Japan while my mother was still in this world, I just settled down here with house, family and friends. After a while, just picking a spot and putting down roots is good. Even most Zen monks did that, having a home monastery and a family of fellow monks there. Even "Homeless" Kodo Roshi actually had a "home base" where he settled down after a time, and I don't think that he ever left Japan except for a brief trip to China. People are different, of course, and some more suited than others to the peripatetic lifestyle ( helping my kid get ready for the SATs), but it is good to finally settle in a place

    But that is just me.

    Now, if I get on the train to make the hour trip to Tokyo it is a big bother.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Jundo,

    Yes - roots keep you healthy. My family (wife and 8 year old daughter) have been wrestling with this lately. Since finishing my PhD about a year ago, I've been applying for jobs around the world, but not getting anywhere (yet!). So we're in a place of trying to live a long-term lifestyle here, but knowing that we could also leave at a couple of months' notice. Our solution has been to adopt a dog, whose job is to keep us all grounded!

    Gassho

    Sat today

    Peter

    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk

  15. #15
    Hey Peter,

    So glad you posted. You are not alone! Firstly, I want to disclose that I have suffered from depression/anxiety for many years. It is WAY better then it used to be. This is ONLY because of meditation/Zazen and all the advice Jundo shared below.

    It's so important for me (and anyone else who suffers from this) to be active in their lives and proactive about what they chose to do. It's absolutely crucial. There is a course here called the Science of Happiness. I HIGHLY recommend this. It says a lot of things similar to what Jundo said.

    In terms of Zazen, I have learned, for the most part to sit with my sadness. It no longer 'takes control' and 'ruins my day'. It's just a feeling. A subjective feeling and objectively my life is good. Really good! I often see right through my negative feelings these days and can still have 'good' days when I feel 'bad'. I think strengthening your practice will allow you to see through your emotions and learn SO much about yourself from them. I have to say, it's been really great for me.

    So my advice, SIT with whatever comes up, no matter how painful. And like everything else in our practice just observe, DON'T judge. I think you'll be amazed at what you discover.....

    I hope this helps Peter .

    Gassho,

    Brad

    Sat/Lah

  16. #16
    I have SAD, and I have tried some of the schemes for dealing with it; the most effective strategy of late has been watching how amazingly kind to one another people are in the sanghas in which I participate. _()_

    gassho
    doyu sat today
    自己を忘れ、他人のために生きる

  17. #17
    I agree with Doyu's gentle observation here.

    While I don't believe in making "New Year's Resolutions," I do often journal about goals and ideas to help myself focus. And I realized that some activities and interactions I am involved with (or may be) here at Treeleaf are life-changing for me. Not in a lightning bolt way, but in a life-altering 'navigating a ship' way.

    It doesn't solve everything. Life is still life. Things are as they are. Nothing has changed, but it all is changing.

    Gassho
    Kim
    St lh

    Sent from my SM-G930U using Tapatalk
    Not all who wander are lost. (Tolkien)
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by pthwaites View Post
    Jundo,

    In my early twenties, I fell into language teaching as a way of travelling a little. Then I met my (now) wife in China, realised that I loved teaching, and have thereby only rarely felt much desire to go "home" for more than a few weeks at a time - I last lived in the UK 16 years ago. What brought me specifically to Korea was simple career progression. I've lived in China, Oman, Malaysia, and now Korea, where I'm a professor of English Education.

    I don't know much about your own experience of expat life, but you're definitely right about it being an adventure, and there have been lots of high points. But I think also that expat life tends to be a bit more intense than life closer to home. It's a wonderful learning experience, and making a life out of an unfamiliar cultural context is richly fulfilling. But there's also less of a support network, so low points can hit that little bit harder. Hence Treeleaf, I guess.

    Gassho,

    Peter





    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk
    Peter I'm also an immigrant, I came here to Sardinia from Italy in 2002. I don't suffer from SAD, the light is beautiful and plenty here, but I am a naturally melancholic person and have nearly always felt very unhappy over the Christmas and New Year period. This is a mixture of sad memories of difficult Christmases in the past and missing family, language and country.
    I've cried on the cushion, I can remember once crying for the entire 60 minutes of an online sitting (with a previous Sangha), but I was fine afterwards because I'd allowed all the suffering I felt to flow out like a river. Perhaps it's self indulgent, I don't know, but I find turning toward deeply felt sadness and allowing it to run its course very cleansing and a huge relief.
    I know also that unhappiness, like every emotion, is impermanent and will pass.
    Life as an immigrant isn't always easy, but it's really insightful and teaches us to view the plight of refugees and immigrants far less fortunate than ourselves with compassion born out of our own experiences.
    I hope you find yourself in a better place now - and getting a dog is a great way to make a commitment to being where you are. Wishing you a bright new year.
    Gassho
    Meitou
    Satwithyoualltoday lah
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  19. #19
    Member Getchi's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Between Sea and Sky, Australia.
    Im just me, stuck right here. BUT

    "get your darn ass up off the cushion and go be with some friends, - [Q]JUNDO[/q}

    Im not giving details, but by God, the ppl near me are facing death AND living in sin (for the NON-usa types )

    They are also giving gifts of life and (unique to our-humn-self) TIME.

    Please take the time, beyond now, even through tomorrow.

    It might sound silly, but im in a fire ravaged village, and it helpef me!


    SatToday
    LaH
    Nothing to do? Why not Sit?

  20. #20
    Thanks again to everyone reading and responding, for your kindness and empathy. Christmas has passed and balance has returned. It really is just a very emotional time of the year for me. I'm very grateful for the care offered by the sangha - so many helpful words.

    Gassho,

    Sat today

    Peter

    Sent from my LM-Q725K using Tapatalk

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