I was speaking recently with a friend of mine and highly respected colleague who is a long term meditator and excellent somatic educator. He also battles intermittently with crippling depression. He was speaking about how when he is in a particularly low place, his meditation practice doesn't work for him and how at these points he needs to practice 'not-mindfulness'. I asked him what that meant for him and he said, being wrapped in a blanket on the sofa watching true crime. 'Have you watched Mind Hunter?' He quipped, 'It is phenomenally good. That kind of thing does the trick. The more gruesome the better.'
It reminded me of a time i had come out of making my last full length theatre piece and how - though it looked successful on paper, nearly broke me to deliver and i collapsed into a heap at the end. Failure wasn't an option, so i chose to break me instead - although it didn't feel like a choice at the time.
I fell into bed for about 3 months, shut off contact, slept a LOT and only got out of bed to eat and earn money. I couldn't really face anything else. My real occupation became conspiracy theories... I fell down the rabbit hole of the various JFK assassination perspectives, 9/11, the Bermuda Triangle and not only the good ones...I devoted days on wondering exactly what kind of idiot would identify as a 'flat-earther' whilst trawling through all their ridiculous online literature. ... ...
I now see it was a kind of low level nervous break down. But one thing I am 100% sure about is that consuming all that conspiracy theory junk, was some kind of temporary medicine. It was like putting myself into a cocoon for 3 months. It served to distract some part of me that needed to be shut up so that some deeper part of me could work out how to heal. I didn't have to make any complicated choices or create anything.... Someone else's drama was bigger and stupider than mine, so i could displace mine for a while. it helped mine feel less overwhelming.
There is a meme in 'wellness' culture that unwanted habits are inherently bad. That purging is good. Detoxifying. Purifying. Cleansing. Transcending. Non Attachment. Mindfulness. Awakeness - are all things to be desired, to be strived for. And i would like to suggest - that, yes, maybe and... yes and that all depends...
We now know there are certain kinds of manifestations of trauma and certain kinds of depression for which some meditation practices - especially sitting still, noticing thought - style of meditation - is actively NOT recommended.
I am reminded of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen talking with Emilie Conrad in the Moving Legends interviews, where she talks about her recovery process from chronic fatigue and she says that the only thing that began to heal her nervous system, was to be incredibly slow and in the dark.
Light and disciplined attention doesn't work for everyone every time.
What i know of the cycles of biological intelligence is that there is waxing and waning; there is a build up of momentum and a letting go of momentum. There is growth and there is diminishment. There is gestation, birth, youth, age, dying, death. There is a cyclic nature to all organic things which form part of a whole experience of being alive. If we are not separate to these rhythms then to go against them is to neglect something essential in ourselves at the level of BEING. Each creative venture has a birth, life and death. Rarely do any of us enjoy being with a death, so the temptation is to prolong the life part interminably... Stay in the light! Stay in the light!.
Getting better managing or transcending our material limits; getting better at managing or transcending our limbic system, can give us wonderful relief.
On a good day.
On the wrong day it can be yet another way to place the locus of control outside ourselves. Not listen in. Another manifestation of spiritual by-pass.
Let's look at biological intelligence again for a moment.. As the self develops, a grasping or holding response is as vital a function to learn as letting go / surrender. It is not that one is inherently good and the other bad. It is more about how we are choosing it and to what end. So the mastery then, is learning when and how to apply it. Whether it has us in our thrall, or whether we have some solid, clear instincts about what is the right action for the right time.
There is also something I'm learning about effort and rest. Doing and not doing. There is something very creative sometimes in distraction. When I am trying to finish some writing, I can sit with a really good quality of attention, relaxed, present and ready to go... but nothing comes. And it's not till i give up, get up and go to look in the fridge or lay on my back, cuddle the dog and think about Christmas, that the words sneak in.
They sneak in sideways.
Whilst i'm looking elsewhere.
I think there is a place for distraction.
Maybe there is a part of what it is to live in a body on earth that is about letting our attention wander off now and again, letting our gaze roam, day dream, reverie. And when things are not so pleasant, to give our busy, worrying, story telling brain function, some true crime to be distracted by so our nervous system can come to quiet with out us trying so hard to make it so.