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How does one find motivation while dealing with depression/rumination?

Possible trigger warning: Depression (if you clicked on this thread, you probably knew that already)

Do the EBT’s mention anything specific about how to deal with the rumination aspect of depression?

I feel this goes deeper than the standard discussion of mind wandering, and working on concentration/meditation to control undesirable thoughts.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but when I get depressed, I completely lose control over my thoughts (typically for a few days). A million things flood into my head all at once. I ruminate over what happened, how things could have gone differently, I start to wonder about hidden motivations behind things people say and do… it can get really dark.

During times where I’m not knee deep into a depression, I find it easy enough to monitor my thoughts, and change them if I don’t like where they are headed. Buddhism has given me several tools to do this. I start by focusing on the unwanted thought, examining it to determine that it is suffering, temporary, and not-self. Normally, this works great, and I can move on to whatever I choose to think about.

The problem is when my mind is controlled by depression/rumination, I have a difficult time finding the motivation/energy to even want to control my thoughts. I have tools for dealing with stray thoughts, but when depressed, it feels like too much effort to even bother trying. I feel like someone who is only drowning because swimming sounds like too much work. It’s like drowning in 2 feet of water because I don’t have the motivation to stand up.

How does one find motivation, when my mind/emotions are telling me that the sky is falling, and the world is ending?

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Find the Compassion within yourself to directly face why you are so upset. It can be changed, and you can become happy. I wish you great happiness and a full inner-wealth of Metta. I hope you feel better. The best thing you can do is fully turn to Buddhism, the Dhamma, and overcome the mind of yours that you feel is taking your psyche to places you don’t like. Right now you are face to face with the First Noble Truth, the Truth of suffering, you are face to face with the purpose for Buddhism, and you have the right attitude. The only true way is up, happiness, and to get to where you feel good about yourself, you aught to engage in activities that make other people happy. You have that Metta. Once you become the cause for others’ happiness, your own Joy will follow suit. I hope you get there soon my friend.

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You’re right indeed, it does go deeper, and kudos to you for raising the question. And honestly, Buddhist practice is wonderful a great deal of things—but not everything.

When it comes to depression and other mental ailments in particular, I think the texts and practice can be a wonderful supplement, but truly not a replacement for assistance or treatment from mental health professionals—at least not for everyone.

Yes, loving-kindness and generosity and virtue can have an uplifting effect on the mind, but it is also true that people experience depression and anxiety for many more reasons than simply a lack of confidence or faith. In addition to that, dealing with depression and so many other states of mind is plain hard, as I’m sure you know.

I hesitate to point to parts of the Canon that talk about dealing with mental anguish because they so often become tools to spiritually bypass oneself and others. Instead, I like to keep in mind the general principle that part of the practice is about facing ourselves and others fearlessly—and sometimes when we do that we can see a huge flaming mess that needs some care. The texts can provide some of that, but for things like depression, it simply isn’t enough.

Wishing you wellbeing from afar!

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All practitioners who pursue the path will at some stage come face to face with one of the hindrances. Unless they persevere with the practice they will never know the strength of the dhamma. For a practitioner facing restlessness & remorse there are resources, and a comprehensive strategy needs to be formulated and the entire life based upon it:

“One who earnestly aspires to the unshakable deliverance of the mind should, therefore, select a definite “working-ground” of a direct and practical import: a kammatthana[1] in its widest sense, on which the structure of his entire life should be based. Holding fast to that “working-ground,” never losing sight of it for long, even this alone will be a considerable and encouraging progress in the control and development of the mind, because in that way the directive and purposive energies of mind will be strengthened considerably. One who has chosen the conquest of the five hindrances for a “working-ground” should examine which of the five are strongest in one’s personal case. Then one should carefully observe how, and on which occasions, they usually appear. One should further know the positive forces within one’s own mind by which each of these hindrances can best be countered and, finally, conquered; and one should also examine one’s life for any opportunity of developing these qualities which, in the following pages, have been indicated under the headings of the spiritual faculties (indriya), the factors of absorption (jhananga), and the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). In some cases, subjects of meditation have been added which will be helpful in overcoming the respective hindrances.”—Nyanaponika

In the case of R&R the practice should lean towards jhana:

"These things, too, are helpful in conquering restlessness and remorse:

  1. Rapture, of the factors of absorption (jhananga);
  2. Concentration, of the spiritual faculties (indriya);
  3. Tranquillity, concentration and equanimity, of the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).

When the mind is restless it is not the proper time for cultivating the following factors of enlightenment: investigation of the doctrine, energy and rapture, because an agitated mind can hardly be quietened by them.

When the mind is restless, it is the proper time for cultivating the following factors of enlightenment: tranquillity, concentration and equanimity, because an agitated mind can easily be quietened by them.

— SN 46:53"

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html

Here rapture obtained through insight is distinguished from that through jhana.

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One of the things I have found useful is to be mindful of attention. At times one sees the world as amazingly beautiful, and at others as awful and painful. Has the world changed? No… it is the nature of attention and perception that has changed.

This is often referred to as seeing the world through rose coloured glasses/ or black ones for depression. One can find the same thing with, for example, a ‘fault finding’ mind. When one peels it back, attention is at the base of it - attention is firmly focused on faults in this example… In the case of depression, attention is focused on specific things that give rise to suffering (this varies in each case).

This is great news, because as one sees this, then one can realise that one is seeing only a ‘fraction/portion’ of reality and not the whole thing :slight_smile: When one feels depression one can recall that this is just one side of the coin, and thereby gain a bit of distance/relief.

Of course this is very basic :slight_smile: but it can be very effective in the right place at the right time.

One can also develop Right Attention (Yoniso Manasikara) as a skill, to be used all over the place for a happy life. Just another tool in the Buddhas tool-box :smiley:

With metta :slight_smile: :sunflower: :sun_with_face:

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I’ll share some very helpful advice from Sayadaw U Tejaniya that I’ve been pondering whenever strong negative emotions arise lately:

Whenever you are experiencing an emotion, ask yourself the question: “Am I going to feel the emotion, or be aware of the emotion?” In other words, are you going to watch it as an uninvolved observer, or are you going to participate in the emotion?

This has been a helpful reminder that emotions are not mine, not my self, and they don’t need to be controlled or changed, simply observed. (The same goes for ruminative negative thoughts, which I personally characterize as emotions hiding themselves in the guise of thoughts.) Simple observation takes much less effort than trying to change what’s happening mentally, so it can be a big relief just to consciously take that step back.

That being said, Bhante @Sumano has very wise advice, sometimes it’s necessary to seek out medical or psychological support in addition to one’s practice. One’s practice can help one bear the pain of a broken leg, but getting treatment from a medical doctor is still an important part of healing. Severe psychological illness and injury is no different, and getting professional help can be a skillful way of creating supportive conditions for one’s practice.

With much metta and wishing you well. :pray:

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I’d like to make it clear that I’m not currently depressed and in need of professional services. This is something that happens to me once or twice a decade. I did have a recent episode, but I’m over it now. I feel perfectly comfortable talking about this, and would like to discuss it in hopes of finding a solution for myself and others who might read this thread in the future.

This is the sort of technique that I have learned from Buddhism. For normal emotions this works great, but depression is another animal altogether. If I simply sit and observe the depression, there is a mild relief, but it will last around 3 days. I was hoping for another solution that might help end the condition more quickly.

When depression hits, it hits hard. For me it is triggered by feelings of betrayal and abandonment by close friends or family. It feels like I’m thrown into another universe, like an LSD trip. It usually lasts about 3 days. During this time I can feel physical sensations in my body, like I’m on drugs. I feel lethargic, have no appetite, and often feel nauseated. My mind is bombarded by thoughts about every time I was betrayed in the past, and it’s an incessant stream of thoughts that just won’t stop. It’s hard to think about anything else. It is difficult to even recognize that I am ruminating, much less do something about it. For example, I might try to watch TV, only to realize after 20 minutes that I haven’t even watched 10 seconds worth of the show. I’ve been sitting here ruminating the entire time without even noticing.

I was hoping the EBTs might mention something about this type of extremely strong emotion, where it might take days to recover. Perhaps disguised as a metaphor about rebirth?.. I’m probably in the minority here, but I believe rebirth is simply a metaphor for the cycle of depression, anger or other strong emotions we experience (one could also get lost in pleasant/happy emotions). I feel that emotional experiences are the 6 realms of existence in samsara. Anger would surely be the animal realm, where the fight-or-flight response takes control over the mind via the amygdala. Depression sounds like the hellish realm. Are there any EBTs which discuss these other realms of existence in any sort of detail?

Something came up in a private message which might be relevant, so I’ll copy my response and post it here for discussion:

I like that you mention dependent origination, because that could be the key to stopping depression before it happens, rather than trying to fight against it after it takes control. Granted, it seems that everyone has a different interpretation of DO, so I’ll try to elaborate on what I believe it means, and perhaps we can discuss this a bit.

There are multiple, similar but different, lists of DO in the EBTs, which slightly contradict each other. For example, SN 12.2 has a list that sounds more like your interpretation, where the list starts with birth, becoming, clinging, craving, feeling, etc. But I prefer SN 12.61 where the list starts with ignorance, fabrications, consciousness, name & form, senses, contact, feeling, craving, clinging, birth, death. I believe this is a better order, as I will explain.

Ignorance is the first problem, because if we were fully enlightened, this entire chain of events falls flat.

Fabrications, Consciousness, Name & Form involves our pre-conceived notions about how things should or should not be in this world. If we did not believe that someone calling us fat is a bad thing, we would not feel upset (later in the chain of events)

Senses & Contact is when our six senses (touch, taste, smell, etc) first come in contact with the event, and we first notice it consciously. Previous steps were at the unconscious level, forming our biases before the event took place.

Feeling happens almost immediately after our senses come into contact with the event. Based on our fabrications (belief that someone calling us fat is bad), we feel undesirable emotions arise in our bodies.

Craving/Clinging is our response to this undesirable (or desirable in some cases) event. We either want more or less of it based on the previous chain of events.

Birth: Now that we have made a choice that we want more of less of this event, we are reborn into whatever world this emotional state takes us into (this is where I believe anger sends our mind to the Animal Realm, and Sadness/Regret/Depression sends our mind to the Hellish realm)

Death: Nothing lasts forever, not even Depression. Eventually our mind will come back from this other realm, and the cycle will start over when we experience another emotional event in our lives.

Essentially, I feel that if this chain of events can be broken before it reaches the 9th step (birth), we have a chance to stop the depression from taking hold. In this case I wouldn’t be looking for a solution to stop a 3-day long depression after it happened, I would be looking for a solution to stop it before it even got started.

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Memorizing and practicing the recollections in daily meditation and beyond has helped me gladden the mind and get beyond harmful thinking at most times. You might find AN 11.11 helpful.

There, the Buddha teaches: “When a noble disciple recollects the Realized One their mind is not full of greed, hate, and delusion. At that time their mind is unswerving, based on the Realized One. A noble disciple whose mind is unswerving finds joy in the meaning and the teaching, and finds joy connected with the teaching.”

Wishing you peace and freedom:-)

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I think that going back to basics is often forgotten or regarded as too simple and that the mind like to be drawn to more advanced aspects because the mind thinks that if I solve the complicated stuff, I will become uncomplicated
But the mind wasn’t complicated before it moved too far away from the base, the base of being. So by remembering its base as soon as possible, and retract the few steps back to basic, the mind will over time know this pattern by itself and prefer to always be at the base, - beginners mind.

base of sanity

:slight_smile:

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The question that comes to my mind is - what is the source of your ‘suffering’? Is it the first dart of pain, or is it the second dart of mental fabrications? … I shouldn’t be having this depression. I don’t want this depression it feels yuk - make it stop! I should be able to stop it from arising!

Craving includes aversion as it’s twin. Wanting this over that… It may be worthwhile, to examine what percentage of the ‘painful feeling’ is due to wishing it were gone, or not arisen.

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This is an excellent question. It wasn’t the initial pain. The problem was that I basically lost control over my thoughts for 3 days. I had an internal monologue that would not shut up no matter what I tried. It just kept talking and talking, and not pleasant thoughts, sad thoughts. It’s like being swept away by a river, and not being able to swim to shore.

I wouldn’t exactly call it suffering, because I knew it was only temporary, etc. I wasn’t really grasping or pushing away from it… it was mostly just annoying that I couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. I really just wanted my brain to shut up so I could get some sleep. It was very draining of any energy I had.

Loss of perceived control can be a great thing to examine in practice :smiley:

Just for future reference, as a technical point regarding the forum, it is best if discussion can be kept more general rather than highly personal. (acknowledging this guideline is not simply black and white … but always a question of balance :slight_smile:
The terms of service strongly emphasise not to discuss personal practice issues (especially not to ask for or give specific medical or psychological advice)… but the same questions can be asked in general terms, and then answers can also be given in general terms, based on the Buddhas teachings :slight_smile: :pray: :dharmawheel: :sunflower:

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I try to respect this, but it is difficult to talk about rumination/depression without giving a few details. I have no idea if other people experience depression in the same way that I do, so I can really only speak from personal experience. Scientists say that 15-30% of people report they don’t have an internal monologue at all, which would make it difficult to explain to them what I’m even talking about.

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In the suttas the householder’s affliction of depression can be classed as a gross hindrance expected to have been controlled or eradicated by the time of the jhana level. It is included in the instruction to " gladden (inspire) or steady the mind" in the contemplation of mind states in the basic Anapanasati sutta. As has been pointed out above there are recommended contemplations to achieve that. These are the recollections of the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, one’s own virtues, generosity, and the devas, as individual subjects. The instructions to practice these recollections are in AN 11.12 & 13.

“Of one who does this, Mahanama, it is said: 'Among those who are out of tune, the disciple of the noble ones dwells in tune;”—AN 11.12

The practitioner reviewing their own sila is particularly important as it is part of the investigation into the second and third noble truths- which thoughts give rise to suffering, and which to samadhi. There is a cause and effect relationship between sila and samadhi (AN 11.1, 11.2). By maintaining a consistent level of sila, then samadhi and piti (joy) can be kept constant.

Since this process begins in the early stage- the second tetrad of the Anapanasati sutta, the question of depression does not arise.

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Mental Health is part of Medicine. Severe and not so severe cases of mental health issues need proper attention by professionals, psychiatrists or psychotherapy.
Nowadays I am having prescribed drugs for mental health issues.
What I feel is that my practice of ethics, generosity and compassion, specifically with my work mates and bosses, is giving me a lot of support. They are really being great with me in this hard times. My sister is also helping me a lot. Although I have moments of despair, I am really grateful for the kindness these people are showing to me. All nights I do a bit of Metta.
Best wishes to all of you and all beings.

Thanks Bhante.

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I’ve found that depression can really hijack the mind, the way that you have described. When the mind is relatively balanced, it’s much easier to think positive thoughts or to brighten the mind and explore possibilities. Depression seems to hijack the brain in such a way that these healthy strategies seem useless, or not even within the realm of possibility.

Sometimes difficult events of life will push me into a ruminating, anxious and then depressive state. Like many, I’ve had some difficult events in life that likely left a bit of cognitive scar tissue, and sometimes I am not as resilient to life’s darts as I wish I were. Life can throw some real curveballs at us, and all of the Suttas in the world can’t seem to brighten a mind that is hijacked by worry or depression. I’ve resorted to keeping a brief journal of notes that were designed (almost like DBT training) to reframe thoughts in more positive ways, and I use these notes ( and a positive psychology app on my phone) as a resource, or lifeline, to pull my thinking back into more positive territory. There are now a few good phone apps that can be really helpful to reframe negative or worrisome thinking, and it’s amazing to me that just having access to some peer-reviewed affirmations can turn a downward drift into an upward tilt. Once I get my headspace tilted up, I can then seem to redirect my thoughts and actions in healthier ways.

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