All miracles in life started with some predispositions, plus a coincidence.
The term Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy just popped up and caught my heart when I was searching for some research program about Buddhism and Psychology last year. And I happened to attend a talk given by the world-renowned Jon Kabat-Zinn early this year, which strengthened my belief in the Mindfulness therapy. Surprisingly enough, as the secretary of Buddhist Society, I sent an email to Prof. Mark Williams asking for a talk and he kindly agreed. That led to the dinner I had with him last week, which was, no doubt, the high light of my year at Oxford and I am sure it would change my career and life a lot.
This book was written as a guidebook for patients suffering from recurrent depression, or say, a shortened self-help manual of the standard eight-week MBCT program. Self-use tables, detailed guidance on meditation, case studies, and a CD of guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn are included in this short book. This might not seem that satisfying for helping professionals, but surely, depressive readers would find it utterly useful and illuminating.
The fundamental basis of MBCT is, with mindfulness, we can become aware of the returning of depression and then accept the negative emotion and thought rather than indulge in ruminative brooding.
There is never a lack of sadness in life. However, the fact is we all want a life with happiness only, which sounds nice but impractical. Therefore, it is the same situation inside us—negative emotions coexist with positive ones, and no one could be free from annoyance and helplessness.
Interestingly, most people try to either escape or fight with the unhappy moments. They try to ignore sadness, which is inevitable in life, and criticize themselves for not being happy.
Here comes the critical symptom and also psychopathology of depression—rumination, which describes the tendency to indulge in endless thinking over the unhappy feeling. In another word, when depressive individuals feel unhappy, then tend to spend a lot of time thinking whey they have unhappy feelings and the negative result of this unhappiness. Thus, they feel guilty and hopeless, but at the same time, they consider themselves as failures and perceive no self-control over life. The life is doomed and no more happiness would occur in future.
It is their rumination rather than the sadness in the first place which contributes the most to depression. Once a clue of sadness is detected, that individual would automatically enter the downward spiral by activating a series of habituated negative thoughts: I know I am a failure in the beginning and there is no hope, no hope, that I can make my life as happy as it was before!
But do we have any other option when depression starts to recur? Perhaps, mindfulness is the best answer.
In meditation, when thoughts appear in our mind, we are told to gently bring back our attention to breath and observe how our thoughts appear and vanish. Instead of avoiding or fighting against the random thought that comes to our mind, it is better to let go of the thought and latter on we will realize that these thoughts are like clouds, they come and go, without changing the color of the sky, which is us—the observer. Meditation is not a means to an end, but rather, a state of mind where we become fully aware of every single thought, emotion, and bodily sensation, and we accept them all without identification.
See how can we apply the technique of meditation to the moment where the depressive spiral begins to spring downward?
Once we are aware that we are not concentrating at all, we become mindful and we manage to focus our attention again. Similarly, once we become mindful of our sensation and feeling, which are the early signs of depression, we have choice and control over whether we will ruminate or not.
There must be sad moments in life from time to time, but we have to learn to let go of our negative thoughts and live with the unhappiness. It is of no use to brood over the fact that we are unhappy, and it is even worse to blame ourselves for being unhappy, emotion and mind are not within our control and that’s the essence of life.
Patients with depression are trained for eight weeks and gradually develop their own mindfulness practices, which help them to recognize the early sign of depression and pay attention to the negative feeling in a totally different way—accepting and smiling. Thus, depression could be transformed.