by Dr. Pamela Prince Pyle
It was an ordinary office. The couches and chairs well worn by the patients who came before me. The therapist said, “Take a seat, anywhere you would like.”
My physician mindset thought, “I imagine my choice of chair or couch are already giving insight to this well-respected counselor.” When I mention this, he laughs. “Well, sitting position, body language, greeting, they all give me a sense of the comfort of the patient in the room. I want them to be comfortable.”
This was not my first visit to a therapist for the yoke of depression I had worn. Most of the time it was light, however, on this day, it was quite heavy. This was a new therapist; however, I expected a similar approach to working through my issue at hand. I was wrong.
During that first visit, he began by showing me Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of control subjects without reported depression in comparison to subjects who had depression. I sat up straight in the recliner (yes, I chose the comfy chair close to him). I could not believe the images displayed and the distinct differences of a healthy brain versus one that was trapped in depression. I was intrigued.
He then began to explain that the great majority of those who suffer from depression can be successfully treated through retraining or “re-wiring” how the brain processes negative emotions. He said, “It is not the negative emotion itself which causes depression. It is the struggle against it which can spiral an individual into negative self-talk ultimately resulting in a sense of chronic depression.”
I sat back and processed what he said. It was true, I could be having a great day and a fleeting sense of melancholy would occur. I have experienced significant depression in the past which felt as if I had been consumed in a “black hole”. I would then spend time focusing on avoidance of that “black hole”. If you have ever had depression or anxiety, I am sure that you can relate.
He then switched screens on his computer and said, “This is the good news. These are images after development of a mindfulness practice.”
I sat up again and was amazed at the differences which occurred on these fMRIs. I thought, “But, will this work for me?”
He must have read my mind because he stood up and walked over to the bookshelf. Turning back to me, he said, “I would like for you to read this book. It is called The Mindful Way Through Depression. [i] Also, there is a companion workbook to the book and part of an eight-week program which I believe will significantly help you. We can meet as you want while you complete it.”
I believe if he had not started with the images, I might not have been so willing to try this process of becoming mindful. I am thankful he did. I went from skeptic to advocate during this time. It was a summer of change for me and a new way of thinking that benefits me to this day. I continue to share my story with those who suffer with fear, grief, anxiety, and depression. If I share my bruised authentic life, then perhaps, I may be able to help in another’s bruised authentic life.
Mindfulness is described as “the dispassionate, moment-by-moment awareness of sensations, emotions and thoughts”. [ii] The importance of understanding mindfulness is that it is an awareness of an emotion and not associating a judgement with that emotion. However, while this may seem impossible at first (at least for me it did), it becomes easier with training and practice. Success is linked to practice.
Christians can view mindfulness through experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. He is describing mindfulness and with the lens of God’s Grace we no longer need to judge our thoughts.
Meditation is not so easily defined as there are many different types of meditation. Cahn & Polich (2006) described it best: “Meditation is used to describe practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attentional set…. regulation of attention is the central commonality across the many divergent methods” [iii]
I consider my times of meditation as opportunities of hearing from rather than speaking to God. My prayer life has changed because I am no longer doing most of the talking. Wouldn’t you rather that be the case when you consider who is talking most in this particular conversation? God knows our broken our hearts and minds. He wants us to know His thoughts about them.
The workbook associated with The Mindful Way Through Depression: Free yourself from Chronic Unhappiness worked for my style of learning. However, there are many resources which may work better for your style of learning. A classic book is The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English [iv]. First written 300 years ago in French, its timeless message remains applicable. Smart phone apps exist in this genre without a focus on Eastern Philosophies. I can recommend the following:
- Reflect: Christian Mindfulness
- Recenter with Christ – Christian Meditation
- Centering Prayer
- Smiling Mind
- Mindfulness Coach
As I reflect on that time in my mental and emotional health, I can truly say that I was relieved of many of the issues that would periodically present themselves. Rather than perseverate in the brief sense of melancholy, I would recognize it, not struggle against it, and then proceed with what I was doing. I intentionally look to God’s creation for something beautiful. It is surprising how many seemingly ordinary objects are, in fact, drenched with beauty.
I won’t declare that my life is completely shed of the yoke of depression. However, these practices have lightened its weight and in concert have enriched my relationship with the Lord and with others. I pray they do the same for you.
[i] Williams, J. M. G, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness., 2007. Print.
[ii] Marchand, William R. “Neural mechanisms of mindfulness and meditation: Evidence from neuroimaging studies.” World journal of radiology vol. 6,7 (2014): 471-9. doi:10.4329/wjr. v6.i7.471
[iv] Lawrence, B., & Davis, M. (2013). The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English. Marshall Davis.
Dr. Pamela Prince Pyle is a Board-Certified Internal Physician, chairman of Africa New Life Ministries, national/international speaker, and host of the Hope for Every Season podcast. She is also a regular contributor for outlets such as The Epoch Times and Christian Post. To get a sneak peek of her book or obtain all her tips to live your best life, visit www.drpamela.com.