Mental Illness and the Power of Now

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I’ve been reading the book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, for about ten months. I can only read a few pages at a time before it becomes too intense in its truths and suggestions for my brain to handle. It’s a fascinating book that gives me a lot to think about and meditate on.

Today, I wanted to share a quote from the book that particularly related to my mental illness symptoms, and maybe to yours as well. It has to do with surrender, which Tolle explains is an inside job, meaning that while you can take action to try to change the overall situation if you want to, you still need to accept the tiny segment of Now that is occurring.

If I equate this with my mental health symptoms, I may need to accept, for example, that I am feeling sad and agitated at the present moment. Overall, I have been feeling this way for the past week, which I can work towards changing by reporting these symptoms to my doctor, praying, writing, and focusing on what tasks I have in front of me – in the Now.

It is when I do not accept or surrender to my current feelings that I become even more depressed and agitated to the point of wanted to harm myself in some way. (Some people may cut, abuse drugs or alcohol, overeat, engage in risky behavior, or attempt suicide.)

So, here is the quote:

“Non-surrender hardens your psychological form, the shell of the ego, and so creates a strong sense of separateness. The world around you and people in particular come to be perceived as threatening. The unconscious compulsion to destroy others through judgment arises, as does the need to compete and dominate. Even nature becomes your enemy and your perceptions and interpretations are governed by fear. The mental disease that we call paranoia is only a slightly more acute form of this normal but dysfunctional state of consciousness.

Not only your psychological form but also your physical form – your body – becomes hard and rigid through resistance. Tension arises in different parts of the body, and the body as a whole contracts. The free flow of life energy through the body, which is essential for its healthy functioning, is greatly restricted. Bodywork and certain forms of physical therapy can be helpful in restoring this flow, but unless you practice surrender in your every day life, those things can only give temporary symptom relief since the cause – the resistance pattern – has not been dissolved.”

Aren’t these ideas amazing to ponder? I can relate to all of them. I have a fear of people hurting me; feel like I am in competition with everyone; filled with fear of natural disasters, or some harm coming to one of my children. Fear rules my life, and I don’t want it to.

Physically I am usually in pain – tension headaches, muscle cramps, migraines, neck stiffness, clenched jaw, exhaustion, etc. I exercise, go to the chiropractor, and get massages to try to relieve my physical pain. The results are always temporary, lasting a day or two at the most.

I must work on surrendering to what is in the Now. I must work on dissolving the “resistance pattern.” But, how? I will keep reading and let you know what I find.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you work on surrendering in your daily life?

12 thoughts on “Mental Illness and the Power of Now

  1. I think, from experiencing trauma in my childhood, and being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 many years later, fear is embedded in my psyche. I fear more intensely than many, especially those who don’t have mental health issues.

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  2. I’ve been reading Eckhart T. For a while but I find it difficult to surrender the faith of my son, he is bipolar and smokes marijuana and I’ve been trying to get him to detox and to seek help but to no avail, I am scared that if I let him be, he’d just spiral down out of control to a point of no return, he still lives at home, he can’t find a job, I hear all these advices about tough love etc. But honestly I’m so very confused as to what would be best. Sometimes I just feel like running away and never come back.

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    • As a parent of a teenager with depression, possible bipolar type II, I can understand your anguish. It’s so hard to watch our children go through something we have no control over. Of course I can control things like taking her to doctors and counselors and making sure she takes her meds properly and supporting her emotionally as best I can without making myself sick in the process. But she is still a minor, a child, only 14. If she was an adult it would be a different story. She would have to be responsible for her own recovery. That’s just the way it works. God bless you.

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  3. I use medication to manage symptoms but I also use meditation. I have tried using just meditation but it is not sufficient. However, meds without meditation is also limiting. Meditation practices such as mindfulness help me be more in the Now. Otherwise, I find myself crushed by negative thinking which is what you too seem to experience. Before surrender , one must accept these thoughts, body sensations, fears are in the current experience. Surrender is letting go of believing your thoughts and letting go of believing there is anything you can do to change this experience in this moment. Once you let go of trying to control it and simply accept that it is present, it can seem to relax in the body and mind. You feel more centered, grounded. This is a practice that must be used often. You will learn from this practice. Distressing symptoms will recur and you must return to the practice of witnessing the experience in the mind and body. During this practice, you must endeavor to refrain from telling a story of what this all means. The stories we tell ourselves exacerbate our difficult thoughts. Also, please consider calling your prescriber to help you with medication if that is indicated. When you feel like hurting yourself, that’s definitely a time to call in all helpers.

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    • These are amazing suggestions that I agree with for my situation too. “the stories exacerbate our difficult thoughts” is so true. Why does the mind want the story so much? Thanks for your comment. Sorry it took so long for a response, it got buried in my notifications.

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  4. I have bipolar I disorder. I notice that I’m feeling really depressed today.
    “The Power of Now” is such a fantastic book and has helped me so much, I am now re-reading and re-reading it. After I read “The Power of Now” at age 37, I finally accepted my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder (Acceptance and Surrender) It IS actually a real mental illness. I then started taking medication which has really helped me as well.
    I have great psychiatrist, I have wonderful and supportive partner, friends and family. I have an amazing support group (GROW), I exercise most days for 30 mins and meditate up to 2 x 30 minute sessions per day (focussing on breathing – when I notice my attention is not focussed on my breath, I refocus my attention on my breath.)
    I do yoga and have the most amazing yoga teacher. I have stopped drinking and taking drugs and I generally eat very healthily. Even though I take appetite / weight increasing medication, my weight is normal as are all of my other physical statistics. I am physically well and healthy.
    Despite all of this, I still notice that I get depressed!
    Despite all of this, I have been hospitalised twice – I had found myself living in toxic environments, I had become so low that I didn’t think that there was any point to life anymore. I had also left my support group.
    I consider my support group, GROW would have to be THE most important part of my mental health plan, and my psychiatrist agrees. Leaving my support group was in a large way what contributed to me landing back in hospital.
    Like Alcoholics Anonymous for Alcoholics, GROW is a weekly meeting of other people with mental health issues dealing with one problem one at a time. GROW has been around for over 60 years, and has a book to help with recovery and growth contains a great deal of wisdom.
    One such wisdom is HOPE: “I can, and ultimately become completely well. The Universe/God who made me can restore me and enable me to do my part. The best in life and love and happiness is ahead of me.”
    I can truly say that as a 49 year old today looking back at my 27 year old younger self, life is SO very much better today. I was 27 when first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So, although I notice that I am feeling really depressed today, I know that in OBSERVING what I am thinking and feeling, I am becoming present (as Eckhardt Tolle would say)
    I can also acknowledge that poor sleep and some other triggers activated this little bout of depression.
    The depression is real – it is a medical condition, but the younger me could have dwelt and wallowed in this depression for weeks. The present me is able to dig into my toolbox of tricks for dealing with this depression much quicker. I rang one of the friends in my support group who reminded me that depression is actually a real medical illness and to be kind to myself today.
    I am now able to see that I can give myself a bit of self-compassion (Consider googling Kirsten Neff).
    In “The Power of Now” Eckhardt Tolle says “I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment as “the end of suffering.” There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what’s left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you’ll have to find out for yourself.
    One of my teachers said that we all experience pain. In fact, pain, sickness, disease and death are certain for every one of us. Pain is one thing, but that the non-acceptance of pain, leads to suffering. Eckhardt Tolle may possibly agree with this.
    Today, I am NOTICING I am feeling depressed. (I don’t want to get out of bed, want to beat myself up, not exercise and eat badly and take it out on myself and others. My thoughts are “If only that crazy man hadn’t rung last night to make me worry. If only my partner hadn’t fried salmon at midnight and come to bed late and kept waking me up. If only my other friend hadn’t called me late as well. I was meditating, why couldn’t I get myself to sleep? if only I’d been able to get up early and get myself to the gym. It’s not fair. Why can’t I be more resilient? I’m doing all the self-help that I am doing, but I still can’t get myself out of this. I’ll NEVER be able to do it. I’ll NEVER be able to get well. I’m an idiot, I’m useless, I’m a FAILURE life is F**ked, everything is F**ked. I’m F**ked, we’re all F**ked. What’s the point of anything?” etc. etc. etc.
    I have also done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy says to re-evaluate the thoughts, splitting the realistic thoughts and feelings from the over-thinking, black and white and catastrophising thoughts. e.g. It was really annoying and upsetting that the crazy man and my friend called last night and my partner was cooking late and making noise, and all of these factors contributed to me not being able to get to sleep and lack of sleep can lead to being irritable and annoyed.
    However, these are normal things that can and do happen, and also being frustrated that I couldn’t get myself to sleep or stick to my routine. However, they do not mean that it is the end of the world and “Everything is **cked!” (This is the over exaggeration and catastrophising which leads to suffering / depression.
    I then have a choice – do I surrender to the annoyance and anger about my lack of sleep OR, do I not accept it and continue to suffer and be depressed? Now that I have written it out, I can see which one I want!
    SO – instead of getting angry and abusing myself and others, I could just get on with my day – get outside, go for a walk, be kind and gentle to myself and do things that I know are good for me! (I may not find that I am quite able to rush straight back to the gym, but I could go for a walk around the block, or go to a cafe (as my friend suggested).
    I am not pretending at all that there is no depression in my life, but with all the tools I now have at my disposal it is very much easier to manage.
    I do not really have severe bouts of Mania, and my mood stabilisers really help with these.
    Simply finding this wonderful post and writing this comment have had the effect of me noticing my depression lifting, and I am now ready to go outside for a walk and to get back on track with having a lovely day.
    I hope that what I have written may be of help to someone out there. I can actually see real time how it has helped me!
    While it may seem that it has been easy for me to get to where I am now, it has really been a long hard road. I cannot recommend enough trying to get in touch with a regular weekly support group such as GROW. There are also plenty of other mental health support groups online.
    Call the mental health support lines in times of crisis. In Australia we have Lifeline: Telephone: 13 11 14
    Lifeline are awesome!
    Also please remember, these techniques are some of the tools that help ME. There is no ‘one size fits all’ recipe for what will help YOU with your mental health condition. You are unique and you will need to find out what works for you.
    You are not alone. Be strong. Be courageous and go on the journey to find out what works for you. Your life can get better. You may notice that you don’t feel like your life will get better and that everything feels hopeless today. Perhaps try one little thing – phone a friend, go for a walk outside or write in your journal.
    Living with a mental health condition is not easy, but if you surrender to the fact that you have a disorder in your life, and if you firmly resolve to restore order in your life, you may actually see that life can and will improve. This may only be a little bit, one day at a time. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Have faith in your spirituality or your relationship to the Universe.
    I wish you the very best in life and love and happiness, and know that you are just as valuable as any other human being on this planet.
    John

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    • Thank you, John, for your beautiful, thoughtful comment. I have never heard of GROW but it sounds fantastic! I employ many of the techniques you use to manage my bipolar disorder too, including breathing meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and yoga, as well as medication and journaling. I just reread the Power of Now as well. Also bought and read Tolle’s book A New Earth which is good too. I have rapid cycling bipolar so I go up and down often mostly between depression and a neutral mood state. I dip into depression about 5-6 times a year. I usually am able to ride it out with acceptance knowing it will pass soon just because it happens so often that I know it will pass. And try not to get caught up in the negative thinking. It’s hard but staying in the present moment does help.

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