Seasonal Affective Disorder Vol. 35
It’s back! Like clockwork, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has rolled around again – always in mid-October, always as the nights draw in.
Having experienced SAD for all years of my adult life (I’m 35 now), I can give a clear account of how 10+ years of meditation has affected it. Whereas initially SAD was some soul-crushing depression, the symptoms have now shifted almost entirely into the physical. This gives a semi-hibernated state of withdrawal, low energy and a hazy, uncentred feel. Emotionally it is low-key, but is not threatening or malignant. It will pass by itself in a couple of weeks. SAD is a perfectly normal transition period in our cyclical year, and is not a “disorder” at all. Provided one does not harbour supra-biological expectations of one’s own godhood, SAD can be weathered like a bad hangover.
SAD aligns strongly with the stage of insight known as “Dissolution”. In fact, the Theravadin map, like many spiritual maps, lines up nicely with the seasonal year:
Spring is about birth and feeling out the year ahead. It encompasses the Knowledges of Mind and Body, Cause and Effect, and the Three Characteristics. It is about setting in motion events to unfold through the rest of the year, and is a good time for formal resolutions.
Summer is a peak experience both spiritually and sensually, and aligns strongly with the Arising and Passing Away.
Autumn is aligned so strongly with the Dissolution (and entry to the dukkha ñanas) that it was the inspiration behind this article. In fact, I have several earlier versions of this article saved from previous years which were never released, for various reasons.
Autumn Through Winter can be assigned its own period, and encompasses the rest of the dukkha ñanas: Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance and Re-observation. It is no coincidence that festivals such as Halloween and the Day of the Dead align with the chronological entry point to the Fear ñana.
Winter proper aligns with the Equanimity ñana. Resistance to the worsening weather has been abandoned completely and replaced with the seasonal cheer of “peace and goodwill to all men”. The Self has been dissolved into the darkness of No-Self and one becomes defined by his relationships to others, rather than to his own accomplishments. This eventually leads to Fruition (rebirth) sometime after the winter solstice, and Review of the previous year; this is a natural time to make formal resolutions for the new year.
Meditating during seasonal affective disorder is identical to meditating during the Dissolution. Since the Dissolution shares some characteristics with the Third Jhana, it is actually quite straightforward to meditate through it in both directive and nondirective styles. Firstly, do not expect solid attention in the centre of the field of awareness. Attention will instead be distributed more towards the periphery, giving a wide, dull, indistinct centre. Rather than expecting strong piti, expect bliss to be more orientated towards sukha. Do not fight dullness but instead sink into it. Through relaxed non-resistance, there is bliss and contentment to be had in the wide murky depths of Dissolution. Meditation will rarely be energizing, but it will become equanimous. Thus, it becomes relatively easy to sit contentedly in Dissolution for long periods, but do not expect this to restore your “get up and go”.
In the past I have prescribed modafinil for SAD, and also found success with phenibut. This year I advise just one medication: a single pint of English ale, to be taken once nightly.