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.

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12 Responses

  1. James says:

    I don’t think we get this where I live… the summers are so fucking hot here that when winter rolls around everyones grateful their balls are no longer sticking to the inside of their thighs.

  2. sevens! says:

    I tend to just do nothing from mid-Sept to November. Just go to work, pay my rent, eat, and do a lot of reading

    • sevens! says:

      It’s even better now that I have a job that only needs me 3 days a week. I want to feel bad about having 4 entire days off, but I don’t.

  3. James says:

    its 70 degrees with 75% humidity where I live today (Christmas Eve).

    • Illuminatus says:

      It is not so much the temperature that causes SAD but rather the rapid reduction in light levels (e.g. sunset was at 3:57pm today).

      • James says:

        oh, well our sunset is around 7pm

        • Saturnus says:

          Man so lucky. Early sunsets are so sad (no pun intended by me, but definitely intended by people who came up with the term SAD).

          Another reason for SAD is that the further one is from the equator in the winter months, the more of an angle the sun shines on earth, which means its light has to travel further in the atmosphere, losing its energy. You will feel less impact from the sun even at noon on a winter day than a summer day.

          • Arpan says:

            In our National Capital Region(in India) we had record breaking cold this time at around 2-4 degrees Centigrade(this region is very far away from moderating maritime influence and if Himalayas weren’t there, we would have Siberian winds bringing us snow) and and we are feeling dead lol. Can’t fathom what you must be facing.

            However, scientists say that ultra hot climes coupled with tropical disease vectors drain peoples’ energy much more than severe cold(I prefer torrid summers to frigid winters though).
            Cold and turbulent climate made humanity settled in Europe less capable of advanced agriculture, more ready for geographical exploration in search of resources, including marine travel. Indeed, geography is one particular branch of knowledge where greeks had a much vaster vision than most oriental minds. Whereas, Oriental nations, particularly India, tended to delve more into abstract fields of search like mathematics and astronomy(they could tell the speed of light without modern day instruments, so their methods were more abstract and rational, than empirical).

            • Saturnus says:

              Hahaha 2-4 degrees is a decently warm winter day in most parts of Canada. West coast has a much better weather due to the influence of the pacific ocean with most winter days being above 0. Though the clouds and the rain intensify the lack of light and SAD.

              Interesting point about the European inclination. Maybe this is the reason behind the colonial expansion in search for resources? Also why the scientific method arose first in Europe?

              When does Empiricism stop being a useful tool and start becoming a limiting belief?

              • Arpan says:

                “Hahaha 2-4 degrees is a decently warm winter day in most parts of Canada. West coast has a much better weather due to the influence of the pacific ocean with most winter days being above 0. Though the clouds and the rain intensify the lack of light and SAD.”
                I know :D. I have family in UK, US, Canada, Germany and Australia. Cold is one of the things that disenchants me from these countries. My system is more geared towards dry Indian summers(as opposed to humid ones we have in certain parts of India).

                Even after the Industrial Revolution, European forces were quite outmatched by many indic forces on land. Child Wars by Sir Joshua Child is a case in point, where he made the .mistake of using East India Company’s(British) forces to attack Mughal Empire’s army , to force the Mughal Emperor to grant them some commercial right. Company’s small force was completely wasted and Child had to crawl to the throne on his knees and kiss the emperor’s foot.
                An interesting side anecdote is use of rockets against British East India Company in its conquest of Mysore in southern India, where the local ruler ran out of iron for cannon balls(since his fort was under a long siege) and had to improvise:
                This battle was iconic as it featured Sir Arthur Wellesley, the man who would later defeat Napoleon at Waterloo a well as a rocket technology that would later be researched upon , improved and adopted by Britain.

                The reason why still many trade concessions as well as land tax rights were granted to European companies was their naval power, which, at the least, could destroy mughal international trade at sea. Ultimately, British turned out to be the victors in the squabble among European powers over India, but what’s overlooked is that for the most part, these powers could not compete with natives to any significant degree of success either.

                So European naval power, underestimation of European trading companies due to lack of news from around the world(they had already bled Africa white) , Christian Missions zealous about saving souls(they were the real spearhead of European military expansionism, which only Japan saw in time), and the atmosphere of disunity in India due to muslim rule barely been demolished in a series of wars by various Hindu forces(this is a bit simplistic a picture, as alliances were complex) led to colonial expansion into India. If you see the underlying pattern it is a basic rapaciousness(which is what “search for resources ” tends to degrade into at various fractal levels both of existence and morality) expressing itself via various modes: Ideological(Christianity and white man’s burden), economic, military, commercial and intellectual(distortion and appropriation of local literature and knowledge sources). It can be argued that this is how wealth and power has always been accumulated. But that is the point: The fact that this argument is true in most cases, does not make it an axiomatic necessity. Traditional Indian and Chinese models of wealth and influence generation, when these nations were at their peak, with them sharing amidst themselves over 50 percent of world economy(I might be seriously understating for some historical periods), were not at all built on such “competition” model in the first place. Even for war, protocols were in place that made brutality, terrorism and scorched earth tactics necessary as defeat was not more crippling than a loss of prestige and capability to strike again. Such success requires an entire religious, societal and educational framework though. Eg. if money is the prime mover in a society, then corruption is bound to be rife and if not, it won’t be only because there is a “dynamic equilibrium”, i.e. constant struggle with it via checks and balances. Would a scientist or an artist be more motivated in such a society , or would he be motivated in a society where a man of knowledge(or art) can only gain recognition in proportion to how good he is at his own vocation ? In such a society, merely being rich or merely holding a governmental position would give you no power over a scholar. Here good practices and motivation is built into the societal fabric itself.

                The most famous ancient Indian military overseas campaign target Sumatra, Malay Peninsula and Myanmar for the most part, and for what purpose: to secure trading rights. There was no occupation at all, despite the success. Whereas Colonialism was based on “Buying cheap and selling dear” by ruling the sellers of raw materials and encoding twisted trade policies into laws governing these people.

                “Also why the scientific method arose first in Europe?”
                Who said so ? that’s the old colonial narrative in order to portray non white populations and civilizations as inherently less evolved or capable. It stands against whatever I stated in this comment and in the one you replied to. How could mathematics and physics be dealt with by a people who did not even understand the scientific method. The exact details of emphasis differ though, and it is upto debate if the modern version is “better”.

                “When does Empiricism stop being a useful tool and start becoming a limiting belief?”
                When you raise it onto the pedestal of belief rather than letting it be what it is: an observation.

                • Saturnus says:

                  My bad. I was referring to the modern incarnation of the scientific method in Europe with all its utilities and limitations.

                  • Arpan says:

                    It depends on where you wish to start counting your “first” from, and what you consider “modern”. What you call modern is rather “western” which became “modern” in the global sense, because West was at the peak of its power in the two centuries following the Industrial Revolution and as Chanakya says: It is the culture of the dominant power that spreads. You truly lose only when you decide to lose culturally. As Sadhguru says, on the food front, what does USA offer ? Coca Cola, Burgers ? How are they good for your health in any way ? But what gains popularity is not what is reasonable, but what comes from those who are in power.

                    If you look at the entire education programme, media campaign and archeological and philological study that Brits conducted in India, it was meant to divest Indians of all pride and hope in their potential. In education, Indians were barred from technical institutes and limited to education that could only make clerks out of them. It was the irrepressible nature of certain archeological findings combined with voices of certain Indophile Europeans(particularly Germans) and small section of elite Indians equally educated in both Western and and ancient Indian world views(Swami Vivekanand was among them) that truly put the British on the backfoot, and made them start the campaign on a more stealthy mode(Discovery of Indus Valley Civilization in India, led them to separate darker south Indians as the original race in India, and fairer people up north as the conqueror master race closer to the European stock). Swami Vivekanand once quoted an example of an Irish man who came all discouraged and depressed from Ireland(of that time), to USA, and within 6 months there was a spectacular change in him as he was accepted as a man amongst men. Within his own land, the Brahman that had shrunk. expanded again in a new country. (Not that SV did not face any discrimination in US of that time, or that blacks didn’t or Irish didn’t). Nazis were not really different from other European powers(except probably Soviet Union), they just took these ideas to their logical end. Today’s China is taking a leaf out of that book, for healing the “wound that whites dealt to their national pride and to take what should belong only to the civilized”, by introducing the concept of Han Master race in hearts and minds of Chinese children(I believe this could turn out to be far more vindictive than Nazis).

                    To wind up to the first point: It is power, wealth(sets your mind free from concerns of the food and safety) and Renaissance(that put a tight leash on the mental virus called Christianity) that unleashed the scientific method. Also, I believe, when you as well as your competitors gain a lot of power, it always has a refining influence on everybody. We could see a new level of cooperation post WW2 and invention of nuclear bombs, with the rise of Brettenwoods Institutions, Geneva conventions etc.. A glimpse of this could even be seen earlier, in Europe’s dealing with Imperial China: Considering how mutual conflict could brutally damage their interests, European power decided to “divide the Chinese pie into spheres of influence”. This is remarkably subtle with respect to European thinking in that era. “Scientific Method” is not just about science. It is a way of thinking, it is a culture.

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