Alleviating Bipolar with meditation

Origi­nal post: Alle­vi­at­ing Bipo­lar with meditation

I was asked on the slack, about bipo­lar and what might help from a med­i­ta­tion stand­point. I have my own ex­pe­riences to share. (stan­dard non-med­i­cal ad­vice dis­claimer ap­plies here, i’m not qual­ified to give pro­fes­sional ad­vice and you should prob­a­bly con­firm with a pro­fes­sional if you have doubts about try­ing any of this.)

Here’s a list of things that might help with the sub­jec­tive mood swing­ing of bipo­lar ex­pe­rience.

1. A broad­en­ing of aware­ness and con­texts.

For about 6 months of time when I was re­ally fo­cused on moods (and 10 years be­fore that), I felt like I didn’t have moods, moods had me (moods dis­tinct from emo­tions which can be had from mo­ment to mo­ment, moods are more like back­ground, the colour of the day). I would wake up and find out to­day was “mis­er­able” or “ex­cited”.

I worked on a spe­cific type of med­i­ta­tion prac­tice that is called broad­en­ing of aware­ness (there are 2 differ­ent in­struc­tions for meth­ods). I got lucky that this helped me and I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it. When moods had me, it felt like things “just are” mis­er­able. Now my aware­ness is broader than the moods and “I”* con­tain them. (*med­i­ta­tive “I” and “self” are a rab­bit hole)

In­struc­tions: Most peo­ple have their sense of their self bound­ary in line with their skin bar­rier. “I” end at my skin. But it’s pos­si­ble to ex­pand that bound­ary, and shift it to larger. Par­tic­u­larly the “ki­netic sphere”, the area where one might be able to reach out­side the body, and then fur­ther to the whole room size. Hold­ing this “bar­rier” thing at the size of the room means that I’m “an­chored” metaphor­i­cally to more solid things than my own body. Ob­vi­ously “I’m” still the same but my ground is the ac­tual sta­tion­ary room. Which does not feel moods like my body does. (*ex­pla­na­tion of why it helps may be en­tirely ir­rele­vant, fact is, anec­data: it helped me)

There’s space in my new ex­panded “me” to find the body be­ing a cer­tain mood but also to find stil­l­ness out there in the room which doesn’t get dragged around like the moods do. I felt the pull of daily moods dry up. Ob­vi­ously my body is still in grump but “I’m not” men­tally trapped in that ex­pe­rience. From there, there’s a new, deeper breath­ing pat­tern that sup­ports the broader aware­ness prac­tice and that’s to be dis­cov­ered and also hinted at. I would en­courage try­ing it for a few min­utes a day and then go­ing for a per­ma­nent shift into what is some­times de­scribed as “spa­cious­ness”.

In­struc­tions 2: aware­ness speci­fi­cally in the vi­sual field can be ex­panded out the periph­eral. Start by pick­ing an ob­ject straight ahead to look at and fo­cus on. Now ex­pand the aware­ness to the periph­eral of the vi­sual field. Hold there for 30 sec­onds, then push on to­wards ex­pand­ing the periph­eral. this works well look­ing up at the sky, or the ocean be­cause of the broad­ness of the vi­sual ob­ject in the vi­sual field. push the “aware­ness” be­yond the vi­sual field un­til there’s a sense of spidey-sense tingling to what’s out­side the vi­sual field. Hold a broad­ness of aware­ness to the vi­sual area and the spidey sense. Try to en­gage this broad sense reg­u­larly and through the day, try to live in this broad-sense of the world around you. No­tice that a “mood” is within this sense, not fully cov­er­ing the whole space. If you work at the broad­ness, that sense comes.

2. Stages of insight

At the same time as try­ing that prac­tice, I was cy­cling through (tech­ni­cal med­i­ta­tion term – can be read about in MCTB2 book) “the stages of in­sight“. As I would cy­cle I would hit sen­sa­tion like fear, and it would call up in­vol­un­tary in­tru­sive mem­o­ries about things I feared, then I would the next day have a “when will it end” feel­ing and wres­tle with that one.

For 2, what be­came im­por­tant is form­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the mem­o­ries that I didn’t like. Due to lots of med­i­ta­tion, I was pretty clear what was nor­mal and what was an in­tru­sive visit from my past. I started ask­ing the ques­tion, “why is this here?” and that ques­tion even­tu­ally turned into, “how is this here to help?” or “what do I need to still learn from this mem­ory?” and that was a huge shift.

After those ques­tions were hard in­grained into my at­ti­tude, within a week, shitty mem­o­ries stopped show­ing up. Pos­si­bly be­cause I got so good at re­lat­ing to them that I was never call­ing them, “shitty mem­o­ries”, and pos­si­bly be­cause I never felt shit again about them, I’d just ap­pre­ci­ate the les­son that I was to learn. And from that I stopped cy­cling nearly as hard. I still no­tice bits of cy­cling but I’m above the cy­cle, not in it.

3 Greater bod­ily aware­ness.

a few days ago I wanted a photo of my­self, so I put on a fancy shirt and got out of bed to take the photo. 3 min­utes later I found my­self eat­ing things. When I asked my­self what’s go­ing on, be­cause I wasn’t hun­gry, I no­ticed that I was cold and I was us­ing food to stop feel­ing cold. An in­ter­est­ing dis­cov­ery. I made my way back to warm things.

It’s bod­ily aware­ness that helps with the moods and ac­tions. I can feel where in my body (or not) I’m feel­ing de­pressed or an­gry and I can alle­vi­ate it via move­ment or in­ter­nal sen­sa­tion and not by out­wardly be­ing moody or suffer­ing mood swings.

For this I’ve done a lot of med­i­ta­tion and body scan at­ten­tion work. Any sen­sa­tion is rele­vant, itch­ing the head, the knot in the stom­ach, the tin­gle in the toes. It’s all rele­vant to the way I think.

It’s a rat ra­tio­nal­ity thing to as­sume that these sen­sa­tion ex­pe­riences are noise but they are not. All sen­sa­tion is rele­vant.

Some com­bi­na­tion of the 3 have helped me to the point where I doubt I have bipo­lar any more. I was fairly con­fi­dent at one point and now it seems un­likely to be a use­ful di­ag­no­sis.

And if there’s a 4 and 5 it’s, watch sleep and so­cial life and make sure to get enough of both, as well as be­ing aware of in­sta­bil­ity in both which can start a cy­cle of in­sta­bil­ity. This is from In­ter­per­sonal So­cial Rhythm Ther­apy IPSRT – the only ther­apy de­signed for bipo­lar. Fix­ing my sleep made a big differ­ence, and fix­ing my mood first thing in the morn­ing did too.

Shoutout to Bipo­lar Awak­en­ings for be­ing more on the odd-strange-spiritual side of med­i­ta­tive prac­tice to­wards progress on alle­vi­at­ing bipo­lar.