Do not get hung up in the estimate. When your mind is wild and agitated, you can often reestablish mindfulness with a few quick deep breaths. Pull the air in strongly and let it out the same way. This increases the sensation inside the nostrils and makes it easier to focus. Make a strong act of will and apply some force to your attention. Concentration can be forced into growth, so you will probably find your full attention settling nicely back on the breath. Counting the breaths as they pass is a highly traditional procedure. Some schools of practice teach this activity as their primary tactic. Vipassana uses it as an auxiliary technique for reestablishing mindfulness and for strengthening concentration. As we discussed in chapter 5, you can count breaths in a number of different ways. Remember to keep your attention on the breath. You will probably notice a change after you have done your counting. The breath slows down, or it becomes very light and refined. This is a physiological signal that concentration has become well established. At this point, the breath is usually so light or so fast and gentle that you can't clearly distinguish the inhalation from the exhalation. They seem to blend into each other. You can then count both of them as a single cycle. Continue your counting process, but only up to a count of five, covering the same five-breath sequence, then start over. When counting becomes a bother, go on to the next step. Drop the numbers and forget about the concepts of inhalation and exhalation.

Just dive right in to the pure sensation of breathing. Inhalation blends into exhalation. One breath blends into the next in a never-ending cycle of pure, smooth flow. Some thoughts just won't go away. We humans are obsessional beings. It's one of our biggest problems. We tend to lock onto things like sexual fantasies and worries and ambitions. We feed those thought complexes over years of time and give them plenty of exercise by playing with them in every spare moment. Then when we sit down to meditate, we order them to go away and leave us alone. It is scarcely surprising that they don't obey. Persistent thoughts like these require a direct approach, a full-scale frontal attack. Buddhist psychology has developed a distinct system of classification. Rather than dividing thoughts into classes like "good" and "bad," Buddhist thinkers prefer to regard them as "skillful" versus "unskillful." An unskillful thought is one connected with greed, hatred, or delusion. These are the thoughts that the mind most easily builds into obsessions. They are unskillful in the sense that they lead you away from the goal of liberation. Skillful thoughts, on the other hand, are those connected with generosity, compassion, and wisdom. They are skillful in the sense that they may be used as specific remedies for unskillful thoughts, and thus can assist you in moving toward liberation. You cannot condition liberation. It is not a state built out of thoughts. Nor can you condition the personal qualities that liberation produces.

Thoughts of benevolence can produce a semblance of benevolence, but it's not the real item. It will break down under pressure. Thoughts of compassion produce only superficial compassion. Therefore, these skillful thoughts will not, in themselves, free you from the trap. They are skillful only if applied as antidotes to the poison of unskillful thoughts. Thoughts of generosity can temporarily cancel greed. They kick it under the rug long enough for mindfulness to do its work unhindered. Then, when mindfulness has penetrated to the roots of the ego process, greed evaporates and true generosity arises. In times of crisis, when well-meaning people advise you to "have faith," they often make it sound simple, as if it's possible to magically "have" something as elusive as faith on command. That's nearly as unhelpful as telling someone who's suffering from depression to simply "feel better." In previous chapters, you've learned that every step on the path to recovery requires courage and commitment on your part, all summed up in one powerful word: choice. You must choose to seek help and choose to pursue the remedies you are offered before you can tap into their healing potential. Faith is no different. It's not an ethereal "thing" we try to grasp; it's more like an action--something we do on purpose. True, God is willing and able to meet you exactly where you are and to carry you for as long as it takes to restore your strength. In fact, I believe it would astonish us to see how often we benefit from God's unseen work around us. But faith is our part to play to actively complete the circuit of God's love. We do that by choosing to believe we are not alone--through sheer force of will, if necessary--when the night is at its darkest. God does not need our faith; we do. His strength does not wane; ours does. Faith, precisely because it begins with a determined choice, is a jolt of energy that activates our spiritual and emotional immune system as nothing else can.

How? By opening the door to the one thing that all people who suffer from depression feel they have lost forever: hope. As the writer of the book of Hebrews assures us, "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see" (11:1). That writer knew what it meant to hope for something we can't yet see, and he understood that active, determined faith sustains us while we wait for the thing we want to materialize and work to make it so. We might face a health crisis, relationship strain, job loss, or financial problems. Not every hardship we endure will turn out exactly the way we want, but we have the assurance that these things will ultimately result according to God's will and God's best for us. We have this confidence because our faith does not rest in fate or chance or any other thing on earth. Our faith is in God, who is unfailingly good. One way or another, you always choose how to face your life, with confidence or with doubt, in strength or in defeat. Given those options, why not choose the power of faith? Roughing it in the great outdoors opens up a number of doors to those willing to go through them. Hiking and camping aren't for everyone, but venturing outdoors can provide you with a lot of fun things to do on the weekend. Also, meeting fellow outdoorsy people is incredibly easy once you get into the swing of things. Learn How to Paint or Craft - If you'd like to develop more aesthetic skills, painting or crafting in the comfort of your home can be a fantastic way to develop a connection with the texture and feel of your world. Even non-artistic types can go down this road with model car kits or electronics kits. If you're looking to make new friends and have something interesting to say, take a stab at any one of the things on this list, or better yet, go out there and look for an interest that matches your personality. Literally anything works for this - it just takes the right dedication to make it happen. What do you do about those obnoxious voices? How do we shut them up for good, or better yet, replace them with positive voices that can encourage us through even the toughest social encounters? Through positive imaging and self-talk.

For as long as I've been an adult, I've practiced Mind Power exercises that tap into the innate ability we all have to talk ourselves into an optimistic outlook on life. And the best part is that it's actually as simple as it sounds. Here's the idea. Our brains are very powerful, very intricate machines, but they can only handle so much "reality". So, if the world around us is significantly different than how we perceive it, our brains will try to close the gap and make things match up to how they seem. It's called cognitive dissonance and self-starters have been using it for centuries to create a positive mind set and make seemingly impossible goals come true. Confidence is built on a firm foundation of self-esteem. You have to feel good about yourself before you can honestly say to yourself "anything is possible" and better yet, display that confidence to a perfect stranger. But, self-esteem is as notoriously tough trait to regain when life has battered you around of late. What if you won a pair of tickets to a sporting event that you want to go to. Someone you don't know finds out that you have the tickets and wants to buy them. What's the minimum price you would be willing to sell the tickets for? Now assume that you don't have tickets to the sporting event, but you want to go. How much would you be willing to pay someone for the tickets?5 We typically demand about twice as much to sell a ticket we already have, compared to the price we would pay to buy the ticket. Why? We don't want to lose what we have. We therefore overvalue what belongs to us and undervalue what belongs to others. As a demonstration, Professor Richard Thaler gave a group of students a coffee mug embossed with their school's logo. When the students were later asked how much they would be willing to sell the mug for, their average price was $5.25. But other students without a mug would only pay an average of $2.75 to buy one.7 Ownership actually increases the value of what we have.