They asked people with different backgrounds to accurately predict the British economy ten years into the future. Who won? A group of sanitation workers tied for first place with a panel of four chairman of multinational firms.48 Once again, the amount of knowledge we have in a certain area will not help us predict what will happen if the events are inherently unpredictable. As Michael Evans, founder of Chase Economics, states, "The problem with macro [economic] forecasting is that no one can do it." Mindfulness of breathing is a present-moment awareness. When you are doing it properly, you are aware only of what is occurring in the present. You don't look back, and you don't look forward. You forget about the last breath, and you don't anticipate the next one. When the inhalation is just beginning, you don't look ahead to the end of that inhalation. You don't skip forward to the exhalation that is to follow. You stay right there with what is actually taking place. The inhalation is beginning, and that's what you pay attention to; that and nothing else. This meditation is a process of retraining the mind. The state you are aiming for is one in which you are totally aware of everything that is happening in your own perceptual universe, exactly the way it happens, exactly when it is happening; total, unbroken awareness in present time. This is an incredibly high goal, and not to be reached all at once. It takes practice, so we start small. We start by becoming totally aware of one small unit of time, just one single inhalation. And, when you succeed, you are on your way to a whole new experience of life. First of all, you need to establish a formal practice schedule, a specific period when you will do vipassana meditation and nothing else. When you were a baby, you did not know how to walk. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to teach you that skill.

They dragged you by the arms. They gave you lots of encouragement, made you put one foot in front of the other until you could do it by yourself. Those periods of instruction constituted a formal practice in the art of walking. In meditation, we follow the same basic procedure. We set aside a certain time, specifically devoted to developing this mental skill called mindfulness. We devote these times exclusively to that activity, and we structure our environment so there will be a minimum of distraction. This is not the easiest skill in the world to learn. We have spent our entire life developing mental habits that are really quite contrary to the ideal of uninterrupted mindfulness. Extricating ourselves from those habits requires a bit of strategy. As we said earlier, our minds are like cups of muddy water. The object of meditation is to clarify this sludge so that we can see what is going on in there. The best way to do that is just let it sit. Give it enough time and it will settle down. You wind up with clear water. In meditation, we set aside a specific time for this clarifying process. When viewed from the outside, it looks utterly useless. We sit there apparently as productive as a stone gargoyle. Inside, however, quite a bit is happening. The mental soup settles down, and we are left with a clarity of mind that prepares us to cope with the upcoming events of our lives. Meanwhile, compulsive behaviors do nothing to address the real causes of depression.

In fact, they only mask and distract from them. One of the themes of this book is that depression almost never goes away on its own. What's more, depression typically gets worse if a person doesn't explore the root causes, and especially if habits and patterns persist that contribute to mood imbalance. All this is why facing and overcoming addiction of any kind is absolutely necessary to healing depression. What's It Got to Do with Depression? That's a question a lot of people ask when we first bring up the issue of addiction in treatment. The link is more obvious when people have developed a serious dependence on illicit drugs or alcohol. Those folks generally must undergo three to five days of intense, medically supervised detox before anything else can begin. But when it comes to other, less obvious compulsive behaviors, we often hear objections like these: "I need those ten cups of coffee in the morning because I'm depressed, not the other way around." This person couldn't see that caffeine had left them chronically dehydrated and had leached essential vitamins out of their system, seriously interfering with healthy mood regulation. "Time on the Internet takes my mind off things when nothing else will." Maybe, but it also increases social isolation, inhibits healthy exercise and eating habits, and promotes distraction and the fear of missing out if you step away even for a moment--all of which work against your recovery. "Everyone shops--it's totally normal. I like nice things, so leave me alone about it." And yet excessive and compulsive spending leads directly to negative consequences in your financial well-being and frequently in your relationships as well, providing ample reasons to feel depressed. Now, imagine doing that in front of a stranger and how do you think they would react? I like to use the canine test for angry outbursts. I had a dog when I was younger who would grow anxious and leave the room if I got angry. I could be yelling at my computer screen to vent at a crashed email client or grumble to myself about the weather or an annoying co-worker. It didn't matter - if I grew actively angry, he would leave the room and get visibly upset. Dogs are extremely empathetic creatures. They read body language, voice tone and facial expressions. When the sum of the parts equals anger, they grow uncomfortable, even if it is not directed at them.

Guess what? People do the same thing, just subconsciously. Somewhere, hidden deep beneath our modern affectations and advanced language capabilities are vital, prehistoric reactions to body language and voice tone. It's all still there. Take a closer look the next time you're at the zoo to the interactions of chimpanzees or birds. They preen, bounce, hop and move around to establish dominance, showcase strength and develop a pecking order that is ultimately going to determine who wins out in the fight for food and sex. Whatever your beliefs, you should know that we do the same thing on a regular basis. The problem is that we don't always realize it and those messages get misinterpreted or directed at inanimate objects in ways that upset friends and strangers alike. When I feel myself growing upset, I ask myself whether my actions would have upset my dog. If so, is it worth upsetting the dog? It sounds like a strange test, but it really works. The TV refusing to tune into a sitcom you want to watch is not worth upsetting your dog. Your boyfriend breaking up with you on the other hand is a very good reason to be angry and your dog is free to be equally as upset about it. Also, no specific economic ideology does a better job than the others in predicting the economy's future. Forecasts are typically influenced by the particular beliefs and assumptions that an economist holds, and those assumptions can lead to vastly different predictions about our economic future. In fact, economics seems to be the only discipline where two people can receive a Nobel Prize for saying the exact opposite thing. This has led to a belief in the "First Law of Economics: For every economist, there's an equal and opposite economist."50 When different economists predict very different things, it's difficult to place much credence in those predictions. Why are there such diverse views from economists? One reason may be that economics typically does not use the scientific method, where hypotheses are tested by observing what goes on in the economy. Instead, economists often develop elaborate theories that may be logically consistent, but are often based upon unrealistic concepts.

For example, a basic assumption of economics is that people are consistently rational in their behaviors. However, we are psychological and social beings who often display inconsistencies and errors in decision making. Money is not our only motivator--we are also affected by conformity, power, love, revenge, charity, laziness, etc. Have you ever heard an economist's joke? Here's one: Two economists are walking down the street. One says, "Hey, there's a dollar bill on the sidewalk." The other says, "That can't be so--if there was, someone would have picked it up."51 Given their poor track record, some say that forecasters are actually worse than useless because they can cause long-term damage to the economy.52 Why? People can make bad financial decisions by relying on erroneous forecasts. Interestingly, more and more people have recently questioned the value of those forecasts. In fact, a few corporations have disbanded their economics departments. However, many economists still attempt to predict the future, and the cost of that useless information to our society runs into the billions. So why do we do it? Our desire to predict the future is extremely powerful, whether we're trying to predict matters in our own personal life or the economy as a whole. That does not mean that we have to do anything to force this settling. It is a natural process that happens by itself. The very act of sitting still and being mindful causes this settling. In fact, any effort on our part to force this settling is counterproductive. That is repression, and it does not work. Try to force things out of the mind and you merely add energy to them. You may succeed temporarily, but in the long run you will only have made them stronger. They will hide in the unconscious until you are not watching, then they will leap out and leave you helpless to fight them off.