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When beginning the process of taming the bramble of old and thorny emotions in yourself, talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can provide exactly the tools you need to succeed. At The Center, we use a variation of CBT called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a clear and cogent process for working through strong emotions, shifting them from harmful to helpful. Using these techniques or others, a compassionate counselor can show you all the ways your emotions have turned into maladapted behaviors and habits so that you are more able to choose another way to be. After reading the previous chapter and learning that anger, guilt, and fear could be poisoning your efforts to heal from depression, you may be thinking, Now what? It's one thing to see my emotions for what they are but quite another to be free of them! You don't know what this feels like on the inside! Thankfully, the outlook is not as bleak as that, and the task not nearly as overwhelming. There is a proven antidote to toxic emotion--and a powerful tonic for regaining control over your health and well-being. However, like everything else on the road to healing depression for good, it's not a magic elixir you can ingest for instantaneous and miraculous relief. This cure will require tough choices, discipline, and commitment on your part. It will take courage to face the emotional dragons you've hidden away in your closet over the years and to dare to think differently about them. But it can be done! Proof lies in the millions of people who have gone before you and found freedom in the age-old practice of forgiveness. Now, I am well aware that forgiveness is a loaded word for many people. It carries conflicting religious overtones or hints of pop culture sentimentalism many of us have learned to mistrust. The response I often get when I first bring it up with depressed clients is "You want me to do what?" I respond, "Consider forgiving all those who have harmed you or caused you pain in your life." "Are you kidding me?" they retort. "Just let them get away with treating me like that? Forget all about it? No way. Not going to happen." This kind of resistance to the idea of forgiveness arises, in part, out of sheer force of habit.

That is, the person has been nursing resentment, revenge fantasies, and simmering outrage for so long that it's difficult to imagine life without intense feelings. For many of us, anger, guilt, fear, and judgment are more than mere emotions. They've become an armored identity. We wonder who and what we'll be if we let go. It's more and more common for people to respond to situations with cynicism rather than anger these days. It's like a big, humor-filled balloon that cushions our fall when something obnoxious happens. But, it has a nasty side effect of pushing people away at the same time. Cynicism is like a virus - it spreads - and while your intention may be to show how you don't care any longer about a certain topic like politics or finances, you quickly find that you're making snide comments about everything around you, from the food you order to the person serving it. So how do you avoid being sarcastic about everything that sets foot in your field of vision? It starts by taking things more seriously. Caring is only the first step - eventually you need to take things seriously as well, because the only way to truly engage a problem you care about is to be part of the solution for someone. Empathy creates a connection; action seals the deal. Someone calls you to offer a switch in your cable or phone service. You let them talk for 5-10 minutes, then start saying snide comments about the process of changing and how cold your dinner has gotten. They finally let you get off the phone and everyone goes their separate way. The grocery store clerk accidentally drops your eggs on the floor after you've paid for them and in a fluster doesn't even realize it. You grow indignant and demand to see a manager to fix the problem, saying degrading things to her like "nice hands, butterfingers." Your boyfriend calls and says that he cannot make it to dinner because he needs to meet up with his parents. You call him a momma's boy and tell him he has no guts to stand up to his parents. You calmly explain up front that you're not interested in changing and ask that they remove you from their list. You tell them to have a nice day, understanding that they are just doing a job and likely have enough stress in their life without being yelled at every 5 minutes.

Our failure to understand regression to the mean can be detrimental to learning. For example, flight instructors in one study noticed that when they praised a pilot for an exceptionally smooth landing, the pilot usually had a poorer landing on the next flight. On the other hand, criticism after a rough landing was usually followed by an improvement on the next try. The instructors concluded that verbal rewards are detrimental to learning, while verbal punishments are beneficial. But are punishments really better than rewards for learning? It's more likely that we would get such a sequence of events because of regression to the mean.13 An often-used management practice, management by exception, is also subject to this bias. With this procedure, managers intervene when very high or low employee performance occurs. Management may therefore attribute any subsequent change in performance to their intervention, when the change may simply be due to employees regressing back to their average performance. Or consider the Sports Illustrated jinx. A sports figure often makes the cover of Sports Illustrated when he has an outstanding year. In the following year, his performance typically drops off, leading many to believe that making the cover is a curse. But it's just regression to the mean--any outstanding year will likely be followed by one that is not so stellar. What if your town has two hospitals, and about forty-five babies are born each day in the larger hospital, while fifteen are born in the smaller one. As you know, around 50 percent of all babies are boys, but the exact percentage varies from day to day; sometimes it may be higher, and sometimes lower. Over the last year, each hospital recorded the days on which more than 60 percent of the babies born were boys. Which hospital do you think recorded more such days--the larger hospital, the smaller hospital, or would they be about the same (i.e., within 5 percent of each other)?14 When asked this question, the majority of people think that both hospitals would have about the same number of days. However, we should expect more 60 percent days in the smaller hospital. Why? There's a greater variability of outcomes in small samples, so there's more chance that seemingly unrepresentative events will occur. But we don't recognize the importance of sample size when making our judgments.

Instead, we erroneously believe that small samples are as representative as large samples. If you flip an unbiased coin six times, which of the following sequences do you think is more likely to occur? It is quite common to experience drowsiness during meditation. You become very calm and relaxed. That is exactly what is supposed to happen. Unfortunately, we ordinarily experience this lovely state only when we are falling asleep, and we associate it with that process. So naturally, you begin to drift off. When you find this happening, apply your mindfulness to the state of drowsiness itself. Drowsiness has certain definite characteristics. It does certain things to your thought process. Find out what. It has certain bodily feelings associated with it. Locate those. This inquisitive awareness is the direct opposite of drowsiness, and will evaporate it. If it does not, then you should suspect a physical cause of your sleepiness. Search that out and handle it. If you have just eaten a large meal, that could be the cause. It is best to eat lightly if you are about to meditate. Or wait an hour after a big meal. And don't overlook the obvious either.

If you have been out hauling bricks all day, you are naturally going to be tired. The same is true if you only got a few hours of sleep the night before. Take care of your body's physical needs. Then meditate. Do not give in to sleepiness. Stay awake and mindful, for sleep and meditative concentration are diametrically opposed experiences. You will not gain any new insight from sleep but only from meditation. If you are very sleepy, then take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can. Then breathe out slowly. Take another deep breath again, hold it as long as you can, and breathe out slowly. Repeat this exercise until your body warms up and sleepiness fades away. Then return to your breath. An overactive, jumping attention is something that everybody experiences from time to time. It is generally handled by the techniques presented in the chapter on distractions. You should also be informed, however, that there are certain external factors that contribute to this phenomenon. And these are best handled by simple adjustments in your schedule. Mental images are powerful entities. They can remain in the mind for long periods. All of the storytelling arts are direct manipulation of such material, and if the writer has done his job well, the characters and images presented will have a powerful and lingering effect on the mind. If you have been to the best movie of the year, the meditation that follows is going to be full of those images.