It was not a good day. I was sitting alone in a MacDonald's restaurant drinking coffee and feeling deeply depressed. I am not a clinically depressed person. I'm a sixty-seven year old retired husband and father and most times I'm very positive. But like all of us, I have my times. And though I'm also not therapist, I am usually able to recognize why depressing feelings creep into my consciousness. Until that afternoon, however, overcoming those feelings was another thing.
On this day something unique happened.
In the midst of my discomfort, an unbelievably simple idea popped into my head. What if I just refused to be depressed? Right. What if rather than wrestling with all the complexities and layers of depressing possibilities associated with bad feelings, I simply shut the door on them? Was it possible? Could I just declare: "Sorry, my destructive little cerebral demons, you're just not getting in this time."?
I realized that if I was going to try to deny the negative feelings, I'd have to replace them with positive ones -- fill the void, so to speak, with happiness, or peace of mind, or" And that's when something else occurred to me. I thought back to one night in my bedroom, shortly after I had signed a contract for my first book. I was lying on the bed with my young son and our Schnauzer, Stanley. The three of us were watching "MacGyver" on TV. My son had just said, "He'll figure it out, right Dad?" and Stanley was snuggled up beside me with his head on his paws. That night the stars were perfectly aligned. The world was an absolutely wonderful place, and I recall having the most amazing feelings of peace and well-being.
Could I fill my mind now, I wondered, with those amazing feelings and simply lock out the bad ones? The idea may seem like a gross oversimplification, but it worked! A few minutes after making that "mental realignment", believe it or not I stepped out of the restaurant with my coffee cup in hand and a smile on my face. I had simply made myself feel great!
My next thought was, "Wow! How'd I do that?" Oddly, the answer didn't come from a spiritual or psychological source. It came from my previous line of work. I spent 35 years in the corporate media business. That means I produced marketing, training and informational programs -- mostly videos -- for businesses. Many were financially limited productions, but the bigger budget projects often required working with actors. Over the years I had learned that as a general rule, a director is best served if he or she first casts good actors, and then lets them do their job -- act -- without an overabundance of directorial input.
To help actors do just that, in the 1920s a Russian gentleman named Constantin Stanislavsky, one of the legendary ground breakers in the study of acting, came up with something called "The Method", or "Method Acting". In a nutshell, Method Acting requires an actor to recall some emotional feeling or experience in the past, bring it forward into "the moment", and use it to portray a dramatic performance. As an example, if a script calls for the actor to cry with joy because her husband has just come home from the war, she might recall and bring into the moment the joy she experienced at the birth of her first child. Although the current scene would be about a completely different experience, if done with skill, it would register credibly on the screen.
So I realized, as I walked out onto the sidewalk that day, coffee in hand, wearing an ear-to-ear smile, that I had just method acted my way out of the doldrums!
Now you might have two reactions to what I've just described. You may consider it one heck of an oversimplification. Something so simple, after all, couldn't possibly be an answer to a complex problem like depression, right? Or, if you agree it might actually work, maybe you consider it a kind of Band-Aid solution: Since depression is a serious, complex condition, it shouldn't just be "suppressed" temporarily. To properly treat depression, a professional must help carefully analyze the feelings involved and their sources.
Let me answer these concerns in order.
First, believe it or not, it is that simple, although it might take a little practice at first. Will it eliminate deep-seated anxieties or other complex emotional baggage? Of course not. But it can give you temporary relief, and very possibly help you set a new course.
As for the second concern, I suppose it is somewhat of a Band-Aid -- a form of temporary suppression. Does that mean it's a bad idea? You can (and should) go to the doctor for treatment of depression or other serious psychological problems. That's a no-brainer. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't use positive, natural techniques to help you feel better when bad feelings occur.
As I said, I'm generally a happy and positive retired person, however I have my moments. And these days, rather than waste precious hours of my life slogging into the mire of self-analysis, when negative feelings begin to sneak in, I method act my way to peace of mind "in the moment"! Yes, Really!
If you'd like to give it a try, here are a few steps that can help you achieve your own method acting peace of mind.
1. Think back to some event or time when you felt great, and try to recreate those moments as vividly as possible in your mind . You might visualize where you were, what you were doing, things that were said, smells, sights, noises, and perhaps others that were with you. The main thing is to intensely re-capture those wonderful feelings. As I said, this may take a little practice but believe me you'll find it's worth it.
2. Imagine those wonderful thoughts are like a pleasant breeze that you can sweep into your mind and hold inside. Again, a little practice may be in order, but if you work on it, you'll find it comes easier with time.