Mindfulness for Black Dogs & Blue Days: Finding a Path Through Depression

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Author: Richard Gilpin

Review by Francesca Baker

As a counsellor, cognitive behavioural psychotherapist and meditation instructor, it’s fair to say Richard Gilpin is knowledgeable about the workings of the mind. But as a sufferer of depression – the ‘black dog’ that hounds one in five of us – he has also had first-hand experience of the mind’s ability to mould, meddle and warp our perceptions and experiences of the world. In this book he examines the relationship between mindfulness and a healthy mind.

While primarily focused on the application of mindfulness for helping to relieve the debilitating effects of depression, this book also makes a compelling argument for the commonsense reality of recognising things for what they are. Mindfulness and meditation can be dismissed as ephemeral fancy, but Gilpin’s explanation of mindfulness as simply being aware, an ability to see what is really there, and therefore make the space to take action for what you really want, seems so blindingly obvious and sensible that I wonder why I have not thought of this before.

A wizard with vocabulary, sometimes the language is a little overly florid, which won’t help convince anyone who is not already interested in the concept of mindfulness and connecting with the inner self. Take this summary of waking up and getting out of bed in the morning: “Galvanized into action by one effortless act of will, I discover myself rising, casting off this shroud of a duvet, pulling back the curtains and becoming enveloped in light.” Quite.

Essentially the suggestion is one of perspective, and mindfulness and awareness is positioned as transformative and empowering, by offering the opportunity to reconnect with what is there. When depressed, there is a huge difficulty in recognising what is actually going on, and the more that the positive is filtered out to focus on the negative, the greater the downward spiral of despair that a sufferer finds themselves in.

This blinkered approach to life is not unique to depression, and in today’s stressful, busy, and demanding lifestyles, the conflicting pressures often mean that we lose sight of some realities. By being mindful and aware, we are offered a freedom to choose that which matters to us.

The final chapter in the book is introduced thus: “The path of mindfulness leads us back to where we started the ordinary and immediate experience of being in the world. There never was anywhere else to go.” This for me encapsulates the message of the book. Depression, indeed life, cannot be run away from, squashed or avoided. By recognising the world as it is and our emotions for what they are, we are better prepared to respond in a way that is positive and developing, rather than react in alarm. Gilpin couldn’t have a healthier message for the mind.