Before I had much conscious experience with depression, I lived in a nearly constant state of what C. S. Lewis calls undulation. Once I encountered his definition of the word, I realized it not only applies to conditions such as depression, it’s a process all conditioned human beings live in all the time, the process hidden by a continuing movement from content to content.
With the process of depression I would feel with dread and horror the onset of it. (I knew I would feel this way forever and living seemed unbearable.) When the depression lifted I would feel jubilant, relieved to “have that behind me,” sure this energy of wellbeing was a permanent state.
Awareness practice enables us to see that nothing is a permanent state. (Yes, that is so when read both ways.)
Undulation assists us to see the role duality plays in ego’s ceaseless efforts to keep attention on its illusory world. For example, it occurs to me that I’d like to meditate (change my diet, eat less sugar, stop drinking alcohol, go to the gym, get to bed earlier, stop fantasizing, get off of caffeine, not yell at the kids, be less judgmental…). I’m very excited about my decision, full of energy, eager to do this thing I want to do. Without bringing conscious awareness to the process, there’s likely a belief hanging around in the background that “this time I mean it; this is going to stick.”
A little time passes and my enthusiasm begins to wane. Perhaps voices are actively working to talk me out of my commitment, perhaps not. Perhaps time simply passes and other things grab my attention. Soon I hear a voice point out that I’m no longer doing that thing I was so excited about, and I’m getting “encouragement” to “just quit.” We all know this process intimately, yes? Yes, we do.
This is where the voices of self-hate come in to tell us what’s wrong with us; maybe call us some names for being a feckless failure. We feel bad. With that feeling bad comes an unconscious belief—usually supported by insistent voices—that “this failure is permanent; you’re never going to be successful with this.”
Time goes by. I realize I really do want to meditate. (Change my diet, eat less sugar, etc.) I feel enthusiastic, excited, energized….
Once we understand the process of undulation, several things can happen. We no longer have to believe the teeter/totter effect is something we need take personally. We can see it’s not unique to us. It’s just the way egocentric karmic conditioning/ self-hate operates. It maintains the illusion of being a self separate from Life. Whatever state we’re in currently is simply that, a state, not permanent and not meaningful.
With this clarity we can choose how we want to approach a situation. If it is something that is really important to us (the doctor says if I don’t stop drinking alcohol I’ll be dead in six months), we can know we want to take on the content of this particular undulation with everything we have. We will get all the support we need to keep our commitment not to give up when the voices come at us with everything they’ve got.
If it’s something about which we might say “yeah, I’d like to alter my relationship with that,” we can know this is going to be an on again/off again process. There’s not enough time in a day to do all we would like to do for ourselves. Meditate, do yoga, workout, cook healthy food, get to all the kids’ activities, keep up with family and friends, do service work…. Not possible. So, we do the best we can from conscious choice rather than being dragged back-and-forth through “ego undulation.”
It’s a process. Identified with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, believing that states are permanent, not having the distance to see the coming and going nature of things, we suffer. Disidentified from egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, we can see undulation is simply how it is. With a stepped back perspective on the undulations, we can see that when we believe ego’s false world of duality is Life, when we fail to realize our experience of Life content is a continuum, not dualistic, we suffer. Catching onto how ego attempts to replace Life’s continuum with its duality, we can let go into guidance from Presence rather than looking to the “either this or that” of conditioned mind for our choices.