Happy Hallowe’en! (Or, How To Be A Human Not A Zombie)

Happy Hallowe’en! (Or, How To Be A Human Not A Zombie)

Kimberly Sogge

Thursday October 14, 2010

Tis’ the season of Hallowe’en, so in the spirit of the season I thought I’d write on the topic of…Zombies!

First let’s define the term “Zombie”.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a Zombie as “1.  a will-less and speechless human…capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated or 2. a person held to resemble the so-called walking dead; especially : automaton.”  Sound attractive?  A more interesting Zombie definition, and the one I prefer is: “3. a mixed drink made of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice”. A Zombie cocktail may not be everyone’s end goal of personal development, but it does imply the qualities of spiciness, juiciness, and a little kick of life.

Now we all move in and out of differing levels of animation and flexibility, but I am sure that most of us have memories of a passing state of Zombiehood at some point in our lives. I can think of a philosophy class I took in my sophomore year of university which may have been Zombie Eden…but then again, it may have just been difficult to distinguish between those who had become Zombies and those who were still alive enough to recite syllogisms.  I can’t point fingers.  The truth is, at some point all of us may have temporarily entered a state of Zombiehood.  It is not necessary to avoid at all costs temporary states of zombielike behavior;  mentally numbing out in a boring meeting, or eyes glazing over at the thought of a particular person, may at times be healthy and adaptive!

Where temporary Zombie states turn into Zombiehood is where we become concerned about the potential loss of our precious life time and energy.  How do we enter Zombiehood? Perhaps the life we are living is not one of our choice, perhaps we are experiencing a strong resistance toward some unwanted experience, or perhaps we are caught in passivity, reacting to a situation rather than actively solving problems based on our deepest values.  These more enduring Zombiehood stances of living on autopilot, avoiding solving emotionally loaded problems, and fusion with rules that lead to rejection of our experience, all add up to what psychologists Kirk Strohsahl, Ph.D. and Patricia Robinson, Ph.D.(2008) refer to as the Depression Compression Experience (see p. 34 in their book Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression by New Harbinger Press) .  Depression Compression is an accurate professional term; I think  Zombiehood is an accurate first person description of the inner experience of a compressed life.

Strohsal and Robinson suggest that there are three pathways for movement from Zombiehood (or Depression Compression) into Vitality.

  • Mindful actions based on your chosen lifestyle
  • Active, value-based problem-solving, and
  • Accepting stance toward unwanted, private experience.

These pathways suggest that Zombiehood does not have to be a permanent state.  Many of us are caught up in automatic rules on how to approach life.  Perhaps we’ve inherited them as teachings from important others, or perhaps we have developed our automatic rules for ourselves honestly based how we have learned to survive past experience. If our automatic rules are resulting in Zombiehood, then it is time to look for a way of being that brings more vitality.

According to Strohsahl and Robinson the pathways to vitality are as close as the present moment.

  • Try being where you are in the moment, noticing whether the automatic rules you use actually work for you.
  • Try to take an experimental, or playful, approach to your life, guided by the actual results of choices, rather than by automatic rules.
  • Try taking an active stance in relation to a problem.
  • Try welcoming in and accepting things that are difficult.

Strohsahl and Robinson note that people with an active stance toward their life will seek out a partner who has said something hurtful, and will try to talk through the problem, even though the conversation might be difficult, and even though there may be no guarantee that they will get the outcome that the relationship will be restored.  This willingness to engage in an experience, even without guarantees that you will get the outcome you want, is an important part of acceptance of your life as it is, in all of its glorious imperfection. The sum total of being mindful, being active, and accepting all of experience (even the unwanted bits) is flexible and vital Humanity. This is the antidote and the antithesis of Zombiehood

I hope that we all, no matter what our state of Zombiehood, begin to create moments of psychological flexibility and vital living, with every breath. Or, if we are going to be Zombies, let’s be the kind with the qualities of spiciness, juiciness, and a little kick of life.

What do you want to be for Hallowe’en?


Strohsahl, K. & Robinson, P. (2008). The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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