Taking care of your mental health

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Taking care of your mental health

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Jun 21, 2009 4:55 am

Greetings,

The Dhamma is good for your mental health, but are there other things that can be done to improve one's mental health?

Or is it simply a direct correlation between living in accord with the Dhamma and mental health... and other things are of no relevance to mental health, other than to the extent with which they can be related to the Dhamma?

Is all happiness to be classified as sensual happiness or non-sensual happiness? What about the happiness of 'relaxing' for example... is that sensual, and/or non-sensual?

I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on these questions. I apologize in advance for any vagaries in the questions - feel free to interpret them as you see fit.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Jechbi » Sun Jun 21, 2009 5:38 am

I think it's impossible to fully separate mental and physical health, and therefore good diet and exercise, as well as sufficient sleep, are important supportive elements of Dhamma practice. But I can't immediately back that up with anything other than my own common sense, which isn't necessarily reliable.

I also think that the notion of "mental health" in our culture is relative, and it just means that a person is considered mentally healthy if they can function within certain norms. By the standards of Buddhadhamma, that's not really mental health.

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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Fede » Sun Jun 21, 2009 8:29 am

When I was studying Shiatsu, I was taught that the mind goes where the energy goes.
That is, if we have an ache or pain, our mind is drawn to it, and it can exacerbate the problem, because we dwell on it.
Anyone who's ever had toothache, or cystitis will vouch for this!
It's all you can think about!
Part of the discipline I have learned is acceptance.
it might hurt like jimminy, but it will pass.

Also, I do not believe there is anything wrong, for example, in taking a pain killer.
pain and suffering is part of living.
But we don't have to be idiots about it.
if you cut yourself, you'll tend to the wound, won't you, rather than bleed everywhere?
And cystitis and toothache should be attended to.....

But I'm far more 'friendly' towards my body's occasional ailments, than I ever used to be.
Consequently, I truly believe it hurts less.
because I have a healthier mental attitude.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Dan74 » Sun Jun 21, 2009 9:48 am

I don't know if I understand the question correctly, but sure Western psychology has evolved methods for dealing with a wide array of mental health issues, and some of these are very effective.

As for maintaining mental health in the conventional sense, I think the key is mindfulness and a balanced lifestyle. What a balanced lifestyle means varies according to each person. That's why we have to pay attention and discover who we are and what are the natural channels for our energy to flow. Whether a spiritual path, sport, music, creative hobbies, volunteering and community work, gardening, cooking etc etc a happy well-adjusted person usually has a balanced lifestyle, an open flexible disposition and a warm and caring attitude to others. A healthy realistic sense of self-esteem and a positive constructive outlook help as well!

Sometimes work is needed to sort out issues connected with a poor self-esteem, old traumas that still hurt and overshadow our lives, bad habits that get out of hand. A good therapist can be very helpful there.

Now of course, even a conventionally happy person like the one described above has still not eradicated dukkha - (s)he has simply spread the eggs in different baskets and is less bothered by impermanence and the worldly winds. I guess this is where insight comes in.

As far as psychology and therapy goes, this guy was very good at it and had the right ideas I think:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Rogers

I am not sure if this is what you were asking, retro. I guess the above is mostly common sense, but if you are more specific, perhaps I can say something more relevant? (this was my chosen occupation, but didn't work out study/circumstance-wise..)

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Last edited by Dan74 on Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:25 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Jun 21, 2009 9:54 am

Greetings Dan,

Perhaps the question could be rephrased as such... "If you follow a Dhammic life, will mental health take care of itself? If there anything outside the scope of the Dhamma that can improve someone's mental health".

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Dan74 » Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:07 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Dan,

Perhaps the question could be rephrased as such... "If you follow a Dhammic life, will mental health take care of itself? If there anything outside the scope of the Dhamma that can improve someone's mental health".

Metta,
Retro. :)


Aha, I see what you are asking.

Well, we come to Dhamma with a whole bunch of problems, and often these problems can skew our practice and twist our understanding so that "Dhammic life" doesn't really work that well. Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a 102-year-old Zen teacher once said that a typical Westerner need serious therapy before (s)he is ready for Zen. Sounds extreme but from my limited exposure, "Dhammic life" does not always bring with it an understanding of how we function, and these blind spots where our destructive dull and dysfunctional habit lie can persists after years of intense practice.

Of course in some case Dhamma can take root and gradually the problems lose their energy and wither like unwatered plants. And meditation can bring issues to the surface and with some compassion and equanimity we can provide space for ourselves to gradually let go of old issues. But more often than not perhaps, the neurotic mind twists the Dhamma into a tool of the ego, bolstering pride, finding an escape, or extending the comfort zone. Really depends what we are in this for. And how deep our honesty really is..

Hmmm.....

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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Ben » Sun Jun 21, 2009 11:38 am

Hi Retro

I've got some thoughts on the subject - mainly as the result of more than a passing interest in psychology and psychiatry, and assisting my wife develop a 'wellbeing' program at a private school that is influenced heavily by Buddhism. My wife isn't Buddhist but is open to Buddhistic notions and models.
Anyway, for now, i would like to make a quick response to your earlier post...

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Dan,

Perhaps the question could be rephrased as such... "If you follow a Dhammic life, will mental health take care of itself? If there anything outside the scope of the Dhamma that can improve someone's mental health".

Metta,
Retro. :)


Very briefly, i tend to think that intervention by a mental health professional is necessary for acute psychological and brain chemistry/structure issues. Because sometimes our psychological or psychiatric problems are so huge and immediate that we require urgent external assistance of a health-care professional and perhaps even drug treatment. Psychology and psychiatry won't take us to Nibbana but it will help us to function in society and to lead us on the path of mundane happiness/contentment. Our practice will eradicate the root of our defilements but it will take time as it deals with the chronic underlying causes of our own misery, ignorance, craving and aversion.
So, I firmly believe that Dhamma does not exclude the need for psychology/psychiatry.
Metta

Ben
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Sun Jun 21, 2009 6:31 pm

Like the man said: "Kill your TV."

Mental well-being invariably follows.

J
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby genkaku » Sun Jun 21, 2009 11:27 pm

Retro -- If you can post twice, I guess I might as well give it a shot :tongue: ... though if it's too 'Zen," I trust someone will delete it:

As you say, there are a zillion ramifications and entry points on "mental health" and Buddhist practice and I can't pretend to know how to cover all the bases. Still, my two cents ....

I had a Zen teacher once, a man I came to distrust deeply, who said, "In order to practice Zen, a certain mental health is required." And, however vague that statement is, I agree with it. People who run around pretending to "rely on the Dharma" have missed the point: If the best the Dharma could do was offer something called reliability, how could anyone be better off than they were before they 'discovered the Dharma?'

There are profoundly compelling understandings that accompany a Buddhist practice ... OK. But using such understandings to evade or put up defenses against the life anyone might actually lead -- crazy or sane, no difference -- well, isn't that sort of sad? If what a 'Buddhist' needs is a little Zen practice, good: Practice Zen. If what a 'Buddhist' needs is a trip to a counselor, good: Go to a shrink. If what a 'Buddhist' needs is a bit of down time in front of the TV, good: Watch some tube. If what a 'Buddhist' needs is some lunch, good: See what's in the fridge.

The key element that accompanies our 'profound' or 'ordinary' activities is attention -- gentle, but firm, attention. Just pay attention ... and see what happens. In this way, I think our "mental health" and our "Buddhism" are both maintained and improved.

But that's just me. :)
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Guy » Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:42 am

Not entirely related to the topic, but, I have been playing a lot of chess lately. I have heard that chess players, similar to meditators, are less likely to get mental diseases such as dementia and alzheimers when they get older. I believe I am sharper when I play chess regularly. However, I have also noticed that too much chess in one day, which requires a lot of thinking, will tire me out both mentally and physically in the short term making me just want to lie down and rest. I haven't noticed this effect from meditation though, infact I almost always have more energy afterwards. In general, I think this is because meditation is a very natural, relaxed path whereas chess requires a lot of effort and some Grandmasters (eg. Garry Kasparov) appear to get very stressed out from the game. My conclusion is that chess is fun and beneficial to mental health when played as a hobby, but you'd have to be crazy to want to play it as a job.

:focus:

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2) Throwing things away
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4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby Jechbi » Tue Jun 23, 2009 3:53 pm

genkaku wrote:"In order to practice Zen, a certain mental health is required." And, however vague that statement is, I agree with it.
Me 2.

genkaku wrote:... using such understandings to evade or put up defenses against the life anyone might actually lead -- crazy or sane, no difference -- well, isn't that sort of sad?
While I agree that evasion and defenses as you describe them are not a workable operating principal in all situations, if we're going to be gentle with ourselves, we have to recognize when we've bit off more than we can chew. Like this:
genkaku wrote:... If what a 'Buddhist' needs is a bit of down time in front of the TV, good: Watch some tube.
You're talking about a form of escapism.

genkaku wrote:The key element that accompanies our 'profound' or 'ordinary' activities is attention -- gentle, but firm, attention. Just pay attention ... and see what happens. In this way, I think our "mental health" and our "Buddhism" are both maintained and improved.
Sure, but it's possible to "just pay attention" while doing something really harmful to oneself or another. For example, someone could "just pay attention" while having a nice smoke outside. Or someone could "just pay attention" while shoplifting a small package of gum from the corner store.

The dictum "just pay attention and see what happens" could be interpreted as a way to excuse harmful behavior and pretend it can be a productive part of the path. After all, everyone does it, so why evade it or put up defenses against it? If you do it, just pay attention and see what happens. Probably not the best recipe for mental health.
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Jun 26, 2009 5:26 pm

I think in a monastic setting buddhist practice is all that is required- i had the most amazing 10 days recently on retreat and all the teachings really come alive in such a setting- i was amazingly blissed and peaceful

however in our modern lives where there is little time for comprehensive day long practice other factors are helpful.
Exercise is a good one.

In UK a think tank which instructs the government came up with a 'mental health 5 a day', after scanning all the available evidence, to look at things which lead to mental wellbeing:

3 of them are quite buddhist- generosity, mindfulness/alertness, good relationships/friendships
2 are not - exercise, learning something new

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_a ... 988978.ece
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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:46 pm

Greetings,

rowyourboat wrote:2 are not - exercise, learning something new


I think learning something new could be too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Taking care of your mental health

Postby AdvaitaJ » Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:32 am

retrofuturist wrote:Perhaps the question could be rephrased as such... "If you follow a Dhammic life, will mental health take care of itself? If there anything outside the scope of the Dhamma that can improve someone's mental health".

I think Ben's comments about brain chemistry, etc bear repeating. If there's a "mechanical" malfunction with the machine, I don't think the Dhamma would/could be effective, certainly not fully.

For persons with normal physiology, though, all you need to do is note how many people post on the forums about how a "crisis" brought them to practice the Dhamma and how many of those same people post later comments about how "this stuff really works!"

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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