Mental health as part of practice?

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Mental health as part of practice?

Postby steve19800 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:14 am

Hello all,

We often hear our spiritual teacher says that mental afflictions are also our teacher. Just be mindful, watching them continuously. They come and they go, nothing is permanent, they appear and then disappear.
My question is, is depression, anxiety and other negative mental state that many people suffer from also part of the practice? We know that human being naturally like pleasant things and avoid unpleasant things. If something make you pleasant, you feel refreshed and happy. On the other hand, the opposite is quite obvious. If something unpleasant constantly filling your life, most of the time the result is stressful life and other form of stress or maybe depression.

Material thing, even though just a little can sometimes entertain us for example go to the shop to buy yourself a nice gadget, etc. If we expel pleasant things (material or non-material) totally from our live, the result for most people is also stress or maybe depressed.

So I wonder, is the path of Dhamma is only for a handful of exceptional people (few dust in the eyes)? Those who by their nature are not after 'pleasant things' and those who enjoy a very basic life and yet content. OR those negative mental states are really needed and/or 'invited' as the part of the practice, in the sense and capability of ordinary people?

Thanks _/\_
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby Ben » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:44 am

My question is, is depression, anxiety and other negative mental state that many people suffer from also part of the practice? \_


It depends. Ultimately, yes. However, if one is suffering from an acute phase of depression then it is wise to get assessed and treated by a medical professional. No one in their right mind would tell someone with a life threatening illness to not seek treatment. Depression, in its acute phase, can be life threatening and should be considered as such. Dhamma practice in conjunction with medical supervision/treatment appears to be extremely beneficial. I contacted a research hub at Macquarie University some years ago, and their preliminary findings were that cancer patients who were suffering From acute depression, came off their anti-depressant medication faster and a lower incidence of furtherdepressiveepisodes if they were engaged in regular "mindfulness" meditation.

And in answer to your other question, no, one need not be a special type of person to practice Dhamma.
Kind regards,
Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby ground » Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:10 am

steve19800 wrote:If something make you pleasant, you feel refreshed and happy.

Maybe yes, maybe no. Some may experience dependency on something else and thus feel unhappy because of buying into a fabricated ideal of "independence". So maybe it depends on overall "mindset".

steve19800 wrote:On the other hand, the opposite is quite obvious. If something unpleasant constantly filling your life, most of the time the result is stressful life and other form of stress or maybe depression.

Not so obvious as may seem. There are people living happily under conditions that may cause depression in the case of other people.

steve19800 wrote:If we expel pleasant things (material or non-material) totally from our live, the result for most people is also stress or maybe depressed.

Others may have insight based on expelling pleasant things and live happily ever after.

steve19800 wrote:So I wonder, is the path of Dhamma is only for a handful of exceptional people (few dust in the eyes)? Those who by their nature are not after 'pleasant things' and those who enjoy a very basic life and yet content. OR those negative mental states are really needed and/or 'invited' as the part of the practice, in the sense and capability of ordinary people?

Thinking about it may be of no use if one does not have experience with expelling pleasant things and indulging in pleasant things and if one does not have experienced how these influence one's perception and "state of mind". Knowing the extremes may support to see the middle way. :sage:
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby Digity » Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:17 am

My anxiety problems are what got me interested in Buddhism in the first place. In a sense, my anxiety was a blessing in disguise, because the suffering it created made me focus on the Dhamma. If I never had any problems with anxiety I wonder if I'd be as interested in Buddhism.

So yes, anxiety or whatever can all be part of practice. Everything is part of practice...from brushing your teeth, to lying on the sofa, to walking around, to experiencing sadness, to feeling depressed. It's all practice, nothing is excluded. When you think of x is part of practice and y is not then you have the wrong attitude. I still think in those terms sometimes, but I'm trying to break that thought process.

Although, if you're early on in the practice and the anxiety is too intense then it might be too much to just "be" with it. You might need to seek help, but eventually as you get better you'll start to be able to "be" with the anxiety or sadness, etc.
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby steve19800 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:35 am

Ben wrote:
My question is, is depression, anxiety and other negative mental state that many people suffer from also part of the practice? \_


It depends. Ultimately, yes. However, if one is suffering from an acute phase of depression then it is wise to get assessed and treated by a medical professional. No one in their right mind would tell someone with a life threatening illness to not seek treatment. Depression, in its acute phase, can be life threatening and should be considered as such. Dhamma practice in conjunction with medical supervision/treatment appears to be extremely beneficial. I contacted a research hub at Macquarie University some years ago, and their preliminary findings were that cancer patients who were suffering From acute depression, came off their anti-depressant medication faster and a lower incidence of furtherdepressiveepisodes if they were engaged in regular "mindfulness" meditation.

And in answer to your other question, no, one need not be a special type of person to practice Dhamma.
Kind regards,
Ben


Greetings Ben,

Thanks for your prompt reply.
But those who are considered as content persons I assume are less likely to suffer from modern mental illnesses. I know there are some monks who trained themselves very strictly, seems to be unbearable for an ordinary person, even for other monks as well. They said Buddha taught middle way but some people are just go too far.

I just read an article: Spiritual people predisposed to psychological problems.

"Religious people and atheists were on par in regards to prevalence of mental disorders, but the religious were less likely to have ever used drugs or be a heavy drinker.
The spiritual people, on the other hand, were 50 per cent more likely to have an anxiety disorder, 72 per cent more likely to suffer from a phobia and 77 per cent more likely to have a drug dependency."
(http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/life ... 2c5f1.html)

Although I don't know how the latter one is making any sense. But in general, particularly regarding mental health issue, could it be because spiritual people have the tendency to treat theirself 'harder'?
There are many enlightened forest monks but when you practice very strictly is it a matter of choice between health and enlightenment?
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby Ben » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:01 am

Steve, I don't think one needs make a choice between health or enlightenment.
I also read that article a few days ago and thought it was interesting. With regards to the discrepancy of incidence of mental health in the 'religious' as opposed to the 'spiritual', perhaps it may have something to do with people who are attracted to trying various forms of spirituality attempting to, as it were, self-treat. It would be interesting to read the original article the Age piece is based on.
The greater part of happiness comes from the deep well of equanimity that is experienced regardless of whatever else is going on. This what some in the psychological discipline also refer to as ""Wellbeing". The Dhamma allows us to develop that anchor, that anchora salutis (anchor of salvation). But it is a long-term project. When mental health issues begin to affect the quality of one's life in a significant way, it usually requires some form of psychological or medical intervention.
As I mentioned earlier, there's no reason why Dhamma practice and psychological or medical treatment cannot happen in tandem and that there is evidence to support such a regime.
Perhaps what is sometimes required is to tailor the practice to the person.
With metta,
Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby steve19800 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:12 am

Digity wrote:My anxiety problems are what got me interested in Buddhism in the first place. In a sense, my anxiety was a blessing in disguise, because the suffering it created made me focus on the Dhamma. If I never had any problems with anxiety I wonder if I'd be as interested in Buddhism.


Ajahn Mun once said, when his stomach is pretty much hungry he became more alert, that is why he endure the hunger. While her student mae chee kaew was not getting any significant progress from that kind of method but rather minimizing her sleep time at night. This is what I meant sometimes you have to suffer and incorporate that 'unhealthy' thing in a worldly ordinary sense in order to progress your practice.

Digity wrote:So yes, anxiety or whatever can all be part of practice. Everything is part of practice...from brushing your teeth, to lying on the sofa, to walking around, to experiencing sadness, to feeling depressed.


This is the point. So can we find any strict, advance, accomplished yet perfectly healthy practitioner? What I mean perfect here is no mental health issue at all.

Digity wrote:It's all practice, nothing is excluded. When you think of x is part of practice and y is not then you have the wrong attitude. I still think in those terms sometimes, but I'm trying to break that thought process.


Of course everything is practice. That is the real meaning of practice. Ritual you need a certain place and time but not with practice, it is an ongoing process.
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby steve19800 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:29 am

Ben wrote:The greater part of happiness comes from the deep well of equanimity that is experienced regardless of whatever else is going on. This what some in the psychological discipline also refer to as ""Wellbeing". The Dhamma allows us to develop that anchor, that anchora salutis (anchor of salvation).


Couldn't agree more.

Ben wrote:But it is a long-term project. When mental health issues begin to affect the quality of one's life in a significant way, it usually requires some form of psychological or medical intervention.


In other words, that is the risk of our spiritual endeavors. We can see there are many accomplished Buddhist monks in forest tradition suffer tremendously during their training, through that suffering eventually they see the reality, sometimes there was a moment where they were critically ill and there was no a single medicine available since they were staying in remote area and secluded. Not everyone can make it. Later, this the well-known monk uses this kind of method of training i.e. incorporating suffering into the practice for their students.
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Re: Mental health as part of practice?

Postby cbonanno » Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:06 pm

steve19800 wrote:Hello all,

We often hear our spiritual teacher says that mental afflictions are also our teacher. Just be mindful, watching them continuously. They come and they go, nothing is permanent, they appear and then disappear.
My question is, is depression, anxiety and other negative mental state that many people suffer from also part of the practice? We know that human being naturally like pleasant things and avoid unpleasant things. If something make you pleasant, you feel refreshed and happy. On the other hand, the opposite is quite obvious. If something unpleasant constantly filling your life, most of the time the result is stressful life and other form of stress or maybe depression.

Material thing, even though just a little can sometimes entertain us for example go to the shop to buy yourself a nice gadget, etc. If we expel pleasant things (material or non-material) totally from our live, the result for most people is also stress or maybe depressed.

So I wonder, is the path of Dhamma is only for a handful of exceptional people (few dust in the eyes)? Those who by their nature are not after 'pleasant things' and those who enjoy a very basic life and yet content. OR those negative mental states are really needed and/or 'invited' as the part of the practice, in the sense and capability of ordinary people?

Thanks _/\_


If mindfulness is the practice, anything that enters into it is part of the practice. I often thought following the precepts was meant to bring on some level of anxiety or suffering that we are then able to examine.

For me, depression helped me gain an insight as to the nature of things. My body still gets depressed now and then as a biological reality, but I do not suffer from it like I did when I was younger.

And as another has said, Dhamma is for everyone since the Buddha is in everyone. Those with little dust in their eyes are just lucky or have been practicing more.
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