Greetings on Buddha Purnima!
Why are we greeting you from a Mental Health Awareness blog on a rather unrelated occasion of The Buddha’s birth anniversary? (Did we say unrelated?) Well, this Man was/is one of the greatest Mental Health experts! And like most of the brilliant psychotherapists around, He too had to first sort out His own Mind – the disillusionment, depression and despair of Prince Siddhārtha. His days of desperately seeking The Light perhaps were no less Anxiety ridden. He overcame His own mind to then become The Buddha who understood human psychology far better than every other psychology genius we know. I am no practising Buddhist, yet as I understand it, at the core of Buddhist philosophy lies a very scientific understanding of the Human Mind and a methodical approach directed at mastering one’s mind – and, in turn, one’s mental health.
Buddhist philosophy, teaching us about the nature of our Mind, tells us that how much we suffer (mentally) or don’t, directly depends on how our Mind is trained to think and whether we control our Mind or it controls us. The Buddha talks of our thoughts shaping our realities, the impermanence of everything and how to accept life’s flux. Though it may sound as high-level spirituality, it isn’t! It’s pure practicality. To accept the unpredictable flux of life is The Most Essential Key to a sound Mental Health. Any mainstream professional psychiatrist or psychotherapist would say the same.
To live by focusing our 100% mental energy and attention in the Present is often termed as Mindfulness or Present Moment Awareness – one of the important Buddhist or Zen teachings. Not to dwell in the past, reminiscing or regretting it. Not to obsessively look forward to the future, living in constant nail-biting worry or agonising waiting. Rather to live each moment – fully aware, fully focused on Present. Tough?? Not if you put your mind to it! Two years back, when I was introduced to a book by my professional mental health caregiver I had almost thrown my hands up in the air, yelling ‘Impossible!’ Thankfully I didn’t. Ever since I have discovered a powerhouse of a book – The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. It explains in coherent way the science behind manifestation of all sorts of mental health issues. Tolle writes, “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much (dwelling in the) future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness bitterness and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by (dwelling in) too much past and not enough presence.”* By endorsing this, I am not trying to overlook other legitimate neuropsychiatric or hereditary causes behind disorders like manic depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar bouts and so on. Causes are a different topic from ‘cures’. I am emphasising as a fact, the ‘cure’ part of all mental health issues, whatever be the legitimate neuropsychiatric causes, are hugely aided if these basic scientific tools of correct thinking and mental postures are in place, even if or not, used along with other clinical therapy or medication. I myself have ‘been there, done that’ and hugely benefitted.
The Buddha also taught not to cling. Not to obsess over what’s lost or what’s yet to come. Nor to mentally resist Change but to live a life of Acceptance. Unlike thousands of grieving parents and spouses regularly visiting clinicians to cure chronic depression, trauma or suicidal tendencies, the bereaved mother of the dead newborn found help in just one session – “Fetch me a fistful of mustard seeds from a house that Death has never visited and I will resurrect your newborn.” The Buddha, a brilliant mental health expert, had gone to the crux of her trauma. He also described unforgiveness as grasping red hot coal we intend to throw at others but end up scorching our own hands. Read ‘scorching our own mental wellbeing by aggravating regret, grudge, depression and despair’. He emphasised on letting go. Another essential mental health tool in the era of exponentially increasing cases of Anxiety, stress, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and burnouts. We hold on too tight to not just our past but our goals, targets, success itineraries. We constantly worry about what Doom will befall us if we don’t meet these. What the world calls ‘Control freak’ I would see as a terrorized Mind obsessing over future, trying to control every inch of life. We, a generation of nerve-wracking ‘Go-getters’, have forgotten the art of letting go. Yet, achieving what we desire for ourselves becomes easier when we work at it minus the obsessive controlling and all the resultant stress and mental and physical breakdowns.
If we read between the lines of the Buddha’s teachings we find a treasure house of scientific understandings of the human Mind giving us clues to a holistic Mental Health. On this day of Buddha Purnima, I wish for each of us to discover that treasure chest and in turn a happier, healthier and more meaningful life.
© & Author : Nivedita Dey, 2016
*©Tolle, Eckhart; The Power of Now, Yogi Impressions, Mumbai, India, 2003