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Thread: Medicinal Buddhism?

  1. #1

    Medicinal Buddhism?

    Ok, so this question may be a bit long and wordy, but it’s been on my mind for a while now. I’d really like everyone’s thoughts, but most especially Chet’s on this one, because I read your post about your situational response mechanism, and I think you might have some good input on this.

    I am a former Marine. While I was in, we went on a particularly long run (9 miles or so) at a particularly fast pace. It was my Chief Warrant Officer’s birthday, and this was his present to himself. So, while on this run, I fell out and upon getting back to the shop had trouble breathing and passed out. I was diagnosed with Reactive Airway Disease, put back on full duty and had to run for 6 months or so with what ended up being exercise induced asthma. Anyone who’s had asthma knows how scary it can be to have an attack, and for 6 months I had one every other morning during our runs. That, combined with the fact that I was considered OK for full duty, and not performing would have been considered “refusal to train” by my command (brig time, loss of rank and pay, etc.) which I couldn’t do with my family, add to that 9/11 happening while I was in Okinawa with my wife and newborn son still in the States (New Jersey to be exact, not far enough from New York for my taste), an abusive command, a bomb threat, etc. and in 2004 18 months or so after I got out, I had a nervous breakdown. Now the VA has diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and an anxiety problem, which contributes to my anger issues because I am always so “geared up” from the anxiety, and a little paranoid, that I have more of a tendency to get mad and lash out.

    My question is this. Do you think that Zen can help me to overcome this? Is that possible? Or is it that this practice can be “despite” these problems? Can a person even reach realization with a chemical imbalance? I don’t want it to seem like I’m ‘using’ Zen to fix myself, so much (though I am a little bit) but I really don’t want to, I guess, feel like these problems will mean that no matter the depth and sincerity of my practice, my issues will continue to hold me back. Of course, that could also just be the paranoia talking too.... :roll:

    Thanks.

  2. #2

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Hey Christopher.
    as a medical professional i must say that yes i think zen practice can despite those problems... and it can also help them out.
    but i will write now from my own personal experience as a practitioner and maybe a little bit from my nursing perspective.
    in my experience with sitting comes introspection, it just cant be helped. when i first started sitting i was 18. i was miserable and what made me so was only me! but with time i began to understand my self, and more importantly the way i think and my mind works. of-course it took sometime to understand it and utilize it in my life but i began to understand how i think and why i think the way i do. from there it was possible to change and drop those destructive habits, dont get me wrong i still have many of them but now they are much less bothersome ( it is a constant struggle ).

    as for PTSD... i have a very good friend that was drafted to the army ( in israel you have to serve and every few years or even every year you have to go and do some military service for a few fays/weeks/month ) during the second lebanon war and since he was under constant fire there for a month or so he developed PTSD. he got some help from professional psychologists and psychiatrists and it did help him. maybe you should check it out?
    as for getting angry just except yourself the way you are and work hard to change it. i think the first thing is admitting you have a problem, next comes noticing it in action. whenever you notice it is happening just try to notice it and stop it when you realize it is going on. at first it will be hard but with time you might notice it is easier and you can do it before it breaks out.

    i know my answer wasnt very centered on zazen but i do think it has nothing to do with zazen or not... it is just part of life, and since zazen is just life i guess they are one and the same.

    hope it helps...

    Gassho, Dojin.

  3. #3

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Hi Christopher

    I can only speak from my experience and what I have experienced so far, but whenever there is an emotion that is really getting my life upset, I am inclined to sit with it and in particular jealousy is the one that gets me driving to unbearable behaviour. I can only tell that after sitting ( it might be happening in a day or it may take a long time), the emotion tends to dissolve or I get a kind of acceptance that makes me see the reality as it is and usely the destructive power is diminished. I certainly don't use "zen" as a way to get better, but it balances you more I believe. Also I know of a very efficient programme that is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme ( which comes from the US and has reached Europe for some some years now). My wife has done this and it was a psychiatrist who runs this programme ( and is also a Zen buddhist) and it has a huge succes, and in many ways this programme is derived from Buddhism and meditation practice. I have seen her change in 8 weeks time even after a few days time of practicing this programme. But this programme is more then meditation only, it is accompanied by a professional, it has group sessions and so on.

    I hope this helps

    Gassho

    Ensho

  4. #4

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Christopher, I am very sorry to hear about your difficulties in the Marines, and the asthma and anger you have experienced. During a very stressful period of my life I also had asthma attacks so I know how difficult this can be. At that time my practice was was not very strong, I used to think there was something other than all the suffering I experienced and caused myself. In my case the asthma cleared up mainly from change in environment and lifestyle. But the root of the asthma and all the fear, anger and anxiety that was dominant for most of life has been laid bare by my practice and even though I still experience these things I don't feel a need to spend as much time with them and just return to the present over and over.

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    My question is this. Do you think that Zen can help me to overcome this? Is that possible? Or is it that this practice can be “despite” these problems? Can a person even reach realization with a chemical imbalance? I don’t want it to seem like I’m ‘using’ Zen to fix myself, so much (though I am a little bit) but I really don’t want to, I guess, feel like these problems will mean that no matter the depth and sincerity of my practice, my issues will continue to hold me back. Of course, that could also just be the paranoia talking too.... :roll:

    Thanks.
    so to answer your questions. If Zen helped, me it probably could help you. This practice doesn't care what kind of problems you have. The human mind or will is the most powerful chemical and will balance everything in due time but don't expect quick fixes. I've always thought of zen as a tool to 'fix myself' or at least help me. My 'issues' still hold me back but that doesn't stop me from practicing. It's like so what is this?

    Good Luck
    /Rich

  5. #5
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    To keep it simple and concrete, there are a few things I would examine when it comes to wondering if one should seek professional help for psychological, emotional, etc. difficulties in addition to a spiritual practice.

    1) First and foremost, are you currently a danger to yourself or others? If you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, you definitely should seek out a mental health professional, who can help you immediately achieve safety and stability.

    2) How much has your functioning been affected by your condition? Have your mental health concerns put you at risk of losing a job, caused you to have automobile accidents, or made you unable to take care of daily activity, etc.? If so, professional psychological help is recommended.

    3) Do your "issues" seem spiritually based? As in, are your fears and questions related to existential matters somehow? In that case, practice may help, especially if you are not at immediate risk (see #1 and #2) and have the time to engage in the slow work of approaching matters spiritually.

    I do not believe, and have not seen and experienced, that zazen is a "miracle cure." It can help with a surprising number of different things, but not always. It can actually aggravate some psychological conditions (it threw me right into the midst of the terrifying nihilistic void I was struggling with in my depression) and as such be contraindicated when in the depths of a psychological struggle. Zazen is dropping all armor between you and your immediate experience--which can be terrifying and overwhelming if your immediate experience is such. Sometimes we can handle the terror, and sometimes we can't. Sometimes facing the terror helps us release it. Sometimes facing the terror is just too much and we need to get a little stability first.

    Your answers to #1 and #2 will help illuminate whether you are stable enough yet. Our egos do serve useful functions here and there, and one of them is creating defenses to protect us against too much anxiety, emotional pain, etc. Little by little we can learn to drop the defenses and learn how to "be with." But trying to drop all the defenses all at once, when they are protecting you from very painful or overwhelming feelings, can teach you very quickly how valuable it is that we have some defenses.

    And I would add it never hurts to know yourself from more than one angle. You'll actually learn things about yourself in therapy you won't from zazen. What I had to learn about myself in social work school actually broke through a lot of delusions that zazen never touched. Overall, I think Western psychology and Zen practice make good companions for those who wish to know themselves and know truth. As for meds--they work for some and not for others. Rarely do I think they are "required." They can be a useful tool or they can be completely contrary to one's personal needs and goals, that's really up to you to decide. Again, I consider #1 and #2 when meds are being discussed as a possibility; they can certainly help a person become more stable more quickly.

  6. #6
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Also--I think many of us are initially drawn to the practice out of a desire to "fix ourselves" on whatever level. Goallessness is a state of grace rarely known before practice... for me, the journey of practice, facing all my desires and issues and imperfections and seeing the impossibility of "fixing" from an ultimate level (we can get better, but we can never get "all the way better" by changing our circumstances and conditions), has helped me understand what it is to drop goals. Not that I've dropped my goals, mind you :wink: But basically, it's OK to listen to the yearning of your heart to feel better, to feel a bit more at ease. There's wisdom in the yearning heart, it's just that the resolution of that yearning is always different from what we think it will be.

  7. #7

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    As to being a danger, no, I wouldn't say that I am. I get angry, but not violent. I also value life, so I wouldn't think I'd end up a danger to myself. The anxiety really just contributes to an "aggitated" feeling most of the time, and I feel like it's easier for me to become argumentative and sarcasticly abrasive. I am on meds, and in my case, I believe they are necessary (though I really wish they weren't) because without them, I become completely useless. When this first happened, I spent a solid week being completely terrified of absolutely nothing in particular. I'm better now, though. I handle things better and stay on the meds, but there's always this feeling, like the hair trigger arguments, and the...combative feelings that I get, that feeling of always being on edge and anxious, that make me wonder if I'll ever be able to settle into myself completely, or if it will always be a speed bump on my road to zenny "nowhere".

  8. #8
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    It sounds like you've taken care of the worst of it, so I think there's no harm in practicing with it.

    In my experience, zazen practice doesn't help us realize goals such as "settling into ourselves completely," but helps us see that these goals aren't necessary.

    I still struggle with my own goal that I hope practice will help me realize, which is to break down whatever mental barrier it is that keeps me feeling as if there is a thick glass wall between me and my experience. I feel like I don't really feel what I feel, or taste what I taste. Sometimes it is a feeling of 'unrealness,' sometimes it is a feeling of dulled senses.

    I don't know whether I will ever feel any different. I realized a while back that thoughts were always going to come and go and take me off track, and that one never gets to a point in practice where this stops completely. I'm not sure it's that different with any mental phenomenon. I may never quite feel fully settled into my experience either. I would like to feel that way, but I also realize it's okay if I don't. Practice is about seeing and being with whatever is here. Seeing how much my ego wants to change things and replace my experience with something different. When I can let go of the controlling ego, I find that these changes I seek are rarely necessary. It's just that my ego doesn't know what to do with itself if it isn't fixing something.

    I went through a terrible depression in 2008 that is now lifted. Many things helped lift it, including practice, and seeing that the thoughts fueling the depression were not necessarily true. Good friends, finishing a very emotionally difficult academic program, and getting some stability in my life by way of a new job and work schedule all helped too. And I have to say it was my practice that brought me into the depression in the first place. I had spent years grasping onto one ideal after another, one belief after another. Then, it was as if I just couldn't keep fooling myself any more, and all those ideals and dreams just fell away. It happened so fast it led to an extreme psychological reaction.

    All this to say: I'm not really sure whether zazen will help you or not. But it may help you realize how much of your thinking that your psychological state should be different is unnecessary and inaccurate, and causing more of the problem than the actual psychological state.

  9. #9

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    All this to say: I'm not really sure whether zazen will help you or not. But it may help you realize how much of your thinking that your psychological state should be different is unnecessary and inaccurate, and causing more of the problem than the actual psychological state.
    This is probably it, really. I can't help how the old noodle works, but I can not be a slave to it. I just need to realize when I'm not in the driver's seat of my emotions and my anxiety is, and politely ask it to step out of the car so I can drive again. It's the idea that may really be worse than the reality. Thanks Stephanie.

  10. #10
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Hey Chris,

    I just now read this in more detail and realized that you were asking for my input.

    Of course I think Zen and zazen can help - but I don't think you should delude yourself into thinking that it will be all that's necessary. I think that the proper sort of therapy can be helpful - but that's only because therapy has been useful to me in what I had thought were intractable problems. I can tell you this - regular zazen practice (hell, even irregular zazen practice, at times) has been indispensable in helping me overcome Borderline Personality Disorder - it kept me honest, it kept me earnest, and I believe it provided just enough disidentification with my emotional and thought patterns for me to release my grasp on them in the presence of truths brought to me by my therapist(s). An honest desire to know what is true and the courage to face obstacles is essential, IMHO.

    To me, shikantaza - especially the kind advocated here (because it allows you to bring diffuse awareness 'off the cushion') is like a vitamin. It can provide the base, the fertile ground for more more directed and detailed therapy.

    Byron Katie's 'The Work' has been helpful. I've only just gotten into the 'Feeding Your Demons' process (my interest was piqued after Stephanie mentioned it - I usually listen to Steph, LOL) shows some promise. A very expensive Jungian therapist in LA helped immensely.

    Good luck in your attempts.

    Chet

  11. #11

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Hi Christopher
    I would recommend BRIEF THERAPY techniques for both the anxiety and PTSD. I haven't worked with many PTSD cases but have worked with a fair number of anxiety issues. Both can be sorted in weeks or a few months for MOST people MOST of the time, if you can find a good therapist who can use their skill base creatively. Email me if you like.
    All the best
    Rich

  12. #12

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Hey Chris,

    I just now read this in more detail and realized that you were asking for my input.

    Of course I think Zen and zazen can help - but I don't think you should delude yourself into thinking that it will be all that's necessary. I think that the proper sort of therapy can be helpful - but that's only because therapy has been useful to me in what I had thought were intractable problems. I can tell you this - regular zazen practice (hell, even irregular zazen practice, at times) has been indispensable in helping me overcome Borderline Personality Disorder - it kept me honest, it kept me earnest, and I believe it provided just enough disidentification with my emotional and thought patterns for me to release my grasp on them in the presence of truths brought to me by my therapist(s). An honest desire to know what is true and the courage to face obstacles is essential, IMHO.

    To me, shikantaza - especially the kind advocated here (because it allows you to bring diffuse awareness 'off the cushion') is like a vitamin. It can provide the base, the fertile ground for more more directed and detailed therapy.

    Byron Katie's 'The Work' has been helpful. I've only just gotten into the 'Feeding Your Demons' process (my interest was piqued after Stephanie mentioned it - I usually listen to Steph, LOL) shows some promise. A very expensive Jungian therapist in LA helped immensely.

    Good luck in your attempts.

    Chet

    I may read those. So, let me ask you this. You have a condition that some how happened. Do you feel like it's a barrier to your practice, or do you feel more like it's just another aspect of the same type of Samsara everyone else faces?

  13. #13
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Hey Chris,

    I just now read this in more detail and realized that you were asking for my input.

    Of course I think Zen and zazen can help - but I don't think you should delude yourself into thinking that it will be all that's necessary. I think that the proper sort of therapy can be helpful - but that's only because therapy has been useful to me in what I had thought were intractable problems. I can tell you this - regular zazen practice (hell, even irregular zazen practice, at times) has been indispensable in helping me overcome Borderline Personality Disorder - it kept me honest, it kept me earnest, and I believe it provided just enough disidentification with my emotional and thought patterns for me to release my grasp on them in the presence of truths brought to me by my therapist(s). An honest desire to know what is true and the courage to face obstacles is essential, IMHO.

    To me, shikantaza - especially the kind advocated here (because it allows you to bring diffuse awareness 'off the cushion') is like a vitamin. It can provide the base, the fertile ground for more more directed and detailed therapy.

    Byron Katie's 'The Work' has been helpful. I've only just gotten into the 'Feeding Your Demons' process (my interest was piqued after Stephanie mentioned it - I usually listen to Steph, LOL) shows some promise. A very expensive Jungian therapist in LA helped immensely.

    Good luck in your attempts.

    Chet

    I may read those. So, let me ask you this. You have a condition that some how happened. Do you feel like it's a barrier to your practice, or do you feel more like it's just another aspect of the same type of Samsara everyone else faces?
    'Barrier to practice'? From where do you enter practice? From right here - wherever that may be. From where else could you possibly enter?

    Chet

  14. #14

    Re: Medicinal Buddhism?

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM

    My question is this. Do you think that Zen can help me to overcome this? Is that possible? Or is it that this practice can be “despite” these problems? Can a person even reach realization with a chemical imbalance? I don’t want it to seem like I’m ‘using’ Zen to fix myself, so much (though I am a little bit) but I really don’t want to, I guess, feel like these problems will mean that no matter the depth and sincerity of my practice, my issues will continue to hold me back. Of course, that could also just be the paranoia talking too.... :roll:

    Thanks.
    Yes, this Practice can help you overcome this ... dropping the self-punishing-self thoughts and emotions, just being with life as it is.

    And, Yes, this Practice can help you "just be" with those things that it cannot cure ... just being with life as it is, even if that includes days when the PTSD is biting.

    In our Way, realization is not to be found "despite" your PTSD ... and PTSD is not an obstacle. Rather, it is life and realization is to be found right there. You are a Buddha with PTSD. PTSD is realization itself when known as such. Even the wars and violence that can trigger PTSD are realization when know as such.

    We have had a few other threads on similar issues in the past ... here are some ...

    We live/sit with things "just as they are" ... and that is Freedom. ...

    You might just find that being so "allowing" of life that you can even "just be" with stressful situations truly helps your stress! Being so at ease that one does not even worry about being stressed some of the day or about some things is the ultimate Peace! One may this find that, by being so "allowing" of the stress ... the stress about stress thus fades, and the stress fades! :shock:

    Yet, as I often say, Zazen will not fix your flat tire, cure your cancer or even your acne or broken marriage (although it may help you deal with each better). What our way will surely do is help you embrace each, go with the flow, allow and be ok with those parts of life (even though still sometimes scary, sometimes stressful, sometimes hard). We "Go With The Flow".

    In fact, we can lose our small self to such a degree ... there remains just the Flowing ...
    ... We are at one with the flat tire, at one with fixing the tire, at one with the tire fixed. All along, we know that there "is nothing in need of fixing" even as, hand-in-hand, there is "something in need of fixing" (both tasted at once, not two). And as with a perfectly just as it is flat tire, so it is with human conditions of fear, panic disorders, anger, addiction, depression and the like.

    Shikantaza may help with or fully cure some of it (it may lessen or allow the full droppiing of the fear, the anger, addiction, depression etc), or it may not, and simply allow us to be "at one" with our flat tires of fear, anger, addiction, etc.

    In such latter cases, something more than Shikantaza may be required and ... IF IT IS EFFECTIVE ... I fully support that.

    Thus, I do sometimes suggest that people pursue, hand in hand with Shikantaza, a "12 step" program for addiction, anger management classes, medical treatment by a reputable doctor for a physical condition, anti-depression medication (if effective), psychotherapy (if effective), Metta Practice and Nurturing Seeds Practice (if it is helpful) and the like.
    ...
    But whatever supplementary path is pursued, nothing should take away from the central message of Shikantaza practice ... to wit, there is nothing in need of fixing, never was. Just be and let it be ... even as ya might need to fix something.
    Zazen will not fix all your problems in life. It won't cure your acne, fix a flat tire on your car, or fix a truly broken relationship with your significant other. It will allow you to see those things in new ways (e.g., "be one" with your pimples or flat tire or cheating spouse), but it will not solve the condition itself. Same for certain psychological conditions, for example, certain types of neuro-chemical induced depression, alcoholism, gambling or drug addiction, psychosis ... Zazen will not fix those any more than it will cure your cancer (it sure will help if you have alcoholic tendencies, or even cancer, and can be a key part of the cure or healing ... but it is not a cure in itself). So, seeking additional help for certain issues ... no problem.

    If you have a bad tooth, see a dentist ... not a Zen teacher. Of course, do Zazen while sitting in the dentist's chair. Same for many other medical, physical and psychological conditions. Go see a counselor if you need.
    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1023

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