Psychiatry and the Obstacles to Human Growth



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  • Right Speech

  • Right Action

  • Right Livelihood

  • Right Effort

  • Right Mindfulness

  • Right Concentration

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    The Buddha taught a psychology of waking up--of living free of illusions about ourselves and life. Each individual must take responsibility for raising him or herself from his unconscious or habit-dominated way of living; the Buddha never taught that there was a personal God who intervenes in our lives to fix things for us or rescues us from our pain. In fact, the records we have about him indicated that he was free of religious zeal entirely. According to the Buddha, we are all responsible for our own choices, and if we choose to live in pain all our lives, then that is the way we are left to live.

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    Disciplining the mind to stop the constant stories and 'pain tapes' we run each day is a fundamental task in that awakening process. Disciplining the mind therefore is the key to stepping out of pain. Once the mind has been trained to 'Mindfulness,' it can comprehend and control the dominance our emotions exert over our self-images, attitudes, worldviews, and behaviors. Buddhists use meditation as their primary technique to first, train their minds to stay alert, and then to learn to watch their thoughts, their emotions and their bodily sensations, so that they can become conscious of what they are feeling and 'remember' the causes of their psychic pain. Gradually as they practice mindfulness, they begin to apply the meditation technique to all of life, becoming ever more aware of environment, body, mind, emotions, feelings, senses and levels of consciousness available to the human being. This is the awakening process. Awakening therefore does not refer to some superconscious enlightenment experience, but to the awareness of the web of social rules, beliefs, and forbidden thoughts or actions that we unconsciously live by.

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    Buddhists have also learned that it never works to punish or condemn yourself for your failings, your weaknesses, your "bad thoughts" or even ill deeds. We all may be 'sinners' but to awaken, we must learn to forgive ourselves for being less than perfect and accept that our harshest judge is ourselves. Condemning ourselves only serves to drive us deeper into suffering. Instead, we begin to learn to accept ourselves with incredible gentleness and caring for those lost, hurting, and despised parts of ourselves. We become ever kinder towards ourselves and others.

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    Westerners raised to feel guilt, shame, and anger at ourselves for not living up to our expectations and goals find this very difficult at first, but soon discover that reclaiming the denied and despised parts of ourselves is a kind of salvation no other religion, philosophy or teaching has brought. Reclaiming those repressed and disliked parts of ourselves helps us to accept ourselves the way we really are as ordinary people trying to learn how to live. We learn how to learn with our fear of living and dying. We learn how to release our anger at others and to love ourselves. We learn how to recognize the basic Goodness of the Earth and Life. Often it is the way we behave under the influence of illusionary thoughts and emotions that creates the conditions of our life. Freedom brings the ability to see that we are causing our own troubles and problems and that reality is something quite different than we believe it to be.

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    Buddhism eventually became a religion in China and India, evolving a priesthood, monasteries, an emphasis upon meditation and guru-disciple relationships to support the huge numbers of religious seekers hoping to experience 'enlightenment.' However, its gentle psychology remains a powerful means by which anyone can seek freedom from the stress, anxieties, and psychic pain in which modern man lives.

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    The Indian monk, Bodhidharma, traveled to China 1500 years ago to practice and teach a more experientially-based version of Buddhism, called Zen (meaning 'meditation'). Zen traveled to Japan, where it took on a distinctively Japanese character before migrating to the United States, where it became less structured and some might say, a more rebellious form of spiritual discipline. In America, less concerned about the voluminous literature and teaching of Buddhism, Zen advocates awakening through mindfulness of the direct experience and appreciation of life.

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    Unlike the mainstream schools of Buddhism, Zen adopted a non-dualistic philosophy. Zen accepts that it is a mistake to separate good from bad, me from you, spirit from matter, because in fact, there is no difference. The human being, they perceive, does not exist in separation from all else, and it is only our perception that we exist as separate, mortal beings that create the fact of fear and all the suffering that that emotion brings to us each day. All that exists, Buddhism says, is the One Life, the One Mind, the One Body, and each human is simply a point of view within a field of conscious energy. Our life force is the energy of that field, our minds are that mind, our bodies are the vibrating energy of that field. Our deaths are nothing more than the changing of form--not the end of consciousness. Nothing happens when we die. Nothing happens when we are born. The One Life is just changing form. There is therefore no reincarnation of an individual.

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    There is an eastern mythology that individual goes through countless births and deaths, not only as humans, but as animals, insects, and other Earthly forms; that the only way to stop this cycle of births and deaths is to take up the Dharmic path taught by the Buddha and to break the karmic pattern of attachment to life on earth. Tibetan Buddhism teaches, for example, that being born human represents a precious opportunity for each of us because it is the only avenue to escape the great Law of Cause and Effect (the Law of Karma) that keeps us bound to the Earth over enormous periods of Time. The process of escaping the seemingly endless process of being reborn over and over by practicing the Dharma may itself take many lives to accomplish. Finding a Teacher, or Guru, is seen as being enormously important because Guru and Disciple become bound together through time and continue to help one another progress on the Path.

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    Some students of original Buddhist sutras argue, however, that the Buddha never taught reincarnation and that his entire focus was upon freeing the individual from the tyranny of social conventions so that we could be free from the double bind "in which each individual is called upon to take two mutually exclusive courses of action and at the same time is prevented from being permitted to comment on the paradox." Alan Watts describes the famous double bind each of us finds ourselves in as follows:

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    Society gives us the idea that the mind or ego is inside our skins and that it acts on its own apart from society. This is not true. We do not exist as individuals. Nevertheless, we are to play the game of life as though we were and as though this game of life was serious, which it is not. Believing it is serious and that our survival is at stake, we experience fear. Furthermore, while we define ourselves as independent, we must not be so independent that we fail to submit to the rules which define us. Thus, we are held responsible to the group for our actions. The rules of the game confer independence and take it away at the same time, without revealing the contradiction.

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    The only solution is to recognize that we are each not separate beings at all but that each of us is inseparable from all mankind. Life is not a problem, yet our perception that it is a constant problem keeps us in fear and anxiety, producing neurosis and all forms of mental illness. The only solution is to stop seeing our life and death as a problem and live in the present, accepting life as it is. Fear is not a reason to flee reality; it is only the energy of uncertainty and death. Buddhists therefore practice familiarizing themselves with the fact of their deaths so that when the time for their death comes, they can be fully conscious and go into it as though it were the ultimate adventure.

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    The double bind can lead to a form of schizophrenia in which the anxiety of this contradiction in life leads many people into a withdrawal from 'social reality.' In other words, not being able to escape the double bind can lead to mental illness--conditions which society views as madness, psychotic behavior, and mass neurosis.

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    To release the double bind, Buddhism had to release the idea of individual responsibility to a judgmental God--had to let go entirely of the idea of a God which made human-like judgments of individuals--and focus on the deleterious effects of society's rules.

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    "The schizophrenic withdrawal affects a minority, and occurs in circumstances where the double-bind imposed by society in general is compounded by special types of double-bind peculiar to a special family situation. The rest of us are in differing degrees of neurosis, tolerable to the extent to which we can forget the contradiction thrust upon us, to which we can 'forget ourselves' by absorption in hobbies, mystery novels, social service, television, business, and warfare. Thus it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are accepting a definition of sanity which is insane, and that as a result our common human problems are so persistently insoluble that they add up to the perennial and universal 'predicament of man', which is attributed to nature, to the Devil, or to God himself."

    .

    Conclusions

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    While the American economic, religious and political freedom is recognized as the leading cultural paradigm of the world, its excesses of individualism have imposed heavy burdens on our personal health and happiness. Since the birth of psychiatry, leading psychiatrists have identified the many sorts of damage imposed upon self-esteem, mental and emotional health by our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and employers, and some have even believed that our modern economic system depends upon armored, neurotic workers to support its needs. We are all neurotic. Those who cannot bear the pain, isolation and self-repression that comes with living within our system become its dropouts. Even those of us who choose to live within this system of values, requirements and laws suffer. Normally however, people accept the popular myth that this social reality is normal and desirable; it is just that we personally don't measure up.

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    The truth is our social, religious, political and economic system is ruthlessly self-destroying through self-alienation, self-denial, self-judgment, self-hate, repression, guilt, shame, and self-blame. Repressed, these self-destroying choices are projected outward as hate and suspicion of others, a sense of lonely separation from other people, the loss of intimacy and relationship even within our families, the stifling of human growth and fulfillment, as psychic, mental and emotional illness, violence, and even war.

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    Only a few are able to disregard these cultural and societal values and live according to inner derived values. Kohut calls such individuals 'tragic heroes' because, living true to themselves, they typically experience social opposition and rejection for defying community standards and morality."  He writes:

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    Self-fulfillment is not necessarily moral, and true creativity--which, I believe, always requires the full participation of the nuclear self--is not necessarily a matter of conscientious work. The tragic hero may be moral in the usual sense of the world; our values and ideals may coincide with his. But he may also be a great sinner, a man who steps beyond the bounds of the morality of his times and his society. The question is not whether the hero is a sinner or saint; the question is whether, in that segment of his life curve that is portrayed in the tragic drama or novel, the innermost pattern of the hero's self is struggling for expression and ultimately reaches its goal.

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    Tragic or not, the archetype of the Hero is perhaps Mankind oldest story. Each of us in our personal lives must go out into the Unknown to face our own dragons, our own inner demons. As Joseph Campbell wrote in his timeless The Hero With a Thousand Faces:

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    Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told.

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    This story, repeated a million million times throughout history, brings the hero face to face with the dragon whose name is "Thou Shalt!" To reach the Pearl without Price, to reach the Golden Apples of the Sun, the hero must defeat this dragon. Or turn back. Most turn back. Only the bravest go forward to death or transformation. Only the bravest brave the rejection of society and live their lives of solitude and self-acceptance.

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    The unanswered question of course is where does the journey lead? There are many answers and Ways by which one might travel, but all require that we ask the question: Who am I?

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    Who does one become if not who one already is? Since our much of our unknown self lies beneath the 'waters' of the unconscious, these parts of us must be brought into the light of consciousness, and integrated. This is a work of self love; it might take a lifetime--more than a lifetime to complete. We may see ourselves differently at the end of our journey. But that doesn't mean that we are different, for we already were acting out the agony of the self unconsciously. First, we must let go of the web of beliefs, ethics, lures, lies, and rules imposed by society and our former conscience. Holding on to these patterns keeps us from being open to Reality as it is. This is often the hardest of all steps, because these conscious and unconscious beliefs make us feel safe. We believe that we know reality, we know what is expected of us, and we know what to be and do. The trouble is we don't. Almost all we believe is untrue. The real truth is we are reality itself. As the ancients said time and time again, We are That!

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    Perhaps by journey's end, we will know who we were all along; perhaps at last we can accept who we are and even love That. We accept who we are, without guilt or striving to become something or someone else. We accept our physicality as natural and even sacred. We learn to appreciate and live life happily. We choose simplicity over complexity and intimate relationships over the pursuit of wealth, power, or dominion. We accept our destiny as written in our Books of Life. Here on the earth is where we dance our dreams awake.

    .

    1 Hertha Orgler, Alfred Adler: The Man and His Work (New American Library: New York, 1963).

    2 Adler, p. 26.

    3 James Hillman, Healing Fiction (Spring Publications, Inc.: Putnam, CT, 1983).

    4 Viktor Frankl, The Will to Meaning pp. 31-38.

    5 Ibid., p. 41.

    6 Ibid., p 75.

    7 Ibid., p. 83.

    8 Ibid., p. 96.

    9 Nathaniel Branden, The Disowned Self, pp. 7-8.

    10 Ibid., pp. 8-9

    11 Brandon defines 'repression' as "a involuntary, subconscious avoidance mechanism involving a flight from inner thoughts, memories, and feelings of pain, fear, frustration, helplessness, or rage.

    12 Such repressions do not simply disappear when rejected, but accumulate in the "personal unconscious", building energy and power, until they begin signaling the conscious individual through dreams and neurotic or dysfunctional behavior in everyday life that an imbalance exists between his conscious and unconscious mind. Such repressed energies represent the cause of enormous suffering in our everyday lives.

    13 Ibid., pp. 70-72..

    14 Ibid., p. 26.

    15 Clive Erricker, Teach Yourself Buddhism (Teach Yourself Books, McGraw Hill: 1995).

    16 Alan W. Watts, Psychotherapy East & West (Ballantine Books: New York, 1961).

    17 Alan W. Watts, Psychoherapy East & West (Ballantine Books: New York, 1961).

    18 From Greif - p. 112.

    19 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces , p. 3.

    20 Hillman, James, Healing Fiction (Spring Publications, Inc.: Putnam, CT,1983), p. 110.

    21 Greif, Gary The Tragedy of the Self (University Press of America: 2000).

    22 Search, 3, p. 170.
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