July 2nd, 2012

Eric Peeking

Cognitive Buddhism Therapy

"You can suffer for as long as you wish, and when you no longer want to suffer, you can stop." So says Cheri Huber, Zen Leader. It often is that easy. Unless you think its not. Then all of a sudden it isn't. Why is that? In my experience, many people refuse to believe it. Or think they deserve their suffering. Whatever the reason, its wrong. How can I use such a strong word so unabashedly? Wisdom. And while my clone and I politely disagree over whether greed or fear is the the root of all suffering, we do agree that allowing either to make or influence decisions - even unconsciously - leads to suffering.

"Suffering" is an interesting topic to apply to everyday things. Most people probably don't understand it or think it doesn't apply to them. I can make that assumption because I didn't understand it and thought it didn't apply to me. Until I was introduced to it by thinking about all the things I think about which have nothing to do with suffering. In some form or another, it touches just about everything. I cannot seemingly discuss or research any topics anymore which don't end in some form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness has become a word loaded with much ambiguity. Probably due in part to its multifaceted application and in part to its broad definition. To critical thinkers who immediately acknowledge its potential power, the word itself is self-defining. But abstraction can be a difficult thing to illustrate to the unfamiliar. It is, in a matter of speaking, awareness. Awareness not only of oneself, but of oneself as it relates to the environment we're in, and the fluid situations surrounding us at any point in time as that environment changes; mutates. If that sounds easy enough its because most of us do not know how to be aware of ourselves. Again, I make this assumption because I spent years trying, and can therefore see it easily in others.

In my woefully limited view and layman's comprehension of both Buddhism and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), I have nonetheless been fascinated by them both - or more directly - by their eerie similarities. I first touched on this phenomenon in the "trifecta" section of my Interdependence post. The deeper I looked, the more I discovered.

In Eastern philosophies, mindfulness is an attentiveness to seeing the reality of life without engaging our human filter. Epistomologically, a daunting task. Meditation is the tool those sage monks use to get there. Here in the West we have psychotherapists. Basically, to see truth without bias mindfulness suggests accepting your thoughts without reacting to them emotionally. The Centre For Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy defines it as observing thoughts, images and feelings in an accepting way without engaging with them, interpreting them in traditional ways, or using distraction techniques to try to suppress and/or escape from them.

Contemporary mental-health practitioners increasingly find ancient Buddhist practices (such as the development of mindfulness) of empirically proven therapeutic value.*

My current struggle (and don't let anyone tell you that the path to enlightenment isn't fraught with struggle) is continuing down this path of self-improvement without alienating everyone along the way. I feel exactly like a born-again who's enthusiasm to share the Good News with everyone he's ever known his entire life causes him to get his ass kicked. Sharing the Gospel can be rewarding work. And by rewarding I mean downright boggling. Apparently, not everyone appreciates their faults being pointed out. As for me I am fascinated when someone takes the time out to point out mine. Differing opinions on how to draw the oar for a collective of people from a diverse culture. Attachments are always painful.

If we stay or go, and whatever else we do, it must be our choice, our decision, and for our own benefit. Family and friends are a part of life, but cannot be our life. If we don’t like what we are and how we are, we can change that. It might take time and effort, but everything changes.*

Learning to walk the narrow path between two extremes is intimidating at times. Especially when you don't have all the answers. Sometimes its not knowing what the right answer is, just knowing which two are the wrong answers. But when either extreme is the familiar territory, the draw can be overwhelming - the desire to slip back into old habits like slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things.*

So why do it? Happiness. Not the fleeting kind material things provide, rather the repeatable deep joy one experiences through wisdom; questioning the world around them to better understand their place. I skirt it from time to time as I have epiphanies about everything surrounding me. Often though, I have trouble holding onto it, retaining it. I think I've figured out some great mystery when another issue either invalidates it or supersedes it. It can be exhausting.

Perhaps more than any other religion, Buddhism is associated with happiness. According to Buddhist thinking, happiness and sorrow are our own responsibility – and completely within our control. A central tenet of Buddhism is that we are not helpless victims of unchangeable emotions. In the words of Buddha himself, "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." It's an idea that's in line with current thinking in psychology. In fact, this simple philosophy – that changing the way we think can change the way we feel – underpins the very practice of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), an approach widely used in clinical psychology and counselling, as well as stress management programs.*

Buddhism uses the word, desire instead of expectations and Buddhism too is about thinking realistically, that is, impermanence, law of causes, conditions and effects, suffering etc. Buddhism emphasizes wisdom which is similar to rational thinking promoted by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.*

And yet I was skeptical of the "middle way" where giving up attachment is paramount to inner growth. Logically, it made sense to me, but emotionally I struggled. My emotional struggles are almost always hidden from public view, where I can express them and scrutinize them openly to myself, outside judgement and comment. I can be quite introspective.

Surely there is a "middle way" between attachment and giving up everything and everyone you've ever loved? This is where my path led me, to eschew that Buddhist extremism and find the middle way of the middle way. Of course the only obstacle in my path was my own ignorance. The solution to attachment is simply non-attachment, or being responsible for your own happiness.

In order to be happy, we need to be fully committed to life, we need to be passionate, we need to care, we need to get emotional, we need to be able to positively direct our desires toward constructive goals. Genuine non-attachment is the key. A person who has balanced non-attachment is someone who is able to fully enjoy and engage in their relationships, work, leisure activities and so on without being totally reliant upon those things for his or her inner happiness and sense of wellbeing.*

I have my work cut out for me.