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Eric Peeking

Cognitive Buddhism Therapy

Posted on 2012.07.02 at 00:00
Current Location: 67114
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"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.


pcofwildthings at 2012-07-02 20:27 (UTC) (Link)
I am reminded of the poem that inspired my LJ ID:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry
ehowton at 2012-07-02 20:45 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for sharing that! (And I did always wonder about the origin of your nick...)
pcofwildthings at 2012-07-03 01:14 (UTC) (Link)
I've always loved the line, "who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief." Talk about living in the moment. Likewise, the result "...and am free."
ehowton at 2012-07-03 01:52 (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. In my next life I want to be a beast of burden.
michelle1963 at 2012-07-03 00:57 (UTC) (Link)
If our happiness is to be within our control, then it must be intrinsically generated.

~Not based on the achievement of goals ~ "I'll be happy when...." People with this type of thinking often find any happiness that arises with goal achievement is short-lived.

~Not based upon the possession of material things. Sure we may like new furniture or a big screen TV, but again that happiness is short-lived. As a source of happiness, that big screen TV is not going to solve any internal dilemmas that are roadblocks to happiness.

~Not based on approval from others. Approval from others lasts but a moment in time and fades.

That said, I'm not entirely immune from some external circumstances. However, these effects have nothing to do with generating my happiness. Instead, I have found that certain external circumstances ~ rare and yet profound ~ can be so taxing, so energy draining that it is difficult for me to reach my intrinsic happiness. I've had three times in my life that this was true.

~Working for a supervisor who fostered a toxic atmosphere, keeping employees uptight and constantly on edge.

~Living with someone who felt entitled to inflict a barrage of negative emotion without limits. The intensity and unpredictability left me continually on guard.

~ My father's death. Time took care of it eventually.
ehowton at 2012-07-03 02:03 (UTC) (Link)
...that big screen TV is not going to solve any internal dilemmas that are roadblocks to happiness.
I personally find intrinsic happiness difficult to define. Its easier to point to a television and grunt, "Urgh." And yet the things that make me feel the happiest are like wisps to run around and try to catch and hold onto for a moment, then let them go and find another.

~ My father's death. Time took care of it eventually.
It truly heals all wounds.
jobu121 at 2012-07-03 16:11 (UTC) (Link)
Great post again sir,

I do have a problem with being responsible for my own happiness especially when I get all wound up, throw a tantrum and get all snapped out. :)

By the time I realize I am freakin' the hell out, my blood pressure is high and then my fuse is short.

But thanks for sharing, I will try this method. It may work. :)
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