- July 1, 2019
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Health
The first noble truth in Buddhism is that “life is suffering.”
This simple statement, profound yet obvious, is not meant to paralyze us into hopelessness. It is meant to free us. People who suffer from mental health conditions are primed to immediately respond to this first noble truth when faced with the persistent pain of emotional suffering.
While our society has gone to great lengths to develop comprehensive treatments and medicines for many of the most common and serious physical ailments and illnesses we suffer from, the more ephemeral sufferings of our emotions and thoughts cannot be easily mitigated.
Addiction, Denial, Violence, and self-harm can all be consequences of (and a means of) coping without the tools and resources needed to deal with the suffering of the mind.
The Harsh Reality
Western culture still embraces a compartmentalized approach to health and a cartesian ethos of mind and body separation, despite evidence that this approach is flawed, particularly in regards to mental health. Common factors in increasingly common diagnoses of anxiety and depression include sleep deprivation and chronic stress.
Prioritizing our mental health means confronting the circumstances in our lives that exacerbate our mental suffering. Just as diabetics must confront the risk factors in their lives that aggravate their condition, those of us who struggle with mental health must also become more mindful of the triggers in our lives that increase stress, whether family, career, home or financial concerns. However, we cannot completely avoid stress and so we must learn how to manage it and increase our resilience.
Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of the present moment and engaging the five senses while awakening an indifferent observer internally. The idea is that awareness can help one distance themselves from being immediately overwhelmed by powerful emotions and internal thought processes enough to be cognizant of one’s actions and decision making.
Mindfulness is an ancient medicinal practice that is available to any human at any time during any kind of suffering. It’s a practice found in nearly every religion and culture on Earth which only underscores its value to us.
Yet (in advanced Western societies), mindfulness has only recently started to find its way back into mainstream culture, having been associated for many generations with new age mysticism rather than modern medicine.
However, mindfulness is a skill that has to be cultivated and developed over time. It takes investment and commitment on the part of the mindfulness practitioner for the mental health benefits to manifest. Over time, the effects become cumulative and profound for the practitioner.
Many prefer the shortcuts and quicker relief of modern medicine, even though the long term consequences of pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness are problematic in terms of their side effects and long term efficacy for the patient. At the same time, medication and mindfulness are not mutually exclusive and can be used together.
Mindfulness can begin by being openly thankful for the things in your home environment, your closest family and friends, and the simple things (like a roof over your head).
Rather than attempt to rid our lives of stress, a more enlightened approach is to cultivate resilience. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.
It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.” As with mindfulness, resilience can be developed and improved over time. The APA provides 10 strategies for building resilience. The APA also states that the largest factor in cultivating long term resilience in a person is having a network of caring and supportive relationships.
The two-pronged strategy of cultivating mindfulness and resilience are the building blocks necessary to defying mental illness and shifting the mind to a more positive and healthy place. We cannot eliminate suffering and stress, and many contemporary spiritual gurus argue we should actually welcome the opportunity to learn and grow from the stress and trauma that life inevitably pushes our way. It is our inability to accept the uncertainty, inherent suffering, and ephemeral nature of existence that leads to much our mental suffering. We cannot eliminate these factors in our lives. Accepting them and learning how to adapt to them is the key to liberation.