Saturday, January 29, 2005
Helping with sickness
my question is how can buddhist psychotherapy aid the sick? i'm working with this one on a personal level myself and am not sure how to cope/make sense when the body breaks down in some way and one's quality of daily life is affected.
Tharakesh asked this in response to my previous post.
I guess there is no simple answer. At one level, sickness is just as much an inevitable part of life as death - indeed the sick man was one of the four sights that the Buddha encountered, alongside death, which set him on his path. This "noble truth" is dukkha; it's just how it is. We get sick.
The first point, then, is that we do not have to feel ashamed of sickness. It will come and go, just like the vicissitudes of weather, and in a gross sort of way we cannot control it. Some people see sickness as something we do to ourselves, and go through lots of psychological contortions to try to determine what mental pathology might have caused it (was my cancer due to guilt? Does my deafness mean I don't want to hear?) Personally I feel quite disturbed by such approaches because not only do they assume we have much more control over the world we inhabit than we in fact do, a kind of grandiosity, but also they can be quite pernicious, making the person who is already suffering sickness feel responsible for their own symptoms.
This said, some illnesses do seem to have psychological causes, or at least to be exacerbated by psychological factors. Any illness can be compounded by our attitudes. Depending on their outlook, one person may be felled by an illness that another would take in their stride. Fear, unhappiness, anger, resentment of the symptoms, laziness or a whole range of other emotions can make us feel a whole lot worse. We mostly feel better when the sun shines. We hardly notice our toothache when we are in love.
Sometimes reflecting on our illness can bring us significant psychological messages or insights, though often I think it better, even where there is a psychological component, to dwell on the real element of the illness's physicality rather than getting bogged down in the psychological elements. This is a more typically Buddhist approach (rather similar to Morita methods)
And of course, even at a physical level, we do things that create illness or health. We can think of this in terms of karma and dependent origination. Whether it is at the gross level of smoking or overeating, or at more subtle levels of holding habitual body tensions, we create the conditions for our physical wellbeing.
Friday, January 28, 2005
February Course Block
The February course block will be well attended. We can still take last minute bookings, but please let us know as soon as possible if you want to attend, particularly if you require accommodation.
How can Buddhist psychotherapy aid the dying?
(Written for Buddhist Hospice Trust, UK)
Facing death is probably the deepest challenge which each of us faces in our spiritual lives. It can also be the greatest opportunity. The inevitability of death lies behind our living at all times, but for the most part we are able to avoid its reality through preoccupation with day to day activities and pleasures. Yet it was the sight of death that set the Buddha on his spiritual journey and became the heart of his insight. It can be the source of spiritual growth for all of us.
The Buddhist understanding of death, affliction and impermanence underlies a Buddhist approach to psychotherapy. Habitually we distract ourselves from the recognition of our own impermanent state, but in doing so we create compulsive and mind-dulling patterns of behaviour. This is what Buddhists refer to as avidya or ignorance. It is not seeing. In avoiding death we learn to avoid life. We do not see the beauty or love that surround us.
When death is near, whether it is our own or that of someone to whom we are close, some of these layers of avoidance may slip away. At this time, we may have an opportunity to see things more clearly. People going through the experience of closeness to death will often describe feeling more fully alive at this time than they have at any other point in their lives.
Buddhist psychotherapy is grounded in an understanding that aliveness comes, not through seeking ordinary comforts in life, but in facing our existential position with courage and faith. A Buddhist psychotherapist can be a source of strength and support at such a time, a midwife to the process. The familiar may be comforting, but if we can enter the space in which there are no certainties with confidence, we will live the time we have fully.
So we step into the unknown, holding no more than our faith, whatever this may be. In death we discover life.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Reflecting on perception
Buddhist psychology is broadly phenomenological in its orientation. that is it looks at the way we perceive our world - and the way that perception is coloured - indeed the word "rupa" which is often translated as form would more correctly be translated as "colour" - in other words the colour we add to our perceptual objects.
I had a recent experience that led me to think about this issue of how we perecive, and how that perecption is far from simply being "how things are". It was a very simple, everyday incident, but these sorts of micro-examples help us to realise just how conditioned and conditional our view is. No doubt others, similarly, can identify experiences that brought home the subjectivity of quite ordinary "seeing". It is worth noticing such things lest we assume our perception IS reality.
I was organising my photos on a web page the other day. As thumbnails it was diffficult to make out the content of each image and the images were packed maybe twenty in view at a time.
Having loaded the images from a disc, a number of pictures were sideways on. I set about turning them. What struck me was that although I could recognise the subject of the image when it was sideways on, as soon as I turned it the right way, the images suddenly became super-clear to me. All the details stood out in a way that seemed even clearer than surrounding pictures that had not required turning. It was as if it leapt into three dimensional view, so great was the shift in my perception of it.
Such a perceptual shift illustrates the way the senses lock onto the familiar and reject the unfmiliar. They are not neutral, but conditioned and grasping. It is almost as if they were seeking to compensate for the prior confusion of the sideways view, and returning my perceptual world to the comfort of the familiar and easily recogniable.
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Applications for courses
If you are wanting to apply for attendance courses, there is still time to send in your application in order to join the course in February. Any students wishing to join the programme at the February course block should make sure their applications are with us within the next week or so. This is particularly important if you are applying for the Advanced Certificate or Diploma as we will need to send for references.
EVENTS IN NORTH AMERICA
Caroline and David Brazier are about to set out to visit North America. They will be running events in Vancouver and Redding in January. These will include workshops on Buddhist Psychology which are open to the public, as well as Pureland retreats, talks and seminars. David will be going on to Japan where he will run events at the end of the month.
You will find details of the events in Vancouver and Redding on the Amida Trust web page Full details of each event can be obtained through clicking on links from the news item on this page.