Buddhism – My Best Psychotherapist
I used to be a mess. My mind was filled with anxiety and depressive thoughts. I was lost and confused, and all I could do at that point was to search for professional help. It helped me at that time and I was even taking medication.
But after discovering Buddhism, you might think this is crazy to say, but I didn’t need any professional help anymore nor medication. Today, after eight years of being on a Buddhist path, I can say that Buddhist philosophy helped me look at my mind, my problems, and life in a completely different view.
Disclaimer: before I go any further, I want to say that this is my personal experience and I don’t advise or recommend anyone to stop taking medications or professional help. I am telling my story in a hope that someone who reads this and maybe has similar problems will find helpful views. It is not a call to quit any therapy, it is a call to look at the problems from a different angle.
Why is Buddhist philosophy so special?
I realized that Buddhism “cured” me because I have changed my way of thinking. Based on my personal experience, there are a few crucial points within Buddhist philosophy which resonated with me:
- Non-attachment (a mindset to achieve liberation)
- Law of Karma
Non-attachment may be very difficult to understand if this is the first time you have heard this term. What is non-attachment and why is it important?
We are all very much attached to everything in our lives. Having a job means I don’t want to lose it or my life will be ruined. My partner and I are in a loving relationship but if I lose him, I will be devastated. I lost my best friend and now I’m suffering. These are all just a few examples of extreme attachment.
Attachment stretches through our entire life in little things as well, like “my cellphone, my tv, my car, my money, my status, my ego, my pain…”, all the “my” we use and take as a part of us. And the thought of losing any of the „my“ creates discomfort and pain. That is attachment.
Naturally, we are all attached because that is how we function. However, it can be loosened and attachment can become less-attachment (hardly we can achieve complete non-attachment in today’s World but we can work on it).
Once we apply the mindset of non-attachment (that is striving to be a little attached as possible) we will realize our minds are less anxious, less stressed, and unhappy. It will happen because we will ease the grip on any phenomena we have in our lives and we will be free.
But the question is how to do that?
The answer would be applying counter-attachment thoughts on a non-stop basis. It requires a mindful presence to be able to recognize when we suffer due to our attachment. When we notice attachment, we should apply mindful thoughts like “this is attachment, I release my attachment as I will be free without the firm grip to this person/object/desire, etc.”. It takes practice but it can be done.
Even having a mindset of not wanting to suffer can become a source of attachment. We attach to the idea of being released from suffering because let’s face it, who wants to suffer? That is what I had in my anxiety/depression phase. Occasionally it still shows up when I have a hard time, but then I acknowledge my mindset of attachment to my desire for no suffering and it immediately eases. I put it in front of me so that I can deal with my attachment and then it doesn’t bother me on a subconscious level.
Law of Karma
Originally this is not Buddhist teaching since it was mentioned in the old times in India before Buddhism came to be. But the Buddha explained it thoroughly from his point of liberated mind view.
I have written about Karma many times since this is the most liberating philosophy I’ve come across in my life. It explains that every action produces a reaction. My pain used to have no meaning. I was suffering wondering why me? But once I learned about Karma, I realized my life with all its depression and anxiety was a direct product of some previous life’s actions. So, I took responsibility for my present condition and my depression and anxiety started to have a different purpose. I knew that what I was going through was an effect of some previous cause. So, I stopped being a victim and my life got a new meaning. I took some actions so that my present cause will produce a positive effect in the future.
To give a concrete example, I will explain how anxiety disappeared. I used to feel anxious in every outdoor situation. Even a simple act like going to a shop made me feel uncomfortable. But once I realized my Karma made me who I am, I stopped fearing. It happened because I took responsibility for my present state. I accepted that whatever happens, will happen because of something I’ve done in the past so no point in fearing any longer. At that moment of acceptance, my fear ceased. Karma will do what needs to happen, no point in fearing in advance. All I can do is take responsibility and do in the present moment the right actions so that once in the future they will result in a positive outcome.
And as for depression, I felt my depression also ceased because of the same acceptance of my Karma as in the anxiety case. Karma gave my life a new meaning. If it meant I had to suffer, there was obviously a reason for it as Karma is a law of cause and effect. So, my depression (meaningless state of my life) had a root in a previous cause. Once I accepted that depression is a result of the previous action, I began to have a purpose in life. So, I no longer felt depressed!
The next very important Buddhist teaching is impermanence. We tend to act as if every state of mind, every person or thing in our life will last forever.
However, being aware of impermanence will get us to a whole new level. This is a sort of attachment as well, wanting everything and everyone to be eternal. So, becoming aware of impermanence is liberating. Once we acknowledge it, it stops being so hard on us.
After accepting that my anxiety and depression were a product of Karma, and it literally cured me, I continued to have occasional highs and lows. Naturally, we are all humans and it is almost impossible to be bullet-proof to negative situations. That is why with Karma and Non-attachment mindset, I also apply Impermanence mindset so that I can always remind myself that whatever problem we have, will pass eventually. No point in losing our heads over problems because they are impermanent.
My conclusion is that applying non-attachment to any problem or pain, accepting that it is happening because of some previous cause, and having a mindset of everything being impermanent is the best psychotherapy I have ever received in my life.