New Website Focus: Buddhism & Mental Health

I updated my RSS feed today with Google Feedburner. The new link is http://feeds.feedburner.com/NeverGiveUpBuddhismFamilySchizophrenia and is now on the right sidebar of this website.

Recently I decided to focus my website on the topics of Buddhism and mental health. My memoir is largely about Buddhism, family and mental health, and I’ve decided this is the best focus moving forward. My Buddhist practice and my knowledge of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism has contributed to my mental health and well-being in a variety of ways. The guest post I wrote for Ashley Smith, “Buddhism, My Mental Health & My Happiness” only touched on the different ways Buddhism has influenced, strengthened and supported my mental health.

Ashley’s question, “How does your Buddhist practice view mental illness and address it?” prompted me to do a little research about Buddhism using my relatively small library of books, magazines and other Buddhist literature. It’s interesting because although I found quite a bit of information about illness and treating illness from a Buddhist perspective, I read very little about mental illness. I’m sure this is partly due to the fact that the Buddha taught over 2,500 years ago in India, before mental illness was defined and diagnosed as it is today, much like cancer. Illness and mental illness in particular is unique to each individual, so there aren’t too many Buddhist cures or panaceas for specific illnesses that would apply to any one particular illness like schizophrenia or depression.

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Instead, Buddhism takes a broader approach that utilizes both common sense and faith in our own ability to heal ourselves.

“Through contemplation, Shakyamuni [Buddha] concluded that the best medicine is the fundamental life force inherent in everyone’s life, which enables us to draw forth the wisdom and energy necessary to cure our own physical and mental ills. Buddhist medicine’s chief aim is to help individuals develop their natural self-healing powers by cultivating life force through Buddhist practice.”

“Buddhism views illness as an opportunity to attain a higher, nobler state of life. It teaches that, instead of agonizing over a serious disease, or despairing of ever overcoming it, we should use illness as a means to build a strong, compassionate self, which in turn will make it possible for us to be truly victorious.”

– “Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death: A Buddhist View of Life” written by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda (2004).

In terms of my own mental health and the problems that have plagued me over the past few years, I’ve utilized many different approaches. I cut out encouraging quotes and placed them on my altar so I could read them daily while I chanted. I wrote down lists of goals for myself 3-4 times a year to clarify for myself exactly what is was I wanted to achieve, and although these goals often changed, it still helped me to gain a better perspective on my own attitude and what it was I was dealing with. For many years, my reality and my own beliefs were extremely distorted. I was so intimidated by what the mafia voices said to me I believed what ultimately was nothing more than an elaborate web of lies and deceit. Buddhism says nothing specific about auditory hallucinations that repeatedly lie.

What Buddhism does say is that we must view our obstacles as opportunities in order to learn and grow. We must take responsibility for our own lives and make every effort to challenge our weaknesses. I’ve been working on this a lot lately, especially my social skills which are somewhat lacking. I believe that if it wasn’t for my Buddhist practice, I would be much, worse off than I am today. Buddhism and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo have preserved my mental health by giving me a daily source of encouragement, energy, focus, insight, compassion, hope, and most importantly courage. Courage and self-esteem are both big issues for me, and without chanting, I might never have had the inner strength to bring these qualities forth from my life and use them to fight for justice and work for peace.

Jennifer

A New Interview on EatSleepWrite

I’m visiting my parents this week near Denver but I have a few new activities that I’ve finished to share with my readers. I created a profile for my memoir on Pubslush, a crowdfunding site for books. I’d like to raise enough money to publish my memoir with Berkeley-based SheWrites Press as well as pay for any necessary editing. My profile includes a 2 minute video clip, a brief summary of my memoir, a 10 page excerpt and a few questions about myself that I’ve answered for my supporters and readers. My memoir on Pubslush can be found at Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family & Schizophrenia.

selfpublishing, memoir, interview, pubslush

My interview with EatSleepWrite’s Adam Scull is available for free as a podcast on his website at EatSleepWrite. During the interview I answer a few questions about my psychiatric diagnosis in 2002 and read an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my memoir. I’ve been doing really well these past few weeks, particularly in terms of my mental health. I’m focusing more on redirecting my negative thoughts toward positive thoughts or funny memories that make me laugh. In a way it’s almost as if being cheerful and happy is like letting my guard down. If I’m serious or sullen, then no one can take advantage of me – at least that’s the way it seems. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. For me, it’s a matter of breaking bad habits and learning new, better habits – particularly when it comes to meeting new people and socializing.

I joined my parents at a neighborhood BBQ for Labor Day and I met quite a few of my parents’ neighbors. I didn’t talk to or even meet everybody, but I was still able to introduce myself and converse with a few of the women who live in the neighborhood. I left before both my mom and my dad, but I figured if I didn’t stay too long I would be less likely to feel uncomfortable, and more likely to participate in similar social gatherings in the future. Progress!

 

Becoming A Person of Unlimited Self-Esteem

I recently read a very encouraging article titled How to Become Women and Men of Unlimited Self-Esteem written by SGI-USA General Director Danny Nagashima. I’ve always lacked self-confidence and self-esteem and I really try to work on this aspect of myself whenever I can. Self-confidence and self-esteem (or lack of) has a lot to do with why I find it so difficult to talk to other people. I am easily intimidated. Yet the title of this article is telling me how to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem. How wonderful! Given the anger and negativity I sometimes feel about my circumstances, this was the perfect advice for me to read.

Danny Nagashima writes (paraphrased):

The obstacles we face are the answer to our prayer. We need to confront our feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing by valuing our own lives and appreciating that our self-worth has nothing to do with anyone else validating us. Appreciate everything in your lives – your flaws, your accomplishments, your defeats and losses, your victories, and everything you have created – everything that makes you unique and wonderful. All your sufferings, problems, and heartaches will be exactly what we need to share our experiences and to encourage and inspire others. Not achieving a goal we have set out to accomplish is a manifestation deep down of your feelings of fear, that you are not good enough, that you don’t have it in you. We must believe in our own Buddha (enlightened) nature, and praise our wonderful lives. Trust that you have everything you need for your own happiness.

I feel this article is especially relevant to women and in my case, women writers. I’ve been dealing with negative and insulting voices in my head for quite awhile, so I really need to be able to build myself up and not give in to their negativity. Especially when it is very personal. Now I know not to listen to what I hear, but this was not always the case. I often believed what the evil voices said, even though it could not have been further from the truth. The voices capitalized on my own self-doubt and negativity, exaggerating and making me believe I was a horrible person. In reality, it is the complete opposite.

selfesteem, buddhism, mentalhealth

Now, when I chant and pray to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem, I feel very happy. I am not angry and I don’t feel the need to judge others. In a society where other people, especially women are judged so harshly, having a plentiful supply of self-esteem is invaluable.

What We Value Most As a Society

Saturday morning Adam Scull from EatSleepWrite interviewed me for his weekly podcast show. Adam interviewed me for about 30 minutes and we had a great discussion about my upcoming memoir. I admit I was very nervous, but the whole question and answer session made me feel much better about giving interviews. It wasn’t an in-person interview either. We used Skype since he is located in Florida and it worked out well. Adam will be posting my interview as a podcast on his EatSleepWrite website as well as on iTunes in mid-September. Adam has been interviewing aspiring writers and posting their podcasts since April, and he is a very patient and kind host. Please visit his website at EatSleepWrite or check out a podcast on iTunes podcasts listed under EatSleepWrite with Adam Scull.

I continue to chant at the Buddhist center early in the mornings. This morning a young man spoke about his experience over the past weekend at a Buddhist retreat in Florida. He spent four days at the Florida Nature & Culture Center near Fort Lauderdale and returned both encouraged and inspired by his visit. He told us about another young man he met who came from Chicago. The young man described how Chicago’s murder rate in 2012 was very, very high. As Buddhists, he and his fellow SGI members decided to take action both within the organization and within their communities. The local SGI Buddhist centers held more chanting sessions so more people had the opportunity to chant together. SGI members also became more involved in their communities. Ultimately, by working and fighting together, in 2013 the city of Chicago has reduced its murder rate from 2012 levels.

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I found this incredibly encouraging because I think our society is desensitized to violence, particularly in poorer communities. It seems as if we don’t place much value on human life anymore. More value is placed on material goods like cars, TVs, cell phones and drugs. One of my new favorite quotes is from a book I am currently reading titled “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss. The main character was a member of a clan of traveling performers resembling gypsies, and he describes a story told by one of the older clan members. The story revolves around a beggar looking for a warm fire and a hot meal. He stumbles upon the traveling clan and is warmly welcomed. When the beggar states that he has nothing to offer in return for their kindness, one woman tells him kindly: “What we value most is something that everyone has – a story.” This is incredibly beautiful but it also shows how backwards we’ve become as a society. We’ve come to place value on the things that matter least in life, and strip our most valuable treasures of meaning.

Two Different Kinds of Happiness

My husband and I spent last week in Michigan at a family reunion on my mom’s side. We had such a great time, and even though it was stressful and a little chaotic at times, I am so glad that we were all able to be together for that one week. I hadn’t seen my aunts and my cousins in quite a few years, and now they all have children! When I was younger, we visited my aunts, uncles and cousins at the lake in Michigan almost every summer. We had fun together, swimming and water-skiing. It was fun this time too, although now we are all quite a few years older.

two different kinds of happiness

I was able to get myself out of my angry rut over the past week as well. It turned out that I was invited to assist with my Buddhist elementary school group, and we did a fun owl pellet science activity and drumming lesson on Sunday morning. I really appreciate the opportunity to teach children again. I’ve been getting up earlier in the mornings and going to the Buddhist center to chant this week. I re-read my last blog post and I noticed that I said I would focus less on participating with the SGI, but I actually did quite the opposite! This is much better, of course.

This morning I read a great article in my Buddhist newspaper, the World Tribune (August 9, 2013 p.3) about happiness. I believe that many people don’t understand what happiness is. For me, I’ve had to really learn how to be happy. This is because in Buddhism, there are two kinds of happiness: ‘absolute’ happiness and ‘relative’ happiness. Absolute happiness is lasting happiness. Relative happiness is fleeting. The problem is most people seek relative happiness, and are totally unaware of what absolute happiness is or how to achieve it. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states:

No matter how wealthy a person may be, he or she can be reduced to absolute poverty overnight by some drastic social change. The most seemingly healthy person can have a terrible accident or suddenly fall ill. As people grow older, they all experience illnesses of one kind or another. 

Relative happiness is based on the condition of our circumstances. When circumstances change, that happiness can also easily crumble. In addition, though we may possess all we desire, as long as we can’t control our desires, our happiness at attaining new things will only be  momentary. Extreme attachment to wealth and such can actually make one poor of spirit…

Absolute happiness is not simply an extension or a higher degree of relative happiness. One can seem to be quite unfortunate in terms of relative happiness, but can actually have a firmly established absolute happiness.

For me, I have had to learn how to be happy during what I consider to be less than ideal circumstances. Dealing with the voices, learning how to ignore them, not letting them scare or intimidate me was (and still is) no easy feat. Buddhism has taught me that happiness only comes from within, and that my happiness can’t be dependent on my external environment. Yet when the voices I hear are so evil it is difficult to fight against them. Fighting the voices, the devilish functions and my own negativity is what I’ve learned to do over the past few years with therapy, Buddhism and my family. It wears on me, day after day, but I believe there is incredible meaning in my fight, and I will never give up.

Jennifer