Friday, July 22, 2011

Mindfulness of Breathing - A Very Brief Introduction

Let me begin with an apology! I had intended for this post to auto-publish just prior to my heading out of town for the week. Alas, things don't always go as we plan, do they? Thank you for your patience. What follows is what I intended you to read a week ago...

By necessity I must be brief with this week’s post. Some personal and work-related issues have made it so that I will not have time to adequately complete the lengthier post that I’ve been working on. Rather than rush it to publication without having done it proper justice, I am simply going to let it percolate for another week. I do appreciate you reading this, though, especially if you’ve visited this site because you know it’s about time for me to post something new. So, here is a little something new:



It seems that we hear about mindfulness almost everywhere these days. For some, mindfulness has come to represent what Buddhism is all about. For others, mindfulness is something that we strive for as we work through our yoga poses. For still others, mindfulness has become something of a clinical technique used by counselors, psychologists, therapists, etc. Mindfulness has been used to treat anxiety and depression, manage pain, alleviate the manifestations of personality disorders, and to unlearn dysfunctional eating habits. But where did it come from? Let me quote at length from the Anapanasati Sutta as translated by Vimalaramsi (1999):

Here a Bikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body (of breath)’; he trains thus ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body (of breath)’; He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the bodily formation’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formation’. He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing joy’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing joy’. He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing happiness’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the mental formation’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the mental formation’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in gladdening the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in stilling the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in liberating the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating impermanence’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating fading away’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating relinquishment’; he trains thus: I shall breathe out contemplating relinquishment’ (pp. 47-70)

Please keep in mind that different meditation techniques arise out of different Buddhist traditions. The mindfulness meditation described above is quite different than what I described in the post Now, In Entering Into Zen. That post described the practice of shikantaza – just sitting without goals and without techniques. Actually, shikantaza is the meditation practice that I engage in the vast majority of the time. However, since I have frequently tried to include in my posts here wisdom from the tradition of Buddhism as well as that of modern psychology, I think it appropriate to touch on this type of meditation, however briefly at present. I’m sure I’ll be referencing it in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you. I hope to “see” you again soon. In the meantime, please enjoy your mindful breathing!


References

Majjhima Nikaya MN 118. Anapanasati sutta: mindfulness of breathing (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Tr.). Access to Insight, 25 September 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

Vimalaramsi, U. (1999) The anapanasati sutta – A practical guide to mindfulness of breathing and tranquil wisdom meditation. Yin-Shun Foundation, http://www.YinShun.org


Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Glimpsing the Buddha Through Johari's Window

Okay, I hope I’m not totally overselling this post by choosing such a title, but I think that after reading it you’ll agree that I simply couldn’t pass it up! You see, I’ve been talking a lot about seamlessness lately and what that means from a Buddhist point of view. I’ve also tried to flesh out that idea with more contemporary concepts regarding authenticity, spontaneity, and congruence (see previous post, Seamlessness and the Self). Let me continue in that vein, then, by bringing into this discussion of seamlessness a versatile little heuristic device that has helped people understand interpersonal and organizational relationships for over fifty years – the Johari Window.

First conceptualized by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham back in 1955, the Johari Window has been used extensively in individual and group counseling contexts, and in team-building exercises, etc. Do an internet search on the phrase and you’ll have more than enough reading to keep you busy for quite a while! The Johari Window is essentially a 2x2 matrix that can be thought of as one of those old-fashioned four-paned windows wherein each “windowpane” represents a unique pairing of either known or not known to self with either known or not known to others. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here goes:


Keep in mind that the window in its entirety represents the individual self in its entirety, and each windowpane represents a different aspect of that self. Looking at the upper-left pane, quadrant 1, we see those attributes of the self that are known both to the individual and to others. Generally speaking, it’s a good thing for this quadrant to be as large as possible. I’ll say more about that later. The upper-right pane, quadrant 2, represents those attributes of the self that are known to the individual but not to others. Now, while the existence of such a private self is not inherently a bad thing, it is fairly clear that an inordinately large private self may not be the healthiest of realities. The lower-left pane, quadrant 3, represents those attributes of the self that are known to others even as they remain unknown to the individual. Hmmm…, for now why don’t we just call that a non-optimal situation. The last pane, quadrant 4, represents those aspects of the self that are just flat out unknown. Well, I suppose that’s better than quadrant 3. At least in quadrant 4 everybody’s ignorant! Let’s examine each of these quadrants more closely.

Quadrant 4: So just what sort of attribute of the self might be unknown to both the individual and to others? Well, the way the Johari Window is usually interpreted, this quadrant might contain those experiences that the individual has repressed – experiences that are not accessible to his or her conscious mind. In Freudian terms, such experiences might be so traumatic that they become “walled off” from consciousness in order to protect the ego from further harm. With the possible exception of someone who might have witnessed or perpetrated such trauma, nobody knows of its existence. One of the goals of psychoanalysis is to bring that which is unconscious into consciousness, where it can be dealt with directly and no longer influence the individual in unconscious ways.

Okay, you’ve probably been waiting for me to ask this question: Did the Buddha have a quadrant 4? Well, I just have to say that I find the prospect of the Buddha having repressed experiences totally anathema to the concept of his being awakened! Presumably if such repressed material existed, the Buddha would have awakened to it. After all, the Buddha was purported to have even known his past lives. Now, I would think that knowing your present life in its entirety would be a prerequisite to knowing your past lives, but that’s just me. Seriously, given the fact that I interpret ‘past lives’ in the moment-by-moment sense, I am inclined to think of the Buddha’s knowledge of his past lives as him being awakened to the nature and effects of karma in its entirety. Perhaps a slightly different way to look at quadrant 4 from a Buddhist point of view would be to consider it the realm of nescience. Recall that nescience refers to our most basic existential ignorance, our ignorance of the nature of reality, our ignorance of the true nature of the self. Once again, this is precisely what the Buddha awakened to.

Quadrant 3: Alright, what sort of attribute of the self might be known to others even as it remains unknown to the individual? So often we are blind to how we appear to others. We may come off as being arrogant even as we think of ourselves as humble. We may think of ourselves as generous even as others see us as cheapskates. We may think we’re open-minded even as others think we are about as opinionated as they come; and so on, and so forth. “Oh… to see ourselves as others see us” is a quote from a Robert Burns poem that reflects this reality of our social existence. Did the Buddha have some foible or idiosyncrasy that all the monks around him were aware of but that he was not? It almost seems silly to think of the Buddha in such a way, but let’s not forget that the Buddha was a mortal human being who did not always possess the wisdom of his later years. For instance, I’m wondering what people thought of the young Prince Siddhartha prior to his chariot ride outside of the palace – the ride on which he encountered for the first time the reality of sickness, old age, death, and spiritual practice. I’m picturing the charioteer thinking to himself: “Oh, you poor sheltered prince, you really did just fall off the turnip wagon, didn’t you!”

Quadrant 2: Quadrant 2 represents our private world – our deepest thoughts, our most embarrassing truths, our fears, dreams, and desires. We can’t escape this reality of human existence – that huge swaths of who and what we are remain unknown. Thankfully so, you might be thinking! However, the reality that we can never truly be known by another individual is also the source of some of our deepest existential sorrow. And the Buddha? Shortly after his awakening, the Buddha met up with some of the mendicants with whom he had followed more ascetic practices than that which ultimately led to his enlightenment. Upon meeting once again, the mendicants were thinking that they were encountering that slacker, Gautama, who’d given up the difficult practices that they were still engaging in. It was only after spending time with him and hearing the Buddha’s teaching that they became convinced that, yes, the Gautama that they once knew is now the Buddha, the Awakened One. In other words, that aspect of the Buddha’s private world became public. Was it gone for good – that private world? Well, no. The Buddha continued to reflect upon how much of his private world to make public. Was his teaching ready to be received? How might it be misinterpreted? Would it help to alleviate suffering or only increase it? One story tells of the Buddha picking up a handful of leaves and asking his disciples to compare that handful of leaves to those of the forest around them. “Even so, bhikkhus, of what I have known I have told you only a little, what I have not told you is very much more. And why have I not told you (those things)? Because that is not useful… not leading to Nirvana. That is why I have not told you those things” (Rahula, 1959, p. 12).

Quadrant 1: Quadrant 1 represents that realm of the self known to both the individual and to others. Here is authenticity, congruence, spontaneity. There is nothing hidden and nothing to hide. After becoming awakened and beginning to teach, the Buddha’s ‘self that is not other’ must have been predominated by quadrant 1. He lived with others, went on alms rounds with others, ate with others, slept in the vicinity of others, got sick and became well with others, weathered heat and rain with others. Even the temptations that arose as he sat in meditation became known to others. There was virtually nothing about his life that was not known to others. Perhaps the only aspects of his life that remained private were those “leaves in the forest” that he refrained from discussing for pedagogical or compassionate reasons.

Generally speaking, we can all benefit from quadrant 1 being as large as possible. Quadrant 1 expands in two ways. We can either learn more about ourselves than we otherwise knew, or we can disclose more about ourselves to others than we have otherwise disclosed. Learning more about ourselves might require soliciting feedback from others, engaging in meditation, or undergoing therapy. Of course, this is not always an easy process. It is often safest to remain in that place where we only know what we’ve grown comfortable knowing. Disclosure, likewise, is potentially fraught with difficulty. How much should we share? Why should we share it? Will it help the world in any way? Will it cause harm in any way? We’ve all experienced that feeling of someone (or us) revealing ‘too much information.’ It takes a certain amount of wisdom to know just how much to disclose. Thus, we might want to consider in what ways the expansion of quadrant 1 might be part of our spiritual journey, and undertaken mindfully.


References

Luft, J., Ingham, H. (1955) The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness. Proceedings of the Western Laboratory in Group Development, UCLA.
Rahula, W. (1959) What the Buddha taught. Grove Press, New York.


Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Seamlessness and the Self

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you’ve probably noticed my penchant for the word seamlessness with regards to ultimate reality. Seamlessness, to me, conveys a deeper reality than does interconnectedness. Whereas interconnectedness implies individual entities in relationships of mutuality, seamlessness conveys a reality beyond separation, beyond individuation, beyond compartmentalization.

When I first moved into the neighborhood where I presently live, none of the backyards in the immediate vicinity were fenced; they all just kind of blended together into one big tree-filled expanse. It was beautiful. Over the years, though, as old houses got torn down and new ones were built and as people with young families and dogs moved in, more and more fences went up and less and less of that expansiveness remained. The seamlessness that had once been so readily apparent is now almost completely parceled up into little areas of separateness. This is precisely what our ordinary consciousness does with the seamlessness of ultimate reality.



As our understanding of Buddhism deepens and we begin to glimpse the nature of emptiness, we become more and more aware of the artificiality of the boundaries between self and other, this and that. What we may overlook, however, is how much we treat our internal reality as we do our external reality. In other words, we parcel up the seamlessness of our internal reality just as we parcel up the seamlessness of ultimate reality. Now, this might sound just a little bit bizarre so let me clarify what I mean with some examples.

An example that will likely resonate with the Buddhists in the room relates to practice – the practice of Buddhism, that is. People who aren’t raised Buddhist don’t just become one overnight. It’s a gradual process. Buddhist practice might start out being “only” what we do when we settle our butts down onto a cushion, for instance; or maybe it’s something that we “only” do when we head on over to the local Zen center. As time goes on, perhaps, we start to tune in to the fact that practice encompasses what we’re doing as we drive down the highway, or work out in the yard, or come to grips with some major life stressor. Somewhere along the line, though – lo and behold – practice becomes something that we’re doing every minute of every day. (Okay, okay, how about more often than not, then?) In other words, as practice deepens it transitions from something that is very compartmentalized – something that we’re only doing some of the time – to something that is seamlessly integrated into, ahem, every breath that we take. Of course, this example need not be constrained to practitioners of Buddhism. Anyone aspiring to expand their faith experience from something that they engage in only on Saturday or Sunday, or whenever, to something that they are every day of the week can surely relate to seamlessness in this regard.

Okay, now how about an example right out of left field? Some years ago I was the lucky recipient of a surprise birthday party. Yes, I was lucky – lucky to have someone in my life who cared enough to want to throw one for me, and lucky enough to have people in my life who wanted to come. I have to tell you, though, it was a very disorienting experience! You see, there were people there from the company that I worked for, and from the bike racing team that I belonged to, and numerous others from various disjointed circles of old and new friends. In hindsight I realized that what was so disorienting about the experience was the fact that my relationship with each of those people was so much a function of the context in which we usually saw one another. It wasn’t so much that I was not being myself with any one of them – it was just that I wasn’t the totality of who I was with any one of them. Each person only knew one of the partitioned aspects of who I was and it was up to me to keep track of who I was with each of them – not an easy task at a crowded party without any of the usual contextual clues. Needless to say, it was exhausting having to clamor over the rubble and debris left behind after all of those fences that had been compartmentalizing the various areas of my life had been torn down!

I’m fairly confidant that everyone can relate to that experience to at least some degree. The fragmentation of the self seems to be a fairly common manifestation of the complexity and conflict inherent within our modern society. By “necessity” and, yes, by choice we partition our lives into separate little areas. When we’re here we can be ourselves and when we’re there we have to keep our guard up. We have a mask that we put on when we’re in this situation and a persona that we adopt when we’re in that one. This group of people knows that most embarrassing of truths about us and that group knows only what we’ve allowed them to know. Perhaps at work we’re the expert – the knowledgeable one who’s cool and calm and in charge; but when we’re engaged in our favorite pastime we allow our passions to burn unchecked as we give ourselves over to whatever activity we’ve decided to allow to affect us in that way.

But it’s not just a matter of keeping track of whatever compartment we’re in at any given point in time. Even when we’re fully aware of where we’re at we’re still checking our “instrumentation” in order to make sure that we stay within our prescribed parameters. We "meter" ourselves out in order to ensure that we don’t give more of ourselves than we’re prepared to give – whether that happens to be our time or our resources or our effort or our compassion. Like someone grudgingly reaching into his pocket at the behest of yet another panhandler we go through our lives – with one eye on whatever situation has presented itself and one eye on our meters. What keeps us from really giving freely of ourselves? Is it because we think that there won’t be enough left over for ourselves? Is it because we’ve passed judgment on the worthiness of the situation or the person? Is it because of a false belief that we have little of value to offer, or that we’ll get swept away by circumstances out of our control? Is it pride? Is it because of a belief that anything that we might be able to do is just a drop in the bucket compared to a need that is unimaginably great? 

Spontaneity, Authenticity, and Congruence

Seamlessness, with respect to the discussion at hand, has woven into it various threads such as spontaneity and authenticity. Without having so many fences to watch out for and meters to keep track of we become free to behave totally in accord with the needs of the present moment and whatever circumstances are arising. We become free to act with spontaneity. Likewise, without having to keep track of what mask we’re supposed to be wearing or what persona we’re supposed to adopt in any given situation we become free to give it the totality of who or what we are – in all of our authenticity. Authenticity is unrehearsed, uncontrived, and unadorned.

Another thread that’s woven into this seamlessness of which I speak is congruence. The concept of congruence is probably associated more with the work of counseling psychologist, Carl Rogers, than with any other person. Rogers (1961) says of congruence:
Though this concept of congruence is actually a complex one, I believe all of us recognize it in an intuitive and commonsense way in individuals with whom we deal. With one individual we recognize that he not only means exactly what he says, but that his deepest feelings also match what he is expressing. Thus whether he is angry or affectionate or ashamed or enthusiastic, we sense that he is the same at all levels – in what he is experiencing at an organismic level, in his awareness at the conscious level, and in his words and communications. (pp. 282, 283)

Hmmm…, that sounds a lot like the seamless integration of all aspects of being.

Spontaneity, authenticity, congruence – what keeps us from actualizing these traits with every breath that we take? What keeps us from truly experiencing this totally seamless way of being? I would venture to say that there is one emotion more than any other that stands in our way – fear. We fear that the voice of our inner truth will lead us astray. We fear that we will not be accepted as we are. We fear that giving of ourselves will diminish ourselves. We fear the randomness of good fortune and bad and so we pass judgment on those less fortunate in order to make ourselves feel entitled to that which we have. We fear our own impotence in the face of overwhelming forces that seem always on the verge of sweeping us away. We fear not being worthy of our position in life and so we pretend that it is all our doing. And we fear that we don’t matter – that nothing matters – that our very existence is without any meaning whatsoever. Yes, fear is what all of our fences and meters are all about. Ah, but what is fear, anyway, but our forgetting that we are a seamless manifestation of the seamlessness of ultimate reality?


References

Rogers, C. R. (1961) On becoming a person – A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company.


Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

Image courtesy of tungphoto:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Automatic Thoughts

When I was about three or four years old I had this toy that was kind of like a giant erector set designed especially for building cars big enough for a kid to ride around in. It had lengths of angled metal that you fastened together with big plastic nuts and bolts to make a chassis, and there were curved metal panels that you fastened into place to make a hood or a trunk or whatnot. It was really quite a cool toy – one that I never tired of taking apart and putting back together in different ways. Oh, and of course I rolled around in it a lot, as well. I know I was pretty young at the time because the wheels were just a very simple, hollow plastic design with steel bushings at the center that allowed them to turn smoothly on their axle. They certainly couldn’t have handled much more weight than a three or four year-old kid.

Anyway, I remember well the last time I ever rode in that sporty little vehicle. My big sister and I took it to the top of the hill at the end of the street where she gave me the biggest running push that she could muster. Well…, I… was… flying! It was certainly the most thrilling ride I’d had up to that point in my short life; and I just seemed to keep going faster and faster – even after the hill began leveling off. It was as if I had an engine propelling me or something! There was just one little problem, though. By the time I finally rolled to a halt the wheels were all wobbly and crooked. Apparently the steel hubs had gotten a little too hot from the friction, thereby causing the plastic wheels to melt away from them. After that it was just the thin plastic of the wheels spinning on their steel axles – getting hotter and hotter and melting bigger and bigger holes in the wheels as they did. Needless to say, the hot plastic wheels were essentially making their own lubrication as they rolled – thereby allowing them to spin almost friction-free. It seemed abundantly clear to even the young child that I was that the wild ride I’d just enjoyed was the direct result of my fine little vehicle self-destructing along the way. Yes, and all the while I’d been oblivious to what was happening.


Fast forward about thirty years. Long forgotten was that child’s toy, as were the events of that summer day in a glorious childhood. What remained, however, was the nagging sense that whenever things were going really, really well was precisely the time to be on guard for things going really, really wrong. And just where the heck did that tendency come from, anyway! The fact of the matter was, however, that at the time I didn’t know where that tendency came from. It was just a pattern that I’d begun to notice – a way of thinking that would arise whenever things were going just a little “too” smoothly.

Well, I puzzled over that enough that I finally did remember the story that I’ve just related to you about that little car with the plastic wheels, and one last wild and joyfully oblivious ride. Interestingly, once I was conscious of the fact that this certain pattern of thinking had been wired into my brain, and why, I was able to keep from being unduly influenced by it. The unconscious had become conscious, and in so doing it had lost its power over me. Now, if such a thought ever pops into my head, I’m able to make note of it and wonder for a moment whether it has any valid information to convey, or whether it is just me still looking at the world through the eyes of the child that I once was – that child who remembers experiencing great joy and great disappointment within seconds of each other.

Conditioning

Conditioning can be a help or a hindrance depending upon the situation. It can arise from an accurate view of reality or an inaccurate one. It can happen gradually over the course of years or it can occur in a matter of seconds depending upon the nature of the circumstances. Certainly, from an evolutionary standpoint, conditioning is what allowed (and allows) us to survive. Becoming aware of patterns in the movement of animals or certain features of the land that tended to make edible plants available was crucial to us living long enough to pass on our genes. Conditioning allows us to take in vast amounts of information, scan it for patterns, and then take action that is appropriate – all very quickly and with a minimum of effort.

A friend of mine once had a dog – a beautiful and brave little animal. Whenever the heater or air conditioner would kick on while he happened to be in the vicinity of one of the vents, however, he would suddenly become this meek and timid creature – cautiously eyeing and sniffing at the vent in order to be prepared for who-knows-what. We used to chuckle about that but, you know, being overly cautious is generally the safest way to be from the standpoint of survival. The difficulty for us humans is that the safest way to be from the standpoint of survival is not necessarily the best way to be from the standpoint of our happiness or our relationships or our spiritual progress. Success with respect to these aspects of our lives generally involves us letting go of fear, relinquishing our armor, and leaving our defensive strategies by the wayside. Thus, my vigilance for what might be going wrong in the face of everything going right – while advantageous (perhaps) in those rare circumstances where I might need a reminder not to get swept up in the moment and let my guard down – most often kept me from just experiencing the “rightness” of the moment in its fullest measure, without being tempered by unwarranted concern.  

Automatic Thoughts

Aaron Beck is a psychiatrist who was undergoing training in psychoanalytic methods when he began to realize that there was something deeper going on with his patients’ thought processes than became evident via such means as conventional free association, for instance. It occurred to him that it might be the case that “people are accustomed to speaking to themselves in one way and to speaking to others in quite another way” (Beck, 1979, p. 35). This self-talk – rather than going unreported by the individual out of any sense of shame on their part – might, in fact, escape scrutiny because it is either so deeply ingrained in their psyche as to seem beyond question, or because it is actually taking place on an unconscious level. Says Beck (1979):
These automatic thoughts… had a number of characteristics in common. They… were specific and discrete. They occurred in a kind of shorthand…. Moreover, these thoughts did not arise as a result of deliberation, reasoning, or reflection…. The thoughts “just happened,” as if by reflex. They seemed to be relatively autonomous in that the patient made no effort to initiate them and, especially in the more disturbed cases, they were difficult to “turn off.” (p. 36)

Most importantly, and more radically at the time from the standpoint of Western psychology, was Beck’s growing awareness of the intermediating role that these thoughts play between stimulus and response. Once again, Beck (1979) says:
Some argue that the emotional response is triggered directly by the external stimuli and the person inserts his cognitive appraisal of the event only retrospectively. A person who is trained to track his thoughts, however, can observe repeatedly that his interpretation of a situation precedes his emotional response to it. (p. 28)

It might be fruitful for us to think of these automatic thoughts that Beck is talking about in light of our recent discussion of the bandwidth of consciousness, for one, and Yoshida’s structural interpretation of the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination, for another. (Please see Part 5 of my series of posts related to dependent origination.) Recall that the bandwidth of consciousness is only about 40 bits per second compared to the millions of bits per second that we are bombarded with. Quite obviously, this means that we are largely unaware on the conscious level of the massive amount of processing of stimuli taking place within our nervous systems every second of every day. Beck is essentially saying that at least some of this processing stimulates patterns of cognition (so structured by our memories and our previous emotional reactions to similar experiences) that end up giving rise to the emotional states that we experience. Note how similar this is to the structural interpretation of the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination outlined by Yoshida (1994) wherein we have contact giving rise to consciousness and feeling which then becomes subject to “processing” via the dictates of our existing formations (karma) and our nescience (our inability to see things as they really are).

Even if the process is spoken of in slightly different ways using very different language, there is a striking fundamental similarity between the way Beck views suffering and the way Buddhists do. Yes, it is true that for Beck suffering encompasses such clinical manifestations as depression, anxiety, neuroses, etc., whereas for Buddhists suffering is a much more innate and universal phenomenon. However, both ways of looking at suffering essentially involve suffering arising from some shortcoming or short-circuiting in the way that we process information. For Beck, the shortcoming involves automatic thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right” or, as in my case, “things are going just a little too smoothly right now”, which, upon activation, result in a detrimental impact on our mood. Of course, these automatic thoughts are merely a specific manifestation of karma – karma that has been forged by our fundamental nescience. In each case, as well, the solution is increased awareness. For Beck this increased awareness involves our becoming aware of the automatic thoughts that are causing our suffering and then restructuring our cognition. For a Buddhist this increased awareness involves our cultivating a more accurate view of reality, thereby allowing us to respond to stimuli in such a way that no longer gives rise to suffering.

Well, thank you for reading! I hope looking at such real-life examples of how our minds work examined through both Eastern and Western "lenses" will allow you to dispel any "automatic thoughts" you might be experiencing regarding either the strangeness of Buddhism or the inapplicability of psychology. I also wish you all a happy and safe holiday weekend – free of all inaccurate cognition and any suffering that might result from it!


References

Beck, A. T. (1979) Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. A Meridian Book, Published by the Penguin Group.
Yoshida, R. (1994). No self: A new systematic interpretation of Buddhism. The World Sacred Text Publishing Society – Tokyo.


Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono via: