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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mental Illness: Meditation or Medication? Often, Both.

This is a long post but an important one because it touches on an issue--mental illnes, which some in spiritual circles choose to ignore. As many of you know I have been living with schizoaffective disorder for most of my life and have found great refuge, relief of symptoms and calm from Buddhism and meditation in particular. Of course, we all are "mentally ill" or else we wouldn't be here in samsara but some have severe, biological mental illnesses and require a hybrid approach of therapies and practices.

I notice that the more I meditate the easier it is to deal with my condition. Yet meditation alone isn't enough in my situation because despite meditating I still am debilitated by disabling symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, delusions (psychiatric delusions such as being convinced that you are the most horrible person on Earth), mood swings and chronic depression.

Thus I have found medications help fill the void and basically keep me alive because my depressive episodes easily lead to suicidal thoughts. I have found an excellent psychiatrist who has found a great balance of medications to keep myself as stable as can be expected outside finding a cure to the disease. In addition I talk regularly with a psychotherapist to help me keep track of my mood swings and give me tips on how to better manage my illness through establishing routines and developing other techniques. So I was excited when I read an excellent article in the current Buddhadharma magazine that arrived in my mailbox today about this very subject:

When Buddhism first came to the West, many teachers and practitioners initially dismissed psychotherapy as superficial, unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. As time went on...psychotherapy's relationship to spiritual practice started to undergo a reevaluation, and the two disciplines began to intermingle a bit more. In fact, many therapists and meditation teachers now agree that meditation and psychotherapy can be mutually facilitating. Meditators seem to progress more quickly in theraphy, while psychotherapy can improve the effectiveness of their meditation.
James: I am one of those meditators who have progressed more quickly in therapy thanks in part to my meditation practice. In fact, when I come into therapy and am having a difficult time with my mental illness she always asks if I'm meditating and the answer is often, "no." So in a lot of ways my meditation practice is a type of medication though I still do have episodes despite meditating. When I meditate on a regular basis it takes some of the severity out of my symptoms. That said, while meditation is very effective it isn't the entire solution and I think we Buddhists must admit that meditation isn't the solution to everthing--especially when medical issues are involved. It is true that meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, induce relaxation and other health benefits but it can not solve severe, biological mental illness symptoms in total.
Combining meditation and psychotherapy makes sense if we appreciate how they work in complementary ways. For the most part, meditation focuses primarily on developing capacities such as concentration and awareness, whereas psyschotherpay focuses primarily on changing the objects of awareness, such as emotions and beliefs. Of course there are significant overlaps, but this complimentarity suggests why combining both approaches can be very helpful. Meditative qualities can facilitate psychotherapeutic healing of painful patterns, while the psychotherapeutic healing of these painful patterns can reduce the disruption of spiritual practice.
James: Medication has toned down the volume of distracting stimuli in my head such as the hallucinations and calmed my nerves to enable me the opportunity to actually be able to practice. Before medications I wouldn't have had the patience to meditate due to manic episodes that kept my thoughts racing too fast to have the concentration needed to sit even for a few minutes. It's like trying to do meditation effectively after drinking four pots of coffee in an hour. Either that or I'd be so depressed that I couldn't get out of bed let alone have the motivation and intention to meditate.

So the medication has lowered the volume and reduced the static in my brain to put me in a position where meditation is actually even an option and be able to not just do it but find great benefit from it. I was drowning without medication and the water was up to my mouth and nose so the medications have drained the water down to my chest level. So while it's difficult to walk through chest deep water at least I can now (for the most part) breath comfortably, which gives me the freedom to meditate and have the ability to make progress upon the path that otherwise would be basically impossible. When it comes to using medication in combination with a Buddhist practice there are basically too camps according to the author of this article. First, the purists and second the pragmatists (I fall into pragmatist category):
Spiritual purists argue that if mental suffering is fundamentally spiritual and karmic, spiritual practice alone is appropriate to treat it. Moreover they are concerned that medication may dull or derail spiritual practice. They also worry that medications may reduce or distort awareness, and thereby make practice more difficult. In this view, medications can be novel forms of the "mind clouding intoxicants" prohibited by the lay precepts to which many Buddhists practitioners adhere. Therefore, taking these modern pharmacological agents is tantamount to violating this precept.
James: Let me say that I have found personally (and I've read that this is the case for many others) that my medications do the opposite of "dull or derail spiritual practice," "reduce or distort awarness." Without them I was so depressed, mislead by hallucinations (voices) and detached by dissociation that I was a nihilist believing in nothing and wanting the world to explode to end everyone's misery. At least that's what I thought at the time in my deluded mind.

It wasn't until I started to lower the static in my head through medications that I saw the benefits of spirituality and sought out Buddhism. Before then my mind was clogged and preoccupied with constant mental torment and anguish. It simply didn't have the stability at the time for a spiritual practice. Thus is was before medications that I had a dulled spiritual practice--not after. The medications increased my awareness of reality rather than dull it as they helped sharpen my concentration, focus and attention (I have Attention Deficit Disorder as well) to enable me to actually have a chance at understanding concepts like mindfulness. I know for certain that I'd be spiritual lost still without the addition of medication to give me a somewhat stable mind to build a spiritual foundation upon.
By contrast, pragmatists hold that spiritual practice alone is simply insufficient, or at least not optimal, for healing all mental suffering. While not denying the validity of some purist concerns, pragmatists argue that certain problems and pathologies respond best to other therapies, and one of those therapies can be medication.
James: Buddhism can indeed be more than enough for the regular depression and anxiety that occur with living in samsara. However, those diagnosed with a severe biological mental illness that involves chemical imbalances within the brain need the additional help that comes with proper medication and therapeutic monitoring. It can be very dangerous and irresponsible to prevent someone with severe deperssion from seeking psychiatric help because suicide is a very real threat and should never, EVER be ignored or blown off.

People with a severe mental illness who do not seek medication are usually playing with a loaded gun that could very easily go off in the form of suicide. Some people can get by with herbal supplements and vitamins but most people with severe mental troubles need stronger medicine. I tried the "natural route" and it didn't even cut the symptoms much at all.

The author who is a professor of psychiatry (and a Buddhist) did a study with Buddhist practitioners with suffer from mental illness: Our team of researchers, all physicians and long-term meditators, investigated a group of nineteen Buddhist practioneers (thirteen women and six men) diagnosed with major depression. These practioneers had all been doing meditation, mainly vipassana, for at least three years, had participated in two or more weeklong retreats, and had used antidepressants in the last two years.
Most of our subjects reported that antidepressants helped them with multiple emotional, motivational, and cognitive functions. Emotional changes were consistent with an antidepressant effect. The painful emotions of anger and sadness decreased significantly, but fear showed a smaller response. The positive emotions of happiness, joy, love, and compassion all increased, as did self-esteem. Subjects also felt calmer and that their awareness was clearer. One would expect this kind of result, given that the subjects were no longer wrestling with intense, painful emotions.

Clearly the large majority of these meditators felt that they, and their spiritual practitice, benefited significantly from taking antidepressants. Several subjects reported that the antidepressants enabled them to recommence or significantly improve their meditation and spiritual practice.
James: So while there still is no cure for schizoaffective disorder and while I still suffer from hallucinations, paranoia, bipolar, etc., the medications have given me my life back to where I can pursue things like spritituality. It has allowed me sharpen my awareness of reality and this life whereas before I was living in a kind of fog and everything was out of focus. So I can attest to the benefits of psychotherapy and medications. Thus, when added with meditation and other Buddhist practices it forms a powerful combination that has helped me greatly.

It's time that we realize that interdepenence includes science helping spirituality and spirituality helping science. The two working together can accomplish great things and don't necessarily have to be at odds. Sure there are some tensions between the two groups but there are areas where they fit perfectly and accent each other to benefit a great many people.

~Peace to all beings~

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52 comments:

release_in_extremity said...

Hey James,
I think this is a wonderful and touching post. It's really great to read about how helpful meditation is to you, and informative for someone who does not have a mood disorder. Have you read Jack Kornfield's "The Wise Heart"? It's about the history of Buddhist psychology in the West. Kornfield, Tara Brach, and many other American Buddhists and psychologists, I think Sharon Salzburg too, write about how it makes sense to use both medication and meditation if that suits your needs.

Tim said...

James....Suzuki discussed the relativity between psychotherapy and meditation (zazen) on numerous occasions. I like this G book

http://www.scribd.com/doc/8016326/Who-We-Really-Are-Buddhist-Approaches-to-Psychotherapy

Horselover Fat said...

I was unable to meditate (and not for lack of trying) before I was diagnosed with bipolar type II and put on medication. The spiritual practice and the medication have worked so well hand in hand that therapy hasn't even been necessary.

Simon said...

Thanks for a really insightful and honest post. I am sure it is not an easy topic to discuss and I am impressed with what you wrote. I was thinking of starting a similar discussion myself because of a close friend of mine who suffers from borderline psychosis, social peronality disorders, depression and self-injury behaviour. He often complains of feeling emptiness in his mind and no feeling of self. What struck me is that these are often cited as goals to strive for in buddhism. It appears to me he has already unwittingly reached these goals and they are driving him crazy ! Would anyone like to comment ?

anonymous said...

Forgive me for saying so, but this is somewhat like asking about the merits of football in the midst of a crowded football stand.

To get an idea of what you asked, you would have to go to Asia; Thailand for example. When people have mental problems do they go to find a therapist or psychiatrist?

No, they go to the Wat.

As for meditation, then you have to be careful here, what kind of meditation?

Then, you bring in a professor of psychiatry for an opinion (guess what he will conclude?). Scientific surveys prove that scientific surveys prove anything.

As for the people who you regard as authorities on vipassana, please, these people are a joke when it comes to vipassana. They are first and foremost psychotherapists who spent time running from place to place in Asia picking up an image of vipassana. Then, they went home and formed their own version, which will never work in a million years.

The main issue with therapists is that they work with the self, and they try to get this self to accept what is normal (the total insanity of modern society).

The main issue with Buddhism is that there is no self, nothing to work with.

As for being the worst person on the planet, thanks for telling me where you are.

There are cases of mental illness where meditation cannot help, catalepsy for example, so in such a situation medication is helpful. However, there are not that many cases.

The main problem in the West is that there are few such natural refuges as Wats where they have experienced teachers. The alternatives are usually places that charge a fortune yet offer little more than hype.

For Buddhism to work it has to be used correctly, and unfortunately if someone does have mental problems then in the West at least they have little choice but to use medication.

Therefore, in the football stand, you have no other choice but to support football. If you asked this same question in Thailand people would think you were nuts for even mentioning it.

The other issue worth considering is that you live in a place where everything becomes a disease.

As for combining both, then I would say that psycho medicine is quite poisonous and often has side effects. A better idea would be to smoke dope, but that is illegal, and of course taking either more or less screws up your chances of effective meditation.

My advice would be to emigrate.

The modern intellectual approach to Buddhism has been addressed in 'Path to Nowhere'
http://www.dhammaspread.org/page307.htm

anonymous said...

Just one further point of interest, I might add that all mental illnesses are explainable in Buddhism (nothing like the fancy wording you would get from a Western material scientist).

As for whether Buddhism can be used 100%, my source Ajarns say that they do use it 100% and never seek medical treatment (and they don't drink coffee or tea either). Buddhadasa bikkhu once had a minor operation, but he dispensed with the usual anesthetic when under the knife, relying on meditation instead.

Paul said...

Anonymous,

Can I ask you what your experience is with working with people with mental disorders? Have you ever had anyone close to you with one?

I've worked a lot with people with mental disabilities and had a close friend who was agoraphobic. When you look a mental disability right in the face (as I saw the terror in her face just for the postman delivering a package and he would need to knock on the door for a signature).

I think you need to remember that in order to understand someone you need to walk in their shoes.

My suggestion to you would be to go and actually meet with people with mental disorders.

Zita said...

Dear Anon,

I am not sure if you are a first-time harasser to James or not, but I am sick of reading responses like this to James' blog.

You must remember that no experience of a religious tradition is more justified than another, You may be familiar with the ways a certain Theravada tradition do things in a specific location in the world, but you forget that James is also in a specific tradition in a specific part of the world.

And this happens to be the part of the world that most of us know.

Have we forgotten skillful means?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that no person has any right to criticize any view point of another practitioner. We may all practice in different ways, and value different pieces of doctrine, but that doesn't make any of us less valuable to the Buddhist community. And not being from Asia doesn't make out experiences/insights less valuable.

Barry said...

If we Buddhists are serious about alleviating human suffering, then we will use any and all means to do so.

Of course, it's possible for a self-proclaimed Buddhist to define suffering so narrowly that it can only be addressed through a "Buddhist" method.

But that approach ignores - and denigrates - the very real suffering that arises from the never-ceasing calamities of human life.

If we're serious about putting an end to suffering, we'll move any mountain - countless mountains - to do it. We'll do it right where we stand, because that's where the suffering is. Right here. Right now. Do it.

They call him James Ure said...

Release_in_extremity:

Thank-you. I'm glad that it was informative because part of my reason for writing this blog is to raise awareness for mental health issues and show how beneficial Buddhism can be to those living with such disorders.

Tim:

Thanks for the suggestion. I love Suzuki and will check out that book. It sounds interesting and informative.

Horselover Fat:

I'm glad that it has worked for you too. It's a combination of two great systems: Buddhism and science. I hope you continue to benefit from both Buddhism and the medical treatments.

Simon:

It is a sensitive issue but I have lived with it for so long that I'm not ashamed to speak about it. It is simply another biological conditions not unlike diabetes or autism.

Interesting about your friend because I experienced something similar but I wasn't emotionally stable. So I needed the medication to give me some balance so that I could actually work with that previous understanding.

I think that those of us with mental disorders think about things like death maybe more than most. And dealing with dissociation has inadvertently opened me up to emptiness and no self. I guess there are a few good sides to these conditions at least.

Anonymous:

I've tried to be nice and understanding of your point of views on the blog. I try to be nice even in disagreeing.

However, on this subject I'm not going to go there with you again. This might sound mean and I might sound angry but well, I am. I'm not going to buckle to ignorance and misinformation just to avoid anger. I hope you read this.

Your dismissal of mental illness and the benefits of medication are misguided, dangerous and ignorant. It has been clearly and solidly proved by science and by other research that mental illness is a biological condition--a disease.

Even the Dalai Lama has embraced science on this one. AND agrees with combining medication and psychotherapy with medication and other Buddhist techniques:

"We distinguish two levels of mental illness: gross and subtle; both may be associated with physical illness. For this reason, Tibetan medicine regards a patient as a whole entity, ,taking into account not only his or her body but also his or her mind. This is why there are those who treat mental illness by combining Western psychotherapy with Buddhist methods. I think this is an excellent method."

Now I don't know about you but I have great respect for the Dalai Lama.

To tell people to go to Thailand to get relief from a monk instead of seeing a doctor is irresponsible. They need medical science and advice from an educated and experienced professional.

Of course Buddhism has a role to play in helping people live with these conditions--in specific meditation. And yes not every person dealing with depression needs medication and some can do fine with just meditation and such. However, most severe mental illness can not be treated without medication.

I can attest to the efficacy of modern day medications because when I take my medicine I have less hallucinations, they are less strong and I am less suicidal. It also tones down my paranoia and other symptoms.

So if the medications are worthless then why do they work so well for me and many, many others? If there are no such things as severe mental illnesses and thus no need for medications then wouldn't you think that taking these medications would either a). do nothing or more likely b). cause harm. Instead they alleviate the serious symptoms such as suicidal depression.

I don't understand what how you can judge other versions of meditation as ineffective and even dangerous when they have worked for people for centuries such as Zazen. It may not be your tradition but that doesn't necessarily, automatically make it inferior and worthless.

And I find it odd that you dismiss scientists when they are the ones behind all modern medicine. Without them we wouldn't have modern medical science. These are the same people that have brought us cures for so many diseases and you dismiss them out of hand as charlatans.

Where's your proof that mental disorders aren't biological and aren't diseases? I have sided with the evidence of modern science so where is your proof?

I think when it comes to medical issues that most people would trust a doctor over a monk. Monks are experts of many things and have vast knowledge and deserve great respect but they don't know complete medical science. They do not have a degree to practice medicine.

Just because one is a monk does not make them experts in all subjects. And the professor wasn't just offering his opinion--they did a scientific study, which is quite different than an opinion.

And he isn't a professor in English or something. He has a Phd from a very accredited school in Psychology and if you don't believe psychology is a real field of science then you're the one who needs to rethink things--not I.

For one, I don't do vipassana I do Zazen. The teachers I follow are Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Shunyru Suzuki and Master Dogen to name a few. These teachers are definitely authorities on Buddhism and following them is not a waste of time.

There is room for all Buddhist traditions. Just because your tradition doesn't do things exactly like other traditions doesn't make yours the only branch of Buddhism that is valid and praise worthy. I have great respect for Theravada and enjoy learning from many of their teachers.

As for being the worst person on the planet, thanks for telling me where you are.

What do you mean by that above statement? I took it as an insult and that you think I really am the worst person on the planet. You are wrong if that's the case.

And you are being rude and mean in making that statement because you are joking around with delusional thinking that is associated with certain mental illnesses like mine.

You are making fun of my conditions and the symptoms. Would you make fun of someone with cancer? Would you insult them as you have done with me here?

Would you encourage someone to kill themselves as you have just encouraged me to believe the delusional thoughts created by my chemically imbalanced brain that I indeed am the worst person in the world??? If so you are sick, you are the real sick one. I'm a nice person most of the time but I refuse to let you make light of mental illness.

Have you ever been to a therapist? If not then you know not of what you speak of. The therapist that i have does not encourage me that things of the self are normal and o.k. We talk about the dangers of selfishness, anger, desire, etc. and she encourages me to meditate.

So do most therapists I've visited and I've visited many. So I think you're uneducated on this matter.

Therapists try to help you deal with the crazy modern world--not accept it as normal. They help you find peace despite the crazy world, which isn't that different than in Buddhism.

It doesn't sound like you know anyone with a true, severe mental illness. Well, I do--many. First being myself. I've lived and dealt with doctors, non-doctors, natural medicine doctors, etc. and I think I can safely say that I know what I'm talking about on this one.

If mental illnesses aren't real than how is that there are people who all share the same symptoms from all over the world. And from all different cultures, religions and education.

Many of us with the same conditions share even the oddest, seemingly most unique symptoms.

As for people in Thailand thinking I'm nuts just for even mentioning this stuff. First, making reference that I'm nuts just because I deal with a mental illness is insulting and rude.

Two, I don't live in Thailand and maybe I should be glad considering how apparently Thais treat people with biological conditions. If they are anything like you. I'd be curious to see what the suicide rate is there.

And what about people who are put into mental hospitals because their mental disorder is so bad? Who are those people and what is "wrong" with them if it's not a mental disorder?

Yes some of these meds have some bad side effects but for some people they don't have a choice but to take them. Chemotherapy drugs used for cancer cause some bad side effects too but they often cure people.

If I didn't take these medications I'd probably be dead from suicide because the crushing depression would return.

And the voices would return in full force confusing me and making me want to kill myself because they would be so loud like they were before meds. And on and on.

True, not everyone needs medication and I don't encourage throwing medications at everyone but they are needed for some. And if you are saying people don't need medications sometimes then you are playing with peoples lives.

As for your advice, I didn't ask for it and maybe it is YOU who should emigrate. You are so short-sighted and can't see past your own little world. Open up your mind.

As for not going to the doctor and not seeking medical treatment? That's just irresponsible and asking for infections, disease and an early, unnecessary death.

As for the minor surgery and not using drugs to dull the pain. Well, a lot people can do that but try not using drugs for open heart surgery. Oh wait, you don't believe in medical treatment.

So like I say, you are the one who needs to be educated on this one. That may sound mean but on this one I don't compromise nor am I going to placate both sides of the story.

Because there aren't two sides. Science and medicine have proven mental illness to be biological. End of story.

They call him James Ure said...

Barry:

If we Buddhists are serious about alleviating human suffering, then we will use any and all means to do so.

Well said. I think some people are afraid of mental disorders and feel the need to say that people who suffer from them are "devils" or "evil" so that they don't have to deal with it/them.

Teresa Lynne said...

I think they both go hand in hand. Although, medication helps - there is no miracle drug.

We have to take "action" and help ourselves whether that be meditation, exercise, eating healthy, painting, writing, or whatever works for the individual.

Great post and very touching. :)

DW

anonymous said...

Wow! What happened to love and compassion? I think I made my point about a previous post in saying that when people have attachment to goodness they also have attachment to anger and ill-will. Now, I have just stirred up a nest of snakes who are hissing and spitting venom.

Lighten up everyone!

The point I am making is that Buddhism is taking refuge in The Buddha, The Dhamma, and The Sangha, and it doesn’t really matter whether it is the DL, TNH, or whoever, unless you want to get into a street fight over Theravada and Mahayana.

What you fail to see is the general trend of people taking refuge in modern medicine and psychotherapy, even to the extent, as I pointed out, where one branch of Buddhism is being taught as an extension of psychotherapy.

I never actually stated that I do not believe in medicine, despite being accused of such. There is no big issue here, if you need medical treatment and medicine, then take it. Buddhism however works better without pills, and as I said is extremely effective in avoiding dis-ease, illness, and suffering.

As for mental illness, I have sympathy for those who suffer, and if they go to see psychiatrists and therapists and take medication then that’s fine; any port in a storm.

I was pointing out that in Asia this is not usually the case. The main difference in Asia is that the Ajarns of Wats where people go have the ability to change consciousness just by their presence. Thus, people can stay at a Wat without taking medication and usually within one or two months they are fine. Some chronic illnesses, as I pointed out, cannot be treated this way and the Ajarn would then recommend going to see a doctor instead.

As for the definition of illness, you have to be careful, is stealing an illness, murder an illness, lying an illness? While we would normally think not, there are cases where the medical profession has used its medical expertise to state the contrary. Hence, my assertion that modern society tends to look upon everything as an illness, as an excuse for their own selfishness in many cases; somewhat like ‘the devil made me do it.’

Also, I was not harassing James, and what I said about him thinking that he was the worst person on the planet was a joke (he initially said this himself, not me). Lighten up.

As for mentioning what kind of meditation, which seems to have descended into another street fight between the different schools, well there are forty kinds of meditation listed in Buddhist texts, and as for modern kinds there are literally hundreds, so it does make a difference what kind of meditation you practice.

As for my knowledge of science, I am a scientist. Thus, I am well aware of what modern medicine knows and doesn’t know. As far as psychotherapy goes, it is probably one of the weakest sciences, and literally changes week by week. I have no doubt that the people who practice this are kind and sincere, but they do not know all of the answers. As a Buddhist, I am perhaps somewhat biased in thinking that Buddhism does know all of the answers.

Advising you all to emigrate was also a joke. However, I would recommend that you all get out more, spend some time camping, and if you can, visit Asia some time.

Anyway, I would suggest that you reread your posts.

They call him James Ure said...

Anonymous:

I can still have compassion and love and disagree with you. In fact, this morning in my meditation I was sending you love and compassion despite our disagreements.

The reason that I am angry is because you insulted me and insinuated that psychotherapy is worthless. You painted psychotherapy and psychiatry with a broad brush. And psychotherapy and psychiatry have helped countless numbers of people. I could not let that stand unchecked or questioned.

I couldn't sit still and let you say such things without showing my anger. Sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right.

I might be somewhat attached to my position but so are you. You are just as stubborn as anyone else here. Don't kick sand in people's eyes by insulting the medical treatment that they are getting and getting success from if you don't want people to get upset in return.

If I am going to lighten up then you need to lighten too. Neither one of us knows all the answers. I'm not enlightened, are you?

Stop acting like you know it all and you won't get so much friction. You seem to want to disagree just to stir up a fight and then when you get that fight you cry, "See you guys aren't compassionate and loving."

As for saying I felt like the worst person in the world that was NOT a joke. I did feel like the worst person in the world--literally.

It's called a psychotic episode and is a medical issue. It's a common but terrifying symptom of my conditions.

As for the emigrating joke? You should have said it was a joke or else how is someone suppose to know because I didn't find it funny. I found to be elitist. If you are writing out a joke it can be hard to see it as sarcasm or a joke in print if you don't add something at the end like (just joking).

If you're a scientist then why do you seem to disparage science so much?

As for your point that being Buddhist is taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha--why didn't you just say that in the first place? That's pretty basic.

Do you honestly think that I would start a Buddhist blog without knowing the basic foundation of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha? I take refuge in them every day.

And no I don't want to get into a street fight about Theravada and Mahayana but you seem to want to. You're the one who came on here pushing your views onto everyone as if that was the end of the discussion.

And as I said then when you naturally got resistance because you can't just push people around with your beliefs and not expect them to react--then you act like the victim. You don't have to be pushy and arrogant to be heard and agreed with.

If you want to do that then please, go start your own blog.

You may not have come right out and said that you don't believe in medical treatment but then what is someone supposed to believe when you lay that example out there of the monks not getting medical treatment?

You made it sound like that should be the example for everyone since we all look up to monks. I'm saying that is a dangerous thing to lay out there. Perhaps you should have been more clear in the first place when you said that.

Especially since you have so much respect for these men, which is wonderful. I have great respect for our great teachers too but it leaves the impression as I said that you think people should just meditate when they are having a suicidal crisis or other mental health crisis.

You said:

What you fail to see is the general trend of people taking refuge in modern medicine and psychotherapy, even to the extent, as I pointed out, where one branch of Buddhism is being taught as an extension of psychotherapy.

What is wrong with a trend of people sometimes, I repeat, sometimes taking refuge in modern medicine if that is what they need at the time? Is it not possible to take refuge in the three jewels yet also enjoy the benefits of modern medicine/science? I think you can. I don't see how there is a conflict.

You also said, "As for mental illness, I have sympathy for those who suffer, and if they go to see psychiatrists and therapists and take medication then that’s fine; any port in a storm."

You also said: "There is no big issue here, if you need medical treatment and medicine, then take it."

And did I come out and say that people should just take drugs and screw Buddhism? No, of course not. My thesis of the post was the we need BOTH.

You said: "Buddhism however works better without pills." That my friend is your opinion because I have found my practice grow deeper with the addition of medication to treat my condition so that I can better focus my attention on meditation and the Dharma.

Medication helps open the door TO Buddhism for many people suffering from debilitating mental disorders. Because it enables them to have a clearer mind to consider spirituality and if already Buddhist enables them to have a clearer mind to practice.

In many cases, without medication some Buddhist practitioners with mental disorders wouldn't be able to practice.

I don't meant that ALL Buddhists should start taking psychotropic medications. Not at all. I'm just saying that there is a place for medication in Buddhism. You're point of view seemed to be saying that you can not be a "good Buddhist" and take medication.

You said: "Hence, my assertion that modern society tends to look upon everything as an illness, as an excuse for their own selfishness in many cases; somewhat like ‘the devil made me do it.’"

Originally you said, "The other issue worth considering is that you live in a place where everything becomes a disease."

Of course I don't agree that everything is a disease. Did you ever ask me? I don't remember that you did. I was simply talking about mental illnesses like chronic depression, bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. I don't think I ever mentioned any diseases other than mental health diseases in my post and comments.

As for starting a street fight about meditation between Theravada and Mahayana? I seem to remember you starting it by trashing westerners who use vipassana. You were lumping all of them into a category of "Buddhist tourists" so to speak, which is a big assumption.

Besides, I never said that Theravadan meditation is bad. I only said that, "I don't understand what how you can judge other versions of meditation as ineffective and even dangerous when they have worked for people for centuries such as Zazen. It may not be your tradition but that doesn't necessarily, automatically make it inferior and worthless."

My point was that just because a practitioner of vipassana is western or a therapist doesn't mean that they are doing it wrong. Or that they aren't getting benefits.

As for descending into a street brawl, all I said about my tradition of Zazen was, "For one, I don't do vipassana I do Zazen." It was just a statement to mean I'm not familiar with vipassana because I practice Zazen so I didn't have a dog in that fight.

Except to defend those westerners who do practice vipassana and happen to have a western teacher. Not all western teachers are practicing some hybrid, new age vipassana.

And how is saying, "I have great respect for Theravada and enjoy learning from many of their teachers" Starting a street fight?

As for psychotherapy being a weak science? It isn't for me because it has worked, saved my life--literally and continues to work. It has done the same for many, many people. In fact it motivates me even more to meditate. So how is that weak and therefore inferior and not compatible to Buddhism?

And I never said that psychotherapy has all the answers. After all, the post was about how they both have answers to give and supplement each other. You may not agree with that view but yours is but one opinion in a great and diverse Buddhist community.

I do get out a lot and have been backpacking in the mountains around here for decades. It brings me great peace and is a great chance to practice meditation.

Paul said...

I couldn't agree more actually. I think we are all literally disabled one way or another. Me personally, my knees are totally screwed up, I have never been able to get into a full lotus position, about 2/3 of the way it is very painful. So there, I have a disability. I also have ADD on a certain level. Not sure if I can use the word 'spectrum'.

I must say that I can't even imagine what it is like living with those symptoms yu describe, it must be awful without the meds. I am happy for you though that you are open about needing and taking the meds as they are important. I mean if someone was terminally ill or something I would never deny them morphine. If someone had asthma no amount of meditating will open that airway alone, it may help calm the person down but in the end they need that medication to breath. So I'm proud of you for being this open about your condition. It takes a lot of guts (hope that translates correctly from English slang).

Meditation is an awesome thing but I get what you are saying, it is not a super power that will heal the world. Just like meditation will not cure cancer. I can certainly compliment any medications but will certainly not cure it (as far as I know I have never seen evidence of this).

I like the way you describe the feelings of being up to your nose in water. I had an episode of severe depression and I once described it as falling down a well backwards and seeing the light of day disappear even though it was still day time. But in my case it was a temporary state, my depression, so in that case meditation would have helped.

I don't understand the purist point of view about medication. Medication = Drugs, Caffeine is a drug, tea has caffeine naturally in it. Many buddhist say they drink tea. I can understand the heroin and stuff like that that would "cloud the mind" but what if the mind is naturally cloudy and the meds help dissipate that cloud!

They call him James Ure said...

I had an episode of severe depression and I once described it as falling down a well backwards and seeing the light of day disappear even though it was still day time.

Great description. I can so relate to that feeling. I get it all too often (shivers).

DJR said...

Hey James,

I have read your post for quite some time now, but rarely respond. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I have not been "officially" with any mental illness, but observe my mother and brother and know there is some sort or mild mental illnes in my family, and observe some similarities in my own mind...

While practicing for close to 20 years now, I still cannot get my mind to slow down...constant, constant, constant...monkey mind...while meditation has provided much relief I cannot seem to get a handle on it.

Anyways, your story, helps give me the confidence to seek some medical influences too...thank you for that...

keep writing, you never know who and how you may be impacting people...

Anonymous said...

(thirteen women and sex men)

There is a typo error. would appreciate your correction immediately. and the research website that was extracted from.

Thank you,

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge. (Romila Thapar, A History of India, volume one).

I suggest : Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

Meditation is the art of looking within and science of doing nothing. We don’t use anything in meditation. We just try to concentrate to meditate at some point in human anatomy known as ‘chakra’ in Indian System of Yoga. The current of mind is flowing outward through the senses and unconsciously. The mind comes at rest gradually through regular practice of meditation. Then comes self realization and enlightenment. Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor. E.Q. stands for Emotional Quotient. An intelligent person may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intelligent. An intelligent person having certain level of positive emotions can be said as wise. An intelligent person lacking wisdom will turn autocrat. A wise man will always be a democrat who respects others existence.

Some may raise doubt that how could be the Wisdom quantified? The answer is simple -if Mental Age of I.Q. can be quantified then Wisdom can also be quantified, of course, comparatively with more efforts. Wilhelm Stern had given the formula of I.Q.. It is, Mental Age/ Chronological Age x 100. Spiritual Quotient (S.Q.) leverages both E.Q. and I.Q.

Radha Soami Faith is a branch of Religion of Saints like Kabir, Nanak, Paltu, and others. Soamiji Maharaj is the founder of this Faith. You may call It like New Wine in Old Bottle.

Maslow has given Hierarchy of Needs. At the top of it is need for self-actualization or self-realization.

In our society we should learn To Live and Let Live and help to satisfy others need. When the lower order needs, physiological and sociological both, are satisfied then only a person think to satisfy need for self-realization in true sense. Else he/she may spend all his/her life to satisfy at the most the need for self-expression instead of self-realization.

It is, therefore, the duty of every responsible person of our society to give serious thought over it.

For the satisfaction of need for self-realization i.e. establishment of harmony of individual consciousness with that of universal consciousness we need following three things:

1. Mater or Guru (A Self-Realized Soul)
2. Secret of Levels of Universal Consciousness
3. Method for traversing the path.


Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

Lex said...

wow what a great post!

I am actually working in the mental healthcare field and a big push right now is about 'hope,' which often is equated to finding some sort of faith (whether that be in a religion or in one's self) and spirituatlity.

It is interesting that meditation has had such a strong effect on you! It is not surprising though, a practice known as dialect behavioral treatment (DBT) actually teaches meditation for self-reflection (with or without religious connotations) which seems to be having remarkable results.

Whereas many buddhist sects practice seated meditation (zazen), another less recognized form is active meditation. Active meditation is similarly benefitial for stress-relief and self-reflection, but has the added benefit of generating a chemical known as brain derived neurotropic factor which is actually responsible, they now believe, for re-growing brain cells. Which has huge mental health implications!

I wonder if you have had any activity or participation in a recovery-based clinic? It seems as if the Recovery Movement is taking the world by storm and such treatment facilities tend to focus on systematic, entire-spectrum, holisitic approaches to recovery and empowerment rather than simply focusing on the molecular level of finding chemical imbalances (though it does treat these with medications!).

If you have any thoughts on the recovery movement in relation to hope and meditation I'd love to speak more with you!

If you find the time to respond might I even quote you in my own blog, Mental Health Recovery?

I very much look forward to speaking with you more on the subject!

Warm Regards,
Lex Douvasa
MHCD Research and Evaluations

gehana said...

meditation has health benefits. Meditation is an opportunity to spend time by ourselves. Meditation can give us peace of mind, and this can be a helpful step in avoiding many stress related ailments. Meditation has also been shown to relieve the pain associated with certain illnesses.

Meditation

Emz84 said...

Hello ppl. well i quickly scanned through the posts here. And i think meditation is very usefull but i think it can be very tricky when mental illness is involved. when seen properly it can be great.
iam still confused on whether to believe mental illness is a genetic/spiritual thing, like if the kind of soul's we have then based on our external situations that trigger it or what, but i dont understand why ppl even have to suffer these things, if it is a chemical in the brain that just seems so unfair to me

i think that alot of it is to do with living in a western society and the world we live in, i dont believe we humans were meant to live in a stressfull and shallow world, thus mental illness develops.

my thing on meditation, it has helped me and it has sent me more mentally ill too. iam in a predicament at the moment, i used to suffer from depersonalization disorder which leaves u feeling unreal and totally out of body, so when comming into the meditation game, it grounded me and it left me confused and scared because of the angle i was comming from. i have never taken medication but im at lose ends, i feel like if i take it ive failed myself as someone who belives in nature and the possibilty or messing my brain up more, but i guess i could give it a go as i may just go completly insane without it, no matter how much meditation i try.

They call him James Ure said...

Emz84:

The problem is that mental illness has always been around. It's not just a modern phenomena. I personally would see a doctor because if you're in that dangerous a place anything could happen and we don't want you to get hurt.

Emma said...

Hi James,

what a beautiful and honest post. I really commend you for writing this. I have a chronic physical illness and, like you, found that some form of therapy (in my case, a psychologist who is a Buddhist) was really helpful to my meditation practice.

Actually, my meditation practice was completely and utterly stuck and going no-where until I started talking to my psychologist. I was really stuck in the idea of 'no self' (instead of non-self) and kept thinking I had to somehow get rid of myself in order to meditate or get well! (The old 'kill the ego' idea).

Like some of the other posters, I've found Tara Brach's podcasts and books really helpful in bridging a gap between eastern and western Buddhism.

I'm no expert on meditation or Buddhism, but have just started a blog about my personal experiences with chronic illness and meditaton.
http://chronicmeditator.blogspot.com/

burt said...

hello james,
my name is kamau and i am suffering from a bad mental illness. bipolar and phychosis. i have tried everything the doctors have tried to do to help me but their medicine hasnt helped. i dont know who to go to until i found this page. im hoping u can help me and give me some help on how to heal from this illness. thank you for ur time.

burt said...

hi this i just sent a message and i entitled it to james. i wrote that because im not sure who to entitle the message to. so whoever got my last post i would like some help

They call him James Ure said...

Burt:

I would suggest finding a good book on meditation. Meditation helps us remember how to breath to help reduce stress and anxiety. Too much stress and anxiety can send me into psychosis.

Mike said...

Hi James, this is a great post to read for me. I too have suffered mental illness all my life and it has really dissapointed me that so many Buddhists from some quite 'respectable' and large well respected organizations still seem to think that Zazen will cure all ills. Maybe it might, but not in the time available to some of us who suffer the tradgedy of mental illness. I have moved house to house, job to job all my life and now at 50 have finally requested antidepressive medication from the doc I visit in the latest town I have moved to.I have to say I did a fair few drugs as a youngster and then stopped everything for years. Now and then I have a little smoke and sometimes this makes me hypersensitive to outside stimuli and I tend to lose the plot a little and the depression really rolls in the following few days. However funnily enough I only started to occassionally smoke once I began doing Zazen and it is very rare now. I used to do it more just to get a descent nights sleep. Anyway sometimes I miss the crazyness of my usual self and get upset with feeling a bit of a zombie on Antidepressants so cut the dose down and let myself fly / crash a bit. But then I come back to the meds and when I do sit down and do some zazen I really do feel it helps, specially when I'm keeping up with my medication. All the best to you. Gassho. Mike

Mike said...

Hi James, this is a great post to read for me. I too have suffered mental illness all my life and it has really dissapointed me that so many Buddhists from some quite 'respectable' and large well respected organizations still seem to think that Zazen will cure all ills. Maybe it might, but not in the time available to some of us who suffer the tradgedy of mental illness. I have moved house to house, job to job all my life and now at 50 have finally requested antidepressive medication from the doc I visit in the latest town I have moved to.I have to say I did a fair few drugs as a youngster and then stopped everything for years. Now and then I have a little smoke and sometimes this makes me hypersensitive to outside stimuli and I tend to lose the plot a little and the depression really rolls in the following few days. However funnily enough I only started to occassionally smoke once I began doing Zazen and it is very rare now. I used to do it more just to get a descent nights sleep. Anyway sometimes I miss the crazyness of my usual self and get upset with feeling a bit of a zombie on Antidepressants so cut the dose down and let myself fly / crash a bit. But then I come back to the meds and when I do sit down and do some zazen I really do feel it helps, specially when I'm keeping up with my medication. All the best to you. Gassho. Mike

They call him James Ure said...

Mike:

Yeah I hate the medications as well but they do provide enough of a benefit to still keep me on them. I tried the off and on approach and like you it just ripped my moods apart.

Smoking marijuana helps me mostly with my suicidal bouts of depression but it does also help with my sensitive stomach. As well as help me in releasing physical discomfort from my fibromyalgia.

Those who say medications aren't necessary and only meditation will help you are obviously misinformed. They don't know what it's like to live with a major mental illness. Still, it gets tiresome to constantly explain yourself and the severity of the situation at hand.

Chris said...

S.a.d like many mental illnesses is "orbit-self-pride". Person constantly tries to create new I as he cannot accept the I that he experiences now. He hates himself so much that he constantly constructs conceptual ways to love himself.

You know what they say in buddhism - that the concept of I is all unreal. Try not to differenciate good and bad. If you try to run away from bad constantly, you have to fill your mind with bad constantly. Your peripheral mind and sub-consciousness keeps you (and also others in many cases) away from bad things automatically.

Aggression is just an amount of force. Let it come out and learn what it is. There is always a reason.

Chris said...

To continue a bit...

What is happening is that you are constantly forcefully trying to overwrite/handle things on the side of logical-mathematical intelligence (controlleable conscious psyche), which is very limited as it works with concepts and cannot see the whole. This can disconnect you from your emotions and holistic understanding over time. Whoever calls this chronic does not understand human mind.

Drop your narcissism, suffer, be sad, get up again with a clean mind. You'll be filled with compassion instead.

There are no downhills without uphills and no uphills without downhills.

Use of force leads to weakness.

Suffering can be transformed to understanding.

I know you have heart, otherwise this s.a.d would be a paradox.

Chris said...

To continue a bit more...

If you drop self-love, the self-hate has no choice but to bang against emptiness. There's nothing that could take damage from it. This emptiness is kensho, the beginning.

They call him James Ure said...

Chris,

I respect some of your opinions but most biological mental illness can not be managed without some form of medication. Having a mental illness, which is in our DNA from birth isn't having too much self-pride. If anything, many mentally ill have a terrible image of themselves but that's a different story.

It's just like any other biological disease like diabetes. It's unfair to blame the symptoms of a biological mental illness on the person/patient. Having a biological mental illness doesn't make someone weak.

Granted there are those who experience situational depression/anxiety, etc. that might be addressed from simple Buddhist practice alone. However, most people with mental illnesses need medical assistance.

I agree with a lot of what you said. However, a lot of what you laid out is a bit simplistic and idealistic as saying it is the only way of approaching a biological mental illness.

Blaming the patient with a mental illness is out-dated thinking and behavior. The mentally ill have to put up with a lot of "preaching" and people who think they know what it's like to live with a severe, biological mental illness.

I just want to caution you in what you say because it can be construed as insulting and as belittling to the mentally ill.

Chris said...

I misunderstood you then.

S.a.d is not a biological dis-ease in my country and I got myself free of it.

Jessica said...

Medical complications during birth necessitate a birth injury attorney or birth injury lawyer.

tom ellis said...

Dear Anonymous,

Why are you, "Anonymous?"

love and blessings tom

Peter said...

What some people didn't understand here is that when you have Schizoaffective disorder / Depressive type (I have this diagnosis too) and you are in the middle of a psychosis, you CANNOT practice Buddhism. You CANNOT meditate, you CANNOT free yourself from negative thoughts, you CANNOT calm yourself. You can't even sleep at night, and you CANNOT get out of this without medication, try as you may. Sometimes you don't even remember your own name, you just sit there and listen to the unstoppable voices and pictures all day and all night long, helplessly. You can't make them stop, so it's impossible to meditate.

Practicing Buddhism, negative thoughts, willpower, motivation, meditation: these are all basically thoughts in your brain, too.

And Schizoaffective disorder is an illness of the brain itself, an illness of the thinking system. It's hell on Earth, you become trapped in your own mind.

Paul said...

James, as a person who suffers from schizo-affective disorder and a Buddhist myself, I really appreciate your words. They are insightful and well balanced (you must be doing well!). I too have found meditation a real blessing, and along with medication, exercise and a low stress lifestyle I seem to be doing ok. Good luck to you :)

Mike said...

Anonymous is one of these people who comes at you expressing strong aversion and then when you don't like it, tells you to "lighten up." Ironic.

Way to go James. Thanks for the insights.

Sean said...

The World Cultural Psychiatry Research review went to Tibet to Study the Schizophrenic patients. There is no psychiatric care (access to western medicine) in Tibet. Most of the sick first would go to see the Lama of course, but it was no real help. In fact these people with schizophrenia in Tibet become chronic or disabled. In countries where there is treatment schizophrenics can at least function in society and generally feel well if they find the right medicine and a correct dose. Although medicine for schizophrenia can have unpleasant side effects which is worse having no treatment and becoming chronic and diabled? This study goes to show that western meds do have benefit for schizophrenic patients...

http://www.wcprr.org/pdf/03-01/2008.01.001003.pdf

contact said...

I used to meditate with alcohol the last 7 years from now. I guess that's not what you would call a healing method neither a proper meditation..

http://www.psychosisdisorder.com - Blog on my experiences with psychosis.

A Sentient Being said...

As another sufferer of Schizoaffective disorder, I completely agree with your point, that meditation CANNOT cure a physiological brain illness. One of my prominent symptoms is Avolition, lack of will. When I am in my deep depressive states, I cannot even find the motivation to "think" about meditating.

As you have probably heard from many teachers, meditation is very exhausting (in terms of mental energy). I would even go so far as to say it should be discouraged in the seriously mentally ill, as it has been shown to trigger mania and/or psychosis.

When it comes to mental illness, it is very important to separate physiological conditions from purely psychological ones.

Concerned said...

I would like to share my own experience with meditation practice.

At first, when I went on meditation retreats, I would experience tremendous feelings of rapture, delight and euphoria.

After a few retreats, I started to practice meditation at home and study buddhist texts. I had finally found meaning and purpose in my life.

Now I understood that I was perpetually seeking satisfaction from fleeting moments of pleasure and running away from inevitable painful or unpleasant experiences.

But then things took a very negative turn. I started to experience intense manic/depressive modes that were triggered by my meditation practice. I had never had any serious mental illness prior to practicing meditation. I am in my 40s.

Over the last few years I have had to be hospitalized on several occasions for psychotic episodes during my manic phases. These manic episodes were then followed by bipolar depression where I became suicidally depressed for months at a time.

Somehow the states of deep concentration I entered altered my brain chemistry.

I currently live in Thailand. I am under the treatment of a Thai psychiatrist here.

He has communicated to me the fact that over his years of practice he has treated many Thai patients including monks and nuns who have suffered hallucinations and other psychotic episodes as a result of intensive meditation practice.

Unfortunately, in the West, there is no discussion regarding the dangers of meditation practice.

While I do believe that mindfulness practice (dry insight) can benefit many people I am wary of recommending intensive concentration practice to anyone.

IcingOnMyCake said...

I agree with all of you who say that sometimes medicine is not enough and you can find relief in a spiritual method of calming oneself such as meditating, or sometimes meditating is not enough and you need meditcation. Anyway, you get what I mean. To Anonymous: Although I've never met someone with a mental disease, I still know that Buddhism can be an answer to their problems. Many times while experiencing a very high fever (and I HAVE been medicated for this) I would experience strange and frightening hallucinations, things I can not express in words. I would claw at my bed trying to escape, or just cry and stay still because I know there is no escaping it. Sometimes, your mind can be plenty more lethal than any physical pain you experience. With physical pain, there is sometimes a way to prevent or soothe it but with mental pain, it would always be there because you always have your mind. Meditation calms yourself, and mends you spiritually. Since the beginning of civilization, people have used spiritual and religious ways to heal themseleves and IT WORKS. By simply believing it will work, many times that is all it would take to feel better. The ancient Greeks, when sick, would often times sleep out in the open air in one of their god's sacred temples. They believed that the god would visit them in their dreams and show them a cure for their illness. You may not believe it, but often times people would wake up and be cured, through the amazing (but sometimes disastrous, as this blog has proved) power of the human mind! Even nowadays people practice spiritual healing- Christians sometimes believe that God or an angel spoke to them and told them how to be a better person or how to accomplish something. Meditation is just another form of medication- designed specifically to heal not neccesarily your physical body but more your mind and spirit.

Sangha said...

I would like to know whether anyone can point me in the direction of a Rinpoche/Roshi/Big Maha dude who comments on this issue. I would really like to know the (second, third, fourth and fifth) opinions of someone who has gotten themselves out of the way.

Eric's Artworx said...

Thanks for posting! I deal with Bipolar 2 and intrusive thoughts. I'm going through a med change at this point to get away from the metabolic syndrome that comes from taking certain antipsychotics, I'm trying to stay upbeat about the changes! I too once tried for 2 years to go w/o meds and only with meditation and extremely healthy lifestyle to only end up worse off than when I started. I'll do what ever I can to remain healthy and functioning for my self and family. I feel blessed to have almost 5 years of Buddhist study under my belt and know that it's helped me so much.

Jerry Benjamin Stout said...

Hey James! I also have schizoaffective disorder and have been living with it for seven years. I have many similar symptoms that you do, but they have been greatly placated by medication as well as Buddhist practices. I really, really enjoyed reading your post because I truly feel that I am not alone in both my experiences and opinions.
Peace be with you.

Marc Domville said...

This is a critical issue, thanks for talking so frankly about it. I have some fairly severe mental health issues and have been practicing zazen with a teacher in whom I have great confidence. I feel regular interviews (Dokusan) with my teacher are essential for me. At times he has counseled me to reduce the frequency of my practice and that the notion that zazen alone can "cure" me is simplistic and will cause much further suffering - and thankfully he against neither medication nor psychotherapy in connection to the practice. I have come to view mental illness as an extreme and particular form of general human suffering - I can't say whether or not it is genetic, and like diabetes,must always be treated with medicine. I work with Autistic children and in that disorder a truly "structural" problem in brain development seems rather obvious: meditation is rarely an option (and medication usually not very helpful), but the plasticity of the brain is astonishing - so who knows...
My own experience is that there are times and situations where medication can be of immense or critical value. I feel the use of medications is a very delicate and personal decision (unless you are truly about to kill yourself or another) and support you in your own, very considered and compassionate, decision to make use of them.
Blaming oneself for ANY mental health issue ought to thrown out window immediately; this self-judgment - I know only too well - only makes matters worse, it increases suffering. I feel a loving and compassionate acceptance of ones limitations is both an act of humility and a path of healing.
Thank you so much for your honesty and courage.

PS. I understand the Buddha himself considered some forms of mental suffering to be due to "ill humors" of the body, requiring special diets, practices and medications.

Mental Disorder said...

Great job. I think this is a very insightful post.

PeteJay said...

hey guys, thank you for your advice and wishfull hopes. I have pschyzoaffective disorder for the past 12 years. First they thought it was depression, then bipolar disorder and now its the latter. Anyways my question is if someone knew of somebody who has this disorder and is an ordained monk. How do they go about living with the disorder. What school or monastery permits him to be a monk, etc. Thank you for your time and be well!

Mr. Propter said...

I know this is an old post but I just found it. Thank you for your courage in writing this post. I think that more research needs to be done on how medication and meditation interact. It seems likely that they reinforce each other but I am sometimes afraid they may counteract each other.

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