Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Core Beliefs and Mental Health

     Our personal core beliefs, no matter how unaware we may be of them, nevertheless powerfully guide & influence our life. And many educated, Westernized people have core beliefs based on scientific materialism. Scientific materialism is entirely appropriate for physical sciences, BUT makes no sense at all as a worldview, particularly when dealing with our identity, the meaning of life, and other existential matters. These most critical aspects of life have been studied by the world's wisdom traditions for thousands of years. Ignoring this depth of knowledge, and assuming by default that science has all the answers is "profoundly alienating, depressing and delusional."

     Wisdom traditions can be compared to politics. Many politicians put self-interest & their own party's success, ahead of the welfare of their country. Such "partisanship" is tearing the US apart. However, politicians who take their job seriously, primarily serve their country's, & ideally the world's, best interests. Wisdom traditions, taken seriously, guide practitioners toward ethical behavior, unconditional love of self & others, and the capacity to gracefully navigate life's most difficult existential challenges. Like politics, religions have a shameful history of incompetence, bad actors & criminals. Nevertheless, both politics and wisdom traditions - when taken seriously - are absolutely vital & irreplaceable for a deeply meaningful life.

     The quote below is from a Buddhist perspective, but those who take any wisdom tradition seriously (are working towards or are at Culliford's or Fowler's 5th or 6th stage: http://www.johnlovas.com/2018/10/nurturing-nonpartisan-human-maturation.html or http://www.johnlovas.com/2013/11/fowlers-six-stages-of-faith.html) tend to have surprisingly similar perspectives. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and other mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are secular practices, based on Buddhist principles.

     “Cross-cultural psychiatric research shows that the Western understanding of all mental illnesses, such as depression, is profoundly influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations. Mental health care providers, drug companies, and patient-advocacy groups typically regard mental illnesses as ‘brain diseases’ in which the patient has little choice or responsibility. As journalist Ethan Watters comments, ‘The mental-health ideas we export to the world are rarely unadulterated scientific facts and never culturally neutral.’ Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London writes, ‘Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory, and a secular source of moral authority. None of this is universal.’
     From a Buddhist (& other wisdom traditions') perspective, the materialist view of the human mind – reduced to a composite of electrochemical processes occurring unconsciously in the brain – is profoundly alienating and depressing precisely because it is essentially delusional. Watters writes:
     ‘If our rising need for mental-health services does indeed spring from a breakdown in meaning, our insistence that the rest of the world think like us may be all the more problematic. Offering the latest Western mental-health theories, treatments, and categories in an attempt to ameliorate the psychological stress sparked by modernization and globalization is not a solution; it may be part of the problem. When we undermine local conceptions of the self and modes of healing, we may be speeding along the disorienting changes that are at the very heart of much of the world’s mental distress.’
     The only cure for this culturally induced mental illness is to awaken from our culturally acquired delusion so that we can grapple more effectively with our habitual mental afflictions. The process of adopting a Buddhist (or other wisdom traditions') view of human nature and the world around us is actually designed to induce a profound disillusionment with all mundane concerns. This has served as a motivating force for many Buddhists (& others) to take monastic ordination or devote themselves to a life of solitary contemplative practice. From the perspective of modern clinical psychology, such disillusionment and malaise could easily be diagnosed as clinical depression, calling for therapy, including drugs, to restore the renunciate to the Western ‘norm.’ In the United States, one fourth of the population has a diagnosable mental illness, and from a Buddhist (& others') perspective, even what passes for normal mental health looks more like mental illness – for which the only cure is a radical shift in one’s worldview, values, and way of life.
     William James is not alone in regarding Indian spiritual traditions as promoting a kind of pessimism and nihilism. But Buddhism, unlike modern psychology, proposes that mental afflictions are not innate to the human mind. They are rooted in ignorance and delusion, so they can be irreversibly dispelled through direct insight into the nature of reality. ... the essential purpose of sentient existence is to free ourselves from the fundamental causes of suffering ... by coming to know reality as it is.
     In stark contrast, the modern view of human nature is that we have evolved through natural selection in such a way that all our mental processes have survival value, including egotism, attachment, and hatred, despite the grief they bring us. They are intrinsic, inescapable features of the human mind; any attempt to defeat them could only be a futile and frustrating endeavor. Freud sums up the modern materialistic view by declaring that there is no possibility of achieving the goal of the absence of pain and displeasure and of experiencing lasting pleasure: ‘all the regulations of the universe run counter to it.’ From a Buddhist (or other wisdom traditions') perspective, the view that an individual’s consciousness terminates at death is utterly nihilistic, and the belief that there is no possibility of gaining freedom from suffering, except through personal annihilation, is deeply pessimistic and self-defeating.
     Within the Buddhist context, spiritual practice ... refers to a worldview, meditative practice, and way of life that lead to a lasting state of genuine happiness.”
       B. Alan Wallace. “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.” Columbia University Press, 2012.

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