Buddhism is a damn-good anxiety-buster. But it’s sometimes thought of as just for hippies. The sort of religion where “flower children” sit around and talk pretentiously about seeking a “spiritual awakening” or “enlightenment”. The truth is that Buddhism is not a floaty, psychedelic religion. It’s one of the most matter-of-fact, grounded religions there are. And anybody can apply Buddhist principles to their lives; Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, Hindu. It really doesn’t matter, because Buddhism is more a philosophy, a mentality, than it is a religion.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not an attempt to convert anyone. I’m writing about this purely from a mental health angle, rather than a preachy angle. I hope.
I’m a cynical, sarcastic person. The sort of person who rolls their eyes at the overly-emotional bits on American reality shows. But I firmly believe that Buddhist principles have a strong positive impact on mental health. Buddhism has reduced my anxiety as the months have gone by, and made me feel happier than I did before (which was still pretty happy). Nothing much has changed externally in my life. Just my attitude towards it.
I mean, everyone’s heard of mindfulness, right? It’s the newest anxiety-busting technique, growing in fame because it actually works. Mindfulness has been developed from Buddhist principles, and refers to the practice of focussing on your body, breath and mind in that very moment, and accepting however you feel instead of trying to fight it and allowing it to bring you down. I started out just practicing mindfulness, but recently have decided to find out more about Buddhism, and have been astounded to see that a) how much sense it makes to me, and b) how simple it is in theory.
So what is the essence of Buddhism? I’m going to do a little ‘Nervous Girl/Idiot’s Guide’ to Buddhism 101, breaking down the mysticism, and telling you straight what it’s all about.
Essence of Buddhism: Buddhism has no God/divine being. The sole purpose of Buddhism is to be happy, but not by changing the world or things in your life, but to change and how you see the world and your life. This is achieved mainly through being ‘alive’ in the present moment, meditating and being kind to other beings.
The Four Noble Truths (explained crudely): The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of Buddhism, much like the ten commandments for Christianity. The truths are;
- Life is suffering e.g. sh*t happens and sh*t will always happen.
- The origin of suffering is desire e.g. humans are hardly ever satisfied with what they have and always want something else, for example, a bigger iPad or to be a bit taller so you don’t have to ask for assistance at the supermarket.
- Suffering will stop when desire stops e.g. accepting and appreciating what we have, even if it’s not much, will help end your suffering. For example, instead of wishing that you didn’t have depression and wanting things to be different, accept that this is the way you are at this moment. Easier said than done, I know.
- To stop desire, follow the Noble Eightfold Path e.g. here’s eight things you can do in your life to help stop desire/suffering.
The Noble Eightfold Path: Ways you can think/actions you can do to try and be happy.
- Right Understanding: Understanding the Noble Truths and the Buddhist view of life.
- Right Thought: Be more caring towards yourself and other people in your thoughts. Even if they’re a right bastard.
- Right Speech: Don’t indulge in negative forms of speech e.g. lying or swearing (that’s me f*cked).
- Right Action: Act positively towards yourself, others and the environment e.g. put that Mars Bar wrapper in the bin instead of throwing it behind you in a casual fashion and hoping the wind carries it away.
- Right Livelihood: Do a job that doesn’t harm others. So being a hitman or a badger culler are probably out.
- Right Effort: Make efforts to stop unwholesome thoughts and cultivate wholesome thoughts.
- Right Mindfulness: Become more conscious and mindful to everything you do.
- Right Concentration: Meditate.
These are just the foundations of Buddhism. There’s much more to it than this. The aim of this blog piece wasn’t to try and convert you, but to give you a brief idea as to why Buddhist principles could be helpful in terms of improving mental health. There are a mass of books out there on the subject if you want to find out more. A good book is ‘The Essence of Buddhism’ by Traleg Kyabgon, which is a really easy to read, simple to follow intro to the practice.
If you’re really struggling with mental health issues and all of what I’ve just written is too much for you to take in, just remember these three things; Accept things as they are. Accept how you feel. Smile and enjoy the present moment, whatever it’s like.