Meditation and suicide. (articles reviewed)

I was reading about Buddhism and Meditation and suicide.  (see the articles below)

I have had experience with suicide for many years, both as a peer counselor, health care provider, Medic and Buddhist Minister.  I have known people that have wanted to kill themselves, I know people who have.  I have talked people out of it,  I have seen people in the process of attempting to kill themselves, I have even (like everyone) have had thoughts of it for myself as well.  I do not have extensive experience, nor any ‘formal’ training.  (I’ll tell you why in a moment).  As a Buddhist Minister, meditation trainer/coach and natural health care provider I see some very interesting patterns in this mindfulness, McMindfulness and McMeditation trend.   I have been trained to practice Buddhism, and to relate that to “modern” psychological practices, to compare them.  To look at them from the outside…

As things like death, dis-ease and aging come more into focus since I notice myself aging, I find myself thinking and meditating on death more frequently.  Not to just ponder, but to become more familiar.  I get to looking up stuff and reading.  I have been a practicing and studying Buddhist Minister for nearly ten years, I have practiced meditation in one form or another for over 25 years, and in that time I have seen lots of advice and articles on all kinds of things ‘meditation’ and ‘Buddhism’.  What I see again and again, is watered down Buddhist thought and practice.  Failure to use the work, the construct of Buddhist practice in dealing with any problem.  I see (or perceive) a fear of getting Buddhist philosophy/practice entangled with anything psychological.  However, Buddhist practice is ALL about the mind, ALL psychology.  Not Jungian, Freudian… Human.

In college I was a psychology major for a while, this was the mid 80’s.  I really wanted to get to help people, maybe become a counselor or psychologist.  Here is the reason I stopped.  I was in my first upper division psychology class.  I think it was experimental psych or clinical psychology or something.  There was about thirty in the class, the professor was a well published and experienced man, a good role model and great teacher.  The first day he had us each stand and tell why we are choosing this line of work.  I was in the third seat back.  I was, at that time, very introverted and nervous about speaking in public so I did not hear the two preceding me.  When it was my turn I explained how I wanted to help people and understand the way the mind works, etc… simple and sincere.  No fluff.  I then noticed that almost every other person in the class was crazy!  They all were suicide survivors, addicts, rape survivors, real damaged goods.  Most seemed to think that by being though something made them better qualified to care for others.  Some seemed to think that they would get ‘free’ counseling and be able to work on themselves while getting a degree to help others.  I just saw a whole group of people that were suffering and in no way able or capable of helping themselves or others.  I completed the class, appalled by the dysfunction of these would be therapists.  It scared me.  I chose to look within…  That is when I found deeper meditation.  I also had the misconception that all these people were nuts.  Like having a blind person tell you they were going to help you look for a street sign.   Little did I understand that not only are we all suffering, but it is a vital part of that experience that we learn to help and be helped by anyone.  Everyone can be the teacher, student, guru, savior and victim.  It is all essential.  As Ram Das says, we are all just walking each other home…

In the articles I have listed, and many others I see TALK about how meditation and mindfulness can help, but only in a limited way.  (Mindfulness as a non-Buddhist way of talking about meditation so that people who are afraid/leery of Buddhists or are of some other Religious construct would not be scared off…)   There are few concepts that are missing in the discussion, that surprise me.  Now, practice is NOT easy, it takes effort and time.  People who are suicidal do not always have those conveniences.  One quick act will end the whole conversation.  Just like a person in a 12 step program cannot be around their ‘demon’ especially in the beginning otherwise they can fall back into the sickness and addiction activity again.

So here is what seems too light or missing in the following (and other articles)

Non-self (the Anattakhalana)  The practice, discussion and realization that your thoughts are not you, your consciousness, etc are all not YOU.  There is no independent you or ‘I’ or ‘me’.

Impermanence, a more difficult one I think.  One that is easy to logically grasp but not easy to hold onto.  W

Sila (Morality) This is the main one that I find missing in every article about meditation.  So many say that meditation does not really work for this or that, but fail to make sure that moral conduct is included.  That is a main premise in Buddhist practice.  How to live right and well.   You cannot do that just by sitting by yourself quietly.  You need the social construct of community and the support of those that are wiser, so you can follow them and become wiser yourself.  Not as a servant but as a student, to excel and eventually sit with the ‘wise ones’ and speak at the same level.  Discuss death, impermanence, loss, non-self, interdependence, and other concepts that give meditation structure and depth.  Sit and you just sit… A chicken sits.  A frog sits.  Are they gaining by it?  One cannot hope to do the same without some kind of thought process.  Yes, the beginning of meditation is to quell the thoughts, slow them down, but that is to get a chance to really see them and evaluate them, see how the mind and thoughts act.  Not to medicate and sedate.  That is (in my opinion) a very bad long term choice.  Short term, fine.

I like the article from ‘Living from the Heart’ it gives advice on watching what the mind does and picking apart the process of breath (as one breath is merely one life)  It also helps you associate impermanence with the breath. This, with some guidance and study can help you achieve a little more understanding of the frailty of the self, how the end of the breath can be the end.

The other articles emphasize the need for medical help.  I have seen and explored chemical imbalance and although an important part of well being, I believe we do not have a good enough grasp on chemical reactions in the body and the mind to really help people.  The vast majority of medications do nothing for the mind, they make you dull and heedless.  The fact that many people on these ‘balancing’ drugs often commit suicide does nothing to deal with inner or mind turmoil and lack of understanding and control of the five aggregates. Of course people will be upset with that, but people that are on anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressants are never ‘alright’  they will tell you.  They know.  They feel dull, sedated.  Sure that keeps them from overt outbursts, but maybe that is what they needed.  For sure, the mind and heart are complex.  There is no one answer, medication is not THE answer, meditation is not THE answer.  Not without some structure.  Not without some understanding of the self.    Hoping to just sit on a cushion will never help you if you have no plan, no process of thought.  Let the thoughts go wild and they will oblige.  They will give you all kinds of terrible things to dwell on.  Have a focus and you will naturally go for that.  The mind loves that kind of stuff.  Not just focusing on happy kittens and funny stuff but on understanding the conditions and accepting that there are all kinds of feelings and they are alright.  They are ok, it depends on how attached you become to them and how you can practice on letting those go.  Understanding your process and way of thinking and refining it wisely.  Only then you can see your suffering, only then you can do something about it.  Or, medicate and zombie out.

Unfortunately medicine (psychiatry and psychology) have gotten a hold of meditation and have stripped it to fit a clinical model.  ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), and the like have all kinds of people thinking about thinking, not thinking about thinking, thinking about not thinking, or just sitting and breathing.  Breathing is a great start, but never picking apart or using a construct of moral self care or understanding which is essential to the practice is like watering it down in my opinion.  They talk about self awareness as if they are dealing with a machine.  As soon as the light goes on you take your medicine or do a breathing exercise.  Never do they approach the thought with some insight, how does it fit into any of the many constructs of practice?  The eight fold path, the five hindrances, the five aggregates, even the four noble truths…  et al.  Perhaps, and this is my assumption, is that Buddhist practice is too often considered a religious ceremonial process and not a way of being…  There are too many that would take any of the Buddhist concepts (I am talking the basic Buddhist stuff) and apply all kinds of bells, drums, esoteric chants, dances, smells, hats and other paraphernalia to somehow legitimize it and make sure that people have the idea that if you do not do it this specific way it will not work because you were not doing this or that in a specific way with a bell ring or certain hand motions.   Nonsense in my mind.  But wait… For Tibetans, Tibetan practice works, for Japanese, Japaneses practice works.  For everyone else?  Find what works.  For you.

One of the articles actually addresses that and expands by rightfully saying not to go it alone.  Your mind is a scary and weird place.  Without a guide or a friend that can help you or even just ‘Be’ with you.  My best advice, get closer to yourself in meditation, get closer to your teachers and therapists.  Discuss getting away from the medications in a slow and logical way.  It can and has been done many times.  Remember medication is not supplementation.  Those are completely different.  If you have a chemical imbalance you need to supplement the chemical, the co-factors, an enzyme of some thing else.  Medication is to quiet you down so you do not feel what you may need to feel.  Not to experience what you need to experience, not to think.  You need to guide your mind, train it, learn about it.  Get to know you.  You have the answer.  I just might be in meditation… Stop trying it by yourself, find a group, a guru a teacher.  No ‘bi-neural’ beats or subliminal music.  That is a distraction.  No chemicals no drugs, no videos and no music.  Those are all distractions.  (good to start a practice but not to get deep).


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