Curt Shonkwiler, supreme patriarch of the Freudisdumma order

I posted a quote from a leader of the Cambodian Buddhist community which seems to me to have a strong seed of truth above, but I realized that anyone familiar with my intellectual proclivities or who had read this article from which it was excerpted might find it a little inexplicable, since I am not known as much of an enthusiast for Buddhism and the quote only appears in the article in the form of a passing mention to alternative philosophies of mental health in contrast to Western psychiatric approaches. But on the other hand, Britain’s National Health Service is staking a hell of a lot of money (ostensibly) on the premise that so-called “talking” therapy (as opposed to pharmacological, or medication-based, therapy) can greatly improve the mental health of the populace, and while the authors’ tone is not uncritical, since they neglect to cite any pharmacologists or neuropsychologists this random Buddhist cleric is really the only external voice questioning the efficacity of solving mental problems by talking them out.

Make no mistake, I am no follower of Buddhist doctrine. Although I saw a study somewhere claiming that a group of Buddhist monks in Japan are quantifiably the happiest people ever recorded because they have the highest level of stimulation of a particular region of the brain which is supposed to always be stimulated in conjunction with peoples’ professed feelings of happiness or contentment, the normative goals of Buddhism seem to be oriented to anything but happiness. I’ve never been able to accept the premise that life=feeling and feeling=pain, and therefore the ideal state is some soporific state of detachment not perhaps too dissimilar from the sedation of a patient under heavy anesthesia or, better yet, a corpse. So in other words I am not very greatly enamored by the advice to just “don’t think about it” as a general principle. But when it comes to thoughts that make us unhappy or at least symtomize unhappiness, there may be no better way in life.

For I have rarely found, in moments of depression or discontent, that trying to directly work out an intellectual solution to that state accomplishes its end. As I have already suggested, I think very often these splinters of unease are no more than symtoms of an underlying, probably physical, unwellness. So in many cases the very concept of trying to “work out” such an affliction by addressing the ideas that seem to provoke it directly may be inherently absurd. Or to put it another way, perhaps one is no more depressed about something than one is ill about something.

Now, I remember writing once that when I can write about something, it no longer afflicts me. But if anything that serves to indicate that it was never the thought that was the problem, it was a mental condition that seized hold of some discouraging thought as a visible proxy. Cogitation can help one’s mental state, but not I think head-on. Thinking is a form of mental exercise, and just like physical exercise it improves one’s health if done proportionately. But one cannot directly fight a disease by exercising. I think one has more control over the mind, simply because the mind itself is the organ by which we exert feedback control over our bodies.  There is a mixture between the mentally manipulable and that which is beyond its control.  But the analogy I think at least serves to suggest a sense of the possible limitations. So I concur to some extent with the Buddhist patriarch’s advice of non-responsiveness to that which is painful. After all, is not the very goal of all of these psychological approaches to make it possible, if not not to think about unhappy thoughts at all, at least not to be possessed by them?

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