A Buddhist take on Anxiety and Suffering


A good take on Buddhist psychology suggests one examines the four noble truths which are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering (dukkha, samudaya, nirodha, and magga). For the sake of this post I will just speak on the first two; Dukkha has been interpreted as meaning, “suffering” but Mark Epstein, a noted Buddhist Psychotherapist and Psychiatrist suggests the Sanscrit word “duk-kha” means hard to face,similar to the word “suk-kha” meaning pleasant, happy or blissful face. The things in life that seem to cause us the most distress, anxiety and worry are those things that are hard to face. Because if they were easy to face, then we would simply meet them head on and move through them. The longer we avoid them, they fester and pick at our mental stability until we either break down completely, or cave in and address them, regardless of how ill-prepared to tackle them we may be. To use any form of spiritual discipline or practice to avoid the natural suffering or uncomfortably of everyday life would send us down a rabbit hole of endless chasing. One practice leading to another, one group leading to the next, and one bad circumstance would be compounded with even more things to worry about and micro-addictions to face later down the line.


The second of those truths suggests that “samudaya” or attachment is the cause of the things that disturb our inner worlds. And there could be some truth to that; the thing itself, to borrow a phrase from the spiritual writer Ernest Holmes, may not be the problem alone; our attachment to the rewards, payoffs and benefits that we get from the thing that is causing us distress could be the bigger problem. Although, there are some things that we encounter in our lives that are just plain wrong no matter how you look at them. We attach ourselves to our lives and the way in which we expect our lives to look and when we don’t live up to that expectation we suffer. We back ourselves into corners in our relationships with the world and when the world makes demands upon us via those relationships we do as the child Psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott suggests and we create a false self that can answer that demand. The only problem is that the false self takes over so much of our lives that it becomes difficult to either distinguish that self from who we really are, or we then attach ourselves to that false self and refuse to let it go no matter how much it chips away at our inner space. Yup-anxiety is horrible.

So What Can We Do?

But if we can see ourselves as we are and learn to accept ourselves for where we are, perhaps we can start the process of healing ourselves. Healing is a gradual process-it does not come overnight, and for those who may not be able to remove the thing that is causing them distress at all-then the discovery of how to relate to it in a different and less distressing way may be of service.

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