Tag Archive: Buddhism

A new theory for why Buddhist meditation makes us feel good


Booze. Cigarettes. Gambling. The human brain is vulnerable to all sorts of addictions. And thinking might be one of them. That’s right – in many Buddhist texts, the endless stream of rumination that runs through the mind of the average person isn’t merely a distracting habit, but a genuine addiction that befuddles the intellect and inhibits spiritual development. In a new article, a leading neuropsychologist makes the same claim – that we’re all addicted to daydreaming, and that the neurology of our addictions is the same as that of addiction to drugs. What’s more, certain forms of Buddhist meditation may release the brain’s chemical hold on itself, releasing us from our addictive daydreams.

The article, published this fall in Religion, Brain & Behavior, outlines a novel model for how meditation works. As such, it doesn’t present any new empirical research, and only reviews prior studies. But its author, Bowling Green State University psychologist Patricia Sharp, is deeply read in the neurophysiology of reward, addiction, and meditation, and her synthesis of material across related disciplines is both rich and compelling.

Sharp’s argument hinges on the claim that, as Buddhist scriptures teach, life’s rewards tend to lose their sweetness over time. For example, people who get rich tend to enjoy a quick spike in happiness – but that spike doesn’t last very long. Pretty soon, their happiness levels tend to return back to where they were. Their new riches don’t make them any happier than they were before. Thus, the pleasures of the world are inherently, well…disappointing.

What’s innovative is Sharp’s claim that thought itself – particularly the ruminative, daydreaming style of thought that consumes nearly half our waking hours – fits this same pattern. Each individual daydream might offer a little internal reward, such as when we fantasize about accepting a trophy or scoring a date with the office bombshell. But over time, the constant barrage of imagined experiences begins to lose its luster, to become unrewarding – and maybe even to inhibit our ability to feel pleasure in general.

Sharp doesn’t mention the First Noble Truth of Buddhism in her paper, but she’s referring to something pretty close to what it calls dukkha, or suffering – the fundamental unsatisfactoriness of life. Dukkha means that all the things we crave and become attached to can’t actually deliver on their glorious promises. Whether it’s rich food, sex, alcohol, wealth, or mere fantasies, the objects of our cravings always leave us feeling dissatisfied after we attain them.

Offering a neurobiological description of this basic unsatisfactoriness, Sharp points out that the nucleus accumbens – a part of the brain that plays a central role in reward and motivation – receives dopamine inputs from other regions such as the ventral tegmental area and the medial substantia nigra. Together, these regions form a circuit that enables reward-based learning, or conditioned responses. Think Pavlov: train a dog to understand that the sound of a bell is always followed by dinner, and pretty soon the dog learns to salivate when he hears the ringing. Inside his brain, dopamine projections into the nucleus accumbens (yes, dogs have them too) have learned to fire in in response to the predicted reward. The dog literally gets a little burst of happy chemicals when he hears the bell, because the conditioned responses have worn grooves into his reward circuitry.

The problem? “Overlearning.” If you fire the same circuits often enough, their reward value starts to decline. The job of the nucleus accumbens, in this model, is to reinforce adaptive associations between stimuli and behavior. Dopamine in the nucleus accumbens may serve as a “biochemical stamp” that marks connections between stimuli and behavioral responses. Once the right pattern has been established, the brain doesn’t necessarily need that dopamine signal anymore – the pathway is already there. So the reward signals fade away, suppressed by inhibitor cells that project from the nucleus accumbens back into the midbrain, where they down-regulate dopamine release. The reward pathway is still there, entrenched in the brain through a network of strong, habit-worn connections. But the reward itself – dopamine – is gone. This process may explain the “hedonic treadmill” effect so unpleasantly familiar to us all, in which initially pleasurable or exciting stimuli lose their appeal over time.

One particularly nasty result of this hedonic treadmill effect can be compulsive, addictive behavior. Think about a rat obsessively pulling a lever to deliver cocaine – or a glassy-eyed casino-goer stuffing quarters into a slot machine. These compulsive behaviors arise from long-established reward pathways, now devoid of dopamine but still connective and active. Sharp argues that both chemical addiction and simple habituation to everyday rewards result from this gradual down-regulation of dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens.

What’s more, our habitual fantasies and daydreams may follow the same pattern. Each time our minds wander, we start to fantasize, plan, and construct imaginative scenarios. Many of these imaginative scenarios come with their own little pulses of reward, as the hippocampus and other limbic regions carry excitable signals into the accumbens. Over time, our brains crystallize patterns of thought that repeat the same types of thoughts and daydreams over and over. Initially, these crystallizations were motivated by dopamine flushes in the reward system. But eventually, the dopamine rewards taper off – even though the thought patterns are still there. We’re left with a compulsive, clinging re-running of the same old thoughts, a repeating of the same mental scenarios obsessively. Worse, the holistic effect may be a general drop-off in happiness, because we’re indulging in lots of mental activity that offers no rewards. Our daydreams may be literally inhibiting pleasure. In Sharp’s words,

our constant engagement in compulsive, repetitive thought patterns tends to cause an ongoing, powerfully conditioned decrease in dopamine release, so that dopamine is chronically below what would be expected in the absence of these ongoing mental patterns.

The solution? Meditation! In particular, Buddhist samatha, or shamatta, meditation entails intense mental absorption and the cessation of thoughts. Sharp suggests that such meditative states, while difficult to achieve, may serve to break up established patterns of connectivity within the brain. These patterns, or “attractor networks,” are sort of like long-established wrinkles in your favorite shirt. You might put the shirt through the wash, but if you leave the shirt draped carelessly over a chair…well, the same crease shows back up again. Likewise, our habitual patterns of neural connectivity – in which the same clusters of neurons are activated synchronously – are always waiting to reappear.

In contrast, previous research has shown that intense meditative states synchronize activity across networks in the brain. These whole-brain patterns of synchronization are structurally similar to certain epileptic seizure states, in which normal, localized patterns of connectivity are suppressed and global synchrony takes over instead. These epileptic states, Sharp suggests, flood the brain with acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that can boost signal connections between cells from widely separated regions in the brain. In an acetylcholine-soaked brain, established knots of habit-bound connectivity may be temporarily relaxed, replaced with more general, dynamic connectivity across the entire cortex.

The overall effect of samatha meditation, then, may be what Sharp calls a “general loosening of the existent attractor networks in the brain.” Importantly, this loosening may be exactly what we need in order to experience bliss. Attractor networks in the brain are tight knots of connections. When the nucleus accumbens is activated by a long-established circuit, it sends signals back to the midbrain to inhibit dopamine production. Thus, when long-established knots of connection are suppressed, these inhibitory signals go silent. The dopamine can start pumping again. And we start to feel good. This, Sharp suggests, is how meditation works its magic: by releasing our brains’ constrictive holds on our reward systems, and allowing the normal flow of dopamine to start up once more.

Sharp’s model is speculative and theoretical. It appears in print alongside with a half-dozen response commentaries from experts, many of which are critical. It doesn’t offer any new empirical data. But it’s fascinating. And it suggests exciting new possibilities for research, and for thinking about how the brain works. Nowhere else has the time-honored Buddhist claim that our daily obsessive thoughts and mind-wandering are actual addictions been so forcefully presented in modern biological terms. Sometimes, speculative science is the most interesting – and the most groundbreaking.

Now for a confession: recently, I’ve nursed curmudgeonly concerns about our growing American enthusiasm for Buddhism and “mindfulness” training. I’m nervous that claiming Buddhist identity has become a marker of upper-middle class bourgeois sensibility, set against the hopelessly uncool Christianity or Judaism of the establishment. (Bizarrely, the bourgeoisie in the United States suffers from the chronic, and dangerous, delusion that it is somehow not the establishment – as evidenced by how canny companies sell their goods by showing off how countercultural and rebellious they are.) And I’m wary of the assumption that all mind-wandering is necessarily bad. We don’t all need to be “mindful” all the time. In fact, as recent research has shown, lack of daydreaming can even hurt us.

So Buddhism may be a little trendy these days, and our conversations about mindfulness could use more depth. But just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s bad. Buddhism has produced some of the most powerful psychology the world has ever seen, and its practices and insights are, frankly, invaluable. Sharp’s fascinating model gives us another useful insight into why.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2014/12/a-new-theory-for-why-buddhist-meditation-makes-us-feel-good/#ixzz3LF18zTu4

Another great article from Tiny Buddha and Bill Lee, whose article from Om Times I posted recently. This is more than a simple instruction on mindfulness, but also a story his profound struggle with mental illness and learning to manage his symptoms of bipolar disorder and PTSD.  Even more than that it is a inspirational story of survival and triumph over the odds.

Calm Your Mind Without Sitting to Meditate


“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

Sitting meditation has always been challenging for me; practicing mindfulness, even harder.

As a self-confessed worrywart who has contended with constant ruminations, flashbacks, and nightmares for most of my life (more on this later), all prior attempts at being fully present and not thinking merely served as reminders of how little control I had over my mind. Then I took up hiking and stumbled upon a form of meditation that literally transformed my life.

Initially, just being out in nature on scenic trails cultivated calmness and cleared my head. Almost immediately, I realized that hiking provided a respite from intrusive thoughts that have plagued me since I was a tyke.

They include flashbacks of my mother’s numerous suicide attempts in our decrepit Chinatown apartment, my father’s drunken rages, and recurring images of shootings, savage beatings, and other gory crime scenes from my gangbanging days.

Ruminations include the sound of gunfire along with the replaying in my head of toxic utterances in Cantonese that translate to “Giving birth to you was my biggest mistake,” “I wish you were never born,” and my own father yelling “You bastard!”

Somehow, walking in nature enabled my mind to slow down and rest, which felt liberating.

Unfortunately, the novelty soon wore out. Merely walking and hiking wasn’t enough to prevent symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress from returning. I reverted to rehashing the past and worrying obsessively about the future.

However, I had gotten a taste of the benefits of mindfulness meditation and discovered that it can be practiced while engaging in an activity I enjoyed. These revelations motivated me to keep at it.

After reading what was available on walking meditation, which typically advise focusing on the flow of our “in” and “out” breaths, I developed my own techniques for practicing mindful walking and hiking.

My favorite is to look ahead and select a destination point or object and stay focused on it. It can be a shadow on the ground, boulder, bush, tree, manhole cover, light pole, store awning, mailbox, and so on. Once I reached it, I chose another landmark or object, usually a little further away.

Rough or uneven trails forced me to concentrate on each step for safety reasons. My brain automatically blocked out discursive thoughts; otherwise I could slip, trip, or fall. Other techniques I came up with include fully feeling the ground of each step, following the flight pattern of birds and insects, observing cloud patterns, and being conscious of sounds and scents—moment to moment.

Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, often called “Thay,” which means “teacher” in Vietnamese, is revered throughout the world for his teachings and writings on mindfulness and peace.

He has brought the practice into institutions, including maximum-security prisons, helping inmates attain calmness and inner peace while being confined up to twenty-four hours daily. Many of them have professed that mindfulness meditation is the most difficult endeavor they have ever engaged in.

We live in a culture where many of us want quick results with as little effort as possible. This applies to how we approach our work, health, pastimes, social interactions, and problems. This mindset is the antithesis of mindfulness.

In my opinion, it is virtually impossible to tackle mindfulness meditation without patience and discipline. Fortunately, these attributes can be enhanced by engaging in the art itself.

When I started mindful walking and hiking, my ability to stay present was measured in feet and seconds.

As a highly competitive, emotionally undisciplined, and impatient person, I could have easily succumbed to my frustrations and given up. But the short periods of calmness and inner peace I attained—supplemented by my stubbornness—provided the necessary resolve for me to stick with the program.

As I continued my mindfulness “training,” catching my mind when it wandered occurred sooner, and the ability to refocus took less effort. Using kind, positive messages such as “rest” and “focus” was more effective than phrases such as “don’t wander” and “don’t think.”

Insight and mindfulness meditation are usually practiced separately. Personally, when I am procrastinating about something or seeking a solution to a problem, ideas and answers usually emerge effortlessly during or immediately following my walks and hikes.

These epiphanies and aha moments tend to be inspired by kindness and compassion, as opposed to ego.

I was severely beaten by a rival gang member as a teen. For over forty years, I suffered nightmares, flashbacks, and ruminations of the attack. Both conventional and unconventional modalities of therapy failed to provide much relief.

One morning, I was enjoying a relaxing hike when the familiar image of my attacker suddenly appeared. For the very first time, I remained calm and found myself viewing my lifelong enemy as a kindred spirit. I saw him as someone like me, most likely abused as a child, who desperately sought empowerment by joining gangs.

This awakening, along with my spiritual practice, enabled me to cultivate compassion and forgiveness. The nightmares and flashes of the attack ceased at that point and have not returned.

Mindfulness can be practiced pretty much anywhere and at any time. I do it first thing in the morning when I wake up while still lying in bed, in the kitchen, in the shower, at my desk, and most recently while getting dental work done.

Whether I devote a few seconds by pausing and taking a deep belly breath—or hiking for several hours—benefits are reaped.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, practicing mindfulness has transformed my life. With a family history of mental illness and a violent upbringing, I have been diagnosed and treated for multiple mood disorders, including manic depression, post-traumatic stress, addiction, and rage.

My mindfulness practice has empowered me to rest and calm my mind, as well as intercept and suppress negative thoughts. It serves as a powerful coping mechanism for me.

For the majority of my life, I was at the mercy of gambling urges and other cravings. When I encounter them now, I pause, acknowledge what is happening, take a few deep breaths, focus on my surroundings, and allow the urges to pass.

Staying relaxed enables me to respond instead of react, which places me in a better position to reflect and gain insight into the underlying issues that triggered the desire to self-medicate.

My mood is much more stable and I have better control of my emotions. The benefits I received from mindful walking and hiking has inspired me to practice it throughout the day.

I used to loathe driving because of my road rage. I was terrified of myself, often wondering when I left the house if I would end up in jail or the morgue. My level of stress rose in proportion to the amount of traffic I encountered.

Practicing mindfulness meditation in the car keeps me mellow as well as alert. I have become a patient and compassionate driver, smiling at other motorists and limiting use of the horn for safety purposes. Another insight I gained is that my past aggressive behavior on and off the road attracted like-minded people.

The mental discipline I gained also enabled me to embrace Buddhism, which has interested, yet eluded me for many years. All of this empowers me to attain and maintain equanimity. Now, I can even sit and meditate for long periods without feeling restless or irritable.

So for those who find sitting meditation challenging, or for individuals seeking different ways to practice mindfulness, I recommend mindful walking and hiking.

Not only is it a fun way to quiet the mind while getting some exercise, but it can be life-changing—helping us let go of worries, stress, tension, and even the most painful memories from the past.

Hiking man image via Shutterstock

Avatar of Bill Lee

About Bill Lee

Bill Lee is a second-generation Chinese American who grew up in the Chinese underworld. He is the author of three memoirs. In his new book, Born-Again Buddhist: My Path to Living Mindfully and Compassionately with Mood Disorders, he describes in detail the positive impact that mindful walking and hiking has made in his life. Visit facebook.com/Bill.Lee.author.

See original article here.

Please visit Tiny Buddha for more inspiring stories!

See my reblog of Bill Lee’s article Living Mindfully With Mood Disorders.


Reblogged from OMTimes:


Living Mindfully and Compassionately with Mood Disorders

mood-disorders_OMTimesby Bill Lee

Manic depression, post-traumatic stress, and addiction are all complex psychiatric mood disorders that many suffer concurrently. Those of us who have been diagnosed with one or more of these mood disorders, or mental illnesses, (co-occurring) contend with debilitating symptoms, which may include severe anxiety, dramatic mood swings, rage, ruminations, flashbacks, and nightmares. Our manic episodes are often life-changing and can result in death. Although there are no cures for any of these disorders, adopting a Buddhist practice that includes mindfulness and Tonglenmeditations can augment our existing treatment protocol.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is simply being fully aware and present in the moment. It’s like having an orchestra conductor inside our heads, who also serves as a gatekeeper—intercepting negative thoughts, such as urges, ruminations, flashbacks, and addiction cravings. When we’re free of these triggers and symptoms, we can concentrate, reach a higher consciousness, and embrace insights, which can lead to emotional breakthroughs and healing.

Belly breathing is the core technique for practicing mindfulness meditation. Also referred to as “abdominal” and “diaphragmatic” breathing, this is our inborn way of respiring and it has distinct advantages over breathing from our chest. Belly breathing enables us to take in more oxygen with fewer breaths—with more carbon dioxide being expelled on the out breath. Increased utilization of our diaphragm to breathe lowers our heart rate and helps to stabilize our blood pressure. Belly breathing stimulates the area just below the navel, where our body stores chi energy. This is where our Buddha nature resides.

A Natural Mood Stabilizer

Those of us who suffer from the mood disorder of being bipolar face challenges that our friends and family often have difficulties understanding. A genetic predisposition and chemical imbalance can result in extreme highs and lows as well as rapid mood swings. A mindfulness practice can help us gain better control—not only of our thoughts—but of our emotions as well.

Being attentive from moment to moment enable us to be fully conscious of changes in our mood, which may occur suddenly. Mindfulness serves as a potent coping mechanism for us. When we find ourselves in a stressful situation or sense that we are becoming anxious, overly sensitive, irritable, hyper, fearful, or aggressive, implementing mindful breathing immediately helps us to pause and focus, instead of panicking, retreating, acting out angrily, or resorting to high-risk or excessive behavior—such as compulsive gambling, hypersexual activity, or wild shopping sprees. This brings our mind to a relaxed state, where it can rest and recharge, while maintaining full awareness. Mindfulness meditation reduces our anxiety and acts as a natural mood stabilizer. It is a great way to cultivate loving-kindness for ourselves.

The Four Noble Truths and 12-Step Recovery

Buddhism and the 12-Step Recovery Program have a lot in common. Both traditions promote community (sangha), spirituality, humility, accountability, making amends, ethical behavior, and of course—abstinence from intoxicants. In fact, most of the literature used in recovery fellowships is in accordance with the Eightfold Path.

One major difference between 12-Step fellowships and Buddhism is that the former advocate surrendering to a higher power, while the latter emphasizes the power within each of us. Those unfamiliar with Buddhism may be surprised to learn that Buddha presented himself as a teacher and instructed his followers to think for themselves and not take his words at face value. He did not wish to be worshipped. So addicts who are atheists or agnostics can adopt a spiritual practice without any expectation to turn their will or their lives over to anyone or anything. The solution for our suffering lies in our true nature….Read more here


Cover of "Feelings"

Cover of Feelings

Reblogged from: Tiny Buddha:

Reconnect with Your Authentic Self Instead of Denying Your Feelings

By Tim McAuley

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~Lao Tzu

I recently took seven weeks off of work and rented a place in Laguna Beach.

The trip was meant to be a relaxing vacation and possibly a change of residence; it turned out to be a wakeup call.

I started the trip out by going on my first date since 2010. The pollen count was high, and my sinuses were none too happy. I’m still not sure if it was being on a date or the medication that triggered so much anxiety; maybe it was a combination of both.

Later that evening, as I replayed the day in my mind, old insecurities came to the surface. That feeling of not being good enough engulfed my being.

I just smiled, shook my head, and thought to myself “Really? Does this still ring true for you?”

The answer was no. But it still came up, so I had to explore it further. So I spent the next two and a half weeks in a battle with the Southern California Pollen Count and my inner self-worth issues.

Most of my life had been controlled by an underlying sense of anxiety.

In my teen years and throughout most of my twenties I numbed it with drugs and alcohol. In 2005, after I celebrated my first year of sobriety, I started to really explore this feeling. I signed up for hundreds of newsletters, spent many hours in the Dana Point Library, and purchased over 100 books that year alone.

I read, listened, and put into practice anything that came across my path.

The movie “The Secret” spoke to part of me, and books from Deepak Chopra, Ester and Jerry Hicks, and countless others made me temporarily feel as if it were going to be okay.

I wanted so badly to just be happy; to be able to really look into the mirror and like what I saw.

By April 2009, I thought I had it all figured out. My goal-setting exercises were bringing my desires to fruition, my body was as healthy as it has ever been, and my love life was what I had always dreamed it would be.

A few months later it all fell apart. I found myself again back to square one. It didn’t make sense and all I wanted was to know was: What part of this equation was missing?

My mission to figure it out was renewed, and the way my life has unfolded since has been a long, strange trip indeed.

Looking back at my self-education is partially humorous and equally frustrating.

I now find it humorous that I worked so hard to “fix” something that wasn’t actually broken.

I find it a bit frustrating to have consumed so much information that perpetuated this seemingly endless cycle of self-help stupidity.

Two very popular self-help ideals come to my mind.

1. “You just have to be positive.”

This may be worst thing you can say to someone who is depressed and sees no way out of it.

You read books on “how to attract everything you ever want in life.” You understand that positive thinking leads to positive results. Just when you start making progress, something happens and you feel frustrated or angry.

You find yourself upset at yourself for being upset. You think, “Why can’t I just be happy? What’s wrong with me?” The depression deepens.

Listen, you don’t have to be positive all the time.

It’s okay if you get upset, or don’t feel happy every waking moment.

Before you can cultivate a positive mindset you must first honor where you are and the journey that brought you here. Our general outlook on life is a mixture of genetics and experience. Some reactions are very deeply engrained, and will take a concentrated effort over time to change.

You’re not broken if you can’t see the silver lining, which is why this next bit of wisdom needs another look.

2. “Just fake it until you make it.”

It’s a catchy saying, but horrible advice.

The feelings you have present in your life are very valid. The act of faking it is an act of denial, which can have some really negative effects on your psyche.

You can’t fake your way out of sadness and depression.

You can put on a happy face, and to some degree it will change your mood. But, during those times when you take away distractions and you have to sit alone with yourself, the act of faking it will make you feel like you’re crawling out of your own skin.

I didn’t realize that faking it perpetuated anxiety.

Being really comfortable with myself didn’t actually happen until I began to just sit still on a regular basis.

At first it was overwhelming; anxiety turned to frustration, to anger and rage, and finally to shame. I felt cracked wide open, exposed and raw.

The feeling really sucked and it lasted for almost six months.

But I sat with it. I owned it, and in that space of raw vulnerability I stopped faking it. For the first time in my life it felt okay to be me.

There is a real power in authenticity.

It is an act of love to honor where you are right now.

From my experience with sitting in my own stuff came my life as a writer. My first book followed and my newsletter audience grew.

Yet, with all that I’ve studied and think I know I still found myself experiencing that old worn out feeling of “you’re just not ever going to be enough.”

So, how did I find myself in Laguna Beach overwhelmed and feeling less than worthy of love and affection?

Well, that was actually pretty easy for me to discover. You see, I’m an avid note taker and list maker. It only took a few hours to sort through my 2012 notes to see that I had only half been walking my talk.

My practice of meditation had taken a backseat to my “trying to achieve things.”

My practice of mindfulness had eroded; evening meals were consumed along with DVDs and Facebook noise-feeds.

Three months of sunsets went unseen.

My reverence for the present moment had once again been lost while my mind searched for fulfillment in the future; the result of which was the rise of my existential anxiety.

A Simple Plan to Reconnect with Your Authentic Self
•Still your body and mind. Commit to just five minutes of meditation and build your practice from there.
•Maintain focused attention on your breathing and honor the task at hand.
•Witness your reactions to get to the core reasons behind your emotional response.
•Take time each evening to write down little moments of gratitude, love, and awe that happened throughout your day.
•Remind yourself that you have nowhere else to be other than where you are right now.

From my experience thus far the first part of the plan is the most powerful; science backs up that claim. That’s why I am building my daily sitting meditation.

My dream is to see more authenticity in this world.

My belief is that this will lead to more compassion, which in turn will lead to more change.

How about you? Want to change the world too?

Then please join me by spending just a little bit of time doing absolutely nothing, every day for the rest of your life.

Who’s in!? Tell me you’re with me!


About Tim McAuley

(Tim) T. S. McAuley takes us on his journey of learning to ride the metaphoric waves of life in his debut book It’s All About Me! He shares the tools & techniques he discovered to find his way and illustrates that we each have the power to live a life aligned with harmony, happiness, and love.


Sticks and Stones, etc.

Give your brain a break !!  ...item 4B.. "...

Give your brain a break !! …item 4B.. “If” by Joni Mitchell …item 5.. How Much Blaming Should We Do? — “A person sees all wounds except his own.” (Jul 11th, 2012) … (Photo credit: marsmet543)

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt

I have been dealing a lot lately with the issue of bullies in my life, both past and present. See my articles The Fallacy of Being a “Good Person“, Forgiving the Unforgivable, and Verbal Abuse, Mental Health and the Buddha.  The story of the Buddha caught my eye because of its eloquent simplicity. By gently refusing to accept the criticism leveled at him, he turned an enemy into a friend.

That sounds very similar to the advice that we all got as kids, the old “sticks and stones” defense. However there is a big difference. We may attempt to put on a brave face when inside we are hurting. Because contrary to what we have been taught, words do hurt.

So why is it that sometimes we can brush off someone’s putdowns when at other times it feels like we have been lanced with a sword? I believe one reason is that it has to do with self-image.

Basically self-image is how we view ourselves, much of which is determined by input from others. Our self-image is mostly determined in childhood. As a child we are wide open to input, both good and bad. If we receive praise and love then we will learn to value ourselves.

In my own childhood I had a mother who gave me very mixed messages about myself. When I spoke at the wrong time when she was busy it was understandable that she would get upset. What I couldn’t understand was her reaction of crying and asking me why I wanted to hurt her. Now as an adult I can see that I did not have any evil motives, but as a child I believed every word my mother told me. As a result I grew up with a very toxic self-image.

The difference between constructive criticism and verbal abuse is that the former addresses behavior, while the latter attacks you as a person. It becomes a problem for us because we internalize it and it becomes our identity.

And that is why some people can push our buttons, because they can hone in on our insecurities.

The example of Buddha is so powerful because he set an example of someone who was totally at peace with himself, sure of his identity and purpose. He was able to resist his enemy’s poisonous attacks because he knew in his heart that they were not true.

So the lesson that I draw from this is that I really need to look at myself and understand why it is that I react to certain people and how I perceive myself.


Abused (Photo credit: Andrea Marutti)

I have found this wonderful story about the Buddha and a good way of deflecting abuse from others. This is an ongoing struggle for me because I have such bad boundaries when it comes to what kind of behavior I will and will not accept. I also take things to heart and often internalize what people think of me. Since people with bipolar disorder feel things more intensely abuse from others can seriously affect our mental equilibrium. This excerpt comes from an article called Buddhism: How to Meet Evil With Good. You can download the entire booklet at www.accesstoinsight.org Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a Buddhist in order to benefit from this story.

A certain brahman belonging to the Bháradvája clan had a great
prejudice against the Buddha since he thought a kshatriya1 had claimed to
be a saint. And as it transpired, his own wife was a great devotee of the
Master. On a certain festival day when everybody, including his wife, had
gone to the monastery to hear the discourse, the brahman, coming to
know of it, became furious. Fuming with rage, he rushed to the
monastery, and forcing his way through the crowd and shouting loudly
foul abuse, he headed straight to the place where the Buddha was seated.
People were aghast. Even the presence of the king, the nobles and
ministers did not deter the enraged brahman from reviling the Buddha to
his face. When the Buddha remained completely unruffled, projecting
powerful thoughts of loving-kindness, the brahman stopped abusing him.
But he was still peevish.
Now the Buddha asked him: “My friend, if somebody visits you, and
you offer food which he refuses, who gets it?”
“If the visitor doesn’t accept it, I will get it back because I offered it to
“Since I don’t accept your abuse, to whom will it return?”