How our own beliefs can heal us
For many of us, religion and spirituality is a source of comfort in day to day life and, when it comes to mental health struggles, our faith and beliefs can be some of the most useful resources at our disposal.
I find the teachings of Buddha to be a helpful guiding force in my life, and remembering his words often helps me to find peace and calm in my mind when life becomes turbulent. However, all too often I lose touch with these perspectives, with my core beliefs and my spirituality. Many of us are guilty of getting caught up in the pressures of society, the corporate world or the dramas of our friends and family, and forgetting what we are living for and what we believe is important.
One Buddhist notion I find helpful is that “everything is impermanent.” It sounds basic, but if you think about it, it’s absolutely true! No feeling you have ever had has lasted forever, and what you are feeling right now, no matter how awful, will also pass with time. Religious or not, spiritual or not, it might do all of us well to remind ourselves of this from time to time.
Another interesting concept is that “attachment is the cause of all suffering.” Again, if you think about it, we wouldn’t suffer when we lose if we had no attachment to winning, would we? Now, we’re not expected to give up all Earthly possessions and detach from everything as Buddha did, but perhaps there are a few attachments each of us holds that are not useful to us at all, such as needing to be liked by others or needing to come first all the time.
If you are attached to perfection then, when anything is not perfect, you will suffer to some extent. This is an example of an unhelpful attachment and it is something therapy can be useful in identifying and changing.
I would also like to mention 'Karma'. it’s something we’ve all heard of and many of us talk about, but what does it really mean? Karma means action and there is good karma and bad karma (good action and bad action). Whether or not you believe that karma affects your next life, I believe it gives a good message to live by - try to do more good than bad each day.
An important part of karma is intention; for example, if you step on a bug, you may acquire some bad karma (poor bug!) but, if it was an accident and you didn’t mean to step on that bug, then you will not attract much bad karma.
We often burden ourselves with guilt for our past actions once we realise the pain or the problems they have caused but, if it was not your intention to cause any suffering, then it is important that you forgive yourself, learn from the experience and strive to correct things if possible, or to do better next time. If it was your intention to cause harm, then it’s important to acknowledge that also, and figure out how to change things. These are some other complicated areas that therapy can help with.
Finally, a big part of Buddhist practice is meditation, and what exactly is that? Well, it depends on what kind of meditation you are doing, but mindfulness is a good place to start - the act of being present. We now know the science behind mindfulness and meditation, something that has been practised for thousands of years! We can see not only that it is good for us, but also why it helps.
Those who live in the present tend to be happier and meditation is a good way to do just that.
If you find that you are living too much in the past or too much in the future, try to start with your breathing and these simple steps:
1. Breathe in for four seconds, and out for four seconds. Focus on the act of counting and control the breaths.
2. Focus on how the breaths feel, how your stomach rises and falls with each breath, how the air goes in and out of your nose and mouth.
3. Focus on the sounds and smells. Is your breathing quiet or loud? Is there a smell or an absence of smell?
4. If your mind wanders at any time, that’s OK, that’s what the mind does. Acknowledge that your mind has wandered, tell yourself that this is OK, and bring yourself back to step 1.
Remember, the idea is that you are focusing on the breaths and nothing else. It might feel really difficult at first, but so was the first time you rode a bike or drove a car, so was the first time you tried walking or talking. Give yourself time, and be kind to yourself.
So, these are just a few of the aspects of my own beliefs that can sometimes shine a guiding light when I feel lost. If you have a religion or faith and haven’t thought about it much recently, why not connect or reconnect with it a little more and see what you can find?
If you don’t follow any specific religion or faith then connect or re-connect with what your personal core beliefs are - with what is driving you, with what’s important to you and see what you find. Take what you find and write it down in a journal, stick it on the fridge or on the bathroom mirror, make a note on your phone. Re-visit it every day, not just when you’re suffering, and you might just find yourself uplifted.
Use the resources at your disposal, all the strength you need is within you if you only know the right places to look for it.