Buddhist Psychology, Shame, and the Coronavirus Crisis

Have you had difficulty in their own lives? If so, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The First Noble Truth of the Buddha is that life is difficult. Anguish, mourning, and torment are unavoidable features of our human live. The Buddhist term for dissatisfaction is dukkha; to be alive is to experience dukkha.

The Buddha was not interested in creating a religion based on rigid minds or positive thinking. His approach is psychological in mood. He urged people to explore what was happening in their mind and mettle — and to find their way forward by observing and listening to their own experience rather than clinging to beliefs or formulas dictated by others.

Similar to modern psychotherapists, the Buddha was interested in how we can find inner freedom — awakening to a life that is more delightful and connected, based on truth, prudence, and sorrow. Inviting us to recognize that life is saturated with distres and letdown is the first step toward liberating ourselves from it — not in the sense of eliminating human sorrow, but hiring with it in a way where it’s little prone to overwhelm us. This is a formulation that is applicable to our current world situation.

Shame Sends Us Hiding

If we’re emotionally honest with ourselves, we will recognize that our life has had many moments of emotional anguish( abandonment, loss, tension) — and physical challenges as well. As a ensue, we may try to deny and avoid life’s disharmonies. A childhood distinguished by being reproached, mistreated, or traumatized might have been so overwhelming that we utilized the psychological sleight of hand of disengaging from such distressing experiences in order to protect ourselves from incapacitating ardours. Freud referred to this mental defensive mechanism as “repression.” This is the well-worn habit of stuffing down or pushing apart feelings that overwhelmed us, and which represented a threat to the acceptance and adore that we needed. Arriving at the agonizing conclusion that no one is interested in hearing our actual feel knowledge, our authentic soul goes into hibernation.

As psychologist Alice Miller chronicles in her classic work, The Drama of the Gifted Child, we are stated to create — and be driven by — a fraudulent ego that we present to the world in an attempt to be respected and professed. As they are trying to” soldier on” as if our pain and difficult feelings don’t exist, perhaps with the help of alcohol or other numbing addictions, we cut ourselves off from our human vulnerability. Shame toward our actual know-how communicates our tender nerve into concealing. As a sad decision, our capabilities for human tenderness, enjoy, and friendship are dangerously decreased.

Empathic Failure

One consequence of dissociating from our sincere feelings and needs is that we may then judge and chagrin those who have not “accomplished” the task of denying their basic human vulnerability. Not having enjoyed a healthy, safe feeling with caregivers, we may conclude that others should attract themselves up by their own bootstraps, just as we had to do. Everyone should take care of themselves, just as we had to do. The worship of the individual comes into full bloom.

If no one has been there for us in a generally conscientious, attending method — authorizing our feeling and needs, and present tendernes, solace, and heartfelt listening when needed — we may proudly conclude that such longings represent the weakness of small children; human vulnerability is something to outgrow and something that others need to outgrow, too.

When we reproached ourselves for having tender feelings, such as sadness, hurt, or anxiety, we may fail to realize that we’ve actually lost compassion for ourselves. This empathic failure toward ourselves leads to a lack of compassion for others.

Sadly, this collapse of empathy toward human suffering distinguishes many of today’s political leaders throughout the world, who are more motivated by power and acclaim than by merciful assistance. For instance, those proposing for universal healthcare and a social safety net can be characterized pathetically feeble, shiftless, or unmotivated.

Empathy changes in the foul soil of adopting our experience as it is rather than how we’d like it to be. Sometimes our experience is delightful. At other periods, it’s unpleasant. We revoke our aching at our own peril. As Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist David Brazier writes in his brilliant book The Feeling Buddha, “The Buddha’s teaching starts with an assault upon the reproach we feel about our suffering.”

The attitude that we’re all on our our own is deeply ingrained in Western society. This limiting worldview is now bumping up against what is needed to defeat the coronavirus. The only road to halt the spread of this — and future — pandemics is by working together.

We’re currently in a situation where we need to take care of each other by staying at home — and not hoarding toilet paper! Unless the fear of scarcity, the ethic of race, and the approach of divisiveness sown by many political leaders harvests to a new ethic of cooperation and compassion, our society and macrocosm will continue to suffer unnecessarily. The coronavirus is coaching us that we’re all in this life together. Regrettably, important senses are sometimes only learned the hard way.

Buddhist psychology teaches that moving toward inner peace and world peace begins by being friendly toward our experience as it is rather than having aversion toward it, which merely initiates more suffering. By engaging with the distress and resentments that are a part of the human condition, we open our soul to ourselves, which led to a groundwork for having empathy and compassion toward others. More than ever, this is what our world needs now.

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Written by WHS

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