​I’m confused about how to understand my problem in Buddhist terms – and I’m never satisfied with my progress!

Oct 5, 2020

QUESTION

Dearest Ven. Robina,

When we met I told you I have Attention Deficit Disorder and that it impacts my life and my practice, and you told me, basically, that according to the Buddhist view it’s a variation of out-of-control attachment energy. You said that, sure, it’s good to understand the Western psychological views, but given that I’m a committed Buddhist, I should try to use Buddhist psychology to really understand my mind. 

I feel torn between, on the one hand, accepting that I was in fact born with a congenital medical condition that affects my brain, and, on the other, following your advice not to believe in this stuff so as not to limit my view of myself. 

Would your advice be different in the case of other organic disorders, such as Alzheimer’s or intellectual disability (“mental retardation”)? 

Also: I know all the great masters teach us to go “slowly, slowly,” to figure out what actually works for us, and to not worry about whether we are “keeping up” with the pace of those around us. At the same time, I always feel like I “should” be doing more—especially in light of the imminence of death and the loss of the perfect human rebirth that seems like it will inevitably follow—and I keep shaming myself into pushing myself harder and harder. Every time I say to myself I’m okay, I immediately dismiss it and harshly criticize myself for “making up excuses to be lazy.” 

I do not feel sorry for myself. I just want to do something that works.

May any merit I have ever created be for the support of your long and healthy life, and the fulfillment of all your holy wishes.

With infinite gratitude,
W

ANSWER
Dearest W, so happy to hear from you.

Of course you have whatever the doctors say. It’s simply a question of which language you prefer to use.

I prefer Doctor Buddha’s language. And if I went to a Tibetan doctor she would feel my pulses and recognize that the wind energies connected to my attachment are berserk.

Same disease, different names.

But you’ve chucked the baby out with the bath water. When I said don’t identify with your diagnosis, I didn’t mean that you haven’t got an uncontrolled mind – you have! I meant identify with Buddha’s take on it instead. You’ve got attachment, a busy mind, out of control. Join the universe, baby! Yours is a variation of what we all have.

And because mind and body are intimately connected, you’re going to see the results in your brain. The brain is simply a physical indicator of what’s going on in your mind, just like the wind energies are a physical indicator for the Tibetan doctor of what’s going on in your mind. It all comes down to the mind.

And it comes down to the language you use.

Sometimes with the Western diagnoses we set these things in stone. Because of my brain, I’m therefore this way. We concretize it. And then because of ego-grasping, and, crucially, because of our attachment to being a good girl, a good boy — you’ve got bucketloads of that one! — we use it to get off the hook: it’s not my fault, it’s my brain.

And, remember, even in the Wet now we’ve realized we’re not stuck with the brain we’re born with!

The technical explanation of the Vajrayana is so helpful. We have gross consciousness inextricably linked to gross body, this bag of bones. Then we have subtle consciousness inextricably linked to the wind energies: each of our states of mind — our various mental factors — has its own winds and these winds conjoined with the different states of mind course through the 72,000 channels of our nervous system. Every tiny thought we have impacts upon the winds, changes them, purifies them, pollutes them.

Yes, your brain is like it is because of your mind; and your winds are like they are because of your mind. We can equally say that your mind is like it is because of your brain and your mind is like it is because of your winds.

By working on our mind we factor in those physical conditions. It’s dependent arising.

For sure, there are some people whose physical condition is so powerful that the mind is constrained; there is no chance to change the mind in order to change the body. That’s clear in the examples you mention.

The irony is you’re not suffering because you have Attention Deficit Disorder — uncontrolled attachment energy — you’re suffering because you resist it, hate it, criticize it, wish you didn’t have it! You’re suffering because of anger!

And remember what anger is: it’s the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants. You see, another function of attachment – it’s multi-faceted – is it’s a bottomless pit of dissatisfaction. That’s its deepest, most primordial energy. And it’s the main suffering in the West, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says.

Relax, dearest, most kind, most hard-working W!

Try the Vajrayana approach to practice – it is so radical, so skillful, so courageous. Attachment energy is wonderful! It’s a resource! As Lama Yeshe says, if we didn’t have this energy there’d be nothing to transform.

Instead of constantly criticizing yourself, pushing yourself, trying to be such a good boy, you need to practice fully embracing your crazy mind. Love it, enjoy it, run with it, welcome it. If you hate yourself, criticize yourself, there’s no way you can become intimately familiar with attachment. You have to look it in the face, directly, wanting to understand it. And if you can’t understand attachment, you can’t understand anger, which is what arises when it’s thwarted.

And the other thing, dearest W, is that all of this is actually a good sign! It’s the dirt coming out, as Rinpoche told one deeply distressed meditator monk who was experiencing outrageous out-of-control anger and arrogance. Rinpoche laughed and laughed: “The dirt has to come out, the dirt has to come out!”

You need longterm view, W! You’re practicing! It’s like you’re in the garden up to your knees in dug-up weeds and dirt. You should be so happy! You’re doing the work.

So, be glad about your shitty, crazy, out-of-control mind! Swim in it! As a therapist friend of mind said, “it’s having our hands in our own shit.” I pefer to say that it’s tasting our own vomit.

Be brave, dearest W. You are doing so beautifully. Relax.

What do you think?

Much, much love,
Robina

QUESTION

Dearest Ven. Robina,

I’ve read your email again very carefully, several times over, and I genuinely cannot thank you enough. Every single word is so helpful, so kind, so clear, and makes so much sense. I understand now my misunderstanding from before.

It never ceases to amaze me just how tightly the mind can tie itself into knots.Even as I’m reading what you wrote to me, hearing your voice saying the words to me, even as I’m believing you 100%, knowing everything you are saying is true and sincere, I can tell that there is a part of my mind that is still tied up in a tight, tight knot, not letting the meaning fully penetrate. It’s difficult to put this into words, but perhaps you will understand what I mean.

I will try to remind myself of all of the things you wrote over the next several weeks. I’ll try to slowly, gently massage it into the hard knot in my mind, like Lama Tsongkhapa says you have to slowly and gently massage the butter of the teachings into the leather of the mind to soften it. (I think I just understood that teaching on a whole new level, too.)

Once again, I cannot thank you enough, Lama. This has already been so helpful, and I can see that it will only be more and more helpful as I continue to mature it in my mind. Words literally fail me. Thank you.

Please let me know whenever I can be of any service to you.

With all my heart,
W

ANSWER

Good, dearest W.

It’s training, that’s all. “Mind training” is a perfect phrase. That we should assume that we’d do something perfectly first time is absurd, bizarre, irrational. But that’s the irony of ego: we run like a magnet to the negative.

Buddha’s your best cognitive therapist, that’s for sure. So, get clear the positive thoughts you want to have, then practice them — and dare to practice believing them. Aha!

Tibetans have a lovely way to put “practice makes perfect.” They say, “Nothing gets more difficult with practice.” So rejoice in each little step.

Stay in touch, W.

Infinite blessings and love,
Robina

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