Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Zen & Freud: Closer Than You Think

What is True Happiness?

Therapists can be hired for any number of tasks related to mental health. They can be asked to help someone work through grief, overcome anxiety, or develop better relationships with their parents. But if we think about the big picture, the therapist's job is to help guide people down the path of true happiness.

Of course, I've got something specific in mind when it comes to true happiness, as I imagine others do too. If Existential Psychology and Buddhism had a philosophical love child, it would look like my conception of true happiness.

True happiness is a state of being where a person is driven by their true calling. There's real meaning that can be felt and cultivated from following that calling. Their future is open to new possibilities. They feel an intimate connection with themselves, others, and the world. There is a calmness and lightness to it, and a sort of comedy.

Meditation, Catharsis, and Honesty

There's really only one gateway to true happiness, and it's by being honest with yourself. Honesty isn't just an intellectual exercise; it's also a visceral one. Honesty is when you give up trying to make yourself and your world appear or feel a certain way. See, this is how we exist all day. We're in a state of chasing. We chase after things and situations because we don't feel safe where we are. We think "this" is not good enough, so our mind starts to spin, planning and calculating how to improve on this moment and plan for the future. It's always pushing forward.

Honesty is just the opposite. Honesty is giving that up and accepting where things already are. It's not accepting an idea of who you are, it's accept the way things are. And how are they? Well, usually...confusing. Uncertain. Scary. Vulnerable.

This is what catharsis is really all about. When Freud spoke about catharsis, he was talking about accepting a deep pain that was so scary it had been buried, distorted, and repressed for years. The mind played all sorts of games to cover up that pain, and the analyst's job was to help the client be honest about the pain.

We do the same thing in meditation. You might have your own technique, but in the end, it's all the same. Meditation is practicing honesty. It's breathing how you're already breathing and generally speaking, being how you're being. It's letting go of trying to use the mind to make progress, even if the mind is trying to make progress in meditation. Meditation isn't a special state--it's how things already are.

Honesty and True Happiness

It's this acknowledgement of how things are that opens the door to true happiness. The mind quiets down because it no longer has anything to do. That's because of purpose of all the mental chatter is to flee the moment and improve upon it, but there's no longer a need for that when you face the moment bravely. You begin to feel like you're real self again, free of distortion. Your fears subside as you form authentic, genuine relationships. Your values and needs start to emerge and you know what you must do to make your life worthwhile and important.

The therapist's job, like the teacher's job, is to help others walk this path by giving them the courage to look inward and see how things already are. Whatever technique is chosen, it ultimately has to serve this purpose or it's impact will always seem shallow. As individuals and as teachers, we must find ways to en-courage our clients by modeling courage and honesty and remaining dedicated to it.

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