Empty prayers in old buildings

I love to go out into the city, to be among the people (while I’ve been suffering of agoraphobia!), to strike up random conversations, to observe the world and life around me and to soak up some vitamin D (the best anti-depressant there is). As an archaeologist and art-lover, I like to visit old buildings and explore the hidden places and architecture of the city.

I often study Buddhist literature in my favourite coffee house, which happens to serve the best coffee in the Netherlands. I was sitting there some time ago, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book ‘Prayer.’ It deals with the value of prayer in the modern world. Afterward, I decided to visit the old basilica across the square for some meditation and prayer of my own. A place like the basilica is not only a beautiful building, it is also a safe haven, a place of peace and contemplation in the middle of a busy city. I have written about these places in a previous entry.

Anyway, I went there for quiet meditation, but when I entered the cavernous building I saw that a small prayer service was being held. I knelt down in the pews, accompanied by six others, all elderly men and women (people my age don’t generally visit churches here anymore, which is quite a shame). They started praying and unfortinately, as is often the case nowadays, they did not pray or even contemplate. They just started droning the words of prayer in rapid succession. It was as if they were making a challenge out of it in which they should finish their prayer as fast as possible. This is the kind of ‘prayer’ I see very often. There is no meditation, no mindfulness, just the repeating of words. Wasn’t it Jesus Christ who stated: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:  for they think that bthey shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew, chapter 6, verse 7).

I am currently sitting at the coffee house again and I’m reading a book on Catholic Catechismus from my birthyear, 1987. It’s an older book, but it’s remarkably progressive, exploring the common and universal truths of all religions. When reading the chapter about prayer, it stated that prayer is a form of ‘answering belief’ by confronting ourselves with our mind. It confronts us with our own perishability, desires and thoughts. It is a form of mindfulness and reflection. When we turn our hope toward God in our prayers, we beseech him to help us. Since we are all parts of the divine element or idea we call ‘God’, we are actually asking ourselves for help, we are looking for answers within our oen mind. The book on Catechismus also stresses this. This also holds true in Buddhist psychology and religion as a whole.

Our words are our main way of expression as Homo sapiens and words can be very powerful. So don’t let your prayers be empty words in old buildings, instead let them be moments of contemplating awareness and mindfulness. Contemplate on the words and turn them into words of power. This way, prayers will complement your life and hold true answers to questions. There’s a deep, interconnected meaning in those words! Don’t wait for answers, look for them within yourself and in your words. God or the divine aspect, according to the books I read, meets us in the world around us, especially through other people. In that respect, we can recognise the divine in each other! This teaches us that the ‘Namaste’ greeting, really is a recognition of the divine aspect in our similar soul, whether we meet people in the streets or online. Just speak and write, communication is the key to everything and prayer is, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, communication with the absolute, a ‘universal world-wide buzzing’ that connects everything in the world.

RELAPSE!

Ok, a bad thing happened, that’s why it’s quiet here again. My Borderline was in remission, but it’s back now in full force, through many triggers and grievances. My right hand has two fractures in it and my anger is rising. I have contacted my doc and I will be able to start a new form of therapy again soon. I abstain from taking my Seroquel (I’ve been able to go without it in the past and it sometimes makes me more violent!). Instead, this is a clear indicator of what I’m doing wrong…

Stop. Slow down. Breathe. Relax. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, ‘don’t water the seeds of anger and craving, but eater those of compassion and mindfulness.’ I went to my favourite coffee house with some Buddhist literature and now I’m blogging from there. Ok. What went wrong? Can I see it? Yes, I can.

I have been extremely frustrated lately with the level of ignorance in the world. It pains me to see how short-sighted and shallow most people can be nowadays, especially those who are supposed to ‘lead’ us. I mean, Trump is the president of the United States and radicalism is rising worldwide. We need to take mindful action. I can do that by being mindful and compassionate and thus doing my part. I’ve been confronted with physical violence triggering my post traumatic stress characteristics  (fight or flight), I’ve run into some disappointments and most clearly of all, I’ve allowed the outside world to put too much stress on me. I’ve been running after myself, with my mind running away.
The social instances want me to find a job, my volunteer job and hobbies are putting too much stress on me (too much to do, too little time) and all of a sudden everyone seems to want to have a piece of me. I just think: “How can all of you be so ignorant?!” But then I realise that they cannot understand something they have not experienced themselves and I can’t expect them to do so. I don’t have to be the misanthropic buddhist I currently am. I just received a strobg wake up call: don’t stray from the path. Re-light the lamp of mindfulness, step back on the path. Start walking, don’t look back!

I will not give the world a piece of me. Instead, it can get some peace from me. As long as people let me be, walking the eightfold path.

Grateful for the ‘here and now’

I have written some blog topics about why I cannot work yet and why I am grateful for my life as it is. I had some good conversations with dear friends last week and I spent a night talking to an inspiring person I met through a dear friend about gratefulness. All those conversations made me reflect about the topic of gratefulness again.

As you may know, dear reader, my mental vulnerabilities are in remission. That doesn’t mean I am ‘cured’ or ‘healed’, it just means that I have learned to deal with life as a borderliner. My mental vulnerabilities are still there and every day is a fight to deal with them. When you are fighting long enough, your coping mechanisms become a routine, you don’t even notice you are fighting anymore. Luckily, my parents and friends, meditation and moments of mindfulness help me realise that I am not out of the woods, so to say. Sometimes I feel so good that I think I am ‘cured.’ Official instances which try to reintegrate me back into the regulat working life again also seem to notice. They even seem to think I am strong enough to start up my own bussiness. Everything seems fine, yet I start to think about starting therapy again now and then. Why? Because when things serm to have stesightened out, I run into an invisible wall at full speex and get dragged back to reality by the claws of depression. Applied Buddhism, friends and compassion keep me from smashing into those walks head first as long as I let them into my life. I do so by openly talking about what lives in my mind and by openly sharing what I feel. 

But without those walls, without facing suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, fear, stress and extreme unhappiness and discontentedness of life, I would never have allowed them to. I would never have found my way to Buddhism. I would instead still be running along with the society’s blind, hasty and destructive way of life: Grow up fast, be ignorant, gain a false feeling of individuality, work in order to earn money, buy a house, get kids, become an even larger consumer, spend most of your time with people you don’t care about, go to the gym or watch netflix after work, spend your weekends partying and spending money, work more, gain more, be ‘better’ than your peers, then work some more, work, work, ambition, career, more, more… and then you realise you’ve spent the best days of your life doing things that don’t actually matter.

Being ‘mentally ill’, has given me the oppurtunity to re-think how I live my life, to let go of fixed gials and re-focus on actually living! It is not money, ambition, wealth, fame, prestige or titles that are important to me anymore. I am happy to have gained insight: It is more important for me to cultivate compassion, to do good to the world, to find satisfaction in life itself, in my own mind rather than in external stimuli. That’s what I am most grateful of, living consciously in the here and now.

I spend my days waking up and meditating, being grateful for the things I have free or easy access to: breathable air, loving family members and friends, my animals, food and water, books and supplies and free access to my own mind at any time! I read books, which, to quote G.R.R. Martin, are ‘a whetstone for the mind.’ I go hiking or I work out, I help my parents around the house or I help friends out. I venture out into the world to see the true realities of life, to meet new people or just to enjoy life all around me. I play computer games or write poetry or stories in order to relax my cognitively gifted subconsciousness, I build moments of mindfulness into my day, I visit dear friends for conversations and coffee, I reflect on life, I spend time doing my hobbies. I cook and enjoy meals, I enjoy good food and drinks. I work at the animal ambulance as a volunteer, doing something good for the world together with great colleagues, without expecting anything else than satisfaction in return. I have no problems with filling my days with useful things to do.

Talking to my friends is always a goid way to reflect and last week was filled with inspiring insights, conversations and experiences. That person I was unexpectedly and gratefully talking and listening to inspiringly said that every day she asks herself what makes a day into a great day. That memory somehow stuck with me best from the past week. If you are grateful, mindful and keep an open mind, you will probably be able to start naming a few things that do or did today…and it may be a lot more things than you imagine!

Liberty at home

I am sitting in the train today, reading a book and travelling to meet a dear old friend who has taught me a lot about religion and peace. I am reading about oppression in dogmatic regimes. I ogten realise that the liberty we enjoy here in the West is not something we should take for granted. Even though this liberty is still relative (we are still consciously and unconsciously controlled by politics, media and marketing), people fought for it, bled for it and died for it. Still others bleed and die for it daily, so that we can feel free.

Sitting here, I have the freedom to be here. A younger girl sits down next to me, buries her nose into her phone and stimulates the senses with music and media. I used to be annoyed by this, but now I am just grateful that we  have these possibilities. Our legs gently touch as the train  sways. We briefly smile at each other. In this country we can sit next to each other, man and woman, our past, religio or ethnicality does not matter. The touching of legs is not impure, it just happens accidentally. We do not have to ritually cleanse ourselves or feel bad. 

I am also free to travel to a friend. I am Buddhist and Catholic. He is Baha’i. He lives a half country away from me. I am not a wealthy man, but I am still at liberty to visit him. I do not take my friends, my life or my liberties for granted. I am thankful of living in this state of perceived freedom. This is my home. Although I am often discontent with the current society’s norms and values, I am thankful to call the Netherlands my home. I am thankful to be at liberty to write this and share my ideas in liberty.  Every day again. This I’ll defend. 

Namaste, dear readers. Not the hipster namaste, but a well meant recognition of my mind meeting yours in freedom.

Themed entries, ideas for the future and updates

Dear readers,

I have decided to make blogging more easy for myself. I am going to write more, but shorter entries. Sporadically, I will post a more elaborate entry based on a certain topic, based on both mental illness and Buddhism or Buddhist psychology. From now on, you will find these themed topics under the ‘Themed Blog Entries’ header. ‘Normal’ posts can be found using the main page.

As you may have read, my Borderline Personality Disorder is in remission, which means that the symptoms of illness are absent. I feel stronger and stable for quite a while now. Some days there are setbacks, but I use meditation and mindfulness to check my mind. Whenever I am agitated by something, I immediately try to apply some mindfulness lessons, so I can find out why I am agitated. That way, I will usually see that there is no real reason to be agitated and I will instantly calm my mind. It works, it really does. So all in all, I have come quite a long way and I have felt much better during the past half year.

I am currently reading a lot of literature related to Buddhist psychology and applied Buddhism. I started blogging so I could inspire others who are struggling with mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder and try to help them. This in turn has inspired me to take up a new adventure in life. I am going to try and study Buddhist psychology in order to become a certified mindfulness trainer. From there on, I hope I can study applied Buddhism and basic psychology (which has always interested me) and start an own practice in which I can help people who suffer from PTSD, BPD and related mental ilness by applying the teachings of the dharma and mindfulness in general. Let’s see where this path takes me!

 

 

Borderline in Remission, Part II: “Hello BPD, it’s me… again!”

This, bhikku’s, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering, precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration

– Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni,
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra

Dhamma…cakkapavattana sutra (try pronouncing that a few times. You can read a translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu here), the ‘discourse that sets the wheel of truth in motion’  is traditionally believed to be a textual record of the first teaching of Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, after reaching the mental state of Enlightenment. He shared this first lesson with the five brahmin ascetics he formerly used to meditate with.
Through this text, the four noble truths, the teaching of the Middle Way and the Noble Eightfold Path, the cornerstones of Buddhism are introduced (check the ‘glossary’ on my page for more information about these concepts)

I start the second part of my blog entry on Borderline in Remission with these teachings, because it is these teachings that have helped me to cope with my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Back in 2013 I first felt that I was suffering, I was unhappy with life in general. Society was too hasty, people too unfriendly, life was just unfair. Just like it does for most buddhists, I needed this reality-check to find my way to the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. In 2014 however, my BPD was triggered through feeling extremely unhappy again. It overruled my conscious mind, which spinned out of control. I was not able to apply the teachings of the Dharma anymore, simply because my subconscious mind overruled my thoughts and actions most of the time. I literally lost control of my mind!

Through therapy I have learned to look past the false images that my subconscious ego projected in my mind. I was not the helpless, angry and negative person I felt I was. I am a strong person, I am my own problem and my own solution! Therapy gave me insight into my own mental formations, it unclouded my mind again and that’s what enabled me to start applying the age-old, but still very real teachings of Buddhism again to re-master my mind, to re-master myself.

When I started blogging, I wrote an entry called ‘Hello BPD, it’s me’ in which I tried to examine the characteristics of a borderline personality disorder as stated  in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and the matter in which they applied to me. Now, with my BPD in remission, I felt that I should re-examine those characteristics in order to visualise what has changed. Here goes:

Fear of separation

When I wrote my previous entry I was in a relationship which at the time provided me with love and happiness. Later on, this relationship broke down. When previous relationships ended, it was always a heavy mental blow for me. The fear of separation was so strong that I immediately entered a state of utter despair and I literally lost my will to live. When I left this last partner, it felt very different. I realised that it wasn’t the relationship that had brought me happiness, it was the way in which I could let go of my feelings. I recognised myself as not being too attached to this person anymore! I was still anxious to start dating again, but later on I tried to date a girl again and I was again hurt when she left me. But this time, of course it hurt, but I recognised this to be ‘normal’ heartache. We all feel this way when we are turned down when in love. There was no feeling of depression, just sadness, which is perfectly normal. I was able to move on rather easily.

Through applying the teachings of the Buddha, I didn’t cling to persons anymore. I have learned that I can only experience and uderstand myself through my own mind. I have learned that I should not rely on external factors to provide happiness. I have learned to place myself first in this respect. That doesn’t mean I have become egoistic, nor egocentric. I just realise that it’s not my ego (the false perception of the ‘self’ as an independent entity), but my mind which comes first! In her book ‘If the Buddha dated’, Charlotte Kasl states that true love, tempered by wisdom (through insight) and free of unhealthy clinging is the key to fulfillment. That unhealthy clinging, which inherently comes from the natural urge to protect your partner and your offspring, should be tempered by insight. I like to visualise it like this: you can hold something you hold dear in your clenched hand, fearing to let it go. But when you open your hand, palm upward, the object of your affection will still be there, it will not fall from your hand, even though you are not clinging to it.

I still have to be wary to keep walking the middle way and not choosing the way of duality, of opposites. I should not trade my fear of loss for fear of attachment. It is easy to avoid relationships alltogether, in order to not get hurt. But that would mean that I would deny myself the pleasure of feeling love in a relationship. Therefore, I keep the mind focused and try to see everything for what it is. Everything in the world, including a relationship, is perishable and that’s what makes it worthwhile! Because you can lose it, it gains more value. In the same way I have learned to truly value friendships, without unhealthily clinging to them. You have to be self-reliant and develop a degree of self-confidence through insight into your own mind, which can perfectly be done through meditation, concentrating the mind on a single point. Help others, be good for the world, but never forget to put your own mind first, only you are your own solution. It is all about your mindset!  

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Intense and illogical anger, often followed by feelings of shame and guilt

My anger was one of my greatest obstacles. The good news is that I haven’t had anger attacks in six months. I can’t even remember the last one! The more I started to understand the patterns in my subconsious mind, the more I could see the pattern. I have the advantage of being cognitively gifted, I have the ability to be self-analytic. My therapist used this ability to let me gain insight into the patterns that lead to my feelings of anger. When I wrote ‘Dear BPD’ I was already able to create a delay between the rising feeling of anger and the actual outburst. The feeling of powerlesness or aggression by others, like someone cutting me in traffic or flipping me the finger, would instantly trigger a violent anger attack in the past. I was taught to leave the situation which sparked my anger and to go back to my breathing in order to restrain myself back then.

I kept doing this. I kept going back to my breathing whenever my anger was triggered. The more I did this, the more space I created between the initial trigger and the moment of eruption. In that moment, by practicing mindful breathing, I became able to analyse the cause of my anger. Instead of giving in to that anger, I would practice what Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh calls ‘deep looking.’ I smiled at my anger, recognised it mindfully and then I tried to realise that this anger would not solve the problem, it would only make it worse. By staying focused on my breathing and Hanh’s metaphor of the burning house (envision your anger as a fire that is burning your ‘house’, your mind. Don’t run away from it, don’t fuel it, but douse the flames with mindful attention!) I would eventually gain the upper hand on my anger. It took a lot of tries before I was able to really control my anger, but in the end I was able to walk away from a situation while dousing the flames of my anger.

Whenever there are too many stress factors, I can still erupt into anger attacks. Think ouf outside sensory triggers like fireworks, but also of social triggers or too much stress in general. That’s why I still need to be careful not to run into too many stressful situations. I have to say ‘no’ and draw clear lines for myself and others around me. Working fulltime is therefore still a great obstacle. Whenever I encounter aggression now, I immediately recognise that anger is not the solution, I immediately go into a state of mindfulness, a response I have cultivated through practice and meditation. I once again have the self-confidence and insight to see that I should avoid my anger.

Someone’s provocation is not worth it to let you tear down your own house after all. I don’t feel guilty afterward, I feel happy that the insults do not hurt me anymore, I feel stronger because I can hold my head high and walk away from the possibility of extreme anger. Through martial arts and the violence in my past I have further reached this insight, but I have also learned that those who really provoke me and go too far can still be met with controlled aggression. If their insults and verbal attacks turn physical or invade my personal space, I am perfectly capable of defending myself and those I hold dear through the controlled application of physical force, which is then only a last resort.  (read: Anger: My way to the Eightfold path).  Anger is normal, but heed the Middle Way!

Severe depressive mood swings and irritability

The mood swings are still there. Sometimes I get irritated ot depressed without good reason. Acceptance is the key here. In order to get away from it there is only one way: talking. I look for someone to talk to. I have my parents and dear friends and colleagues who listen to me without judging. I talk to them, I vent my thoughts. If I still feel bad, I turn to my meditation pillow or I go outside and I practice mindfulness. I ask myself what I am grateful for at the moment. I often quickly realise that there is oxygen to breathe, that there are birds singing or there is sunlight around me. By being mindful of these things, I see that there are many things to be thankful for all around me. I then try to look into the emotions that make me feel depressed or irritated. I try to feel compassion for those who trigger these feelings in me. Once again, this can only be refined by dedicated practice, every time these mood swings take place. Nothing beats talking. Talking is so extremely powerful. It is our main way of expression, so never underestimate it!

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Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviour

These are not present anymore. They usually were sparked by anger through powerlesness, despair and a negative self image and followed by extreme feelings of guilt, which I do not actively struggle with anymore. The answer here, once again, is insight through experience and meditation. Once you control your mind, you control the emotions that trigger the self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, the Dharma has taught me that the only thing you truly own is your own life. Nothing is more valuablt than life, for you can only experience the world through your own mind. When you are not alive, your mind is not alive. When you are focused on the here and now, you are truly alive! Life is only truly available in the present moment, never give it up!

Chronic emotional emptiness

In order to battle emotional emptiness I keep myself busy with useful activities. Working at the animal ambulance as a volunteer brings me a lot of satisfaction for example. Spending time with good friends or doing things that matter to me, talking with people, go hiking, reading, they are all important parts of my day. I meditate on the things I am grateful for every morning, just the small things. I never really feel emotionally empty and when I do, I talk about it with others, or with myself in silence, by being alone with myself! Whenever I feel empty, I set out to do something which makes me feel useful, even if it is a simple chore like cleaning a closet or chopping wood! Or I go out to my happy place, a coffee house in order to have coffee (that’s a surprise) and strike up some good conversations! Meeting new people is also great and it’s not as difficult as it seems. Open your eyes and open your mind! Experience the world around you, there is so much to see and to do!

Dangerous impulsive behaviour

Like the feelings of self-harm, this was mainly related to anger, despair and powerlesness. As long as these are absent, there is no impulse to trigger dangerous impulsive behaviour. I sometimes feel a bit of an urge, but it is easily suppressed now through meditation. Wow! It’s that easy!

Distorted and unstable self-image

The root of all my problems, as I have learned from my therapy. I had to learn that failure is never real failure, and that failure and success are both equally important parts of life. Here again is the teaching of the middle way! Ask others what they think of you. Talk to people. Learn to accept compliments, which may seem hard at first. It can be done. Meditate! See your own strength through insight. See that you are a beautiful person, since your mind is what defines you! Let go of what drags you down. I have let go of hobbies that were not feeling ‘right’ anymore, I avoid too much media-induced negativity and negative people in general. Instead, I now cultivate what makes you feel good! I am thinking of picking up traditional Jiu Jitsu, I seek new friendships, and I started playing the banjo for example. Don’t set true expectations or goals to which you cling, just let your ambitions be guidelines and don’t impose harsh deadlines for yourself. Just live and keep up the standards which enrich you, which for me truly means following the Noble Eightfold Path and studying the Dharma!

“I am a Buddhist striving for peace and I suffer from anger-induced Borderline. Failure?”

No! It’s not! Recently, a student of psychology and I had and inspiring talk over a good beer. She told me about hitting rock bottom. By reaching that point, you get an oppurtunity to realise what you don’t want in life and this enables you to look  in another direction. It opens possibilities. Without going deep, I wouldn’t have found my way to Buddhism in the first place. My weaknesses, glories, victories and downfalls have made me into who I am now. It is all part of life. So why feel bad about yourself if yourself is all you have?!

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Dissociation

This is a hard one. I still dissociate. I can ‘zone out’ completely, especially when there are too many sensory stimulants around me. I phase away into my own head. Luckily, I have become aware of this and when I start dissociating, I go back to my breathing to return to the here and now. I breathe in, I am here. I breathe out, I am here now. This ‘mindful breathing’ as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, brings you back to yourself. You start breathing consciously, while breathing normally is an automatism. It returns your focus to the present. I also mainly ignore the warped media, the management and consumption society, negativity in the media and avoid taking my phone into my bedroom when I go to sleep. I try to dissociate from negativity consciously, which for me is something good. I try to use dissociation in a positive way.

Meditation is a powerful tool to reach the here and now. Build meditative moments into your day (I return to the here an now when I go to the restroom, when I stand in a long line at the cash-desk or when I eat and drink for example by focusing my mind on the current activity) or apply short sessions of sitting meditation in the morning or evening. Visit some silent places for meditation if you cannot calm your mind, like chapels or a forest for example. Look for insight through experience. Meditation is not about running away, it is all about being mindfully present and aware! It is a form of anti-dissociation. You associate with everyhting by seeing nonduality and inter-relatedness of all things and their finality when you meditate. There are many good books on meditation! I can recommend the books by Thich Nhat Hanh, they have greatly helped me in the past.

I also need to structure my life through making ‘to-do’ lists on my cellphone. This way, I can let go of some things that trouble my mind. By writing them down, I create more space in my head. Letting go of things, of concepts and ideas  makes the obsessiveness part of my BPD a bit more bearable. Although I have to watch myself, I do not want to become a nihilist by letting everything go So I still give in to structuring stuff, which yes, is still tiring. But I find creative ways for it, like looking for spelling in the administration at work. I do useful things in my house, like re-structuring my closet for example. Obsessivene structurasiation can become really rewarding this way!

Writing this article, I start thinking: “What the hell happened to my borderline?! How did I change so fast?!” Then again, I should remember that my BPD is in remission, it’s not gone. It is still there, but at the moment the siatuation is perfectly bearable. There is remission, remission carries its rewards, but there can still be a return of the symptoms of BPD. So I still take it easy and I try to not forget to slow down. I keep practicing the way of the Dharma, I keep on mediatating and studying and I keep on walking the Eightfold path. I keep blogging, so I can inspire others through my own insights. Thank you for reading, and if there are any questions, please ask!

In my next entry I will do a similar self-investigation, based on the signs of PTSD I have also been suffering from.

Borderline in Remission, Part I: Gratitude

Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the afflicted (by craving). Amidst afflicted men we dwell free from affliction.”

– Dhammapada 197-198

Dear reader. I haven’t been blogging as much as I would want to during the past year. The cause of this is simple: I have been busy with living life itself, I have been busy coping with my borderline personality disorder and I have come to a turning point. I am able to say with a great feeling of gratitude that my BPD is in remission! ‘Remission’ is a state in which disease activity is absent while suffering from a chronic illness, but where there is still a possibility of the activity returning.  In other words: I still have a borderline personality disorder,  but it doesn’t actively manifest itself. I have control over my disease and I have learned how to cope with it. BPD can never truly be ‘cured’, but I have found a way to live with it. That way is the way of the Dharma, the Noble Eightfold path. That way is applied Buddhism.

I am going to divide the subject into separate parts, since it is so comprehensive and hard to write about. But I hope it will inspire you, dear reader. I hope it gives you some insight into how I deal with my problems, which you can use in order to deal with yours. This first entry will globally describe the path I followed in order to reach the point where I am at now. In this holy tide of Christmas, this most beautiful time of the year in my opinion, I often feel grateful. I have been living in the Middle East during my studies and I have experienced hunger and misery first hand for example. During Christmas dinner, I feel grateful for the food on my plate and my parents and my dog by my side. For the warmth of the hearth, the lights, the feelings of peace. This time of the year is thus an excellent time to write about the theme ‘gratitude’ for this entry. In the next entries I will go into more detail on HOW I actually applied Buddhism to find my way out of the depths of BPD. Previous entries in my blog also describe some steps in that path and I suggest you have a look at them if you feel inspired. All right, here goes:

I have spent the past nine years suffering from mental vulnerabilities, as I like to call them, and I have been coping with bullying and a negative self-image for many more years, going back all the way to primary school. I have never asked for help and I only started asking for help when I was too late. I have written about these subjects in  previous entries. In the end, I did end up in therapy. No matter what you do, no matter what you try, if you cross a certain line and reach a certain level of illness, you are going to need professional help. Once again, I am grateful, grateful for the help I received from my therapists.

Before I suffered from BPD, I have already been in therapy for signs of post traumatic stress/ depression. Through my therapy back then I found my way to martial arts. I was suffering from panic and anger attacks and martial arts, especially krav maga, brought a new dimension to my life. My physical fitness increased and I gained confidence. I found out that I am a natural fighter and that enduring hardships can only make you stronger. In this respect, martial arts taught me valuable lessons about life itself and I got to a point where I gained a lot of self-confidence. I was able to take down opponents to the mat which were bigger and stronger than I was myself and in the end I became physically and mentally strong as well. I became more aware of my own abilities and the possibilities of life and I dared to follow my dreams again. The problem however is that I became confident in a fight, but outside of it, I still felt insecure and socially awkward in a way. Unintentionally I started looking for fights and conflicts, just to feel confident. If felt that I would rather fight someone than talk to him, just because that is when I felt in control.

Outside of the fight I was growing discontent with life. I had the feeling I was living in an economy, not a society. It felt as if life was going nowhere and as if I was constantly failing in everything. I wanted to fix the problems of others around me, without looking to my own problems. I felt powerless, weak, small. The prowess I showed on the mat and in the gym was not there. I grew more angry and more frustrated than ever before. That’s when I found the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of the teachings of the Buddha. But still, my subconscious was too strong for me, as you may read here. In the end I felt like I was drowning. People tried to drag me out of the water, but I kept going under. After some really dark episodes of destruction and fighting, my new therapists grabbed my hand, yanked me up from the water and he told me one thing: “No one can help you but you yourself. Start swimming!” It reminded me of a simple verse I read in Keith Sheppards  ‘Wonderland Revisited’:

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. You can educate your daughter, but you cannot make her think.”

It always stuck with me. Anyhow, I didn’t want to do group therapy, since I was afraid to turn the other clients’problems into my own. Instead, I participated in a psychotherapy program, meeting my therapist once a week in order to evaluate a certain situation or subject. In the end, this was just what I needed. Through therapy I found out that I am cognitively gifted and that I was strong enough to overcome my mental disabilities. What therapy did for me was providing insight. Insight into my own subconscious patterns, into things that dwell beneath the surface of the mind. It helped me to understand myself, to understand how I think and why I think that way. Through finding out about my own weaknesses and patterns we, my therapist and myself, were able to find the roots and causes of my problems. That finally helped me see where my negative feelings and blockades come from and thus helped me looking for an answer to overcome them. Once you can name and understand your problem, you can deal with it. I dealt with it through applying Buddhism, through turning the simple teachings of the Buddha into second nature. Like Jung said: “I am not what happened to me I am what I choose to become.”

The main problem, the main cause of my BPD is the negative self-image that I have constructed about myself over the years. I have always thought of myself as weak, unable to help, a disappointment, a failure. I was bullied because I was ‘different’ and I felt socially awkward. I thought and think on a different level, which I now understand is because I am cognitively gifted. I sometimes find it hard to communicate, because I do think differently. But I am now grateful for it! On the other hand I always felt independent, I was always looking for a ‘better way’, a middle way. This middle way is a key concept of Buddhism, as I would later find out. I felt like I failed in everything I tried, but in the end I learned that there is no such thing as failing. There is either success, or there is an opportunity to learn and look for a change!

failure

I started meditating and reading about Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness and Buddhism in general throughout the last few years and the teachings of the Buddha, as illustrated throughout this blog, helped me to steer my subconscious mind by being mindfully present in the here and now with my conscious mind. By learning to see those mental blockades in my head  and the related patterns in therapy, I became able to steer my conscious mind through mediation and mindfulness and thus influenced and forced my subconsciousness to find a new direction. I will write more about it in a later entry.

What about those people who dragged me through? Who wanted to pull me from the metaphorical water , but couldn’t? Well, they are my parents, my friends, my loved ones      (also see the blog entry on Noble Friends). They are the ones I am most grateful for. They have always been there for me, they have dragged me through dark places and times, they have inspired me, they have been mirrors for mental reflection, they have done their part by just existing and being there for me. And I still keep meeting new inspiring people! What I have learned in therapy is that whenever I have a problem, whenever worries or fears dawn in the back of my head, the First and Foremost thing to do is talk. Tell people you trust and who try understand you what is wrong, what you are feeling and what they can do to help. Dare to ask for help and help will come. You can ventilate your thoughts and prevent them from becoming traumas which settle in your head and later refude to leave. Just by talking. Talking is our mainway of expression and it is very powerful.

So, where am I now? Well, it took 1.5 years of this psychotherapy to help me get back on track. Related to other friends and acquaintances who suffer from BPD this may be regarded as a relatively quick ‘recovery.’ But let’s not forget that there is a possibility that I encounter new setbacks, but I will never fall back down the bottom of the ladder anymore. It’s a classical example of four steps forward, two steps back. So, I still suffer from a Borderline Personality Disorder and signs of post traumatic stress, but they do not dominate and control my life anymore. Instead, I have taken control of my mind again and through my mind I experience the world. The only one who can change my perception of the world is me! Like the fictional character Simon Masrani (played by actor Irffan Khan) says in the film ‘ Jurassic World’(this film is actually full of leadership quotes and references!):

The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control

 

masrani

Daily meditation, reflection, experiences in the outside world, my volunteer work at the animal ambulance, friendship, study of Buddhist philosophy, reading, it all brings satisfaction to my life in its own way. It may sound strange or even wrong, but I am truly grateful for the lessons I have learned from 9 years of mental illness. I don’t see it as something negative anymore! Instead, it has brought Buddhism into my life. It has provided me with new insights and it has changed my perception of all things and of life itself. I know know what I don’t want in life anymore. I know that whatever happens, things can always be much worse.

I spend my days mindfully now, I try to be present in the here and now and I try to laugh a lot. After all, quoting the Comedian from the ‘ Watchmen’ comics, life is just one big joke. I treat all living beings with compassion, I help others without expecting something in return. I do volunteer work at the animal ambulance in which I do something useful for the world. I look for the right livelihood. I spend my time doing things I truly find useful, developing myself and spending time with my dog and people I hold dear. I find gratification in life itself. I have slowed down my life and take it one step at a time now.

I currently don’t have a regular job. I can’t handle that just yet and frankly, I don’t exactly know exactlry what I want to do in life. So I just keep living life and enjoy the inspiring sights, sounds and people which cross my path. I just keep walking the Noble Eightfold Path with wisdom and insight to fuel the lamp which guides me. At the moment I am exploring the plan of combining applied Buddhism, mindfulness training and psychology in order to become a personal trainer (or spiritual friend as I like to call it) and help others through my own experiences. Something which I already do for those who ask me for help and through writing this blog as well!

Every morning, when I am sitting down on my meditation pillow I ask myself: “ What am I grateful for?” I realise that I am grateful to be there, on my pillow under a roof in a warm house, having stepped out of a warm bed with a whole day ahead of me. I can stand up and drink from the tap, I can eat when I am hungry, I can make coffee, my dog and loved ones are nearby, I have to freedom to be where I am, there is no war raging outside my door, there is oxygen in the air so I can breathe, the list can go on and on and on. There is so much to be grateful for. Instead of thinking about the things I don’t have, I feel gratitude for the many things I do have!

I take refuge in the Buddha, the historical Siddharta Gautama who found a way out of suffering.
I take refuge in the dharma, the teachings which are the path which leads away from suffering.
I take refuge in the Sangha, the people around me who are also walking the path of life.
There was I time when I thought my life was useless, wortheless.
There were times when I consciously decided to end my life.
Now however, I realise that my life is the only life I truly own. It is the most valuable thing in the world. And I am deeply grateful for it all and for you all!

THANK YOU!

In the next entry I will re-evaluate the aspects of my mental vulnerabilities as described in this previous entry and the way in how they have changed over time through what I have learned and what I have done. Once again, thank you for reading!