When Buddhism Doesn’t Work

I found this interesting article ( 8 pages ) on the Lion’s Roar web site.

“I Want to Tell You About Coming Apart and Struggling Through Depression” by Susan Moon. “A moving account by Susan Moon of her journey back from depression, and how her Buddhist practice both helped and hindered her.”

The author, Susan Moon, denied being in depression for many years.

The depression got to the point where it made each day painful and she thought bizarre thoughts.

The author had been practicing Zen Buddhist meditation for 20 years. Meditation often made her feel worse as the mental silence would allow many harsh thoughts to come up. People kept advising her to just keep meditating, watching the thoughts come and go. When she told her teachers that she was disappointed that zazen didn’t make her feel better she got scolded being told you don’t sit in zazen to get something.

The author went on a week long retreat that intensified her mental pain so much she left the retreat, without permission, before it was complete, and didn’t meditate again for several months.

After hitting rock bottom she went to psychiatrist who prescribed prozac which made her feel worse, so he had her try zoloft. The zoloft helped her get back to a place where she could deal with things and it helped to reduce the intensity of the angry, automatic, self talk.

The author had a lot of mental resistance to taking medication:

I had a lot of resistance to taking medication. I thought my unhappiness had two parts: negative circumstances in the outside world, which Zoloft obviously couldn’t fix, and negative attitudes inside my head, which I thought my Buddhist practice should take care of. Besides, an orthodox Zen voice whispered in my mind that the monks of old got along without Zoloft. But some of those monks probably obsessed their lives away in misery; others may have left the monastery because they couldn’t concentrate. Buddhist history doesn’t tell us about the ones who tried and failed, the ones with attention deficit disorder or clinical depression.

The author ended up not meditating for two years. During that time she took on an attitude of trusting herself and doing what her emotional needs demanded despite it not being rational or what she thought she should do. She started praying prayers from multiple religions. The trust in herself and her needs, she felt, helped heal her.

After two years she was able to go off of the Zoloft. She also started meditating again.

She doesn’t know why she got as sick as she did or what exactly made her better.

Taking up zazen with a reason, to understand herself better ( versus listening to people telling her should meditate without wanting anything from it ) enabled her to start meditating again.

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