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Anhedonia and dhamma practice

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  • Anhedonia and dhamma practice

    Dear Ajahn,

    I have anhedonia which is the inability to experience joy. I discovered it during professional treatment for severe depression which I've had since my teenage years. In some ways it's a good thing because I don't experience cravings. Things interest me but I don't chase after them. I have hobbies but I can leave them aside for months at a time and pick where I left off. Having that condition resulted in being called cold, unfeeling, anti-social, and much more, which doesn't bother me these days.
    Every month or two, I will have a huge wave of joy wash over me for no reason. It happens when it happens, and I dwell in that absolute wonder which only lasts for a few seconds. When I feel it coming I watch and let it happen without trying to hold on to it.

    I overcame the depression in my own way by delving deeply into dhamma. Dependent Origination was responsible for pushing me forward a great deal.
    The professional help and medication I was receiving made me worse, much worse, so I terminated both and continued to self-explore and find my own way out. I still have a long way to go but I'm a much different (better) person than before. If it wasn't for dhamma I probably would not be alive today.

    My intro was necessary to lead to my question which relates to metta and meditation. I have been practicing the dhamma way of life for about 13 years and during that time I have never been able to apply metta. I put a lot of effort into it but it was never genuine: all I was doing was repeating the words, so I stopped it. The best I can do is not harm people or animals.

    My condition affected meditation as well. I meditated for about 2 years and during that time I experienced twice, for a few seconds, warmth and peace. They were beautiful few seconds and still remember them today. I was always conscious of not seeking anything during meditation and simply watched what the mind presented without getting involved with the noise. As with metta, I never got anywhere with meditation and stopped it too. I understand that 2 years is not much and I am thinking of getting guidance rather than try and work through it on my own. Keen to get your thoughts about that.

    When I watch and hear talks about kindness and meditation, I have to take the teachers word for it. Is there another way that the Buddha taught to achieve peaceful states without meditation, and is there an alternative to metta?
    In a way, I've "let go" of kindness and meditation which is what the Buddha alluded to as a way to nibbana, but I feel like I've cheated a little by having a poorly wired brain.

    Thank you.

  • #2
    Hi dear Patrick,

    first of all please know that just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can be overcome. Especially mental illnesses can be overcome, I would say, because no matter how healthily we live the body will still get sick! But applying healthy practices to the mind can only go one way: getting better, slowly but surely. So the results you are looking for will come if you are patient. Of this I am personally convinced.

    You don't need to practice metta meditation to be following the Buddha's teaching fully. One famous text from the time of the Buddha, the anapanasati sutta, says that only a number of monks were really practicing metta. Others were doing many other types of meditation according to their personal inclinations, hindrances and talents. Other meditation topics were the breath, the contemplation of impermanence, compassion, even-mindedness, etc. etc. There are many.

    So keep listening and reading dhamma and meditation guides and find what works for you. Maybe metta isn't working, so then you do something else! No problem. And who knows it may come later. Actually... I think may actually be working already because the feelings of warmth and peace is a very good description of what metta is like.

    If you can get guidance from a teacher that you like than that is great. But if the teachers in your area don't suit you, then don't feel disappointed and just keep practicing by yourself. I practiced on my own for a long time before first seeing a teacher and don't regret that ever. Perhaps that was better even, because it allowed me to fully find out the inner workings of my own mind without any second opinions.

    As long as you know what you are aiming for-and from what I've read it seems like you do-you can't really go wrong, so keep on going! Don't let one condition bring you down

    Feel free to ask me anything as well.

    All the best,



    • #3
      Thank you for your reply, Venerable Sunyo.

      I never considered that those fleeting instances of warmth and peace during meditation were metta. I always thought that metta was an outward expression rather than inward. You've given me something to focus on, which also has reinforced something the Buddha referred to: understand dhamma before guiding others. Your reply triggered the re-framing of that guidance to mean heal myself before concentrating on others, which logically makes sense.

      It's raining at my place and will for the rest of the week. I'm enthused so I will invest the next few days as my own rains retreat and pick-up meditation.


      • #4
        Hi Patrick,

        metta definitely is an inward feeling. The expression may come afterward but that is not the metta itself nor is it is not the primary thing to focus on.

        You can try finding some guided metta meditations. The ones by Ayya Khema are really nice I find. Bhante Sujato has done a few metta retreats and perhaps you can find his talks online. There are many other teachers, so find those talks that suit you. The internet is a great substitute if no real life teacher is available close by




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