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Mental illness and the path

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  • Mental illness and the path

    I was depressed ready to die when I came across Ajahn Brahms teachings on YouTube. I followed his instructions he gave on a retreat video and very briefly got into some blissful, empty, highly energetically charged state but couldn’t stay there as I wasn’t prepared to fully let go of my life situation. I wanted both to let go (because it was nice) and to be aware of the world. This experienced drastically opened my eyes and made me want to peruse it. Things happened that I can explain further if you want but I don’t think they are that significant. Long story short I ended up unable to control my energy from going too high and mental health services were contacted. I also experienced delusions and a sense I was bigger than my body. I was diagnosed with a mental illness and put on medication. I feel the medication side effects is holding me back but I don’t want to become unmeasured and uncomfortable

    My question is about moving forward. Is this medication going to get in the way of moving forward on the path or is it in fact helping me at this stage?

    Other than medication how would you recommend I create conditions so I can move forward in a safe way that is efficient?

    What is more likely to be the case. Is this just conditions playing out due to previous actions before I became interested in Buddhism or is it as a result of something I am doing now.

    Many thanks,

    Much respect,


  • #2
    Dear Olly,

    Forgive me for taking time to reply your email. I wanted to write a suitable and encouraging reply - thus the delay.

    I will get back to you soon (though not with any great answers - I am just a young nun and have no experience in these matters. Just wanting to share.)

    With metta,
    Ven Upekkha


    • #3
      I am appreciative of your reply. That would be great if you have more to say, if not it’s ok

      Thankyou for your answers on other people’s questions by the way. I have found it helpful.

      with respect and good wishes



      • #4
        Dear Olly,

        First of all, I want to say ‘anumodana’ (that is the Pali for Good-on-you-mate) for having the courage and faith to so whole-heartedly follow the teachings that it led you out of depression.

        But do not be discouraged – uncontrolled energy is something all of us experience, to a greater or lesser degree. Our task is knowing how to direct and work with our excess or lack or energy. It is a basis for cultivating our own personal wisdom and understanding.

        I have to say I do not know much (anything!) about medication as I have fortunately never had to deal with it. To that degree, I am not qualified to advice you on whether or not it is appropriate. All I can say is - speak with your GP or psychologist and maybe you can come up with a plan to gradually reduce the medication if you feel the side-effects are taking a toll. But work very gradually, very gently and make a commitment to be honest with yourself. Know when you can handle your energy and when you can’t. Build up that trust within yourself. That is more important at this point.

        Perhaps it would be useful for you to be part of group? Fellow Buddhists or just others who may understand what you are going through. A teacher (in the flesh) who knows you and could guide you.

        For me, I think of energy as not something to be controlled, but rather balanced with other aspects of the practice. The mind is most stable when grounded in goodness. All the little things that go on in our day and how we deal with them make a difference. Qualities of honesty, non-harming, generosity-of-heart, humility, forgiveness – when we meet the world with these attitudes, we also develop them toward ourselves and our mind-states.

        Delusions can happen when our minds gain energy but is not yet stable and solid. It still gets caught up in the thoughts and images that it produces. An experience of the “mind bigger than body” is not uncommon - as the mind becomes more free from the bounds of the five senses, especially in meditation, perceptions have a chance to play.

        Going too far is part of any learning. It is so important to have a lot of kindness and compassion for yourself. It is not easy. Life is so unpredictable, one moment things are great and couldn’t be better, the next, you are down in the dumps. This is where the ideal of equanimity comes in. This balanced equilibrium and equipoise of mind that is not shaken or thrown off by any experience or contact. That’s the ideal. The path leading to that is paved with a lot of clear honest seeing, infinite but wise patience and acceptance. It is really important that we come back to this moment and work with who and where we are right now. Whatever happened in the past has happened, we can reflect and learn from it, whatever will happen, the causes are born right here and now.

        There is a beautiful sutta called the Gotami Sutta (AN8.53) where the Buddha gives his step-mother advice on how to know when things are going in the right direction. Please look it up, it begins:

        Gotami, those qualities of which you would know: “These qualities lead to dispassion, not passion; to being unfettered, not fettered; to getting rid of, not heaping up; to few wishes, not many wishes…”

        I have to say, though, it is very difficult for me to know what led your diagnosis - as a complete stranger – things happen due to multiple causes and conditions, so it probably is not one isolated thing.

        On this path, we learn about the whole range of human emotion and possible mind states – depression, bliss, boredom, anger, emptiness and we can remind ourselves that these are all passing experiences, not ours, whether, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Our task is to learn from and respect them all.

        One thing that helps me a lot is re-framing my suffering. I think to myself, “From what I am going through, may I understand the suffering of fellow beings and may I one day be able to help someone else.”

        With much metta,
        Ven Upekkha


        • #5
          I have read this twice now

          saudu saudu saudu



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