Edo Lullaby

If you could flip a switch (or take a pill) to be happy, would you? And would it really work?

The other day, I heard a Radiolab story that said for at least 20 years, drugs have been developed that can cure alcoholism. The reason they are not widely taken is because since the early 20th Century, 1) Alcoholics Anonymous has been very influential, and 2) very few medical schools give courses on how to treat addiction. The podcast went on to day that AA only has about a 5% success rate. AA’s philosophy, even though they say alcoholism is a disease, basically has the message that it’s a moral failing to become addicted and only by surrendering to a higher power can one overcome it. So if you could take a drug to cure your alcoholism, you wouldn’t have done the moral work needed to be accountable for your life (and the damage you did to others while drunk).

Radiolab interviewed a guy who was really successful while a drunk, but who then eventually realized it was killing him. So he tried the drug therapy. It worked perfectly. He no longer wanted to drink. However, he felt life was not as interesting and also, the drug did nothing to address any psychological issues he might have had. The piece ended with him consciously quitting the meds and becoming an alcoholic again. The researcher interviewed said we are hardwired to find things — especially chemicals — that give us a jolt of dopamine, or relax us, or make us more socially competent or attractive. In fact, we evolved this way because people who act that way get to pass their genes on through mating.

Another researcher said these drugs are at the point now where Prozac was 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, there was stigma tied to taking drugs to alleviate depression and the dominant schools of psychology often treated it through psychoanalytical, group, behavioral, or cognitive therapy. However, now it’s much more accepted and in 10–15 year’s time, anyone with an addiction will not have to feel guilty taking a pill to cure their addiction.

Having been besieged by depression on a number of occasions, mostly triggered by major life events, I have tried the various types of talk or behavioral therapies including EMDR and EFT. Alone, they only have gotten me so far, or perhaps were successful for a while. But what’s been more effective is a combination of talk therapy and medicine. And last year, after going through another episode, I finally tried to be less passive in the journey and work hard to try to beat it.

By chance, I happened to receive a notice for a 8-week, online course on Happiness, offered for free by Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. Until Martin Seligman came along, most mental-health therapy was designed to cure the “illness.” Psychologists didn’t really study peak performance, optimism, or what’s now known as positive psychology. That is, what tools and strategies have humans evolved that lead to happiness. Happy people tend to be more successful, live longer, and be healthier. By tools I mean psychological tools like emotions, empathy, social connectedness, altruism, gratitude and forgiveness, etc. The course presented studies and research that basically, just as we developed “flight, fight, or freeze,” as a strategy to deal with danger (think sabertooth tigers), we developed the positive emotions and behaviors to make us help one another, thereby ensuring that a group will survive. Biologically, no man can really be an island.

At the same time I was taking this course, I had also started to study Buddhism, especially through the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. In addition, I found the website of Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist who lives near my town. Both these writers and lecturers comment on what are the four rooms, or the four bramavaharas, of Buddhism — Love, Joy, Compassion, and Equanimity. Oddly enough, in its own way, the 8 week psychology course was demonstrating that there are biological and evolutionary bases for these ways of living and interacting with others and the world. The course actually ended on the positive effects of actively practicing Gratitude and also Mindful Meditation.

For the first time in my life I felt that I understood the world. Pain and suffering comes from anger at believing the world has dealt us a bad hand or is out to get us. When we take that to the extreme, we become insular, withdrawing from and not trusting others. To be so alienated from others is toxic. Babies, for example, in orphanages who do not get picked up and touched by human hands fail to thrive. If we filter everything through our fight, flight or flee evolutionary hard wiring we end up acting in destructive ways (this is known as amygdala hijack). If, however, we can catch ourselves, breath, slow down, think, we will have much better outcomes.

So coming back to my initial question, if I could flip a switch (i.e., take a pill) and instantly cure depression, would I? And would it be successful? The pill can stop the pain, but alone it will not be as effective as learning to have rich relationships with others and realizing that love, loss, joy, and suffering are all part of life and are constantly coming and going.

I hope your Equanimity will bring you a Joyful, Loving, Compassionate New Year!

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

6 Responses to Edo Lullaby

  1. richibi says:

    if I could take the time, Kurt, to find the way out of depression, without imposing on the patience of those around me who, meanwhile, need to bear my toxic interactions, I’d also prefer to get there with meditation, but since I’ve begun to take anti-depressants, even my mom advises me not to forego my medication, which seems to be the socially preferable way out – had we the luxury to naturally heal, without the also added strain of probable setbacks, perhaps we could do without pills, and opt for a more personal solution, however untested, but there is a moral dilemma – who will I save, me or those around me, from my distress, me doesn’t necessarily win out – Richard

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kvennarad says:

    So, what about me? My pain and suffering comes from anger at believing that the world has dealt so many other people a bad hand, never mind me. I’m compassionate when realising that the relatively small number of people in the dealer’s chair are human too, and maybe to an extent can’t help what they’re doing; but in practical terms the world would be a better place if they damn well stopped doing what they’re doing, and if I stand by and do nothing to stop them I am complicit in what they’re doing. This is largely a rhetorical question, Kurt.

    If we look at Buddhist mythology, we find the dilemma of Avalokiteśvara, who consciously turned away from enlightenment in order to relieve the suffering of others. If we look at Christian mythology there is Martin – the soldier saint – who, when a beggar asked for his cloak, cut it in two with his sword, so that neither of them would go cold.

    I face my own psychological conditions without medication. That strategy doesn’t actually make the conditions any better or worse, but it does affect how I think/feel about myself, and that in itself helps me to ‘see’ other people. I now am better placed to work for/with them.

    I believe with Gandhi: “I think [Western civilisation] would be a very good idea.”
    with Che Guevara: “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
    with Emma Goldman: “[I believe in] everyone’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

    Have a great 2016.

    Liked by 2 people

    • kurtnemes says:

      From my readings of mindfulness practice, if one can remain calm (through the practice of equanimity) in the face of all the crap in the world, they will be more able to be effective in actually taking action as you have to work toward alleviating suffering.

      Like

  3. Pingback: And Now For Something Completely Different | A Simple, Village Undertaker

  4. XperDunn says:

    My main problem (I should start by saying this was a fascinating post with lots of great ideas and it really got me thinking, BTW) is that whenever I feel I have at least a partiual handle on myself, I turn to the issue of people as a group, i.e. the problem of human nature. And I always come to the same conclusion–if we really want to change society from the cruel, winner-take-all chaos that we have now, we would have to embrace some sort of change in human nature. But if we change ourselves, we will become something else–rendering many of our goals and dreams into unwanted vestiges of our earlier selves, and dampening our natural impulses. And while that may be a good thing–it could also be a very bad thing–perhaps even worse than the mess we call society today. Thus I don’t feel free to champion any great change, even though I despair of our present system. I disapprove of people that show no empathy, but I find that having too much empathy is a threat to my own peace of mind.

    Like

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