Buddha kept it simple

Buddha was not a Buddhist. He was someone who realized how much he, and the rest of humanity, suffered; and he decided to figure out a solution. Buddha discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, insight meditation, and used it to free himself permanently from suffering. Insight meditation, also called Vipassanā, meaning insight into reality, is a very simple form of meditation in which you pay attention to the sensations on and inside your body, from moment to moment and with equanimity. Equanimity is when you don’t push something away or crave more of it; you just let it be as it is.

Everything that you perceive through your senses causes some kind of sensation to occur in your body. Some perceptions result in pleasant sensations and other perceptions result in unpleasant sensations. At the deepest level of your unconscious mind, you are continually paying attention to the sensations, grasping at the pleasant ones, and their associated experiences, and resisting the unpleasant ones, and their associated experiences. This is suffering: unconsciously reacting with craving and aversion to stimulii. When you start practicing Vipassanā, you start to realize the extent and depth of this suffering. It is continual and all-pervading.

By consciously scanning your body for subtler and subtler sensations, and consciously being equanimous with them, you can retrain your unconscious mind at the deepest level to not react with craving or aversion, to stop suffering. When equanimity is fully habitual, there is no more reactivity, and no more suffering.

The sensations that arise in reaction to perceptions are energetic echoes from the past, from when a past situation was reacted to; they are impurities in the mind that cloud perception of reality. When these sensations are allowed to arise, and are not reacted to, they can pass away naturally. When you unconsciously react, you maintain these impurities, and lay down more of them.

With regular practice of Vipassanā, not only do you get increasingly skilled at being equanimous and non-reactive, which becomes unconscious and automatic, but you also purify your mind so there is less to react to. External situations still arise, but the perception of them results in increasingly less intense internal sensations. You become less disturbed by life, less reactive, and your suffering begins to end.

While there are now so many complex forms of Buddhism, with intricate rituals and practices, Buddha wanted to keep it simple, to teach this simple technique to end suffering. It’s best to learn Vipassanā in an intensive retreat, where you can really see the benefits and establish your practice. I highly recommend the ten-day meditation retreats taught around the world by S. N. Goenka, where food and lodging is free to you, paid for by past students. These retreats are one of the best ways you could use your time, and will significantly change your life for the better.

Clear your energy blockages

I’m going to give you a simple model for how to think about mental health. This might not be really how things are, but I’ve found it to be a useful model. In my article on energy psychology, I explained how traditional chinese medicine (TCM) posits that heath and wellbeing result from a free and balanced flow of energy. In this article, I want to explain a little more about how energy blockages operate and how they affect your mental state. Keep in mind that all of this could also be explained in terms of neurophysiology, and I will probably do that at some point in the future. So let’s begin, and I will make it brief.

When you’re feeling any kind of negative emotion, if you pay attention you will notice that it is connected to a physical sensation somewhere in your body. Often the sensation is somewhere along your spine, in the middle of your body, either in your torso or in your head. People who practice yoga would think of this as being a feeling in one of the chakras.

The unpleasant sensation associated with the negative emotion is caused by a blockage of  life energy in one or more of the energy channels, the channels called meridians in TCM. Blockages occur when we stop the energy flowing. This happens when we experience something overwhelming and we don’t think we can handle it; we hold our breath, we tense our body, we dissociate or disconnect from awareness of our body. The amount of energy needed to handle an intense situation is very high and the energy is intended to enable us to handle the situation effectively. These situations tend to occur when we are children and our threshold for feeling scared, overwhelmed, or unsafe is low; being teased, pushed, or ignored, let alone abused and neglected by a parent, can cause blockages. One client had severe relationship issues that were rooted in seeing the boy she liked when she was five-years-old kissing another girl. Stressful or traumatic situations can result in blockages if an adult is overwhelmed and does not allow the energy to flow through. A relationship breakup or a close scrape with death are examples.

Once there is a blockage, it usually appears to go dormant. While it reduces the overall flow of energy in the meridian slightly, the blockage does not seem significant because that part of the meridian is not being used. However, when a situation arises that is similar to the one when the blockage occurred, the blockage again becomes significant, resulting in unpleasant feelings. Because of the unpleasant feelings, we tend to resist the situation, and the flow of energy that is trying to help us handle the situation. In fact, it is the blockage that is resisting the flow of energy and therefore the situation. More energy collects at the blockage, and the blockage increases in size. Sometimes the blockages become so large that normal functioning is no longer possible, as in severe depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Because we want to be fully alive, feel the flow of all our energy, and move though life with complete freedom, we tend to unconsciously create situations that activate the blockages, so that we can then clear them. The life energy flowing through us is trying to clear out the blockages so that we can be free.

There are many different ways of clearing the blockages, various different therapies and interventions. One of the most powerful and direct approaches that I have found is emotional freedom techniques (EFT), which I showed you how to use in a recent article.

The less energy blockages you have, the more life energy can flow through your body so that you can adaptively respond to what is happening in any moment. With the blockages, you react and resist life, feeling negative emotions and unpleasant body sensations. Without the blockages, there are only positive emotions and pleasant body sensations. Where once you may have felt anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, and embarrassment, now you feel peace, calm, excitement, enthusiasm, empowerment, inspiration, and generosity.