Why Not Just Practice Buddhism?
One of the issues of using spirituality as a healing tool is that its personal and introspective nature does not allow of empirical third-party scrutiny. The scientific method requires that all processes be predictable and able to be replicated; and therefore provide evidence of results. It is not to say that spiritual practice is not helpful, restorative, or healing—but only that it is so internal that it cannot be attributed with scientific certainty.
Buddhist practice relies on the argument of the Kalama sutta, where the Buddha requested those who wanted proof of Buddhist practice. The Buddha replied that they should not believe in his practice because of him, the pleasantries of his words, the charisma or trustworthiness of the teachers, etc. etc. The Buddha requested that the people of the City of Kalama try the practice of mindful living and see the results within themselves as proof.
Thus using sound science of biology, psychology and philosophy we can enrich our understanding of our spiritual growth.
Understanding is important, but so is application. I understand all the mechanics of how to paint— mixing colors, applying, creating effects—but it is only through the continual practice and use of that knowledge can I hope to become a competent artist, and only with mastery can I actually create a fully expressed vision of my “art.” The same is true with the study of Buddhism, the practice of Christian faith, the road to mental well-being. Sometimes practitioners of faith will find that faith alone will not result in mental well being if their lives are not in homeostasis and a more evidenced-based therapy practice is needed.
The application of a psychological intervention model, based on the teachings of the Buddha and current scientific understanding of the mind is to offer an approach to allow individuals and mental health providers a new set of tools to help guide individuals towards mental wellness. Each intervention model has their “pros and cons” and each model has tools that are often shared with other models. No one intervention is perfect for every individual or mental condition. This model does not require that a person be Buddhist, but it is appropriate for those who have a world view that seeks to find solutions through a more spiritual base. To that end, Buddhist Intervention Models may be better labeled “Mindfulness-Based Intervention Models” if someone does not like the connotation that they may be associated with Buddhism, because while this model is informed from a foundation of Eastern Philosophy, it can easily be applied without any spiritual world view and be equally effective.
What is the theory of Mindfulness-Based Therapy?
The goal of the Mindfulness-Based Intervention/ Buddhist Intervention Model is to work with the individual with a combination of behavioral and insight tool that will change current striving compensation strategies in keeping internal/external homeostasis into thriving competent self-regulating engagement. The theory states that we all survive successfully by maintaining internal and external homeostasis. Homeostasis is not defined not by what is “normal” but by what environment is most conducive for the individual. (For example, a salt water fish would not find a fresh water tank conducive, but we can say that all fish have optimum environment parameters for thriving. When that homeostatic equilibrium is not met, the fish have to attempt to compensate something in their environment or internally to continue to survive. Often when the equilibrium reaches its limits, the fish fail to survive.). When acceptable parameters are met for a homeostatic equilibrium (externally and internally) the individual has opportunity to thrive with self-regulation, insight, engagement and empathy. When homeostasis is lost, the individual strives with fear-based survival responses of: flight or fight, egocentrism, avoidant behavior, fear-based decision making, and deregulated sense of self.
Mindfulness-Based Therapy builds tools for the individual
The individual, either by themselves or with the help of a counselor creates tools to build a successful self-regulating homeostasis. This is done through developing competency skills, insight skills, and experiments to develop both. A cornerstone in any of the experiments is developing gratitude and empathy practices through engagement like volunteering and community involvement. A core concept is to develop a thriving individual. That requires empathy, engagement and perspective taking. Social outreach activities (especially those that involved giving) are central to the process of developing competencies in empathy and engagement. Regardless of any other tool that is developed, this intervention model requires social engagement activities.
Experiment Tools and Exercises for Wellness
The two categories in tool building are engagement, observation experimentation. Engagement tool are the cognitive-behavioral exercises that will change habitual compensation reactions to volitional competent engagements. For example, developing strategies to deal with anger that comes up in heavy traffic may requires more than one experiment to find the tool that works best. Mindfulness-Based tools are insight practices developed in dialogue with a counselor or in self-meditation that develop empathetic open-inquiry contextualization and stop reactionary egocentric-only thinking. These tools can be collaboratively created with peers or counselors; or they can be developed by the individual as experiments.
Experiments require that each tool developed has a goal, a starting measure and a resulting measure after using the tool. For example, Bob finds that he gets so angry and frustrated driving in traffic on the way home that he often snaps at his wife and children when they greet him. His goal is to not get angry in traffic and come home and show how much he loves his family. His goal is to reduce anger.
Mindfulness-Based Experiment Example
IF he chooses a Mindfulness-Based experiment, then he may set as a goal to identify the source of his anger. When he gets angry as a car cuts him off, he will experience his anger and ask himself a series of “why/because” questions. “Why am I angry?” The driver cut me off. “Why does that make me angry” It slows my drive down. “Why is getting home a few minutes later important?” Because I want to get home to my family. “Why is that important?” Because I enjoy my time with them. “Why do you snap at them when you get home then?” etc. In this Mindfulness-Based experiment, Bob is able to insight that two minutes longer in his drive has distracted him from his desire to see his family and made him cross with his family by keeping that anger his entire drive. During the first day, his anger was self-reported as an 8 of 10. After a week of this experiment, his anger was reported to be only a 4 of 10. If progress wasn’t made, then Bob would shift his experiment to change either the line of questions or to an engagement experiment. As Bob get better at leaving a line of open inquiry in his emotional process, he is able to change his “I” story.
Engagement experiment example
IF he chooses an engagement experiment, Bob may decide that his anger in traffic is 8 of 10 but he will adopt a behavioral change. Every time someone cuts him off in traffic, he will say “After you. You seem to be in a hurry.” At first, Bob may feel silly, but eventually, he starts to anticipate when people are being rude on the road, and by giving them permission he realizes that he both feels good about being nice, but also that the other drivers aren’t really aware of him and so isn’t driving with intent to harm or upset Bob. At the end of the week, he reports his anger 4 of 10, and a few funny stories of how silly he feels when waving his hand giving an unsuspecting rude driver the right of way.
It is through addressing the thought and behavioral processes in experiments that we can build competencies to engage with our internal and external world confidently instead of through fear-based decision making. This allows the individual to create a good set of skills to keep internal and external homeostasis instead of struggling with compensation strategies that eventually fail to keep equilibrium and cause mental distress.
It is important to note that the Observational (Buddhist) Intervention Model stress that mental wellness is a “progress not perfection” therapy. It focuses on addressing small solutions to develop skills and tools to create greater senses of well-being. So instead of addressing larger issues of overall happiness or depression as an ultimate goal, it addresses manageable problems that can be worked on. How do you walk a thousand miles? One step at a time. That is not to say that there isn’t an overall goal that should not be evaluated, but a recommendation is not to look for a measure of illness (how depressed are you?) or emotion (how happy are you) but to look for solutions of thriving (how satisfied with your life now?).