When we face mental health issues, how can we deal with them spiritually and what can we learn from it?
Duration: 11 min
Transcribed by: Suresh Gupta
Question: When we face issues related to mind, how can we deal with them spiritually and what can we learn from such experiences?
Answer: When mind gets filled with anxiety or negativity, it is for us to recognize that we protect ourselves. Just like if some people are sensitive to cold then they take necessary precaution by wearing warm clothes or avoiding exposure to air-conditioners, similarly, for mental issues we need to recognize them proactively and take necessary precautions to protect ourselves.
Physical vulnerability is generally accepted by people as part of the body but mental weakness is somehow perceived as a character flaw – “I should not be mentally weak”, “Why I am not mentally strong” etc. We should understand that just as by our past karma we are given a particular body, similarly we are also given a particular mind. Just like we learn to live with vulnerabilities of a body, similarly, we can learn to live with the vulnerabilities of a mind. For example, if there are certain provoking situations where we are vulnerable, we can identify where the danger zone is and timely pull ourselves out of it. Let me explain the by an example.
There is an international group called Alcoholics Anonymous. This group helps people recover from addiction to alcohol. To counsel people, they teach them one acronym – HALT. It means, do not become too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, or too Tired. These four are just physical or emotional situations when one is feeling low. When one faces any of these situations, the mind, in an attempt to come out of such lows, succumbs to alcohol. In reality, people may not have a desire for alcohol but these four situations makes them vulnerable and pushes them to alcohol. This example is to illustrate that person who is trying to give up alcohol not only has to stay away from alcohol but also has to stay away from such four situations.
Similarly, each of us have our vulnerabilities which need to be managed. For example, if some people’s negative comments provoke us, we need to keep a safe distance from them. If certain situations create stress on us, then plan in such a way that we do not get involved in such situations. If some such situations are unavoidable, then we can at least try to slow them down so that they do not overwhelm us.
Does our mind behave in a specific way due to our past or present? Generally, whatever happens in our life is the combination of both past and present. For example, consider a situation that there is a small imbalance in my diet and as a result my stomach gets upset. There is one other person eating the same diet but does not have an upset. This is because the other person has a healthy body and I do not have a similar healthy body because of past karma. Both aspects – having imbalance in my present diet and having a vulnerable body due to past karma – decide whether my stomach will be upset or not.
Prabhupada writes in one proport of first canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam that when something happens to us that is beyond our control, then there is nothing to regret. Despite our best efforts, if things are going out of control, then it is because of our past karma. Driving along a slippery road in a bad storm can make a car go off-the-road despite our best efforts to keep it on track. On the other extreme, if we drive carelessly then we can meet an accident even if the road is wide enough and without any traffic. It is important to learn to move onward steadily in one’s bhakti and not get too caught up into discussion of past or present karma. If we cannot find any specific reason in the present then understand that the bad phase in our life is because of past karma, and it will soon get over. How soon we do not know, but let us tolerate as of now (tams titikshasva bharata).
Sometimes difficulties come upon us so that we can see them as opportunities to experience how tough Krishna can make us. Normally, we would have collapsed in some situation but because we took shelter of Krishna, we could endure the difficulty. Such an experience can be a great realisation about how Krishna can toughen us from within. Later in our life, when we look back at our experience from a distance, we may realize that it all happened to me so that I can learn. Sometimes lessons in life are learnt when we see them from a distance because otherwise we would be too emotionally involved in the event to see the bigger picture.
How can we deal with bad events in our life?
If you can find something where you can focus on constructively, for example doing some extra puja chanting stotras, you will show your sincerity to Krishna and he will reciprocate. However, while doing activities to please Krishna for seeking relief, you can also try to find some activities of bhakti which can themselves be a relief irrespective of result they offer. For example, singing or listening to kirtans. This activity can provide you relief through absorption of Krishna. At the same time kirtan is also purifying; it also pleases Krishna. Other examples could be hearing classes from devotees, chanting some specific shlokas, worshiping some specific form of a deity etc. A patient having pain can be given immediate relief by a pain killer but ultimately the cure would come from an antiseptic. Krishna bhakti is like an antiseptic but within bhakti there can be some limbs that can also act as pain killers for immediate relief. We can find an activity which can have both the effects. Sometimes we may go through a bad patch for quite some time so in such times we will need strength to persevere. However, in general, if we practice bhakti then we will be able to overcome our difficulties.