Project Semicolon - A Year Later

Project #semicolonEDU has a new poster! It’s almost a year ago that I got my tattoo and blogged about it for the Huffington Post.

In the introduction to James Kingsland's recently published book Siddhartha's Brain Kingsland quotes Ajahn Amaro, the abbot at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery saying "We are all mentally ill."

What Kingsland infers was that Ajan Amaro’s comment was shorthand for what the Buddha described as “Dukkha” (suffering):

"…in Buddhist philosophy, a human being is not considered completely sane until he or she has become fully enlightened. Buddhists believe the mechanism of the human mind is faulty, like a clock running too fast or too slow. No matter how rational or mentally fit we believe ourselves to be, much of our lives is spent obsessing about our social and professional standing, about getting sick and growing old, yearning for more of this and less of that, chewing over our faults and those of other people."

For most of us, this is on a continuum ("normal") and not worthy of putting us somewhere in the DSM (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.) What Kingsland does brilliantly in Siddhartha's Brain is connect the dots between current research in Neuroscience, and psychiatry with Buddhism.

We got semicolon tattoos for other people to see, hopefully promoting a conversation about mental health that would lead to greater understanding, compassion and less stigma for those of us suffering with mental illness.

My attitude regarding my tattoo was more selfish. I wanted it there for me to see. For me to be more compassionate toward myself, and the challenges I have faced for most of my life.

Over this last year, I have taken a different direction that not only has been guided by books like Siddhartha's Brain, and Dr. Daniel Segal's work referencing neuroscience, but also by renewing my interest in Buddhism, meditation, and yoga.

Over years of therapy and even during hospitalization's for treating my depression, what both the therapist and I worked with was my brain, reason, logic etc.. Analysis. If there were strong emotions, fear, anxiety, panic, anger, self-loathing and even suicidal ideation, we went after it with words...talking, talking and more talking. And when that was not enough, there were anti-depressants and Valium.

Inspired and instigated by his Holiness the Dali Lama, Neuroscience and Psychiatry are putting the Buddha on the couch and Buddhism, not under a microscope, but into fMRI machines. What can Buddhism, Yoga and other ancient wisdom traditions teach us about the human condition, existential angst, mental illness and how to end suffering... Dukkha?

For me, it's turning out to be a very quiet revolution. Breathing and not talking. Listening not to words but to my heart both when it is singing lullabies and when it is raging. What are feelings without labels and judgments, where are they in my body and what can they teach me about who I am and maybe who we all are. Like the semicolon, there is more I have to say.. Stay tuned.

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