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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
77 SPRING 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly be very helpful for anxiety, depression, and many other psy- chological ills, especially those that are stress-related. Other essential lifestyle ingredients include social and spiritual sup- port, time spent in nature, body work, and a good diet. In fact, dietary fish-oil supplements can be very helpful with depres- sion, and possibly a wide range of other mental (and physical) health disorders as well. Are there “spiritual side effects” or complications from anti- depressant use? Our study did not detect any. However, this was a small study, and larger ones may well detect subtle spiri- tual costs, and perhaps more subtle benefits as well. Some prac- titioners, not in our study, complained of problems that could be termed spiritual side effects, particularly of being distanced from their feelings. In fact, one of us, Roger Walsh, discovered something similar when he was given the SSRI Zoloft to treat a gastric disorder (antidepressants have many uses in addition to treating depression). Though no side effects emerged while doing vipassana, during a metta retreat he found that the drug inhibited the powerful positive emotions of happiness, joy, and love usually elicited by this practice. In fact, his observation provided the original motivation for doing our research. There may well be other subtle spiritual and psychological side effects from antidepressants (and other medications) that have yet to be identified. This simply confirms the classic wisdom that all treat- ments—medical, psychological, and spiritual—can have side effects and unexpected complications. There are no free thera- peutic lunches; all treatment decisions involve weighing costs and benefits. However, it is crucial to realize that it can be far more costly not to treat a disorder than to treat it. Our small study, combined with other research, clinical observation, and patient reports, seems to indicate that many spiritual practitioners suffering from depression can benefit both spiritually and psychologically from the appropriate use of antidepressants. More generally, spiritual practitioners suffering from a variety of psychological disorders may ben- efit from judicious use of multiple therapies, including psy- chotherapy and medication. Trying to tough it out and heal oneself with spiritual practice alone may not only prolong unnecessary suffering, but also lead to greater risk of relapse, chronicity, and complications. Being willing to face the unavoidable pains of life is often a sign of courage and wisdom. Nonetheless, being unwilling to use effective therapies to relieve unnecessary pains may be a sign of misunderstanding, and of a spiritual superego run amuck. After all, Buddhist psychology regards happiness and joy as healthy, beneficial, spiritual qualities, and discourages subjecting oneself to unnecessary pain as a spiritual path. What we and our troubled world need is to carefully assess and optimally use the unprecedented array of therapies now available to us. Only such an open-minded, multipronged approach can hope to address the many sources of suffering, and thereby optimize healing and awakening for us and our world. www.tibetanlanguage.org TIBETAN L ANGUAGE INSTITUTE LEARN TIBETAN Experience the joy of reading your texts and prayers in Tibetan LESSONS with LAMA DAVID CURTIS 16 years’ experience teaching hundreds of students A systematic & fun approach to Tibetan Virtual Group Courses by Te lephone Conference Call in March 2009 Level 1 &Level 2 Courses Reading/Translating Course Private Instruction by Te lephone SUMMER SEMINAR in MONTANA Program designed for Dharma students TIBETAN LEARNING MATERIALS Best-selling Beginners’ Package with Instructional DVDs Beautiful Tibetan Language Wo rkbooks For more info, complete online bookstore, free study aids, etc., see our website “Learning Tibetan from David Curtis is definitely one of life’s better experiences.” —K.J., VA