Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Part 3: Christianity and Buddhism: The Difference in Narratives Makes a Difference

posted by Linda Mintle

I began this series with an introduction to The Christian Practice of Mindfulness. in Part 2, I discussed why Christians are attracted to Buddhism. Part 3 is an explanation of the differences of the narratives, which makes a difference. Part 4 is an ending summary and call to the church.

While similarities between Buddhism and Christianity can be found in terms of their morals and ethics, there are striking differences in the underlying narratives. The atonement narrative of Christianity asserts God as transcendent creator who brought harmony to his created world. When humans sinned, alienation from God resulted and a redemptive sacrifice was necessary to lead the restoration between God and his creation. The biblical narrative of creation, fall and redemption is as Richard Payne notes, “…a description of the past, present and future and a way of interpreting life and history and the individual.” [1] It also, as cultural psychologist Suzanne Kirshner points out, informed western development of modern psychoanlysis in terms of its conceptualization of growth and the self. Secular psychology changed “alienation from God” to “alienation from the true self.”[2] And while therapists like Jung and Rogers discussed the false self, the Buddhist notion of self is radically different. There is no self apart from moment to moment arising and ceasing. Self or ego is an illusion.

In Buddhism, there is no transcendent creator who created the world. There is no Garden of Eden or fall of humanity in need of a personal Savior who can save and atone for sin. The world simply exists with no beginning and no ending. Life as we know it is full of an endless cycle of suffering which is caused by attachments to and cravings for worldly pleasure. The self is nothing more than a delusion and is the cause of unhappiness. Suffering ends when cravings cease and all delusions are eliminated. When this is experienced, enlightenment is reached. Buddha, the enlightened one, shows us the path to this awakening.

The contrast between Buddhism and Christianity are many:

  • Buddhism teaches many lives through reincarnation; Christianity teaches resurrection and one life that will continue in eternity.
  • Buddhism teaches there is no self; Christianity espouses a true self that is reborn through conversion. God is a person and a self.
  • In Buddhism, one develops compassion and loving kindness in order to be liberated; In Christianity, charity and love are the results of being in relationship with the liberator.
  • Buddhists sit with suffering and have the goal of eliminating it; Christians desire to be transformed by suffering and see it as inescapable in a fallen world.
  • Buddhists want to extinguish passion and desire; Christians promotes a life of passion in total surrender to God that fulfill the desires of the heart.
  • Buddhists construct reality in the moment; Scripture admonishes us to attend to the present, to not worry about what tomorrow will bring and to be anxious about nothing but to also look toward a restored future in which good will triumph evil.
  • Buddhism promotes self-effort; Christianity promotes total reliance on God.
  • Buddhists believe Budda works to guide and teach; Christians believe in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Buddhists believe the purpose of life is to end suffering; Christians believe the purpose of life is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength.
  • In Buddhism, truth is constructed or developed over time and is the middle of two extremes known as the Middle Way. In Christianity, truth is absolute and found in Christ.

In sum, Buddhism provides a way for people to engage in spirituality without having to contend with a personal God. Fate is believed to be in one’s control and growth comes through self-effort. From a Christian perspective, Buddhism commits the original sin—to go one’s own way apart from God.

 


[1] Individualtion and Awakening: Romantic narrative and the psychological interpretation of Buddhism by Richard Payne pp. 31-51 from Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures: Essays on Therories and Practices by Mark Unno, Editor (2006). Wisdom Publishing Co

[2] Kirschner, S. The religious and romantic orgins of modern pscyholanalaysis. (1996) Cambridge University Press.

Parent Alienation Syndrome

posted by Linda Mintle

In the 1980s, a forensic psychiatrist coined the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to describe the efforts of one parent to turn his or her children against the other. The syndrome involves deliberate mental and emotional abuse that can occur among highly conflictual couples who fight over custody.

The result is a child who harbors tremendous negativity towards a parent that is not based on actual experience with that parent.

It is a phenomena familiar to divorce attorneys who listen to endless cycles of accusations and counter accusations between spouses in child-custody disputes. PAS pits one parent against the other, the good and evil parent. When it works, the children also turn against the maligned parent.

The motivation behind PAS is usually rooted in poor coping from the failed marriage. Instead of a spouse engaging in healthy grieving for the loss of the marriage, the spouse goes after the spouse and engages the children in the battle. The spouse feels so damaged from the breakup, that enlisting the children in the anger and blame of the other serves as a way to further the blame. Or the spouse who vilifies feels so rejected and alone, turns to the children for nurturing and a source of support, even companionship. What emerges is a “we against the world” position. Instead of owning his or her part of the divorcing conflict, the spouse blames the other in a self-righteous way to protect the children.

Whatever the dynamics in play, the end result is poor conflict management and  children suffering the effects of parents who can’t cooperate on their behalf. Children are left with fears, confusion, sadness, and despair because parents can’t work through their disputes. The way conflict is handle destroys relationships and devastates children. Parents manipulate and use their children to get revenge.

Custodial parents are charged by the law to avoid any disruptions with the child’s other parent, yet, time and time, we see this syndrome acted out. This needs to stop for the sake of the children.

 

Why The Biggest Loser Loses Me

posted by Linda Mintle

I’ve worked with obese people for years. My biggest client weighed almost 650 pounds, so I am sensitive to the plight of people who are morbidly obese. But I just can’t get into the Biggest Loser television show and here is why.

1) I’ve never worked with an obese person and yelled at him or her. In real life, I can’t imagine what this does to a person’s self-esteem that is already fragile. It bothers me to hear and see it.

2) We want people to learn to enjoy exercise so that they can sustain it as a lifestyle. Exercising until you vomit or are injured will not endure people to exercise. In fact, I just wrote a blog on how over exertion can lead to a person hating exercise.

3) It bothers me to see people on a scale, half dressed, waiting to see a number that defines their success. This doesn’t work for me, so I can’t imagine how it would for these people. Part of counseling people with weight problems is helping them understand that they are more than a number on a scale. This show only reinforces the opposite.

4) The  journal, Obesity, published a study that concluded that people, especially thin people, who watch The Biggest Loser tend to judge the obese more harshly. You would think that people would be more sympathetic towards the contestants seeing them work hard and connecting to their lives. Researchers think the negativity is because the show leads people to believe that losing weight is completely in the control of the obese. Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. told WebMD this, “The real reality is that significant, sustainable weight loss is not achievable for most people.” Rudd was not a part of the study but knows from her research that most people sustain about 10% of their body weight in weight loss.

5) Years later, most of these people regain the weight. Remove the trainers, the diet control and all the support, and weight loss maintenance remains the toughest thing for obese people to do.

So while The Biggest Loser might provide entertainment for many, it’s too bothersome for me.

 

 

Source: Domoff, S. Obesity, Jan. 12, 2012.Miller, C. “The Impact of Viewing the Reality TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ on Attitudes Towards Obese People.” National Obesity Summit, Montreal PQ, April 2011.

Now I Know Why I Hate Exercise!

posted by Linda Mintle

I saw this story yesterday in the Wall Street Journal on exercise and I had to write about it. Finally, something that made sense in terms of why I hate to exercise!

Like you, I know the importance of exercise. It has so many benefits–controlling weight and maintaing weight loss, helps prevent strokes, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancers, arthritis and falls. It improves mood and boosts energy and I always feel better AFTER I do it. But can I just say that nothing in me gets excited about exercise. Who has time for it? I only do it because I am a grown up. And grown ups do things that are good for them, even when they don’t enjoy those things.

But too many of us are not forcing ourselves up from the couch. Only 3.5% of 20-59 year olds get the recommended amount of exercise!

And baby boomers, well, we are just embarrassing. 52% of us get NO physical activity. Zero! Zip!

So let’s talk biology and how that influences the lovers and haters, of exercise that is!

Apparently, we all have a physical capacity for exertion. New research is confirming the idea that if you push beyond your exertion range too quickly or too much, you can hate exercise. The biology part has to do with how carbon dioxide and oxygen work together. When the balance isn’t good–excessive carbon dioxide is released–the body gets stressed. And when your body feels stressed, you don’t like it. People have different thresholds. If you have a high threshold for exertion like Olympians must have, you enjoy the exercise better than someone who gets exhausted watering the plants.

Experts suggest that if we don’t exercise, use tricks like listening to music, exercising in nature, watching TV (while exercising of course) etc.  When we go beyond our exertion point, feeling bad happens anyway. This means we have to stick with exercise so we can push our limit. In other words, don’t give up because it doesn’t feel good at the moment.

One other point is this: How you react and interpret a physical workout influences your love for it. For example, if you see yourself sweating and breathing hard and think, “This is good, I am getting fit,” versus “Oh my gosh, what am I doing to myself?” you will probably hate exercise less.

Bottom line:

1) Don’t push yourself too fast–do something you like that doesn’t hurt too much. If you are a couch potato, don’t start exercising by scaling a mountain.

2) Make it fun. Do exercise with others. This sure helps my motivation.

3) Find something you are good at. I think my cheerleading days are over here at mid life. Don’t think I could hit a back handspring these days. But, Pilates, yes, I can manage those moves.

4) Use the tricks–I can only do the treadmill or stair machines if I have a TV and music to distract me. Thank goodness someone thought to attach those to my machines at the Y.

OK grown ups, get off the couch. You know what to do!

 

Source: Wall Street Journal, Personal Journal, Tuesday February 19, 2013. 

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