Destructive Emotions: The Dalai Lama's Solution to Negative Impulses

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Destructive Emotions that we read for class is not necessarily up my alley, but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy some aspects of the book. I found myself very interested in the experiments done on Oso. I really like the idea that meditation can be observed at a neurological level. The fact that meditation can physically impact the mind was very surprising to me. I was also surprised that Buddhism has such a close tie with psychology. This is another part of the book that I enjoyed. I don’t know much about Buddhism and I wasn’t necessarily expecting that. I also enjoyed that they went into detail about who the Dalai Lama really is. I had not known this before despite him being such an important figure.

What I didn’t like is that they devoted a whole chapter to singing his praises. I feel as though there is a lot of filler in some of the books and articles we read that either don’t have to do with psychology, or they do and the statements can be compressed into a more compact and more effective sentence or paragraph. It can be hard to process information when there is a lot of other things to process.

Reeling it back in, as far as the book’s effectiveness on me, I feel as though I see practices such as meditation, prayer, yoga, and deep breathing as a legitimate interest in the field of psychology. Seeing psychology professionals showing their interest, plus the presentation of some scientific evidence in Chapter 1 of Destructive Emotions helped me to become more receptive to these ideas. I had originally been skeptical of these ‘hippie’ solutions, for lack of a better word. I’ve heard from several people that they enjoy meditation and see it as an effective treatment for distress, but I’ve also met people that absolutely hate it. I found myself in the middle. I find that resting, for me, is an effective coping skill for distress, and meditation, in the context of sitting in one spot and clearing your mind, is very close to that skill. However, the central idea of stillness and nothingness always made me sort of uncomfortable and edgy.

This is probably a very Western response, since productivity is a value in industrially, developed societies. It may be different in Tibet but the book did not go into detail about that besides the fact that it is practice among their monks, which may not accurately represent the rest of the population. Regardless, I find myself more receptive to the legitimacy of its idea and am interested in its application in psychological treatment.

As far as the whole book goes, I felt as though the premise is very interesting, in which Western experts, who essentially have a monopoly on psychological research, go to essentially a psychological expert in his own culture, the Dalai Lama, and ask him questions about his views, distinctly about destructive emotions, which is seen as a pressing issue in Western culture (we don’t like to be in distress).

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I think we can get real insight in what someone else from across the world has to say about things we are working on back in the West. The fact that there is a room of people, face to face, with different backgrounds, education, and ideas, swapping information and later publishing it for more people to consume makes it, indeed, cross-cultural. Of course, there are inherent biases in the reading. Obviously, the people inside the book have an appreciation for the Dalai Lama and are receptive to his ideas. I could foresee a reluctance to thinking critically both in the face of a very influential figure. However, I don’t think the idea of the book is to analyze the answers that are given to us, but rather to actively listen.

Another piece we read recently was the articles on the reproducibility of psychological experiments. It was pointed out in class that the work was sloppily done; there were more than 100 people working on the study, not everyone got their work done, and there was a small amount of time to conduct the experiments. The exact details of each experiment were not mentioned. Therefore, I find the study to be irrelevant and unprofessional. It was also mentioned in class that humans are unpredictable and fast-changing creatures. Women in the 1950s would react differently to women in the 1990s and onwards in various situations as the expectations and ideologies of the female culture have changed. The same is true for men and any other group.

Not only is Western culture changing, but there are cultures that are different than ours out there that are morphing as well. Someone from a collectivist society may react to a conformity experiment differently than someone from an individualist society, and so forth. In an idyllic world it would be valuable to go out and do extensive research on all cultures to analyze their values, normal behaviors, and cultural ideas, so that everyone had a better understanding of who they are in a psychological sense based on their culture. However, this would be way too expensive and would eventually become irrelevant once the cultures start shifting again.

In one of the videos we watched for class, we saw a man from Bali who heard spirits in his head. The blame of the spirits is a culturally based idea. Spirits are part of almost every culture in the world, however, it would be very unlikely that, if there was no lore surrounding spirits in this particular man’s region, than he would not blame these voices on them, because he wouldn’t know what they were. The same goes for the accusation of witchcraft brought upon by the medicine doctor. If the Bali people didn’t know what witches or witchcraft was, they could not use it as a diagnosis. Aside from well-spread lore such as spirits and witches, the idea of family ties is also strong idea found around the world. His wife and children stay connected with the Bali man despite the frustration surrounding his illness. Some cultures and some individual people have different ideas on how to handle mentally ill people and if it is justifiable to abandon them.

The Bali man sought several forms of treatment during filming. He visited several traditional medicine men, but also visited a psychologist that seems to be familiar with Western ideas of psychology. She diagnoses him with schizophrenia and gives him medication, which is a common Western practice for psychologists. Other western psychologists would be likely to interpret his spirits as schizophrenia. After various treatment, the Bali man and his family found themselves most skeptical of traditional medicine, especially his wife, and more receptive to Western medicine. However, in the end, the man found out how to treat himself with his own personal regimen, which is usually not the case for many, at least in the West. This was very surprising for me.

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