Not Quite Zen, But Getting There


Seven years ago, while in a lot of distress, I entered a program of therapy called DBT, which emphasized concepts from Buddhism. It literally saved my life.

Now, I am nowhere near a Zen master. I don’t float through my day on a cloud of insightful awareness. In fact, I often forget to practice my skills and then find myself scrambling to resurrect them in tough situations. (Just being honest here.)

But DBT gave me a “toolbox” of possible strategies for dealing with uncomfortable emotions that I can open and choose from when times get rough. For instance, I can breathe deeply and mindfully observe what’s going on around me without judgment. (A lot harder than it sounds!) Or I can come to a place of radical acceptance that what’s happening right now just is, and fighting that fact only results in needless suffering. (Also a lot harder than it sounds, and a difficult concept to get behind. I frequently asked my therapists, “Does radical acceptance mean believing that what’s happening is OK and doesn’t need to change? What about injustice?” They assured me that radically accepting is NOT the same thing as excusing or condoning.)

While I’m not an actual Buddhist, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the lessons Buddhism and DBT have taught me. If you are struggling with self-harm urges or emotional disregulation in your life, and find that other therapeutic approaches haven’t been working for you, I highly recommend you look into it.

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