Some 100+ years ago Freud, and then Yung, Skinner, George Kelly were inventing, or reinventing psychological terms. it was cutting edge at the time, but slowly the terms have seeped into common understanding and useage.
Do you know what an ‘ego’ is? Actually the term has changed since Freud used it mean the rational side of the being that can ‘delay gratification’. It creeps into many Dhamma talks, even though the Buddha had no equivalent. He did not have or use the concept of an ‘ego’.
When you say someone ‘gets defensive’ it is a quite natural assumption that this is simply English. But the ‘Defense Mechanisms’ was an idea introduced by Freud – and one of his better ones. Many people will even have a good idea what ‘Passive Aggressive’ means.
What about when someone is ‘projecting’ or ‘projecting on to … ‘ – you should have a fair idea of the meaning. “Denial” – it should be obvious right? Yet denial is one of Freud’s defense mechanisms and before him, you will be hard pressed to find anyone every talk about denial (other than the one in Egypt of course). ‘Constructs’, ‘conditioning’, subconscious/unconscious – all these are common terms and ideas that were simply not around over 100 years ago, in any recognisable form.
As psychological terms seep into common language, they also appear in modern Dhamma talks. Some teachers talk comfortable about ‘letting go of the ego’ as if the Buddha himself had thought of the idea. They talk about allowing emotions to be, without attaching (Buddhist term) or repressing (psychological term). Some teachers even denounce psychology as inferior, or lot leading to liberation, yet superimpose many terms and concepts from psychology on to dhamma.
But now we are seeing another set of ideas seeping into the mainstream lexicon. Those of Vipassana, or insight meditation. While the Pali terms might be abandoned, the awareness on a society level of basic Vipassana practises has grown steadily over the last 10 or 20 years. There is now the idea that you can experience an emotion without attaching. That you can ‘let go’ of a feeling after you are willing to ‘allow it to be there’ and to ‘look at it’. And the term ‘mindfulness’ has grown far beyond its Buddhist roots, into the common awareness.
Vipassana is a lexicon of surrender. It takes people back towards their own direct experience of emotions, thoughts and feelings, and away from idealistic concepts. In a world that is the safest and richest that it has ever been, the teaching of surrender (vosagga in the pali) falls on fertile ground.
Below are the words of one famous person who has had breast cancer. Even faced with her own mortality, she was able to turn attention inwards, and learn acceptance. Not too many years ago, anyone in this position would have been a ‘fighter’ or defeated by the illness. Things are changing as these ideas from Buddhism, psychology and other spiritual sources, infiltrate into the common understanding. This particular person has no special alignment to Buddhism, or any other religion in particular.
The entire experience was a real source of remembering who I am. It was about looking at my life and realigning it. Every experience you have where life comes to a screeching halt dictates that you take a refresher course on who you came in as. I was someone who could never say no. I had to learn to say no, I had to learn to be OK with not everyone liking me because I was a people-pleaser, a caretaker, and I had to unlearn that.
The first thing I had to learn how to do was to sit, be quiet and hold an emotion, and not to do that thing of staying busy and not thinking about it, because you wind up not experiencing the lesson. So I allowed myself to grieve, to feel scared, and I came out of it feeling like I’d been liberated.