Feeling Blah? Here’s How Buddhism Can Help

(Photo above by Sid Ali / Pexels)

You don’t feel hopeless, but you don’t feel excited about anything and lack focus. You don’t feel drained, but you have no enthusiasm or joy. You just feel meh. This feeling has a name: languishing.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant writes in a recent New York Times article:

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Now that we’re over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, our acute sense of danger may have faded but underlying feelings of dread and uncertainty have lived on. This is what makes languishing so hard to grapple with, as Dr. Grant points out: It’s not depression, but you are certainly not thriving. He writes, “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing—the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either.”

From a Buddhist perspective struggling to take care of our mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor does it mean we are a failure. Buddhism teaches that health challenges can act as a teacher, inspiring us to become stronger, happier people than we were before.

From a Buddhist perspective struggling to take care of our mental health is nothing to be ashamed of.

For example, a physical injury that takes months to heal is a way to develop our perseverance. Even lifelong health challenges can help us understand that happiness is not the absence of problems, but a state of life. We can decide that we will not be defined by a diagnosis and can live a life of genuine happiness and hope.

Of course, if we a suffering with a physical or mental illness, Buddhist practice inspires us to find the courage and wisdom to find the health professionals that can help us. It is never, however, a replacement for professional help.

Here are a few ways Buddhism can help us move past feeling blah and instead thrive in our lives.

Catch Ourselves When We Feel Meh

It can be a cycle: We don’t feel particularly hopeful so we don’t challenge ourselves as much in our daily tasks. Things don’t go as well as a result, and we beat ourselves for it. We then feel even less hope for our future. Without realizing it, we perpetuate a narrative that we are incapable and that things will not get better. This is where chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can truly help.

Buddhist teacher Nichiren described chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a way to “perceive the nature of one’s life.” He writes that the way we see ourselves is often distorted by our negativity and feelings of self-disparagement. It’s almost as if we’re looking into a mirror with lots of dust and rust on it. Chanting is a way to clean off the dirt of our negativity and see our true selves—people of unlimited courage and ability.

Dr. Grant describes how important it is to identify the feeling of languishing in our everyday life. He writes:

We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience.

Chanting can help us see ourselves clearly — we can catch ourselves languishing, accept it and not feel ashamed about it. But while we accept it, we also decide This is not how I want to live my life.

As we chant, we clear away the guilt and sense of dread. We see clearly we are languishing and also clearly see that we have Buddhability. Based on this, we revive our sense of possibility and hope.

Focus on Small Goals

Researchers note that having small goals can help us achieve a state of flow, where we are completely immersed in a meaningful task. Flow is the opposite of languishing, as we feel a sense of purpose and direction.

As we share in A Buddhability Guide to Setting Goals, within each big goal are many smaller, daily goals. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:

Small things matter. Right or wrong, small things accumulate and lead to a major difference in the results. That’s why the best way to achieve your important future goals is to pay careful attention to your minor daily challenges and triumph in each one of them. Nichiren Daishonin writes, ‘If a person cannot manage to cross a moat ten feet wide, how can he cross one that is a hundred or two hundred feet?’ Small challenges, small successes, repeated again and again, become great victories and flower into a life of glorious success.

Nov. 10, 2017, World Tribune

Achieving small goals gives us a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, moving past languishing and toward thriving.

So, feeling blah? It’s ok. Just take the first, tiny step forward.

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