By Anker Fanoe
“Knowing others is wisdom; knowing the self is enlightenment; mastering others requires force; mastering the self requires strength.” Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching
It was not until I first moved away to college that my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) truly took me hostage. My mind became my personal bully, constantly rattling off insecurities, doubts, and harmful thoughts. I could no longer function properly on a daily basis. Nobody should have to feel so beat up and imprisoned within their own head that they contemplate suicide as an escape.
Despite feeling that everything was hopeless, I enrolled in my first college course. As an English major, I chose a class that would deal heavily with philosophy and ancient literatures. At first, it seemed nothing would come of it (who is this guy named Gilgamesh, and why is he so important?) As the semester wore on, however, I found a pair of texts that would help me to climb out of my self-imprisonment; in the unassuming pages of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, I discovered how to alleviate my OCD.
First, the Tao Te Ching. Initially, this ancient Chinese work may seem simple – almost a parody in itself of the classic Buddhist teachings, possibly due to its minimalist structure and serene nature. Yet, beneath the effortless and undemanding exterior lies an enlightening and meditative interior. For someone with OCD and anxiety, the impact of its teachings cannot be overstated. In the small yet incredibly rewarding chapters of the book, it is possible to form a belief that openly combats the bully in your head. Its main ideas center around the importance of the individual, self-reflection, and mindfulness.
Ultimately, the Tao Te Ching prioritizes inner-peace, which I believe is an invaluable asset to anyone struggling with OCD. After reading its wonderful lessons, I came to realize the importance of peace of mind when living with OCD. For example, I made it a habit to simply stop and feel my immediate surroundings in order to attain tranquility. Committing time to focusing on the senses – a cool breeze, a sweet scent, or a beautiful sight – helped significantly in deterring damaging compulsions, thoughts, and anxieties. Moreover, I started to understand the importance of total self-control and the beautiful simplicity within a ‘less is more’ mentality. I tried my best to do away with fruitless desires and tendencies, which allowed me to feel completely in control of my mind. Immediately, it felt like a heavy weight was lifted. I believed in something, and it was a belief that empowered me to understand myself and control the intrusive thoughts. Soon afterwards, my obsessions began to increasingly take less of a hold over my life.
Second, the Bhagavad Gita. At first glance, this Hindu piece of literature can come off as impenetrable and confusing. However, I urge anyone struggling to stick with it. The book deals with major ideals pertinent to OCD: desire and the processes of self-discipline – both of which are referred to as Bhakti, and Pratyhara, respectively. The Bhagavad Gita states: “The mind acts like an enemy for those who do not control it.” In controlling the mind, one must find their essential core values in Bhakti (desire): people we love, things we cherish, etc., as well as Pratyhara (self-control in meditation). Ever since I put these ideals into practice, I have found myself further alleviated from the clutches of OCD. Mediation clears my mind and gives me much greater control over myself and the OCD. I have found that an obsessions’ grip loses strength in the face of daily mindfulness and meditation.
Both the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita have changed my life. They have both helped me to possess strength in the presence of a formidable opponent. Perhaps most importantly, they taught me to live in the moment and to enjoy my immediate surroundings; even a quick glance towards the skies can put things into perspective, minimizing and demystifying the anxious, destructive cycle. Although I certainly still have intrusive thoughts, very rarely do they captivate me as they once did. I have found the control and courage necessary to not engage with my bully.
Practice and self-discipline are needed, but with time, anyone can do it. As a mechanism of learning to live with and control my OCD, these texts have been priceless.
Anker Fanoe is a 19-year-old sophomore at UC Santa Cruz. He lives in Santa Cruz, California with his girlfriend, Maddie.