Inventor of ADHD’s Deathbed Confession


The German weekly Der Spiegel quoted in its cover story on 2 February 2012 the US American psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg, born in 1922 as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who was the “scientific father of ADHD” and who said at the age of 87, seven months before his death
in his last interview: “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease

Parents, teachers and child educators, you may wish to take a second look at the child under your care.  Are we not giving our children a chance to grow up naturally?  In our attempt to have our child grow up fast enough, study and be more competitive, we are led to believe that our children have a disease when what they really need is some time to grow up.

The consumption of pharmacological agents altered the child’s behavior without any contribution on his or her part.

That amounted to interference in the child’s freedom and personal rights, because pharmacological agents induced behavioral changes but failed to educate the child on how to achieve these behavioral changes independently. The child was thus deprived of an essential learning experience to act autonomously and emphatically which “considerably curtails children’s freedom and impairs their personality development”, the NEK criticized.

Follow the link to read the full article.

Meditation as An Antidote for ADHD 

The above article is about a study on using “Meditation against ADHD”.  In case the link ever fails, just google for “meditation adhd” and you should find a list of articles about the subject.

According to wikipedia, ADHD, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is “a neurobehavioral developmental disorder[1][2][3] affecting about 3-5% of the world’s population under the age of 19″.  If you are living states-side, you would have heard of it for awhile, but if you are in Asia, this may be a new ‘thingie’ in recent years.

As the good doctor prescribed, ADHD is a medical condition (whether neurological, psychological or physiological or XYZlogical) and needs a treatment.  If you have met a child or teenager with ADHD, he/she will tell you that he has inability to learn in class or focus and requires medication, therapy and a special class.  He will also be unable to cope emotionally or intellectually with his peers. He may be frustrated internally, being unable to deal with these problems, and so may exhibit some anger or tantrum, and we should be understanding.

Meeting Michael

I met one such teenager when I was in US.  I was at the Albuquerque airport (ABQ International Sunport), New Mexico picking up a fellow brother monk coming back to the monastery (Fa Yun Monastery) in Taos.  The teenager, let’s call him Michael (not his real name … ok, it’s been years, and I cannot remember! :p), was with his girlfriend and girlfriend’s friend, and was also waiting for a friend to return home.  They got curious and came over to say hello and ask about me being a monk and all.

It is not uncommon to see folks going around in costumes, but still not so common to see someone dressed as a shaven monk wearing chinese garb!  Ok, so I was in my winter robes and brown slip-on sports shoes (try wearing the traditional Chinese monastic shoes/sandals in winter up in the mountain!), and maybe the sunshades got him curious.  In any case, we started talking and I shared with him about Buddhism and stuffs.  He asked about the monastic life of a Buddhist monk and I tipped him in on the daily practices we did.

The chat came around to meditation and we decided to just do a short one there and then in the airport. Guiding them through like 5~10 mins of meditation, we stopped and shared their experiences of it.  Interestingly, the girlfriend and her friend both felt calm and were able to focus on their breath fairly well except for occasional drifting away of the mind.  Michael on the other hand, felt that his mind was constantly on the run and was unable to focus much.  He did however observe the breath for awhile in the session of meditation.  Then he shared that his ADHD condition prevents him from focusing and so he is unable to meditate.

What is Normal?

If you are unable to focus like Michael did, you may feel inept to meditate.  You may even feel that you have a medical condition such as ADHD where you are not able to focus like ‘normal’ people.  Guess what?  ‘Normal’ people can mostly focus for awhile before drifting away into their thoughts as well.  If you
cannot focus easily, I think you are quite normal.

In schools, the “in phrase” nowadays is “short attention span”.  The solution?  Shorter lessons with breaks in between so that the students can focus.  Come again?  Let me draw a parallel.  You go for yoga class.  The yoga instructor goes through the sets with you but after a few sessions, you tell him that it’s too tough.  So she skips the difficult poses for you.  After a few sessions, you still tell him that it’s too difficult.  She stops asking you to stretch yourself or to maintain those poses beyond a few seconds while others maintain them for minutes when required.  This continues until you are just lying down on the yoga mat for the whole session.  Ah … now you can do yoga without breaking a sweat nor feel any stretch.  Is that still yoga?

The solution to have shorter session may produce short term results.  Students may appear to be able to focus, and indeed they can, within their limited ability to focus, their ability to sustain their interest.  But doing this does nothing to improve or extend their focus.  You don’t become better at something by lowering the bar.  You stretch yourself and apply effort to improve.  You strengthen your mental strength to focus in class.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The mass media is tuned to tap into whatever little attention span we have, in order to sell us things.  News network sell us political and social ideas, advertisements sell us products while tv and movies sell us entertainment.  Even documentaries or science programmes are perpetuating this cycle to ever shorter attention span.  I remember documentaries that go for an hour with one or two commercial breaks.  Documentaries with stuffs, made to educate and open up our minds.  Most of these are gone now.  In their place are popular tv science shows.  In our whole society’s frenzy into making a dime out of everything, even science shows have to vie for viewership!  In the end, we have 30 mins shows with 15 mins of advertisements and 10 mins of content repeated in fragments throughout the timeslot.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The way to slow down this trend and possibly reverse it has to come from ourselves.  We have to start.  And having shorter of everything is not helping.  Books -> magazines -> web sites -> blogs -> 140char tweets … have we really come down to this?

No, I will write long articles with long sentences.  That was short!  Now even longer sentences are seen as taboo and unreadable by some.  We must realise our march towards the cliff and turn this around before we start communicating only in bits of 1s and 0s.  *yikes*

Start meditating today.

Learn to focus, training the mind gradually.  Learn to be ok with the ‘boring’ breath.  Remember, this ‘boring’ breath is what keep us alive!  And while we meditate, the ‘monkey mind’ can be our source of reminder to be mindful.  When it leaps around, grasping onto this and that, we learn to watch it and not identify with it.  Observe the present tendency for it to move.  Note it.  Gently apply effort to observe the bodily sensation of the breathing itself, be it the contact of the breath with the nose-tip, the chest, or the abdomen.

When we get bored, don’t just think “I’m so bored, this is so boring”.  Recognise how “boredom” feels like.  Boredom is actually active as well.  It drives us to want to do something.  It can become the cause or intention to do something else.  Out of boredom, if we are not mindful, our mind may unconsciously think of this and that.  Or it may come as an urge or impulse to move.  That’s causality, that’s normal.  We don’t have to be frustrated or to give up.  Instead, challenge ourselves this way.  What if we don’t act on the impetus arising?  What if instead of just succumbing to boredom, we just watch it, note it but not act on it.  See what happens?  We don’t have
to act on every single impulse or urge that arise in us do we?

Many have tried and succeeded, and so can you.  If only you apply effort and try.  Over time, we can conquer boredom, recognising it as merely another mental formation that we do not have to identify with or act upon.  Mindfulness becomes strengthened and attention span longer.

But don’t think it’s easy.  No, it’s not. Like doing yoga, it is harder to stretch ourselves compared to simply laying on the mat and sleeping (not the sleeping yoga!).  Meditation initially will require us to apply effort and it is not easy or trivial but the fruits will be long term welfare and benefit.

Stop ADHD today!  Start meditating!

Righting A Wrong: Faith & Atonement

There is an EIF dialogue session on Saturday, 23rd October 2010 and I was invited to participate.  Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the dialogue, so I decided to pen down my thoughts in relation to the suggested discussion points and share them with the participants and on this blog.

Faith & Atonement

I’ll go with the two definitions of atonement and move on from there:

1. Amends or reparations made for an injury or wrong;
2. Reconciliations or an instance of reconciliation between God and humanity.

When I first read it, I zoomed into the part of reconciliation between God and humanity.
Throughout history, humans have worshipped and prayed to multitudes of God(s). However, Buddhist do not have a belief in creator God(s). Hence, there is no concept to receive reconciliation between God and humanity. Some may posit that Buddhists merely replace “God” with “Buddha” and draw arbitrary delineations to differentiate themselves. Consequently, some think that Buddhists worship Buddha and seek forgiveness from him, in order to not incur his wrath. In fact, it cannot be further from the truth.

We may perhaps first examine how wrong or injury can occur. It can occur if say, harm or injury were inflicted or it could occur if certain rules are broken. Many times, the two coincide, other times, they diverge.

eg, it is illegal to park along the road at certain hours or not at all. No one may be harmed in a sense, but a breach of the law has occurred.

Another example I like to share is wearing of seat belts. Some people dislike seat belts and wear them only when absolutely needed, and takes them off whenever they can. As some say in Singapore (or worldwide?), “just don’t get caught”. The funny thing about this rule is that, even if you don’t get caught by the traffic police, getting caught in an accident would result in harm nonetheless.

So we can see that sometimes rules and harm coincide and sometimes don’t.

In Buddhism, if you harmed someone, the best thing to do is to seek forgiveness from the person or group we harmed. We have a joke about asking Buddha for forgiveness after slapping someone. Nope, not gonna work. Apologising to the person involved is the most
direct way of atonement and of gaining closure on the matter.

In the case of a breach of Buddhist precepts, it is not a breach against the Buddha, but against ourselves. Consequently, Buddhists in a way do not really apologise to the Buddha. Let’s take a look at Buddhist precepts to understand better.

Buddhist precepts are training rules taken up voluntarily to help us change and become better. It is like a person with high blood pressure prescribed a ‘precept’ of not taking too much salt and oil. If he take a lot of salt and oil, would the doctor be angry? Would he need to apologise to the doctor? I think the doctor would not be angry (ok, some may!), but may feel sorry for the patient, for the patient is the one who is being harmed, and not the doctor. Out of compassion, the doctor may rebuke him and suggest for ways that the patient may adopt a healthier diet, but in the end, it is still up to the patient to adopt the diet, and to follow through with it.

So when Buddhist did something against the precepts, they are really doing something against themselves and others (where their actions also harm others), and not the Buddha. Just like the doctor in the above analogy, the Buddha do not get angry with people for doing wrong things. Instead, He feels compassion for us, for He sees clearly the harm that we do to ourselves and others by breaching the precepts.

Hence ‘atonement’ is not so much an apology or seeking reconciliation from the Buddha, but ‘atonement’ refers more towards the steps we take to right the wrong.
This consist of (1) confession 忏, (2) repentance 悔 and (3) aspiration 发愿. (Some communities may develop this further and hence be more comprehensive).

In Buddhism, if we do some wrong, the first step is to (1) confess the deed, (2) recognise that our deed was (2a) harmful, was wrong, ignoble, blame-worthy, unworthy, and hence, should be (2b) abandoned, removed, eradicated etc. We should, having recognised the wrong, then (3) make a firm resolve not to repeat it. But easier said than done. So, within the Buddhist text, there are very comprehensive teachings, outlining how the human psyche ticks and what triggering factors lead to others that inclines towards harmful actions that are driven by greed, anger and delusion.

Follow-up Steps
We then (1) practise distancing from triggering factors while (2) applying reflections, contemplations and other practices that transform our perception of the triggering factors so that future contact with it do not lead to the same actions. Meanwhile, we also (3) strengthen mindfulness so that if (1) fails and we encounter the trigger before we have mastered (2), then mindfulness can kick in and prevent a repeat of our earlier actions. (4) Applying proper attention is also most useful while we distant ourselves. Why preoccupy ourselves with something that upsets us?

In modern day Buddhism, repentance puja (chants) are recited as part of a devotional practice that encompasses the above steps. These may be done infront of the Buddha’s image as a reminder of our spiritual direction, towards this state of perfection, Nirvana, that is humanly possible and attained by the Buddha, the Arahants and Enlightened Bodhisattvas. Where possible, confession and repentance is also done with one’s guidance teacher who knows our habits, both good and bad, and knows our tendencies and inclinations. In this way, done methodologically, it can lighten the emotional burden of wrong, while developing the mind so that we can practise restrain and not repeat our mistakes again and again.

These steps leading to an eradication of harmful actions is the full ‘atonement’ of that wrong, a full purification of that wrong.

Good news is that while difficult, it is humanly possible.

Happy thoughts! ^_^

One, … Two, … Three …. Yum! or Learning to Wait

For a while now, whenever I am invited for a meal at my parents’ place, I would play a little game with my niece and nephews.  I would give them a cookie or bread or something, but before I give them, I would hover infront of their mouth and count to them “One, … Two, … Three … ” before they get their treat.

My point to my sisters (mothers of my experiments) is that kids these days are too conditioned towards instant gratification.  My count down approach is what I think would train them to learn to wait.  Interestingly, my niece J would wait patiently, even when I sometimes delay the count down with 2.5, 2.75 etc … she (four years old now) would giggle and know that I am playing with her.  My nephew R started off being rather haughty, refusing to open his mouth when I start the countdown.  Granted, he is 1+ years younger than J, so perhaps he is slowly developing patience.  Furthermore, the mental development of boys and girls are known to start at different ages.

Today, I read an interesting article about just that.

Don’t! – The secret of self-control. by Jonah Lehrer

In the article, there is mention of a marshmallow experiment conducted to study how kids delay gratification.  An interesting concept highlighted is “metacognition” in which one is knows one’s knowing or thinking.  The ability to be aware of one’s thinking or way of thinking, its implications and to think of ways to deal with it.

“Their desire (for marshmallow) wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

Mental Redirection

The above example is what in Buddhism is commonly known as “轉依所緣境”, or “to change one’s mental focus”.  In meditation, we do that all the time.  When the mind wanders away, or it becomes distracted, we direct it away from the distraction and back to the object of meditation.  In the Mahasi tradition, one do not redirect, but instead channels one’s mindfulness onto the process of distraction, and not the distraction itself.  So, instead of thinking of something, we become mindful of the thinking; instead of pondering about a sound or cough, as to who is the one coughing, why is he coughing, we direct mindfulness to hearing itself.  So this is in a way, still a change in focus, from the subject to the process, from the content to the mechanism.

In 念佛法門, Buddha-nama recitation school, when one’s mind wanders away, we basically redirect the mind back to the Buddha-nama recitation.  Again, it is a redirection.  In the Contemplation of Fouliness, the mind is directed away from sensual visible datum towards the foul aspects of the body, as a direct counter for sense desire.  This is not just redirection, but redirection towards the opposite of the original object.  Such redirection makes use of another characteristic of the mind: that the mind cannot be in opposite states simultaneously.  If the mind is filled with love, it cannot hate; if filled with foul contemplation, lust cannot arise; filled with generosity, one cannot stinge; filled with wholesome, unwholesome thoughts naturally cease.  Hence, the various Buddhist practice of metta-bhavana, foul contemplation, practice of dana and wholesome aspirations.

Mental Transformation & Direct Seeing

Another technique mentioned in the article that resounds with standard practices in Buddhism is to modify the perception or conditioning the kids have of the marshmallow or candy.

But Mischel has found a shortcut. When he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

In the Diamond Sutra, chapter 32, the Buddha said “一切有為法,如夢幻泡影,如露亦如電,應作如是觀” “All conditioned phenomena, is like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, an image (or shadow); like a dew and like a flash of lightning, thus should one reflect and observe”.  The Buddhist technique is broader in ways of application and differs at the later stage.  At the earlier stage, one may not have seen how that is possible, but may adopt the teachings as a new way (Mental Transformation) to look at things, thereby reducing attachment, whereas at the later more developed stage, one truly see (Direct Seeing) that all conditioned phenomena is indeed like a dream, an illusion etc, at which point attachment and craving naturally falls away.

Awareness of Mental Drift

The above list out various techniques that one can develop and use should one’s mind stray away.  Prior to that, it is also important to develop mindfulness so that when the mind should stray or drift, we can know that it has, and not simply be swept along for the ride.

The names may differ, but the act of labelling or mental noting found in the Mahasi tradition, anapanasati (meditation) tradition, Zen meditation tradition or 念佛 Buddha-namanusati method all trains the mind to be aware of the present state.  The object of focus and precise technique may differ, but they all lead to mindfulness of the present state of the mind.  Through these techniques, when the mind wanders away, one is then able to more effectively ‘detect’ the wandering and then apply the appropriate mental counter-measures.  Initially, one’s mind simply get sweep away by the torrents of mental proliferation, but slowly, the mental noting or awareness of this wandering becomes stronger and one’s attention and awareness builds up.  It takes time and practice, but it does get better as one proceed.

Application to daily affairs

We often think about our family at work and about work when we are with our family.  We know that it is not helpful in both cases, but we cannot help it.
Well, we can.  Using the two techniques mentioned above, 1. Awareness of Mental Drift 2. Mental Redirection, we should train ourselves to be mindful of whatever we are doing at the present moment, the conversation we are having, the person we are talking to etc.  When there is Mental Drift, we should be aware of it.  We may note it quickly and redirect our mind towards our present activity.  Do this often enough, and it becomes a mental habit to refocus, to redirect.  Over time, we can become more attentive and “in the moment”, instead of “worrying about the future, or clinging onto the past.”

With this mindfulness, one can in time, observe and see directly, the common characteristics, anicca (Impermanence), dukkha (Suffering), anatta (No-self).

Learning to Wait

Instead of succumbing to our thoughts and emotions, we can live a more wholesome and meaningful life through the practice of Buddhism.  We can slowly learn to master and manage our emotions instead of letting it run and ruin our life.

“We should say, ‘You see this marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’ ”

Next time we desire something like the kid for the marshmallow, maybe we should say that to ourselves:

“You see this INSERT_YOUR_CRAVING? You don’t have to have it immediately.  You can wait.  Here’s how.”

Tried it before?  Tell us how it work or not work for you.


Edited for highlight and flow