Pure O – OCD


How to deal with Pure O which is a form of OCD leading, not to repetitive behavior, but to intrusive thoughts of all sorts?

—Bob, CA


Dear Bob,

As you relate, obsessions are types of behaviors and thoughts making up Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’s (OCD) characteristics and recommended treatment. In writing to us here at Ananda, it is important to clarify that the specialized treatment offered by professionals for obsessions is unquestionably the best, first-line defense that should be sought for such specific suffering.

Speaking, therefore, strictly from a metaphysical point of view, we begin with the law of karma. Rather than to view karma as just a new-age version of sin, the positive point of view is: That which we have created can be changed and un-created. Not by self-effort alone (in the grand scheme of things) but with the power of the soul — a vehicle for drawing the power of grace — we can unite our will with the divine Will to begin the journey of return to wholeness.

The corollary to karma is reincarnation: else how can we explain so many of the problems and suffering of humanity? Upon encountering a blind man along the road, Jesus Christ asked, “Who is to blame for his blindness (which came at birth)? His parents or himself?”

It is not worth dwelling on how many lives we have lived before (even just in human form, not to mention lower forms) but it can give us some perspective to see that we will need to be steadfast and patient in our efforts to change towards wholeness. It has been well said that “Patience is the quickest way to God (i.e. to wholeness, success, and soul-freedom).”

So the first line of defense and “attack” (offense and defense) lies with professional treatment, followed diligently and patiently (that’s why we are called “patients”!). The health coach and yourself (or whoever it is) need to work cooperatively and openly as a team. No one can do it for you but together progress can be made.

The second line of defense will include the support of friends and family. But for this level of support your health professional will be your guide.

Thirdly, but in truth, this is first and last (but outside help is necessary), is your soul! The blessed Atman, cooperating with divine grace of God and guru can give your ego-self the strength and will power to stay the course given to you by your support team and yearned for by your true Self.

Because a condition like Obsessions (OCD) is very individual, I must be careful not to get overly specific. The mind is not like a physical organ (e.g., the heart or lungs). While it isn’t the Atman, in most people and in cases of mental illness, the ego with its army of supporters from the subconscious as usurpers, occupies the throne of the kingdom of the mind and has forced into exile the Atman, the true Prince of Peace.

In the Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 12, “Years in my Master’s Hermitage,” Swami Sri Yukteswar relates a story from his childhood when his mother tries to scare him by telling him that a ghost lives in a closet in their home. Young Priya Nath marches straight over to the closet, opens it, and finds no ghost! He concludes “Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.” Later in speaking about disease and illness, Swami Sri Yukteswar states “An unwelcome visitor will flee.”

These stories illustrate the power of both courage and the strength of mindfulness: to witness the antics of the lower mind without fear or reaction. This is far less likely at first to be a successful approach to a mind crippled by Obsession but it is, nonetheless, a necessity for the higher mind to ultimately gain control over the lower mind. In the movie A Beautiful Mind, the protagonist (a famous mathematician diagnosed with schizophrenia) is asked whether he still hallucinates and sees certain “people.” He admits, yes, they are still there but he ignores them.

There are, according to the teachings of Shankhya and yoga, two other “tools” available to our conscious mind as portals to the higher mind of the Atman: feeling and action. Can obsessive but repulsive repetitive thoughts be transformed by the repetitive use of mantras, prayer, or affirmation? I would think it worth a try. Fighting AGAINST a habit is generally insufficient; there must be a positive substitute offered to the mind. The lower vibrations of consciousness that emanate from inappropriate and unwanted thoughts need to be sublimated or transformed by higher vibrations of devotion and vibrations of powerful mantras.

Engaging in creative or serviceful actions can also help change the vibrations of consciousness. At first such engagement might only distract the mind but if entered into with conscious attention and joy, and an attitude of devotional self-offering, service (seva) can be purifying to one’s aura and can help dissolve entrenched karmic patterns (samskaras).

There are two other tools (or aspects of the above) that I hesitate to mention but I also hesitate to ignore: humor and self-acceptance. Just as Sri Yukteswar opened the closet and faced down that “ghost,” so too the yogi steps back from the shenanigans of the subconscious mind and “laughs fear in the face.” When you make fun of “someone,” they can lose self-respect, wither and die! The “laughing” represents “cutting them down to size” and dissolving any fear one has for their power over you.

Self-acceptance is the calm corollary to the technique of mocking-humor. For self-acceptance attempts to calmly observe thoughts that are otherwise repulsive and (unlike humor which disassociates personal identification with those thoughts by mocking them) accepts their presence without comment. This technique is a variation on the power of mindfulness described above. Neither humor nor self-acceptance are likely to be helpful at first, so long as those negative thoughts are “winning the war.” But later, as the witnessing (higher mind) begins to gain the upper hand, these can be powerful allies.

One aspect of modern psychology that, to my limited knowledge, doesn’t exist (unless in Jungian psychology), is the distinction made between the Self and the self. While behavioral psychology is excellent as a form of “karma yoga,” “Swadhyaya,” which is the observing Self of the soul, cannot be placed on the operating table of the intellect or proven by behavior and is therefore often either ignored or denied. Then a powerful force for change is not recognized and engaged. The higher, superconscious mind is not under the control of either the conscious or subconscious mind and cannot be manipulated, though its power can be invited. It must be befriended. It is nothing less than God, or divine grace in the unique and manifested form of our own soul. Because hidden by the overlay of many lives of subconscious living, it is the role of the divinely appointed guru to reawaken the soul’s memory of its Self. The outer guru awakens the “inner guru.” This is the path of return to inner freedom. What I am describing here is not religion but the inner spiritual life and consciousness: a relationship with God in human form (a form WE can relate to).

In any case, no such response or explanations such as I have offered above can substitute for the effort needed to make steady progress against the illness of OCD. I do hope and trust, therefore, that you have access to competent, compassionate, and intelligent professional guidance. If in addition to professional help you can seek the power of grace through God, Christ, guru and gurubhais then you will have the A-Team on your side.

May the Light of Divine Wisdom shine upon you,
Nayaswami Hriman