CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Burvil Goes Buddhist

(06/10/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

As I walked through the doorway something unnatural about Burvil caught my eye. Oh, it wasn't the blank look on his face; that was normal, and it wasn't that his eyes were in a fixed stare like someone who has watched Congress in action for a prolonged time on C-Span. Rather, he was sitting on a mat in the middle of the floor in a state resembling an Olympic gymnast whose steroids had come undone.

I yelled at Homer Bob, who was nonchalantly looking at pictures in a trashy magazine, as he hasn't learned to read so as to keep himself pure as a writer, but who has acquired a knack for graphic impurities found in magazines from the top rack, that there was something wrong with Burvil, perhaps a seizure.

Homer Bob replied laconically, "He's jist meditatin'; he's turnin' Buddhist." And he tossed a news clipping down on the bar. I saw the headline "WVU workshop tackles 'Appalachian hopelessness'/New Social Sciences school teaching Buddhist-based therapy." The story was from the Morgantown Dominion Post of May 20.

Now, I have known my share of Free Methodists, Hardshell Baptists, Predestined Presbyterians, maybe a snake handler or two, and a woman who was a Bohemian, but I have never come across a practicing Buddhist in the hill country.

But as I read on I learned that the stress of overwork and underpay, excessive drinking and divorce, among other afflictions, can lead to what social scientists refer to as "angst," or anxiety, resulting in "Appalachian hopelessness." Now, by golly, a major university was going to tackle these problems through its School of Applied Social Sciences with an infusion of Buddhism.

Two-day workshops were planned for Hawks Nest State Park on "cognitive behavior therapy," a therapy grounded in Buddhism. This would hopefully help to restore hope to West Virginians who keep finding life to be pretty lifeless.

Well, I was beginning to see how Burvil might benefit from all this, and I wondered if even I might gain some useful insights. After all, I had suffered trauma and a degree of hopelessness when at that same university some years back I was told not to let the door hit me in my pass as I left. It wasn't so much that I needed Buddhism, but that I had caused some major administrators to lose their religion and they might have gained solace from a support group such as this.

In perhaps the understatement of the day, Dr. Elizabeth Randall, who is in charge of the workshops, said "A lot of this is just common sense." Huh? Common sense in a university setting? These folks have certainly found the power of belief! Talk about religious zealots!

Randall is an assistant professor of social work, and she has dealt with mental health issues in not only West Virginia but South Carolina. She explained that both states-I suppose both mental and geographical-aren't all that much different. She says the proper therapy relies heavily on counseling and simply talking things out.

The workshops were scheduled for 30 social workers, psychologists and counselors from across the state. The news story didn't say where the funding came from but I wonder if Senator Byrd might have found some petty cash in a desk of a recalled Republican and decided to do good with it by sending it home, although I doubt if the good senator has Buddhist leanings himself. I rather imagine he will remain a good Democrat.

I saw that Burvil wouldn't directly benefit from all this until the trickle down from the professionals, so I helped Homer Bob lift him to his feet and as he slowly came back to the present he took one look around and let out a blood-curdling scream. "No! No! Not Big Puf," he yelled. "I was in a far, far better world!" And with that he settled back on the mat and his eyes went back into inner space. Such a look of contentment came over him that I felt that just maybe those social scientists might be on to something.

Burvil had found his own way out of his bleak reality. I had found mine some time back by writing this column for the Hur Herald.


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