Current Update as of August 16, 2003
Inspired by The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies
Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
Book Summary by Susanne Bozenski
Introduction: Knocking on Buddha’s Door
The integration of Buddhism and psychotherapy has been a sporadic and individualized endeavor among western mental health facilitators. In the early 1900’s, the western psychologist William James was the first to link the inherent wisdom of Buddhism with the relatively new system of thought known as psychotherapy. James believed Buddhism would make a profound and permanent impact on western psychology. However, it was Freud’s recent publication of "The Interpretation of Dreams" that proved to be most influential in the forthcoming century of psychology.
Eastern philosophy was slowly seeping into Freud’s psychoanalytic circle, and Freud dutifully tried to reconcile the undeniable reality of mystical experience with his own psychoanalytic theories. Ultimately equating the act of meditation to an ethereal integration of self and universe, Freud’s profound influence severely curtailed the exploration of Buddhism’s acute analytic capacities. Therefore, in so far as creating a fully integrated understanding of mental health, western psychology as a whole has continued to find Buddhism wanting.
While Freud dismissed Oriental theory as primarily focussed on transcendental ideals, James recognized the inherent psychological nature of Buddhist philosophy. Far from being an out of touch mystical reverie, the Buddhist experience requires complete awareness and clarity of the entire psyche. All aspects of the self are brought to light in order to expose the phenomenon of self-produced neurosis.
As of the late 1950’s, eastern thought gradually re-emerged in the western world. Heralded by Jungian followers, Beat poets, and the psychedelic counterculture, eastern mysticism has been stigmatized as unconventional and, therefore, unreliable by western mainstream society. Although Buddhist thought was certainly being explored, it still laid outside the realm of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Until recently, only select members of the mental health community, including Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, approached Buddhist concepts in articulating their respective psychological theories. Since Western efforts to understanding eastern ideas have been largely taken up by people oriented towards literature and education rather than psychology, mainstream psychology continues to remain isolated from Buddhism.
Western psychoanalytic techniques have greatly matured over the years; similarities between Buddhism and the natural progression of western psychology cannot be denied. Psychotherapy has provided much insight into the narcissistic plight of most individuals today. Whether this plight takes the form of a super-elevated or completely depreciated sense of self, psychoanalysis has stumbled upon a general state of mind where one’s reality underlies feelings of inauthenticity and meaninglessness. Recognizing this plight as an important origin of general malaise, psychologists are not so confident in treating these disorders and are slowly turning to Buddhism for new insights as to how to successfully help people in such states. Psychoanalysis has become very good at diagnosing inherent identity questions in individuals, yet it cannot completely eradicate those feelings with therapy. Buddhism believes meditation is absolutely necessary to dissolve identity questions. Indeed, it is because of meditation that Buddhism promises complete relief whereas psychotherapy has to be satisfied with quelling most of the disorder.
Buddhism is still viewed as mysterious and strange, even if pieces of it comfort and connect to Westerners. Freud’s language of psychotherapy has been the mode of communicating and exploring psychological boundaries in the West. Therefore, Buddhist thought must be integrated into modern psychology by way of the West’s own particular language.
THE BUDDHA’S PSYCHOLOGY OF MIND
Chapter 1:The Wheel of Life: A Buddhist Model of the Neurotic Mind
Buddhist and Western ideas of distress and mental health are most easily compared by way of the Buddhist image of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life represents the Six Realms of Existence that all beings continually circle around over the course of many lifetimes. A mandala is an artistic representation of this circular creation and is often used as a concise way to introduce people to the various complex realms of existence. All beings are exposed to these six realms: the Human Realm, the Animal Realm, the Hell Realm, the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, the Realm of the jealous Gods or Titans, and the God Realm. The way to Buddhahood trails off from the Human Realm and represents the unique opportunity of being human. It is only in human form that enlightenment, and its consequent release from the Wheel of Life, may be attained.
The Wheel of Life is a useful tool to educate people about karma, which is the idea that one’s actions in this life affect the type of life one will reincarnate into later. Violence may result in reincarnation into Hell Realms whereas generosity may result in reincarnation into God Realms, etc. The central idea of this complex mandala is symbolized by a pig, snake and a rooster entwined in the center of the circle. Its meaning: that if one is led by greed, hatred and delusion, one will never reach enlightenment, remaining chained to the endless Wheel of Life.
However, an interesting point about the Buddhist relation to suffering is that it is the perspective of one’s plight that determines whether any experience becomes a roadblock or a stepping stone to enlightenment. It is the way in which people view these realms, not the realms themselves, that dictates the possible progression out of them. Within each illustrated realm of the mandala lies a small Buddha figure which symbolically relates the way to expanding one’s perspective so the delusions of each realm can come into focus and inevidalby dissolve. The Buddhists believe is our unfocussed fears, symbolized by the realms of the Wheel of Life, that perpetuate our continual wandering and incomplete experience of life.
It is also possible to refer to the Wheel of Life for insights into the psychological nature of the self. Each realm may be used metaphorically to help explain the fundamental question of "Who am I?" Such an exploration requires looking at the entire wheel as the intricately woven sphere that is the human condition, and each separate realm as a specific psychological state.
Buddhists believe it is the fear of seeing ourselves truthfully and wholly that actually manifests our personal suffering. Freud agrees with this realization as well as with the idea that it is in recognizing these fears, and allowing them to occur, that will ultimately dissipate them. This concept of reconciling one’s fears is central to the Buddhists understanding of the six realms. Reconciliation is brought about by changing one’s perspective of events and emotions in everyday, mundane life. Therefore, the enlightened state exists fully in this world and not in some higher, more pure dimension, as some scholars lend in the translation of Buddhist notions.
Developments in western psychology have led to very good explanations of each of the six realms. Although not yet amalgamated, each theory, or description, of these psychological states is a piece to the complex puzzle of complete mental health. The Buddhists also profess that experiencing any dividedness of self will not only hinder our full human experience but also disengage us from successfully realizing our own Buddhahood.
If any part of a being is not embraced, that part will connect to one of the three central manifestations of fear, experienced as either greed, hatred, or delusion. These isolated parts, connected in fear, make up the fragmented self that begins to exhibit outward signs of disorder. Once every part of the self is welcomed and integrated, there becomes no need for the self-conscious frustrations of the pathological self. These disconnected frustrations are then replaced by wholeness and its equivalent, compassion. Therefore, it is crucial to delve into each and every realm if one is to become a fully integrated human being. Western psychologists,usually working from within a particular paradigm, explore some of these realms in their work, but never in all realms at once as the Buddhists do.
THE HELL REALM
The Wheel of Life mandala depicts the Hell Realm as one of many painful afflictions. Images of torture and punishment represent violent conflict and mental anguish. The sufferer is unable to see her dilemma as dependent upon her own perspective. In this manner the person even becomes divided from the experience of anxiety, as it is thought to be brought about by some force other than one’s own. This trap is a type of prison where the individual feels pain but cannot recognize oneself as the creator of that pain, and as a result, succeeds in locking oneself into a continuous cycle of fear and confusion. The Buddha in this image holds a mirror to the suffering person as a way to teach that these feelings must be directly looked at and acknowledged if they are to heal instead of wound. The Buddha teaches that even the most frightening of emotions must be accepted and considered as worthy as one’s most honorable traits.
THE ANIMAL REALM
The Animal Realm deals with the inborn longings and sexual urges of the instinctual human being. This realm is associated with stupidity and characterized by blindly following one’s instinctual drives to gain immediate satisfaction. The mandala illustrates the Buddha holding an open book in an attempt to show people the world of knowledge, contemplation and discussion. The Buddha is trying to teach us that primal cravings and desires, no matter how transcendental or illuminating, are always limited because they cannot be sustained. Indeed it is the very nature of desire to be unsustainable; when the excitement is over we are left with a sense of loss rather than the wholeness we experienced during the heightened moment. However, Buddhism does not denounce indulging the passions but rather wishes to look at these desires and see them clearly for what they are, transient experiences. These experiences are not to be grasped at, nor shunned out of fear, as both approaches would succeed in giving them unhealthy power over the individual. Once again, it is only until one can look clearly at these seemingly uncontrollable passions and be with them that they will fall back into a healthier proportion within the person.
THE REALM OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS
The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts is a more progressed state of the Hell Realm. The cravings familiar to the Hell Realm continue in this realm but become even more destructive because they remain unfulfilled. Here, one finds not even temporay satisfaction, as the feelings, and outcomes desired in one’s past have now become overgrown with adult longings . An adhesion to the past exists in this realm. One’s emotional needs, or feelings of inadequacy, have carried over into adult life; the individual looks for resolutions here, but finds them out of context with the original disorder. This inability to satiate past needs only increases one’s current pain. The Buddha sits in the mandala with a bowl full of spiritual objects, showing us that fulfillment of these lingering desires is no longer possible. It is only through contemplation and mindfulness that we will see these desires as fantasies and transform them into wisdom.
THE GOD REALM
The God Realm describes an ecstatic state when one temporarily dissolves one’s sense of "otherness". The ego is eased out of its boundaries, and culminates in feelings of bliss and oneness with the universe. This feeling is defined as confluence in Gestalt therapy. There are disorders associated with confluence that relate to either clinging to this feeling, being fearful of it, or a combination of both. Clinging to this blissful union can lead to possible codependencies with others, or becoming so content that one forgets the outside world. The Buddha in this picture is shown playing a lute not only to display the wondrous nature of this state, but also to pluck us out of our beautiful reverie to realize it is only a temporary experience.
THE REALM OF THE JEALOUS GODS
The Realm of the Jealous Gods relates to the God Realm in that it represents the energy needed to achieve the fruits of the God Realm. These Gods, or Titans, deal with overcoming and embracing the impediments that arise when trying to reach the confluent state of the God Realm. This can be very tricky, as the ego must be released and played with, and not deemed the enemy. The mandala depicts the Buddha holding a sword as a symbol of how to cultivate prudent and wise awareness through will, action, and discrimination.
THE HUMAN REALM
To some degree, all the other realms show the possibilities of sybaritic behavior. The Human Realm represents the search for self and the ways in which the true nature of self can be concealed. The Buddha within the mandala is depicted as the historical Indian prince in search of his identity in ascetic poverty. This realm deals with the construction of what D.W. Winnicott coined the "false self" serving as emotional armor. Also the possibilities of expanding that reality of self through the insight and awareness provided by meditation. The Buddhists believe that as we feel more comfortable with vacuity, we come to feel more real, and the isolation of a divided self melds back into wholeness.
GREED, HATRED, AND DELUSION
At the center of the mandala a red cock, a green snake, and a black hog entwined in a circle to represent greed, hatred, and delusion. These are the powers that easily entrap us in the Wheel of Life. These nagging and unrelenting forces prevent us from realizing our own Buddha-nature. We find it easier to continually seek favorable experiences and deny unfavorable ones than to see past these unhealthy illusions. Western therapists have also found themselves inept in working directly with this type of disturbance. The Buddhist’s therapeutic techniques in handling identity issues involve meditation practices, something western psychologists are largely unfamiliar with.
Early interpreters have often misrepresented Buddhist philosophy by claiming the Buddhist practice of meditation intentionalizes escape from worldly problems. It is also possible to view western psychotherapy as a process of assimilation. Although both misunderstandings are indeed possible, they are not intentional. Buddhists view enlightenment, often called nirvana, as another product of the Wheel of Life. Enlightenment is simply another way of interacting with the forces of this world. The central theme of this type of psychology is one of transformation. With the help of meditative practices, disordered states of mind are acknowledged, then, by the very act of acknowledgment and acceptance, automatically dissolved. Some schools of western psychology find this method problematic, as they view base aggressions and ego drives as inseparable from human nature and, therefore, unchangeable. Others, however, see the possibilities of transformation and look to Buddhist approaches as a new frontier in western treatment programs. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths teach us about suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and how to go about achieving this end. These Truths formulate a specific path to freedom of mind.
Chapter 2: Humiliation: The Buddha’s First Truth
The Buddha’s knowledge calls us to scrutinize ourselves with a frankness we would rather shy away from. The Buddha’s first truth concerns the ineludible fact of our own humiliation. At some point in our life we will experience humiliation, which is a form of vulnerability. Humiliation may possibly be experienced as illness, senility, bereavement, or deterioration. These moments occur for us to come face to face with the illusion of our self-sustainment. We all make valiant attempts to sustain our ideas of who we think we are. These efforts to hold onto a vision of ourselves as separate entities are, however, ultimately unsuccessful. The Buddha uses this inevitable humiliation as a starting point from which to develop the trait of humility. Humility is necessary to undergo the intense self-analysis and mental training that the Buddha proscribes for psychological happiness.
The word "suffering" is a modern translation of the meaning of the word dukkha. A more complete interpretation of dukkha would be "pervasive unsatisfactoriness." The Buddha taught that life is full of unsatisfactory experiences that derive from three arenas. The first is physical deterioration and mental anxiety. These dissatisfactions form out of the conflict between our desire to live eternally and the reality of illness, elderliness, and eventual demise. The second arena involves our personal preferences and aversions. These dissatisfactions occur when we cannot have what we want. The third arena involves our individual dispositions. We feel we are not good enough or adequate enough in our own minds and this causes personal dissatisfactions.
As these examples show, our relationship to the reality of ourselves is fragile and elusive. The western world of psychology has also discovered this fundamental feeling of inauthenticity, and particular branches have developed in ways similar to the Buddha’s various types of suffering. Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and D.W. Winnicott all focuss on areas stressed in Buddhist psychology although no one theory has incorporated the full scope of the Buddha’s insights. These western theories suggest that there once was a perfect union of self that has been lost. The distressed person tries desperately to reinstate this lost self in the context of his current situation. Psychotherapy is used to understand these patterns of behavior, thereby alleviating the symptoms of the distress. Buddhism goes beyond this approach in that it focuses on helping the person acknowledge and assimilate the fundamental sense of inauthenticity that lies behind any symptom of suffering. The basic tenet of the First Noble Truth is to accept one’s doubts about the self and be willing to go into them rather than away from them.
Chapter 3:Thirst: The Buddha’s Second Truth
The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by ceaseless desire for satisfaction. This desire has often been called craving, or thirst. There are two different types of desire. The first involves the wish to satiate pleasurable, physical cravings and is easily understood. The second type of desire is more complex; it involves a craving for a permanent sense of self. This means one wants either to believe the self exists, much like an object, or the self does not exist and can find solace in oblivion. Desire for a permanent sense of self, in whatever form it may take, rises out of one’s need for security.
The desire to satiate physical cravings relate significantly to Freud’s theory of the pleasure principle. As a child in utero, every possible need was immediately met by the mother without ever having to ask. This system of satiation continued for the child even after birth, but ultimately could not be sustained. The impossible and, therefore, unmet demands of the growing baby is the cause of that baby’s narcissistic craving according to Freud. The continuos fulfillment of physical cravings is unrealistic and pleasurable sensations should not hold that much importance according to eastern and western psychology. It is the holding on of this desire that clouds one’s ability to see its ultimate limitations. Pleasure should not be denied but it also should not be the main focuss of one’s psyche.
Buddhism is concerned with helping people escape this self-induced affliction. It is in this arena that the second type of desire, the desire for a fixed idea of self, becomes pertinent. The Buddha’s way of handling the idea of self was very noncommittal. He believed it was harmful to even allow discussion of whether or not there was a self because in all cases there would be the tendency to adhere to one theory or another. Instead, he let the question lay as it may, never giving credence to one opinion or another. This idea of self and no-self existing simultaneously is especially difficult for Westerners to comprehend as non-duality goes explicitly against their established culture. Often in the west therapy is centered on recreating a weak self, or on finding one’s true self. These are dualistic techniques requiring the existence of a self as something of an object. The Buddhist approach is to make the client aware of both sides of the duality, with preference given to neither the idea of a self or non-self. In doing this, the anxiety attached to the holding on of a particular notion of self is consciously realized. This realization or awareness, in turn allows for the dissolution of the anxiety in whichever way it has manifested itself.
Western psychology has placed much responsibility on the parents for the pendulating tendency of individuals to identify with either the self in the form of grandiosity or the non-self in the form of inadequacy. While inadequate parenting would certainly heighten this tendency, Buddhist psychologists believe these feelings are innate in all humankind. There is no way to escape this pendulum of emotion by perfect parenting. The responsibility to dissolve the power of this affliction rests with the individual. No one is absolved from encountering this human trait; people may wish to ignore it, but on some level it exists for everyone. Even when one is aware of the tendency to divide the self and fluctuate between grandiosity and inadequacy, it is difficult to fully change one’s perspective. As one gets more adept at seeing these dualistic emotions for what they are, one’s mind simply becomes more and more subtle in manifesting these traits. The belief in a collective consciousness or in a true self are ways in which this dualistic notion of self is perpetuated. It is no easy task and people have been struggling with these endeavors since the time of the Buddha.
Chapter 4:Release: The Buddha’s Third Truth
The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth states that release from these oscillating emotions is possible for anyone who develops certain distinct attributes. One must be willing to explore how various emotions keep one grasping hold of some imaginable, right sense of self. These forces must be recognized, acknowledged as delusional, then detached from one’s grasping mind. Notice they are not eliminated; Buddhists wish only to see these attachments for what they are, false realities. By seeing this, pendulating emotions establish a natural, normal place in one’s psyche and no longer overpower and paralyze one’s relationship to the world.
Freud’s idea of sublimation comes close to describing this Buddhist transformation. One’s base drives and desires for physical satiation can be held at bay to be used in a more appropriate, mature way. It is the idea of using the stored up energy that exists in constantly trying to quell ones urges for a higher, less physical, and perhaps more creative, end. The difference here is that Freud believed these base desires to be instinctual and always contained in the individual; sublimation was the best way to handle these inherent qualities. The Buddhists view everyone as starting off with these traits but they are fully able to be transformed into wisdom; they do not endlessly lurk and prowl in the darkness of one’s psyche but actually help uncover one’s enlightened mind.
PERFECTION OF WISDOM
Both psychoanalysis and Buddhism express that wisdom and compassion are the two cardinal tenors of the life force. These tenors are developed through the practice of meditation and are the substance behind enlightenment. Western psychology addresses these forces in their immature stage as ego and object libido while Buddhism acknowledges them in their advanced stages as wisdom and compassion. Sublimated ego libido transforms into wisdom and sublimated object libido becomes compassion. Enlightenment is a shift in perspective where these sublimated states are spontaneously lived moment by moment. One’s false sense of self is eradicated and fantasy does not become delusional but instead remains imaginal.
Buddhists affirm that everyone is essentially under the influence of immature thought. There is a persistent inclination to believe what we wish to believe without consideration of logic, fact, or even our senses. It is childlike and fearful in nature; we have a need for things to occur as we would like so we may maintain our sense of security and wholeness. This tendency often comes out love relationships where one person tries to find completeness by merging with another. Expectations are placed on the other to fulfil needs based on security issues. Anxiety results from lack of perfection in the relationship and is viewed by Buddhists as a typical human predicament. This anxiety is absolved once the need for perfection is understood as mere fantasy. This desire for security or perfection increases the likelihood of seeing ones self as fixed and rigid, thus perpetuating a false view of self.
The original bliss of complete satisfaction occurring in utero stays in our minds as an idea or memory according to Freud. Throughout our life we try to re-connect with this blissful image of self, a self that succeeds in becoming like an object to us in its concreteness. The Buddhists believe the self is a mere dream or illusion. The purpose of meditation is to explore one’s feelings of self and come to understand those feelings as fantasy and nothing more. According to the Third Noble Truth such an endeavor is ultimately possible.
Chapter 5: Nowhere Standing: The Buddha’s Fourth Truth
The Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth deals with the significance of clear thinking when attempting to understand one’s emotional responses in meditation. This truth describes the way to alleviate suffering and has been called the Middle Path. The Buddha’s way excludes extreme measures such as self-denial and self-indulgence, as they both sustain dualistic notions of self that caused the initial suffering. Hedonism and asceticism are both one-sided and cannot lead the way to enlightened consciousness. The Buddha’s way involves the adjustment of eight distinct attributes concerning thought and action: understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Together these attributes are called the Eightfold Path. The Buddha taught that the best way to attain clear thinking, or Right View, is to examine one’s expressions of False View, or the ways in which one’s thinking is clouded by emotion.
Once we have uncovered specific emotions that hinder our ability to think clearly, the Buddha teaches us to simply be with the emotion. There is often the misconception in the West that one must act out these feelings if one is to be set free from them. People begin to luxuriate in expressing these primal urges in an attempt to dissolve the ego. In meditation the ego is a necessary tool to establish a detached view of one’s restrictive emotive powers
In meditation it is also important to understand that some sort of cosmic unity is not a goal either. People often misunderstand this euphoric feeling as selflessness when it is really just another form of holding on. It is an attempt to submerge the emotions, of putting thoughts aside to recognize some greater whole. In this manner one’s emotions still remain powerful, they are just temporarily suspended or repressed.
Another misconception made in meditation is the idea that certain emotions are primordial and need to be controlled and contained. One must understand that the power of ones’ emotions is a function of one’s mind and does not exist outside of oneself. The tendency here may be to find comfort in some type of higher power, a power to which one can relinquish effort. People may also tent to shove emotions aside, thinking they were once necessary but are now a defunct step in the progression of enlightenment. In this case egolessness is viewed as the outcome of surpassing ego. The transcendental quality to this type of thought is that one can develop beyond the ego. In reality, though, nothing is transcended. Rather, one’s perspective of ego changes so that it is no longer thought of and experienced as an object. If one believes in surpassing the ego, the ego is still identified with.
Nagarjuna, the originator of the Buddhist school of Madhyamika, taught that the human psyche has the tendency to either believe something one hundred percent or not at all. The emptiness that Nagarjuna teaches does not engage in such one-sided thinking. Rather, it allows the concreteness of experience to exist but without the rigid judgment and deciphering of those experiences. Meditation is the process of learning to re-evaluate the way we understand our emotions. The emotions are not destroyed or dismissed, but rather repositioned at a different angle, allowing one to see the unnecessary effort being expended.
PART II: MEDITATION
Chapter 6: Bare Attention
Meditation exposes the continual movement of our everyday mind and goes to extreme measures to make one aware of just how out of focus the mind really is. Our inner voices are constantly chattering, reassuring, complaining, and plotting in a childlike manner without us even being conscious of it. Buddhism begins the meditation process with a mind completely caught up in day to day chaos. The development of bare attention allows these thoughts to be acknowledged one by one, in a way that does not judge their worth. They are simply noticed without all of the emotional strings attached. Bit by bit one’s reactions to various emotions that come up in meditation diminish. The meditative process proceeds to bring up even more subtle emotions so that the practitioner can become aware of lingering reactions. Ultimately, self-consciousness is obliterated and spontaneous action becomes completely natural.
Freud taught that a psychoanalyst’s attitude towards his or her patient should be one of impartiality and suspended judgment. This is very similar to the Buddhist’s approach of bare attention. Freud believed attention should be given equally to every part of the patients story without judgment. He is describing a state in which the analyst sits and "holds" a patient in a meditative-like space.
It is also important to maintain a certain openness when meditating. This openness allows a whole gamut of memories and experiences to come to mind with the intention of diminishing one’s reaction to them. Openness to experience without judging whatever may comes to mind also requires fearlessness. This fear that may try to block unfavorable thoughts has been called resistance by western analysts. Resistance must also be owned by the mediator or patient; understood why it exists is useful in exposing debilitating emotional responses. In fact, Buddhists assert everything that comes up in meditation is, in one form or another, resistance.
Another characteristic of bare attention that is important to distinguish is its neutrality. It is necessary to view ones memories and emotions as if they had no owner. This is what Winnicott called transitional space. This impersonal space acts as a security system from which one can explore the most dark and scary aspects of oneself. A neutral zone allows one to harbor or envelop experience in a way that can encourage transformation. Once this transitional space is no longer needed, the meditator becomes less aware of this bare attention and simply allows thoughts to flow neutrally without the need to hold them.
The therapeutic effect of meditation is in bringing thought to consciousness. Meditation has the capability to turn disruptive thought patterns into material to meditate upon. Any type of pathology is able to be transformed by the use of bare attention. Psychotherapy is often very useful in bringing one’s disturbing situation to light but cannot always dissipate the problem. It is for this reason that Buddhism can be extremely useful western psychologyto consider.
Chapter 7: The Psychodynamics of Meditation
Although psychotherapy and Buddhism can be viewed as having similar theories of mental health, they diverge in several ways. Western psychology tends to delve into childhood patterns in showing how they operate malevolently in ones adulthood. There is a reconstruction of ego identity present. Buddhism uses meditation to implode one’s overactive emotions. This relates to a deconstruction of ego identity. In psychotherapy, the dynamics of the patient- therapist relationship is crucial to the unraveling of the patient’s dysfunctional ego experience. In Buddhism, one’s therapeutic experience is profoundly solitary and self-induced. Both psychotherapy and Buddhist meditation are therapeutic, however, Buddhism encompasses the scope of Western analysis and extends beyond it. In psychotherapy, the nonjudgmental, but critical, analyst serves as the catalyst for the patient’s own transformation. In meditation, the practitioner slowly comes to terms with the manifestations of consuming emotions by seeing the ego clearly . A transformation occurs that profoundly affects the way ones emotions, ego, and relationship to the world are understood. However, sometimes a patient specifically needs to understand his or her explicit personal manifestations of a dysfunctional psyche, where therapy is an excellent tool. Meditation is often less detailed at its core, so it becomes apparent that the best route of therapeutic process will be different for everyone.
A beginning meditator often experiences an initial desire for wholeness. One may wish for ones situation to be rectified through meditation, and, at this stage, it is better for that person to seek therapy rather than try to speed up the therapeutic effects that long-term meditation offers. It is not always wise to think that one can fix oneself. Often therapy can put one in a better frame of mind to undertake the initial process of meditation.
Most people, in beginning a meditation practice, understand the self in spatial terms. One’s self, whether hidden, uncovered or found, is in some way made into an object to be located. The meditative process will begin to taunt these beliefs and will eventually erupt them to the point of no return.
The Buddha’s Eightfold Path involves the development of two specific types of awareness known as concentration and mindfulness. Concentration is usually explored first and is described as a continual focussing of ones attention upon a specific image, thought, or word. It is a type of mind training which allows thought to stay centered and not wander. Mastery of concentration often leads to euphoric feelings of openness and oneness. The Buddha taught to be weary of these seductive experiences and understand them as just another by-product of the grasping mind. The spatial metaphor still operates at this level. Concentration expands the location of the ego, but it also silences ones inner voice to the extent that exploration of the essence of self may occur.
That exploration is known as mindfulness and is practiced by maintaining clarity and awareness as one notices what occurs moment by moment to the mind and body. This second type of awareness becomes possible once concentration is mastered. According to the Buddha there are Four Foundations of Mindfulness which focus on the body, the feelings, the mind, and the emotions and thoughts. The spatial metaphor characteristic of concentrated awareness turns more temporal with the onset of mindful awareness. One is not caught up in a universal feeling of union; rather, each and every moment becomes the object of detached interest. Mindfulness is experienced more concretely as a mind and body connection, with every second becoming worthy of awareness.
Practice of mindful meditation starts with breath work and the physical body. One’s physical sensations are noticed in the meditative state as they happen. This is done by focusing, or concentrating on the breath. Proficiency in breath work precedes exploration of one’s emotions, thoughts, and mind. In mindful meditation it is important to be aware of each moment. Concentration on the breath allows one to connect time with experience. Once that is accomplished, more intangible explorations of the mind can be undertaken with grounded, breath-based awareness. It is a joyous paradox; as one understands how truly fleeting experience is, one actually feels more real. When one reaches a certain level of mindfulness, living that mindfulness simply becomes a natural, intuitive way of being. This mindfulness is also valued as mental health by the psychoanalytic community. Mindfulness promotes self awareness and living directly in the present. The process of meditation brings out this behavior and is, therefore, highly important for western therapists to understand.
There is yet another level of self inquiry that may be explored once the faculties of concentration and mindfulness become inherent. This type of exploration is called insight meditation and is characterized by philosophical questioning of the nature of self. Its purpose is to explode once and for all any thought that an "I" exists, surrendering the advanced meditator to the acceptance of boundless fluidity. Often it is these questions that propels a Westerner to seek out therapy, however, basic meditation is usually what is called for. This type of philosophical knowledge can be fully assimilated into the psyche only after the difficult tasks of concentration and mindfulness are accomplished successfully. Buddhist theory sxpounds that without following the Eightfold Path, philosophical theories will remain distant and elusive to the seeker, rather than personal and actually felt.
PART III: THERAPY
Chapter 8: Remembering
Often the first step of psychotherapy is to remember childhood events that have continued to impinge upon the patient’s adult life. Meditation is useful in persuing these memories. Freud found three ways to help the patient realize destructive experiences from the past that were crucial to the patients adult mental health. The first method was to induce a type of hypnotic state where the memory could be recalled as if one were really experiencing it. This method only worked when there was a single significant event that caused the present dysfunctional manifestations. This is not always the case, however. Often a series of seemingly trivial incidents confer to wreck havoc on ones adult psyche. The second method involved the use of free association. In this scenario the protective ego is sidetracked by what appears to be meaningless word choices, allowing the subconscious to bring the necessary problematic childhood moments to light. Freud’s third method focussed exclusively on the immediate issues that came up during his sessions with patients. The immediate present was explored in a way that shed light on the childhood events that ultimately caused this currant behavior.
It is this method that Buddhism can best relate to. Meditation concerns itself with remembering the immediate present as it occurs. The possibility of the convergence of Buddhism and psychotherapy lies predominantly in these similar ideas of remembering. The meditative process is most often concerned with general identification with ego and not with particular individual experiences. The process of psychotherapy reverses this order. The interaction of these two methods can bring about a more comprehensive cure for the Western patient’s specialized neurosis. Meditation can uncover a specific area of one’s life that could be helped by being individually addressed in a personal therapeutic setting. However, meditation and therapy may also uncover more general, pervasive disturbances relating to some type of absence. This feeling of absence is specifically characteristic of Western experience. In the West, emphasis is placed on independence and solidarity. If one feels they have been thrust into living this ideology too soon, one can internalize this perceived loss or absence of comfort and protection. This internalization often takes the form of a personal fault or flaw. One sees the pain of emptiness as part of ones character rather than the result of previous experiences. These feelings often come out in meditation and require therapy to effectively process their detrimental effects.
The images and emotions that first come up when beginning meditation vary according to the Eastern or Western identity of the meditator. The Eastern self is absorbed in a net of family and social expectations while the Western self grows up in a nuclear family and is taught early on to value independence and autonomy. Often the Eastern self’s early meditation experience brings out desires to escape and break free from constraints while the Westerner’s attempts often produce feelings of loneliness, estrangement, and a longing for wholeness. The general connection to others felt by the Eastern seeker allows a smooth progression in meditation. It is easier to give up ego boundaries when one has an inherent sense of worthiness and belonging. This is often the very opposite situation for the Western meditator. Pervasive low self-esteem, unheard of in the East, detracts from the process of cultivating awareness. Often psychotherapy is very useful to the Westerner as a way to process ones internalized feelings of inadequacy and longing. Although the starting points for meditators in these separate cultures are very different, the possibility of enlightenment exists for both.
Chapter 9: Repeating
Although remembering ones past traumatic events is helpful to the healing process, recognition alone will not dissipate ones problem. Very often a patient will not be able to remember hidden traumas. Freud found the pattern of repeating useful in recapturing the original catalyst for a patient’s current behavior. The repetition of ones initial, unknown problem manifested in transformed, current ways of being is what Freud called the pattern of repeating. The patient is not aware that this repetition of internalized pain is occurring in the actions and thoughts of his or her adult life. It is the therapist’s job to help create this awareness so that the patient may not only comprehend the problem but also actually re-experience it as his or her own. It is at this point that the moment to moment mindfulness of meditation becomes a useful tool in psychotherapy.
Silence is very important for both psychotherapy and meditation. Silence in the therapist’s office need not be fearful and can, if maintained properly be very therapeutic. Meditation teaches one not to fear silence. Once that fear is overcome, silence can be full of experience for a patient sitting with a therapist. It is important for the therapist to be comfortable with silence. If this is not the case the therapist’s wandering thoughts will be unconsciously picked up by the patient, possibly causing him or her to retreat or become defensive. It is in this arena of silence that the benefits of mindfulness and the immediate present of the therapist’s office converge. Freud was aware that much can happen between two people sitting consciously in silence together. Therefore, the presence of the therapist becomes just as important as his or her analytic skills.
Freud, however, found the benefit of silence rested with the therapist as it allowed intuitive understanding of the patients often inarticulate dilemma. The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion suggests that this silence is also therapeutic for the patient; for it is during this space that the patient feels there is less pressure and intrusiveness induced by the therapist. The patient is better able to "let go" during these unstructured moments. Often the silent supportive space where one can experience past painful emotions is more therapeutic than a therapist’s verbal interpretation of ones dilemma. The meditative property of bare attention helps the therapist "be" with a patient while helping the patient learn to "be" with his or her emotion. This healing dynamic allows the patient to effectively process a repeating thought or feeling. Further, that the patient can do so without feeling compelled to act out or repress it in the company of the therapist.
It is important for the therapist to teach the patient not only to consciously attend to ones debilitating thoughts but also to see the value in not expecting anyone except oneself to change. This change occurs as the patient’s transformed perspective of the situation. The possibility of this becomes reality with the incorporation of meditative practices in psychotherapy. The patient’s perspective is changed by first feeling the rage invoked by ones past then transforming that rage to grief, thereby coming to terms with the past that allows for future growth. Psychoanalyst Hans Loewald describes this process as transforming the ghosts that plague the patient to ancestors. A person’s past cannot be dissolved, but the painful experiences can be contained, respected, and put to rest. This can occur by working through these emotions. Bare attention helps set up the forum from which this work can be done.
Almost all Westerners seeking enlightenment would benefit from creating a program based on a combination of psychotherapy, to deal with personal traumas that impede ones growth, and meditation, which teaches the actual process of awareness.
Chapter 10: Working Through
Working through a debilitating emotion means changing ones perception of it. Freud understood the importance of this but became frustrated by the infrequency of its occurrence in therapy. Freud came to realize that recognition, and even understanding, of an experience did not necessarily translate into mental health. Buddhism offers psychotherapy a concrete method to effectively work through emotional dilemmas. Meditation offers a change in the way a person regards everything by acting moment by moment in connection with one’s body and mind. Bare attention gives immediate, present day awareness to one’s past situations without the ego grasping hold of the accompanying emotions.
In working through ones emotions, it is necessary to connect ones feeling to oneself, and to acually own the feeling rather than describe it as a separate entity. Buddhism teaches that we consist only of these experiences. When one dissociates from an emotion, it is a flag that reveals that one has not worked through something. The first action in working through one’s emotions is to learn to acknowledge a debilitating feeling without forming an opinion about it. The next step is to identify the feeling in connection to oneself, that is, to own the feeling. Often a feeling of outrage comes with realizing that the feeling originated with oneself and knowing that the past can not be erased. Using concentration, mindfulness and bare attention, one can allow that fury to exist without reacting to it. It is at these times, Buddhism asserts, that true insight becomes possible. Exploration of one’s identification with an emotion allows one to delve into the experiential nature of self and progress in the meditative path by critically analyzing the psyche. One’s focus on the actual felt emotion switches to a focus on the identification with the emotion, and this is the crucial step in progressing towards real self knowledge.
Freud’s ideas about the instincts are quite similar to the Buddha’s thoughts about the self and bring insight for possibilities of real effects in therapy. The instincts, according to Freud, are mythological. He believed the shift in the patient’s awareness needed to go from instinctual feeling to an understanding of the self. When one realizes the fluidity and formlessness of the self, one’s instinctual graspings whither in potency. These feelings do not disappear, but lose their power to dominate the self. Therefore, therapy directs attention towards both, appreciating the power ones emotions have, and understanding the self as fluid experience. In the Buddhist approach this is described as redirecting the disappointment of one’s emotions as an object to a misconceived subject that is self. It is only when one questions the thinker of emotions that the emotions cease to control. Incorporating Buddhism into psychotherapy enhances the ability to effectively change one’s perspective so that, specifically, Western disorders can be laid to rest.
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