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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 52 |buddhadharma harvey aronson: Lojong is wonderful and very important. There are all sorts of practices for absorbing other people’s suffering into one’s own, being aware of one’s own kleshas, one’s own afflictive emotions, and absorbing others’ klesha activity into one’s own being, especially the darker emotions of envy, hate, and anger. But most people do not have the capacity to recognize that deep under their own anger lies sorrow, pain, disap- pointment, and trauma. Not seeing this and not knowing this intimately, they act out. Without professional assistance, many people are not able to make that turn away from acting out their fear, sorrow, loss, and unhappiness. They act it out in anger, and shaming and blaming behavior, and it takes a lot of supportive holding and guidance to help people go from that dysfunctional process to a much more functional way of being able to say, “It hurts me when you scream at me.” Most peo- ple don’t even know where to begin to do that. Jack kornfield: When you’re sitting in meditation, or doing compassion practice, often you’re more or less on your own, even if you are sitting with other people. Many traumas and injuries, such as those that stem from abuse and from childhood, don’t show themselves very clearly until you are back in relationship. You can sit in meditation and not even have the stuff come up, or you can be practicing and when the stuff comes up, you get so triggered by it and so lost in that identity, you are overwhelmed. A therapist, or a skilled dharma teacher who knows how to work with these kinds of difficulty from a Western perspective, can create an ongoing relationship with that student, so that their sufferings can be held in a field of wisdom rather than a field of identification and belief. But meditation alone in many cases doesn’t reveal to people what’s really going on with them. harvey aronson: Also, when the meditation gets good enough and you start to threaten your sense of self, you may get more reactive rather than less reactive. There may be a heightening of vulnerabil- ity, a susceptibility to feeling threatened. You may react more strongly and angrily to things because you’re trying hard to reconstitute the self that is under pressure and slowly dissolving. Judith lief: That’s supposed to happen. A certain irritability and hitting those walls in practice is a good thing. But when people hold on to a false sense of how together they are, it gets in the way of their working simply and honestly with their expe- rience. When they’re practicing, they are seemingly together—until they get into any kind of relation- ship or visit their family. Then suddenly they realize that all of this unworked-with material is still there. People’s view of Buddhism and Buddhist practice can stray into nothing more than repression—a repressed, romantic view of buddhadharma—which can even spread and be fostered in a community of practitioners. For example, in many of our com- munities, the expression of any anger or criticism whatsoever is suppressed. There’s an attachment to a kind of niceness and false gentleness that leads to very passive-aggressive group situations. Jack kornfield: There is a fear of conflict in a lot of Buddhist communities, since we are not really skilled or trained at how to work with this stuff when it comes up. As long as you keep your mouth and your eyes shut, it will be fine. But as soon as it actually comes out, it scares everybody. They don’t know what to do, and they haven’t had the modeling from teachers for how to work with it in an active way. harvey aronson: The closer the relationship, the more older imprints will become activated. So couples and families are hotbeds for this sort of thing. As the people in a couple or a family prac- tice meditation, they may see things that they will react to very strongly. These are points that require close attention, and most dharma teachers are not in a position to offer the specialized guidance it takes to work with families and couples. buddhadharma: How do you know whether it’s bet- ter for a meditator who is having psychological difficulties to seek psychotherapy or to do more or different Buddhist practices? harvey aronson: When people come to our Buddhist center, they’re not explicitly looking for therapy, so my default is that people are seeking to improve their lives not using therapy. Since I am a therapist, I do pay attention when things seem to move out- side a certain range. Once you get to know people and see how they’re practicing, you notice if some- thing is going into the range where their turmoil is affecting their functioning in life; for example, if they’re reporting that their appetite is off or their interest in life is waning or they’re not sleeping well or their anxiety is extreme, I certainly think that’s worth some attention. If we’ve been working together for a while, and there hasn’t really been any movement in those particular areas, or they are getting worse, I feel very comfortable suggest- ing that somebody seek therapy. buddhadharma: Is there a difference going to a thera- pist who is a Buddhist practitioner? Jack kornfield: Any good therapist will have to have some appreciation of the principles of mindful- ness, compassion, forgiveness, and non-identi- fication that are central to the dharma, or their Why on earth would you ask a monk how to raise children? That comes from the misguided idea that Buddhism is designed as a problem- solving methodology. — Judith Lief