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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 53 |winter 2007 therapy won’t be very helpful. They don’t have to be Buddhist or know Buddhism so much as be skilled in what they do and supportive of the spiritual path of that person. They have to be respectful of the student’s spiritual practice and understand that it offers dimensions not offered in the therapy. Judith lief: Just because you’re a Buddhist and a therapist doesn’t mean you’re a good Buddhist therapist [laughter]. I’d rather have someone go to a good therapist no matter what their tradition is. There’s a kind of fundamentalism in the notion that you have to go to a Buddhist therapist, which automatically means they’ll understand you and be good. Nonetheless, the question of when to advise someone to seek therapy is sensitive. I have definitely done so, when I felt someone was a little off kilter. But I find it very important to counsel someone when they are going to therapy not to identify with their problem and use it to define themselves. It’s vital to see the problem without covering it up, but on the other hand it’s just as important not to grasp on to it as a solid identity: victim, addict, depressed, anxious, phobic. I would try to lighten the identity but not diminish or dismiss the problem. buddhadharma: Some people say, well, Buddhism didn’t work for me but therapy did. Jack kornfield: You can’t say Buddhism “didn’t work.” A particular practice with a particular teacher may not have been helpful to that person; that’s all that you can say. The close relationship and listening they received in Western therapy might have been quite helpful to that person. On the other hand, they might have been able to have that same close relationship, deep listening, com- passion, and non-identification with a different Buddhist teacher or a different Buddhist practice. It’s fundamentalist to say Buddhism does this or is that, or works this way or that. That is a very limited way of seeing the multiplicity of Buddhism. At Spirit Rock many of our finest Buddhist teach- ers are also trained as psychiatrists, psychologists, or psychotherapists, and they draw on those skills when they’re needed. The point is to listen to what frees the heart. If you are stuck, you need to find whatever skillful means you can to help free the heart. That’s really what Buddhism teaches. The freeing of the heart may come in the framework of a Buddhist center or a Buddhist practice, or it may come from a skillful therapist. Judith lief: Working or not working is beside the point. The Buddhist path is a way of life that has its ups and downs like anything else. Sometimes it seems to be working splendidly and other times you beComing A Full humAn being chögyam trungpa says the key to being an effective psychothera pist is relating to your clients with an open and spontaneous mind. the basiC Work of health professionals in general, and of psychotherapists in particular, is to become full human beings and to inspire full humanbeingness in other people who feel starved about their lives. When we say a “full human being” here, we mean a person who not only eats, sleeps, walks, and talks, but someone who also experiences a basic state of wakefulness. it might seem to be very demanding to define health in terms of wakefulness, but wakefulness is actually very close to us. We can experience it. in fact, we are touching it all the time. We are in touch with basic health all the time. although the usual dictionary definition of health is, roughly speaking, “free from sickness,” we should look at health as something more than that. according to the buddhist tradition, people inherently possess buddhanature; that is, they are basically and intrinsically good. from this point of view, health is intrinsic. that is, health comes first; sickness is secondary. health is. so being healthy is being fundamentally wholesome, with body and mind synchronized in a state of being which is indestructible and good. this attitude is not recommended exclusively for the patients but also for the help ers or doctors. it can be adopted mutually because this intrinsic, basic goodness is always present in any interaction of one human being with another. there are many approaches to psychology and some of them are problematic. from the buddhist point of view, there is a problem with any attempt to pinpoint, categorize, and pigeonhole mind and its contents very neatly. this method could be called psychological materialism. the problem with this approach is that it does not leave enough room for spontaneity or openness. it overlooks basic healthiness. the approach to working with others that i would like to advocate is one in which spontaneity and humanness are extended to others, so that we can open to others and not compartmentalize our understanding of them. this means working first of all with our natural capacity for warmth. to begin with, we can develop warmth toward ourselves, which then expands to others. this provides the ground for relating with disturbed people, with one another, and with ourselves, all within the same framework. this approach does not rely so much on a theoretical or conceptual perspective, but it relies on how we personally experience our own existence. our lives can be felt fully and thoroughly so that we appreciate that we are genuine and truly wakeful human beings. When you work in this way with others, it is very powerful. When someone begins to feel that he is not being pigeonholed and that there is some genuine connec tion taking place between the two of you, then he begins to let go. he begins to explore you and you begin to explore him. some kind of unspoken friendship begins to develop. although i am speaking as a buddhist teacher, i do not believe that therapy should be divided into categories. We don’t have to say, “now i’m doing therapy in the buddhist style,” or “now i’m doing it in the Western style.” there is not much difference, really. if you work in the buddhist style, it is just common sense. if you work in the Western style, that is common sense, too. Working with others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuineness to others. the work you do doesn’t have to have a title or a name particularly. it is just being ultimately decent. from The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology, by Chögyam trungpa. Published by shambhala Publications.