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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
summer 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 69 in our psyches may rise to the surface in order to be felt, witnessed, and released. As the practice deep- ens, meditation allows us to move beyond discur- sive thought and to feel these experiences directly. In these instances, we are freed from old paradigms and ways of feeling about ourselves. This directly overlaps with what can happen in a good therapeu- tic relationship. However, we may leave the silence and stillness of retreat and once again find it difficult to concen- trate and access deeper levels of patterning. There are clear reasons for this. Traditionally, difficulty concentrating has been attributed to the five hin- drances—greed, aversion, sloth and torpor, restless- ness, and doubt—all states of mind that prohibit deeper states of concentration. For some people, these mind states may be composed of those early psychological wounds that we are carrying with us. For example, what a meditation teacher may call aversion, a psychotherapist may see as self-hatred. What a meditation teacher may see as sloth, a psy- chotherapist may recognize as depression. What a meditation teacher may see as restlessness, a psy- chotherapist may see as anxiety or PTSD. Because these mind states may be composed of very difficult, even traumatic, experiences that occurred before we were developmentally able to contend with them, just naming them as hindrances and feeling their energetic components is often not enough. A psychotherapist would see the problem of not being able to access deeper patterning not as a problem in establishing concentration but instead as psychological defenses. Defenses are just what they sound like—they defend the self from experienc- ing painful and often overwhelming feelings and memories. Defenses are unconscious; they happen automatically and without our consent. We may experience a sour mood, a feeling of emptiness, difficult behavioral patterns, a lack of clarity, anxi- ety, depression, phobias, and more—all without knowing the experiences, beliefs, and feelings that lie at the root of these mind states. Conversely, if the defenses break down, we can find ourselves flooded by painful emotions and sometimes unable to function. Rather than seeing these mind states as hin- drances to deeper concentration, a psychotherapist would see them as experiences that are crying out to be healed; in the safe, confidential space of the relationship between therapist and client, then, the approach would be to explore these experiences. The defenses are seen as a starting point. In a shared exploration, the therapist points out and interprets the defenses so they gradually lose their hold. As trust is built, the material that lies beyond the defenses can emerge and be processed. In optimal circumstances, the difficult emotions and experi- ences that have previously been unconscious emerge slowly and safely so the client can integrate them without becoming overwhelmed. As these patterns unravel, the psychotherapist not only lends emo- tional support and encouragement but also serves as a new model of how to respond to difficulty. ➤ What a meditation teacher may call aversion, a psychotherapist may see as self-hatred; what a meditation teacher may call sloth, a psychotherapist may recognize as depression.