We are here to become better therapists. Learning to be a better therapist is lifelong training. It is the same as following spiritual path. Therapy is a spiritual practice. This is basic Mahayana principle. Spiritual advance is to become more of a bodhisattva.
Therapy is learnt as practice, theory, spirit
Practice = method, repertoire, skill
Theory = 3 signs of being, 4 truths for noble ones, 5 shandhas, 6 paramitas, 7 Factors of Illumination, 8 fold path etc
Spirit = heart-mind
Practice is outer action, skilful means. Spirit is inner truth. Theory links the two together. Our theory is the word of Buddha. 3 Signs of Being, 4 Truth for Noble Ones, 5 Skandhas, 6 Paramitas, 7 Factors of Illumination, 8-fold Path, 9 Grades of Entering the Pure Land, 10 Precepts etc.
Heart-mind is most important. therefore it is important to work on oneself. Buddha says that a day without striving is a wasted day. What does this mean? It means work on self. To study Buddhism is to study the self and, thereby, to forget the self. Work on self means to see the dukkha clinging to self. Self is made up of clinging dukkha.
We all encounter dukkha but we do not always handle it well. Each dukkha brings up a painful feeling and this feeling requires an abreaction which is also a form of healing pain or distress. Thus the duke of loss requires the distress of grief. If we do not distress in a healthy way, we stress. Modern society is pervaded by the idea that one should not have to distress and so there is much stress. Many people do not abreact the dukkha they encounter. They do not feel the feelings nor allow the natural process to unfold as it should. Some hurts occur at times when it is inconvenient, embarrassing or socially unacceptable to abreact and the more complex society becomes the more such restraints there are. Children sustain many hurts, small and large, in circumstances in which it is not possible to release the feelings.
Thus, dukkha happens, feelings come up (samudaya) but they are not fully dealt with and the repression or avoidance constitutes a form of inadvertent clinging. The wound does not go away, it goes underground. Someday then results in more dukkha. The dukkha is not lived through, it clings to the person. When the process is lived through the residue is wisdom. When it is not lived through the residue is just clinging dukkha which is a burden and generates symptoms later. These symptoms may bring the person into therapy. The client wants to be free from the symptom but does not know about the clinging dukkha behind the symptom.
Three ideas about how religion makes people healthy and sane:
- 1 Technical Idea: That there are specific consequences of specific procedures such as mindfulness or certain meditations such that the use of the technique ensures a positive outcome.
- 2 Modelling Idea: That what makes the difference is people’s healthy behaviour and having a spiritual model promotes such behaviour. The model has two primary dimensions: models of reality and models in the form of spiritually advanced persons to emulate. Copying a spiritual model one consumes less alcohol, lives a simpler life, learns to be calm and so acts in many ways that promote good health.
- 3 Refuge Idea: That religious faith opens a person to spiritual grace which is the creation of a safe space in their heart, an inner place of refuge wherein healing naturally takes place. The sense of being inwardly blessed directly releases deeply held tensions in the person, with direct and indirect effect. Indirect effects refer to the fact that such inner change also promotes methods 1 and 2 because the person who feels safe inside does not need unhealthy habits and naturally practices wholesome meditations and prayers.
Therapy makes refuge more tangible and believable. Even a non-spiritual person can experience some sense of refuge when in the presence of the therapist. The first task of therapy, therefore, is to create safe space. the safer the space the more serious the clinging dukkha that can be confronted and abreacted. The more work that the therapist has done to go beyond their own clinging dukkha, the safer the space they create and the more confidence they have in the process for self and for client. In the safe space of refuge the person can relive and abreact past hurts and thus clear some clinging dukkha.
Two levels of abreaction:
1. Each hurt (negative karma item) is individually abreacted
2. A "turning round in the seat of consciousness" or "change of heart" may sweep away a whole category of hurts at one go, as when a client suddenly finds great compassion for the person who oppressed them or when the client newly realises that they love somebody or were loved by somebody.
In reality, in therapy, there is much work around particular hurts and some emergence also of greater compassion so that some relative progress is made toward liberation.
Question: Does dukkha cling to us or do we cling to dukkha
Answer: These are just two ways of saying the same thing. Sometimes it works better to say it one way, sometimes the other. If we think we cling to dukkha we still do not know how we are doing it and we may become too rational and cognitive in trying to solve the problem.
Groups of three integrating new people into the larger group. Introductions. Discussion of the lecture.
Question: I suffered from the criticism of my mother-in-law for many years. She criticised me for only producing daughters. This caused much conflict between my husband and myself. My second daughter also suffered from hearing these disputes, thinking it would have been better if she had not been born. Now she is about to give birth to her second daughter, having had no sons, and i feel anxious.
Answer: It is natural for you to feel so. You yourself suffered for many years. You are trying to ensure that your daughter not suffer the way you did, and that is good, but you must also find a space in which to look at your own feelings about your own past. Also, mother in law is trapped in her delusion. She also needs help, even though she has already passed on.
Question: Before I started studying ZT I was able to be objective and maintain professional distance with clients. Since I study ZT I sometimes find that I feel more compassion for the client and it is more difficult to maintain my boundaries.
Answer: It is good to feel compassion, but think of maintaining a boundary as the way that you set the client free to live their own life. The boundary is a restraint upon oneself, but it is also a way of trusting the client to go and live freely. Sometimes we want to do everything for the client, but this is not real compassion. Real compassion means to respect the independence of the client.
Question: What is the difference between empathy and intuition?
Answer: Empathy is a form of intuition in which you feel how it is to be the other person in their life situation. Intuition is a broader concept including all forms of non-rational intelligence. Thus sometimes one sees a new possibility that one had not seen before without having had any rational or logical process to arrive at this insight. For instance, an artist might create a picture by planning and design or by intuitively following an instinct.
In threes: Group discuss rational-cognitive mode and intuitive mode in therapy.
In the same threes we did an exercise with client, listener and observer in which the client explores their relationship with a significant other, using a mala to list points, starting from factual information and going on to more personal things, noting feelings and intuitions that arise.
We can distinguish between "intuitive signs" and "abreaction". By intuitive signs is meant symptoms that something is happening below our awareness that needs investigation.
Intuitive Signs: Lump in throat, hesitation, tensing of muscles, stop in breathing, tremour or shiver.
Abreactions are larger scale bodily responses that effectively discharge energy brought up by primary dukkha.
Abreaction: Weeping, hearty laughter, strong bodily reactions, raging, going cold, yawning
We have ways of inhibiting abraction. These are things that we might not want to do in many social situations. Intuitive signs, however, are more discrete. Intuitive signs may indicate a need to abreact or to understand a situation in a new way.
Resolution comes when a duke has been abreacted. Resolution brings a sense of lightness, a clean feeling, clearer sight, relaxation, ease in breathing.
In same threes, repeat the mala exercise with a new client, this time working more slowly, checking with each bead “Is there a feeling or intuitive sign?”
Intuitive signs are abbreviated forms of abreaction. Shiver is small form of freezing with fear. Giggling is small form of laughing out loud. Lump in throat is strangulated weeping. Another form of strangulated weeping is yawning, but here it is more a matter of diverting the energy of the weeping into some other visceral process. Yawning is how we express tiredness or abreact boredom, but it can also be less appropriately used to avert crying. Unabreacted energy may be diverted into any other strong visceral process, such as having sex or fighting. Thus a person might have sex in order to feel the release of tension, but the tension may be due to some unabreacted hurt that has nothing to do wih the relationship with the sexual partner. Similarly a person might get into a fight in the evening with their spouse or with somebody in a bar, when there really is no basis of quarrel with that person, but there is energy that has not been discharged from other hurt, perhaps a humiliation that happened at work earlier in the day. So we can distinguish between intuitive signs that are indicators of something that needs to be abreacted and diversions which are ways that the person has found to discharge energy inappropriately.
Diversions: Yawning, sex, masturbation, fighting, self-harm, compulsive behaviours (obsessions, over eating, ritualistic behaviour, addictive habits), cynical humour.
Some of the things that are used as diversions do have appropriate uses too. Sometimes we yawn because we are tired, which is natural. Sometimes we yawn because we are bored which is an appropriate abreaction. Sometimes we yawn to suppress tears which is a diversion. Sometimes we fight in a just cause which is natural, sometimes we fight in a situation where we are frightened by a real threat which is an appropriate abreaction, sometimes we fight just to divert energy created by some other hurt that has no connection with the fight.
In same threes, repeating the exercise with third person as client.
The mala exercises can be done in pairs or small groups as counselling exercises or may be done individually alone. The advantage of doing it with a partner is the possibility of being facilitated. The advantage of doing it alone is that one may be less inhibited, especially if one is completely alone somewhere where shouting or loud laughter or wailing will not disturb anybody else.This, therefore, is a valuable thing to do from time to time in one's personal development work.
We revised the ideas about intuitive signs as indicating some overflow of energy that betrays that something needs to be looked at. In social situations these are skipped over, but in therapy one needs to hesitate at such points and look more carefully. Therapist therefore needs (1) the skill to spot the sign and then (2) the skill to hold the client on the point and make space for investigation.
We also looked further at the diversion of unabreacted energy. One form of this is pressure of speech. We looked at how speech has become a means for buying time, as in the story of 1001 Nights where Scheherazade saves her life by story telling. One of the ways of diversion is talking. Especially for women. Where men might laugh or get angry a woman will talk. This is because by talking a woman can hold the man’s attention and is less likely to get hit. Therapist may need the assertiveness to cut through the client’s endless stories and bring them back to the point, to the first bead on their mala, as it were. To be effective this means that the client has to feel safe.
When energy is diverted into activity that has a positive or constructive outcome we call it sublimation. Sublimation is the diversion of energy toward a more sublime object. Civilisation is built out of sublimated energy.
These categories of phenomena all relate to the energy economy in the body. When energy is not abreacted it has to go somewhere. It may be diverted, either usefully or destructively, or one remains full. This is like the image of a bucket full of water. When it is full, if it is wobbled there is spillage. The intuitive signs are spillage. When one is very full the spillage may become so frequent as to interfere with ordinary life.
Therapy may be concerned with tracing the roots of hurt and allowing abreaction or it may be involved with finding a constructive form of sublimation. In either case the therapist needs the skills of noticing the signs and slowing down to create space for them to be explored.
The skills of spotting with sharp attention on the one hand and slowing down on the other are symbolised by the idea of the tiger and the ox. Yesterday’s mala exercise is an exercise in looking at the connection between feelings and facts. It requires training of attention. Also when we had done the basic exercise we slowed it down so as to look more carefully. Tiger is quick and sharp whereas ox is slow and strong. for good therapy we need to combine the two.
In Pairs: group discussed the ideas so far.
Brain science is at an early stage. There is a lot that we do not know. We have information from
1. studies of people with brain injury or hemiplegia
2. experiments in which we measure or stimulate the electrical activity in the brain
3. post-mortem studies of brain tissue
4. experiments with animals
5. observation of animals
but none of these provides full or clear and conclusive information on many matters.
The most basic observation of the brain shows that it has three parts, the primitive basal brain sometimes called the limbic system plus two hemispheres of the “new” brain of higher animals. We do not know for sure why the brain is so divided, but we think that the two sides deal with different things and work against each other so that activities emerge from the relative balance between them. Rather as two opposed fingers are needed to pick up a small object, so most precise activities depend upon opposed forces within the brain achieving some sort of balance.
A simple example is the brain of a small bird. In the bird the left brain looks for the seed on the ground, while the right brain watches out for the cat in the bushes.Left brain knows what it is looking for, right brain is open to possibilities and haunted by past experience. Left brain is concerned with the future, right with the past. Left is over-optimistic, right is depressive/pessimistic.
It is as though the limbic system says “I am hungry”. The left brain then says “I’ll fly down to the lawn and get some seeds”. The right brain then says “Are you so stupid. There might be a cat in the bushes. You'll get us killed.” The bird hesitates on the branch, torn between the voices of the two hemispheres. However, the voice of the limbic system in the background is quite insistent, so it has to do something. If the left brain wins, the bird flies down to the lawn to pick up seed. If there is a movement in the bushes, the right brain perks up and the balance changes. The bird flies back up into the tree. Our brains are more sophisticated but they probably work in a roughly similar fashion. When we say that we are “in two minds” about something this may be more literally true than we think.
In threes: Counselling exercise with client exploring his/her optimistic side and depressive side.
You don’t have a “self” but you do have a body. Thus we can see that there is no head quarters or command centre in the brain, no "self" is to be found, it operates by a balance of forces that are all pressing in different directions, thus there is a process, but there is no unitary self at the centre of it. Nonetheless, the body, which shows us the outcome of the brain activity, can tell you the truth about your “self”. So, you don't have a self but there is a body and the body has a brain and the body, manifesting the process of the brain, can reveal the truth about our "self"
The appearance of a self is created by the emergence of “style” or “temperament”. In a group of sparrows one will take the risk of flying down to the lawn first and the others will follow. After that the others will expect that sparrow to go first. Thus an identity is created and socially reinforced. It may simply originally have been that this was the hungriest bird, but now he becomes the king of the sparrows. The same dynamics happen among ourselves.
Two short demonstration sessions
Client one was struggling with conflict between feelings related to maintaining status and position and feelings related to wanting to be an enthusiastic participant (“free child”). each part wanting attention, but in different ways and in opposition to each other. At one point in the therapy therapist was able to remark upon an intuitive sign and the client was able to go into the feelings on a deeper level, abruptly starting to cry and abreact some of the affect.
Client two had had a recent experience of rejection by a group to which she had given much, sacrificing herself in many ways. However the expected abreaction of grief and anger was not flowing as might have been expected and client was still full of emotion to an incapacitating degree. It became apparent that the recent situation actually echoed an even more serious pattern of events from childhood where the client had been in a vulnerable position and was extensively abused over a period only to be rejected in the end. Thus the recent occurrence was reactivating the earlier one. The therapist was able to articulate the fact that the client “had sacrificed enough” and this produced a loosening of the process of emotional discharge.
In threes, discuss what happened in the counselling sessions, especially what the therapist did and how it related to the theory taught so far in the course.
Student shared her history of childhood timidity and inhibition of sexuality resulting from various incidents of punishment or humiliation and of her adult attempts to reclaim her femininity.
Question & Answer Session
We looked at
- therapy as a process supported by refuge, of life as a spiritual journey toward refuge and therapy as accompanying the person along that journey; how this does not have to be couched in Buddhist language necessarily. Insofar as the therapist has inner refuge, she has confidence that whatever comes up will be held “by the Buddha” and so need have no fear of the process that will unfold between herself and the client. Refuge takes away the panic that might otherwise arise due to the risk in any interpersonal encounter. If the therapist has such a refuge then this provides a refuge for the client too during the therapy and this will also help the clinet to find his own refuge.
- how body language and movement adds a dimension to communication and is, in fact, a more fundamental form of communication than words, seeing that most animals communicate successfully without words, having only the “la-la level”.
- the role of intuition and how “intuitive signs” are a form of unconscious communication dropping a hint as if the person were communicating “I will show you this little bit of what you need to know about me, but I won’t show you any more until I see how you react to this much.”
- the current rapprochement between science and spirituality, especially in the areas of cognitive and neuroscience.
Sharing what has been most interesting in the course so far.
Some points were:
- Mala exercise is very good for keeping one on track. With a client one might want to use a shorter mala than the 108 bead, but working alone oneself it may be valuable to persevere and try to go on to the end of the full mala.
- Importance of refuge and creating safe space, the anxiety that client and counsellor both feel
- Left and right brain creating ambivalence, all decisions involve such ambivalence whether it is deciding to drink a coffee or who to marry, whatever scale of decision the process is similar. This also means that when client asserts something there is probably also another voice inside them saying something different
- You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be Buddhist; therapy is a spiritual journey, it can be expressed in many different forms of language
- The most important things do not necessarily get put into words. If there is a safe space and abreaction then something therapeutic is happening even if the therapist does not know what it is
- After deep sharing a person needs some space and permission to withdraw and digest what has happened
- We can be worried “Is my problem important enough?” but even the smallest behaviour is somehow linked to the whole of karmic history.
- All interpersonal problems can be turned around. If I am frightened in an interaction, perhaps i am also being frightening to others; if I want attention, perhaps i am not giving enough attention; and so on.
- The most important thing is deep respect for the client and for the inner process of the client. Simply to listen in deep respect is already therapeutic.
- As therapist one may get so caught up in the words that one does not notice the intuitive signs and so misses the gateways that lead to deeper meaning and release.
Developing the idea of how the brain works Different people have differently organised brains. Each hemisphere is capable of sustaining life, but without the other one is quite handicapped. we are going to look at what seems to be the commonest arrangement. The first thing to understand is that each hemisphere has a strong connection with the opposite side of the body: left brain with right body and vice versa.
On the right side of the body is the right arm and most people are right handed. The left brain therefore has the strong right arm and it is dedicated to doing things. On the left side of the body there is no strong right arm but there is the heart. The right brain is more concerned with matters of the heart.
The left brain is also the repository of vocabulary. All the words are in the left brain. Speech functions are distributed between the hemispheres but the actual words are in the left. Therefore if a person has a left hemiplegia they often loose the ability to speak. Such a person may know what they want to say but be quite incapable of finding the words. This can be very frustrating. In the right brain, in the place symmetrical to where there is language on the left, is music. Music is the “language” of the right brain. The “la-la” level thus speaks to the right brain.
The left brain thus deals with activity in the world whereas the right brain is focussed on inner concerns, the left is “sensible” and the right is “caring”. At worst his means that the left is ruthless and he right sentimental. At best, the left is effective in word and deed and the right is loving and compassionate.
In therapy, one may need to get beyond the public relations department (left brain) in order to deal more directly with the boss (right brain), get beyond the presenting appearance to get to the heart of the matter. Therapy is a matter of listening to the heart with the heart. It begins with words and definition of issues (left brain) but it needs to move onto the la-la level, the metaphoric poetry and music of the heart. To be a therapist it helps to be a poet.
In Buddhism this going beyond is prajna and where it gets to is love, compassion, joy and peace which are all matters of the heart.
We began by clarifying a point in translation of the morning lecture, repeating that the vocabulary is in the left hemisphere and revising the points related to this fact.
Left brain and right brain use language differently. Left brain is literal. Right brain is poetic and metaphorical. some words have an established left brain usage and right brain usage, thus “know” can mean to know that something is a fact (left) or can mean to know somebody (right). “Believe” - we can say “I believe that North Korea has a larger population than South Korea”, meaning that we think it is true (left brain) or we can say, “I believe in you,” in which case we do not mean that I believe that you are a fact, but rather I am talking about a kind of feeling or relationship (right brain).
Right brain is the Ox Mind. Left brain is the Tiger Mind
At best tiger is active, effective, clear, rational and sensible. At worst ruthless, cruel and uncaring. This mind has a mechanical model of the world and of other people and so can treat them as things.
At best the Ox Mind is caring, sensitive, creative, open to possibilities. At worst it is sentimental, depressive or maudlin. This mind has an organic, sense of the world and may treat things as if they are living beings. For the right brain everything has a soul.
The tiger is a killing machine where the ox is a service animal.
To live effectively there has to be co-operation between these two.
to discuss these concepts.
In threes, counselling exercise with client, counsellor & observer. Same groups as for the exercise yesterday. Client to explore “When am I like the tiger and when am I like the ox?”
Write a poem about a tiger and another about an ox.
Emerging from his lair
in the morning haze
he sniffs the air and kindles
fire in his gaze.
Limbering up for business,
the hunt, the find, the kill,
sleek in every movement
certain of his skill.
The unsuspecting prey
from down wind to take,
precise in every move
no shadow of mistake.
Such majesty of muscle
no other will despise,
if you chance to meet him
don’t look into those eyes.
Patience on study legs,,
stolid in the road,
carrying a burden,
wary of the goad.
How many miles of steady steps
are incised on your brain?
How many ancient memories
will you relive again?
Upon your mighty shoulders
I will safely ride
from now until forever,
in harmony, astride.
How strange your wordless love call
that says we’ll never part,
a snort from your great nostril…
No beast has greater heart
The importance of poetry. Poetry is somewhere between language and music. It harmonises the two sides of the brain. Poetry is easier to remember than prose. Many Buddhist texts are written in poetic form so that they could be remembered and recited or sung. They are intended to be learnt by heart. Poetry is also song. The Buddha spoke “words worthy to be laid up in the heart”. The very fact that we say “by heart” shows that we are talking about a form of language that reaches to a deeper part of ourselves. In therapy we are trying to reach the deeper part of the person.
From a purely left brain perspective, poetry, song and dance are all pointless activities, but they reach into the right brain and express the deepest truths of life in a way that merely literal language cannot achieve.
It is very useful to a therapist, therefore, to have a poetic sense and facility in a poetic turn of phrase. Turning the life of the client into poetry brings grace and ease out of trouble and conflict. Poetic images stick. They stay in the heart and mind of the client and become a strength. It may be just a single phrase that provides the key to a new opening or release for the client. Do not just rely upon left brain language. Counselling has to sense and activate the poetic aspect.
So it is recommended that the person learning to be a therapist make a habit of reading poetry, learn some by heart, practise writing poems and find a poetic way of expression.
in same threes as before, counselling on same topic, with third person as client. This time beginning by reflecting upon whether one is similar to the tiger or ox in one’s own poems or in the poems of one’s other group members. 20 minutes counselling and 20 minutes feedback discussion.
Whole group divided into three groups (approx 9 per group) in which to share the poems written earlier.
Q: Ideas about Tiger and Ox do not separate as clearly as the ideas about left brain and right brain.
A: Yes, that’s right. Of course, using images, like tiger and ox, is a right brain way of thinking whereas using literal terms like left and right brain is a left brain way of presenting them.
Q: Is it a matter of balance between the two?
A: Yes. In a person who has healthy brain, all activities involve both sides of the brain working in co-operation or against each other, very little is simply a matter of one side operating on its own.
Q: What is difference between “working through” and “cutting through” and how do we make cutting through happen?
A: Mostly you cannot make cutting through happen. you can work at “working through” and then “cutting through” may happen or not. Generally it is a spontaneous development, an insight that causes a deep emotional rearrangement for the client. Lesser reversals might be brought about at a more cognitive level, perhaps when the therapist asks “Is that true?” or “That is what you have heard, but what do you think?” or “Is that a problem?” and so on. These are small scale reversals.
Q: Such a change needs to be more than merely cognitive, is that right?
A: Yes, there needs to be an emotional shift and then implementation in changed behaviour.
The samadhi of therapy.
Mala exercise is like applied and sustained thought. Mind on one object. ZT is object related work. When mind is on one object one goes beyond mere thought, one enters into the experience. One relives the experience. One is present to the object and also present in the now, both at the same time. Right brain is present to the object and left brain is present in the now. Idea of being in the here and now to the exclusion of the object is only half brain. Modern society is only half brain. Real mindfulness is full brain.
Ox mind brings the object. Tiger mind becomes very still, like tiger watching. So person is in here and now and in there and then both at same time. When this is established the person can go in and out of the experience at will.
Therapist follows client and enters into client’s experience. Also therapist needs open heart toward client, needs to feel and experience the emotional feeling of the client and have a profound caring. This is activation of right brain of therapist. If therapist only uses left brain, she remains detached. She might listen in an attentive way, and that can be helpful or comfortable, but there is not full engagement because therapist has not entered into the client’s experience with right brain.
Right brain and left brain work together. When right brain becomes engaged, tiger becomes even more intense. When tiger is on his own, he wanders about and gets clever, but the ox is really the master and so when the ox is active the tiger becomes even more focussed.
So first stage of dhyana is applied and sustained thought. This is the beads of the mala. Keep coming back to single object. then second stage is joy (piti), positive feeling, great love for client, great compassion. Therapist strives to reach deeply into client. Client strives to reach deeply into experience.
When client enters deeply into experience there may be abreaction or new insight. New insight may allow positive diversion (sublimation). At this point therapist moves into next stage of dhyana which is create stillness and space. Client needs therapist to be present and still, with great heart of the ox. No impatience or superficial cleverness, just deep caring presence. Client may discharge emotion. Therapist creates permissive space for this, not minimising, not exaggerating. Staying with the natural level of expression of the client. In this way client experiences a measure of liberation.
When such a pulse of catharsis has ended, it may be enough for one session, or it may be time to move on to the next bead and start the cycle again. At some point client may experience a reversal insight. This may reconfigure the way that the client views many things. This, however, needs to be deep and genuine. it needs to be in the right brain. It is not good if it is just a cognitive idea in the left brain. that will actually just immunise the client and make it more difficult to get into the real experience in order to do the real work. Too many people are immunised in this way and so closed off from the depth of experience by quick-fix ideas.
Q&A led to discussion about attitude of therapist toward client
- Further discussion of “applied and sustained thought” and its place in meditation method. In the sutras Buddha talks about samadhi in terms of the dhyanas as a series of stages. The first dhyana is “applied and sustained thought”. Modern meditation teachers generally do not teach this, but try to take people to a more advanced stage directly, but this might not be wise. It might be better to proceed as Buddha instructed. Especially for lay practitioners or people engaged in the world, the mind initially is full of thought, so starting meditation with the step of focussing thought is much more practical than trying to let it go.
- If we follow the sequence of the dhyanas it begins with “applied and sustained thought” and then moves into feelings such as joy and eventually naturally reaches a place of tranquility ot equanimity. Starting with “applied and sustained thought” this may happen naturally, whereas starting by putting thought aside may simply lead to the mind becoming tired with the effort of doing so and drifting off into day dreaming.
- Story of Platform sutra with two poems representing two ways of practice and my poem representing a middle way (see more below). For reclusive monastics it may be possible to use the direct method of Hui Neng, but for ordinary people a middle way may be more practical.
- Amida-shu auxiliary practices include an exercise of self-review (What have I received? What have I given in return? What troubles have I caused? What blessings have I received?) and an exercise in which one then offers all of this to the Buddhas. One offers everything that one has found within oneself, whether it seems like something good, bad or neutral, with confidence that the Buddha has such a vast vision and big heart that Buddha will accept everything happily and give it rightful place. When one offers everything to Buddha, Buddha gives peace in return. In therapy, the client brings their “devils” and the therapist receives them. Client is initially afraid to present his devils but therapist has seen many devils before and knows that if you treat them nicely they turn into angels in the end. In this sense the therapist has “big mind”. If the therapist does not have sufficiently big mind, but has refuge, then therapist trusts that Buddha can accommodate the client’s devils and mentally offers them to Buddha.
- Story of Jesus and Maria Magdalena and casting out of seven devils. Maria brought her devils to Jesus and later (according to some early Christian texts) she became the most favoured disciple of Jesus.
- Different interpretations of the Satipatthana Sutta: In the early part of the sutta there is a phrase that can be translated “places mindfulness before him” which implies a deliberately chosen object. First interpretation, therefore, is that this sutta is about observing what happens when you have that object before you, which is the same as all our mala exercises. Second interpretation, which is currently more widespread, is that the sutta is a series of exercises for observing random changes in breathing, feeling, thought, etc. You will certainly learn some things from the second, but the first may be more productive.
- Therapy can be seen as meditation: i sit down and place my object of mindfulness before me. In this case the object is the client and the client’s world. As I contemplate the client’s world (including their devils) I see what happens to my breathing, my feelings, my mind etc.
Platform Sutra Poems - the first two are from the sutra.
The body is a bodhi tree
The mind a mirror bright
We should wipe them constantly
So that no dust alight.
There never was a bodhi tree
nor a mirror bright
since fundamentally none exists
where can the dust alight?
Whether we see a bodhi tree
or a mirror bright
let us welcome everything
whether it be dust or light.
The first poem shows an attitude to the spiritual path of constantly working by one’s own effort to be good and pure in word, deed and thought in all circumstances. This is one way.
The second poem shows the spiritual path resulting from a deep insight into emptiness, from which a state of ease naturally flows without special effort because one is established in the "essence of mind".
the third poem shows the path as a middle way between these first two, suitable for the ordinary person who may or may not have a partial or complete insight into emptiness, but can have faith that all circumstances are capable of transforming themselves into steps on the way.
In the mala exercise, as counsellor, if your client starts to abreact, allow them to do so. Don’t start to laugh or giggle yourself. Take it seriously. The abreaction might be very brief or it might go on for a while. Allow space for it to happen and let the client have time to experience it and to see whatever insight comes.
as before, with each bead start a sentence with the name or identity of the person: “My father…” Allow the rest of the sentence to come spontaneously. If nothing comes wait and search. When something comes, say it. Never mind whether it seems important or trivial. Try not to censor yourself. Counsellor: Do you have an image? Client tries to get a clear image associated with the sentence. When they have the image, indicate “Yes”. Client watches the image, static or dynamic - dynamic is best. Counsellor: Do you have a feeling from then? Counsellor: Do you have a feeling from now? Client feels the feelings. If some kind of abreaction starts, allow it to happen. If not, move on to the next bead.
Client: My father played tennis with me
Cllr: Do you have an image
Client: Yes [in imagination sees tennis court and father on far side hitting the ball toward client as child]
Cllr: Do you have a feeling then?
Client: Yes, I want to win.
Cllr: Do you have a feeling now?
Client: I’m angry and sad.
Client [moves mala bead]: My father hated to lose.
Cllr: Do you have an image?
Client: Yes, of my father losing a game of chess. He taught me to play chess and played until one day I beat him. He never played me again. I can see the chess board.
Cllr: Do you have a feeling from then?
Client: Yes. i am gleeful that I won, but later I am disappointed and hurt that Dad will not play with me.
Cllr: Do you have a feeling from now?
Client: Yes, I am so sorry. I don’t know why he was like that. He must have been hurt. Oh.
Client [moves mala bead] My father hated his brother, must have hated his older brother to win.
Client starts to cry.
Cllr: What is happening now?
Client: I feel sad for my father. [Moves bead] My father must have been very unhappy at home when he was young.
Cllr: Yes and see it?
Client [forming imaginary image in mind] Yes, I can imagine.
Client: Strong feeling of sympathy for my father. [Moves bead] My father left home as soon as he could. The war came and [Moves bead] my father joined the airforce.
Cllr: Do you have an image
Client: I can see [moves bead] my father in uniform looking very handsome.
Cllr: ..a feeling?
Client: He looks very strong. i feel proud of him.
We can see from this example that the method works even when the client was not present at the items that are being cited. Father being unhappy at home and joining the airforce happened before client was born, but there can still be an image and feelings.
In the same threes as for the earlier mala exercise, counselling with counsellor, client and observer, with client working with mala. This time groups worked in their own time experimenting with the method.
Question: A students reported having used the exercise in her own time and had an insight that revealed that a blockage that she currently has in teaching (believing that she should not teach material that she has received from somebody else, this being a kind of stealing) actually derived from an incident of cheating at school when she stole the answer sheet in order to appear to do well in class. The student asked having had this insight, how should I proceed with the exercise?
Answer: You could use the mala saying, for each bead, “Something i have stolen in my life is…” Each item will bring an image and a different feeling. From this may come further insight and/or more realism about oneself and/or greater compassion through realising hat everybody steals things in one way or another.
Question: If client is full of emotion and talking in a flow should one interrupt them?
Answer: There is no harm in letting the flow continue, but sometimes it may be more valuable to intervene saying something like, "OK, slow down, just feel it," which may interrupt the flow of words without breaking the flow of emotion and may even take the emotion to a deeper level.
Final Day - Day Five
Exercise on the difference between right and left brain.
In small groups: consider the following three propositions
1. Non-duality and duality are not different
2. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
3. If you believe in oneness you cannot harm another person because you will realise that in doing so you harm yourself thereby.
Discuss: (a) what does the right brain make of these statements and what does the left brain think about them? (b) these statements are all favoured by the right brain but rejected by the left - can you see why?
- Basic aim is to become better at doing counselling and psychotherapy
- Therapy and spiritual path are the same.
- The theory of our approach is Buddha’s teaching.
- We looked at three aspects: technique, theory/model and refuge
- Dukkha provokes energy that may be abreacted, repressed or diverted. Good diversions are sublimation.
- Repressed energy interferes with ordinary life and its presence is hinted at by intuitive signs. We likened this to a full bucket spilling when nudged.
- repressed energy is clinging dukkha.
- We looked at 3 ways of understanding how it is that religion makes people healthier: techniques, modelling, inward blessing.
- We listed the forms of intuitive signs
- We listed common forms of abreaction
- Then we looked at the characteristics of left brain and right brain
- We saw left brain as like the tiger and right brain as the ox and we did counselling exercises looking at what part of ourselves is tiger-like and what part is ox-like.
- We saw the need to get beyond left brain presentation to engage with right brain impressionistic mode.
- We used the model of the brain of a small bird to illustrate how conflicting impulses help us make decisions, but also cause ambivalence
- You don’t have a self but you do have a body and the body can tell you the truth about yourself.
- Two counselling demonstrations
- We looked at therapy as a process supported by refuge
- We developed the mala exercise in various ways.
- we equated the basic form of the mala exercise with “applied and sustained thought”, the first dhyana.
- we saw how therapy progresses in a sequence that follows the sequence Buddha outlined in the dhyanas as the means of entering samadhi
- we talked about mindfulness needing to engage the whole mind, not just half of it
- we said that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to be buddhist.
- We looked at the notion of reversal - “turning around in the seat of consciousness”
- we saw the importance of poetry and wrote poems about the tiger and the ox
- we talked about the attitude that the therapist needs to have toward the client involving respect and profound appreciation. open to receiving everything.
to review what has been important in the course so far.
Student 1: Had found the material about left and right brain useful as it had given insight into her own left brain tendency, enabled her to see how this had been accentuated by an academic career, and enabled her to realise that her husband is more in a right brain mode, thus enabling her to understand him better. She was also finding herself moving towards a better balance between left and right and has been experimenting with different ways of thinking and feeling. These experiments brought some insight and at a certain point a release (abreaction) of feeling which she felt as “happiness”.
Student 2: Talked of also being a left brain person and this being an obstacle to forming relationships. The student talked about the exercise in which we reflected on three propositions earlier in the day and said that when she is with another person she finds it difficult to appreciate the “oneness”. This led to discussion of “common humanity”.
Student 3: Started by talking about being over-emotional, over-reacting to events in her life to a degree that interferes with practical matters that need attention. We talked about ways of redressing this balance and this led to an image forming of a particular conflict situation and some manifestation of the associated emotions. At a point, the client had a sudden onset of headache, which was a blocking of the emotion, but by again going into the associated image this emotion was released.
Student 4. Talked about dreams of her work situation. In the dreams she is struggling with insoluble matters so that she feels exhausted. When the therapist asked her how she felt about her work tears appeared in her eyes. She did not answer the question but talked about associated matters and this led to some emotional release. We also talked about how to exert will within a dream and break the repeating right brain cycle.
Student 5: talked about her strong feelings critical of inequality in the world and also her bias against counselling and activities of this kind, seeing it as prying too much into the past and also as often an activity of the privileged. What came over was the dilemma of having strong antagonism to an aspect of how the world is that, realistically, might be ameliorated but could never be totally fixed. She looked at her own experience in a class in which she had been the favoured student and so had been the beneficiary of inequality.
Leading & following
Generally we say that the therapist follows the client. The therapist does not cling to her idea, but moves with the client. Having experience, the therapist does often slightly anticipate where the client is going to go, so, in practice, sometimes the client is leading slightly and sometimes the therapist is leading slightly, but when the therapist leads she must be prepared to let her idea go if that is not where the client actually goes.
eg. Client speaks of a significant scene. Therapist may anticipate that client is going to form an image of this scene and that some emotional discharge may follow. However, this will not happen in every case. It might be that as the scene starts to form in the client’s mind a new association forms and send them off in a new direction.
At times it might be appropriate to give advice, but a great deal less often than the inexperienced counsellor tends to employ. When the therapist gives advice, in many cases, the client will not take it in the form suggested. The client may well do something, but not exactly what the therapist prescribed. There is nothing wrong with this. it is not a failure for either party. It is normal. The client has to take possession of the matter and make it his own.
The Left-Right brain Idea can promote tolerance, because it enables one to appreciate that on any matter there will be at least two completely different legitimate ways to approach it.
In the natural flow of consciousness a person moves back and forth between left and right brain. A thought (left) provokes and image which leads into an imagined experience (right) with emotion that as it proceeds triggers a new thought (left) and so on. It is not a matter of one side of the brain being best. Both are necessary. The right needs the left in order not to drift off onto impractical fantasies and the left needs the right so that it not become ruthless and mechanical. A flowing interchange is healthy.
Words are not always necessary
When abreaction is triggered the client often feels some urge to go on talking to explain, justify or even escape from what is happening, but at such a point words are more or less superfluous and the therapist may indicate that it is OK to “just let it come” until the emotional charge subsides. It is important to be natural, giving the emotionality space without exaggerating it.
Counselling in threes.
Grafitti exercise reflecting our final impressions of the course.