confused thoughts

 

This meditation may help develop awareness and organization of thoughts. Anxiety and depression often involve overwhelming thoughts, confusion and/or a sense of disinterest. This meditation has the potential to help you get a handle on the appearance and movement of thoughts in the mind. The purpose is not to override all thinking in your daily life. Instead, it provides another way of noticing your thoughts. This meditation draws from the labeling meditations developed by Shinzen Young and other insight meditation teachers.

golden retriever resting

 

This guided meditation helps you develop awareness of sensations in the body.  Anxiety and depression often involve losing contact with the body and using this meditation may help you regain a connection.  You will also develop a way of noticing physical phenomena as they arise. This meditation draws its influence from the labeling and body scan approaches developed by Shinzen Young and Richard Miller.

 

animal collage

 

Tibetan meditation practices often involve the detailed imagining of a teacher (Guru, mentor, role model) or deity (religious icon) seated in front of and sending light, energy or power to the meditator. These types of meditation are often part of more advanced practices used by those with some mastery in concentration, focus and stability.  

My therapeutic use of meditation involves re-working practices from the Buddhist tradition to make them more effective for those struggling with mental health issues. Joe Loizzo asserted in “Sustainable Happiness” his Western psychologically focused re-imagining of Tibetan Meditation, that a meditator may picture in place of a deity or teacher, a human mentor with whom they do not have a complicated relationship. In my psychotherapy practice I notice that people find it difficult to relate to human beings in uncomplicated ways if they have suffered abuse.  Sometimes clients couldn’t name anyone that they admired or would choose people who represented complications in their lives. If I look for alternatives to using a human role model within Tibetan Buddhism, I’d find the use of a Buddha or deity figure in its place. However, Westerners may not relate to this imagery. Instead of a deity or human role model, I’ve opted to work with shapes, colors of light, and healing animals. In other contexts, one may refer to these animals as spirit animals, power animals or totems. Those who struggle to cope with people and who have suffered abuse often can relate to an animal or pet as something for which they feel uncomplicated love and admiration.

I’ve taken deity meditation, used animal imagery and applied it to loving-kindness (metta) meditation. I’ve included written instructions for this meditation below. Having clients imagine an animal enables them to access a compassionate response. Rather than having the deity or in this case animal impart the healing light, I use the meditator as the source of light or energy revealing themselves as powerful and capable of healing and compassion. The meditator sends light to the animal and not the other way around. It starts with picturing a small light at the heart which expands into the body and moves outside of the body. I use the mental picture of a sphere of light around the body of both animal and meditator to help them relate to space around themselves. The inner light works with the child-like self (inner child) and difficult thoughts and emotions generated from within. The meditator recites the loving-kindness phrases (May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering) to the animal first and then themselves. This order of events helps them to build confidence and accept self-compassion. By having the meditator visualize a healing animal, the energy of the compassion for another being becomes a jumping off point to self-compassion. I often find clients struggle to have compassion for themselves but are able to give compassion to another being. This helps the client get the hang of the warm compassionate feeling and generate if for themselves later in the meditation. I sometimes discuss this practice with the client as filling the coffers of compassion. I explain that it is taxing to only give compassion to others when you do not give it to yourself. With kids I present it as a gas tank in a car that needs refueling. I discuss this use of light more in-depth in a blog article entitled “The Book of Living.”

Through the use of light and animal imagery combined with loving-kindness meditation phrases, clients were able to generate self-compassion. I have found that clients walk away from a session with the confidence to use any part of the visualization when noticing anxiety in their daily lives. Post-meditation client’s reported feelings of calm and an ability to tackle their problems. Try the steps of the meditation below.

Meditation practice experiment:

Note: Relative calm is helpful for this meditation, therefore postural yoga and deep breathing exercises will help prior to meditation.

    1. Picture a small orb or sphere of colored light emerging from space floating in front of you and from that light emerges the healing animal. Take a moment to imagine the animal in great detail. Make eye contact with the image.

 

    1. Recite (to self) the phrases of compassion to the animal: “May they (you or animal name) be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering.”

 

    1. During the recitation, picture a small circle of light forming at the heart and direct a beam of light to the heart of the healing animal.

 

    1. As you continue to recite and send light, imagine the animal’s body filling with the bright light.

 

    1. Picture the light expanding outside of the animal’s body forming a sphere of bright light around the animal. Imagine the animal acknowledges you by making meaningful eye contact. Pause with this image for a period.

 

    1. Stop or let the reciting of the phrase dissolve into the heart of the animal.

 

    1. Imagine the animal dissolving into the sphere of light and it compressing into a smaller orb.

 

    1. Visualize the orb rising above the crown of the head and entering the body moving inside through the face, neck and resting at the heart. Pause.

 

    1. Recite (to self) the self-compassion phrase: “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”

 

    1. While reciting the phrases imagine the circle of light at the heart grow, spreading from the heart into the neck and head, down through the torso, legs and feet and into the arms hands and fingers.

 

    1. Allow the light to spread outside of the body forming a sphere of light around it and with each phrase repetitions allow the sphere of light to continue to grow. Pause while reciting and visualizing.

 

    1. Let the phrase repetition cease and pause in the light.
      Note: The light of the sphere protects one from external triggers, difficult people and situations. The inner light protects one from difficult thoughts and emotions coming from within.

 

    1. Allow the light of the sphere move closer to the body until it is just in the body. Let the light drain from the top of the head down to the heart and the bottom of the feet up to the heart into a small circle of light.

 

  1. Imagine the small circle of light absorbs into the heart. Rest and meditate as long as you’d like.

 

Resources of interest and References:
Relevant blog articles from this site: Role Modeling Imagery Practice, The Human Shaped Bubble, Healing Mentor / Role Modeling Meditation,
Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo
Video: Joe Loizzo on the Neuropsychology of Sustainable Happiness

mirror image mountain in lake

 

In this guided meditation I’ve attempted to simplify the process of entering a dream-like body that exhibits the qualities of flexibility and openness. This meditative practice draws its inspiration from Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices and the work of Dr. Joe Loizzo. This Meditation is a transformative practice which gives the meditator a means to relieve the stress-reactive body-mind and give one a taste of a semi-transparent body-mind. In this scenario, the world transforms as well, and the intersection between body and world becomes less defined.

In some form or another within Tibetan Buddhist traditions, this entry into the dream body takes place during the deity or healing mentor practice, generally before meeting the mentor. This transformation is more or less elaborate depending on the tradition, teacher or practice. This dissolving of the conventional body and entry into the dream body and dream world allow for optimal benefit and connection with the deity/healing mentor and therefore the healing process. I believe the transformation process in and of itself is useful to allow the meditator to feel more generally calm and empowered. I’ve explored more fully the practice of healing mentor meditation and entry to the dream body in other articles referenced below.

I began the meditation with deep breathing. If you’d like a more challenging practice please review my “Deep Breathing Visualization for Profound Support” to use as a way to visualize the breathing process in this exercise. I then used a body scan based on the BodySensing work of Dr. Richard Miller to thoroughly ground the meditator before dissolving the ordinary body and the world. The grounding body scan bolsters the transformation into the dream body helping the meditator make sense of the interaction between body and world or space.

This body scan lays the groundwork for a traditionally inspired Tibetan transformation of the body’s material qualities (flesh and bones) into a permeable state. This grounding provides an opportunity for the meditator to settle the nervous system. The ordinary appearance of the World transforms as well, and the meditator moves through the stages of light from day to night and into dawn. The meditator is then guided to reconstitute the ordinary body and the world and to re-emerge in the waking world. The meditation includes several pauses, but it may be useful to hit pause at points in the meditation that you’d like to explore more.

If at any point during the meditation you feel like you cannot continue stop, take some deep breaths, feel your body on the ground and reorient to the space around you.

Articles of Interest:
Role Modeling Imagery Practice
The Human Shaped Bubble
The Book of Living
Deep Breathing Visualization for Profound Support

Thankga and diving suit

 

Part I: Preparing for Death

I am currently participating in an in-depth course on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. According to Robert Thurman, the title is a bit deceiving, as it is a book about living.  There is no finality of death in this system, only various transitions known as the “between.”   In class, we use a translation by Francesca Freemantle with commentary by Chogyam Trungpa.  Trungpa’s commentary is interesting regarding its emphasis on a psychology of death and “between” states.   This article, however, will draw from other translations, texts and notions of death as well. 

The book emphasizes the need for a meditative practice of dissolution of the ordinary body (flesh and bones) while living. We need to suspend our materialistic views to dive below the surface into the unconscious mind, which is ordinarily inaccessible to the conscious mind, yet affects behavior and emotions.  By diving below the surface, we get a glimpse of the post-death process or the state known as the “reality between.”   The book describes the “between” states as being of utmost importance, and they are divided into six types of between states. I will not go into each between in this post, but one can find these defined in any translation of the book.  Trungpa’s commentary notes that a “between” is a place of emotional and psychological uncertainty.  In meditation, we can pause and sometimes experience “hanging out” in a between space.  Navigating the post-death state is a journey fraught with challenging perceptions including danger and beauty. We are reminded in the text that is all a display of the mind and that we no longer have a material body capable of being hurt or killed.  In dissolving ourselves during meditation, we get to hang our body temporarily on the clothesline, which helps us allow ourselves a chance to hang up our conventional view of our emotions and thoughts. In the ordinary material body, conscious ordinary thoughts and emotions pervade. In the subtle body, we get to experience the subtle mind more fully.   In the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism, this subtle body is achieved by various methods, including healing mentor (deity) meditation.   We do not dissolve into complete nothingness. Instead, we become “who we really are,” not identified with particular physical attributes or the materialistic self. 

To journey below consciousness during meditation, we have to put on a special suit to navigate the post-death “between” state.  As a deep sea diver needs a suit, goggles, and oxygen tank, we need something appropriate to plumb the depths of our consciousness.  After the process of dissolving our ordinary materialistic body, we don a subtle and more powerful body.  According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead when dying, we go through this dissolution process naturally, and it is necessary for us to recognize this process via our living meditation practice.  This body allows us to come to terms with the mind and its coded and symbolic phenomena.  Dissolving the ordinary body puts us in touch with a deeper level of the mind that is always present but often unexplored.  We then emerge as a body of light or encapsulated in a special suit or bubble that allows us the ability to transcend the limits of ourselves and connect with our innermost selves.  Tibetan art depicts this as spheres of light or rainbow light encapsulating the body of deities.  This light shines within to help cope with internal distress and encapsulates the body to deal with difficult external situations in life.  We imagine ourselves in our subtle body so that we can explore representations of mental phenomena that are generated and not apparent to our surface consciousness.  These phenomena or events may consist of colors, shapes sounds or embodiments and places that we may or may not recognize.

 

We practice this type of deep diving meditation whenever we are not doing concentration or loving kindness forms of meditation, though we may let go and get a glimpse of the between states in these meditations as well.  Tibetan Buddhists have a formalized way to use the imagination to get below the surface quickly and efficiently. This conception of death is something possible for people of various religious beliefs and those with no religious belief system.  The “between” state presents an encounter with whatever symbolizes problematic and overly attractive emotional states and thoughts for an individual. If one believes in reincarnation to a particular body or an ascension to another realm, this is a fascinating guidebook for the journey.  For those who think that life ends, and we just cease to exist, this may be an imaginative means to cope with emotions and troubling encounters as experienced in this life.

I will present some basic practices for dissolving the ordinary body and moving into the subtle body to facilitate an understanding of the “between” state in a future post.  I will also continue to explore this text regarding what is encountered in the between in part II.

References and Resouces of Interest:

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing In The Bardo – Francesca Freemantle and Chogyam Trungpa

The Tibetan Book of the Dead – Robert Thurman – Bob also has some great recorded lectures on this text.

Innate Happiness: Realizing Compassion-Emptiness – Khenpo Drimed Dawa – A great book that makes the path of Tibetan Buddhism and it’s practices accessible to Westerners.  Khenpo leads meditation groups and classes at the Awam Institute.

orange light in concrete room

 

In this post, I am sharing my experiences designing and leading mindfulness meditation groups for youth at-promise. The summary of my experiences below is part of a personal capstone project for the Nalanda Institute’s Contemplative Psychotherapy program.

This past year, I used mindfulness-based meditative interventions for at-promise youth.  I came to realize that sitting and following the breath or another object during meditation presented difficulties for the youth. I imagined these difficulties might have stemmed from a struggle with anxiety and lack of confidence. Many participants have been told they are incapable of sitting and paying attention. Internalizing these beliefs can make the practice seem challenging and frustrating.  I thought giving them an experience of relaxation and personal power or confidence before meditating would help their ability to sit calmly through the meditation.

I used the following basic structure for the group:  We held a brief discussion about the practices we’d be doing and what to expect. The youths were given the option to leave the room quietly if remaining still and quiet became difficult. I stated I trusted them to know when they were unable to maintain silence. This rule worked well. I rarely had to ask people to leave the group. I described the type of meditation we would do and an outline of expectations. I let them know they could lie down or sit for body sensing and then would sit up for guided mindfulness meditation. With few exceptions, the youth chose to lie down on the floor, with knees perched on a chair or legs flat on the ground.

I guided them to close their eyes, take a few deep breaths, then allow my voice to guide them through the parts of the body. I used a full body relaxation meditation that has roots in Western science’s progressive muscle and autogenic relaxation techniques in a form similar to Richard Miller’s “Body Sensing” approach. Miller’s version doesn’t tense or relax the muscles or direct the experiencer to relax like other approaches. Miller’s strategy rotates attention around areas of the body according to a motor and sensory cortex map and requests the meditator to bring that portion of the body into awareness. He adds to this body scan, movement through the subtle body energy system. Miller believes this system of very subtle energies points to our “True Nature.” As Miller stated, “Usually our listening is oriented toward objects. We rarely stop to consider the deep energies that animate these objects.” This idea of “true nature” fits very nicely with the Tibetan Buddhist notion of the limitless expanse of being and with Dr. Joe Loizzo’s human-shaped bubble imagery. Our “true nature” is far more than our identification with a physical body. It is the great interplay between the body and space and space and the body. Miller’s approach allows one to be open to whatever the experience is rather than imposing notions of relaxation.

I made some adaptations to Miller’s body scan by bringing in Dr. Joe Loizzo’s idea of the human shaped bubble as inspired by Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana practices. As the Miller scan moves the body into space, I request they dissolve the world of ordinary appearances (the universe, galaxy, solar system, Earth, continent, country, state, city and room around them. I direct meditators to dissolve or leave the ordinary body behind. I bring in Loizzo’s visualization of the body dissolving from solids (flesh and bones) to liquids, to gases and heat. I request the meditator to leave the ordinary body behind and re-emerge as Loizzo’s Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana inspired human shaped bubble. I describe the openness and flexibility of becoming a bubble. I allow them to rest in this state for a period on their own.

After several minutes of feeling the human-shaped bubble body in space, I would guide them to return the universe, galaxy, solar system, earth, location and room to its ordinary appearance. I would have them return to their ordinary body as well. I would then, guide them to come to a seated meditation position and “rest in pure awareness” for a few moments. I noticed after the body scan, dissolution and return to the ordinary body that the youths were completely relaxed and able to sit still.

I guided them to notice their breath, sometimes having them count their breaths backward. From there, I’d guide them to just meditate on the breath or through the other three foundations of mindfulness. Sometimes, we closed with a simple mantra recitation about change or loving kindness.

After the meditation, I left some time for discussion about experiences during the meditation. I found that combining some elements of Vajrayana practices (dissolution of ordinary appearances and body) with mindfulness practices were helpful. Using the body scan and imagery of the human shaped bubble allowed youth to relax and build confidence before seated meditation. The dissolution of the ordinary body and appearance structures helped the youth relate to themselves and to mindfulness meditation differently. I also noted my sensing where the group was during meditation helped me understand when guiding was an impediment or aid in their experience. If the group exhibited extraordinary calmness and alertness during the meditation, I guided them less. If they were struggling, I guided them more or provided a mantra to build concentration further.

Building the youths confidence and providing a deeper level of relaxation before mindfulness meditation proved useful in this case, helping eliminate doubt and performance anxiety around the practice. Utilizing Richard Miller’s techniques of body scanning meditation and bringing in the dissolution and re-emergence based on traditional Vajrayana meditation practices, I was able to give meditators a launching pad of confidence in their abilities to successfully approach the practice of ordinary mindfulness meditation.

The following are a few quotes from the post-meditation discussions:

  • “I think everyone should meditate.”
  • “For a moment, I turned into my knee.”
  • “I feel calm.”
  • “I am chill.”
  • “I’ve never meditated before and didn’t know if I could do it. I did it.”
  • “That was crazy.”
  • “Miss, do you smoke weed?”
  • “I was out in space.”
  • “I’m not gonna lie; I was pissed off when I came in here. Now I feel calm.”
  • “I stopped feeling anxious.”
  • “I moved through my body.”
  • “I could hear your voice, but I felt like I was asleep.”

Resources of interest and References:

Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo

open field

 

A meditation to help you let go and access deep acceptance. The meditation in the player below guides you from breath to body and ultimately leads you to an open field of awareness.  Please read my blog article on mindfulness of mind for an explanation of open field types of meditation.

 

 

Below is the second video in a series of breath visualization videos I have created. This particular video explores alternate nostril breathing with a visualization of the wind channels and simple arm movement. Please review my prior deep breathing practice article and video here for more information on deep breathing and to gain comfort with the preliminary practice.  In this practice, the practitioner shifts arms between breaths as a way to further sharpen concentration and gain greater access to the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  In the Indian traditions, a mudra with the right hand is formed over both nostrils however, I draw my inspiration from Tibetan teachers and use alternating hands because I believe it engages the practitioner more fully.  Included in this video is a visualization of air or “wind” moving through the channels by taking it (air) into one nostril and expelling it out the other. I have provided written instructions for the practice below the video:

Alternate Nostril Breathing Visualization for Profound Support

Instructions (refer to the animated video above):

To begin this practice find a comfortable seated position on a cushion on the floor or in a chair.  Tilt the chin slightly forward to allow for space in the back of the neck and the direct flow of air from the lower belly to the top of the head.

Imagine or visualize (eyes opened or closed) three straws (channels) running through the center of the body lengthwise.  The straw (channel) beginning at the right nostril is red and the straw beginning at the left nostril is white (see image above for reference).  These channels begin at the opening of the nostril and travel up towards the crown of the head where they bend or curve downward to pass by the nose and end below the navel in the lower belly.  These channels attach to each other in the lower belly and are intersected by a wider dark blue-black straw (central channel) that runs from the lower belly to the crown of the head.

Begin by taking a nice deep breath in and expelling air completely through the nostrils.  Note: It is recommended that you gain proficiency in the deep breathing through both nostrils visualization practice here

While expelling the air on a count of 8, fluidly and slowly following the count move the arms towards the center of the body with the left elbow forming a right angle and the right elbow resting on the palm of the left hand.  The right index finger is pointed and pressed against the left nostril to block the passage of air.  

Breathe in through the right nostril on an even count of 8 (8-second count if possible. If not, adjust the count to suit your abilities)

Hold the in breath for 4 counts (2 counts if 4 is too long) and while holding fluidly separate the arms and move them back towards the center of the body this time with the left elbow resting on the right arm.  The left index finger will end up pushing the right nostril closed.

Breathe out of the left nostril for 8 counts.

Hold the out breath for four counts.

Breathe in through the left nostril for 8 counts. (continue pushing the right nostril closed)

Hold the in breath for 4 counts and while holding fluidly separate the arms and move them back towards the center of the body this time with the right elbow resting in the palm of the left hand.  The right index finger will end up pushing the left nostril closed.

Breath out of the right nostril for 8 counts.

Hold the out breath for 4 counts.

Breathe in through the right nostril for an even count of 8.  

Hold for 4 counts and switch sides breathing in through the left.

Repeat 10x or for several minutes if you’d like.

Complete this practice by performing three deep breaths in and out of both nostrils to a steady count of 8 by visualizing the air coming through the two straw-like channels situated at the opening of the nostrils.  The air continues moving up the channel to the top of the head where they turn through the bend and make their way to the lower belly where they meet the central dark blue channel. Hold the in breath for 4 steady counts and imagine the air transferring into the central dark blue channel and moving up to exit through the top of the head in 8 counts. Hold the exhaled breath for four counts and begin the in breath cycle again.

After completing 3 deep breaths return to your natural breath rhythm for a minute or more or begin your meditation practice.  

Resources of interest:

Robert Thurman

Yogi Acharya Lama Gursam

winding road

 

The mind is an endless landscape
upon which trees, mountains, valleys, and waters grow and dissolve,
upon which birth and death unfold.
Go cruising!

I am jumping ahead a little bit through the Four Foundations (Establishments) of Mindfulness (Body (breath), Feelings, Mind, and Dharma) and addressing “mindfulness of mind”.  I am writing this as my understanding of a lecture at the Nalanda Institute given by Sonia Sequeira and Joe Loizzo. I am also using it as a launching point to come to terms with observations of my own meditation practice through the years.

When focusing on the breath in mindfulness of breathing or doing any other form of one-pointed concentration (shamata) meditation we are focusing on one element that helps to calm the mind and is relatively simple to do.  I say simple knowing that everyone has a different point of entry into meditation, and we all have our strengths and challenges with its practice.  After working with the breath, we practice moving to concentrating on the body.  The practice of concentrating on the body gets trickier for some because the body is a big thing that is harder to pinpoint.  The body has many elements and takes us to the global or universal aspects of what it means to inhabit a body.  The body isn’t just various parts thrown together; it extends beyond solid flesh and bones.  It contains space, and it also inhabits space.  It is the space in front, behind, around, above and below. It also contains the same stuff inside of it that is outside.  The boundaries of the body are harder to discern, so when we meditate on the entire body, we are taking that one-pointed concentration and learning to expand. We are going from a more narrow focus to a much wider one.

The same follows with mindfulness of mind as this is another step in the widening of our concentration. It is an attempt to come to terms with the contents of the mind.  How do we come to terms with something so difficult to grasp?  We don’t.  Instead, we see it as a process or as something that moves and changes.  The mind isn’t the contents of the mind, but its vast openness.  Observing it involves relaxing into the limitlessness of the mind.  The Tibetan’s see it as an open sky where weather comes and goes.  The weather, in this case, are the mental phenomena including thoughts and sensations that come and go.  When we observe the mind, we are using the mind to turn back in on itself, and this sometimes creates a feeling of disorientation and futility if we attempt to grasp it.  This disorienting feeling clues us into the ineffable nature of things.  We are using the same ability to observe the mind as we do when we gather our attention from distraction and return it to the breath. The same observational skills allow us to sit back and watch the display of the mind with steadiness and openness.

At times, this observation of the mind may appear to be similar to dissociation. In the case of meditation we observe, but we do not feel disembodied or removed from reality. We are diving directly into reality.  We are balancing between observing and dwelling within.  As Sonia Sequeira stated in the Nalanda Institute lecture, we are not trying to become a spiritually intangible being through meditative states.  She added that we attach enough to care and dwell in the world but detach enough to feel compassion and understand that moments are ever changing.  As Joe Loizzo added, we are practicing freedom from the content of the mind, noting that the content of the mind isn’t what is real.

Practice:

Imagine you are on a roller coaster. While imagining this observe thoughts and sensations as you go through each curve, climb, loop and drop trying to find a balance between experiencing and observing.

What did you notice?

In the future, I will present an audio guided practice to help you with mindfulness of mind practice.

Resources of interest:

Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo

stained glass house
 
Confusion:  The Merging of Things that are Not Separate, The Separating of Things that are Not Merged.

 

I have been thinking lately about how the relatively new approach of Buddhist Psychotherapy is taking shape in the West and what it means.  This new formulation is the merging of two approaches.  One is the Theravadin  (emphasis on the personal approach or liberating the self) that wound up mostly in Southeast Asia.  Second is the Mahayana / Vajrayana (compassion, social engagement and embodiment as liberation) coming by way of Tibet as well as Japan and China (not exclusively).  When I equate the Theravadin with the personal approach above, I need to point out that they also have a  thread of deep compassion and loving kindness running through their tradition.  As I continue to study how these forms are merging with Western Psychology and Psychotherapy, I must delve deeply and sincerely into the Pāli Canon (some of the oldest written teachings of Buddhism).  I’ve always had a toe or two dipped into Theravadin waters as this is where I began to approach Buddhism from back in my twenties.  In the tradition of Western Buddhist Psychotherapy, I must peel off my somewhat reluctantly worn Nyingma (Tibetan) robes and don the saffron robes of another tradition.  Mindfulness practice and all of its benefits that we see in Western psychotherapeutic practice owe a great deal to the Theravada.  Goldstein, Kabat-Zinn, and Kornfield all wore the robes of that tradition and from it gathered the seeds of mindfulness to plant them in the West.  These teachers, former monks, and therapists are an important part of this newly formed psychotherapeutic interaction with Buddhism.

It is especially poignant to think of this as I study along with Sharon Salzberg at the Nalanda Institute.  She has a background in both the Theravada and Mahayana / Vajrayana traditions. Her teaching somehow conveys the simplicity as well as the immense depth of these approaches.  I often run into teachers and well-meaning Sangha members who when told that I was learning a little bit from both traditions said that I would get confused and should stick to one.  I wonder if they meant sticking to one practice for an amount of time?  In a sense they were right, I did get confused, but I was eventually able to make some sense of it all and ended up following the path of one tradition more seriously.  Honestly, Buddhism, in general, was quite confusing to this Westerner upon first glance, and  I am unsure as to how it matters what group of dharma siblings I choose to sit next to in the deep silence.  The foundations and heart of the approaches appear to inform each other in indispensable ways.

These foundational practices as well as the personal vehicle are within Tibetan Buddhism but are more prevalent in the training of monastics in scholastic lineages.  A Tibetan teacher that I have studied with stated when dealing with foundational Buddhist teachings it is appropriate and beneficial to take the Rimé (nonsectarian) view.  I believe as a Westerner and a psychotherapist that the nonsectarian extends to the Theravada.  It gets confusing at times, but as they say in the Tibetan tradition, “may confusion dawn as wisdom.”  I say, “may confusion dawn as the opening of the heart-mind and may all things I gather under this impermanent makeshift roof be for the benefit of all beings everywhere.”

If I have waxed too nerdily and made mistakes above, I own these faults completely.  I will return to this blog in a week or two with more on breath visualization practices.

Resources of interest:

Sharon Salzberg

What Buddhist Psychotherapy Really Is – by Miles Neale