What is Buddhist Psychotherapy?
Buddhist Psychotherapy differs from many Western psychologies in that it concerns itself with human potential rather than human pathology. When you experience problems with living, it doesn’t find you in need of fixing. Instead, Buddhist Psychotherapy views all suffering as an opportunity for growth and change.
An example that might present itself in therapy: Your new love announces he has to go away for a few days. Before he has a chance to explain, you experience intense feelings of loss and abandonment. When he tells you the reason he has to leave is for an important business meeting, you experience an angry reaction toward his commitment to his job. Even though part of you realizes it's no big deal, you begin to perceive his job as problematic. You start to believe he values his job more than he values you. This new belief is clearly beginning to affect your natural loving responses to him, and making you feel anxious & dissatisfied with things as they are.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens to you.”
How We Work Together
We begin by working with what is happening in your body. You describe a tightness in your chest that feels dark and ‘achey’. You note that it is heavy and hot and then you suddenly feel a wave of emotion from long ago when your father said he was going to go away for a business trip, and your mother became very agitated and angry. You remember feeling that your father's job was bad because it took your father away from your mother which made her angry and sad. Maybe your father eventually left you and your mother. Now you are able to notice that when your love says he is going away, you are reacting more to something that happened in your past than to what is happening in the here-and-now.
With this new awareness, you are able to identify this wound of your childhood as completely separate from your current relationship. You are no longer unconsciously making your new love responsible for some unfinished business from your own past. Additionally, you have begun a process of observing the contents of your mind, or ‘witnessing”. Practicing this skill will help you become increasingly aware of old, limiting patterns that you previously thought were an unchangeable part of the external world rather than a choice of your own making.
We might ask you to carefully describe your reactions. In Buddhist psychotherapy, we engage difficult feelings rather than avoid or try to extinguish them. We believe that sitting in awareness of your adverse feelings,”staying present”, will reveal the true source of your suffering. This is called 'mindfulness', or perceiving things as they are.
"Once, a professor went to a renowned Buddhist Master. He asked him to explain the meaning of life. The Master quietly poured a cup of tea. The cup was full, but he continued to pour and it began to spill out of the cup and onto the floor.
The professor could not stand this any longer, so he questioned the Master impatiently, "Why do you keep pouring when the cup is full?"
"I want to point out to you," the Master said, "that you are similarly attempting to understand life while your mind is full. First, empty your mind of preconceptions before you attempt to understand."
"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."--Suzuki Roshi