West Meets East


Creating a New Wisdom Tradition

September/October 2011


Twenty-five years ago, when our small group of Boston therapists began meeting to discuss how we might apply ancient Buddhist meditation practices in our work, we didn’t often mention it to our colleagues. Most of us had trained or were working in Harvard Medical School facilities, and the atmosphere there was heavily psychoanalytic. None of us wanted our supervisors or clinical teammates to think of us as having unresolved infantile longings to return to a state of oceanic oneness—Sigmund Freud’s view of the meditation enterprise.

At that time, Buddhist meditation was becoming more popular in America, and intensive meditative retreat centers were multiplying. The new centers often were staffed by Western teachers, many of whom had first encountered meditation in the Peace Corps and later trained in monastic settings in the East. Some of our group had studied in Asia; others had been trained by these newly minted Western teachers. Regardless of our backgrounds, what we shared was that we’d all experienced how radically meditation practices could transform the mind.

Therapists of the day typically viewed meditation as either a fading hippie pursuit or a useful means of relaxation, but of little additional value. Meditation teachers had their own biases toward psychotherapy, typically regarding it as a “lesser practice,” which might prepare someone for meditation but couldn’t really liberate the mind. So those of us who were involved in both domains,…

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4 Comments

Monday, September 5, 2011 9:03:08 PM | posted by David Barnhart
I noticed I felt hopeful as I finished reading this article. I'm am also noticing I have interest in seeing how long the feeling lasts.

Thanks for your work.

Thursday, September 8, 2011 6:39:09 PM | posted by Psychotherapy Networker
Thank you for your comment, David!
-Psychotherapy Networker

Friday, September 23, 2011 7:19:38 PM | posted by Linda Graham
Thank you, Ron, for such a cogent review of the emerging inclusion of mindfulness in Western models of psychotherapy. I would include Sensorimotor, the mindfulness-based, body-based psychotherapy for trauma developed by Pat Ogden in that history. As both a clinician trained in Sensorimotor, and a patient healed myself from traumas of earlier conditioning, I can attest to the power of mindfulness and compassion as used in Sensorimotor to “hold” the intensity of previously split-off or disavowed contents in a way that is safe, speedy, and effective. Sensorimotor teaches the patient to “notice” and hold in awareness their thoughts, their feelings, their body sensations, impulses, movements. By working specifically with body memories of trauma, held in mindful awareness of both the therapist and the patient, Sensorimotor helps dissolve the grip or charge of those memories, re-wiring the brain from the bottom-up. Sensorimotor thus greatly expands the territory of material that can be worked with therapeutically, mindfully.

Monday, December 31, 2012 1:12:07 AM | posted by keripik buah
I was more excited and interest after reading this article. nice

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