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August 2018


Problems As Path


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, August 2018

The Path of Problems

A central tenet of my book, INQUIRING DEEPLY*, is that problems are a basic organizing principle in psychological life. Consider, for example, (as every reader can certainly notice) the fact that everyone has problems. In my view, problems have a role in our minds analogous to the role of pain in the body; they call attention to what we most need to see.

Beyond the particular circumstances, we need to address the underlying view that having problems is itself a problem; as if life could be without problems or that having problems is an indication of deficiency or failure. Instead, problems can be seen as opportunities for growth.

The goal in a mindfulness-informed approach to problems is not to disappear problems (which of course is what most people hope will happen), but rather to deepen our awareness of them in lieu of overthinking them. The central premise is that solutions to problems emerge as a function of how clearly we can see where we are stuck. From this perspective, problems and solutions can be seen to be two sides of a single coin.

The path of problems follows along in the slipstream of our concern about a problem.

Problems are configurations or patterns in the mind which are organized around a nucleus of something too painful to be fully experienced . Such “nonexperienced experience” may be thought of as a logjam in the free flow of mental energy in the mind. Such patterns comprise the traumatic core of problems, which over time calcify or rigidify into a kind of ‘scar tissue’ in our psychic structure, including character.

Bringing mindful and self-compassionate attention to the network of our associative connections gradually untangles the knots of pain and trauma in the psyche and helps to reveal aspects of our innate wisdom.

In INQUIRING DEEPLY, I delineate ten headings or “stepping stones” on the mindful path of problems: ten component factors in psychological change. The first tasks have to do with clearly identifying the problem and conceptualizing the leading edge or horizon of change which the problem represents. A related task involves deconstructing the experience of the problem; unpacking the problem into component elements of sensation, perception, thoughts, and feelings. Because problems crystallize around relational wounds, inquiring deeply about our relationships with others is primary. Together, this deep inquiry leads to the development of insight, clarity, and deep emotional understanding.

* Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply
Routledge Press, 2017.

Looking Ahead:


On August 21st and 23rd, I will be leading the meeting of One Dharma Sangha in Santa Barbara: Guided meditation & dharma talk on “Emotional Balance”:

Tuesday 8/21/18, 6:00-7:00 p.m. @ MacVeagh House, Museum of Natural History; 2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Thursday 8/23/18, 6:00-7:00 [email protected] “Sacred Space” in Summerland; 2594 Lillie Ave, Summerland, CA 93067

No Charge; Donations Welcome

To Think Or Not To Think: That Is Not The Question


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, July 2018

To Think Or Not To Think: That Is Not The Question*

As is often said, the mind makes thoughts like water makes waves. So to think or not to think is not the question! The more appropriate question is how we relate to the process of thinking.

In my view, thinking in meditation is not merely the unwanted source of ruminative distraction it is often painted to be. To the contrary, there is transformative opportunity in paying attention to the content of the conversations that take place within our minds during meditation. The word “conversation” is useful in this context because it highlights the fact that thinking itself is a relational process. By paying close attention to inner dialogue, we can discover a great deal about our different “voices” or part-selves and can gain insight into the way we relate to ourselves.

Inner conversation is revealing. We may notice replays of actual conversations we have had with others, showing us what remains unfinished or where we have gotten emotionally snagged. Our minds may host soliloquies or arguments, even fantasize entire interactions with others. Inner conversation, like our communication with others, has many layers, interwoven with emotions and the bodily sense of our symbolized experience.

The themes represented in our mental narratives say a lot about how we “show up” in our interpersonal lives. We have an opportunity to get in touch with the stories we tell ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) about self and other. Our inner dialogues reveal our interpersonal assumptions, the interpretations and projections we tend to superimpose on others when we talk with them.

One important and often neglected dimension of the thinking mind in meditation is awareness of the mind’s relationship to itself. We can begin by noticing the judgments and thoughts that we have about thinking. There is often a bias to view thinking as a kind of stepchild in the inner family. We may implicitly feel shame about the amount of mental band-width devoted to “story-teller mind”.

Apart from the content of our mental narratives, there are also subtle aspects of our inner conversation that can be revealing. Do we feel ourselves to be Speaker? Listener? Neither? Both? Do we create sufficient space around what we say to ourselves to feel into the meaning of our inner conversation? Do we feel pushed around by our minds, driven crazy by our thinking? Do we rely on a kind of “thought police” to stifle our inner voices rather than to kindly investigate them? To the extent that we view our job in meditation as managing and controlling the thinking mind, we may unwittingly enact a power struggle which is a form of self-violence.

It is ultimately the climate of our relationship with ourselves that allows transformative change to come into being. Any thought which we must not think often represents a part of ourselves which has felt rejected, disappointed, frightened, ashamed, or otherwise hurt. Alternatively, when we make space in the mind for the process of thinking— when we can be present with thoughts and bring self-acceptance, compassion, and wisdom to investigating them— that creates the possibility for deep healing.

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:

Looking Ahead:


July 24th and 26th, I will be leading the meeting of One Dharma Sangha in Santa Barbara: Guided meditation and talk on “Wise Relationship”. See below for more details.

On, Tuesday 7/24/18, 6:00-7:00 p.m. @ MacVeagh House, Museum of Natural History; 2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

On Thursday 7/26/18, 6:00-7:00 [email protected] “Sacred Space” in Summerland; 2594 Lillie Ave, Summerland, CA 93067
No Charge; Donations Welcome

picture credit:    Leigh McCloskey

* For more on this topic, see Ch. 7,  “Reflections on Thinking”, in my book INQUIRING DEEPLY

Relational Inquiry


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, June 2018

Relational Inquiry

“Hunger for connection is also hunger for deep conversation to be received, to be listened to, to be deeply understood.   This is how new meanings come into being ”

My signature clinical approach, “Inquiring Deeply,” involves mindful exploration of the surfaces of our connection with others: the “relational field.” There is a great deal we can learn about ourselves by using the “relational field” as a mirror.

Being mindful of our experience of connection to others – the quality as well as the depth of connection – can be very illuminating. Hunger for connection is only one of many interesting experiences that can be explored. We are interpersonal beings, and in large measure the relational dynamics of self and other are the very stuff our minds are made of. Chapter Six of INQUIRING DEEPLY describes some of the basic dimensions of relationality, providing a framework for understanding how relationship is held in mind.

Because we spend so many hours of our lives talking to other people, the dance of speaking and listening is an especially rich domain for relational mindfulness. In conversation, we have the opportunity to listen to ourselves as well as to listen to the listening of the other. We have the opportunity to see clearly who we are (or how we are presenting ourselves in that particular moment). And we have the opportunity to see our reactivity as it is happens.

With self-reflection, moreover, conversation becomes a stage for observing the theatre of the mind. We can investigate what we enact with others (and what they enact with us); we can inquire about the psychological sources of those relational patterns. And we can observe the narratives we use to frame that experience. In all of these ways, we can gain understanding of our relational dynamics.

In short, we can use the opportunity of conversation to bring awareness to the experience of self-in-relation, and cultivate the practice of relational inquiry to deepen our experience of being with others.

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:

Looking Ahead:


On Tuesday and Thursday evening June 26 and June 28 in Santa Barbara, I will give a dharma talk on “Mindful Conversation” under the auspices of One Dharma Sangha.

(Tuesday 6 p.m. at MacVeagh house, Museum of Nat’l History Santa Barbara; Thursday 6 p.m. at Sacred Space in Summerland).
Free; Donations welcome.



Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, May 2018


This newsletter is my first one. It is created out of my desire and intention to share my work. I begin with a question that underlies many others:  WHAT IS INQUIRY? [see below]

Inquiry is the subject of my 2017 book “INQUIRING DEEPLY”.  As the title suggests, the book is about the method of inquiry. ( “Inquiring Deeply” is actually an abbreviation of a longer and more ponderous title). It reflects, in part, the strategic use of awareness practice in the investigation of personal problems.

As a psychotherapeutic approach, Inquiring Deeply can be described as the use of mindfulness practice to unpack and amplify subjective experience. It is a therapeutic framework which blends relational psychoanalysis and Buddhist wisdom into a single coherent frame.

While INQUIRING DEEPLY is (I hope) a deep book with many interesting things to say, I recognize that not everyone wants to take the time nor do the ‘heavy lifting’ the book requires of its readers. So, more recently, I have been distilling the essence of what I have to say into a series of simple blog posts, and I will be sending out one each month to those who have signed up to receive them (free).

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:


“Inquiry” is an attitude of mind. It means to live in the question of something, to consciously engage our experience in a way which invites it to unfold. When we ‘inquire deeply’ into a problem or concern, we approach our experience with the attitude of delving into it, feeling whatever it is more fully, and inviting it to reveal itself. Through this practice of awareness, presence, and self-reflection, we become more Real; more fully who we are.

Looking Ahead:


On Tuesday May 2 and Thursday May 4, I will be giving a dharma talk on “Mindful Conversation”under the auspices of One Dharma Sangha. (Tuesday 6 p.m. at MacVeagh house, Museum of Nat’l History Santa Barbara; Thursday 6 p.m. at Sacred Space in Summerland).

On Saturday May 19th I will be presenting a workshop sponsored by LAISPS ( Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies): MINDFULNESS AND PSYCHOANALYSIS: Deepening The Conversation. May 19, 1- 4 PM, De Neve Plaza/UCLA.