Here and Now

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most common perspective gleaned from contemporary dharma teaching is that our goal in mindfulness practice should be to keep ourselves in the present moment.   For example, from a recent “Daily Dharma” published by Tricycle magazine:

“We can get dragged back into the past, which can lead to depression, or we can become anxious about the future, which can lead to fear. Conscious breathing returns us to the here and the now, where we really belong”.
—Gary Gach, “Brief Teachings

This is certainly some truth in this.   And, we have all gotten (repeatedly) lost in our minds.  

HOWEVER:  The present moment does not, and cannot,  exist in isolation from the past and future.  The present moment includes what arises in the mind as we recollect what has happened to us.   The process of recollecting and narrating our experience is an essential part of the activity of the brain/mind that is given to us as human beings.   Stories about what has happened to us in the past are an integral part of the present moment (albeit not the direct experience of the present moment).

 

Similarly, we don’t exist in isolation from how we relate to the future.  Planning, thinking about, and fantasizing are intrinsic functions of mind.  It is important to be aware of these processes and to try to be conscious of them.   It quite often happens that we topple forward toward the future, and we can become quite anxious in the gap of Unknown between now and then.  It is skillful to be wise about the imagined future through the way that we formulate our intentions.

A woman said to me in a therapy session:  I want to stop worrying and just be present with what’s happening.

I said:  worry is what is happening.

 

Are Buddhism and Psychotherapy Different?

  

“We are all living within a myth, the myth or myths that provide us with our fundamental world view. Psychotherapists [often read] the Buddhist myth in terms of their psychotherapeutic myth…But to understand Buddhism, one must enter the Buddhist myth, and once we are within that myth, then we will naturally read psychotherapy in terms of Buddhism”… Patrick Kearney

As my dharma practice has unfolded during dedicated study over more than 40 years,  it has taken shape as a psychologically-minded contemplative practice that I call “Inquiring Deeply”.    Simply stated, I have made it a habit to inquire within about the “deeper meanings” I see in whatever events are transpiring in the moment.    My inquiry lives in the overarching frame of Buddhadharma.  It begins with the premise, as Pema Chodron famously said, that “this very moment is the perfect teacher”.

Starting with the intention to explore the leading edge of subjective experience, “Inquiring Deeply” is awareness practice which is focused on deepening understanding of your emotional life.  Deep emotional understanding is more than simply mindfulness.   It is intuitive understanding grounded in personal history, embodied experience, and the felt sense of things.   The emphasis in deep inquiry is on exploring the field of relational connection with others.

The most frequent question that I get asked is how (and whether or not)  Inquiring Deeply differs in any significant way from the dharma practice I have learned in the American Vipassana movement (as taught by Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and many others).   I found that question sufficiently interesting that I wrote a book about it  (“Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:   Inquiring Deeply”;  Routledge Press, 2017).   

Are Buddhism and psychotherapy different? Zen-like, in my book I conclude BOTH yes and no; NEITHER yes nor no.    Your answer depends upon where you are looking from.   As the opening quote suggests, both Buddhism and psychotherapy are narratives  (“myths”).  The distinction between them is neither clearly delineated nor fixed. 

That said, my effort has been to construct a wise and compassionate frame that includes them both. 

 

 

 

The Best Thing For Being Sad……

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, ….”is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

                    ….T.H.White   from The Once And Future King

Autobiographical Reflections: Marjorie Schuman, Ph.D.


I.      LONG JOURNEY TO FIND MYSELF
:                                                                       I Used To Be Different,  Now I’m The Same

My parents often said I was a born psychologist.

From as early as I can remember, I felt compelled by the mysteries of consciousness.   Inquiring deeply into these questions has been the unifying theme of my life.

My wish to understand the connection between mind and brain led me to a PhD at the University of Michigan, where I studied psychology and psychopharmacology, and then to postdoctoral work in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry.   

But as much as I loved what I studied,  academia felt  too dry and objective to me.  I came to recognize that in order to understand the mysteries of awareness, I needed to  focus on the inner landscapes of my mind. 

Mid-career,  I turned my attention to clinical work.   I did advanced training in psychoanalysis and Buddhist mindfulness meditation.  This professional identity has been a wonderful container for my continued learning over the years and has enabled me to come more and more fully into being as myself. 

 

II.      IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE:                                                                                The Gift of Being Fully Understood

I have always possessed the ability to know intuitively where people are coming from. As a psychotherapist, I can sense what my clients are feeling and can translate those feelings into words for them.    More than 30 years of practicing Buddhist meditation has also had a large impact on the way I approach therapy.

My insight and psychoanalytic understanding help me to contextualize and articulate complicated feelings and emotions.  It supports my ability to be an unwavering and emotionally attuned anchor in guiding others through difficult life experiences.

Bottom line,  I believe that the ability to Identify what you are feeling is the first step in self-understanding.   And, I believe that therapeutic empathy is the most important factor in the healing of psychological wounds.

III.   LIFELONG STUDENT OF THE MIND:                                                                     I teach, therefore I learn

My work as a clinical psychologist was greatly enriched by the decade I spent as an Associate Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology where I taught psychology graduate students.   Developing and implementing advanced curriculum sharpened my clinical prowess and enhanced my understanding of how to work with clients.

I absorbed as much from my students as hopefully they did from me. I also realized that teaching and learning are two sides of one coin.

Years of teaching has paid off regarding the psycho-educational dimension of my clinical work. My ability to explain concepts in simple terms helps clients understand the process they are engaged in.